WHOO! Man, writin’ daemons is a nice break from all that emotional angst of my usual stories. Talking cats and daemon wars are a lot easier to write than tough childhoods and bad relationships. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to that. But a change of pace does a body good!
INTERLUDE – IN WHICH CELIA’S DROUGHT IS ENDED AT LAST, AND THE REASON FOR PHOENIX’S HATRED OF ROB IS DISCOVERED
Celia couldn’t believe it when her hand shook as she put the key in the door. This wasn’t her first time at the rodeo, oh no, not by far. Still, there was something about the heat of Phil, standing just behind her, that made her insides quiver like a schoolgirl.
“Nice place,” Phil said.
“Thanks. I work from home, so I spend most of my time here. So, you know, it makes sense to build a comfy nest.” God, I’m babbling, she thought.
Phil’s eyes went to the books on her coffee table. “Do you mind?” he said, sitting on the couch and reaching for the topmost title.
“Uh, no, not at all.” She did mind, actually, because the books were a little embarrassing. The Dover edition of Reginald Scot’s 16th century treatise, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Owen Davies’ history of Grimoires, Sol’s well-thumbed copy of Levenda’s Unholy Alliance…
“Interesting reading,” Phil murmured.
“It’s silly, really,” Celia said. “It’s just research I’m doing for…a friend.” That was a boldface lie, of course. Celia had discovered that not only was Sol the descendant of King Solomon, but that she herself was a descendant of the Queen of Sheba, who had given Solomon the knowledge of daemons. And that she had her own not inconsiderable potential as a sorceress.
Phil flipped through Scot’s Discoverie, stopped at a certain page, and smiled. “Do you believe in magic?”
“Well, I, um. You know. You never know.”
Phil nodded. “That’s true. I know a few magic tricks myself.”
“Sit down, I’ll show you one.” Celia sat down on the couch to Phil’s right, trying to triangulate how close was the right closeness at this point in the date. Which wasn’t really a date, was it, it was a hookup. Holy crap I brought a strange man home, what am I doing?
But when she was settled in, it seemed that somehow she was sitting a lot closer to Phil than she thought. She could swear she’d but at least a foot between them, but somehow there he was, his leg pressed up against hers.
Phil’s blue eyes bored into hers, impossibly hot. Like blue laser beams, she thought, they look so icy and cold but they’re just the opposite.
He put his hand in her lap, and his fingers traveled down between her legs, stroking her lady parts. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“None,” she whispered, and Phil’s wicked grin told her what she was in for.
Phil’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “What have we here?” He slowly, agonizingly, pulled his fingers out of her crotch. Held between his fingertips was a large, perfect pearl.
She laughed. “That’s amazing. How did you do that?”
“Why, magic, of course. Would you like to learn a trick or two?”
“Would I ever,” she said, wrapping her arm around his neck.
Phil’s kiss was cool, sweet, and Celia felt like she’d knocked back a glass of wine on an empty stomach – that sudden pleasure, that unwinding of the tension in your guts after a long day.
As Phil pushed her down on the couch, she looked into his eyes and suddenly felt as if she was…
…falling. The blow from Ga’ap had connected with the side of her head, and she dropped her wand. Solomon had his own battle to fight, as he wielded his staff in furious combat against both Ba’al and Phoenix. Ba’al had manifested as a swarm of flies, and the staff was almost useless against such a diffuse mass. Its metal tip did clip a few wings, though, and the pain that caused Ba’al was enough to make the daemon more cautious.
Solomon almost hesitated in his battle, seeing the Queen of Sheba fallen and battered, but she cried out, “No, I’m intact, fight on!”
She rose to her feet. Ga’ap was one of the few daemons whose appearance was always that of a handsome man, so he had no flames or claws or stingers with which to inflict the pain that the other daemons had caused her in the struggle. So it was “only” a punch she’d taken from him. She picked up her wand and ran her left hand over it as she breathlessly chanted the words of power.
Phoenix’s flaming wings singed Solomon’s hair, and the great daemon-bird’s scream made the roots of his teeth ache. The great brass amphora rattled and shook behind him, sixty-eight daemons in it, trapped and tangled together, their fury terrible to imagine… It had taken all the art of both Solomon and Sheba to contain them, and now they were close, so close to victory.
“Dom Meatha, ka’ai al BAR!” Sheba shouted, remembering to roll the last R exactly seven times. Her wand elongated, swelled, and flattened into a wooden sword. She thanked her lucky stars and the Powers Above that she’d spent the ridiculous amount of money it had cost her to acquire wood from the Dragon’s Blood Tree.
She swung the sword at Ga’ap’s head, cracking the cracking his skull and making him bellow in pain and rage. He turned to face her, and his cold blue eyes reached through her, down the back of her skull and froze her spine…
Celia started on the couch. That thing…it had Phil’s face…
Phil smiled, stroked her cheek, and it was as if his fingertips administered the sweetest opiate. “Relax,” he commanded.
She did, but when she closed her eyes, she could see it again…
Then the spell that had frozen her was shattered as a blow from Solomon’s staff broke Ga’ap’s concentration. She seized the moment, and raised her ring to him. “Ga’ap! Brenay karrrr! Al brenay kar!”
Ga’ap screeched but was powerless now to resist; its form twisted and crushed as the brass amphora sucked him in. Sixty nine! She exulted. Only three more to go…
But one was missing. One who…never mind. Concentrate! She had to take one of Solomon’s remaining opponents away. She turned her energies to Ba’al. “Lord of the flies, there is room for you in the jar, little fly.”
It worked. The insult drove the daemon to assault her. Foolish thing! she thought. At a whisper from her, the wood of the blade began to ooze the red resin of the Dragon’s Blood tree. She wielded the sword through the swarm of flies and its sticky surface quickly collected almost all of them. Their buzzing was furious and futile. With a warrior’s cry, she plunged the sword into the amphora. When she drew it out, it was clean. Seventy!
Phoenix’s green eyes regarded Solomon as he flapped his wings to hover a safe distance away. “Do you mean to cage this bird, Solomon King?”
“All daemons, Phoenix, must be confined. Mankind must have his time without you. It is little enough to you, a millennia or two.”
“A millennia!” Phoenix shrieked. “And what of him? Where is he? He is not in the jar.”
Solomon stumbled. It was true. 72 daemons there were, and 72 daemons must be confined. Their power was too great, their temptation to men too irresistible. He had chosen this, to send them all to a watery grave, not forever, but for long enough, long enough for civilizations to rise, for men to see reason, rely on themselves and not supernatural powers. Long enough to come to laugh at old stories of daemons, rather than thinking to draw on them for riches, power, fame.
Seventy were in the jar, and here was the 71st. Only Barbatos remained free. Barbatos, known to Solomon as his General, his boon companion, Botasbar, his beloved… Until the Queen of Sheba had revealed his true nature to the King. Solomon had banished Botas…Barbatos from his sight, but he knew he could not banish him from his heart.
Phoenix cackled. “You do not have what it takes to be master of daemons, Solomon. If one still masters you, then we ALL master you!” And with that the bird attacked, one of its great wings knocking Solomon senseless to the ground.
Celia/Sheba hacked at the bird, but the trick she had pulled on Ba’al now backfired. Phoenix’s wings burst into fresh flames, and a brush of one of them lit her sword on fire. She cursed and dropped it, defenseless.
Phoenix’s glee was terrible to behold. “I am the King of Daemons now! I am the last. Dark brothers,” he addressed the amphora, “if I free you, will you bow to me?”
“None shall bow to you, Phoenix,” came a voice from behind her. She knew it.
“YOU.” Phoenix’s hate filled the word.
“Yes,” said the tall, handsome man. He turned to Sheba. “Stand aside.”
“So that you may be King of Daemons instead, Barbatos?”
Barbatos smiled. “I have sworn my allegiance to another king, Sheba, as you know. And I will fulfill his commands.”
And with that he leapt at Phoenix, and wrestled with the bird. Phoenix turned and shook but Barbatos’ hold on him was unbreakable.
“Bring it closer!” he shouted at her, and she raised both hands and incanted the words that would raise the amphora into the sky.
“NO!” Phoenix cried at the last, in fear, in disappointment, in pain, as the two of them tumbled into the neck of the amphora. And as they did, she picked up the giant cork and slammed it into the neck.
The war was over. They had won. She collapsed, breathing hard. She finally crawled to Solomon’s side. He was alive, and his hurts would heal.
Now she would have to decide, she realized, whether or not to tell him that it was Barbatos, in the end, who had brought the Age of Daemons to a close…
…then Phil’s hands were on her, his erection pressed against her – holy crap, more like a skyscraper! His smile held a secret, a secret Celia chose to believe was one she would soon discover, as soon as she could get out of these damn pants.