Goetic Justice

Cover illustration by Meandraco: https://www.furaffinity.net/user/meandraco/

This work of erotic fiction is intended for adults only.
The story contains the following themes: demons, satyrs, succubi, hallucinations, hypnosis, gentle femdom, long tongues, size difference, magic, religious and occult elements.

CHAPTER 1: ROCK BOTTOM

Ryan mounted the steps, fumbling with his keys as he made his way down the carpeted corridor towards his apartment. When he arrived at the door, he found that it was already open. Becky must be home, he thought to himself, stepping through into their tiny living room to see her sitting on the couch.

She put her phone down, looking up at him and smiling. She was wearing her pajamas, and her raven hair was unkempt. She must have just gotten out of the shower.

“Sorry I’m late, Becky,” he said as he fumbled with his tie. He removed the stifling garment, then leaned down to kiss her. She gave him a curt peck on the cheek, then retrieved her phone, resuming whatever it was that she had been doing as Ryan headed into the adjoining kitchen.

“I’m famished,” he complained, crouching to open the fridge. It bathed him in its yellow glow as he rummaged for leftovers, selecting a sandwich and a can of beer. “They kept us in late at the office. I got overtime pay, though. Williams seems really pleased with my performance lately. I think I might actually have a chance to move up in this company if I keep my head on straight.”

He flopped down heavily beside her, cracking open his beverage with a hiss and taking a draw, the cold liquid soothing his empty stomach. Becky was still glued to her phone, but he was too absorbed by his sandwich to pay much attention.

“We might actually be able to take that vacation you keep asking for at this rate, assuming I can save up enough sick days,” he said as he swallowed a mouthful of tuna and tomato. It was store-bought, not very appetizing, but hunger was a seasoning that made any meal palatable. “What do you think of that? Becky?”

He reached over and placed a hand on her phone, lowering it to get her attention, Becky turning off the screen as she glanced up at him. She seemed distant, disinterested, but she couldn’t have gotten back from her barista job more than a couple of hours ago. She must be tired. She looked as if she had been about to get into bed when he had arrived.

Ryan shuffled closer to her and curled an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into him, the familiar scent of her shampoo rising to his nose. It smelled artificial to him, but while he didn’t understand her taste in soaps and perfumes, he associated them with her all the same. That alone was enough to make them inviting.

“Hey, don’t be mad with me, okay? I know I’ve been working a lot lately, but I’ll make it up to you this weekend. We’ll spend all Saturday binging on TV shows, how about that? I’ll get us some takeout, and we can watch whatever you want until the sun comes up, no pants necessary.”

“I dunno, Ryan,” she replied with a roll of her eyes. “I kind of had plans this weekend. I’m going to a concert with my friends, and we probably won’t be back until Monday morning.”

“Anything I might like?” Ryan asked, but his smile was met with a frown.

“Ryan, you know how my friends feel about you, and it isn’t anything you’d enjoy anyway. You hate live music.”

That put a damper on his good mood, and he shook his head in annoyance, releasing her from his one-armed hug.

“Come on, Becky, it’s been months since I moved here. I can’t believe they still hate me so much. I can’t even remember the last time I saw any of them. We’re not teenagers anymore – we all have jobs and lives, so why do they still treat me like I’m trying to steal you away from them? I feel like any time we’re both free, they just come between us and-“

“Hey,” Becky interrupted with a stern wag of her finger. “Remember the promise that you made when you came out here.”

“I know, I know,” he sighed as he raised his hands defensively. “You have your own life, and I’m not going to try to interfere with it. I’m not saying don’t go to the concert, I just wish that you’d keep me in the loop, is all. It’s hard for us to make plans together when you’re always springing these things on me at the last minute.”

“Maybe you need to make some friends of your own,” she said dismissively. He gave her a sideways glance, trying to determine if she was being intentionally hurtful. She had turned her attention back to her phone, so he assumed that she was just tired and grouchy. He took another bite of his sandwich, mulling over his reply for a moment.

“You know that I had to leave all of my friends behind to move here. This city is your home, but it’s been a big adjustment for me. It was a downright miracle that I was able to find a position that would allow me to live here, so just try to be supportive.”

“I’m going to bed,” she replied tersely. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

***

“How am I being controlling?” Ryan exclaimed, brandishing the phone as if it was proof in itself of her misdeeds. He was seeing red, anger and hurt tying a knot in his belly, and her reaction to his outrage just made everything worse. She was furious with him. Rather than the guilty apology that he had anticipated when he had confronted her, she was angry at being discovered. It didn’t make any sense – it followed no discernible logic. He had violated her privacy, but in doing so, he had uncovered wrongdoing of far greater proportions.

“You went through my fucking phone, you asshole!” Becky snapped.

“You thought I wouldn’t notice how distant you’ve been lately?” he demanded as he pointed an accusing finger at her. “How you’ve been taking every opportunity to get away from me, how you’ve been hiding your phone whenever I walk into the room? Do you think I’m some kind of idiot?”

“That doesn’t give you the right to go through my shit and snoop on my private conversations like some kind of fucking stalker!”

Becky was indignant, even after being presented with her own chat logs. She was trying to twist the whole situation around so that he was the villain for uncovering her cheating. Even in his outrage, he couldn’t help but be amazed by her mental gymnastics.

He wasn’t proud of what he had done, but his suspicions had only been confirmed. Whatever trust that existed between them had been violated long before he had taken her phone. It had been going on for months. Those sudden changes in her mood, those new clothes, the new attention to her appearance – none of it had been for his benefit. She had been seeing someone else the entire time, living in his apartment and sleeping in his bed while she had an affair. She had been sending this person dirty text messages while they were in the same damned room. There was no concert, she wasn’t seeing her friends on the weekend, she was planning to spend it with someone else.

“Three years of my life, Becky,” he hissed as he glared at her from across the tiny apartment. “Three fucking years, and you flush it all down the toilet on a whim. I was going to marry you – I wanted to have kids with you one day, and for what? A cheap thrill?”

“You’re boring, Ryan!” she snapped. There was more fury in her eyes than he had ever seen, like he was being exposed to this side of her for the first time. “You never take me out, you never do anything that includes me. All you ever do is work and sit at that fucking computer like a zombie. I don’t want to just watch movies and play video games. Those are your hobbies, not mine. Paul takes me out. We go dancing, we eat at upscale restaurants, we hang out with his friends and talk about life. What’s there to talk about in your life, Ryan? Where are your friends?”

“Hundreds of miles away,” he snapped, balling his fists to stop the shaking in his hands. “I left them behind to move here with you!”

“You know what your problem is?” she continued, seeming almost glad of the opportunity to let her true feelings be known. “When we started dating, you were so eager to please, but you became complacent when we moved in together. You acted like it was a done deal, that our fates were sealed, like some kind of checkbox in one of your fucking games. You had me, so you stopped trying to keep me. That’s not how relationships work, Ryan! I’m not a car that you get to keep once the loan is paid off. You can’t just neglect me and expect me to stay interested. Honestly, I’m amazed I stuck around for as long as I did.”

“How does that make it okay for you to cheat on me?” he demanded, spreading his hands in exasperation. “Why did you never say anything? Why didn’t you make any attempt to fix it? We’re supposed to be a team, but you decided all of this on your own. You could have just broken up with me and ripped off the bandaid if that was really how you felt, but you went behind my back.”

“Whatever,” she replied with a dismissive flick of her dark hair. “I’m actually glad you found the chat logs, because seeing what a jealous asshole you are has given me the push I need to move on with my life. We’re through, Ryan. I’m taking my shit, and I’m leaving.”

She stormed off into their bedroom, flinging an empty duffel bag onto the twin bed that they shared. Ryan watched from the doorway as she began to cram her clothes into it, throwing empty drawers to the carpet, clearing her belongings out. Ryan couldn’t think straight, he couldn’t parse what was happening, as if the universe had just switched to a foreign language that he didn’t speak. Yesterday, everything had been fine, and today his life was in tatters. It was all happening so quickly. He paced around the small kitchen, wringing his hands impotently. He wanted to shout and upend furniture, but as angry as he was, he felt as if all of the strength had been drained from his body. He felt ill, weak, like he had caught some terrible flu. He wanted to insult her, to say something cutting that would bring her to tears – make her feel as bad as he did. Nothing came to mind as she slammed the bedroom door and made for the exit.

“You won’t even try to fix this?” Ryan asked in disbelief as she turned in the hallway to glare at him, the bulging duffel bag slung over her shoulder. “Just like that, you’re cutting me loose like a turd?”

“I don’t owe you any explanation,” she hissed, her voice full of malice and venom the likes of which he had never heard from her before. It was like some demon had possessed her or some doppelganger had replaced her, and for a moment, he wondered how he could ever have loved her the way that he had. “Now, give me my fucking phone back.”

He threw it at the wall behind her, the blocky device chipping the plaster and falling to the floor, its screen cracked. Becky stooped to pick it up, her green eyes flashing with rage. For a moment, he feared that she might turn and run at him.

“Real mature. I’ll send you the fucking bill,” she spat as she vanished into the corridor outside, leaving the door ajar. Ryan stared at the space where she had been standing for a few moments before the realization of what had just happened hit him like a ton of bricks. He leaned back against the wall, sinking down to sit on the carpet, his face cradled in his hands as he choked back stinging tears. Whether they were born of anger or sadness, he couldn’t tell.

***

“I’m sorry, Ryan, but there’s nothing more I can do. You were warned that if your performance kept suffering, you’d be let go. You’ve been warned, and you’ve been disciplined, but you keep showing up late. Your quarterly figures are down nearly forty percent. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but this is a business, not a charity. We can’t afford to keep you on any longer. You’ll be getting your final paycheck at the end of the month.”

Ryan leaned across the desk, pleading with his employer, the bustle of the office almost inaudible beyond the glass walls of the cubicle. The man watched him disdainfully from behind a computer monitor, his desk surrounded by plastic ferns and metal filing cabinets.

“Please, you can’t do this to me, Mister Williams! I’m going through some stuff right now, but I can do better! I need this job. I’m barely keeping up with my rent as it is. I’ll never be able to find work in this city on such short notice.”

“I realize that you moved here to take advantage of this position, but company policy is clear on this,” Williams replied as he adjusted his spectacles. “You’ve been given second and third chances, but you’ve become a liability. This has already been decided, and the paperwork has already been filled out. There’s nothing more I can do for you besides wishing you the best of luck in finding gainful employment elsewhere.”

Ryan began to speak again, but Williams cut him off with a wave of his hand, so he sank back into the uncomfortable office chair with a look of resignation on his face.

“We’re legally required to give you a month’s notice, but I’d like to ask you – as a personal favor – not to return to the premises again.”

Ryan nodded, then stood, defeated. He began to make his way out of the cubicle, but as he opened the glass door, Williams cleared his throat to get his attention.

“You’ll still be covered by our health insurer until your contract is officially terminated. If you want my advice – use it to get some help. You’re a mess, Ryan. Your shirt isn’t even buttoned properly, and I’m pretty sure you’ve been drinking. Go see a shrink while it’s still covered by our plan. Maybe they can help you work this out.”

Ryan hesitated at the door, then left without comment, Williams shaking his head in exasperation as he returned to his work.

***

As he sat in the dark, staring vacantly at the flickering of his computer monitor, Ryan realized that there was nobody else. He had left all of his friends behind to be with Becky, left his family to accept the job offering in the city, and she was the only person that he ever confided in. Without her, he had nobody to talk to. He had neglected every other aspect of his social life. For the first time in his life, he was completely alone.

It had been weeks since their breakup, but he couldn’t drum up the courage to date again. The wound that Becky had opened with her betrayal still festered. He felt as if he couldn’t trust anyone anymore. In accusing him of being jealous and controlling, she had inspired those very instincts within him. Now, every time a future partner answered a phone call or checked their emails, he would assume the worst.

He had no job, no family or friends, and he was on track to lose his apartment. Living in the city was expensive – there was no way he could afford to pay his rent, and his meager savings wouldn’t see him through the next two months. He had been so secure, so confident, but he now realized that his entire life had been a house of cards that had come crashing down around him at the slightest gust of wind.

There was no doubt about what he should do next. He had to suck it up and get back out there. He should start looking for a new job immediately – take the one suit that he owned to the dry cleaner and go to as many interviews as it took. When he had secured a new job, he would start dating again. He’d find someone better than Becky, someone who would make him question if he had ever truly loved her to begin with.

But another, more destructive facet of his personality kept asking the same question. Why?

He had done everything that he was supposed to do, everything that he had been told would ensure his success. He had worked hard to earn his degree, and he had secured a steady job at a good company. It hadn’t been the most exciting or the most intellectually stimulating work, but it had allowed him to live a modest lifestyle, and it had given him the money that he needed to move in with his girlfriend. He had treated her as well as he knew how, but all of those nights that they had spent together on the couch binging movies – all of the time that he had spent trying to involve her in his hobbies – had all been for nothing. She had been bored out of her mind, stewing in her silent resentment until she had finally sought excitement and romance elsewhere without ever having expressed her displeasure.

So, what was the point? Why start over from scratch when the first attempt at creating a life for himself had gone so badly? How could he be certain that the same thing wouldn’t just happen again?

***

Another month passed, and Ryan received his final paycheck, using the money to pay his bills and to buy enough food to last him a while longer. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do now. The defeatist in him wanted to just sit in his apartment, distracting himself with meaningless entertainment and drink until someone came to forcibly remove him. An even darker facet of his psyche considered the final relief of a bottle of pills downed with bourbon, but he shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind. He wasn’t quite destitute just yet.

This rabbit hole had taken him too deep. He had allowed his depression and his defeatism to get the better of him, and now, he felt like he had dug a trench that he couldn’t climb out of under his own power. Maybe he should have taken what Williams had said to heart. Perhaps a psychologist could have set him back on the straight path, but it was too late for that now that his insurance had run out.

Ryan took another swig of amber liquid from his bottle, shooting at demonic enemies on his computer screen, playing the game on autopilot as he mulled over his sorry situation. Skulls and sigils flashed, the screeching hordes of the damned throwing fireballs in his direction, everything blurring together. As he watched the flickering display, he started to get an idea. It was a stupid, drunken impulse, but an idea nonetheless.

The internet chat rooms and the forums that he frequented were rife with it. Ryan had always dismissed those people as roleplayers or trolls, but the subject matter remained strangely alluring to him. He had been fond of the occult for as long as he could remember, wiling away his free time watching trashy documentaries about the supernatural and horror movies filled to the brim with cheap jump scares and bad special effects. There was a fascination there, and now that he was at rock bottom, what did he have to lose by exploring it further? Becky was no longer around to tell him how stupid he was being.

He closed the game, turning his attention to his web browser instead, typing frantically as he navigated to his forum of choice. The people here were mostly nuts, obsessed with Bigfoot and UFOs, sharing stories of ghost sightings or demonic possessions. But, amongst all the paranormal bullshit, there occasionally surfaced a conversation that seemed too genuine – too detailed and researched to be fake. Sure, some people were just crazy, but it would have taken real time and real work to fabricate such a convincing lie. What would be the point? Why take it so far?

He scrolled through pages of blurry photos featuring alleged angels and sasquatches, schizophrenics talking about the voices that they heard in their heads, and sufferers of sleep paralysis who were convinced that they were being abducted by aliens. Finally, he came across the thread that he had been searching for. Demonology and summoning. There was a lot of garbage here, cartoonish depictions of horned, cloven-hoofed monsters with red skin being invoked by human sacrifices, pentagrams, upturned crucifixes – nothing of any use.

Boy, he must have been drunker than he had thought to consider this. It couldn’t possibly be real. But again, he heard that nagging voice in the back of his mind.

What do you have to lose by trying?

As he read through the conversations and discussions, one subject stood out to him, one name that kept coming up wherever he looked. The Ars Goetia. He eventually tracked down a thread that was filled with instructions on how to draw runes and sigils, summoning circles and rituals that must be performed in order to invoke a spirit, extensive and detailed lists of Goetic demons and their associated seals. As he pored over the information, he began to realize that these were not winged beasts with pitchforks whose only purpose was to do evil, but that each demon had a realm of expertise and was said to bestow help or services upon the summoner. Some taught skills or arts, while others revealed hidden truths. There was a demon here for every conceivable need.

One could summon Eligos to predict the outcome of a war, the creature appearing before the summoner as a ghostly specter riding a skeletal horse. There was Vaul, who could cause women to fall in love with his summoner, but who only spoke in broken Egyptian. There was Bifrons, who would teach the arts and sciences. Foras would teach logic and ethics, making men eloquent and well-spoken. Stolas took the form of a crowned owl and would teach his conjurer the secrets of astrology. It was a veritable shopping list of demons, seventy-two of them to be precise, along with the necessary knowledge concerning their summoning. The Ars Goetia, the source material was called – a Medieval text that detailed the exploits of one King Solomon.

There was so much information here, sources ranging from the seventeenth-century text all the way back to Biblical figures mentioned in scripture. Was this some collective insanity? Surely the sheer volume of information available lent some credence to its authenticity?

Ryan quickly realized that trying this out would not be as simple as drawing on his floor in sharpie and then lighting some candles. If he was going to do this, really commit to it, then he needed to do the proper research. He had to pick one of these Goetic demons, choose one that suited his problems as closely as possible, and then figure out what he needed to do in order to invoke it.

He looked at the clock on his taskbar, noticing that several hours had passed. He had been so engrossed in his research that he hadn’t even noticed. After a moment of consideration, he elected to sleep on it. If he still felt like doing this when he was sober in the morning, then he’d make some serious plans.

***

Ryan awoke the following morning with a renewed desire to see the project through, his sober mind now more convinced than ever that this was the right course of action. With no job to go to and no social obligations to eat up his time, he resolved to spend the entire day researching the subject.

He began his search on the forum, quickly discovering that the source material for these Goetic demons was split into several different tomes and grimoires. Some were ancient scriptures said to have been written by Solomon himself, pre-dating the advent of Christianity by a thousand years. Others were Medieval texts, and still more were relatively modern adaptations of the works that were overall easier to parse. He decided to start his investigations with one of those, the most famous of which was The Lesser Key of Solomon, a collection of transcriptions of ancient manuscripts.

He downloaded a PDF file of the book but soon became discouraged as he scrolled through the document. There was a lot of detailed information here, along with lengthy descriptions of the demons and their sigils, but it was too overwhelming. It was full of meandering invocations and chants that would let one greet or banish the spirits. Without knowing where to start, what he needed was a how-to.

After returning to the archives and sifting through the posts, he eventually found exactly what he required. Aleister Crowley’s Illustrated Goetia. The book detailed the man’s own tentative explorations into the art of summoning, along with easy to follow, step-by-step instructions. There was even a blow-by-blow account of what had occurred when the spirit had been invoked. All the better, it had been published in 1904 and so was not fraught with Ye Olde English and Latin incantations. There was no better place to start. He downloaded a scanned copy of the book, then transferred it to his phone and began to devour its pages.

Immediately, he was struck by the narrator’s situation, so similar was it to his own that he felt chills crawl up his spine. Crowley had lost everything, jobless and contemplating thoughts that he described as too dark to entertain, he had turned to the Goetia in his time of need. In an attempt to turn his life around, he had chosen to invoke demon number fifty-five – Orobas. The entity was described as being trustworthy, and was able to grant the favor of friends and foes. Ryan admitted to himself that he didn’t understand precisely what terms like prelacies and true answers of divinity really meant, but Crowley had found Orobas perfectly suited to the task, and who was Ryan to question the choice?

As he read on, the narrator recounted the experience of his first summoning, along with the steps and preparations that he had taken. It was a veritable roadmap to anyone interested in trying it out for themselves. He had anointed himself in oils and then had created an improvised temple in his son’s bedroom, drawing a summoning circle on the floor using masking tape. He had used easily obtainable incense burners and candles, no arcane artifacts of any kind, and there had been no gruesome sacrifices or bloody rituals of any sort. When laid out like this, the whole affair seemed almost mundane, pedestrian.

Ryan had pictured a man in lavish robes sacrificing a goat with a ceremonial dagger before some complex and intricate sigil, but a Goetic summoning could apparently be carried out with common household items. The elaborate and lengthy incantations detailed in Solomon’s Key seemed to be unnecessary, too. They were used more to put the summoner in a meditative state than as any kind of code that would cause the demon to appear. The author had not performed them, and there had been no dire consequences. As the story went on, Crowley detailed his first attempt at a summoning. It had been clumsy and almost comically inept, yet it was successful in invoking the demon. Becoming frustrated with his initial lack of success, Crowley had cursed out the spirit with a slew of profanities, which had caused it to reluctantly appear. In his surprise, he had rubbed cinnamon oil in his own eyes by accident. Ryan was fairly confident that he could do better, if not in the ritual itself, at least in his composure.

The demon had appeared to him in the form of a tiny horse with a miserable expression, seen not with the eyes, but as one sees an idea formed in their mind. A series of almost hysterical threats and promises had kept the creature under control, and after some back-and-forth between the two parties, a sort of contract had been formed. Orobas would use the spirits under its command to help Crowley get his life back on track, and according to him, it had worked as advertised. He had seen positive results that very same day in the form of an old friend appearing on his doorstep and giving him a car that he had desperately needed for transport. By the end of the afternoon, he had found a new job in the classifieds section of a newspaper.

Coincidence, some claimed, but the author was adamant that it was Orobas who had orchestrated his sudden streak of good luck.

The only real problem was that the author had not started out on the same footing as Ryan. Crowley had been educated in what he referred to as High Magick under the tutelage of a more senior Magician. Would Ryan be able to accomplish the same feats without that careful guidance? Fuck it, this was the information age. He could obtain anything that he needed to know online. The worst-case scenario was that it just didn’t work and made him feel foolish. What harm was there in giving it a go?

Ryan resolved to follow the instructions laid out in the book. He would obtain the necessary information and tools, then attempt to summon his own Goetic demon.

CHAPTER 2: SUMMONING FOR DUMMIES

“Hi, do you have, uh…Myrrh Oil?” Ryan stammered, the shop assistant giving him a strange look as he read from his shopping list of ingredients. He was in a holistic medicine store, the only place that he could find that might have the component oils required to make the Oil of Abramelin described in Crowley’s Goetia, which was apparently necessary for the ritual.

“We do,” she replied, leading him towards one of the shelves in the cramped building. There were dreamcatchers and charms hanging from the ceiling, little porcelain models of fairies and dragons behind glass cabinets, and the walls were lined with jars containing all manner of plants and herbs. “What do you need it for? It’s great for treating fungal and bacterial infections, and new studies have shown that it has anti-cancer properties.”

Ryan choked back a derisive snort. He couldn’t stand these new-age types, but he quickly realized that attempting to summon a demon was hardly a more credible use for the essential oil than treating athlete’s foot.

“I need some other things, too,” he said as he showed her his list. She paused for a moment, reading the crumpled piece of paper, then handed it back to him.

“We do carry cinnamon oil and galangal, but you’d have to get olive oil from a supermarket or maybe a general store. What’s this for, if you don’t mind my asking? I might be able to make some suggestions if I know more.”

“Oh, my girlfriend loves this stuff,” he said. “Got any candles? Maybe some incense burners? It’s her birthday, and I want to treat her to a relaxing bath.”

The woman clapped her hands together gleefully, apparently pleased by his reply.

“Of course, and you’ll be wanting some relaxing bath salts as well. We have some lavender bubble bath that’s just lovely. Might I recommend a CD, also? There’s a recording of rainforest sounds that will just release all of that negative energy, you know?”

“Oh yeah, negative energy. Can’t be doing with that.”

Before long, he was leaving the store with a biodegradable carrier full of oils and candles. He didn’t necessarily need a lot of the soaps and salts, but Crowley had taken a lengthy bath in order to cleanse himself before the summoning, so he should too. Next stop was the general store to pick up some olive oil, a Goodwill to pick up some clothes that he could use as robes, and then a hardware store for the metal plate that he would need to engrave the demon’s sigil onto.

Although Crowley’s first summoning had been somewhat makeshift, Ryan had decided on following at least some of the more detailed instructions listed in Solomon’s Key. Chiefly, the use of wards and protections, which would serve to confine whatever entity he managed to invoke and protect him from any harm that might befall him. He also kind of just wanted to draw on things, and making occult robes would be a lot of fun.

***

Ryan had cleared out the small living room in his apartment and had ended up with a space of roughly eight by eight feet of hardwood flooring, the furniture pushed up against the walls to make as much space as possible. It was on the small side, and the book stated that nine feet was necessary, but it would have to do. The grimoires didn’t account for magicians living in apartment blocks.

He was hard at work drawing sigils on pieces of card, intending to attach them to a bathrobe that he had acquired from the used clothing store. It wasn’t quite a wizard’s robe, but it was more than Crowley had available when he had summoned his first demon. Ryan was copying the elaborate drawings from Solomon’s Key, doing his best to replicate them. These were not necessary to bring the demon forth but rather to ensure the optimal containment of it and the protection of the summoner. It was all quite elaborate, and once again, the sheer quantity of information gave the whole affair credence.

First, there was the Solomon’s Sexangle, a figure that resembled a Star of David contained within a circle, decorated with writing and runes. He would find a way to hang the card from the cloth belt of the bathrobe. It was intended to be flashed at the demon when it appeared, which would supposedly compel it to be obedient and to take a humanoid form.

Next, he would make a Pentagonal Figure of Solomon. It was a pendant to be worn around the neck with a ward used to protect the user on one side and the sigil of the chosen demon on the other. He could use some string and thread it through a hole in the paper. Nowhere did it state that these had to be made from any specific material like metal or wood.

The final piece of his costume would be a Ring of Solomon, a circular ward containing odd writing that would be worn on or near the face to protect him from acrid fumes – sulfur and brimstone and all that. He would draw it on a piece of card and staple it to a sweatband. Easy. There was one more ward listed, the Secret Seal of Solomon, but that was to be used for containing the entity within a brass vessel like a Genie in a lamp. Ryan had no such vessel, nor did he have any desire to attempt to confine a demon should he succeed in invoking one.

He had chalk for drawing the magick circle, which was going to be an absolute bitch, along with the Triangle of Solomon that was used to confine disobedient spirits – a sort of time-out for naughty demons. The circle was going to take the most time to make by far, as it was full of Hebrew writing that he didn’t understand and sigils within sigils that looked especially hard to reproduce.

He had fashioned a wand from a stick by shaving away the bark with a pocket knife, and he had all of the candles and incense that he had bought on hand, unsure of what scents a demon might prefer.

There were a few other complications. Some demons could only be summoned at certain times of the month depending on their rank in Hell’s armies, and some of the invocations required that the summoner hath not defiled himself by any woman in the space of a month. That last part wasn’t going to be an issue, and for a moment, he considered asking the demon to make it so that Becky ended her days in the company of two dozen cats.

Speaking of which, he still hadn’t decided which Goetic demon he was going to attempt to summon. He couldn’t continue much further without choosing one, as its sigil was required for several of the wards. The problem was that there were so many to pick from, and the archaic language used in Solomon’s Key made many of their attributes vague at best. How the hell was he supposed to know what he changeth ye dead bodyes and putteth them into one another’s places actually equated to? Fortunately, Crowley’s Illustrated Goetia contained just that – illustrations of all of the demons along with some brief descriptions in modern English.

As he examined the extensive list, he began to realize how arbitrary some of their stated powers and areas of expertise were. If you wanted to bend trees for some reason, then you could summon number sixty-seven, Amduscias. He was your guy when it came to tree bending, and that seemed to be about all that he did. Number thirty-one, Foras, could make you invisible and also lecture you on logic and ethics. Many of them seemed to have artistic or academic pursuits that they would teach you, from foreign languages to philosophy and painting. Perhaps risking your immortal soul was preferable to dealing with student loan collectors.

He was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of demons that could allegedly be summoned. It was like going through a list of goddamned Pokemon. They could do everything from transmuting metals to gold to making women fall in love. They could even teach people to speak to dogs. He had to think hard about what would actually solve his problems, as the author of the Illustrated Goetia had been very specific about only asking for things that you actually needed from the demons, as if they would somehow be able to tell if your motivation was greed or lust. Ryan was confident that his own needs were severe enough to warrant the intervention of a demon, and so he wasn’t too worried about that part. As long as he chose his invocation wisely, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Perhaps he should just go with Orobas, the one that had been summoned in the story that he had read. It was a fairly low-level demon, and it was described as being loyal and reliable. It had helped Crowley get out of a similar pickle. No, he needed to make the right choice. He needed a demon that perfectly suited his needs.

***

Ryan had finally narrowed it down to three demons. Dantalion, Gamori, and Orobas. He rubbed his eyes, checking the clock on his phone. It was already past midnight. He had spent the whole day researching demons and preparing his ritual.

Dantalion was number seventy-one, a genderless creature that appeared to the summoner as a mass of shifting heads. Its domain was teaching arts and sciences, it had the ability to read minds and to relay the thoughts of others to the summoner, and it could also cause women to fall in love. Those were all useful to Ryan. He could learn a profession that might land him a job, know the thoughts of employers in order to influence them, and it seemed that he could have any woman of his choosing. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that last part, it seemed a little too close to brainwashing, but he’d cross that bridge when he came to it.

Gamori was the fifty-sixth demon listed in the Goetia, and she appeared before the summoner as a beautiful woman riding on a camel. Her area of expertise was predicting the future. The power of prescience would help him in all manner of pursuits, from job searching to dating, and again the demon appeared to grant the love of any woman that he desired. As much as he did indeed desire the love of a woman, he wasn’t sure if he needed it so severely as to invoke a demon. He was perfectly capable of dating on his own.

If he asked for something that wasn’t urgent or too difficult for him to achieve by himself, it seemed as if bad things would happen. There was nothing explicitly forbidding it that he could find, but everything pointed to it being at best a faux pas and at worst a grievous offense. Better to just keep things simple. Asking for invincibility and riches would surely backfire in some ironic way, and any demon that could bestow such things was of high rank and no doubt beyond his ability to control.

Lastly, there was Orobas, as described in Crowley’s first summoning. This demon appeared in the form of a horse. He could grant dignities and prelacies, though Ryan wasn’t quite sure what those were yet, and he could grant the favor of friends and foes. He could see the past, present, and future, and he was described as being especially loyal.

Fuck it, Orobas it was. He would begin carving his sigil into the metal plate that he had purchased at the hardware store, and start drawing it onto the back of the Pentagonal Figure of Solomon. That should be everything. There was some nonsense about astrology and planetary hours and all kinds of other minutia mentioned in the guides that he had found online, but Crowley had not bothered with that, so neither would he. There would be no chants or prayers, no meditation, none of the intricate and overly complex steps that would draw this out for longer than he had the patience for.

After all, what did it matter if he invoked a demon through a complex and rambling chant that had to be memorized, or through simply asking it plainly to appear? Crowley had hurled insults and expletives at Orobas, and it had manifested itself all the same, which led Ryan to believe that many of the more elaborate parts of the ritual were just there for flair.

If any of this was to be believed, then it was a kind of science, albeit an arcane and spiritual science. As long as he followed the steps as they were outlined, it should work, and the more religious and superstitious aspects could be glossed over. He chuckled to himself, realizing how stupid that sounded – criticizing the superstitious when he was about to attempt a demon summoning.

It had gotten late, but everything was ready. He would get some sleep and perform the invocation the next day.

***

Ryan appraised his summoning circle, all drawn out in chalk on the hardwood floor of his apartment. This might be a pain to clean up, but it wasn’t as if he was going to get his deposit back anyway. It had taken him a couple of hours to write out all of the little Hebrew incantations and draw all of the pentagrams. He had made sure that it was lined up with the cardinal directions using a GPS app on his phone, and he’d triple-checked that everything was properly transcribed from the Lesser Key of Solomon. There was a little triangle for him to stand in that was decorated with wards, and there was the containment triangle, which was intended for trapping unruly demons within its confines. He remembered that the instructions had asked for a nine-foot circle and about twelve feet of space overall, but he had to make do with what was available. If this didn’t produce any tangible results, then so much might have gone wrong that it was hardly worth sweating over the details.

Even stripped of its more flamboyant elements, the ritual seemed needlessly complex, with layers of dependencies where one misstep could cause a cascading failure. Ryan was confident of his wards and sigils, however. He was about as defended from hostile entities as it was possible to be without having a proton pack on hand, unless he had completely misunderstood some crucial element that would result in his soul being immediately devoured. Oh well. It wasn’t like he had much going on these days anyway.

He had taken a long and thorough bath, using the soaps and salts that the enthusiastic woman at the new age store had sold him. Apparently, being clean in body was as important as any of the spiritual aspects of the summoning. After all, you wouldn’t invite a guest into your house and then greet them unwashed. That was just bad manners…

The only thing that he was wearing was his bathrobe. The material was linen, which seemed to be important. It had been mentioned frequently enough in the texts that he had sought one out specifically. He had stapled the piece of card with the Sexangle drawn on it to his belt, which was supposed to compel the demon to be obedient and to take human form upon request. Then, there was the Pentagonal Figure that hung from a piece of string around his neck, designed to ward off danger. Finally, the sweatband with the Ring of Solomon attached to it, which he was wearing around his head. As a complete package, it looked like one of those budget cosplay jokes, where someone used household items to approximate the costume of a superhero or a cartoon character in a way that was intentionally terrible. But, insofar as he could tell, his getup was perfectly in line with the rules.

He switched off the lights and began to walk around the circle, lighting his candles one by one as he went, the contrasting aromas of lavender and vanilla wafting into the air. He lit the incense burner, too. It was some scent called dragon’s blood, but to him, it just smelled like hand cream. He found himself wishing that his Ring of Solomon worked against regular smells as well as the sulfur spewed by demons. His apartment was starting to smell like a goddamned massage parlor.

He closed the blinds to ensure that the room was as dark as possible, the flickering firelight from the candles casting long, dancing shadows on the walls. There was a haze in the air from all the crap that he was burning, and it was all finally starting to feel like a genuine summoning. Get some teenagers in here with a Ouija board, and they’d scare themselves into hysterics within minutes. He had done a pretty good job of setting the mood, all things considered.

Okay, time to do this.

Ryan stooped to pick up a small vial that contained the Oil of Abramelin that he had mixed the night before and anointed himself with it. He dipped his finger into the liquid, touching it gently against the psychic centers of his body that were described in the books. The top of his head, between his eyes, his throat, chest, navel, and groin. He winced as it began to burn. He could have used some of the shit your pants hot sauce that was sitting on the kitchen counter and saved himself the trouble.

There were some rituals listed in Crowley’s account of his summoning, and so Ryan performed them as the author had. He held up a printout of the Lesser Banishing Ritual and the Preliminary Invocation of the Goetia, reading from the texts and trying to put on his best commanding voice. He waved his makeshift wand as he chanted the invocations, feeling somewhat foolish, like a character from one of those wizard movies that had been so popular a few years back.

When he was done, the next step was to concentrate on the triangle that he had drawn on the floor and will the demon to appear there. He pointed the wand at the chalk drawing, illuminated by the flickering candlelight, and spoke in the most confident tone that he could muster.

“Orobas, I summon you!”

He stood in silence for a few moments, waiting for something to happen, but there was nothing. Not one to be so easily discouraged, he pointed the wand again and repeated the demand in a sterner tone.

“Orobas, I summon you into the triangle!”

Bupkis. He was feeling a little disheartened now. Should he repeat the invocation, or had the lengthy diatribes described in the Lesser Key actually been necessary after all? No, Crowley had not used them, or he would surely have documented it in his book. Maybe he should add a little flair after all. Perhaps the demons appreciated the theatrics? He cleared his throat and gave it another try.

“I hereby command you, Demon Prince Orobas, to appear before me. By the true name of the God whom you are bound to serve, and by the names of the Kings that rule over you, I conjure you.”

Ryan felt a chill crawl up his spine. The sensation that he was being watched suddenly crept over him, as if there was some unseen presence in the room. He felt his heart quicken as he glanced around the gloomy apartment, yet he saw nothing. Could this really be working? Was it all true? No time to contemplate the implications – he had to stay on track. Courage and concentration were central to the ritual. Trying to banish the creeping feeling that someone was lurking somewhere behind him, his animal instincts urging him to run as his veins were flooded with adrenaline, he pressed on.

“I summon you into the triangle, Orobas! Obey my command, and do not delay!”

He fumbled with the sheets of paper that he had printed out, wanting to read off some of the names of the demons and angels that were said to compel the thing to do as it was told. While Crowley had not used them, Ryan had most of the information from the Lesser Key on hand just in case he needed it. There were fucking dozens of them, and he wasn’t even going to attempt to pronounce the name Escerchie. He’d just have to keep making it up as he went along.

“Orobas, great and mighty Prince of Hell, answer my summons and come before me so that you might aid me in my hour of need!”

Ryan couldn’t be sure if it was just the candles and incense, but the air seemed to be getting thicker, fumes swirling in the darkness as if some electrical appliance had caught fire. Hoping that wasn’t actually the case, he waved his wand at the triangle, trying to will the demon to manifest. He concentrated, fixated on that chalk drawing, trying to picture what it might look like in his mind’s eye. He was startled by a gust of wind that almost blew out his candles, the flames sputtering, despite all of the windows being securely closed. Things were starting to get seriously spooky, and some part of him almost wanted to back out, to abandon the whole venture while there was still time to pass everything off as coincidence or a trick of the light.

The temperature was plummeting, like somebody had been messing with the thermostat. For a moment, he could have sworn that he saw ice crystals in his breath. His eyes were playing tricks on him, mistaking the dancing shadows cast by the candles for figures moving around him, losing their definition when he managed to focus on one. He almost jumped out of his skin when he heard a loud bang from the room above. His unruly neighbors were stomping around, no doubt. But, there was doubt. There it was again. It almost sounded to his frightened ears like…hooves. Clop clop clop, like there was something heavy marching around in the apartment above him, or perhaps on his ceiling? He looked up frantically, and while he couldn’t see anything, the hairs on his arms and neck were standing on end all the same.

A wave of bitter regret washed over him. What the hell had he been thinking? Why didn’t he just sign up at an unemployment center, move back in with his parents, or even just take the hit and live in a hostel for a while? He felt like a suicide jumper who had just let go of the railing, his stomach lurching as he started to fall, a million better options flashing through his mind now that it was too late.

Ryan suddenly felt drawn to the triangle, magnetized to it, as if gravity was concentrating there and pulling him inexorably inward. He stared through the swirling haze, his eyes struggling to penetrate the vapors, and then he saw it.

There was some…thing in the triangle, a formless, writhing shape that was impossible to make out clearly. Only he didn’t really see it, not with his eyes, at least. Like a hologram projected onto a building, it cast itself into his mind like an idea. It was as if he had just discovered some new sense, a kind of sight without light. Even when he shut his eyes tightly to be free of the churning mass of malformed flesh…it was still there.

It was too late to undo this now, he had to stay the course. Driven more by his surging adrenaline than by courage, he pointed his wand at the demon, praying that his voice sounded more angry than hysterical.

“Take form, Orobas, and no shape intended to offend or repulse!”

It became more solid, as if it was phasing in from somewhere else, almost as though it was emerging from behind a pane of frosted glass. After a moment, there was a little horse sitting in the triangle, scarcely larger than a dog. It stared back at him with a pair of miserable eyes that looked too big for its head, watery and expressive. Ryan kept his wand trained on it as he tried to regain his composure.

Holy shit, it was a demon, sitting right in the middle of his living room. Holy shit! He didn’t know whether to be elated or horrified. The thing spoke, hoarse and distant as if heard from far away.

“What…is this?”

Ryan got the distinct impression that it didn’t want to be here, that it resented being confined to the triangle, but he flashed his Sexagonal sigil at it all the same.

“I have summoned you here, Orobas. You see this sigil? It means that you have to obey me.”

“Obey thee?” it asked, its tone derisive. “Thou art no Magician. What manner of farce is this? Dost thou mock me, mortal?”

“I’m…no, I’m not mocking you. I summoned you here. It worked, didn’t it? Now, follow the rules. You have to do as I command.”

As afraid as he was, Ryan was becoming quite annoyed with the weird little pony. This was his moment of triumph, and yet it seemed to think that the whole affair was some kind of practical joke. Did it not believe that he was the one who had summoned it?

“Who hast taught thee these things?” Orobas asked in its rasping voice.

“Nobody,” Ryan replied tersely. “I taught myself.”

“Thy sigils art scrawled upon paper, thy runes and thy incantations art as if drawn by the hand of a child. Thou weareth a bathing gown. This should not have worked. How didst thou succeed in summoning me here with so little care and preparation?”

“I followed the instructions, and the fact that you’re here talking to me right now proves that I did it right, so stop complaining unless you want me to burn your sigil.”

Ryan raised a slip of paper with Orobas’ seal crudely drawn on it in pencil, holding up a lighter to it.

“No!” Orobas snapped. “Do not do that!”

Ryan pulled away, alarmed by the intensity of the creature’s objection. Perhaps the threat was more severe than he had realized. The thing seemed to calm down, sinking back into its position inside the triangle. It turned its sorrowful eyes to the sigil that contained it as if trying to find some error in the Hebrew script or the placement of the runes, something that might let it break loose, but there was nothing. Ryan had taken great care to transcribe them properly. Reluctantly, it turned its attention back to him.

“What wouldst thou ask of me, novice?”

Ryan collected himself. This was the most crucial part of the summoning – he needed to make sure that his request was phrased clearly and could not be misinterpreted either by accident or intention. He had thought long and hard about it, and he had decided on what he wanted to ask the demon.

“Orobas, I beseech you to use your powers and all of the spirits under your command to help me turn my life around. I lost my job and my wife-to-be, I’ve run out of money, and I’m going to lose my home. My luck has soured, and nothing is going right for me. Summoning you is my last resort. I want to be financially secure again. I want a steady job that pays enough for me to live comfortably and that I enjoy. I want to be happy again. You have two weeks. It needs to be done before I get evicted at the end of the month.”

The demon seemed to consider for a moment, Ryan watching it with bated breath until it finally replied in its rasping voice.

“This, I can do, but speak plainly. Art thou sure that this is thy request?”

“Yes.”

“And, what favors willst thou grant me in exchange?”

“If you succeed in your task, I will order fifty tin plates from the hardware store. I’ll get them engraved with your sigil, and then I’ll scatter them all over the city. Laser-etched, real nice. People will be finding those things for months.”

“This is…acceptable,” the creature conceded. “But heed this warning, novice. Thou art clearly ignorant in the ways of magick, and this work will nary be simple nor quick. Be patient and follow my instructions, and thou shalt prosper before the fortnight is through.”

“So, we have a deal, then?”

“Aye. I accept thy terms. Now see me on my way.”

“Oh, right,” Ryan said as he fumbled with the printout and cleared his throat. “Because you have answered my summons and have appeared before me in good faith, and now that our contract is sealed, I hereby release you to return from whence you came, Orobas. Go now peaceably, with blessings and thanks, and be ever ready to return to my side again should your council be required.”

The grotesque little horse bowed its head, then as quickly as it had come, it was gone. The air cleared instantly, the oppressive haze lifting and the cold retreating. Ryan could sense that he was alone once again, that feeling of being watched fading.

His heart was beating like a drum. His mouth was dry, and his hands were shaking conspicuously, but his terror had been replaced with elation. He had done it! He had summoned a demon, and it was all real! He walked hurriedly around the circumference of the summoning circle, blowing out the candles and dousing the incense burners. He turned the lights back on, then raised the blinds, sunlight flooding back into the room. The thing had left no evidence of its presence, no ghostly residue in the triangle where Orobas had sat, and no hoof prints on the ceiling.

Would the demon really do as he had asked? How would it influence his life? Would he wake up the next morning with a job offer from some big IT firm waiting for him on the kitchen table? Orobas had said that it would take time, and that he should be patient, but he could hardly contain his excitement.

He removed the sweatband from his head, along with the Ring of Solomon that protected him from foul odors, and his nose wrinkled at the smell of sulfur. It was faint, but it was there, overpowering the scents of the candles and incense as they faded.

He would leave the circle and the sigils on the floor in case he needed to contact Orobas again. There was no reason to clean them up when his landlord wasn’t nosy, and he had no friends or family who might visit him here. He could do with changing out of his bathrobe, though, and opening a few windows. The vanilla candles were almost worse than the demonic odor.

***

Another day passed with no sign or show from Orobas, and with nothing more pressing to occupy his time, Ryan spent it catching up on TV shows and video games. He had moved some of the furniture back into place just so that he could make use of the seating and the television, but he could touch up the circle with chalk if the need arose.

He was lounging on the couch, eating a slice of pizza with his controller in hand when the smell of sulfur overpowered him, a freezing cold coming over the room. He dropped what he was doing, shivering as he watched his breath condensate. Could Orobas reappear of its own accord without being summoned? What should he do? Did he need his robe and his sigils?

Footsteps echoed, the unmistakable sound of hooves on wood. His ears tracked what his eyes could not yet see, something heavy walking across the ceiling, formless shadows dancing on the walls as if cast by ethereal flames. There was a haze in the air, choking fumes manifesting out of nowhere, stinging his eyes and making them water in the absence of his wards.

He suddenly became aware of something that was standing in the corner of the room, its silhouette seen more by his mind than his eyes. The amorphous mass took shape, becoming vaguely humanoid, yet tall enough that its head scraped the ceiling. This was not Orobas, unless he was taking a form that was not described in any of the grimoires. Ryan felt a pang of fear tie a knot in his belly. Had he done something wrong and let some vagrant entity into his apartment? It was said that summoning demons and playing with the occult would open one up to invasion by hostile spirits, like leaving your door unlocked in a bad neighborhood. He had no sigils on hand, no wand, nothing that might help him protect himself or repel it.

He heard the knock of hooves on the wood floor, growing louder and heavier as the entity began to walk towards the couch on two jointed legs, like the hind limbs of a goat or a deer. It was slowly taking form, coming more into focus as it neared him, Ryan rubbing his eyes in a futile attempt to clear them as he cowered. It shook the floorboards, far heavier than any man, a mane of twisted horns scraping along the ceiling like nails on a chalkboard as it approached him.

As it came into focus, the haze parting before it, more of its features jumped out at him. It was undeniably female, strikingly so, such that he was momentarily distracted from his fear. Her torso was that of a woman, developed and shapely, soft around the belly and hips. Two heavy breasts immediately drew his gaze, swaying gently with her gait, just firm enough to keep their full shape. Some kind of wool or maybe feathery fur began between them, rising to cover her neck in a sort of ruff. The same fluffy coat was present on her shoulders and lower arms, which ended in three-fingered hands with black nails that were almost claw-like in their sharpness. Her stomach and thighs were clear of fur, leaving her smooth, unnaturally pale skin exposed. Below her burnished thighs were the legs of a Satyr, like some historical depiction of a devil. They ended in the cloven hooves of a cow or a goat, and they were covered in that same downy wool.

He craned his neck to see her face and was struck by its odd shape. It wasn’t quite that of a goat, and it wasn’t quite that of a human, either. The features were softer and more subtle than those of an animal, with an almost imperceptible snout and the clear skin of a woman, yet the nose and ears were undeniably ovine. Half a dozen black, twisted horns sprouted from her head like a crown, protruding from amidst the downy wool that served as her hair. Her eyes were what stood out to him the most, amber in color, with the horizontal pupils of a sheep. She peered down at him, batting her long eyelashes as if waiting for him to make the next move.

“What…are you?” Ryan mumbled, pulling away from her reflexively.

“I am of the Seirim, bound to serve my master, Prince Orobas.” She spoke with a husky, feminine voice, strangely musical as if it was being run through a synthesizer.

“Orobas sent you here?”

“I have been assigned to you as a familiar,” she explained, her piercing gaze fixed on him. He tried to maintain eye contact, her conspicuous nakedness and her strange features making it a challenge. “My master cannot remain in the mortal realm long enough to achieve what you have asked, so I will act as a guide and intermediary.”

“Oh!” Ryan stammered. Knowing where she had come from didn’t do much to alleviate his terror. “That’s…good! So, you’re like, going to help me out or something?”

“My spirit is bound to yours until the contract is completed. I will carry out the instructions of my master and guide you in your efforts.”

“Okay, cool. So, where do we start? Are you going to use your magic powers to find out what job openings there are within commute distance?”

The demon cocked her head at him, scrutinizing him with those yellow eyes, and he shrank back into the couch.

“You are no Magician,” she said suspiciously. “You know nothing of our ways, yet you succeeded in invoking my master and binding him in a contract. How did you accomplish this?”

“I-I looked up the instructions and followed the steps.”

“It takes years of study and meditation to truly understand the nature of the sacred texts. Learning the invocations and ceremonies of the Lemegeton is the work of a lifetime in itself. It takes an accomplished and learned practitioner of the magickal arts to even make an attempt at summing a demon. Tell me, are you familiar with the Grimorium Verum, or the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum?”

He shook his head.

“Who taught you magick?”

“Nobody, I read about it on my own,” he snapped as indignation overpowered his apprehension. “Listen, I’m getting pretty tired of you people questioning my competence. All that matters is that I summoned Orobas and that we have a contract. You have to do what I say, and I say that I don’t need to know the ins and outs of what’s going on as long as I get results. Whatever goes on under the hood is your business and not mine.”

She seemed taken aback by his sudden fearlessness, blinking her ovine eyes at him.

“Very well. Magick is subtle. Far from producing instant results, it takes time and preparation to achieve what you desire. You asked Orobas to find you work and to turn your life around. The simplest way to do that is through your own efforts, aided by his powers and his wise counsel.”

“Well, we have two weeks,” Ryan replied with a shrug. “The sooner we get started, the better.”

She nodded her head, and Ryan wondered how heavy those horns were. Was she even a physical manifestation, or did she have no mass at all? He wanted to reach out and touch the downy, wool-like material that covered her body in places, but he didn’t dare. While he presumed to be in control of these demons, he didn’t want to push his luck. The relationship felt tentative enough as it was.

“Very well,” the demon said. “I will commune with my master and return shortly.”

“Wait!” Ryan blurted, raising a hand in a gesture for her to stop. The creature peered at him with those inhuman eyes, pausing as she waited for him to continue. “What should I call you?”

“Nahash.”

Just as quickly as she had come, she was gone, the lingering smell of sulfur the only evidence that she had ever been in the room. Ryan sank back into the couch, a cold shiver running down his spine. He lifted an upturned slice of pizza that he had dropped on the cushions when the demon had manifested, watching the strands of cheese stretch as they glued themselves to the faux leather.

It was one thing to summon a demon, but it was quite another to have them randomly popping in and out of reality like fucking whack-a-moles. He put a hand to his chest, feeling the rapid beating of his heart, and he wiped cold sweat from his brow. He didn’t really feel in control of the situation anymore. He had made a contract with Orobas, not with this Nahash who claimed to represent him, but at least things were moving along.

He picked up his controller again, turning his attention back to the television. There wasn’t much he could do right now other than wait for her to reappear.

CHAPTER 3: TANGIBLE RESULTS

Ryan was hunched over the kitchen sink washing dishes when Nahash appeared again, that same cold haze and the stench of sulfur alerting him to her imminent manifestation. A feeling of instinctual dread washed over him as he sensed her presence behind him, as if his mind rejected her on some subconscious level, an aberration whose very existence defied the laws of nature.

One of the plates that he was washing slipped out of his grasp and broke, the crack of the ceramic making him jump out of his skin, and he spun around to greet her with his hands still covered in soap suds.

“I have returned,” Nahash said in that oddly musical voice.

“H-hi,” he muttered weakly, looking up at the enormous demon as she towered over him. Her ample bosom was at eye-level, and it was a struggle to keep his gaze off them, but the last thing he wanted to do was offend her. For all he knew, she could rip his soul right out of his body.

“My master, Prince Orobas, has instructed me on how we must proceed. Treat my words as you would his. Heed me, and your contract with him shall be completed.”

At this point, Ryan just wanted this nonsense to be over with as soon as possible. As much as he needed the help, he was feeling increasingly like he had done something very wrong. Maybe that was his immortal soul speaking, or perhaps it was just common sense. The implications of demons being real raised many theological and existential questions, but he dared not think about them too deeply. If he did, the possibilities might overwhelm him. One thing at a time…

“Fire away,” he replied, and she cocked her head at him curiously. “Continue,” he clarified.

“I have the power to see into the hearts of men,” she began. “My master sees past, present, and future flowing before him with great clarity. You need only state what position you seek, I will sense if that is your true desire, then my master will plot the course of action most likely to see your request realized.”

“Hang on,” Ryan protested as he dried his hands on a nearby dishcloth. “You’re going to have to elaborate a little on how all of this works. Why do you need to see into my heart to know what I want? Can’t I just tell you? If Orobas can see into the future, then why does he need my input at all? Can’t he just see what I’m going to decide in advance?”

She planted her hands on her wide hips, an oddly human gesture coming from such an alien creature, and he felt his cheeks redden as he sensed that he was about to be chastised.

“This ignorance of magick must be rectified if we are to continue,” she complained. “You understand nothing of our ways, and thus your uninformed requests are made all the more difficult to fulfill.”

“Is this going to take long?” he sighed, tossing the rag aside. “Should I sit down?”

She gestured to the kitchen table, and Ryan pulled up a chair. Nahash was so large that none of his furniture would have supported her if he had offered her a seat, so she stood on her cloven hooves as she began her lecture.

“Time is not linear, and the future is not set in stone. Our actions in the present influence and change its course. Imagine a winding river flowing before you, splitting into channels and creeks, infinite possibilities that stretch out as far as the eye can see. Each of those possibilities is a choice that might be made, an action that might be taken to change the course of history. But, in order for a path to be chosen, there must be conviction. You must decide upon which path to take and entertain no doubts. Unless you are confident in your decisions, then my master’s powers will not be reliable.”

“I think I understand, though that’s a hell of a lot less effective than I’d hoped,” he grumbled. “Will Orobas at least be able to see if an interview will go successfully, or whether I’ll be hired or not?”

“That depends on you,” she replied. “His prescience reaches only as far as your decisions do, but the advantages that it confers are beyond anything in mortal experience.”

“And, what’s this about you seeing into my heart?” he added as he raised a skeptical eyebrow. “I don’t remember requesting that. Why is it necessary? Doesn’t Orobas trust me to know what I want?”

She scrutinized him with her amber eyes, those horizontal pupils burning into him, and he wondered if she was using her powers right now.

“You are brash,” she began, her ovine ears flicking with what might be disapproval. “You act without thought. My master was wise to see that quality in you and to assign me as your familiar. Some of your requests were vague and ill-thought-out,” she chided, the way that she shifted her stance to loom over him making the soft parts of her voluptuous figure quiver distractingly. “In the future, you should be clearer when you ask a demon to make you happy or to turn your life around. You are very fortunate that my master is loyal to his charges and does not deceive, or your happiness might have taken the form of being transformed into a crawling beast, your mind made simple enough to be satisfied by eating and rutting.”

Ryan’s blood ran cold at the prospect. He had taken such care to formulate his request, yet in the heat of the moment, it had come out less concise than he had intended. Excitement and fear had gotten the better of him. If he had chosen to summon one of the other demons that he had considered besides Orobas, he might be a rat right now, crawling through the building in search of insects to eat and wiring to chew.

“So, you’re here to make sure that I don’t mess up any future requests?” Ryan asked. He had to admit, he was a little embarrassed at the thought that they didn’t think he could be trusted to articulate himself.

“In part,” she replied as she stood up straight again, those twisting horns brushing the ceiling. “I will also supervise you in your efforts and relay to you the instructions and premonitions of my master.”

Ryan leaned on the table, resting his head in his hands as he took it all in. Nahash watched him curiously as she waited for a response. The demon was completely out of place in his kitchen, surrounded by mundane appliances, her presence doing nothing to help him think.

“Alright,” he began once he had collected his thoughts. “So, you want me to think about what kind of job I want? Can it be anything I like? What if I asked you to make me an astronaut or a professional golfer?”

“That was not stipulated in the contract,” she replied, narrowing her eyes. “You asked for enjoyable work that would pay enough to allow you to live within your means. I advise you to keep your requests humble and grounded. Time is short, and the more reasonable your requests, the more expedient the results.”

“Okay, okay, I wasn’t really serious. So, I need to look for work, and I don’t have a car. That means I need something in the city that’s close enough for me to reach via public transportation.”

“Unless you require my assistance, I will take my leave of you and return to my master’s side,” Nahash continued. “He will inform me when you have found a suitable position.”

“Hang on!” Ryan sputtered. “Aren’t you going to help me? Doesn’t Orobas have some ability that will let me know where to look or which job I’m going to like?”

“As I explained, his prescience extends only as far into the future as your decisions do. When your mind is made up, I shall return.”

She faded from reality again, disappearing before his very eyes like a mirage, shimmering as if her corporeal form had been but a haze of heat on a sun-beaten road. Ryan leaned on his hand and loosed an exasperated sigh. He was starting to question why he even needed the help of these demons if he had to job hunt on his own. Who knew if there were even positions available right now? Would Orobas even be able to fulfill his end of the deal if Ryan couldn’t find anything? Oh well, better get started. The longer he took, the less time the demons would have to take care of the finer details.

***

Ryan leaned back in his office chair, trying and failing to stifle a yawn. His eyes were red and itchy from staring at his computer monitor for too long. It was three in the morning, and he had been scouring job listing sites for hours. He could blame the economy or his own overspecialization in white-collar work, but there wasn’t a single job close enough that he could reach it by bus or subway that he was remotely suited to. He had moved here specifically to take advantage of a position that had been offered to him right out of college, and the commute had not been a concern, as he lived within a ten-minute bus ride of the damned office complex.

The best positions that he could find on such short notice were an opening on the city garbage collection route and an internship at an auto dealer, but those wouldn’t bring in nearly enough to afford the absurd rent on his apartment. Besides, Orobas had agreed to find him a job that paid well and that he enjoyed – he wasn’t about to accept a job as a garbage truck driver. No disrespect to the city workers – without them, trash would be piling up on the streets – but it wasn’t what he had in mind for a fulfilling career. He leaned his head on his keyboard, cursing his bad luck. It was hopeless…

The temperature in the apartment suddenly plummeted, that now familiar smell of sulfur rising to his nose as vapors swirled in the air. Nahash was back, her oppressive presence bearing down on him as she was birthed from the shadows in the corner of the room, her sheer size and mass no less alarming to him now than when he had first laid eyes on her.

“I didn’t find anything yet,” he complained, trying not to sound too rattled by her sudden appearance. “What are you doing back so soon?”

“You must increase the range of your search,” she replied, her eyes seeming to glow like hot coals in the dark. “Look farther afield for the positions that you seek.”

“But, I don’t have a car,” Ryan replied incredulously. “How the hell am I supposed to get there if I can’t take public transport?”

“You shall have what you require,” she said in that musical tone, the floorboards creaking as she strode towards him. “Take this.” She reached out a hand, opening four fingers that were tipped with claws, their black color contrasting with her pale skin. They looked more like hooves than nails. A slip of paper materialized in her palm, Ryan watching with fascination as it was borne from an orange flame, as if footage of it being burned to ash was being played back in reverse. He reached out to take it, his fingers brushing her claws. He could feel their rough texture, and his digits didn’t pass through her like they would a ghost. She had a physical form that he could interact with. Interesting…

He held up the slip of paper and saw that there was an address written on it in looping, calligraphic text.

“Go to this place,” Nahash explained, the glow of his monitor reflecting off her ashen complexion in the gloom. “Set out by the stroke of seven tomorrow morning. Walk briskly, but do not hurry. Buy a coffee and a donut on your way, and whatever happens, do not argue with her. Leave promptly. You will be accosted by a drunken vagrant – be generous with him and treat him as you would a friend, but see him on his way. Sleep tonight, for you will need the rest.”

“What?” he stammered, his brow furrowing in confusion. “What’s going to happen? Where are you sending me?”

“Heed my instructions, and you will see your problem solved,” she said as her voice faded and her body slowly lost its definition. Like salt dissolving in water, she seemed to dissipate, and was gone. Ryan was left holding the piece of paper as he stared at the empty space where she had been standing but moments ago.

He read it again, then entered the address into his browser, the map website showing him a mall that was within walking distance of his apartment. What on Earth could he find at a mall that would help his job search? She hadn’t been willing to provide any more information, so he didn’t have much of a choice other than to do as she instructed and hope for some tangible results.

After shutting down his computer, he headed to bed as instructed, that demonic smell still lingering in the air. To be honest, he had been glad to be so occupied with a project. Anything to keep his head off that pillow. He had found that his nights were lonely and restless without Becky’s warm body to keep him company. Like a puppy that won’t sleep at night without a clock placed under a pillow to simulate its mother’s heartbeat, he missed the presence of another person terribly. The lack of simple comforts like the hypnotic breathing of a partner or the warm contact of their skin had left him with a kind of insomnia.

He would have to do his best – there was no helping it right now.

***

Ryan left the stairwell of his apartment building and stepped out onto the street, finding the sidewalk still wet from the previous night’s rain. He zipped up his jacket and buried his hands in his pockets. It had just gone seven, and the morning air was pleasantly cool. It was a brisk autumn day, and the city was just starting to wake up, cars beginning to clog the roads as its inhabitants made their way to work. The sidewalks were still relatively clear, so he set off in the direction of the mall, crunching fallen leaves underfoot as he walked beneath the rows of colorful trees.

He went over Nahash’s instructions in his head as he threaded past the other pedestrians, trying to make some sense of what she had told him. Who was he supposed to avoid arguing with, and what was going to happen when he reached his destination? She had been so vague and yet oddly specific at the same time. Orobas must have foreseen something and told her to relay to him only what information he needed.

He could go for a coffee and a donut, though. A macchiato might be a good start to what was apparently going to be a busy day, and he’d sell his soul to the demons before he turned down a cruller. There was only one coffee shop on the route that took him to the mall, and after a short walk, he arrived outside. A little bell above the door rang as he pushed it open, and he took up a place in a short line, waiting patiently for his turn at the counter. There weren’t many people here yet, but it would be bustling before long. The smell of fresh coffee wafted over to him, soothing and familiar. He wasn’t much of a morning person, so caffeine was his crutch when he had to wake up early to catch the bus.

Would he miss whatever unspoken deadline Orobas had set if he took too long? No, Nahash had told him not to hurry. He had to trust that everything would work out the way that had been foreseen.

When his turn came, he stepped up to the counter, and his stomach knotted as he saw Becky standing behind the register. Her dark hair was tied back in a bun, and she was wearing green overalls with the company logo emblazoned on her breast. Of course. She worked as a barista at this chain. Her shift didn’t usually begin until after he had already set off for work, so he had never encountered her on the job before. Her eyes widened as she recognized him, then narrowed. Ryan had been radio silent since they had broken up – he hadn’t contacted her in over a month.

“Hey…Becky…”

“Ryan,” she answered dismissively.

“I’ll have a…uh…a macchiato and a cruller.”

Her eyes flashed with fury, and she spun her head around to make sure that her manager wasn’t in earshot before leaning over the counter to whisper angrily to him.

“That’s all you’ve got to say me?” she hissed. “You don’t speak to me for a month, and then you show up here asking for coffee?”

“Well, you work at a coffee shop,” he replied apologetically with a gesture to her overalls. She fumed, her expression suggesting that she wanted to vault over the counter and lay into him, but it wasn’t worth her job. “Besides, you made your feelings pretty clear. Why would I care what you had to say about it after you stormed out?”

“Three years, and you don’t even try to contact me? You don’t reply to my messages on social media, you never answer your phone! A real man wouldn’t just let me go like that without a fight.”

“Why on Earth would I want to get back together with you after what you did?” he scoffed.

“Hey, I broke up with you,” she spat.

“Yeah, if you consider getting caught sleeping around breaking up with someone.”

She was about ready to go off on another rant, no doubt full of expletives and derogatory statements about his manhood and his financial situation, but Ryan remembered what Nahash had told him.

Whatever happens, do not argue with her.

This was it – this was what she had been talking about. The vague and cryptic instructions that had been relayed to him were already falling into place. It was like struggling with a puzzle before finally understanding how it fit together – that click of realization when you got your head around the problem.

“You’re such a pussy Ryan, you didn’t even-“

He held up a hand to cut her off, and her face contorted with rage.

“A macchiato and a cruller, please.”

“How dare you,” she began, but he silenced her again with another wave of his hand.

“I have places to be, Becky. Don’t make me talk to your manager.”

She slunk off to fetch his order and returned after a minute, sliding the paper bag across the counter begrudgingly, then slamming his coffee down on the polished wood. She shot him a dirty look, then rang him up, foisting the crumpled receipt into his waiting hand.

“Enjoy your beverage, sir,” she spat with that same venom she had shown him in their apartment. Ryan turned and left without another word, feeling her eyes burning holes into his back as he stepped out onto the street. He set off towards the mall again, a spring in his step as he sipped his coffee, the cool wind blowing his hair and rustling his paper bag. He had to admit that it had felt pretty good to shut Becky down like that. Had she cheated on him for attention, then? As some kind of punishment for him failing to keep her entertained? Oh, what did it matter? He wouldn’t be able to forgive her either way. There was still a knot in his stomach when he thought about her, like someone was twisting a hot knife in his gut, but he already felt a little better. It was nice to be outside again, feeling the breeze on his face and the crisp air in his lungs, getting some exercise rather than sitting in front of a screen and trying to block reality from his mind.

The hot coffee warmed his belly, and he fished inside the bag for his donut as he walked, taking a bite of the twisted dough before sucking the sweet glaze from his fingers. As Nahash had instructed, his pace was brisk, but he wasn’t hurrying. The city was coming to life all around him, traffic crawling to a standstill as cars blocked the road, bicyclists weaving between them in their mad dash to make it to work on time. Pedestrians carrying briefcases and umbrellas emerged from subway stairwells, crowds of them milling about like ants clad in overcoats, the bustle and cacophony oddly soothing to him.

He walked for another ten minutes or so, dropping his empty styrofoam cup and the paper bag into a trash can once he had finished his breakfast, the smells of exhaust fumes and the sounds of angry motorists doing little to dampen his mood. He knew that something good was going to happen today, something positive. It was an odd and welcome feeling to be assured that luck would be on your side.

As he rounded a street corner and the mall came into view, he felt a tug on his pants leg. He stumbled, turning around to see what had grabbed him. There was a homeless man lying prone on the street, clad in tattered wool clothing and sporting fingerless gloves, his weather-beaten face obscured behind a wiry beard. He stank of booze, and he was clearly drunk. Ryan shook him off in annoyance as the man propped himself up against the wall of the building behind him, sitting upright. He took off his moth-eaten beanie and held it out like a collection plate, revealing hair that was long and matted.

“Hey, fella,” he slurred drunkenly. “Can ya spare a penny for…for the poor?”

Ryan brushed himself off and turned to leave, but paused when he remembered what Nahash had said. You will be accosted by a drunken vagrant. Be generous with him, and treat him as you would a friend, but see him on his way. She had been right about Becky at the coffee shop – there was no reason to doubt her now. He opened his coat and started to fish inside one of the inner pockets for his wallet, the homeless man waiting expectantly as Ryan produced a twenty-dollar bill. The demon had advised him to be generous, and it wasn’t as if twenty bucks was going to prevent him from losing his apartment if he didn’t find a job in time.

Ryan handed it to him, and the vagrant held the bill up to the light. When he was satisfied that it was real, he struggled to his feet, reaching out to embrace his new benefactor. Ryan grimaced as the filthy stranger hugged him tightly, the smell of body odor and alcohol washing over him, but he endured it. Treat him as you would a friend, that’s what Nahash had said. He gave the man a tentative pat on the back through his layers of heavy coats, trying to reassure him.

“Yer a real pal,” the stranger mumbled as Ryan eased himself out of his arms. “Whas yer name?”

“Ryan, and it’s no trouble, really.”

“Ryan,” the vagrant mused. “Ah’ll keep an eye out for ya.”

Send him on his way, he thought as he turned the man around and gave him a gentle nudge to send him doddering off down the sidewalk. He muttered incoherently to himself, wealthier and more handsomely dressed city folk avoiding him like the plague as he passed by them. Ryan watched him stumble along for a moment, then continued on towards the mall, pushing his way through the glass doors and into the food court near the entrance.

He had never visited a mall so early in the day before, and he was surprised to see it relatively empty. Many of the stores were just now opening for business. The aromas of breakfast food greeted him as he made his way past the tables and glass counters, unsure of why he was there or what he was supposed to do next. Doubt was already nagging at him, and he wondered whether Nahash might have forgotten to relay the rest of her instructions to him. Morning sunlight beamed down through the windows in the domed roof as he emerged into the mall proper, and he wandered past clothing outlets and videogame stores, searching for some clue that might set him on the right path.

“You, sir!”

Ryan turned his head in the direction of the voice, spotting a man in a dark suit who was standing beside a car. It was in the middle of the walkway on a raised podium, cordoned off by a red velvet rope, a white sedan with a silver grill and gleaming hubcaps. The man who had called to him waved him over, and he approached slowly.

“Enter the raffle and win a car! Just fill out your information on this form for a chance to take it home.”

Ryan was handed a sheet of paper, and he glanced over it. They wanted his personal information, things like his home address and his phone number. He felt a surge of excitement welling in him. This must be what Orobas had foreseen! He needed a car for work, and so Orobas had used his powers of prescience to put him in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to fill out the winning form. The stop at the coffee shop, his encounter with the homeless man, all links in the chain that would delay his arrival until precisely this moment in time.

He asked for a pen and filled out the sheet of paper, handing it back and starting to walk around the podium to get a better look at the car. It was a four-door sedan, a luxury model with all the accessories, probably sponsored by some local auto dealership.

“She’s a beauty,” the crier said, slipping the form that Ryan had filled out into a box that was sitting atop a short podium beside him. “This year’s model, five-year warranty, comes with all the bells and whistles. You got here just in the nick of time, you know. You’re one of the last people to hand in your form, and the registration ends today.”

“You don’t say,” Ryan mused, playing his eyes over the snow-white finish as he circled the vehicle. It was shiny enough that he could see his reflection in the bodywork, distorted like a funhouse mirror. While he didn’t know much about cars, this was as nice a vehicle as he could imagine owning. Well, besides something like a sports car, of course. But, like Nahash had said, he had to keep his expectations reasonable if their relationship was to bear fruit. “So, how do I win?”

“Your information will be entered into a raffle, and the winner will be randomly decided by the luck of the draw. If you’re the lucky winner, then you’ll receive a phone call with further instructions.”

“I’m feeling pretty lucky today,” he said, suppressing a grin.

***

“You were right about everything,” Ryan said excitedly, gesturing wildly as he paced around the living room. Nahash had appeared again shortly after he had returned from the mall, and she was sitting on his couch as he circled it, her oddly goat-like head turning to track him. Her long legs leaned to the left like a woman riding side-saddle, the couch too low for her to sit normally. She looked large enough to crush the wooden frame into splinters, and yet the cushions beneath her ample rump barely sagged, as if her weight and mass were not as her appearance suggested. Did she grow tired, and did she need rest? Was she relaxing, or was this some illusion for his benefit? Orobas had not even taken form until he had been compelled to do so by the sigil.

“The coffee shop, the homeless guy, everything that you said came true. What’s next?” he asked as he leaned on the back of the couch, her long ears flicking as if to bat away invisible flies. “When do I get the car?”

“Soon,” she replied. “For now, you must widen your search. Look farther afield to find work that pleases you. Once you have made a decision, my master will be able to see into the future with greater clarity, and he will advise your next course of action.”

“This is great!” Ryan exclaimed with a chuckle. “I didn’t understand your methods at first, but this is like having a strategy guide for life itself.”

“Now, do you understand the way that magick works?” she asked as she glanced back at him. Even sitting down, she was still as tall as he was.

“Yeah, yeah, I do. The applications are limitless. I could win the lottery and become a millionaire, I could…”

He noticed that her expression had darkened, and her amber eyes were peering at him with what almost looked like disdain.

“I remember, don’t worry,” he said in an attempt to reassure her. “I have to keep my requests humble for the best results. In any case, that wasn’t part of my contract with Orobas. A job that I enjoy will work out better for me than a winning lottery ticket anyway. Most people who win eventually go broke, you know.”

Her expression softened again, and she seemed satisfied. Demons must really hate greed. As beings who were described as the embodiment of sin and evil, they sure seemed to get pissed off with him when he talked about things that he didn’t need. Did they just want to avoid the extra workload?

“Something doesn’t add up,” Ryan said, walking around to the front of the couch to stand before the entity. “You guys are demons, right? You’re bound by contract not to do me any harm, at least not directly, but isn’t your whole shtick trying to tempt people into self-ruination?”

Nahash crossed her long legs, still distractingly naked, her cloven hoof dangling as it protruded from feathery fur that bore an uncanny resemblance to a woolen knee sock. The more time she spent in his apartment, the more her demeanor seemed to change. It was odd. She had gone from an imposing and terrifying figure who stood stoically as she advised him, to someone who made herself at home on his couch. She was lingering for longer and longer upon each visit, too, becoming more comfortable around him.

“What do you think of when you hear the word demon?” Nahash asked. Ryan had to take a moment to think about his reply.

“Red guy with a beard and a pitchfork, embodiment of evil, takes your soul in exchange for a monkey-paw contract that eventually fucks you over in some cruel and ironic way.”

“Have you found that to be the case?”

“No,” he replied, a little sheepish now. “I don’t mean to be like…insensitive or anything.”

“Biblical lore talks of fallen angels, of good versus evil. In reality, there is an entire world of spirits and entities that exists beyond your perception. There is no more good or evil in a spirit than there is in a mortal. We follow our whims and our fancies just as you do, and we are bound by the laws of our society much as you are bound by those of yours.”

“So, you won’t try to corrupt me or anything like that?” he asked warily. “You won’t steal my soul?”

“My master is loyal to his exorcist, and no lies pass his lips,” she replied as she leaned back into the cushions. “Is that not why you chose to summon him above all others?”

“In part, yeah.”

“I am bound to him, and to you. Treat my words as if they came from his mouth. There is much that you do not yet understand, Ryan, and much that I cannot teach you. Arcane knowledge that is forbidden to mortals, ancient histories that I do not know myself. It is not my master’s place to teach you the secret history of the world, nor is it mine. That is the domain of other demons who you might learn to summon in time. But what you must understand is that our history pre-dates yours by eons, and that many of the entities that you refer to as demons are simply old gods who fell out of favor and lost their power as a result. Most have no interest in your immortal soul and seek only to fulfill their contracts.”

“So, what’s the deal with the sigils?” Ryan asked. “Why does Orobas treat engraved metal plates as currency?”

“As I said, many are gods who lost their power. Their worshipers are long dead, and their icons have been reduced to dust by time and neglect. Worship and tribute invigorates them, strengthens them. Without it, they would fade and cease to be.”

“So…” Ryan hesitated, wanting to ask more questions but unsure of whether he really wanted to know the answers.

“I sense uncertainty in you,” she said, watching him with those horizontal pupils. “You wonder if the religion that you know is true, and you fear that you will be judged poorly for what you have done. The surviving texts contain fragments of the truth, though none have accurately recorded the full account of what happened before the deluge. So much has been lost to your people.”

She shuffled aside and patted the cushion beside her with her clawed hand, an oddly friendly gesture that contrasted starkly with her demonic appearance.

“Come. Sit with me.”

Her hips were so wide that there would barely be room for him, and he was a little apprehensive about getting so close to her. He wasn’t as fearful of her as he had been when she had first appeared, but she still had a fearsome look about her. Those horns could have skewered a sizable cow.

“Do not be afraid,” she said in a reassuring tone. “I am your familiar. My purpose here is to serve you on behalf of my master.”

Still skeptical, he slid down into the narrow gap between her hip and the armrest, his leg pressing against the soft meat of her thigh. Nahash had as much of a physical presence as he did. She wasn’t ghostly or ethereal, and he could even smell her. Far from the stench of sulfur when she manifested, her scent was more earthy up close, but in a pleasant way. It reminded him of grass and soil after a rainstorm.

Despite her exaggerated stature and her oppressive size, the couch didn’t sag under her weight. Her thighs were almost as thick around as his torso, tapering into thinner and more goat-like limbs below the knee, the transition masked by her white fur. Ryan found himself staring intently at the far wall in an attempt to keep his eyes off her impressive bust, his proximity to her putting her chest mere inches from his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught scant glimpses of her pale breasts as they hung free, fighting against gravity in the absence of any support. They were the size of his head, large enough that he would have struggled to cup one with both hands, shaped like perfect teardrops. Despite their obvious mass, she carried them easily on her massive frame. Whatever she weighed, it wasn’t right. Perhaps she had more control over her form than he thought.

“I am here to help you in the full scope of your contract with Orobas,” she began. “It is my job to aid him in his understanding of what it is that you actually want. It will not do to see you so worried.”

“You don’t think that I’m going to hell for consorting with demons, then?”

“Even my master cannot see that which has not yet been decided, but a man’s life is long and fraught with challenges. I sincerely doubt that one act can doom him. Besides, as you now know, good and evil are relative.”

“Were you ever…alive?” he asked hesitantly. “Were you a person once?”

“Did I go to hell, you mean? No, I am of the Seirim, the progeny of the demon Azazel. I was never human. We were spirits who inhabited the plains and forests of the ancient world, also known as Satyrs, or Djinn. It is best not to dwell on such questions, Ryan. As I have explained, my purpose here is not to recant secret histories to you, but you may learn in time if you continue your magickal pursuits.”

“But, hell is real?” he pressed.

“Hell is just one realm amongst many. Heed my words, Ryan,” she insisted. “It is best not to fret over such things. Your time on Earth is so fleeting, you cannot waste it worrying about what will come after. Live your life here, and in time, the truth will reveal itself to you.”

“I suppose…”

He flinched as he felt her heavy arm on his shoulder, those hard nails scraping against his clothing. Was she trying to reassure him? For a moment, he wanted to break away from her, to leap from the couch and flee. Something deep in his subconscious mind still screamed that she was an aberration. It was as if he sensed that she wasn’t supposed to be on some instinctual level. It wasn’t fear, exactly, more like some kind of immuno-response from reality itself.

She was clearer and more manifest than Orobas had been, at least. As much as she projected her form into his mind like an intrusive thought, he saw her with his physical eyes, and he could reach out and touch her with his hands. It was as if the longer she remained here, the more solid she became.

“Your heart is filled with turmoil,” she said, her musical voice softer now. “At night, your thoughts keep you awake, disturbing your sleep. You must rest if you are to perform the tasks that will be given to you optimally. My master has foreseen it becoming a problem. I can help, if you wish it.”

“Help?” he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on the wall as she leaned closer to him. “How?”

This line of conversation was making him uncomfortable. He didn’t like the idea of her seeing into his heart, or whatever it was that she did. His emotions were his own private business, and he hadn’t asked for this in the contract. At least, he didn’t think that he had. To be honest, he didn’t know what he was feeling. His fucked up emotional state was what had cost him his job in the first place.

“I can soothe your mind, send you into a deep and untroubled sleep,” Nahash whispered.

“How?” Ryan asked, his interest admittedly piqued by the idea. He hadn’t slept properly since the day that Becky had left. “Speak plainly.”

“Perhaps it is better if I show you.”

“Show me? How are you-“

Before he could voice a complaint, her hold on him tightened, and she pulled him into a one-armed hug. He struggled for a moment – damn, she was strong – but his alarm quickly faded. His face was pressed into the feathery wool that started between her weighty breasts and formed a kind of ruff around her neck and shoulders. It was the softest thing that he had ever felt in his life, like the fur of some luxury mink coat. It was puffy and downy, not quite wool and not quite hair, Nahash sinking him deeper as she placed a gentle hand on the back of his head.

Ryan couldn’t help but let his eyes wander down to her breasts, her porcelain flesh forming a shelf an inch below his chin, shifting softly with the rise and fall of her chest. His gaze magnetized to the shadow of her cleavage, the way that those supple globes pressed together making it look as if he could have sunk his arm up to the elbow between them. He dared not touch them for fear of offending her. She looked strong enough to pull his arms out of their sockets, so he let his hands come to rest around her waist instead.

Despite the cold that fell over the room whenever she appeared, her body was warm to the touch, inviting. He could hear the soothing thud of a heartbeat beneath her wool. Her skin was as smooth as glass, soft like satin wherever it wasn’t covered by her fur, its unnatural hue making it glisten in the light. She gave him little choice but to touch her as she pressed him up against her voluptuous body, Ryan stiffening, unsure of whether she expected him to reciprocate. Even letting his hands rest on the subtle paunch of her belly and hips made him feel like he was crossing a line. Her scent was intoxicating, that earthy smell filling his lungs with each breath, her fine hairs tickling his nose.

It was as if the world around them began to melt away, his concerns suddenly seeming remote and faint. All that mattered was this sensation. He exhaled slowly, nuzzling gently as he felt her velvety coat against his cheek, the slow drumbeat of her powerful heart hypnotizing him. Her breathing was deep and rhythmic, inviting him to follow suit, his eyelids growing heavier. He was becoming drowsy, a kind of euphoria draping itself over him like a warm blanket, his muscles aching as though he had just run a marathon.

As he leaned into her, he felt her other arm wrap around him, cradling him in a warm cocoon of soft flesh and fluffy wool as his consciousness began to fade. It was like being sedated before surgery, irresistible, his eyes closing of their own accord as everything went dark.

Sleep,” she whispered in that oddly musical voice, her lips an inch from his ear.

In an instant, he was wide awake, sitting on the couch in his apartment again. His head snapped back and forth, Ryan trying to get his bearings as Nahash watched him with her ovine eyes.

“W-what the fuck was that?” he stammered, lurching to his feet and backing away from her. “What did you do to me?”

“As I said, I can help you sleep,” she replied as she settled back into the couch. “My powers pale in comparison to those of my master, but I can see into the hearts of men, feel their emotions and their desires. I can also influence them to an extent. I can soothe fears and calm worries, ease loss, and dull pain.” She cocked her horned head at him, batting those long eyelashes. “You feel violated. That was not my intention.”

He rubbed his temples, unsure of how to respond. Yeah, it had been a violation. She had reached into his brain with her magick or her psychic powers or whatever the fuck it was that she did, and she had scrambled his brain like an omelet. She had changed his chemistry, or his thought process, or something. It was all muddled. Yet, that lingering calm still dulled his anger. The warmth and peace that she had foisted upon him had given him a brief respite from what she had described as his emotional turmoil. He felt all the worse now that it was over, like a rucksack full of bricks had been slung over his shoulders, the knot in his belly returning with a vengeance.

“I…I don’t…know what that was,” he muttered as he stared down at his hands.

“Should you wish it, I will stay with you until you fall asleep to ensure that your rest is peaceful,” Nahash continued. “You cannot attend a job interview in your current state – you are unkempt and poorly rested.”

He shook his head, waving his hand dismissively.

“I need a minute. Just…don’t do that shit again without asking me, okay?”

“Understood.”

He walked into the kitchen and poured himself a mug of coffee from a pot that was sitting on the counter, taking a long draw of the lukewarm liquid in an attempt to shake off the drowsiness that still clung to him. It had felt…good, very good. It was a damn sight better than playing video games until he was exhausted, then downing a cap of NyQuil.

Nahash was right, of course. He was a fucking mess – had been for weeks. There were dark bags under his eyes from sleep deprivation, and his face was covered in unshaven stubble. He didn’t even have any ironed shirts. If he was going to find a job, then he needed to get his shit together, and maybe she could help him do that. That was why Orobas had sent her, after all. The guy knew what he was doing, and he hadn’t been wrong yet.

Still, the idea of allowing her to manipulate him like that bothered him. His thoughts and emotions were his alone – she had no business invading his mind. What else could she see and feel? Ryan glanced at her across the open-plan apartment, where she was still waiting for him on the couch, her oddly dissonant combination of woman and animal features drawing his gaze. Those comely hips, her soft thighs, those pert breasts that would have put any mortal woman to shame…

Could she sense his confused attraction to her – read his intrusive thoughts as he tried to suppress them? He didn’t dare to ask her.

“Expand your search for a job today,” she called over to him from her seat. “My master will tell me what you decide, and if you desire it, I shall return tonight.”

With that, she was gone, the stink of sulfur masking her pleasant, earthy scent.

CHAPTER 4: SWEET DREAMS

Ryan had finally found something – a job interview for a good position in his field that paid well and was in range of his soon-to-be new car. After scheduling an interview by email, he slumped over his keyboard, exhausted and relieved. He had a car, he had a job interview, now he just needed to nail the face-to-face and he might actually be able to climb out of this hole.

He checked the clock on his taskbar, seeing that it was two in the morning. Time to get some sleep. He rubbed his itchy eyes and yawned widely, rising from his chair to stretch, the glow from his monitor bathing the room in its pale light. There was a growl from his stomach, a pang of hunger giving him pause. The job search had kept him up for hours, might be a good idea to get a bowl of cereal before turning in.

He made his way to the kitchen, the fridge bathing him in its dim glow as he opened the door, searching for some milk. After shaking the carton to make sure it wasn’t empty, he rummaged for a box of corn flakes in one of the cupboards, then searched the sink for a clean bowl. The creaking of his chair echoed through the silent apartment as he sat down at the kitchen table, pouring himself a bowl of cereal, alone in the gloom.

This bachelor lifestyle didn’t suit him. He had moved here to be with Becky, and now that she was gone, the apartment was as silent and as lifeless as a graveyard. With nobody around to impress, he was no longer taking care of himself. Even his cooking was lousy, and without Becky to feed him, he was eating like shit. He had stopped exercising, too, and his previously toned belly was starting to soften. He rested his face in his hand as he wolfed down the tasteless cereal, realizing that it was a little stale, but not caring enough to make himself a proper meal.

Maybe Nahash was right about his emotional turmoil. Maybe he was depressed or something, and he just didn’t know it. This didn’t feel like something that well-adjusted people did, eating stale cereal on their own in the dark at two AM. His mind wandered away from thoughts of good meals and warm beds, back to what the familiar had shown him, her superhuman ability to lull him into a calm and untroubled sleep.

It had taken him by surprise, which was part of the reason he had reacted so badly to it. He still didn’t know how to feel about the idea that she could manipulate his emotional state and project illusions into his mind. What was a person, if not the culmination of their mental processes? The chemistry of their brain, the integrity of their thoughts, the decisions that defined them. When you subverted that, what did you make of them? Some kind of meat puppet with no free will of their own?

So many philosophical and theological questions had been raised by this whole venture that Ryan had just stopped thinking about them as Nahash had advised. It was better to just live his life and worry about the details when he had an eternity to mull them over.

Should he call her back again? The prospect of a good night’s rest was appealing, but the thought of letting someone hypnotize him made his skin crawl. Still, he was starting to trust the familiar and her demonic master. Their plan was showing promise already, and they hadn’t taken advantage of any opportunities to screw him over. At least, not so far.

What the heck – he’d at least give it a try. If he didn’t like it, then he could always forbid Nahash from doing it again. How should he contact her, though? Would Orobas just know because of his decision-based future-seeing powers?

As if to answer his question, a signature chill fell over the room, made all the more noticeable by the already cool autumn night. Nahash appeared in her usual spot near the summoning circle, emerging from the swirling vapors as he plugged his nose against the smell and waited for it to dissipate.

She walked over to him, her cloven footsteps loud and heavy on the wood floor, her wide hips rolling as she approached the table. Her nakedness was no less distracting in the dark, her pale skin and white fur seeming to glow in the cold moonlight that bled in through the blinds, the deep shadows only serving to accentuate her comely figure.

“You have decided,” she announced in that husky, musical voice.

“I’ll give it a try, but if I don’t like it, will you stop?”

“I will,” she replied with a curt nod.

“Okay, that’s good,” he said with a sigh of relief. “So…how do we..?”

“Come to the bedroom, if it pleases you.”

Ryan’s heart skipped a beat at the prospect. He had assumed that they would sit on the couch again, but he guessed that it made more sense to sleep in a bed. She seemed to sense his apprehension, and perhaps the twinge of arousal that shadowed it, her voice low and soft as she reassured him.

“Fear not. I do not seek to entrap you, only to help ease your sleep.”

He hesitated for a moment, staring into his mostly eaten bowl of cereal, then rose to his feet with fresh determination.

“Alright, let’s do it,” he said. “Follow me.”

He walked across the apartment as she followed behind him, her odd gait slowing so as not to outpace him on her longer legs, the pair stopping at the bedroom door. The apartment was open plan, and the only rooms that were sectioned off were the bathroom and the bedroom, for obvious reasons. Ryan opened the door with a creak and was immediately hit by a wall of cold air, cursing to himself as he realized that one of the windows had blown open. He hurried over to swing it shut, checking that it was secure this time, then closed the curtains to block out the surprisingly bright moonlight. Great, now it was freezing…

“Sorry, looks like the wind blew it open,” he grumbled as he crossed his arms and shivered. Even the hardwood was cold enough that he could feel it through his socks. “Lemme go bump up the thermostat and we can give it a few minutes.”

“It’s fine,” she replied, surveying the bedroom with her amber eyes. They seemed to glow in the low light almost like those of a cat, or perhaps she was producing that glow herself. Ryan’s face reddened. He was a little embarrassed by the state of the room. There was dirty laundry piled on the floor, the bed hadn’t been made, and the sheets and pillows were strewn all over the place. Becky had been the clean one – she had done the laundry and made the beds while he was at work. It just wasn’t part of his routine yet.

“Aren’t you cold?” Ryan asked.

“Cold is ideal,” she replied with a smile. “If it pleases you, I would like to open the curtains. The moon is full tonight, and its light soothes me.”

“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug, pulling them open and letting the moonlight flood in. Who knew, maybe the moon gave her power. Creatures of the night, and all that. She walked over to the bed, but Ryan held out a hand to stop her, hurriedly trying to straighten the blankets.

“Hang on, I gotta make the bed, it’s a rat’s nest.”

“If that is how you prefer to sleep, then leave it.”

“Well…I like my bed a little messy,” he admitted as he fluffed up the pillows. “But, Becky-I mean, my ex-girlfriend always wanted everything clean and straightened out.”

“This all reminds you of her,” Nahash said, and Ryan paused to glance up at her. “You lived here together for a long time, and she has left her mark on this place. You cannot turn your head in this house without those memories surfacing.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” he mumbled as he rubbed his arm absent-mindedly. “It’s not like I can move, though. I mean, maybe I could have, but I didn’t ask for that in the contract. Gotta say, my first summoning was kind of poorly thought out,” he added with a dry chuckle. “I could have asked for a lot more than I did.”

“This is your home, Ryan,” Nahash replied in a soothing tone. “You should not have to leave. Old memories will linger, they refuse to be forgotten, but the best way to overcome a painful memory is to replace it with a happy one. You see this as the center of your relationship with her – you made love together here, you slept in each other’s arms. That will always be its significance unless you move on and make new memories, give this bed a new significance.”

“How do I do that?”

“I sense that you wish to replace your lost love, but that can never be. You cannot regain what was lost, but you can find something new. If you should search for another partner, then you must stop clinging to what was and open yourself to what will be, to new people and new experiences.”

“That’s easy to say, not so easy to put into practice,” he grumbled as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“We can start right now,” she continued. “What is more significant? Which memory will stand out in your mind? Sharing this bed with your scorned lover, or sharing it with a demon?”

“I guess that’s true,” he replied, his mood lightening somewhat. “Alright then, let’s make this the demon bed.”

He unbuckled his belt and slid off his pants, tugging off his socks and quickly sliding beneath the sheets to escape the frigid air. He watched Nahash from under the heavy blanket as she examined the bed with a skeptical expression. Perhaps it was different from what she was used to. She soon followed suit, lifting the blanket with her clawed hand and sitting down on the mattress. Ryan expected it to sag under her weight, but just like the couch, it didn’t. She swung one of her long, goat-like legs up onto the bed, followed by the second. Before long, she was shuffling into place beside him. She had been so graceful on her feet, but she was unaccustomed to the piles of sheets, wriggling clumsily in an effort to get comfortable. Seeing her in such a mundane situation eased his tension, making her feel somehow more human and relatable.

The bed was a twin, and yet there was scarcely enough room for both of them. Her wide hips and thick thighs were pressing against his bare legs, and her exaggerated bosom was tenting the blanket, exposing him to the cold air. He tugged more of the sheets over to his side and shifted a little as he sealed the gap, the contrast of her smooth skin and downy wool creating a strange but welcome sensation.

Again, he was surprised by how warm she was. Their combined body heat was already warming the bed, and he felt her hook an arm around his shoulders as she drew him closer.

There was that smell again, like wet grass the morning after a rainstorm. His brain had already associated her scent with the overwhelming feeling of calm and relaxation. He was starting to become drowsy, and she hadn’t even worked her magic yet.

There was nowhere to put his hands. Her body was so voluptuous, and he didn’t know how she would respond should he touch her thigh or her breast. Just what the hell kind of relationship did they have here, anyway? She was apparently a woman, he was a man, she was nude and sharing a bed with him. Did demons have sex? Did he even want that from her, goat-headed she-demon that she was? It was all so confusing.

“Relax,” she whispered, her warm breath blowing his hair. “Do not think. Lie still, and stop fretting.” Her voice was so husky, a deep contralto that resonated in his bones with an oddly synthesized quality that reminded him of a vocal track from a 1980s synth-pop song.

He tried to do as she asked, letting his face sink into that feathery ruff around her neck and chest, softer than any pillow that he could imagine. His thoughts were troubled, however, his heart beating faster as he peered down into the shadow beneath the blanket. The heavy sheets barely served to cover her.

“Nahash,” he muttered, unable to contain himself any longer. “I gotta know…what is this, exactly? What should I-“

He felt her palm cradle his cheek as she pressed his face into the nape of her neck, her skin smooth and warm. Her other hand found his and guided it around her waist, easing him into a hug, encouraging him to sink his fingers into her doughy flesh. His face reddened as he felt the velvet-soft fat of her midriff beneath his digits, the subtle paunch of her belly and hips begging him to probe deeper. She was girthy enough that he would have struggled to wrap both arms around her. Her towering figure was downright Rubenesque, but her weight was distributed to all of the right places. It had been distracting to look at, but to have her hourglass hips and her heaving bosom pressing up against him was maddening. He suppressed his urges, and the pair lay wrapped in each other’s arms, the slow beating of her massive heart and her rhythmic breathing captivating him.

“Touch me as you would a partner,” she said softly, Ryan’s breath catching in his throat. “I sense that you need this comfort, but try to sleep.”

They could spoon, then – that’s what she was saying. Touching was alright, but the goal here was to help him rest. Admittedly, it was almost a struggle to stay conscious as he lay beneath the sheets with her. It was like having a living body pillow that could hug back, warm and soft in all the right ways. He rubbed his cheek against the downy wool – deep enough that he could almost bury his face in it completely, shuffling to get closer to her. She responded in kind, her hold on him tightening, and he shivered as he felt her run her fingers through his hair. She stroked him like a cat, something that Becky had never done, and he melted into her embrace as her claws tickled his scalp.

“That’s…nice,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by the forest of fur. Her other arm was hooked around his shoulders, her hand supporting his lower back as she pressed him close, the frigid air outside the sanctuary of the bed now all but forgotten.

Skin on skin contact, the warmth of another person, the sounds and sensations of a body lying next to his. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed this, how much he had needed it. He had locked himself away in his apartment for weeks, starving himself of a nutrient that he hadn’t even known his body required.

He balked as he realized that she hadn’t even put the magickal moves on him yet. This was all natural, something that any other human could have provided. Well, a human of unrealistic proportions wearing a fur coat, perhaps.

Damn, the stroking was intoxicating. Why the hell was his scalp so sensitive?

“So, is this just…what you do?” Ryan asked, mumbling through his growing drowsiness.

“Mortals have long sought the company of my kind,” she replied, their proximity making her voice resonate through him. “The Seirim possess qualities and abilities that soothe and excite your people. Why that is, I cannot say.”

Ryan had some guesses, but he held his tongue, wanting the moment to last forever. With a start, he realized that he didn’t miss Becky, not really. He missed what she did for him. For the time being, this Seirim could do a hell of a lot more.

“In ages long past, we wandered the ancient deserts and forests of the world,” she continued. “Mortals would leave offerings and make sacrifices to us. We were spirits of the wild, embodiments of nature’s mystery and its forbidden passions. The music and revelry of the Seirim would ring out across the plains, our bonfires visible for miles around. For a time, we were the gods of simple folk. As mortals turned to greater deities and forgot the lesser spirits of the wilderness, we lost our power, and we faded from memory.”

“Not to be rude, but…I can’t really imagine you dancing around a bonfire, Nahash. You’re so restrained and to the point.”

Although, he had to admit that seeing her dance would be quite something. That massive, feminine body gyrating and prancing beneath a pale moon, or illuminated by the flickering glow of a fire. He could scarcely picture it. How would a creature of her size and gait dance?

“I am bound to my master,” she said, sounding somewhat wistful. “I am but a lesser spirit. Without worshipers, our power wanes, and we must enter into the service of a greater entity or risk fading into nothing.”

“So, worshipers really are like a battery for you guys, huh?”

“Belief and faith, these are our food and our water,” she confirmed with a gentle nod. “We only exist as long as someone worships us. Orobas took me and a few of my brethren into his legions. He grants us a share of his energy, and in exchange, we serve him. The rest of us are scattered between different demons. I carry out the instructions of my master, no more and no less. My days of revelry are long past.”

“That’s sad,” Ryan mumbled. “Is this at least a kind of vacation for you?”

“In a way, I suppose that it is,” she replied with a longing glance at the window. “Taking form and walking the Earth again reminds me of the old times – the moonlight on my skin, the warmth of a man…”

That got his attention, and she must have sensed the change in his emotional state. She had just let slip a lot more than she had intended, perhaps beyond the scope of her task here.

“Are you ready to sleep yet?” she asked, quickly changing the subject. “I can use my power to calm your mind,” she whispered, halting her rhythmic stroking for a moment. “You need only ask.”

“You’re doing a pretty good job without it,” he chuckled, pushing his face into the nape of her neck and breathing in her earthy scent. “Can we just…stay like this a while longer?”

“As you wish.”

She resumed her stroking, and he felt an involuntary tremor pass through him. It felt so good that it made his limbs turn to mush. His eyelids were growing heavy, and a yawn forced his jaw wide open, Ryan breathing in the scent of her delicate fur as its strands tickled his skin. He allowed himself the liberty of draping his arm over Nahash’s soft belly, shuffling closer to her.

She wrapped the blankets more tightly around them like a cocoon, rolling onto her side, her breasts wobbling with the motion. They pressed together under their own generous weight, spilling across the sheets like melting candle wax, just firm enough to keep their perfect shape. She drew his face into her ruff, her hand still on the back of his head, her chin resting in his hair as her silky wool rubbed against his reddening cheeks. Those mounds of delicate fat squashed up against his chest, only separated from his skin by his t-shirt.

“So…you can sing?” he asked, hearing her massive heart quicken. Did the prospect excite her, perhaps?

“Not for millennia, but yes, I can.”

“Will you sing for me?” he added.

“Why?”

“I’d like to hear it, and it would help me get to sleep.”

“I can lull you into a deep and untroubled sleep at will,” she replied. “Singing is not necessary for that.”

“Well, I’d like to hear it all the same.”

She seemed hesitant, afraid of doing more than her role required, perhaps. Would taking such liberties with her charge anger Orobas in some way? Then again, Orobas must have foreseen everything. That was his job, after all. He wouldn’t have sent her if this wasn’t what he had intended to happen.

“I suppose it would be acceptable, if you wish it,” she conceded. “What manner of song would you like to hear?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Something calming.”

He waited, unsure of whether or not she would actually sing, but he soon heard a low and musical tone rising in her throat. It would have been inaudible had her lips not been but an inch from his ear – an ancient hymn in a language that might not have been heard by mortals in thousands of years, a melodic chant with a timbre and rhythm that betrayed its immense age. It was like nothing he had heard before, and he listened in silence, captivated by the somehow mournful song.

It conjured the silhouettes of Seirim dancing beneath the cold stars in his mind’s eye, framed against a burning fire that rose high into the night air. He could hear the twang of ancient string instruments and the beating of drums as the pace and intensity of the melody quickened, Ryan unable to discern if it was his imagination or if she was projecting these images and emotions into his mind.

It was beautiful and strange, at once alien, yet distinctly familiar. It was as if the music had awoken some ancient memory in him, a long-buried fragment of his ancestral past. Had his own forebears joined these spirits in their frenzied dance?

The haunting, placating song hastened still, climbing towards a crescendo. The figures that he saw in his mind danced faster and faster as they waved their arms and stamped their cloven feet on the dusty ground. There was a climax of dissonance, the instruments that he half heard and half imagined going silent, the rhythmic chant slowly fading into nothing.

Ryan opened his eyes as if waking from a trance, feeling as though a great deal of time had passed. How long had she been singing, and how long had he lay here listening to her?

“That was…lovely,” he murmured. “Thank you.”

“I am glad to sing again,” she whispered. “No mortal has heard my voice in a thousand years.”

“What was that? I’ve never heard anything like it before.”

“A Sumerian song,” she explained, holding him tight. “I doubt that there are any records of it that survive. That is about as far back as your historical records go.”

“I saw…images in my head, Seirim dancing around a giant fire. Were you doing that?”

“In part,” she replied. “But, music itself is a kind of magick. It can influence emotion and mood much in the same way that I can.”

“Yeah, I suppose that’s true enough.”

“Will you sleep now?” she asked.

Ryan nodded, relaxing into her fluffy ruff.

“You can use your powers on me now.”

“Are you sure?” Nahash said, surprised by his change in attitude. “It no longer offends you?”

“Yeah, go for it.”

Maybe it was because he understood her a little better, but as the waves of relaxing euphoria washed over, him he realized that he no longer feared her.

***

When Ryan awoke, Nahash was gone. He sat up in bed, stretching his arms above his head. He was a little disappointed that he hadn’t woken up in her arms, but she was a demon, after all. Being here at all must consume some kind of resource or energy that was required for her to manifest a physical body. He rubbed his eyes, swinging his legs out from under the sheets and hopping out of bed, swearing that he had never felt so rested in his life.

He had slept through the whole night without interruption, his mind completely blank of dreams or nightmares. It had left him feeling completely refreshed and totally energized, like he had been roused from some futuristic rejuvenation booth from a sci-fi movie. It was kind of frustrating to consider that such rest was always available to him, but his own schedule and hangups kept it out of reach. If he were to wake up feeling like this every morning, he could conquer the damned world.

After making his way to the kitchen, he decided that he’d make eggs and bacon today rather than subsisting on stale cereal. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day, so they said.

He got to work with the frying pan, morning sunlight streaming in between the blinds that covered his windows, and he was soon sitting down to a meal of fried eggs on toast and some crispy bacon. He took a bite of a strip, pleased with his handiwork. To think that a good night’s sleep could influence his mood and outlook so dramatically…

The ringing of a cellphone disturbed his peace, and he rose from his seat, interrupting his meal to search for the device. He found it beside his computer and swiped to answer the call, holding it up to his ear.

“Hello? Who is it?”

“Hello,” a man’s voice on the other end said. “Is this Ryan Cutter?”

“It is. What can I do for you?”

“I’m pleased to inform you that you’ve won the West Shore Plaza raffle. You’re now the proud owner of a factory-fresh sedan, sponsored by Bedlam Auto Dealership.”

Finally, the car was on its way!

“Wow! I didn’t think that anyone really won these things!” he said, trying his best to feign surprise. “That’s great news.”

“It’s waiting for you in the parking lot of the plaza. You can come pick it up right away, then it’s just a matter of signing a few more forms, and you can drive it home today!”

“I’ll be down some time around midday,” he replied. “Thanks again!”

He hung up and returned to his breakfast, breaking one of his fried eggs open with his fork and watching the yolk ooze forth to soak his toast. Sunny side up – an apt metaphor for the way he was feeling. If things continued along this path, then he’d be able to turn his life around for sure.

***

Ryan pulled his new car into the parking lot of his apartment complex, letting it roll to a stop. He had his own space, but he’d never needed to use it before today. He set the handbrake, then switched off the engine, stepping out to admire his ride. A car like this might have been worth thirty or forty thousand dollars new, a sum that he would never have been able to afford on his own. No bank was going to give him a loan in his current situation. Orobas had done a stellar job, expanding the range that he could commute to work by miles.

He locked the car with a beep from the remote on his key chain, making his way back to his apartment, that new car smell lingering on his clothing as he climbed the stairs. When he arrived, he was greeted by the smell of sulfur. Nahash must be waiting for him. As he opened the door and stepped inside, he saw that he had been right. The Seirim was waiting for him on the couch with her long legs crossed.

“I trust that the vehicle is satisfactory?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, my compliments to your boss. He really delivered.”

“Your mood is positive, hopeful,” she said as she scrutinized him with her amber eyes. “Your sleep was adequate?”

“That’s an understatement,” he laughed, shrugging off his jacket and draping it over a coat rack by the door. “I don’t think I’ve slept that soundly since I was a baby. I woke up feeling like a new man. I tell you, if you could bottle whatever it is that you do and sell it as a medicine, you’d be a millionaire overnight.”

“The next step is the job interview,” she continued. “You have arranged this?”

“Yes, I’ll be driving there in two days,” he said as he walked into the kitchen. “I have a face-to-face with the head of their IT department scheduled.” He hesitated for a moment as he leaned on the counter, starting to brew a fresh pot of coffee. “I’ve been meaning to ask about that. Can Orobas see into the future and let me know if I’ll land the position or not? Are you guys going to help me out in some way?”

“Magick can be subtle, Ryan,” she chided. “If I had informed you of exactly what would happen when you went to the mall that day, you might have done something to change the future, or you might have behaved differently in a way that caused you to unknowingly sabotage yourself. You lack prescience, and so you live only in the moment, as if a fog obscures your vision. Live in the moment, Ryan, and let Orobas lead you. He has given you no cause to doubt him.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. I’ll just trust that it will work out.”

He set the machine going, then walked over to join Nahash on the couch, the giant demon shuffling aside to give him space.

“It’s kind of nice having you waiting for me when I get home,” he said. “Reminds me of…well, I miss that. Maybe I should get a dog or something. I don’t know if my landlord allows pets.”

“I am merely here to ensure that you perform the tasks that are required of you,” she said, as if it was a matter of fact.

“Uh-huh,” he replied skeptically. “Well, I was thinking about what you were saying last night as I drove back – about the Seirim and the dancing and all that junk.”

“Yes?” she said, cocking her head at him curiously.

“I was wondering why you’re forbidden from acting the way that you used to, dancing around fires and singing for people, that kind of thing?”

She considered for a moment, scratching her furry chin with her claw-like nails.

“It is not that I am forbidden,” she began. “It is simply not within the scope of my mission here. I obey my master, I do no more and no less than he asks of me, for that is my contract with him. Were someone to summon Orobas and request the revelry of the Seirim, we would of course oblige, though that isn’t likely. Few who live would possess the knowledge to ask such a thing, and fewer still would have the desire to summon us. We were spirits of the wilderness, embodiments of the mysteries of nature, the unknowns of the unexplored wilds. Mortals no longer fear the forests, they no longer wonder what lurks beyond the mountains and what secrets the deserts hold. Men have traversed every inch of this planet and mapped it down to every blade of grass.”

“You make it sound like you’re useless, like you’ve lost all purpose,” Ryan said as she looked down at him with her horizontal pupils. “That can’t be the case. Sure, the demographic that used to worship you no longer exists, but that doesn’t make your skills any less impressive.”

“Why would somebody go to the trouble of summoning a demon, taking out a contract with him, and using it to summon Seirim?” Nahash asked with a dismissive wave of her hand. “If one should desire carnality and revelry, there are far more suitable options, ways to acquire women and pleasures beyond anything that we can provide.”

“Was that…part of what you used to do?” Ryan asked, his cheeks beginning to flush. “Carnality?”

“Yes,” she replied without hesitation. “We embodied not only the mysteries of nature, but also its hidden passions and its secret desires. We were the shadow that lurked in men’s psyche, lust and reckless abandon made manifest. We lured mortals with our song and dance, tempted them with wine, offered them the pleasures that they so often denied themselves. Some gave themselves to us in ritual, some let the wild overcome them and joined us in our dance. Others, we took for ourselves when the frenzy overcame us.”

“Sounds a little, uh…belligerent.”

“Nature is red in tooth and claw,” she replied, her amber eyes flashing. “Mortals harbor dark desires that they will scarcely admit, even to themselves, and the forest can swallow a person no different from the jaws of a beast. As I have tried to explain to you, Ryan, good and evil are relative. We must each perform the roles that are given to us.”

They had wild, crazy sex with mortals, then. That’s what she was telling him. His mind swam at the prospect. If she could put him to sleep with her magic, then what else was she capable of? What form did the revelry and carnality that she described take?

It had been two or three months since he had been with a woman. After enjoying a fairly consistent sex life with Becky over the last three years, the combination of her lack of interest in the weeks preceding their breakup and his recent dry spell was like torture. The more comfortable he became around Nahash, the less her animal features stood out to him. They had even started to blend with her more familiar figure in ways that he found quite alluring. If he asked…would she be forced to oblige? No, he couldn’t allow himself to entertain such thoughts. She was as much a person as he was in spite her bestial appearance and her demonic origins, with her own desires and goals. He couldn’t coerce her into doing something like that, not without becoming far more evil than any demon contained in the pages of the Goetia. She had been so kind to him so far, and he sensed that it was as much her natural inclination as it was an order from Orobas. He didn’t want to sully their burgeoning friendship or dissuade her from opening up to him about her past.

He realized that she was probably reading his emotional state like a book, and quickly changed the topic of conversation.

“If you somehow regained worshipers, what would happen?” he asked. “Would that make you…come back to life or something?”

“I am a spirit, I was never alive in the mortal sense,” she clarified. “Though, it is true that the Seirim required only the worship of a handful of nomadic tribes to sustain us, as we are not powerful gods. Still, the chances of enough people giving us their faith in the modern era are next to nothing. In such a case, we could manifest in the forests and hills again, no longer bound by summoning circles and the whims of our masters.”

She seemed to falter, as if she had inadvertently said something wrong.

“Not to say that we do not owe everything to the demons that bind us and share with us their vital essence, without which we would have faded from existence entirely. Myth and faith are dying in this world. More and more, you mortals value the material sciences, rejecting the supernatural and the religious as fanciful and quaint. Your new god is technology, and why should it not be? It performs its wonders daily, plain for all to see, and demands no sacrifice or offerings in exchange. But we starve, Ryan. Even the greater demons and the almighty gods feel their power waning as of late.”

Her elongated face was oddly expressive, her ovine eyes flashing with sorrow and regret, giving him the impression that her whole world might be on the cusp of petering out like a dying candle. Entire nations had been built on religions and myths in the past, but now, the world was increasingly moving towards rationalism. Save for a few massive religions such as Hinduism or Catholicism, there wasn’t much prayer and faith to go around. People no longer whispered about forest spirits, superstition was reserved for unlucky numbers and black cats, and demon worship was confined to a few solitary internet forums as far as he knew.

An idea was beginning to form, however. A plan. Perhaps there was something that he could do for her in return for all her help.

“I must leave now,” Nahash said as she rose to her feet abruptly. “I will return tonight to help you sleep.”

“Oh, you have to go?” Ryan said as he tried to conceal his disappointment. “Okay then, I’ll see you later.”

“I sense that you are disappointed,” she replied as she turned to look down at him. “My master must expend energy to send me here, and there is a cost incurred by manifesting in the physical world for long periods of time. To use your terminology, my battery becomes drained, and I must return to the source in order to replenish it.”

“I understand, but answer me this before you go,” he continued. “How much belief would it take to make you independent again, and would Orobas release you from his service if that became the case?”

She cocked her head at him, probably wondering what was going through his mind.

“The tribesmen numbered in the hundreds, and it did not take much more than that to sustain us. I doubt that my master would be inconvenienced by the loss of a handful of Seirim. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious is all.”

She gave him another sideways glance, then vanished.

***

The sun was low in the sky, the clouds painted in deep shades of pink and orange, Ryan admiring them as he peered through the blinds. He wanted to go to bed early tonight. Resting was just an excuse at this point. He found himself watching the clock, counting down the minutes until he could share a bed with Nahash again.

Maybe it was the way she made him feel with her plush body and her ability to relax him, or maybe he was just lonely and enjoyed her company. It was hard to put his finger on exactly why he so anticipated the sunset now.

The streetlamps suddenly turned on far below, their orange glow illuminating the sidewalks and the facades of the city’s buildings as what few pedestrians that remained went about their routine. It was another chilly autumn night, and the sidewalk was littered with colorful leaves. They would have to huddle close together beneath the heavy blankets for warmth, just the way he wanted it. All he had to do was decide to go to bed, and Orobas would send her, his powers of prescience sensing that Ryan required her services.

He waited for a few minutes longer, watching as the last solitary rays of sunlight dipped beneath the horizon before resolving to get into bed. As if on cue, the smell of sulfur filled the air, and Nahash once again took form inside the bounds of the chalk summoning circle that still remained on the floor beneath the couch. She could not stray far from it, or her connection to whatever astral realm or alternate dimension that she hailed from would wither and die, dissipating her physical body along with it. Fortunately, the apartment was small and pokey enough that she had the run of it. Ryan wasn’t quite sure what her range would be under normal circumstances. Maybe she would fizzle out like a bad WiFi signal if she wandered too far.

The shifting mass of shadows took shape amidst the billowing fumes, and Nahash stood tall, blinking her eyes at him as her twisted horns brushed the ceiling.

“I have returned.”

“Welcome back,” he announced, doing his best to look like he hadn’t been waiting around for the last couple of hours.

“Shall we proceed?” she asked.

“Oh, sure,” he said as he led her over to the bedroom.

Before long, they were wrapped up in the sheets again, the heavy blankets weighing them down as Ryan awkwardly shuffled into her embrace. She curled her long arms around him and pulled him tight against her body, her warmth and softness welcoming him once more. He felt giddy, his excitement probably counterproductive as he gleefully pushed his face into her feathery wool, feeling its delicate texture on is cheeks. Her gentle hands found their usual places, her clawed fingers delving into his hair to stroke his scalp, the other resting on his back to press him close.

Her heartbeat, the steady rise and fall of her copious bust, the smoothness of her skin as it pressed against his. It was like heaven, drowsiness already overcoming him as their bodies warmed the bed, her familiar scent invading his senses.

“I am glad to make you so happy, Ryan,” Nahash cooed in his ear. “But you must keep in mind that I cannot remain with you forever. Once the contract is completed, I must return to my master’s side. I must wean you off these comforts before my departure becomes too jarring.”

“I know…” Ryan replied, exhaling a sigh into her fluffy ruff. “I don’t want to replace one problem with another. I’ll have to get back on the horse eventually, start dating again, but this…really helps.”

“I…enjoy it also,” she replied, her voice low and breathy. Ryan felt a pleasant chill run down his spine. Nahash didn’t express her own feelings or opinions very often, and he was surprised to hear her reciprocate. At least, that was the way that it sounded. “I can read your emotions, remember?” she murmured. “I know what this means to you, and that is why it cannot continue forever. Such attachment between a mortal and a spirit is fated to end tragically.”

His face burned. What exactly did she sense in him? His understanding of his own emotions was not always so clear-cut. Did she know something that he didn’t? He shivered contentedly as she ran her claws through his hair, his body tensing at her touch, then relaxing as he melted into her voluptuous body. He ran his hand from her flared hip to the small of her back, his fingers resting in the dimple of her spine as he struggled to get his arm around her. It was like trying to hug an oil barrel. Her chin lay in his hair, her breasts unavoidable as they pressed against his shirt, making him feel as though he was slowly sinking into them like quicksand. He could feel her yielding flesh through the thin fabric, the motion making them bump against him as she shifted to get comfortable, her bosom quivering like mounds of jello with the slightest disturbance.

“What kind of attachment do you mean?” Ryan asked a little sheepishly. “We humans don’t always know what we want, you know. Emotions can be obtuse.”

“You desire me as a man desires a woman,” she replied with a sordid chuckle that made butterflies swarm in his belly. “It would bring me great pleasure to indulge you, Ryan, would it not interfere with my task.”

He felt her warm breath in his hair as she nuzzled, drawing him closer. An overwhelming urge to turn his face up and kiss her almost overcame him, but he resisted it, catching his impulse in the nick of time. His heart hammered in his chest, and he satisfied himself with rubbing his cheek in her silky fur instead. What the hell was he thinking? Was it just because he had been starved of affection for so long? Sexual frustration? Some kind of demonic pheromone that was seeping into his brain like an insidious toxin?

“W-why would it interfere?” he mumbled. “I mean, we could just…we’re already in bed together. What am I even saying? This is…”

He pulled away a little, her tight hold on him loosening as she released him from her grasp, and he looked up at her face. Those amber eyes glowed in the dark, reflecting the moonlight that filtered in through the bedroom window. It would have been frightening had he not already become acquainted with her. He had grown accustomed to her slightly elongated face, to the blending of human and animal features that had seemed so jarring at first glance. Now, there was an undeniable femininity and allure to her that tugged at some forgotten facet of his psyche. Her head was framed by that mane of soft wool, her goat-like ears and her gnarled horns protruding from it, the latter of which had left deep furrows in the wooden headboard and had punctured the stack of pillows in places.

“You must find someone of your own kind to be with,” she explained. “I cannot remain here, and if I allow you to become enamored with me, then the contract will not be fulfilled. You will not be happy when we are separated.”

“I don’t care about that right now,” he blurted. “You told me to live in the moment, right? That’s what I’m doing, living in this moment. Who cares about what happens later?”

You will care,” she replied, her tone soothing as she pulled him close and began to stroke his hair again. “You will be hurt again, and that is not productive. Besides, the ways of the Seirim are wild and bestial. To have me unbridled might not suit you in the way you imagine.”

“Do you really have so little free will under the command of Orobas?” Ryan asked, pushing his face into the nape of her neck as she held him.

“It is of no consequence. What you wish for cannot be, and it was not part of your contract with my master. Sate yourself with these comforts. Not all interactions between men and women need be carnal in nature.”

It wasn’t an answer that he wanted to accept, but he couldn’t change things. He was just a mortal, after all. He ran his fingers over her glass-smooth skin, delving them into her velvet fur wherever he found it, feeling her soft body yield beneath his digits. He tried to dispel the lust that had been welling in him, pushing his face into her ruff as if to hide from it.

“Shall I use my powers to calm you?” she asked, continuing her gentle stroking as though trying to distract him from his turmoil. “You need only ask, Ryan.”

“Go ahead,” he replied, his voice muffled by her fur. “Sorry about this, by the way. I didn’t mean to make things awkward.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” she said as she took his face in her hands and planted a kiss on his forehead. “Your emotions are no mystery to me. No matter how well mannered you are, and how deeply you bury them, I sense them just the same. If anything, I have transgressed by probing your mind without your permission. Alas, it is as natural to me as any other sense. I cannot stop it any more than I can shut off my sense of taste or touch.”

“No, I like it,” Ryan replied. “Makes things easier. I was never very good at communicating how I feel.”

“Mortals repress so many of their emotions,” she muttered. “It can be frustrating to so clearly sense a desire that is then ardently denied. Part of what the Seirim used to do was expose these hidden emotions – as dark or as dirty as they might be. We would bring them to light, then indulge them until those needs were satisfied.”

“And…do I have any hidden emotions that I should be aware of?”

A wave of pleasant fatigue suddenly washed over him, making him feel as if he had exerted himself to the limit, a satisfied ache permeating his muscles. He couldn’t move – he didn’t want to move – he just wanted to relax and let his tired body melt into Nahash’s welcoming arms. She stroked his hair, pressing his face into her soft fur, his eyelids growing heavy as he breathed in her wonderful scent. It was like falling asleep on a cloud – he couldn’t keep his eyes open. His complete loss of control might have been alarming had he not been overcome by an incredible calm. Trying to stay awake was like crawling out of a swimming pool full of molasses, like trying to fight an anesthetic, and he chuckled weakly as he felt his demonic bedmate tighten her hold on him.

Those yellow eyes flashed in the darkness, her head framed by twisted horns, her clawed fingers roaming across his skin. Maybe it was just his tired imagination, but as his vision went dark, he could have sworn that he heard her whispering a melody into his ear.

CHAPTER 5: GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT

Ryan stood in front of the wardrobe mirror, trying to straighten his wrinkled shirt, struggling with his tie. It was the day of the job interview, and he had but a scant hour to get himself prepared. It wasn’t as if he had never worn a suit before, but it was Becky who had advised him on being presentable. He didn’t know the first thing about dressing snappy. She had prepared his wardrobe, helped him shop for clothes, ironed his shirts. Without her, he was a mess. Maybe there was an element of truth to what she had told him, and he hadn’t really appreciated her until she was gone.

He trusted his demonic allies to help him get through this, but he hadn’t seen Nahash since the previous night, and he was starting to get worried. He needed instructions, like the ones that she had given him on the day that he had won the car – where to go and what to do.

The smell of sulfur wafted over to him, Ryan letting slip a quiet sigh of relief as Nahash’s tall figure materialized in the living room, her gnarled horns scraping the ceiling. It was funny how accustomed he was getting to seeing a giant goat demon appear out of thin air. She made her way towards him, as distractingly naked as ever, hips rolling and breasts swaying as she sidled up behind him.

“This will not do,” she muttered, appraising his reflection. “Raise your arms.”

He did as she asked, and her claws wrapped around his neck, Ryan flinching as he felt her warm skin brush his. She removed his tie and then tugged his shirt over his head, walking off with it to leave him bare-chested.

“What are you doing? Nahash?”

She walked over to the kitchen, her hooves clopping against the floorboards, and she pulled out an ironing board from beside the fridge. She extended the legs and set it down, Ryan watching with growing embarrassment as she retrieved the iron from its place on a shelf near the washing machine. It was as if she knew where everything was in his apartment. Had Orobas told her?

“Come on, Nahash,” Ryan mumbled as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I can do that.”

“You don’t know how,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Come, I will show you.”

He walked over to stand beside her reluctantly, watching a scene that might have been comical under different circumstances, the towering she-demon plugging in the iron and filling the water reservoir as she lay his dress shirt out on the board.

“Start with the collar,” she said as she popped the collar open and slowly pressed the iron from one end to the other. “Then, the cuffs. Ensure that the fabric is moist, and do not linger in one place for too long, or you risk burning the garment. Do you see what I’m doing?”

He nodded, and she handed the iron to him.

“Now, you try. Iron the second cuff. Yes, that’s good. Remember to make use of the steam function to ensure that the clothing is damp. Apply more pressure. Good.”

His mother had always been there to iron his clothes for him when he had lived at home, and when he had moved in with Becky, she had always done it for him. Now that he was alone, he would have to learn to do these things himself. Ryan had always thought of himself as accomplished and self-sufficient. He owned an apartment in the city, he had worked a steady job, and he had lived with his girlfriend for years. But now that she was gone, he realized how dependent he still was on other people, how he had somehow avoided learning any of these mundane chores and skills even into his mid-twenties. He couldn’t cook for shit, he didn’t pick up after himself, he couldn’t even iron a fucking shirt without help. Far be it from just finding another job, turning his life around would involve becoming self-reliant, too. He had to learn how to take care of himself.

As he ironed his shirt under Nahash’s tutelage, he came to a realization. This was what he had asked for. He had asked Orobas to help him turn his life around, and that was what Nahash was doing. She was acting as his damned life coach.

“You are correct,” Nahash said, not even giving him a chance to ask the question. She must have sensed the realization in him. “Orobas has tasked me with teaching you the skills that you lack, at least where necessary for your success.”

She shot him a sympathetic glance as another wave of embarrassment washed over him.

“There is no need to feel ashamed, Ryan. There was no reason for you to learn until today. Besides, your parents share equal blame for leaving you unprepared to live alone. Truth be told, this era of human history confuses me. Your relationships are more tenuous and temporary than ever before. For thousands of years, a man of your age would have had a wife and children by now, and thus would not have needed to tackle these chores as well as performing his duties. Several generations of a family would live together under one roof, but now it seems that you seek to be rid of each other as soon as possible. I cannot claim to understand these new ways.”

“That’s not really making me feel any better,” he said with a frown, a hiss of steam pouring from the iron.

“I meant no offense, I am merely shocked by how rapidly things change in the mortal realm. Things are so static and constant in the place that I reside.”

“And where is that?” Ryan asked, flipping the shirt over to iron the other side.

“You would call it Hell, but that word carries so many negative connotations in your culture. It is not a realm of eternal fire and punishment as you imagine it, but the abode of earthly spirits, the domain of those who have not aspired to lofty ideals or holy works.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” he said with a shrug. “I’m not exactly a Saint myself.”

“It might be unimaginable to a mortal,” she continued, struggling to find the words to describe it. “It is a realm of raw emotion, possessing no material qualities whatsoever. There are no laws of physics there, no up or down, merely oceans of sensation and currents of feeling that ebb and flow. Swirling patterns of pure thought, spirits mingling like shoals of fish. It is at once overwhelming and beautiful.”

“Do you miss it?” Ryan asked. “When you’re here, I mean.”

“No,” she replied with a confident shake of her head. “I have dwelled there for eons. Taking a corporeal form and experiencing only my own emotions, my own thoughts…that is a rare reprieve from the relative chaos of home.”

She was probably oversimplifying things for his benefit, and so he didn’t pry, instead lifting his newly ironed shirt and pulling it over his head. It was warm, and all of the creases had been ironed out of it. He might actually pass for someone who had his shit together now.

He wrapped his tie around his neck and fumbled with it, his face burning as Nahash stepped forward and took charge, deftly tying a perfect Windsor knot as he averted his eyes from the massive bust that was practically hitting him in the face.

“How do you even know how to do that?” he grumbled. “Do demons wear ties when they go to work in Hell?”

“My master provides me with the information that I need as it becomes necessary.”

“So, you’re like that guy from those Matrix movies? Tank, I need a program for ironing shirts!”

He chuckled to himself, but she obviously didn’t get the reference, stepping back to look him up and down.

“It will suffice,” she announced, planting her hands on her wide hips. “You must depart twenty minutes earlier than you had intended. There will be traffic on the road that will delay you.”

“Thanks, Nahash, for…y’know. Everything.”

“I merely perform my duties as they are assigned,” she replied, brushing his sleeve with the back of her hand to dislodge some errant fluff.

“Uh-huh,” he said, certain that there was more to her kindness than just obligation. “Is there anything else that I need to know? Any instructions that you can give me, like when I went to the mall, and you had that big list of dos and don’ts?”

“No, my master will be using different skills to aid you today,” she explained. “It is better that you remain ignorant until it becomes necessary for you to know more.”

He nodded, buttoning his cuffs.

“Anything else I need to do before I leave?”

“Yes. You will need your strength if you are to remain alert and focused, and you have not yet eaten today. What were you planning on doing, going hungry?”

“I figured I’d get a bowl of cereal before I headed out,” he said with a shrug.

“Sit,” she insisted, gesturing to the table. “I will cook for you, and when we have the time, I must teach you how.”

“You’re making me breakfast?” Ryan asked, watching her stride over to the stove. “I can handle some fried eggs, you know. I’m not that helpless.”

“My master informs me that in the event that you attempt to cook, you will splash bacon grease on your only dress shirt. Sit at the table, and allow me.”

He pulled up a chair and leaned on the table as he watched her. Her back turned to him as she worked over the stovetop, breaking eggs and frying bacon with the speed and skill of a professional chef. The smell of it filled the room, Ryan’s mouth beginning to water, and not just because of the alluring scent. Her rear was like a giant peach, that groove in her spine starting between her shoulders and running all the way down the smooth curve of her back, ending between the two dimples above her round cheeks. Her waist was a perfect hourglass, her thick thighs supporting her massive body, her long legs tapering into those oddly dainty hooves.

The more he looked at her, the more attractive she became, and he had to shake his head in an attempt to dispel his arousal lest she sense it. He wasn’t sure if she had to concentrate or whether it came easily to her. Perhaps she wouldn’t notice his peeping if she was occupied with another task.

She returned to the table before long, placing a plate piled high with bacon, eggs, and sausages in front of him. Where had she even found the sausages? Perhaps Becky had bought some before she had left, and Orobas had told Nahash where to find them.

“Proteins and fats,” she declared, standing beside him expectantly. “Eat. It will give you strength.”

“You’re the boss,” he said, picking up his cutlery and forking a piece of fried egg into his mouth. He chewed cautiously, then his face lit up, and he hurriedly took another bite. “This is great!” he mumbled through a mouthful of sausage. “Where the hell did you learn to cook this good?”

“I asked my master to use his powers of prescience to tell me what kind of food you would like, and I used whatever ingredients and seasonings were available.”

“I’ve never eaten eggs this good,” he exclaimed, breaking open one of the yolks and watching the yellow fluid ooze around his knife.

“Sunny side up,” she replied, a rare expression of humor.

“Cooking is a skill, you know,” Ryan added as he bit into a bacon strip that was fried to perfection. “This can’t be your first time cooking – there’s no way. Did you guys throw banquets as part of your revelry or something?”

“We did,” she replied as she watched him eat, her expression hard to read. Was she proud? Content? He couldn’t tell. “One thing that hasn’t changed much in five thousand years is cooking. I find that somehow…comforting.”

“What did you guys eat back in the day?” he asked as he cut into a sausage. “I suppose you roasted whole pigs over fires? Or was it all magical? Did you conjure wine from thin air?”

“Some of it was real, and some of it was illusory,” she replied. “We might have been able to spear a boar in the forest and roast it over the bonfire, but wines and spirits were harder to obtain. We had no vineyards of our own, we could not distill them, and so we stole them or took them as offerings where we could. Turning water into wine was a popular trick. We would use our powers to influence the senses and emotions so that a goblet of water tasted like the sweetest ambrosia.”

“You can do that?” he asked, pausing his chewing. “Show me!”

“I…should not,” she replied hesitantly. “It is not permitted.”

“Says who? Come on, what harm can it do?”

“I have pledged to only perform the functions that my master has assigned to me,” she explained, shifting her weight uncomfortably beside the table.

“It’s not real alcohol, after all,” Ryan insisted. “I want to taste your interpretation of fine wine.”

She considered for a moment, then walked over to the kitchen sink, filling a glass with water. She brought it back to the table and placed it in front of him, and he lifted it to take a sip.

“Yep, that’s tap water alright,” he said as he set the glass down. “What happens now? Do I need to do anything?”

He felt a sudden warmth come over him, as if he had been wrapped in a blanket, penetrating deep into his bones. He glanced at Nahash, and her yellow eyes locked with his, the hairs on his arms standing on end. He felt drowsy again, not dissimilar from when she used her abilities to relax him, and he watched her gesture to the glass of water with her clawed finger. He picked it up, feeling as if a fog had fallen over his mind, his thoughts coming slow and muddled.

“Drink,” she breathed in that low, husky voice. She was standing a few feet away, and yet he could feel her breath on his skin, hear her musical tones as if her lips were an inch from his ear. He raised the glass to his mouth and took a draw.

There was an explosion of flavor on his tongue, as if all of the fruits and berries of the world had been concentrated into that one mouthful. It was the most delicious thing that he had ever tasted. It was sweet and tangy like fruit punch, yet dry like wine, warming his belly in the way that a shot of strong liqueur would have. It was like drinking a rainbow – he could almost see the colors of the flavors in his mind’s eye, his senses melding and becoming hard to distinguish as the chilled liquid slipped down his throat.

He abruptly snapped out of his trance-like state, staring at the glass of water in his hand as he came to, then he started to laugh.

“Well, god damn. Ambrosia indeed.”

Nahash seemed pleased with herself, watching him with a wry smile. Every time he convinced her to do something like this, he saw a little glimpse of her true personality beneath the surface, a glimmer of the person that she had once been and could be again. Orobas had her so restrained, so fearful of engaging in her natural behavior, but Ryan was formulating a plan that might change that.

“You should leave soon,” she said. “You have but a quarter-hour.”

He nodded, wolfing down the last of his breakfast before heading for the door, swiping his coat from the rack. He began to walk back towards Nahash as he buttoned it up, then stopped himself, his face reddening. Every day before he left for work, he would kiss Becky goodbye, and he had been about to perform the same routine with Nahash. It was a reflex – he hadn’t even thought about it. She cocked her head at him, and he tried to mask his embarrassment, waving to her instead.

“Thanks for the breakfast, Nahash. I’ll see you later. Wish me luck!”

“You don’t need luck,” she replied as her body began to fade. “You have magick.”

***

Ryan pulled up to the office building, turning off his engine and waiting in the driver’s seat for a few moments longer, gripping the wheel tightly as he steeled himself. This was it – the big interview. If he landed this job, then his financial woes would be over. He had help from his demon cohorts, but it was a good idea to play it safe regardless and treat this interview like any other. His resume wasn’t the issue – what had lost him his last position was his emotional turmoil, as Nahash would describe it. It should go fine as long as he stayed confident, maintained eye contact, and gave a firm handshake.

He stepped out of the car and slammed the door behind him, straightening his jacket as he made his way across the parking lot. The high-rise loomed above him, its rows of windows reflecting the blue sky above, shining in the sunlight. When he reached the glass door, he tried to push it open, quickly noticing a sign that said pull. Trying not to look quite as nervous as he was feeling, he headed into the lobby, the sounds of the city silenced as the door closed behind him. It was all sterile, white décor with faux wood paneling, the large windows that looked out onto the parking lot letting natural light flood into the room. Between two potted plants ahead of him was the main desk, Ryan clearing his throat as he approached it. A secretary glanced up from her computer monitor to greet him, adjusting a pair of spectacles, her hair pulled back in a tight bob.

“Can I help you with something, sir?”

“Yes,” he replied, straightening his tie more because he was fidgeting than because it was crooked. “I have an interview with Mister Booker scheduled for ten AM. Ryan Cutter.”

She checked her display for a few moments, twirling a pen between her fingers with practiced finesse, then nodded in approval.

“Very good, Mister Cutter. You’re right on time. If you’ll wait outside the office on the third floor, I’ll send word that you’ve arrived,” she said as she gestured to a nearby elevator. “Mister Booker will see you shortly.”

“Thanks,” he said with a quick nod, heading for the elevator. He hit the call button, waiting for the doors to open, feeling the secretary’s eyes on his back the entire time. It was a relief when the car finally arrived, and he stepped inside, pressing the button marked with a three. There was a tug of motion as the elevator began to rise, Ryan taking a moment to exhale, leaning back against the wall.

The building was larger than he had expected, and it probably housed hundreds of offices. The firm that he was trying to land a job with handled IT for other companies, doing things like on-site repairs, hardware installation, and tech support. It was a higher paying job than his last one, and it would certainly allow him to live comfortably.

When he arrived at the executive offices, he took a seat in the empty waiting room. It was a very average office environment. Chairs were lined up against the walls, and plastic potted ferns served as sparse decoration, complementing the geometric patterns of the carpet. It was almost indistinguishable from the last place that he had worked, as if these offices all came off the same production line. He picked up a magazine from a nearby coffee table and leafed through it absentmindedly, waiting to be called. Before long, the door to one of the side rooms opened, and a portly man wearing a pinstripe suit walked out to greet him.

“Mister Cutter,” he said, extending his hand as Ryan rose from his seat. “I’m Mister Booker, pleased to meet you.” They shook, the man looking him up and down, apparently pleased with his attire. “You’re very punctual, that’s encouraging! Please come into the conference room and take a seat. We’ll begin the interview shortly.”

“Nice to meet you, Mister Booker,” he replied stiffly. He followed Booker into an upscale conference room where a large wooden table occupied most of the space, an expensive-looking projector hanging from the ceiling above. He was faced with a panel of interviewers who glanced up at him as he closed the door. There were two women and three men besides Booker, who took up a seat to his left and gestured for him to join them. Ryan sat down awkwardly, trying not to feel too self-conscious, the interviewers scrutinizing him as he waited for further instructions. Everyone was smartly dressed – all upper management by the look of them. Each person had a laptop on the table in front of them, along with a glass of water, and he noted that there was a cup laid out for him as well.

“So, Mister Cutter,” an older woman in a blue pants suit at the head of the table began. “What makes you want to work for our company?”

Ryan had played this game before, and he went through the usual spiel about how excited he was to work with them, trying to appear as positive and enthusiastic about the prospect as possible. These interviews were as much a judgment of character and sociability as one’s employment history and qualifications. It was paramount that he remained courteous and confident. Before long, the subject of his firing from his previous position came up, and he decided to answer truthfully.

“It says here that you were hired by one of our competitors three years ago, Mister Cutter,” a sharply dressed man to his right added. This one was younger, perhaps in his early thirties. His black hair was cut short, and he was wearing a fitted suit of the same color. “Straight out of college, apparently. You were recently let go. Why was that?”

Ryan shifted uncomfortably but tried to remain relaxed, resisting the urge to fiddle with his tie.

“There was…quite a disruption to my personal life, a break-up with a long-term partner,” he replied. “Needless to say, it impacted my ability to perform my duties. I have recovered, of course, and I’m eager to get back on the horse and start working again.”

“Would you say that there’s a risk of the same thing happening again?” Booker asked, peering at Ryan over his laptop.

“No,” he replied adamantly. “I’m certain that there’s no risk of a repeat.”

He was starting to feel like he was losing the crowd. There was some muttering amongst the interviewers, followed by disdainful glances in his direction. He felt a bead of sweat trickle down his brow and resisted the urge to wipe it away. If he became visibly anxious at this stage, then he might blow the interview altogether.

A cold came over the room all of a sudden, the temperature dropping noticeably, and one of the women buttoned up her jacket as she scowled in the direction of an air vent that was built into the wall above them.

“Has someone been messing with the thermostat in here?” she wondered aloud, and her colleagues shook their heads. “Maybe someone opened a window on this floor, then. It’s the middle of damned autumn, what are they thinking? I’m sorry, Mister Cutter, where were we?”

Ryan was distracted as wavering shadows began to play across the walls, swirling vapors descending over the room to hang in the air like a mist. His breath caught in his throat, and he looked to the interviewers with wide eyes, but they weren’t reacting to what was happening around them. It was as if they couldn’t see it, couldn’t smell the sulfur in the air. Was he the only one who could?

A giant, shadowy figure materialized in the corner of the room, towering over the smaller people as it seemed to form from the smoke. Curled horns brushed the ceiling, yellow eyes glowing ominously as it stepped forward, a monster made of acrid fumes. As it became solid, he realized that it was Nahash, her pale skin and snowy wool catching the light as she emerged from the mist. She looked at him, putting a finger to her lips as if to say be quiet.

Ryan swallowed conspicuously, turning his attention back to the interviewers who were frowning at him around the table.

“Is something the matter, Mister Cutter?” one of the women inquired as she steepled her manicured fingers. “Are you distracted? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“No, please continue,” he stammered as he settled back into his chair. “You have my undivided attention.”

He tried to maintain eye contact with the woman who was cross-examining him as Nahash walked around the circumference of the room, brushing aside the decorative ferns as she passed by them. Nobody noticed her, nobody reacted in any way. Did she exist only in Ryan’s mind? What were Nahash and Orobas playing at? Nothing could have been more distracting. Why hadn’t Nahash warned him that she would be making an appearance at the interview?

Nahash stood directly behind the smartly dressed woman at the head of the table, looming over her, those horizontal pupils fixed on her as she shuffled through papers and adjusted her spectacles. Ryan had to fight to keep his eyes from rising to the giant pair of breasts that were hanging just above the woman’s head. Suddenly, her whole demeanor changed. Gone was the frown, her expression shifting to one of calm relaxation as a smile crossed her lips.

“Well, these things happen,” she said jovially. “Especially early in one’s life. I’m sure that your previous employer overreacted, and they’ve lost a highly qualified employee as a result. I have to say, your records are most impressive. You have extensive experience in system administration and programming. I can see you becoming an asset to this company.”

Her colleagues seemed surprised – perhaps she wasn’t usually so upbeat – a few of them glancing between one another in silent confusion. Ryan watched as Nahash waved her clawed hand across the table as if she was casting a spell on them, the cloud of vapors swirling through the air like ink in water.

The same change fell over the rest of them, their expressions softening. Nahash must be altering their moods, influencing their emotions to make them happy and positive. The younger of the two women was even starting to gaze at him for longer than he felt was appropriate, batting her lashes at him as he looked away uncomfortably.

“He is highly qualified,” Booker added. “Networking, system administration, extensive experience with security software. I agree that his last employer probably acted rashly in terminating his contract as soon as they did.”

There was a chorus of affirmations, Ryan letting his eyes wander to Nahash for a moment. She looked like she was concentrating hard on whatever it was that she was doing to them. It was difficult to pretend that she wasn’t there, as enormous and disarming as her demonic form was, and Ryan did his best to stay focused on the interview as the executives moved on to other subjects.

They asked him some more specific technical questions about his certifications and what programming languages he was familiar with, and they seemed pleased by his replies. He was quizzed extensively about his experience and presented with fictional scenarios, then asked to resolve them in the way that he thought best, his rather mundane and predictable answers drawing nods of approval nonetheless. At this point, he could probably have torn off his clothes and danced naked on the table, and they would still have been willing to hire him. Nahash had them practically euphoric.

The interview dragged on for several hours more. Ryan had been sitting in the uncomfortable chair for what felt like a lifetime, and Nahash had not so much as glanced in his direction since first appearing. Just how much energy was being expended to keep her here? Usually, she only appeared inside the summoning circle, so perhaps it took a larger expenditure of energy to manifest outside of it. Or, maybe it only served as a sort of conduit, like a landing pad that directed the spirit to a specific location. He would have to ask her when this was all over and done with.

The next line of questioning concerned teamwork and social skills. He had been through this process before, a kind of personality test to determine if he was some kind of sociopath who wouldn’t be able to work alongside their other employees. This was the part that he usually dreaded. He did not enjoy being cross-examined by a group of strangers, having them pick his brains and overanalyze his every twitch. He excelled in the technical aspects of the job, but he made mistakes when he was nervous, and the one thing that was essential in these interviews was confidence.

Fortunately, Nahash was running the show today. The executives were jovial and relaxed as the usually probing questions became friendly conversation, as if the room of interviewers had taken an immediate liking to him. It wasn’t just Nahash doing her thing, he realized, remembering one of Orobas’ powers that was listed in the Lesser Key. He had the ability to confer the favor of friends and foes, which must mean that he could influence other people’s opinions of his ward. Instant good first impressions – quite the tool to have at one’s disposal during a job interview.

“Well,” Booker said, rising from his seat and clasping his hands together. “I think I’ve seen enough. I believe that I speak for everyone here when I say that we’d love to have you onboard, and if there are no objections, I’d like you to start work next week.”

The rest of the executives expressed their approval, rising from their seats, Ryan following suit as they approached him one by one to shake his hand. As the younger woman who had been staring across the table at him for the duration of the interview let go, he felt something in his palm, looking down to see a crumpled slip of paper. He shot her a quizzical look, and she mimed a phone with her fingers, mouthing call me silently as she exited the room.

Ryan made for the door, then glanced back at Nahash, the yellow glow of her eyes fading as the horned demon slowly dissipated into the air like smoke. The room cleared, the shadows on the walls chased away by the harsh fluorescent lighting, leaving it empty.

He glanced at the slip of paper again, examining the digits, then discarded it in a potted plant on his way out.

***

Ryan flung off his jacket and unfastened his tie, unbuttoning the collar of his dress shirt as he stepped into his apartment. With a sigh of relief, he collapsed onto the couch, kicking off his shoes. He had gotten the job, and his financial worries were over. He no longer had to fret about losing the apartment or going hungry. It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, like he could breathe easy for the first time since Becky had left him. Orobas had really delivered. This demon thing had been a shot in the dark, but it had paid off in more ways than he could ever have imagined. What might have happened if he hadn’t gotten drunk that night and made up his mind to do something that had seemed ridiculous at the time?

He felt a chill come over him, not a product of demons this time, a sudden realization spoiling his good mood. Had the contract been fulfilled? Was it over? Would he never see Nahash again?

He didn’t know what he had expected to happen. She had no reason to be here once her task was complete, so why would she choose to stay? She couldn’t survive without her master’s energy, and she was little more than an errand girl in Orobas’ eyes. The demon might not allow her to come back even if she wanted to.

What about the plan that he had been concocting over the last few days? What about those little glimpses of her true personality that slipped through the cracks of the stoic facade that Orobas imposed on her? He wasn’t even sure what he was feeling, he just knew that he didn’t want her to leave yet. The idea of never seeing her again was intolerable.

His heart leapt as he felt a sudden cold come over the room, indicating that someone or something was arriving. Once again, those swirling vapors appeared in the air like lingering cigarette smoke in a dingy bar. Nahash was birthed from the mist, her massive figure slowly taking shape, seen as much in his mind as through his eyes.

“Nahash!” Ryan exclaimed with a little more emotion than he had intended. “I wasn’t sure that you’d come back.”

“Why would I leave you?” she replied, peering at him with her amber eyes. “My task here is not yet complete.”

“I got the job, all thanks to you,” he said. “That was amazing, by the way. I had no idea that you could mess with so many people at once. Is the contract not fulfilled, though? I’m safe now. I’m not going to lose my apartment, I have a steady job, and I don’t have to worry about money anymore.”

“That was but one facet of your contract with Orobas,” she replied. “You stipulated that you wanted him to make you happy again and to turn your life around. These are vague requests, Ryan. Any other demon might have taken advantage of you. Fortunately, Orobas is loyal to his charges and does not deceive them.”

“So…how do you measure if I’m happy or not?” he asked as he slumped over the headrest of the couch, watching the tall Seirim as she gestured to herself with her clawed hands.

“Do you forget? I have the ability to sense your emotions. I am perfectly capable of determining your level of happiness and contentment. I will judge when the contract has been fulfilled based on your overall emotional state.”

He beamed at her, and she seemed confused by his response. She cocked her head, the gesture exaggerated by the massive horns that sprouted from her feathery wool like a gnarled crown.

“Well, I’m glad that we get to spend a little more time together,” he added.

She hesitated before replying, as if she had meant to say something else, but had stopped herself.

“I have come to enjoy your company too, Ryan.”

It was enough, coming from her.

“What’s next?” he asked. “What more is there to do?”

She sauntered around the couch on her goat-like legs, her gait never ceasing to draw his eye. The way that she walked was so strange and unearthly. Her thighs were very human, shapely and alluring even, her skin pale and smooth. The wool, or maybe it was fur, started near her knees and covered her lower legs in a shaggy forest. Her limbs were digitigrade, her cloven hooves protruding from beneath the white hair, split clean down the middle like those of a deer or a sheep. She wore no clothes, not even a loincloth for modesty. She was in a seemingly perpetual state of nudity that caused her no embarrassment. The few times that he had dared to take a peek between her thighs, they had been thick enough to obscure her more intimate anatomy, which in some ways was even more tantalizing. Despite her size and her mismatch of human and animal features, she remained graceful, planting herself beside him on the cushions as he shuffled over to give her more space.

“You must begin courting again, Ryan. I sense the loneliness in you. It lingers beneath the surface, like a crocodile lying in wait for its prey, ready to leap out and strike whenever the opportunity presents itself. Until you resolve this problem, happiness will elude you. It will hang over you like a shadow and torment you whenever your mind is idle.”

“You can tell all that just from reading my emotional state?” Ryan asked, his face warming a little. He still wasn’t entirely comfortable with having her read his mood like a book, but it was apparently necessary, and he wondered what he must look like to her. Was it like a heat-map of his body as if seen through an infrared camera, with the colors changing and shifting like a mood ring? Red for angry, blue for sad, green for jealous, maybe? Perhaps it was more intuitive than that, empathic, with her being able to feel a little of what he felt as if she was inhaling second-hand smoke? He doubted that she would be able to explain it to him, as he lacked the sense entirely. It would be like trying to describe colors to a blind man.

“The woman at the interview today,” Nahash began, glancing down at him. “She propositioned you. Was she not to your liking? She was within an acceptable age range, and she was fertile.”

His cheeks flushed red with embarrassment, and he laughed nervously, waving his hand dismissively as Nahash looked on in confusion.

“I mean…yeah, she was attractive, but I had never even met her before. I’m not that kind of guy, Nahash. I want a meaningful relationship. I want to be with someone that I share a connection with, you know? Someone I’ve gotten to know as a friend before we jump into something serious.”

“I sense your sexual frustration, you are-“

He waved his hands again to cut her off, his face now burning in earnest as she scrutinized him.

“It’s not about that, trust me. I have it under control.”

“You are embarrassed,” she replied, her ovine ears twitching. “I meant no offense. I was merely relaying to you what I sensed.”

“Don’t worry about it, just…let’s keep your future sensing above the belt, okay?”

“Very well. What scenario do you envision wherein your needs are fulfilled?”

“I…don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “That’s kind of a hard question to answer. Sometimes, we don’t know what we want until it falls into our lap. I thought that I was happy with Becky, that she was my type. But, more and more, I’m starting to realize that our relationship wasn’t that great to begin with.” He chuckled to himself, and Nahash gave him a quizzical look. “Hell, I’ve talked more with you in the last week than I did with Becky in the last month. We really didn’t have very much in common after all.”

“I have enjoyed that aspect of our interaction,” she replied. “It is rare that I have an opportunity to talk with someone at length. Where I reside, there is no conversation as you know it, just the ever-shifting tides of raw thought and emotion.”

“That sounds like it could get overwhelming pretty fast,” Ryan added, and she nodded her shaggy head.

“It can indeed. My visits to the mortal realm are so infrequent now, I sometimes find myself pining for it.”

She stared off into the distance, her expression forlorn, and it broke Ryan’s heart to see her that way. She was a prisoner, a slave by any metric, forced to leech energy from more powerful demons if she wanted to survive. She wasn’t being held against her will exactly, but what choice did she have, live in servitude or die? He might have a way to change that, however.

“Tell me,” he began, changing the subject. “How were you able to appear in the conference room today? I was under the impression that demons could only manifest inside summoning circles.”

She took a moment to formulate her reply, no doubt trying to think up an explanation that would make sense to a layman.

“A circle is a conduit,” she began. “It opens the door to spirits, draws them in, so to speak. My master can send me outside of a summoning circle, but the energy required is exponentially higher. The runes and sigils concentrate magickal energy and bind it within the circle, making manifesting there a far easier and more attractive prospect. These magickal hotspots can form naturally, too. If a place earns a reputation as being haunted, that is usually the reason. The power of a demon is finite and will not be expended unless absolutely necessary, so being able to replenish some of that energy and offset the cost of manifesting is the only way to draw a demon out these days. They once walked the earth with energy to spare, but as their influence and power faded, they were forced to retreat into the immaterium.”

“The immaterium?” Ryan asked, his curiosity piqued.

“A colloquial term for realms other than this one,” she explained. “They are numerous, and their properties vary, but one thing that most have in common is that they are not grounded in a physical reality. They are realms of thought and emotion, devoid of matter, and are thus ideal homes for demons and spirits who seek to minimize their energy expenditure.”

“So, your kind have a natural ability to shift between them?”

“As do you,” she replied with a knowing smile. “The difference is that the souls of mortals are bound to their physical form until it expires. Some have learned the skill – they call it astral projection, or an out of body experience. Through meditation or trauma their spirit leaves their body, and while it must return if that body is to survive, the spirit can exist for short periods of time in its natural and unbridled state.”

“That stuff is all real, then?” Ryan mused. “Astral projection, remote viewing, all that nonsense? We all know about that kind of thing through cultural osmosis, but I don’t think anyone really believes it. It’s like…cognitive dissonance. Why would organizations like the FBI pump funding into those projects if they didn’t show promise? Yet, conventional wisdom insists that it can’t be genuine. I guess the proof is staring me right in the face,” he said as he looked up at Nahash. “It still seems unbelievable.”

“The mortal realm is one of constant, unending distraction,” she continued. “To possess senses is to have them be perpetually stimulated. Sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. During every second of every day, you are processing sensory information that does nothing but distract you from your true spiritual self. It is akin to trying to solve a math problem during intercourse. It is impossible to concentrate on anything other than the sensations that are assailing you.”

“That’s a rather lewd metaphor, but I think I get the picture,” Ryan muttered as he shifted in his seat. “If you don’t possess a body, then you’re just alone with your thoughts and emotions, like a brain in a vat.”

“Some cannot abide the intensity of mortal sensation,” Nahash added. She lifted one of her hands, examining it as though she was seeing it for the first time, flexing her fingers almost experimentally. “Others, such as we Seirim, revel in the variety and potency of those sensations.” She looked wistful again, as if remembering bygone days. “The exquisite tastes of food and wine, biting into a fruit and feeling its juices burst forth into your mouth, the cool breeze on your skin and the warmth of a fire. These are things that I miss dearly.”

“How do you astral project?” Ryan asked. “Is it something that I could learn to do?”

“It takes great focus and years of practice,” she explained, his question bringing her back to the present. “Meditation must be employed in order to block out worldly distractions, allowing the practitioner to concentrate on his spiritual being.”

“Yeah, doesn’t sound like something that I’d be suited to,” he chuckled. “You once told me that it wasn’t your job to reveal the secrets of the universe. What changed your mind?”

“As I said, I find our conversations…stimulating,” she replied after a moment of hesitation. “Besides, your curiosity is endearing.”

She smiled down at him, and he felt butterflies in his stomach. A compliment from her was so rare. She could appear outside of the circle, then, provided that she had enough energy to work with. That was useful to know.

“Say, Nahash,” he began in a conspiratorial tone. “Just between you and me, if you could live independently of Orobas again, would you want to? Let’s say that you had plenty of energy of your own, and that you could pop in and out of this realm at will. Would that make you happy?”

“Of course,” she replied, surprising Ryan with her candor. She usually spoke about these subjects as if Orobas was peering over her shoulder and listening in on the conversation, which might not be too far-fetched based on what he knew about the demon’s abilities. “It is impossible, of course, and thus to say that I yearn for it is no insult against my master. It is only by his grace that I continue to exist, and I will always be grateful to him for saving me from damnation.”

“What would happen if a demon ran out of energy?” Ryan asked.

“They would cease to be,” she replied, her tone dour. “Death as you know it is not the end, but the destruction of a spirit is truly final. Without a source of energy, they cannot exist. Engaging in demon worship, falling under the influence of a demon, even thinking about a demon or viewing its sigil feeds into its power and keeps it from fading away.”

“Well, in that case, consider me as grateful towards Orobas as you are. I’m glad to have met you, Nahash.”

“As I am glad to have met you,” she replied. “I have not had the opportunity to tread upon solid ground for eons, and as much as I am bound by my duties, I have enjoyed this brief respite.”

She stood abruptly, her body starting to fade, as if dissolving into a cloud of black smoke.

“I am being recalled by Orobas. I will return tonight, whenever you decide to sleep.”

“I always look forward to it,” Ryan announced, and he could have sworn that he saw a smile on her face as she vanished from his reality.

CHAPTER 6: BREAKING CHAINS

A hooded figure traipsed through the forest, clambering over gnarled roots as he made his way deeper, fallen leaves crunching and twigs snapping underfoot. The naked branches of the trees reached upwards like grasping fingers, rising from the obscuring mist that hung over them, the light of the waxing moon providing just enough light to see by. The sky above was clear of clouds, velvet black, the cold stars twinkling in the heavens.

The figure stopped at a tree, placing a gloved hand on the trunk and drawing a penknife from the pocket of his jacket. He stabbed it deep into the bark, carving a symbol into the wood, large and prominent. It was a pattern of crossed lines and small circles, a demonic sigil. When he was finished, he moved on to another tree. It was hard going, his breath condensating in the cold air as it left his lips, his features obscured beneath the shadow of his cowl.

Over the course of an hour, he had carved them into dozens of trees, maybe a hundred. The same symbol appeared everywhere, only varying in its size. When he reached a clearing in the dense woodland, he pulled a rucksack from his back, kneeling to rummage through it in search of something. He drew a large, camouflaged block from the bag, securing it around one of the trees with a belt so that it faced the clearing. He fiddled with the device for a minute, then stepped back to examine it, apparently satisfied.

The task complete, he returned to the bag and withdrew an armful of rectangular metal plates, each roughly the size and shape of a paperback book. He walked about the clearing and the surrounding area, scattering them everywhere, that same sigil etched onto each of them.

He returned to the rucksack once again, this time unzipping one of the pockets and pulling out a blood pack, the crimson liquid shining in the moonlight. Using his knife, he poked a hole in the clear plastic, handling it gingerly so as not to spill any of it on his clothes. He walked around the circumference of the clearing, splashing blood on the trunks of the trees, careful to coat the sigils that he had carved there. When he was satisfied, he squeezed the rest of the pack out onto the open soil, the ground mostly clear of dead leaves in the absence of trees.

There was a rustle as he wrapped the empty blood pack in a plastic bag to prevent it from leaking, then headed off into the forest once again. Stooping low, he scoured the ground, brushing aside the foliage as he searched the undergrowth. He soon found what he was looking for, picking up suitably sized rocks and carrying them to the center of the clearing, where he deposited them in a haphazard pile.

Once he had collected what looked to be enough, he began to lay them out, creating a rough circle in the clearing about ten feet across. He pulled a measuring tape from his pocket and extended it, judging the size to be correct, then retracted it with a click.

With a stick in hand, he walked around the rock circle, drawing lines in the dirt. He traced out concentric rings, then moved on to pentagrams and triangles, reproducing the symbols from memory. After walking back over to his pack, he withdrew a leather-bound book, referencing the drawings within to ensure that he had gotten everything right. He stowed it, then produced a large bag of table salt, cutting a small tear in it with his blade. He filled in the ruts that he had made in the soil with the powder, the summoning circle slowly taking shape, its details standing out white against the black dirt.

The shrouded figure repeated the process with the sigils and incantations, drawing swirling Hebrew script and arcane runes, pausing every few seconds to reference his book and make sure that his reproductions were accurate. It must have taken two or three hours to complete the procedure. The figure stood in the middle of his salt summoning circle, the carefully traced shapes and text glowing in the pale moonlight. It looked like a scene from a horror movie, or at least what a layman might assume an occult ritual would look like, and that was just the way he wanted it.

He sat down at the foot of a gnarled tree, getting as comfortable as possible in its tangled roots, then crossed his arms and closed his eyes.

***

Nahash materialized, her physical manifestation forming from the swirling mists and becoming solid, her cloven hooves meeting soft dirt underfoot. She opened her ovine eyes, blinking as her surroundings came into focus. It was dark, the environment lit only by the light of the moon, her pale skin and white fur reflecting it like a beacon as she turned her head to look around. She was in a clearing, thick forest closing in on her from all sides, mist hanging low over the ground as she felt the cool night air on her face.

This was her domain, a sense of déja-vu overcoming her, a kind of primal recognition sparking in her mind as she gazed at the tree line. She had not visited woodland for a thousand years, yet the scents and sounds were all immediately familiar to her, the chirping of insects and the smell of damp soil bringing old memories flooding back.

She wanted to break loose, to dance through these woods and vanish between the trees, the wilds calling to her with an almost irresistible intensity that rang in her head like a bell.

Those days were long over, however. With a heavy heart, she resisted the powerful urges, turning her attention to the task that her master had assigned her.

Where was Ryan? This was not his apartment. She could hear the sounds of the city in the distance, but it was faint and far away. She looked down to examine the summoning circle beneath her feet, drawn in the soil and filled in with salt. It was impeccably reproduced, considering the crude methods employed, far better than the one that Ryan had drawn on his floorboards in chalk. She noticed some irregularities. There was no triangle for the summoner to stand in, and no containment triangle for protecting the exorcist from uncooperative spirits. This could not have been used for summoning, it was merely acting as a gate, drawing in the ambient magickal energy in the environment and concentrating it here.

It felt good. This was a place where nature ruled, and the magick was strong.

Movement caught her eye, the shadow of a hooded figure walking towards her through the fog. The stranger must have been hiding just out of view, watching her materialize. Nahash bristled, but as he reached up to pull back his dark hood, she recognized him.

“Ryan?” Nahash asked, blinking her eyes. “What is the meaning of this? Why are we in a forest?”

“I wasn’t sure that it would work,” he replied cryptically, walking around the edge of the circle with his hands in his pockets as he admired his handiwork. “I figured that wherever I decided to sleep, Orobas would send you, provided that there was a circle here to offset the energy cost. Looks like I was right.”

“This circle was not designed for summoning rituals,” she mused, turning her eyes to the ground. “Did you go to the trouble of making it just to bring me here? Why?”

“That’s right,” he replied, spreading his arms wide. “After you left earlier today, I went for a little drive. I visited a few stores to buy the supplies that I needed. After all, I don’t have to worry about money anymore thanks to you. I searched for woodland that was remote, yet reasonably accessible from the city. We’re right on the edge of a national park, you know. Not many people come through here, but there are hikers and nature lovers who do, and I ensured that this clearing would be close enough to the trail that campers or hunters might stumble across it.”

“Ryan, what are you doing?” Nahash asked as she narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Whatever this is, it isn’t part of your contract with Orobas.”

“No, it isn’t,” he replied as he walked over to join her in the center of the circle. “This is something that I’m doing of my own volition. I’ve been paying attention to what you’ve told me. I’ve listened when you’ve talked about sigils and the power of faith, the way that magickal energy is created and distributed.”

Nahash lifted her head as she sniffed the cold night air, smelling blood and metal, her amber eyes widening.

“What have you done?” she asked, more curious than alarmed now. “You are but a novice, Ryan. If you seek to summon a greater demon or to make a game of powers that are far beyond your control, you risk inviting a terrible fate.”

“Even I know enough that I wouldn’t attempt to summon a demon without wards or a containment triangle,” he chuckled. “You give me too little credit, Nahash. Look more closely, and tell me what you see.”

She shot him a worried glance, then marched out of the circle, following the scents to the edge of the forest. There were sigils carved into the trees, and they had been splashed with animal blood – a pig, by the smell of it. Her hoof hit a metal plate that was discarded on the ground, and she leaned down to examine it, seeing that it was inscribed with that same symbol.

“This is the sigil of Azazel,” she mused, feeling the rough bark beneath her palm as she lay a hand on one of the tree trunks.

“That’s correct,” Ryan replied, following along behind her. “Azazel is the chief of the Seirim, if I’m not mistaken, and the closest thing that your kind have to a deity. When people come here – and they will – they’ll find these sigils carved into the trees and the summoning circle drawn in the clearing. They’ll see the blood, they’ll find the metal plates, and they’ll take them back with them. Before the end of the week, hundreds – maybe thousands of people will have seen the sigil, and these plates will be circulating throughout the state. The local news stations will report on it, pictures of the trees and the plates will be all over social media, word of this will spread like wildfire. This country loves a good Satanic panic.”

“You seek to empower Azazel, and through him…me,” Nahash whispered.

“Not only that, but I’m starting a new myth here,” he added. “Mothman, the Jersey Devil, Bigfoot – there are so many cryptids in this country. They capture the imagination of the public – some people dedicate their whole lives to investigating them. Tell me, is that not a form of worship? Are the legends of Bigfoot or the Chupacabra not widespread and pervasive enough to fuel a small tribe of spirits such as the Seirim?”

She turned her goat-like head to stare at him, her golden eyes reflecting the light of the moon.

“These woods are now haunted,” he continued with a grin. “What’s more, I have video evidence.” He pointed to the camouflaged box that was tied around a nearby tree trunk. “I’ve got trail cam footage of a goat demon appearing from thin air, and it’s going to be all over the internet before sunrise. Even if people don’t believe that it’s genuine, they’ll argue at length over its validity, and they’ll spend hours trying to figure out how it was faked so convincingly. The video will have millions of views by the end of the month.”

Ryan walked back to the center of the summoning circle, spreading his arms triumphantly, announcing his intentions to the forest as Nahash looked on in quiet awe of him.

“I just engineered a fucking media sensation,” he laughed. “You’re going viral. Every person who sees one of these sigils – every person who believes that this is real – will feed you more magickal energy than you’ve seen in five thousand years.”

“You did all of this…for me?” she asked. “Why?”

“You asked me why I turned down the woman who gave me her number at the interview today,” he replied. “Let’s just say that over the past few days, I’ve developed a thing for…older women.”

Ryan had no idea if she would return his affections. He didn’t even know if spirits were capable of romantic love, but even if she didn’t reciprocate, she still deserved this. This supposedly evil creature had been kinder and more considerate towards him than anyone that he had ever met. She deserved to be free, and if Ryan was going to get his wish fulfilled, then so should she. It was only fair.

Nahash stared at him for a moment as she stood at the edge of the clearing, then crossed the distance between them in a flash, striding through the mist on her long legs. She wrapped her arms around him, lifting him clear off the ground as if he weighed no more than a doll, sinking him into her soft bosom as she pressed her lips against his.

Sparks fizzled in his brain as her tongue pushed into his mouth, its exaggerated size surprising him, her kiss desperate and unrestrained. The winding muscle explored him, smooth and sinuous, its tapered tip glancing his inner cheeks and sending pleasant shivers rolling down his spine. It was a kiss like no other, deeper and more fervent than anything that he had experienced before, as if she was pouring her hunger for him into every impassioned stroke.

His eyes closed of their own accord, the copper taste of her saliva pricking his taste buds as he let himself melt into her. If his arms had not been trapped against his sides by her bear hug, he would have delved his fingers into the soft mane of fur that adorned her neck and shoulders. The warmth of her body permeated his clothing in the cold autumn air, her arms gripping him tightly, the heat of their joined flesh making his head spin. Their embrace was wanton and urgent, almost panicked, all of the tension and unspoken desire that had built up over their time together bubbling to the surface with the intensity of an erupting volcano.

Her familiar scent rose to his nose, alluring and earthy, and he finally realized what it was. She smelled of the forest, of dew-soaked grass and soil, the aroma of nature itself.

Their embrace dragged on, her kiss becoming more gentle and placating, each passionate stroke easing low sighs from his lips. Stars danced before his eyes, his heart hammering in his chest with such intensity that he feared it might burst. He couldn’t focus on anything other than the sensation of her slippery organ as it danced deftly across his tongue.

Nahash finally pulled back with a wet smack, her lips linked to his by a strand of saliva that glistened in the light of the waxing moon, those amber eyes glowing through the gloom of the forest like hot coals.

She placed him back on his feet gingerly, Ryan gripping her forearm as he stood unsteadily on weak knees, dazed from her impromptu kiss. Fireflies hovered around the circle as if they were somehow drawn to the Seirim, floating on the breeze like motes of dust, their ghostly lights blinking in a beautiful display.

“Of all the things that I have seen in my time, you surprise me the most,” she said as a smile curled her lips.

“S-so what happens now?” Ryan asked, his cheeks burning as he craned his neck to look up at her.

“If what you say is true, then Azazel’s power will grow, and the power of the Seirim along with it. We are born of him – we are his children in a manner of speaking, but the tribes have been scattered to the winds. Azazel can no longer sustain us, and so the Seirim must subsist on the energy of more prominent demons. He will wake from hibernation, and when he does, he will rally his children to him. If you succeed in starting your myth, then they will all be drawn here. If enough people believe, then this forest will become our home. We will dance under the moonlight once again.”

“I meant more along the lines of…what happens now between you and me?”

“I am still bound to Orobas for the time being, and I must do his bidding,” she replied. She leaned down closer to him, crouching so that her lips were an inch from his ear, her husky voice low and seductive. “But once I am free to do as I please, there is no ward that will keep me from you.”

He swallowed conspicuously, her smile turning wry.

“The hour is late,” she declared, turning to look to the sky. “If you should wish to sleep, then do it soon.”

“Guess I was awake all night setting this whole thing up,” he said with an apologetic shrug. “We probably shouldn’t stick around here very long. If some early morning jogger comes across me, then it’ll blow the whole plan. I’ll start making my way back towards the car. I guess you can’t walk with me?”

“Not yet,” she replied. “But soon, I will no longer be confined to the circle. I will meet you back at the apartment.” He started to walk away, but saw her hesitate, the giant demon looking oddly sheepish. “And, Ryan…thank you.”

She faded into the mist, Ryan watching her pale skin and snowy coat slowly dissipate like a vapor. He stopped to retrieve his camouflaged camera, then picked up his rucksack, setting off down the trail.

CHAPTER 7: CONSORTING WITH DEMONS

When Ryan stepped through the door of his apartment, Nahash was waiting there for him, lounging on the couch as she watched him hang up his coat. She was treating it like a chaise longue due to her size, reclining on it as she leaned with one arm on the backrest and the other trailing over the side. Her long legs were crossed, hanging over the adjacent armrest, her cloven hooves touching the floor.

She had always been distractingly attractive, but for the first time, he felt free to really appreciate her. He no longer feared that she would take offense if she caught him copping an eyeful. Her figure screamed fertility – avatar of nature that she was – with child-bearing hips and breasts so bountiful that he would scarcely be able to cup one in two hands. There was a pleasant fullness to her, the soft flesh that clung to her thighs and belly giving her curves that drew the eye with an almost magnetic power. She embodied a standard of beauty that was lost to time, but one that nonetheless ignited an ancient and primal lust in him, like a hunter-gatherer obsessively carving fetishes from ivory.

Where her skin was clear of her delicate wool, it was as smooth as polished stone, shining almost like silk beneath the lights. It was pale, though not pallid – warmth and health radiating forth to make her glow.

His eyes followed the thin trail of fur that began between her breasts, his gaze wandering up to her neck and shoulders, where it created a sort of fluffy ruff that framed her face. It continued to her head, where it served as her hair, those black horns and her large ears that so resembled those of a sheep protruding from it. The same downy material covered her lower legs, giving the impression that she was wearing woolen knee socks, before her long limbs tapered into those of a goat. Her coat was as white as snow, near the same color as her skin, the whole package blending seamlessly to make the transition between her human and animal features less jarring. Her face was closer to that of a human than a sheep or a goat, with a flat, ovine nose and the full lips of a woman. Now, he could admire her without reservation.

She was at once comely and surprisingly graceful. Being a kind of succubus, her original purpose had been to tempt tribesmen away from their wives to join the Seirim in their dance. Based on what Ryan had read about them during his research into Azazel, it was he who had first taught mankind to sin. And here was Nahash, one of his sensuous children, tempting Ryan as was her prerogative. She was exotic, strange and somewhat frightening, but there was an aura of base sexuality emanating from her that ignited a long-dormant fire in him.

Nahash beckoned to him with a clawed finger, and he walked over to her obediently, her golden eyes watching him from beneath her long lashes.

“On the couch or in the bed?” Nahash asked in a low and sultry tone. Ryan felt himself begin to blush. He had only just expressed his feelings for her. Was she already intending to take things further?

“W-what do you mean?” he stammered.

“Where do you wish to sleep?” she clarified in her usual formal tone. “On the couch or in the bed?”

He breathed a quiet sigh of relief and gestured to the bedroom, the demon rising from the couch to follow him. Nahash watched as he started to disrobe, her gaze more covetous than usual, as if she was playing her eyes over his body rather than passively observing him as she normally did. He stripped down to his shirt and shorts, slipping beneath the heavy sheets in order to escape the bite of the cold air, and she followed suit.

If there had been a sexual charge under normal circumstances, it was now amplified tenfold, the very touch of her soft wool against his naked skin sending jolts of tingling electricity coursing through him. His attraction to her had been implied, unspoken but likely sensed, and it was all out in the open now. His face burned fever hot, and his heart raced as he felt her arm curl around him, tugging him closer. His breath caught in his throat as her bosom pressed up against his back through the fabric of his shirt, flesh as soft as putty enveloping him, spilling over his shoulders like a plush neck pillow.

She spooned with him, her warm breath blowing his hair, squeezing him tight against her voluptuous body. The ruff of fluffy fur around her neck cushioned his head, tickling the back of his neck as he leaned into her embrace. Nahash could sense his every emotion, as if he was laid bare before her, the demon staring into his soul with those amber eyes.

“What are you so afraid of?” Nahash whispered, her lips brushing his ear. He closed his eyes, feeling the feathery texture of her wool against his midriff as she let her hand rest dangerously close to his waistband. “Do you think me a temptress?”

“Are you not?” Ryan mumbled, and she chuckled.

“You’ve learned enough about my kind by now to know what we are, and you know that I’ve not felt the warmth of a man in millennia.” She slipped her clawed fingers beneath his shirt, dragging them lightly across his chest, making him flinch as he felt her soft lips press against the nape of his neck. He froze up, his spine arching involuntarily as she planted a sucking kiss. It was tender, gentle, yet oozing with a palpable desire.

“How I have yearned for the pleasures of the flesh,” she murmured into his ear, her musical voice making his breath catch in his throat. “To live in a mire of raw thought, to have no corporeal form, to have the memories of taste and touch without ever being able to relive them is torture worthy of the name Hell. The taste of succulent fruit, the smell of roasted meat wafting on the air, the pulse of another’s heartbeat felt through their warm skin…”

She placed her palm over his heart, feeling it throb, and he heard her exhale deeply as she savored the sensation.

“As you have already learned, it was Azazel who taught men to sin. He brought them secret knowledge, and with it came the possibility of transgression. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, they ate of the forbidden fruit, finding it sumptuous and dripping with sweet nectar.”

Her long tongue left her mouth to glance his ear, making him flinch, leaving a trail of warm saliva in its wake. Ryan was captivated by her lurid whisperings, scarcely able to breathe, like a deer caught in the headlights.

“You are an innocent boy, Ryan,” she cooed. “Your love is pure and unashamed. I can sense it in you – I can smell it just as the wolf smells the hare.” She caught his ear between her teeth and nibbled it softly, a gasp escaping his lips. “Would you think me evil if I told you that it excites me almost beyond reason?” she asked with a breathy sigh. “I am a demon, after all – a spirit whose driving purpose was to tempt men and women alike, to help them learn the pleasures and the mysteries of nature. Lust is not godly. The rutting of unthinking beasts is not sung of in churches and temples, and yet it is the pulse of all life. The darkness of the forest that calls to you, the unacceptable desire that scratches at the inside of your skull, the animal that lurks beneath your conscious mind. We taught them to embrace it – to explore it – if only to finally know what it would feel like to sate that burning need.”

Ryan felt her hot breath on his nape, contrasting with the chill of the air above the bedsheets, Nahash hovering there as if she wanted to plant a kiss or a bite on his sensitive skin.

“You listen so intently when I speak of demons and magick,” she chuckled. “An eager student. Now, let me teach you to sin.”

He loosed a stifled moan as she sank her teeth into his neck, not hard enough to break the skin but enough to send his nerves into overdrive. It was like he had been hooked up to a battery, setting his nervous system alight with sensation. Suddenly, he was acutely aware of everything, as though his senses had been dialed up to eleven. He felt her claws drag slowly from his chest to his belly, making him buck and flinch, her pillowy lips mouthing and kissing around the red mark that her teeth had left in his skin. She reached his waistband and dragged it down, savoring his every twitch, his erection catching for a moment before bouncing free of its confines.

She wrapped her fingers around it, holding it in her palm, feeling it throb in her hand like a second heart. It was as hot as an iron in a forge and no less rigid.

“Sweet boy,” she purred as she hooked his chin in her other hand, turning it up so that she could look down on his burning face from above. “I’ll show you pleasures that no mortal has tasted in a hundred generations.”

She locked him in an upside-down kiss, her dexterous tongue worming its way into his mouth, twisting and coiling as though it had a life all its own. Her grip on him grew tighter, pressing him against her body, sinking him deeper into her heaving bust. She squeezed his aching member in her hand, feeling him shudder, a bead of his pre welling at the tip as she overwhelmed him with her relentless affections.

Ryan could do little other than lean back into her embrace, her fingers curling gently around his throat to hold him in place as her lurid kiss dragged on. He could feel those abundant breasts squashing against his back through his shirt, her satin skin separated from his by a scant layer of fabric. They were large enough to spill over his shoulders, as though her butter-soft flesh was engulfing him, yet they were firm enough to spring back when he pushed against them. With the mattress beneath him and the quilted blankets pressing him down, his whole world was warmth and comfort, every inch of skin pressing against something plush and inviting.

Ryan found himself trembling with anticipation as she ran her dull claws up and down the length of his throbbing shaft, tracing a bulging vein. She had him in such a state of excitement that just the feather-light touch of her fingers made him dance like a puppet on the end of a string. The smirking Seirim was playing him like a musical instrument, his nerves no different than the strings of a harp in her deft hands, each pluck sending a fresh wave of pleasure rolling over him.

The satin coils of her slippery tongue piled into his mouth, so long and thick that he could barely accommodate it, his cheeks bulging as she tasted their inner lining. She exhibited all the skill and finesse of an artist wielding a paintbrush, her practiced motions delicate enough that he felt she could have written her name on his palate. Their organs entwined like mating snakes as Ryan did his best to reciprocate, hot flesh slick with their shared saliva twisting and curling, her metallic flavor filling his head. He felt as though she was draining all of the strength from his body, sapping his will. This kiss alone was more intense than anything that he had experienced with his previous partners, somehow even more carnal than making love. It was otherworldly, her own repressed lust seeping into every lick, a tremor rolling through him as his muddled mind considered what she might have in store for him.

She glanced the back of his throat, painting the roof of his mouth, exploring him as her embrace grew ever more wanton. Her agile fingers roamed across his belly and thighs all the while, drawing red trails in his skin, touching everything but his neglected member as it ached and throbbed in the air. Something about her grip on his throat made him feel vulnerable, and that vulnerability only heightened his senses further, his brain fizzing as if someone had filled his head with pop rocks.

Nahash sensed that it was becoming too intense for him, ceasing her stroking, her lips breaking away with a pop as her monstrous tongue slid out of his mouth like a giant strand of spaghetti. Ryan lay in her arms, panting and twitching, the Seirim releasing her hold on his neck to run her fingers through his hair in the way that she knew he liked.

“I’m sorry, I got a little carried away,” she whispered. “It’s been so long, and you’re so…receptive.”

Ryan took a moment to catch his breath, making a futile attempt to compose himself, then flipped over in the bed to push his face into the nape of her feathery neck. His hands roamed across her velvet skin unreservedly, tracing the contours of her voluptuous body, following the curves of her figure as he sank his fingers into her doughy flesh. She wrapped her arms around him and brought him closer, squashing him against her chest, one hand cradling the back of his head. Her fingertips brushed up and down his spine, her light touch making him shiver and groan into her ruff. She buried her nose in his hair and nuzzled contentedly, his rigid erection pressing into her paunchy belly due to their difference in height, and it was all that he could do to prevent himself from thrusting against her satin skin like an animal in heat.

“You are so taken with me,” she murmured, following up with a sordid chuckle. “It’s more than lust. I feel your burning need, and I want to satisfy it. No, I want to indulge it.”

She was attuned to his emotions like a radio antenna, so there was no need for fumbling attempts to explain how he felt about her or what he wanted when she could read his heart like the page of a book. There was an unbearable pressure building inside him, an urgent need for her that made him feel like he might explode at any moment.

So, why did he feel like he was going to melt into a puddle? He had always taken the lead with Becky, though it was true that she had been rather passive, often disinterested in their last few months together. Nahash was aggressive, unpredictable. He didn’t know what she would do next, and the prospect made him weak at the knees.

“I sense such uncertainty in you,” she cooed, combing his hair with her fingers. “Let me be your guide.”

Nahash gripped his wrists, rolling him onto his back in one smooth motion, the mattress creaking beneath her weight. She swung one of her long legs over him, straddling him, the blanket tenting as she sat upright. A pair of satin-soft thighs as thick as his torso enclosed him, long enough that her knees almost reached his armpits, Ryan’s aching member brushing something warm and wet. What felt like the puffy lips of her loins press against his shaft, fever-hot, and slick with her excitement. The sheets slowly fell away, sliding down her back to rest about her hourglass hips, revealing her upper body in all its glory. Porcelain skin and fur the color of winter snow caught the moonlight that bled in through the window, illuminating her in its silver glow, her golden eyes burning like embers as she looked down on him from above. The curves of her body cast deep shadows, further accentuating her figure, light and shadow conspiring to make her even more unearthly. Her lower body was still in shadow beneath the sheets, but those weighty breasts hung from her chest in full view, bouncing softly as they settled.

The air was cold where she had shrugged off the blankets, yet it amplified the heat from her body in contrast, Ryan feeling the warmth of her smooth skin where it pressed against his own. She was heavy, but he still got the impression that she weighed far less than she ought to, and it was not too much for him to handle. Perhaps that was intentional.

She ground her hips slowly, tantalizingly, her loins still hidden in shadow as they rubbed against his erection. Ryan could feel flesh like wet silk sliding against his shaft, glazing his skin with her warm juices, but never enveloping him. He wanted desperately to plunge into that sopping opening, to feel her velvet insides grip him like a latex glove, but she did not release him from his torment.

She took one of his hands in hers and lifted it, planting it in the yielding meat of her breast, his fingers sinking up to the knuckle in wobbling flesh that spread around his digits like wet clay. His mouth began to water as he kneaded, Nahash’s eyelids fluttering, the pace of her grinding hastening as he explored her. She released his second hand, Ryan bringing it to her chest, catching another swaying breast to weigh it in his palm. He couldn’t cup one in a single hand – they were too large – her flesh simply swallowing him when he tried to lift them. Her velvet fat bulged between his digits when he dug deeper, Nahash arching her back as he found the firmer, more sensitive tissue that gave them their wonderful teardrop shape. Her swollen nipples pressed into his palms, rosy and pink, Nahash uttering a primal grunt as he trapped them between his fingers.

He let one of his hands wander down to her thigh, pressing his fingertips into a layer of fat that was just as inviting as that of her bosom, hard muscle rising from beneath to greet him as his clawing made her flex. Her skin was like satin, and he couldn’t help but stroke it, not finding a single hair or imperfection. This body wasn’t real – not the true sense of the word. It was idealized, inhumanly perfect, more the embodiment of an idea than anything natural.

She batted his hand away as it wandered between her legs, smirking down at him from on high, wagging her finger as if scolding a naughty child.

“Not yet. We have so much to do before our dance reaches its crescendo.”

She slid off him, the heat of her vulva moving away from his aching erection, but his disappointment was quickly replaced with renewed excitement. She began to crawl down his body, throwing the blankets over herself so that she was out of view beneath them, only her touch on his skin giving Ryan any indication of where she was or what she was doing. Her twisted horns caught on the fabric, dragging it with her as she went, their points betraying her location as she paused over his torso.

He felt her plant lingering kisses on his chest, biting softly as she went, her sinuous tongue leaving her mouth to lick and tease as she crawled her lips down towards his belly. The weight of her breasts came to rest on his hips, their size such that she couldn’t bring herself low enough to kiss him without them spilling over his waist, his cock sliding into the warmth of her cleavage for a few wonderful moments before she dragged them lower. She tickled his ribs with her claws, their sting contrasting with the softness of her indulgent mouthing, Ryan reaching a hand down to delve his fingers into the soft fur that served as her hair.

Wet muscle wound around one of his fingers, impossibly long and dexterous, more like a slippery tentacle than anything recognizable as a tongue. Nahash guided his digit towards her mouth, her puffy lips wrapping around it as she sucked it inside, nursing at his fingertip as though it were his member. He shivered as he felt her organ caress him, the sensation only amplified by the fact that he couldn’t see what she was doing. If she wrapped those lips around his shaft, he’d be finished…

She released him with a wet pop, leaving his finger damp with her drool, giving it one last doting lick before moving her head lower. Ryan covered his mouth with his hand to stifle a surprised yelp as she dragged her tongue up his inner thigh, straying so close that he could feel the heat of her breath on his balls.

She breathed warm air on his pulsing member, making him wait with her lips poised a mere inch away from it, Ryan’s heart beating so quickly that he feared it might explode in his chest. He covered his face with his arms, his spine rising from the mattress as she planted a gentle kiss on his glans, her lightest touch sending a wave of pleasure rolling over him.

With a start, he realized that she hadn’t even used her powers on him yet. This was just the tip of the iceberg of what she could do. Who knew what she could make him feel if she were to reach inside him and stir his brain like a pot of stew, playing with his emotions and his perception just as she did with his nerves. She could scramble his mind like a hit of LSD with a wave of her hand.

She gripped his hips to hold him still, her claws sinking into the meat of his butt, and he watched her horns tent the blanket over his groin. He couldn’t see what she was doing, and like being blindfolded, it only served to make him even more sensitive to her touch.

“The scent of a man,” she growled, her usually husky and musical voice taking on a gruffer and more sinister timbre. “It has been far too long…”

She wound her tongue around his shaft like a snake coiling around its hapless prey, smooth muscle coating his length with syrupy saliva as she scoured its surface. She had such fine control over the appendage, using its tapered tip to pull back his foreskin, driving a surprised gasp of pleasure from his lips as she painted the sensitive flesh beneath. She lapped at the pre that welled at the tip, teasing his tender underside, her tongue tightening around him as it began to pump like a fist.

Ryan couldn’t think straight, he couldn’t concentrate on anything besides the sensation of her muscular tongue mapping his most sensitive anatomy, his fingernails digging into his burning cheeks as he tried to stave off an orgasm that was already welling.

“Nahash,” he mumbled, his voice cracking as she lapped at his glans. “I can’t…I’ll…”

She gripped the base of his member in her hand and squeezed it tightly, cutting off his impending orgasm. Ryan bit his lip, wincing as she uncoiled her tongue so that she could speak.

“I’ve waited lifetimes for this,” she growled, her voice softening once again. “Hold on just a few minutes more. I want to enjoy you. Let me savor the taste of your flesh, let me drink in your emotions as one would sample the bouquet of a fine wine. It is like a sweet nectar to me,” she continued, pausing to drag her tongue up his shaft. “The Seirim are empaths – we sense your every emotion just as one breathes in the aroma of a succulent feast, hinting at the flavors to come. I want to feel your suffering, your delight. Let me dine on your bliss before I take you.”

Her fervor surprised him. She had been so measured and refined up until that kiss in the forest, but now, she lusted for him with an intensity that might surpass his own. She had spoken so wistfully of missing the feeling of a cool breeze on her skin, how she longed for the taste of food and drink, how she missed dancing under the moonlight. Was it any surprise that she felt the same way about lovemaking? She was an earthly creature, prone to passion, with a reverence for all things natural. Like she had said, sex was the pulse of the natural world. It was the imperative of everything that crawled, flew, and swam on the planet, and the same was true of people – whether they wanted to admit it or not.

Nahash wrapped her soft lips around his glans, interrupting his thought, sucking him into her warm mouth as she gripped his base between her thumb and forefinger. She circled his throbbing head with her tongue, the harsh sensation making him squirm and writhe, but a hand on his hips kept him from breaking loose.

She drew him a little deeper, the inner lining of her cheeks sealing around him as she sucked, her velvet-smooth flesh pressing down on him like a second skin. Her lips slid down his shaft, inching along painfully slowly, the succubus tracing his bulging veins with her agile tongue as she went. His glans brushed the roof of her mouth, bumping against the back of her throat, Nahash finally kissing the hilt of his throbbing erection as she took it as deep as it would go.

Ryan was in awe of her, marveling at her skill through the haze of his arousal. He was by no means poorly endowed, and she hadn’t even flinched when his organ had grazed her gullet. Wet muscle closed around it like a vice, massaging his length as she swallowed around the foreign object, drinking down the saliva that was pooling in her mouth.

Her throat contracted around his cock in waves as though trying to drag him deeper, that agile tongue sneaking out to lick his balls as she held him there, fat globs of her drool escaping to wet his thighs. She kept her face buried in his lap for far longer than seemed reasonable, showing no signs of discomfort. Didn’t she need to breathe? How long could she possibly keep it up? The heat and suction were making his head spin, the teasing contractions as the silken lining of her throat rippled up his length making his toes curl. At this rate, he might break before she even had to come up for air.

Ryan still couldn’t see her – she was lurking beneath the blanket, a huge mound from Ryan’s perspective with pointed horns that tented the sheets above her head. Only now did she elect to throw back the covers to reveal what she was doing, her yellow eyes reflecting the moonlight as she glanced up at him, his cock buried to the hilt between her pink lips. She finally drew back, leaving a warm sheen of bubbling saliva on his skin, pausing to deliver a few more wracking licks before releasing him. His member fell from her mouth, bouncing back to stand rigidly in the air, Nahash watching it twitch as she wet her lips in anticipation of her next move.

“Your manhood beats between my lips like a heart,” she said, teasing his tip with her finger and watching a pulse of pleasure tear through him. “The men of this age are so impeccably groomed. You have the scent of soaps and perfumes about you, like an expensive courtesan.”

She chuckled to herself at the thought, but the comment surprised him. It was as if she had expected him to smell bad or to have poor hygiene, but he guessed that ancient tribesmen might not have had access to electric razors and shower gel…

Nahash nibbled on her claw in the way that someone might chew their fingernail, peering up at him with a comely smile, the cogs turning in her head as she decided what pleasures to subject him to next.

“How you squirmed when I took you into my throat,” she mused, Ryan’s brow furrowing at her teasing. “Tell me, did your lover never do that for you?”

“I…no, we weren’t very inventive in bed,” he stammered as he struggled to collect his thoughts.

“Then, we shall have to make up for lost time…”

She took his erection in her hand and slammed her face down on it, driving his member up to the base as she buried it in her narrow gullet. Ryan groaned as though he had been punched in the gut, doubling over as a spasm of almost painfully intense pleasure tore through him. He fell back to the mattress, trying to regain his composure as she peered up at him with a gleeful expression in her golden eyes, reveling in his reaction. She was relentless, her foreplay apparently done with, sliding her lips back up his shaft only to push down again until she swallowed him completely.

Her head bobbed in his lap, her lips pursed as she applied suction, keeping her cheeks tight against his member so that they stroked him with every thrust. His tender underside rubbed against her slippery tongue as it lay beneath him, squirming and undulating as she swallowed excess saliva from their messy coupling, the muscles of her throat drawing him deeper and milking him in an unbearable rhythm.

His breath came in ragged gasps, Ryan pushing the heels of his hands into his eyes as he tried in vain to stave off the pleasure. Nahash wound her dexterous tongue around his erection, alternating the tightness of its grip to keep him guessing, strands of her slippery drool leaking from her lips. She had brought him to heights of arousal that he wouldn’t have thought possible, and now she was going to finish him off, as merciless and as efficient as an executioner at the chopping block.

This was nothing like what he was used to. The sensation was not concentrated in his loins, but rather spread throughout his whole body like a fog of tingling static. He could feel it in every muscle, in every bone, and he gritted his teeth as she brought her head down again to kiss the base of his member with her pillowy lips. The inside of her mouth was wet enough so as to be almost frictionless, his cock coated in a layer of her viscous saliva, fat strands of it hanging from her chin as she maintained her cruel pace.

He could scarcely parse the sensations that she was subjecting him to. The tight suction of her puffy lips and her soft cheeks, the frenzied motions of her slippery tongue as it lashed and coiled around his throbbing shaft, the feeling of her throat muscles beyond its satin lining as they massaged his glans with each gulp. She watched him with those amber eyes all the while, smoldering in the darkness, drinking in his every twitch as he neared the limits of his endurance.

Ryan turned his head, burying his face in the pillows in a futile attempt to stifle an unbecoming moan, pressing the plush fabric against his red cheeks in an effort to hide his expression from her. It didn’t work, however. She could smell the ecstasy on him like a bloodhound, watching his emotions play out as he experienced them.

He reached down and wrapped his fingers around one of her twisted horns, holding her tightly as she released his hips from her grip. She allowed him to thrust into her throat reflexively as his faculties left him, Ryan bucking like a beast in heat.

For a brief moment, nothing existed outside of the wracking pleasure, his muscles seizing as his orgasm crashed over him in crippling waves. His spine rose from the mattress beneath, now damp with sweat and saliva, a thick rope of his ejaculate hitting the back of her waiting throat as she held him in her mouth. Again and again, swells of tingling euphoria buffeted him, like a boat on a rough sea whose only option was to ride out the storm. He felt as though it might never end, like someone was pulling a knotted rope out of him through his twitching cock, Nahash sucking and licking dotingly as she drank.

He shot one last wad of his emission into her eager mouth, feeling her muscles draw it down as she swallowed, easing out every last drop. She finally drew back, letting his aching erection fall from her lips along with a sordid blend of their fluids. The mess slid down his shaft in globs, milky, sticky syrup that clung to his skin and connected her lips to his pulsing member in drooping strands. She licked her lips with her prehensile tongue, then wrapped it around his member to clean away the residue, a stray aftershock disturbing him as he wallowed in his afterglow.

“As sweet as honey,” she whispered, her tone lurid as she peered up at him. She crawled up his body like a predatory cat about to deliver a killing bite, somewhat menacing with her glowing eyes and her sinister horns. Instead, she collapsed onto the bed beside him, running her fingers lightly across his belly affectionately. She hooked a hand around his head, pulling his face into her cleavage, burying him in her fluffy bosom as he recovered from his climax.

She chuckled to herself, not needing to see his expression to know what he was feeling, the pair lying together for a while as he caught his breath and regained what composure he could muster. It was a struggle for him to stay awake. The bed was so warm and soft, and Nahash’s body was so lush and inviting. Her earthy scent filled his nose as he pushed his face between breasts that were more voluminous than his head, her skin as smooth as glass, the placating heat that radiated from her body sedating him. She combed his hair with her claws, pleasant shivers coursing up and down his spine. But, as his eyelids began to grow heavy, she prodded him with her finger.

“I am to blame for you coming to associate my body with sleep, but we are far from done.” She rolled onto her back, releasing him from her cleavage, spreading her thick thighs in invitation as she kicked away the sheets. “Let the favor be repaid to he who repays a favor.”

“Is that some kind of proverb?” Ryan mumbled, rising to his hands and knees unsteadily.

“One of the earliest, though if you never visited the banks of the Euphrates around 3300 BC, you can be forgiven for not recognizing it.”

He shuffled down between her parted thighs, each one tall as he was while kneeling, like two pillars of marble wrapped in milky skin. He could have reached out and hugged one, and his hands would only just have met on the other side.

Nahash looked down at him over the mounds of her breasts, spreading apart under their own weight as gravity took hold of them, the twin bed barely long enough to accommodate her stature. She leaned forward and planted a hand on his head, pushing his face down between her legs as he began to blush once again.

“It means go down on me,” she chuckled. “Has pleasure made you foolish? Don’t worry, you’ll enjoy this more than you might imagine.”

As his red cheeks brushed the smooth surface of her inner thighs, he felt the heat that radiated from her loins on his face, her earthy scent giving way to a more sexual aroma that awoke something primal in him. For the first time, he beheld her womanhood, a pair of puffy lips that were flushed pink with arousal. He spread them open with his fingers, exposing the folds of rosy, glistening flesh beneath her porcelain skin. Though somewhat larger in scale than what he was used to, there was nothing out of the ordinary, so he leaned in to drag his tongue across her vulva. She shivered appreciatively, one of her hands vanishing as she delved it into the meat of her bust, starting to knead as she watched him.

She was already wet to the touch, a slippery layer of her anticipation making his tongue glide against her burning flesh as he traced the folds and details of her anatomy, feeling her twitch and throb. She was feverish, excited, her thighs quivering around his head as he lapped and mouthed obediently. She tasted just like a kiss, her vulva like pleated silk, those swollen lips as soft as marshmallows. He was sporting a raging erection again, still aching from his last climax, pulsing uncomfortably as that sweet aroma that emanated from her hooked its claws into his brain.

“Not…bad,” Nahash muttered, chewing on her claw again as she rested her hand in his hair. “But allow me to…motivate you…”

Ryan felt a strange sensation come over him, giving him pause, and he ceased his licking for a moment. It made him feel a little dizzy, as if he had just stood up too quickly. A warmth permeated him, penetrating him to the core, almost like someone had wrapped him up in a comfortable sleeping bag. His prior drowsiness seemed to amplify, his mind fogging as he tried to parse what was happening to him.

She must be playing mind tricks on him again, like she did when she lulled him into a deep sleep, or when she had meddled with his senses to make that glass of water taste like wine. He felt a pressure on his head as Nahash eased him back down, his lips meeting hers once more, and he resumed his ardent lapping.

His eyes widened as he tasted her. Gone was her natural flavor, replaced by a sweetness that could only have come from a ripe and succulent fruit. All reservations abandoned, he mouthed and kissed with a fervor that surprised even himself, her honeyed emissions dripping from his chin as she held him there with a firm grip on his hair.

It was like eating out a grapefruit, her slick flesh conveying the flavors of exotic fruits and ripe forest berries, too many to distinguish as their taste played across his tongue. There was the flavor of strawberries, the unmistakable hint of sweet honey, and what could have been the sharp tang of melon or pineapple.

She ground her hips against his face, her pleasure mounting along with his enthusiasm, Ryan unable to help himself as she warped his perception with her magick.

“Do you find my taste…appealing?” Nahash cooed, craning her fluffy neck to watch covetously as he licked the sticky juices from her inner thighs. He nodded drunkenly, his lips roaming back down to her vulva, leaving lingering kisses as he went. He pushed his tongue deep into her twitching opening, feeling her muscles grip him, driving a bestial grunt from his lover’s throat as he dug for more of the ambrosial liquid. It was the most wonderful thing that he had ever tasted, as if someone had fermented a heavenly wine from the orchards and vineyards of paradise, flowing from her like nectar from a flower.

“It seems that you have a sweet tooth,” she chuckled as she ran her claws over his scalp, Ryan trembling at her touch. “Do you see now that I could make your fantasies a reality? Your darkest and most depraved desires could be brought to light and made manifest, the impossible made real. Your addled mind would not know the difference. Your senses do not define your reality, only your mind is capable of that, and the mind can be corrupted and influenced.”

She closed her thighs around his head like a pair of soft pillows, trapping him as he scoured her sodden flesh with his warm tongue, her breathing becoming deeper and less regular. He wanted to paint every inch of her sex, map its every contour, Nahash shivering as he moaned his desire into her loins.

“But…when I look into your heart, I see nothing but my own visage peering back at me,” she continued. “It appears that I am your fantasy…”

He looked up over her mound, the subtle tuft of delicate fur where her pubic hair would have been tickling his nose. As he listened to her hypnotic voice, he wondered if those beautiful fireflies that floated about her twisted horns had always been there…

“To long for the hand of a demon,” she chuckled, her tone salacious as if she were gossiping about her lover with a friend. “None before you have dared to entertain such a thought. If it is borne of ignorance or of conviction, I care not. I intend to indulge you all the same…”

She pushed him back down to continue his work, sighing contentedly as he slipped a finger inside her, her undulating passage gripping it like a fist. He couldn’t get over how good she tasted. Wherever his tongue roamed, he encountered some new flavor, like ripe berries bursting in his mouth. Despite her size, she was impressively tight, her powerful pelvic floor muscles bearing down on him with surprising ferocity. Hot, slimy flesh sealed around his finger like liquid plastic, each beat of her heart making it throb against his skin. He curled his digit inside her, stroking the roof of her tunnel, delighting in the way that her thighs trembled around his face.

That alluring scent had never gone away, and his member ached for her, as if some insidious pheromone was commanding him to mount her. Her insides were like damp satin, so smooth and soft that it drove him wild to imagine what those delicate walls would feel like were they to enclose his shaft, wringing him of his seed as nature demanded. He had never felt so virile, and he had never looked at a woman in the way that he now looked at Nahash. She was an avatar of fertility, an embodiment of bestial desire, like the concept of sexuality itself made manifest in flesh and blood.

As her excitement grew, he could have sworn that he glimpsed creepers growing across the headboard behind her. Their vines sprouted bunches of fat, red grapes, colorful flowers blooming before his eyes like time-lapse footage. Was what he was seeing real, or just a hallucination? A beautiful monarch butterfly perched on one of her horns, flapping its colorful wings, those fireflies hovering about her head like a field of stars.

“Don’t get distracted,” she cooed, her voice penetrating his fugue like a hot knife through butter. It was hypnotic, musical, and he felt compelled to obey her as he resumed his work.

Ryan dragged his tongue between her labia, her insides clamping down on his finger as he brushed something firm and erect, the colorful foliage that was growing around the bed jittering like the image on an old satellite television with a bad signal. He regained some of his clarity for a moment, smiling to himself as he realized that he had broken her concentration – if only for a brief second. As if in response to his smirk, another wave of warmth washed over him, the flowers behind her blooming even brighter as though illuminated by summer sunlight.

Her grip on his hair grew tighter as he pursed his lips around her clitoris, drawing it out from beneath its hood of protective skin, running his warm tongue across its smooth surface. The flavors of oranges and ripe blackberries filled his mouth as he lapped and sucked, his saliva blending with her fluids, making his flesh glide against hers. She shivered with desire, watching him with a lurid gaze as he buried his face between her burnished thighs, her hips gyrating in a slow dance. Her legs closed firmly around his head like a trap, her skin cool against his burning cheeks, slick with her excitement.

“Do not falter,” she gasped, her ample chest rising and falling rapidly as he circled her swollen protrusion with his tongue. She growled her delight like a beast of the forest as he slipped another finger inside her, the sharp contractions of her muscles pressing them together almost painfully. Her hips moved reflexively, grinding as though she was trying to fuck his hand, the panting Seirim losing her composure as their coupling dragged on. In an attempt to gain more purchase, Ryan wrapped an arm around one of her thighs, finding it girthy enough that he could only get about halfway. He kept his lips locked around her firm nub of flesh, painting shapes on its tender surface, pinching it gently between his lips.

“It’s been so long,” she whined, her heavy butt rising from the mattress as she writhed. “Too long without a body, too long an absence from carnal pleasures. I need this…”

She doubled over and sat up on the bed, her breath catching in her throat, still and silent for a brief moment like the calm that preceded a storm. She took in a staggered gulp of air, her burnished thighs trembling around his red cheeks, her pendulant breasts swaying enticingly with the sudden motion. She threw her head back down to the pillows, her crown of gnarled horns impaling them like stuck pigs, carving deep ruts into the wooden headboard. Her long spine arched off the mattress as her muscles seized, Nahash loosing a rumbling growl that might have frightened Ryan had he been of sound mind. The small, white feathers that stuffed the pillows burst forth as she ripped them open, raining down on the pair like snow.

She fucked the air reflexively as her first orgasm in eons set her newly minted nerves aflame, wracking pleasure making her its plaything, a flood of her divine emission escaping from her twitching passage to spill past his fingers and dampen the bedsheets. He hung on to her bucking body, Nahash tearing into the mattress with her claws as she endured the throes of her climax, the sound of ripping fabric audible over her guttural moans and the creaking bedsprings. The flowers and vines that had appeared from nowhere crackled with static, somehow visible to his mind but not to his eyes as he glanced at them. She was too distracted to maintain her illusion, her taste losing its ambrosial sweetness, but Ryan couldn’t have cared less in that moment. He didn’t let up, mouthing and kissing her sensitive loins to draw out every last twitch and sigh, her reflexive thrusting slowing gradually as she lowered herself back down onto the bed.

She released his head from between her plump thighs, her tight grip on his hair turning to gentle stroking, and his face rose above her sodden mound to see her peering down at him with glowing eyes. Her come dripped from his chin in a sagging web as he stared up at her, the warm, tingling sensation of her magick renewed. The verdant creepers had covered the headboard in a leafy mesh, their fat grapes ripe enough to burst, their splayed flowers leaking sap as swarms of colorful butterflies flitted between them. It was gloomy in the bedroom, yet he could have sworn that he saw the glint of sunlight on their wings as they fluttered. A ring of fireflies circled around Nahash’s horns like a halo as she sat up and leaned forward, cupping his slimy face in her hands and pressing their lips together, her serpentine tongue snaking forth to fill his mouth.

She embraced him clumsily, greedily, the taste of her own juices doing nothing to dissuade her. She was ferocious, pulling him up into her arms and sitting cross-legged, depositing him in her lap as she forced a deep and probing kiss on him. Her hallucinogenic magick came on stronger than ever, her claws pricking his skin as she lay him back, the now familiar warmth of her powers becoming a tingling heat as it spread through his body like a fever.

Above her was a field of stars, smeared across the sky as if seen through an overexposed camera, drawing mesmerizing trails as he watched them with drooping eyelids. The fireflies blinked their ghostly lights as they floated about her horns, a cloud of pulsing, green beacons that drifted on an invisible breeze. Her eyes stared into his soul, like two burning orbs of molten glass, her horizontal pupils blacker than black.

Ryan twisted in her arms, doing his best to meet her lascivious kiss, the taste of her saliva now akin to the fruity aroma of her fluids as his tongue wrestled with hers. He felt her hands roaming across his body – there were more than two – but his alarm was short-lived as his addled brain surmised that it was all part of the illusion. It was like an acid trip. She had never made him see or feel this much all at once before. Every sense that he possessed was under her command. Sight, taste, touch – all puppets dancing to the tune of her pipe.

He writhed as those questing hands stroked him. It felt as if there were a dozen of them, but when he directed his eyes at the source of the sensations, he saw nothing. Still, it wasn’t necessary to actually see them. It was convincing enough that if he closed his eyes, they might as well have been real.

Soft palms caressed his chest and belly, sharp claws tracing his jugular, running down his back as the phantom limbs had their way with him. Not an inch of his skin was left untouched by their teasing explorations. Nahash kept up her kissing all the while, her lips curling into a smile as it dragged on, the phantom hands gripping his inner thighs and brushing his ribs. She stroked his cheek dotingly, Ryan unsure of whether that was her real hand or just a hallucination, feeling another close its fingers lightly around his throat.

They stroked his hair, tracing the arch of his spine, roaming near his loins as the room seemed to melt away around him until he and Nahash were alone in a void of inky darkness. They gripped his wrists and ankles, restraining him as though they belonged to an adventurous lover, the loss of control somehow exciting to him. He felt a fist grip his member, pumping slowly, another cradling his balls as still a third drew circles on his belly with its claw. Nahash’s wanton kissing did not relent, her tongue writhing in his head as though moving of its own accord. It was warm, agile, tasting him in places that no human organ would have been able to reach.

Despite how good it felt and how real those questing fingers seemed, his mind was hazy, and his perception was so obviously altered. It felt like he was reliving a half-remembered dream, the finer details escaping him. He was drunk on Nahash’s magick, and his head spun as her affectionate handjob hastened.

He felt warm breath on his right ear, then the left, Ryan struggling to open his heavy eyelids to see Nahash looking down on him from above. There was a soft whisper, followed by the sensation of a disembodied mouth nibbling his ear, a second planting a sucking kiss on his neck. He couldn’t take much more of this. It was overwhelming, so indulgent that he wouldn’t have imagined such a scenario even in his most depraved and selfish fantasies.

“Do you like this?” Nahash’s voice whispered in his left ear.

“Do you want…more?” Her voice was coming from the right this time, lurid and seductive, Ryan bucking as he felt a slippery tongue glance his neck.

“I could drown you,” left.

“In a sea of pleasure,” right.

“Test your sanity,” left.

“With a trial of a thousand tongues,” right.

He shivered violently, overcome by the sensations, too much stimulation happening all at once. The illusion melted away, his awareness clawing its way back to the surface as if he was waking from a dream. He blinked, shaking his head to clear it, looking up at Nahash’s face and the bare ceiling above her. The stars were gone, there was no forest of vines growing on the headboard, and he felt only two hands on his body.

“I sensed that it was too much for you,” she said apologetically. “Perhaps I should have built up to that.”

Ryan took a moment to catch his breath, glad to be back in reality with his perception unaltered, but he appreciated the effort on her part all the same. It had felt amazing, indescribable, but it had been too much of a shock to his system.

“What…was that?” he mumbled, reaching up to run his fingers through his damp hair.

“I took the reigns of your senses, directing them as I pleased,” she explained. “It is a trivial task to simulate grasping hands or questing lips. Your own imagination does most of the work for me, I simply have to use a little suggestion in order to send it down the right path.”

“I knew that you could influence emotions and fiddle with senses, but not to that degree. That was…amazing, and a little scary,” he chuckled. She could read his emotions, so she must know that he wasn’t angry or upset, but he still felt the need to reassure her. It had been a surprise, but he could get used to it. “Yeah, let’s build up to that,” he continued. “Maybe two extra hands instead of a dozen next time.”

She placed a hand on his chest and eased him onto his back, straddling him, lowering herself on her massive thighs to get close enough that her loins brushed against his renewed erection. His skin slid against her slick flesh, rubbing against her glistening vulva, damp with her fresh excitement. Refractory period wasn’t in her vocabulary, apparently. His heart hastened at the thought of finally being inside her, feeling those silken walls wringing him. Her breasts clapped against her torso as she repositioned herself, his eyes drawn to them, watching her doughy flesh quiver as they settled. There were beads of sweat misting her pale skin now, the moonlight making them glitter when she moved. Noticing where his eyes were drawn, she used her upper arms to press them together in invitation, the soft fat spilling around her biceps. The Seirim leered at him as she towered above him, wetting her lips hungrily with her long tongue.

“Let us forego magick, then,” she began. “We are here to indulge in earthly pleasures, after all, sins of flesh and bone. I’ll put this new body through its paces. I want to test every nerve, remind myself of what I’ve been missing for all these centuries.”

He lifted his hands, sinking his fingers into the meat of her thigh and the subtle paunch of her belly that protruded over her waistline, those luscious breasts hanging just out of his reach due to her exaggerated stature. She slipped a hand between her splayed legs and took hold of his erection, his member twitching in her palm as she guided it towards her opening. He winced as she pulled back his foreskin, exposing his tender glans, rubbing it between her flushed lips to wet it. She caught some of the clear fluid in her hand and smeared it up and down his length, making his skin slick, biting her lip at the lewdness of the act.

Nahash liked her lovemaking wet and messy, clearly. Ryan couldn’t complain. There was something to be said for letting go of your inhibitions and fucking as though there would be no cleanup after the fact.

“Obey your nature,” she said, hovering there with his pulsing cock only a hair’s breadth from her glistening vulva. “Don’t think, just do. Feel that primal lust and let it rule you. Man presumes to be more than a simple beast, but even a tame hound answers the howl of the wolf. You are not as far removed from your four-legged cousins as you think yourselves to be. Now, rut,” she snarled. “Let us make the forest itself blush at our zeal.”

Ryan was not as verbose or as eloquent as Nahash, and so he answered her invitation by gripping her wide hips for purchase, thrusting up into her. There was a brief moment of resistance, then his tip slid past her narrow opening, the sensation causing them to gasp in unison. Despite his shaft being drenched in her fluids, her passage gripped him tightly enough to create a wonderful friction, her powerful muscles bearing down on him as a shudder rolled through her body. Fleshy, quivering walls softer than the most luxuriant satin parted before him, her insides seeming to pour around his cock like molten metal.

“Yes…” Nahash sighed, her sinuous tongue almost reaching her cleavage as it lolled from her mouth. “Hold nothing back. I want to feel that delicious ache again. It’s been so long…”

She let herself drop, driving him into the mattress as her considerable bulk landed on him, impaling herself on his shaft. The bedsprings creaked their protest as her massive thighs clamped around his hips along with most of his torso, her tunnel clenching as her muscles seized. Another amorous growl emanated from her, Nahash enraptured by the sensation of having him throbbing inside her, the soft cushion of her flexing walls conforming to his every contour as though their bodies had been made to fit together.

Ryan was a little intimidated by her vigor. She was so much larger and stronger than he was, and despite being far lighter than she looked, she was still damned heavy. Would she keep her own instincts under control? Did he want her to? She could sense his emotional state, but that might not count for much if she was too distracted by their coupling to pay any attention to him.

He winced as her pelvic floor muscles wrung his member, a jolt of harsh pleasure tearing through his nervous system. His body tried to buck reflexively, but she was too heavy to lift. She leaned down and planted her hands to either side of his head, her breasts at eye level to him due to her larger stature, their soft meat falling to smother him as she lowered herself down with a grin. Her delicate skin brushed his cheeks, her bosom spreading to envelop him, her earthy scent sending a fresh surge of arousal coursing through his veins like a drug.

Finally having them in reach, Ryan lifted his hands, sinking his fingers up to the knuckle in the heaving globes of luxuriant flesh. Fat as soft as fresh dough bulged between his fingers when he squeezed, the tissue beneath the cushy layer springing back like rubber. He felt one of her hard nipples digging into his palm, and he caught it between his fingers, giving it a gentle squeeze. Her loins gripped him tighter in response, encouraging his probing, Nahash grumbling under her breath in that husky voice. Ryan lifted his head to look up at her face from the depths of her cleavage. She was beset, those amber eyes meeting his gaze, her hips starting to roll lazily.

Struggling to keep his grasp on her wobbling flesh, his fingers slipping on her damp skin, he brought one of her nipples to his mouth. A shudder that made the soft parts of her body quiver rolled through her as his lips sought out the swollen nub, sealing around it. He drew it into his mouth, letting it press against the flat of his tongue, savoring her anticipation for a moment. When he relented, he felt her thighs squeeze him like a hotdog in a bun, Nahash grunting as he started to circle the tender protrusion. He sucked and teased, pinching it between his lips and teeth, alternating between doting licks and quick flurries.

She lifted her wide hips off him painfully slowly, her passage clinging to him despite how wet she was, as if her body didn’t want to let him go. He felt rings of tight muscle gripping his shaft through her burning flesh, like a hand gloved in decadent silk was sliding up his length, Ryan glancing down between her thighs to see his skin glisten with a sheen of her oozing love.

When she reached her apex, she poised there, with only his throbbing tip still trapped in the grip of her winking opening. She let gravity bring her back down, driving him into her reaches with a force that knocked the air from his lungs, every exquisite fold and wrinkle prominent in his mind as they raking along his length. He buried his face in her chest, feeling the inhuman smoothness of her flawless skin against his cheeks, her every motion making her bountiful breasts rock and quiver around his head. His hands were lost in her flesh, kneading and stroking, Ryan tasting the salt of her sudor as he mouthed and sucked. He strained his neck to reach the feathery wool that started just above her cleavage, rubbing his face in the downy fur, nuzzling contentedly.

The panting Seirim found a slow, heavy pace, savoring every throb and flex of his cock as he writhed impotently beneath her. She was relentless, unwavering as she came down on him again and again, the lurid sounds of their wet lovemaking rising to his ears to make him seethe with a blend of embarrassment and arousal.

Nahash seemed almost drunk on the pleasure, grinding against his erection as if trying to satisfy some maddening itch deep within her, locked in a kind of carnal trance. She alternated her speed and angle with each thrust, driving his sensitive glans into her slippery flesh in new and exciting ways. Not only did she share the features of a human and an animal, but she made love in the same manner. Her vigor was inhuman, and she had an insatiable appetite that seemed more like that of a beast in the throes of its heat than an earthly woman. It was raw and primordial, unfettered by such trivial concerns as modesty and moderation, utterly intoxicating.

She wasn’t using any of her magick to manipulate Ryan’s senses, yet she had put him under a different kind of spell. The warmth that radiated from her staved off the cold air in the room, her plump body and generous assets a playground for his groping hands, beads of shining sweat welling where her velutinous skin was clear of her furry wool.

He lay back on the mattress and let the bliss consume him, always on the edge of orgasm but never quite reaching it. Was she changing her pace to keep him wanting? Was that something that she could sense? Each time he felt that wonderful, inexorable pressure start to rise within him, she backed off just enough to keep their coupling going.

She sat up straight, the warmth of her breasts leaving his face, and she took his wrists in her hands as she trembled with excitement. She pinned him to the bed, peering down at him with a covetous expression on her face, that sinuous tongue leaving her mouth to dampen her pink lips as if to tease him. She slowed her bouncing and began to circle her hips, gyrating and grinding like a belly dancer, her percussive thrusts and fluid motions timed to a beat that only she seemed able to hear. The control that she exerted over her abdominal muscles was incredible as she undulated atop him, the slick walls of her sopping tunnel scouring his organ in new and unexpected ways, a whirlwind of sensation assailing him. Her heavy bosom swung in time with her waltz, mesmerizing him like a hypnotist swinging a pocket watch.

Her hourglass hips rocked from side to side, the meat of her belly and thighs quivering as she moved, leaving Ryan entranced by her deft and practiced display. It was as much a performance art as a sex act. There was a palpable texture and depth to it as she shimmied wildly, stimulating him with tiny vibrations from her hips before driving guttural groans from him with more forceful impacts that shook his bones.

He began to hear the music too, not with his ears, but inside his head. It was quiet at first, as if it was coming from a great distance, but it grew louder and clearer as he concentrated on it. At first, the beating of the drums could have been mistaken for blood rushing in his ears, or the sound of his own heart pounding against his ribcage. But, as the whistle of a wind instrument and the twang of a string joined it, he realized that it was her magick at work.

She released his wrists, raising her arms above her head as she danced to the ancient tune, framing and accentuating the movements of her curvaceous hips to create beautiful lines and shapes as he watched her. Her pale figure was illuminated by the licking flames of an unseen blaze, casting deep shadows across her body, her white fur tinted in shades of orange as if the flickering fire was but a foot away from their bed.

The beating of the drums grew faster and louder, building towards a crescendo, the sound of voices chanting in a language that he did not speak joining the instruments in their frantic song. He felt as if his pulse was married to that tempo, his excitement mounting as the pleasure of their frenzied coupling pierced through the illusion like a lightning strike. The music became discordant, Nahash abandoning her sensuous dance to fall forwards, pinning his hands to the bed.

Their fingers entwined, her heavy breasts knocking against his face as she stared down at him intently with her reflective eyes. She found a cruel and ruthless rhythm, pounding him into the mattress with what felt like all of her strength. The springs beneath them threatened to give out, the demon coming down on him hard enough to bruise, their coupling deeper and more passionate than anything he had ever known. She thrust desperately, her juices overflowing as his aching erection plunged her depths, her hot breath washing over him as she brought her lips down to his neck and kissed him ravenously. She harried his vulnerable throat with licks and lingering kisses, tasting the fresh sweat on his skin, biting softly as if some part of her was trying to consume him.

“Relinquish your seed,” she growled, as if it was a demand that he had the capacity to refuse. “Flood me with it, share your essence with me…”

It was a request too provocative to deny, his spine arching as he felt a long-delayed orgasm well inside him like a geyser about to erupt, the pressure enough to make his head spin. It was futile to resist it, and as he relinquished control, a rapturous pleasure tore through his exhausted body. Every nerve was aflame, every muscle seizing, a deeply satisfying ache that bordered on pain chasing the waves of euphoria as they washed over him. He dug his fingers into her inviting flesh wherever he could reach, holding her as they mated, his pulsating manhood pumping load after load of his ropy emission into her eager passage.

He felt her join him in his climax, the demon snarling like an animal, throwing her horned head back as her loins milked him with their powerful spasms. She ceased her violent thrusting abruptly, reduced to a quivering wreck, her eyes shut tight as an ecstasy that she had been denied for millennia ravished her tender body.

Her loins massaged him ruthlessly like some kind of reproductive machine, drawing out more of his warm ejaculate as her trembling walls rippled up his shaft like a thousand eager tongues. He couldn’t have stopped thrusting into her if he had tried, their shared exertion making his hands slide on her wet skin, the pearly concoction of their fluids escaping to slide down her inner thighs in fat wads. It was feral, unbridled, and for a moment, he felt the pulse of nature itself flowing through him.

They stayed locked together for what felt like an eternity, every throb and shiver shared between the two lovers, trapping them in an inescapable feedback loop. As their intense pleasure faded, it gave way to the warmth and satisfaction of afterglow, Nahash smiling radiantly as she let it envelop her.

She collapsed at his side, his still rigid member sliding out of her, a sordid blend of their love pooling on her thigh. They panted in tandem, their bodies glistening with sweat in the moonlight, sore and spent as they wallowed in their post-coital bliss.

Ryan watched as she reached between her pale thighs, a finger vanishing inside her as she shivered contentedly, then she withdrew it along with a glistening rope of their fluids. It broke and fell wetly to her belly, Nahash examining the glob that still dangled from her claw as if fascinated by it, biting her lower lip.

“The blended essence of a man and a Seirim,” she explained, glancing at him as he watched her curiously. “Powerful alchemy borne of our union, liquid lust…”

His heart skipped a beat, and he felt a fresh twinge in his loins as he watched her long tongue uncoil from her mouth to clean her finger. She was either taking great pleasure in the bawdy act, or she just wanted him to watch as she sucked it from her claw, taking her time as though savoring the taste.

This was not entirely surprising to Ryan. He had read about sexual magick in the grimoires, ritual lovemaking performed as part of a summoning or an occult rite. It made sense for the Seirim to partake in such rituals, succubi that they were.

“It is powerful magick,” she whispered salaciously. “It invigorates me. I would be remiss to let but a drop of it go to waste.” She grinned, lowering her head to his lap, Ryan gripping her twisted horns as she took his lingering erection into her warm mouth. She sucked and licked, a stray aftershock making him shiver as her winding tongue cleaned away the residue, pausing to tease his still sensitive glans before she withdrew.

She flopped back onto the bed beside him, the impact of her head on the pillows sending more of their stuffing floating into the air, the tiny feathers raining down on them as they lay together. The bed looked like a crime scene. The headboard was covered in scars, the pillows looked like someone had taken a knife to them, and there were tears all over the mattress.

“Looks like I’m going to be buying a new bed with my first paycheck,” Ryan chuckled.

Nahash rolled onto her side, taking him in her arms and pulling him into her bust, burying his face in the soft fur of her neck. He breathed in her familiar scent, utterly relaxed, even without the aid of her powers. She pulled one of the heavy blankets over them, trapping their warmth beneath the sheets as they spooned.

Now you may sleep,” she purred, running her clawed fingers through his hair. Ryan was so exhausted that he could barely stay awake, but closing his eyes and letting sleep take him would mean an end to the night. He wanted it to last forever. As he lay in her arms, the golden rays of the rising sun bleeding into the room, he succumbed to the temptation.

CHAPTER 8: BEST LAID PLANS

Ryan awoke alone in the ruined bed, yawning as he stretched his arms above his head. The sweet ache and satisfaction from his romp with Nahash the previous night still lingered as he brushed away stray feathers, sliding out from beneath the sullied sheets. He made his way to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, glancing at his wall clock to see that it was already noon.

He didn’t like waking up without Nahash, but he understood that manifesting a physical body did not come without a cost. If his plan succeeded, then he might finally be able to wake up in his lover’s arms for once. Speaking of which, he needed to upload that video footage from the trail cam. Hopefully, some hikers or joggers would have come across his little occult art installation by now.

He walked over to the rucksack, which he had discarded by the door to his apartment, and rummaged inside for the camouflaged block. He brought it over to his computer, waiting a few moments for the device to boot up as he sipped at his steaming mug of coffee, then he connected a USB cable to the trail cam and began to play the video footage.

The night vision filter was suitably eerie, casting everything in a ghostly white glow, like an X-ray hanging on the wall of a doctor’s office. Some trail cams only took photographs when they sensed movement, but this model was configured to record video. As he squinted at the grainy image, a swirl of smoke activated its motion sensor. It began to record a view of the clearing, mist billowing across the ground, the trees casting their dark shadows on the summoning circle that had been etched into the soil. The salt stood out well against the dirt in the monochrome video, and as he watched, the swirling plumes of dark smoke started to take form.

He had never had an opportunity to see the process of summoning in such a clinical manner before. It was quite a lot harder to remain objective and pay attention to what was happening when the stench of sulfur was assaulting you and the temperature around you was plummeting.

The shadows were coalescing to form a humanoid shape, despite the fact that there was no light source that would have been able to cast them. It was as though the very darkness in the atmosphere was concentrating inside the bounds of the circle. Ryan felt a pang of disappointment as he considered the possibility that a camera might not be able to see Nahash at all. The demons seemed to appear as much in his mind as before his eyes, so what if all it captured was formless smoke?

His fears were quickly assuaged as he watched Nahash materialize from the billowing vapors, though she looked less solid on the trail cam than she did in person. He could see her distinct, white fur and her twisted horns, but she was ghostly and translucent. Not quite a phantom, but clearly not completely real either. This must be how she truly appeared before she made up the difference with her psychic abilities. It had been the same when Orobas had been summoned in his apartment. When Ryan looked at a demon, he got the distinct impression that they were as much a mental image as a physical one, photons bombarding his eyes and ideas bombarding his brain to combine into a complete picture.

Her body interacted with the mist, sending it swirling about her feet as she walked, her cloven hooves leaving footprints in the soil that filled in with water. She had mass, a physical presence. Of course, people would assume that this was fake – computer-generated images created for the purpose of a hoax. But even the skeptics would be helping to spread the footage as they argued with each other and analyzed it frame by frame.

Nahash looked around for a moment, confused by her surroundings, then stepped out of frame. Ryan transferred the video file to his computer, then spent the next hour uploading it to popular video-sharing websites, giving it an appropriately click-bait title. Ghost demon caught on camera, real or fake?! You won’t believe what this trail cam captured! He made sure to include information on where the footage had been shot, as his plan hinged on starting a myth centered around the geographical location itself. Once the forest gained a reputation for being haunted, that belief would empower Azazel and his Seirim, making it their new home. He posted links to the video on the summoning forum for good measure, wondering how many of the so-called occultists and self-professed demonologists would dismiss what might be the first concrete evidence of a real demon as fake.

Ryan leaned back in his chair, wondering what to do next. His new job didn’t start for another week, and Nahash wasn’t around to hang out with him. Might as well get some food cooking and see if he couldn’t make some progress in his videogame of choice.

***

The sun was getting low in the sky when Ryan was interrupted, a frigid cold falling over the room. He set his controller down, shutting off the TV, his heart swelling with excitement as he waited for Nahash to appear.

Something was different this time. It felt wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was, but the sensation made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He leapt off the couch as it began to tremble, the wooden floorboards beneath his socks vibrating violently as though something was trying to shake the whole building apart. At this rate, his neighbors were going to call the cops.

As he watched, the furniture that was sitting on top of the chalk summoning circle began to move, like an unbalanced washing machine shaking its way across the floor. As the couch, the wooden coffee table, and a lamp cleared the circle, the stink of sulfur permeated the air. This did not feel like Nahash. Ryan darted across the room towards a table just below a nearby window where he had stored all of his summoning equipment. He picked up his improvised Solomonic Sexangle, still stapled to the bathrobe’s belt, tying the piece of card about his waist. He attached the sweatband that held the Ring of Solomon around his forehead, then picked up the Pentagonal Figure, the ward that he had fashioned to protect him from errant demons.

He rushed over to the summoning circle and stepped into his protective triangle, trying to steady his shaking hands as he held up the Pentagon, waiting for whatever was coming through the breach to show itself to him.

The temperature continued to drop, but fortunately, the Ring of Solomon was warding off the foul smell. He watched with wide eyes as a formless mass appeared in the center of the summoning circle. It was blurry and constantly shifting, a heap of writhing flesh seen through frosted glass, dark shadows playing across the walls as though cast by some unseen fire. The air was thick with black smoke that further obscured his vision, and as he tried to bat away the fumes, he called out a command.

“Take form, demon!” he shouted as he brandished the Sexangle that hung from his belt. “And none intended to offend or repulse!”

The dark fumes sped towards the poorly-defined blob like filthy water rushing down a drain, the mass warping and twisting as it took shape. As the smog cleared, Ryan saw a little horse sitting in the circle, roughly the size of a small dog.

“Orobas?” Ryan asked, recognizing the creature as it stared back at him with its watery eyes.

“Why art thou surprised?” it replied, its voice croaky and faint. “Thou hast given me license to appear before thee.”

“You startled me is all,” Ryan stammered, still shaken by the sudden house call. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“The contract is complete,” Orobas wheezed, its rasping voice almost uncomfortable to listen to. The miniature horse looked like it was on death’s door, sickly and unable to stand. Its expression conveyed some deep misery that made it unpleasant to look at for too long.

“Oh, the contract?” Ryan repeated. “That’s good news, but how did you determine that?”

“Vague as thy requests were,” Orobas began with palpable annoyance. “I have fulfilled the requirements of our agreement. Thy livelihood is secure, and thou art happy – the familiar has informed me of this.”

“The familiar?” he asked. “You mean Nahash? She told you that I was happy?”

Was he happy? Introspection was not one of his strong suits. It could be so hard to determine one’s own emotional state. But, the more he thought about it, the more correct the evaluation seemed. He no longer pined for Becky, his drought of intimacy had ended explosively, and for the first time since he had broken up with her, he no longer felt that sickening knot in his stomach. He must be over her. In fact, he hadn’t even thought about her in days. His breakup seemed so distant and trivial now. His burgeoning romance with Nahash had become his sole focus.

“Thy contract has been fulfilled as it was defined,” Orobas repeated, the hint of urgency in the creature’s voice making it sound like it was afraid of being stiffed. “Do not forget thy oath to me. Two score and ten more tin plates, my sigil engraved upon them, spread far and wide so that they will be seen by many.”

“Yes,” Ryan replied with a nod. “I remember the deal. But what about Nahash, the familiar? Will I see her again?”

“Not through my power,” the demon answered.

“What does that mean?” Ryan asked, furrowing his brow. “If you take Nahash away from me, then I won’t be happy anymore. Won’t that violate the terms of the contract?”

“Do not attempt to reinterpret the terms of a contract already agreed upon,” Orobas hissed, its voice menacing. “I have dealt with thee fairly, I have uttered no falsehoods, and I have made no attempts to deceive thee. Now, make good thy promise.”

“Not until you tell me what will happen to Nahash,” Ryan said, holding up the Sexangle. The little creature recoiled before the ward as if it was radiating a powerful heat that only the demon could feel. “Obey me, Orobas. Into the triangle with you.”

It didn’t move, and so he brandished the Sexangle again, pointing towards the containment triangle that was drawn on the floor in chalk. The demon finally gave in, rising unsteadily on spindly legs that looked wholly unfit to support its bulbous head, struggling over to the triangle like a dog that had just been chastised. It glanced back at him resentfully, the Sexangle compelling it to obey his commands, the Triangle of Solomon protecting him from anything that it might try to pull. It was a kind of cosmic naughty chair, and the creature seemed to loathe being confined to it.

“Now, tell me,” Ryan continued as he put on his most commanding voice. “What will become of Nahash?”

“Thy meddling will bear fruit,” Orobas spat. “Thou shalt rouse Azazel, and the Seirim will flock to him. Thou hast cost a great number of demons their valued minions. This course of action was ill-advised. Were I not bound to thee by contract, I would have intervened, but that which has not yet been decided cannot be foreseen.”

“I thought that the Seirim were a drain on your resources,” Ryan replied. “Aren’t you glad that I’m restoring them?”

“They art powerful spirits, primordial avatars of nature, valued for their unique talents. They will not be easy to replace.”

“So, what, I’m on Hell’s shitlist?”

“Thou shalt carry favor with Azazel,” Orobas continued as he glared at Ryan across the circle. “He may protect thee from reprisals…or he may not. Thou didst not form a contract with him, and I cannot be sure how he will react.”

“Because it hasn’t been decided yet, right.”

The wretched little horse watched him for a moment with its glassy eyes, waiting for him to continue, but he was lost in thought. He might have accidentally pissed off the entire hierarchy of Hell, and although it seemed unlikely that they would waste valuable resources on reprisals, having a demon as powerful as some that were described in the Goetia even be aware of your existence was reason enough to be worried. But, if that was the price of Nahash’s freedom, then so be it.

“Whilst thou honor thy bargain?” Orobas prompted.

“Yes, of course,” Ryan replied as the question snapped him back to the present. “I’ll even do you one better. I’ve learned some stuff about sigils since the contract was made. You’ll get more than what was agreed upon. You did more for me than I could ever have imagined.”

“Then, I shall take my leave of thee,” the creature said.

Ryan tried to remember some of the incantations that he had printed out upon his first summoning, at least wanting to make an attempt at following proper procedure.

“Go now peaceably, with blessings and thanks.”

Orobas closed its large eyes and bowed its head, vanishing from the triangle and from Ryan’s mind as if a hand had reached down and plucked it out of reality. The air cleared of the stinking fumes, and Ryan felt safe enough to remove his headband, only a hint of sulfur lingering after the demon’s departure.

That was it, then. The contract had been completed, and it hadn’t even cost him his soul. All there was left to do was get those tin plates engraved with Orobas’ sigil and spread them around. Who knew, maybe it would tie into the myth that he was trying to start. He had something bigger planned for Orobas, and although his activities were starting to border on vandalism, he owed it to the demon. It had been true to its word, it had saved him from the brink of destitution, and it had even found a way to cure his depression.

Had Orobas known that Ryan would fall in love with Nahash? Had it all been part of the plan? The demons were playing a game of chess where Ryan couldn’t see all of the pieces on the board – he could only guess at their true intentions. Perhaps losing a valuable servant was worth the tradeoff in energy that Orobas would gain from the contract. It might even have been intentional sabotage. Who knew how these demons interacted with each other, what terms they were on, and how their society functioned.

Orobas could see the future. To what extent remained vague, and its powers definitely had their limitations, but Ryan was pretty sure that the demon could have prevented this scenario if it had really wanted to. Maybe this was all part of some larger game that was currently beyond his ability to grasp.

The big question now was when he would see Nahash again. Orobas was clearly unwilling to expend his own energy to manifest her now that the contract had been fulfilled, so he would have to rely on Azazel, an entity that he knew very little about. It stood to reason that he would be grateful towards Ryan for his efforts, but demons were unpredictable creatures, and Ryan would never have attempted to summon anything near as powerful as him under different circumstances.

Based on what little information he had been able to find, Azazel was a true devil. The entity wasn’t a pagan deity who had lost favor with its worshipers or a powerful spirit, but one of the Iyrin. Otherwise known as Watchers or Nephilim, they were the antediluvian angels of Biblical lore, one of around two hundred such entities that had joined a rebellion against the Abrahamic God and had been cast out.

The stories were steeped in metaphor and warped by time and translation, harkening back to what Nahash had told him about the loss of knowledge from the flood. If it had been a literal deluge or merely an allegory for something else, he couldn’t say. It was almost impossible to separate true accounts from myth and hearsay, but the common thread seemed to be that these Watchers had rebelled against the chief deity of the time, perhaps even the original deity. They had lost the war, and the fallen angels were cast out of paradise to walk the Earth amongst mankind, spreading forbidden knowledge as they went. There were conflicting reports about what they had actually done to deserve this fate, from tales of a militaristic coup, to them simply taking human wives and angering their God in the process.

The more Ryan learned about this secret lore, the more it interested him. Perhaps he would beg the question of Azazel himself if he ever met the creature in person. He almost hoped that he didn’t, however. The kid gloves were coming off now. This wasn’t a demon numbering fifty-fifth in some vague hierarchy, but a fallen angel. Who knew what dangers he might be exposing himself to and what sacred rules he might be breaking. Still, if this was what it took to see Nahash again, then he would accept the consequences.

***

Ryan climbed his way up the ladder, his shoes slipping on the damp metal rungs, wind and rain buffeting him as it blew the treetops far below. He adjusted his ski mask and pulled his hood tighter, trying to shield himself from the gale. As he looked up, he saw the round tank of the water tower, grey clouds swirling above it. The platform that ringed it was just a few more feet above him. This had been a terrible idea. He should have waited for a calmer night before attempting this stunt.

He struggled higher, his gloved fingers gripping the guard rails as he heaved himself up onto the circular walkway, pressing himself flush against the structure in an effort to avoid the howling wind. Part of him wanted to abandon the whole affair, but he was up here now – he might as well finish the job.

He produced a can of spray paint from the pocket of his hooded jacket, hearing its signature rattle over the sound of the storm as he shook it. Gripping the metal rail with a firm hand, he walked around towards the side of the tank that faced the city. He raised his arm, doing his best to replicate the design from memory despite the terrible conditions and his limited reach. At least the stormy weather would hide him from any prying eyes. Nobody in their right mind would be out for a jog in this.

When he was done, he craned his neck to admire his handiwork. It was a little crude, but it would get the job done. He stowed the can and made his way back to the ladder, hoping that he wasn’t about to take the express route down.

***

“Residents were shocked this morning to find what appears to be an occult symbol painted on a local water tower in full view of commuters on the interstate highway, turning heads and causing a few minor fender benders as it distracted motorists.”

The camera panned away from the female reporter, sweeping over the congested highway to point at the water tower, its tall stilts nestled in the trees at the edge of the forest. The sigil of Orobas was painted in blood-red across its tank.

“This might be easily dismissed as an unremarkable act of petty vandalism, were it not for the strange occurrences that have been widely reported as of late, with some going as far as to blame Satanic cults operating within the city limits. This comes only days after a supposed video of a goat woman, alleged to have been filmed at the border of the national park, was released online to much fanfare from the paranormal community. Debate still rages over the authenticity of the video, even drawing the attention of the popular television show America’s Unsolved Mysteries, who are slated to film an episode on the subject later this season.”

The news station switched from a panning shot of the water tower to a short clip of the trail cam footage, freezing the frame where Nahash was most visible, still a blurry and somewhat transparent figure as the voice of a male news anchor spoke over it.

“So, what do we think of this? Is it real, or is it some elaborate hoax? We took to social media to ask our viewers what they-“

Ryan switched off the television, grinning to himself as he sat on his couch. To think that one person could have caused so much havoc. His antics had even made their way to the local news, and every person who saw the broadcast would be feeding Orobas energy. Nobody seemed to have turned up many of the engraved plates yet, and nobody had stumbled across the clearing in the forest, but they would in time.

He missed Nahash terribly. It was torture to see her so free and wild for such a brief time, only to be separated from her immediately afterwards. He had to hope that she pined for him too, and that his efforts were feeding her and her kin the power that they needed to make their return.

It would be wise to start checking the forest soon. If she was going to turn up somewhere, it would be there. But, as word spread about the occult happenings in the area, more kooks would be out searching for evidence. Getting caught snooping around might blow the whole thing. There was going to be a camera crew out there soon, apparently, filming some reality TV show about ghost hunting or cryptids. If they came across the summoning circle and the marked trees, or perhaps even caught an appropriately brief glimpse of a Seirim on camera, millions of people around the country might tune in.

Hopefully, Orobas would be satisfied by Ryan’s graffiti work. He had scattered the tin plates around the city as he had promised, this was just a little bonus. A tip for exemplary service, if you will. He didn’t feel too bad about depriving the demon of its servant. Nahash had seemed more like a slave than an employee. She would be free to do as she pleased now, and Orobas would have a far greater influx of power than it had anticipated.

Ryan couldn’t believe how well this venture had worked out, and he wondered why summoning wasn’t more widespread. It had not taken any special knowledge or skill to get to this point, and the research that he’d done was pretty minimal. Then again, perhaps he had been extremely lucky, or his choice of demon had been especially wise. There weren’t many besides Orobas who would tolerate mistakes or breaches of protocol without taking advantage of the exorcist in some way.

The possibilities were limitless, the implications profound. One day soon, he would explore this new dimension of reality that had been opened to him. For now, he had one singular goal in mind – getting Nahash back into his arms.

***

Another week passed with no sign of Nahash. Ryan had started his new job, finding the position agreeable. His employers had cooled towards him somewhat since the interview, but they were still friendly, and they seemed happy to have him working there. The demonic powers of persuasion must wear off eventually, but the first impression would stick. To his relief, the woman that Nahash had hypnotized seemed to have completely forgotten that their exchange had ever happened. He’d managed to pay his rent in time to avoid eviction, and he was back doing work that he enjoyed, so there was little to complain about.

The metal plates had started turning up around the city and in the surrounding area, both the ones that he had made as part of his contract with Orobas and the ones with Azazel’s sigil engraved on them. Hikers had come across the summoning circle in the woods, and the footage of the goat-lady had gone viral, rapidly accruing two million hits. His prediction of a Satanic panic was starting to come true, with a mild hysteria gripping the less skeptical residents, spilling over onto the local news stations and social media websites. The debates over the authenticity of the evidence that had been uncovered so far raged, with some convinced that there was a cult of devil worshipers roaming the streets, and others certain that it was an intricate hoax. In a way, they were both correct. There was a hoax, and there was at least one devil worshiper. Any discussion, whether it was positive or negative, only served to spread the message further.

Surely enough energy had been generated by now? It had been days, and there had been neither sign nor show of Nahash, nor any demonic activity for that matter. He was starting to get worried. It might be worth taking a trip to the clearing tonight. With any luck, if somebody discovered him there, he could pretend to be one of the mystery hunters who were no doubt poring over the area in an attempt to capture their own footage of the Seirim.

His heart missed a beat as he suddenly felt the familiar cold of an apparition again, almost as if something was responding to his thoughts. This time, his furniture didn’t spontaneously vibrate across the room. It could only mean that Nahash was on her way back. His apartment was rapidly becoming a demonic thoroughfare, and he never knew when one might appear.

As he got off the couch and pushed it aside, standing eagerly beside the chalk circle, the room began to darken. It was a sunny afternoon outside, and there were lamps and light fixtures switched on in his apartment, but it was all fading. The room began to shake, knocking framed pictures from the walls, the empty mug that had been sitting on the edge of his coffee table falling to shatter on the floor.

This was not Nahash. Ryan dashed towards his collection of wards and magickal tools, laid out for easy access on the nearby table. He adorned himself with the protective sigils and brandished his wand as he was buffeted by swirling winds. It was as if there was a tiny storm contained within the room, papers from his computer desk blowing about the apartment as he struggled to keep his printed incantations from joining them.

The darkness only grew blacker, the air becoming thick and oppressive, Ryan’s eyes adjusting to the gloom as the stench of sulfur and the acrid smell of ash overwhelmed him. The Ring of Solomon warded off the choking fumes as he pulled the sweatband over his head, and he struggled back towards the summoning circle, stepping into the confines of his protective triangle. He could scarcely see now, it was pitch black. What little light that his eyes picked up was barely enough for him to see the walls and the couch. He could have lit candles, but the rushing wind would have blown them out in an instant. Just what the hell was happening?

The cold hand of fear gripped Ryan’s heart as he saw something begin to form in the far corner of the room. It looked like a shadow at first, visible even in the gloom, black on black as it filled the corner like a plume of smoke. As he stared intently at the shape, it began to glow, a molten light burning inside it like the mouth of a volcano glimpsed through clouds of choking ash.

Faint laughter echoed from every direction, as if hundreds of people were chuckling at his plight, jeering at him. It sounded far enough away that it couldn’t possibly have been coming from inside the room, but he spun his head in a blind panic all the same, trying to pick out its source. The quaking finally stopped – Ryan had been afraid that it was about to bring his whole apartment complex crashing down – and he tried to regain some of his composure. It was paramount when dealing with demons. They would exploit weakness, and they would take advantage of a summoner who didn’t show dominance.

The laughter seemed to converge in front of him, about where the black cloud was coalescing, his ears tracking what his eyes could not yet see. The dark shadow was growing, twisting and warping, taking on the shape of a person. It was large – too large – getting bigger as he watched it with wide eyes. The ill-defined mass that seemed to be its head brushed the ceiling, and as it continued to expand, its shoulders followed suit. It must have been nine or ten feet tall, crouching as it filled the room, its arms spread wide as if it were holding up the roof like Atlas beneath his globe.

Ryan recoiled, horrified but unable to flee as the demon towered over him. Even if his legs had obeyed the command, the triangle was the safest place for him to be right now. He had to stand and face this thing or risk exposing himself to far greater danger.

The shadowy figure became more material as the fumes began to clear, Ryan better able to see it now, darkness still blanketing the room as if it had been cut off from the rest of the world. Two sharp points sprouted from its head like a pair of snakes, curling into a pair of enormous, ornate spirals – the unmistakable horns of a ram or an ibex. Fur grew all over its body, a shaggy coat of long, matted hair that was as black as pitch. It had the long beard of a billy goat, its cloven hooves the size of dinner plates, its legs bent like those of a beast. It was the same physiology that he had seen in Nahash, but of far larger scale.

It opened three eyes that burned like hot coals, two where one would expect them to be, and a third that was embedded in the center of its forehead. Their fiery glow lit the room enough that Ryan could make the thing out in greater detail. Where Nahash was part woman and part goat, this demon was wholly the latter, with an elongated snout and no human features to speak of save for its vaguely humanoid shape. It could barely fit inside the apartment. It was bent double, peering down at him in unnerving silence.

Resisting the overwhelming urge to flee the room in hysterics, Ryan called out in a trembling voice, doing his best to appear as though he wasn’t about to soil himself in terror.

“W-who are you, demon? State your purpose here!”

It opened its mouth and brayed, half the laugh of a human and half the eerie cry of a goat, its massive body shaking with the effort. When it was done, it spoke in a booming and guttural voice that had a flanging effect, as if two different people were talking at once. It was simultaneously like hearing the baritone voice of a man and one of a goat that was attempting to mimic human speech. The result made Ryan’s skin crawl.

“Little child of Adam,” it boomed, its voice low and powerful enough to make Ryan’s teeth chatter. “Do you not recognize that which you have roused?”

Its tone was humorous, somewhat mocking, and Ryan steadied his trembling hands as he gave his reply.

“Azazel?”

“You are toying with powers far beyond your comprehension, mortal, and even further beyond your ability to control.” It twisted that last word into a threat, baring its tombstone teeth, Ryan having to stop himself from accidentally leaving the triangle as he took a faltering step backwards. Azazel’s expression changed to a grin, and then it laughed again, shaking the wooden floorboards beneath Ryan’s feet as its hairy chest rose and fell. “I admire that quality in man, for without that self-destructive curiosity, they would not have sought the secrets that we Watchers guarded so jealously. Fear is a healthy sentiment when faced with the likes of me, child, but I would settle for respect. Calm yourself.”

Ryan did his best, wiping cold sweat from his brow with his sleeve, keeping his feet planted firmly in the triangle all the same. Azazel noticed, cocking its goat head at him, that smile that had all the warmth of a corpse ever-present on its lips. The situation was out of control. The train had gone off the fucking rails and had barreled through a fireworks factory. What the hell was he going to do if this thing turned hostile?

“You need not cling to your triangle, novice,” the thing croaked. “The rites of ancient kings hold no sway over me.”

“Why are you here?” Ryan asked, craning his neck to look up at the furry beast. Its body was so muscular, what he could see through its long hair, at least. Something with that much mass should have gone straight through his floor and all of the apartments below it, but much like Nahash, it didn’t seem to weigh an ounce more than it needed to.

“It seems that for the first time since I fell to this bountiful earth, I have found myself indebted to another. A mortal, no less. You are not a magician, nor do you seek my favor. It appears that you have woken me from my slumber and fed me with enough power to leave the immaterium merely as a means to an end. Tell me, Ryan Cutter, to what end?”

“I want Nahash,” he announced defiantly, Azazel’s grin widening as it reached a clawed hand down to stroke its scraggly beard. It watched him as it considered its reply, apparently amused.

“Is that so? By chance, you have encountered a daughter of mine who was bound to serve another demon, and all that you have done has been in an effort to free her? How could you be sure that she would not simply vanish into the forest once unbound?”

“I couldn’t be sure,” he replied. “Even if she doesn’t want to stay with me, she deserves to be free. She deserves to dance around bonfires, to live wild under the moon. I could see how much being bound to Orobas sapped the joy out of her.”

The monstrous demon cocked its massive head at him, as large as that of a damned moose, as if trying to understand what must be bizarre motivations from its perspective. This entity was pretty close to being a god, with power that Ryan couldn’t even begin to comprehend, and yet its probably long-awaited resurrection had been merely incidental.

“What manner of mortal are you that you would risk your life, nay, your immortal soul in this foolish venture? You attempted to summon a demon with no experience and no training, using only the barest instructions that you had obtained from grimoires and hearsay. Against all odds, you succeeded, then you consorted with your demon’s familiar and conspired to resurrect a Watcher in order to free her. All of this with no guarantee that you would be given what you desired. You know my name and my sigil. You know my reputation. I am the originator of sin and the architect of the fall, so they claim. Some would call your actions reckless, insane.”

“Guess I didn’t have anything left to lose,” Ryan said as he shrugged his shoulders dismissively. He was beyond fear at this point, a kind of impetuousness overtaking him as he stared the beast down. “And now, I only have one thing left to gain. If you’re able to manifest here, then my plan worked, and it means that Nahash and the other Seirim have a new source of energy.”

“You want to know where she is,” Azazel mused with another curious tilt of its head. “I must remind you, however, that the concept of where is meaningless in the immaterium.”

“She’s no longer in the immaterium, though, is she?”

Azazel’s lips peeled back in a bone-chilling grin, exposing those dull, pearly teeth again.

“You interest me, Ryan Cutter, and it seems that I owe you a debt of gratitude. Come to the clearing tonight when the moon is at its highest, and you shall have your reward…”

Azazel laughed heartily, its booming voice shaking the windows in their panes, and then its massive body faded as if it was stepping through the sheer wall behind it. The bulky mass of hair and muscle lost its solidity, fading to become transparent, those three burning eyes lingering as its body dissolved into a cloud of ash and smoke.

The light fixtures flickered for a moment as if uncertain, then came back to life. Whatever haze had been obscuring the sunlight from outside lifted, and the golden rays came streaming back into the room, a few floating motes of ash all that was left of Azazel.

What lingering fear Ryan still felt was quickly replaced with excitement. He would be seeing Nahash again soon! That, or Azazel was going to eat him or something, but that was a risk he was willing to take. When the moon is at its highest. The demon must have meant around midnight. It was a full moon tonight, and the forest would be relatively well lit. He might encounter ghost hunters or amateur journalists scouring the woods in search of demons and cultists, but he doubted that a being as powerful as Azazel would allow anyone to stumble upon them.

Now all he had to do was wait for the moon to rise, and he could be on his way.

CHAPTER 9: REVELRY OF THE SEIRIM

Ryan made his way between the dense trees, dead leaves and dried twigs cracking underfoot as he trekked through the forest. The moon was high in a cloudless sky, and even through what was left of the autumn canopy, he could see well enough that he didn’t need his flashlight.

The forest was deserted. He hadn’t come across anybody, even on the more accessible trails. That wasn’t to say that it was still or quiet. Despite the late season, there was fresh growth everywhere, and the air was full of insects. Clouds of drifting fireflies floated between the trunks of the birch trees, blinking their ghostly lights, each a little nebula in its own right. Bats screeched in the sky above him, and beautiful moths fluttered about on the breeze, their fuzzy bodies as colorful and as ornate as any butterfly. Flowering vines were starting to choke some of the trees, already beginning to bloom in shades of red, pink, and yellow. It was as if the presence of the Seirim and their master had invigorated the forest, injecting new life into it.

He jumped as he heard a twig snap some distance away, stopping in his tracks as he tried to penetrate the gloom. He caught the shadow of what looked like a deer, the animal darting away into the undergrowth on its slender legs. Despite the impending winter, even large animals were out and about, as if they were being drawn to the same place that he was.

Ryan continued on his way, hopping over exposed roots and rocky outcrops, wading through waist-high shrubs as he searched for the clearing. He had a pretty good sense of direction, and it wasn’t too far of a walk. He should start coming across the sigils that he had carved into the trees before long.

As he leaned against one of the trunks to rest for a moment, he noticed one such carving beneath his hand, reassuring him that he was on the right track.

He continued towards the clearing, and as he neared, he saw a glow in the distance. The orange blaze of what must have been one of their lauded bonfires was illuminating the forest. To be seen at such a distance, it must have been massive, yet there was no plume of smoke that rose above the trees to betray its location. Magick fire, maybe? Who knew with these demons. He could also make out the faint sound of music, as if a band was playing. There was the twang of stringed instruments, the pulsing beat of drums, and the whistle of woodwind that might have come from pipes or flutes. It reminded him of the music that he had heard in his head when he had made love to Nahash. The style was jarring and obviously ancient, songs that had been written thousands of years before his birth.

What he had originally assumed to be the flickering of the flames was revealed to be a dozen figures dancing around the periphery of the bonfire, their dark silhouettes framed against the glow, their bodies gyrating and twisting in a frenzy. They all looked like Nahash, all female, but their height and body type varied a little from what he could make out at that distance. Off to one side, Azazel was sat on the ground, his long arms draped over his knees. His black fur was lit by the fire, casting him in an eerie glow, his three red eyes burning like molten metal as he watched the Seirim cavort. Even sitting, he was so much taller and more massive than a human, like an ogre with spiraling horns.

The licking flames must have been fifteen feet high, the bonfire at least eight or nine feet across, burning in the center of the summoning circle. It was piled with heavy logs that would have been beyond human capacity to lift, and it was ringed by the stones that Ryan had placed around it when he had first drawn the sigils.

As he lurked at the tree line, unsure of whether he should announce himself or not, the music petered out. Azazel’s monstrous head turned in his direction to stare at him with his trio of red eyes. The Seirim stopped their dancing to follow suit, turning their horned heads to watch him, a dozen pairs of yellow eyes shining in the night.

“It seems that our guest of honor has arrived,” Azazel boomed, his baritone voice carrying over the trees and echoing through the forest. “You are welcome here, Ryan Cutter. You need not hide in the shadows. Come, join us.”

Even when Azazel was being polite, it came off sinister and threatening. Ryan crept out from between the trunks and started to walk across the clearing. Something about Azazel was just off, as if there was some primal instinct deep inside him that was trying to warn him away from the beast. The creature’s stare sent chills crawling down his spine and made the hair on his arms stand on end.

All of his doubts melted away when he saw one of the Seirim step forward, the reflective glint of her amber eyes somehow familiar, the comely shape of her figure framed by the bonfire behind her. His pace increased to a jog, Nahash advancing to meet him on her digitigrade legs, and he flung himself into her outstretched arms. She wrapped them around him, pressing his face into the soft wool above her ample chest, Ryan breathing in a lungful of her sweet scent as he squeezed her tight. His fingers only just met around her waist, but he did his best to return her embrace. Her smooth skin was so warm and inviting, the downy fur that lined her neck and shoulders comforting him as he rubbed his cheek against it. The plan had worked. Nahash was here, she was manifest, and he could finally reach out and touch her again. Azazel and his band of Seirim must have energy enough to spare.

He glanced up at her, prying himself away from the warmth of her woolly chest, her golden eyes peering down at him as her lips curled into a vibrant smile.

“I once called you a novice, but you have proven yourself to be an admirable exorcist,” she chuckled.

“A strange specimen indeed,” Azazel’s voice rumbled, the creature apparently able to hear them even from so far away. “You have ensnared a rare prize here, Nahash. This mortal covets more than just your flesh, and he has proven himself a worthy ally indeed. I have dwelt amongst his kind since the time of the fall, and I have never before seen his like.”

Nahash fawned over him, running her clawed fingers through his hair, holding him tightly as if guarding him from the jealous eyes of her sisters.

“You know what he covets,” Azazel continued, rising slowly to his feet and plodding around the circumference of the bonfire on hooves the size of hubcaps. He stood nearly as tall as the flames, the light casting ominous shadows across his shaggy fur, his white teeth flashing as he spoke. “What is it that you desire, my daughter? I have offered this child of Adam a payment for his services, a reward. But your heart is wild, and it is not mine to give.”

It seemed that the Seirim were not merely Azazel’s creations as Ryan had initially assumed, but his literal offspring. Judging by how much more bestial their father was, had he conceived them with human women? Were the Seirim hybrids of some kind, and could that be the origin of their softer and more human features? That aligned with what some of the ancient texts told of the rebellious Watchers – that their taking of human wives had angered their God, and it was for that reason that they had been cast out. There were so many burning questions that Ryan longed to ask, but now wasn’t the right time.

Nahash turned her head to look up at Azazel, clinging to Ryan possessively.

“I want him, father. He is kind and charitable, his love for me is pure.”

The furry monster grinned widely, then turned that trio of smoldering eyes on Ryan.

“And this is your desire also, Ryan Cutter?”

“Yes,” he replied adamantly. Azazel laughed uproariously, lifting his heavy head to the sky and braying at the full moon, his powerful voice shaking Ryan’s bones.

“Then I shall bind her to you, a marriage between spirit and mortal,” Azazel bellowed. He turned to the sky again and bleated like a goat, an oddly unnerving sound coming from such a massive creature. “This, the creator abhors above all things,” he explained. “An unholy union between man and demon, his creation corrupted, and his law betrayed. My kin and I were cast out of paradise for the very same transgression. On top of all that you have risked thus far, you will break this sacred covenant too?”

Ryan considered for a moment. Was he really about to go against some holy imperative? There seemed to be a God, and he was about to offend him gravely if he had not done so already. Oh, what did it matter? He had been in over his head from the very moment that he had chalked the summoning circle on the floor of his apartment.

“Well,” he replied, considering for a moment. “What’s he done for me lately?”

Azazel clapped his massive hands together, a sound like thunder ringing out across the forest, more braying laughter joining it. He seemed to take great pleasure in the fact that Ryan was about to commit a grave sin. Azazel was the original rebel, after all. Perhaps he would take any opportunity to spite his heavenly foe.

“A spirit can be bound to an object, serving to anchor it to this material plane,” Azazel elaborated. “It will forever be a beacon, drawing that spirit to it, calling it home across the gulfs of time and space.”

Nahash took a step away from Ryan, lifting her hand into the air, turning her palm towards her father. Through his maniacal laughter, Azazel waved a gigantic arm, Ryan watching in awe as a ring of black smoke began to form around one of her digits. The vapors coalesced, becoming a solid object, forming a wedding band around her clawed finger that was as black as obsidian. Nahash turned to glance at Ryan, her golden eyes reflecting the glow of the fire, and he felt something in his own hand.

Ryan looked down, watching the dark vapors circle his ring finger, becoming tighter as they manifested a matching band. It was surprisingly heavy, made from some kind of dense metal, circled with almost imperceptible runes and sigils that were etched into its shiny surface.

These were wedding rings. Perhaps in an attempt to further pervert the laws that had seen him banished from heaven, Azazel had given the object of binding this shape. Ryan couldn’t be sure if this was a parody of marriage designed only to offend, or if the fallen angel was showing signs of sentiment, but it nevertheless filled Ryan’s heart with love for his betrothed. This binding ritual was even more permanent and lasting than a marriage. Nahash’s spirit would be drawn to his now, like a moth to a lantern in a dark forest.

“It is done…” Azazel announced as the pair admired their new adornments. “Her spirit is bound to that ring, like a Djinn to its bottle, a cursed item. Because of your actions, mortal, we are gorged on energy. She will be able to manifest whenever and wherever you wish, and as long as you carry that ring, you will have no need of circles or wards. This is my gift to you.”

As long as Ryan wore this ring, Nahash would be able to home in on him wherever he might be, appearing at his side as if he had gone through all of the motions and steps necessary to summon a demon? No need for nine-foot wide, intricately detailed summoning circles, no need for incantations and wards. It was perfect.

“Thank you,” Ryan said, not sure how else to express his gratitude to the creature. Azazel chuckled, turning away and lumbering back over to his place beside the bonfire. He sat heavily, the ground shaking beneath Ryan’s feet, and directed his three ruby eyes towards him.

“The debt has been repaid. Now, we celebrate!”

The flames exploded as though someone had poured gasoline on them, burning brighter and more violently, roaring into the night sky as the bonfire spat sparks and glowing embers into the air. The music resumed, although nobody seemed to be playing any of the instruments that Ryan could so distinctly hear, the Seirim continuing their hypnotic dancing as they circled the blaze.

Their movements were graceful and fluid, unearthly, moving in ways that no human dancer could have approximated. There was a sexual energy to their dance, the thrusting of their wide hips distinctly sensuous, their undulating motions drawing attention to their womanly figures. They pranced on their long, goat-like legs, leaping and spinning as though they weighed nothing at all. They drew shapes in the air with their balletic arm movements, tossing their horned heads, an infinite variety of complex and textured movements syncing with the beat of the unseen drums.

Nahash turned, taking Ryan by the hand, leading him towards the circle of dancing figures. He could feel the heat on his face as they got closer, her tall frame casting a flickering shadow over him as he followed behind her. He hoped that she wasn’t intending for them to dance together. Even with a fellow human, he wouldn’t have fared too well, and keeping up with the Seirim would be physically impossible.

“You need not dance,” she laughed, obviously sensing his apprehension. “I’m so glad to look upon you again, Ryan, to hear your voice in waves of sound rather than in memory. I was trapped in the immaterium for a time, so I could not return to your side. After you completed your contract with Orobas, he had no more use of me, so I was stowed away in that soup of thought and emotion until Azazel came for me.”

She stopped and turned to face him, the fire raging not three feet behind her. Despite its proximity, her delicate wool did not singe, and she did not seem uncomfortable in the least. She took his hands in hers, her skin cool and soft, and gazed down at him with those amber eyes.

“I had a lot of time to think, to ponder my situation, and to miss my corporeal form. I pined for sensations, touch and taste, warmth and pleasure. But more than that, I found that I missed you terribly. You are the only mortal and the only entity outside of my tribe who has ever considered what I might have wanted. You didn’t think about what I could do for you, what purpose I might serve, or what there was to be gained through me. Rather, you treated me as a person, a fellow being with thoughts and feelings of their own. You freed me from bondage with no expectation of a reward.”

She hooked her arms around him and pulled him close, her clawed fingers delving into his hair, pushing his face into the feathery wool of her chest. He breathed in her earthy aroma, hearing her heart beating beneath her skin, his hands finding their place around her hips.

“I am your reward,” she whispered, a pleasant shiver running down his spine as she breathed warm air on his ear. “This time, it is my choice. I will decide to whom I am bound, and I have chosen you.”

She turned his chin up with her finger, pressing her full lips against his, her dexterous tongue winding its way into his mouth to deliver a slow and powerful kiss that made him weak at the knees. He leaned into her, his hands roaming across her glass-smooth skin, his fingers sinking into her yielding flesh. How he had missed her – her taste and scent, the feeling of her inviting body beneath his hands…

He glanced over at Azazel, the giant beast watching them with a toothy grin, then slowed his pace and broke away from Nahash’s embrace.

“Maybe we should, uh…isn’t he, like…your father or something?”

Nahash put a hand to her mouth and chuckled daintily, batting her long eyelashes at him.

“It was he who taught man to sin. I was made for this, you need not worry about offending Azazel.”

“Come,” Azazel bellowed. “Join us in our revelry.”

He waved his long arm, and suddenly, Ryan noticed a ring of tables that circled the fire between the dancing Seirim and the stones that served as its border. Had those been there before? No, he hadn’t seen them, or at least he hadn’t noticed them before Azazel had drawn his attention to them. They were carved from wood that had been polished to a sheen, their legs hewn into elaborate sculptures of animal feet, their surfaces decorated with inlaid geometric patterns. There was a dozen of them, each one with a subtle curve so that once joined together, they formed a perfect ten-foot ring.

The dancing figures stepped back from them, and Azazel waved his massive hand again, claws the size of meat hooks extending from his furry fingers. Before Ryan’s eyes, a smorgasbord of food materialized, popping into reality from thin air. The effect might have been almost comical had he not been in the presence of the demons, their inhuman faces lit by the crackling flames.

There were bowls filled to the brim with ripe fruits, wicker baskets packed with berries and grapes, goblets of sparkling wine, and roasted meats glazed with honey that looked as if they had left the oven only moments ago. Had Azazel conjured all of this himself? Was he so powerful that he could will anything that he liked into existence? Ryan had seen Nahash influence his senses in order to create convincing illusions, but they were just that – illusions.

He walked towards the fire, the Seirim parting to grant him access, each as tall and as impressively endowed as Nahash was. They stood to either side of him on their long legs, peering down at him with their reflective eyes, each with a slightly different assortment of twisted horns. Ryan reached across the nearest table and picked up a shiny, red apple from one of the bowls, its skin coated in droplets of dew. It was the most appetizing fruit that he had ever seen, but he hesitated, looking back towards Nahash for reassurance. She nodded in encouragement, so he sank his teeth into its firm flesh, its sweet juices flowing across his tongue. He chewed contentedly, savoring the taste as it lingered in his mouth. It was delicious, as if all of the qualities of an apple had been concentrated and refined, giving it the perfect taste and texture. If it was an illusion, and his had was empty in reality, then it was a convincing one.

“Eat, drink!” Azazel laughed as he flung his arms into the air. The Seirim crowded around the tables, Nahash sidling up next to Ryan as he helped himself to the huge variety of food, the ever-present music changing tempo to become placating and relaxing. The Seirim were ravenous, putting their new bodies through their paces, red wine escaping from their lips to stain their white wool as they drank heartily. They tore strips of glazed turkey and pork from the bone, popping fat grapes between their teeth, washing it all down with tankards of frothing ale.

Ryan lived in a developed country where food was never scarce, but even to him, these delicacies were a rare treat. What might a wandering tribesman have thought of such a display five thousand years ago?

Some of the Seirim resumed their mesmerizing dancing as the others watched, clapping in time with the slow rhythm, cheering their sisters on. Azazel was apparently unwilling to participate but seemed to find amusement in the performance nonetheless.

Nahash was eating a loaf of bread that looked as if it had been baked in an ancient or foreign style, spread with cheese and butter, taking bites of a plump fig as she went. These were earthly spirits – they reveled in the simplest of sensations, desiring nothing more than to explore the limits of their senses. Encouraged, Ryan followed suit, pulling away a strip of roasted chicken with his fingers and taking a bite of the succulent meat. It was cooked and seasoned to perfection, the white meat moist and warm, the skin peeling away with a satisfying crunch. It was like a taste of heaven, and he resolved to try a little of everything. Nahash draped an arm around his neck, gulping down a goblet of pink liquid.

“Drink,” she commanded, thrusting the cup into his hands enthusiastically. He took it and raised it to his lips, a sweet nectar filling his mouth, his cheeks beginning to burn as its flavor brought back a flood of sordid memories. It tasted exactly like Nahash had the night they had made love, when she had used her powers to influence his perception, making her loins taste like the juices of a dozen fruits and berries. She leaned in to nibble his ear gently, nuzzling the nape of his neck with her flat nose, fawning over him as she took back the cup and downed the last of the drink.

“What do you desire?” she asked. “Ales? Wines? Perhaps you wish to lay your head upon my lap while I feed you grapes?”

“Are you trying to get me drunk?” Ryan laughed, leaning into her as her warm lips kissed his neck.

“What would revelry be without drunken fumblings?”

She had become so uninhibited. The contrast between now and when she had been bound to Orobas was stark. This was the personality that Ryan had glimpsed in her rare moments of passion. She was a lush, flirting with him as if they had only just met. Ryan had rarely been on the receiving end of such advances, and it made his heart flutter.

“Our last encounter was so heated,” she said as she leaned over his shoulder to pluck a peach from one of the decorative bowls, the wobbling meat of her bosom pressing against his back. She bit into the soft flesh, letting the juice drip from her lips conspicuously, droplets of it landing on her bust. “To be given but a taste of carnal delight after so many centuries was like taking the merest sip of water after millennia of thirst. Not enough to sate me, only enough to remind me of how much I was missing.”

“The merest sip?” Ryan repeated. He turned to face her, lowering his voice in embarrassment as she smiled down at him, taking another wet bite of her peach. “We did it to exhaustion.”

“I have a lot of lost time to make up for,” she replied, licking the fruit juice from her lips with her prehensile tongue. “And now that I am bound to you, I need not fear the scorn of Orobas. I can do as I please.”

She raised the peach above his head and crushed it between her fingers, letting the juice drip on his neck, trickling down his shoulder. After discarding the squashed fruit on the ground, she pulled open his jacket along with the shirt that he wore beneath it, exposing him to the cool night air. She leaned down to run her warm tongue across his skin, lapping up the sticky juice, mouthing gently as she went. Her sinuous organ licked up the fluid that had pooled in his clavicle, the chuckling Seirim biting his shoulder softly as she moved higher, her smooth tongue grazing his throat as he tried his hardest not to loose a gasp that might draw the attention of her sisters.

The other Seirim were already observing them, chewing on their respective choices of food as they watched with covetous eyes that shone like gold in the firelight. They could sense his emotions just as Nahash could – they didn’t need to hear him to know that he was aroused and embarrassed, nor did they need to see him to know that his erection was straining against his jeans.

Nahash noticed that he was glancing at them, his cheeks burning almost as hot as the licking flames, and she turned her head to smirk at them.

“My sisters are seething with jealousy,” she said, her voice low and breathy. “The scent of a mortal man is on the air, yet they cannot have him. They must suppress their nature. Azazel has hidden this clearing from outsiders tonight, and so they cannot lure a mate of their own to sate their lust.” She giggled salaciously, nipping his ear in her teeth as she whispered to him. “I had considered sharing you with them. Would you have enjoyed that? I have endured the same drought that they have, and I sympathize with their plight. They are my siblings, after all. But now that I am bound to you, you are mine alone to enjoy.”

She pulled away and thrust a foaming tankard of ale into his hands, sucking her fingers clean of peach juice.

“Drink, relax,” she insisted. “You are among friends. These are your people now.”

The other Seirim were dancing again, and the tempo of the music was rising, becoming jovial and festive. Nahash was right – what did he have to fear? He was an exorcist now, the guest of honor. It was safe to let his guard down and chill out for a little while. He took a draw from the tankard, Nahash patting his shoulder in encouragement, laughing at his froth-mustache as he wiped it away with his sleeve.

“Alright,” he conceded. “Let’s party like it’s three-thousand BC.”

***

The festivities continued late into the night, Ryan and his new Seirim friends growing drunker and rowdier as the full moon slowly sailed across the starry sky, the food and alcohol replenishing itself almost the moment that it was consumed. As Ryan grew tipsy, his inhibitions slowly left him. He even dared to attempt a dance with Nahash that ended in laughter all around when he was woefully unable to keep up with her graceful and inhumanly flexible moves.

More than once, a curious Seirim had to be shooed away by Nahash when they got too close to her prize. Her sisters would sneak an arm around him and try to draw him away from the group, or tempt him with some new morsel of food that he had not yet tasted. They were accustomed to seducing mortals, and like teasing a hungry dog with a bone, Ryan’s proximity seemed to ignite their more predatory instincts.

Nahash didn’t seem overly concerned, treating it more as an annoyance than a problem. Although Ryan had no interest in anyone besides her, he had to admit that the female attention was a welcome boost to his confidence, even if it was more a result of their nature than his charms. Ryan had never been much of a partygoer. He always found that the loud music in clubs prohibited conversation, but the atmosphere at the Seirim bonfire was laid back, and their interactions were refreshingly uncomplicated.

Even Azazel joined in on the conversation, so much less intimidating when he was laughing at a joke or recounting a humorous story. Ryan finally had the opportunity to quiz the demons about ancient history and magick, and they probed him for details about the modern era in turn. They were greatly amused when he pulled out his cellphone and attempted to explain the internet to them using the immaterium as a metaphor, a place where thoughts and ideas could be instantly transmitted between people.

He learned of life in the ancient world, from Sumeria and the fertile Indus valley, to the arid plains and mountains of what were now Syria and Israel. The Seirim had been all over the planet, called to wherever belief in them was strongest, feeding on that energy to sustain their corporeal forms. They had journeyed to the lush forests of central Europe and to the shores of the Mediterranean, where the primitive Pagan tribes had worshiped them as spirits of the wilds, giving them the name of Satyr. They seemed to have gotten on particularly well with the ancient Greeks, talking fondly of wild feasts and orgies. The Hellenic attitude towards sex and revelry had been very compatible with the needs of the Seirim.

Ryan had attempted to ask Azazel more about the fall and the deluge, but the Watcher was evasive, and so he had dropped the subject fairly quickly. He still wasn’t sure what the creature was, an evil devil who had tempted humanity into sin or merely a romantic whose punishment had far exceeded the severity of his crimes. Ryan could sympathize with the latter, as he now found himself bound to a spirit whom he loved dearly, apparently at odds with the laws of that same deity.

Azazel was not burning in a lake of fire as the religious texts that Ryan had studied had claimed, however. He was here, throwing parties with his offspring and sharing stories around a bonfire as they clustered about his feet to listen.

Ryan had been an agnostic for as long as he could remember. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in a deity, merely that his life had been too hectic to afford him much time for contemplation. His entire life from the moment he had hit puberty had been consumed by study and work, leaving little room for much else, including spiritual pursuits. Now, the existence of such a God was confirmed, and it made sense from a logical standpoint. These demons and spirits drew their power from worship and faith, and as the object of worship of several major religions, this Abrahamic God must be awash with power. Ryan had seen far lesser entities perform feats of prescience and read the hearts of men, amongst other things, so it was not unreasonable to assume that such a being might be near omnipotent.

Did this entity judge, and if it did, did it judge based on actions or intent? Was it the only one of its kind? Did it care about the lives of mortals at all? Was it even remotely similar to what was described in the religious lore that surrounded it? Perhaps, as Nahash had advised, it was better not to think about such things. He should simply live his life and let the cards fall where they may. Death was inevitable, and his questions would all be answered eventually, one way or another.

And so, Ryan lost himself in the revelry for a while, dancing and feasting with ancient spirits and fallen angels until even the roaring bonfire seemed to ebb and wilt as the night dragged on. Though the food replenished itself as if by magick and the wine flowed as if sourced from some bottomless ocean, even the Seirim slowed their gorging and drinking as they grew tired. Most were hopelessly drunk, but they were all happy and satisfied, splitting off into groups of three or four and collapsing onto furry pelts that were spaced around the fire at irregular intervals. Ryan was fairly certain that those had not been there before, but he couldn’t be sure. It was as if his memories of the things that Azazel conjured had somehow been tampered with, creating an odd feeling of déja-vu.

The great beast himself seemed to have departed – perhaps he had other places to be – and Nahash led Ryan towards one of the vacant pelts. They collapsed onto the luxuriant fur together. It felt like wolf fur or maybe a bear hide rug against his skin. Although the autumn air was cool, the fire warded off the worst of it. The flames had gotten low, and they lit the clearing in a dull, orange glow. It was perfect, probably by design, just bright enough and just warm enough to be comfortable.

He lay down beside Nahash, and she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into a possessive hug. He sank his face into her ruff of feathery wool, breathing in her comforting scent, his muscles aching from all of the clumsy dancing that had so amused his hosts. Nahash stroked his hair, neither of them quite as wasted as some of her kin had gotten, but they were pleasantly drunk. The rise and fall of her bust was hypnotic, her slow, deep breaths inviting him to close his eyes and let his fatigue overcome him. She had other ideas, however. He shivered as he felt her dull claws draw trails down his spine, sneaking beneath his clothing as the flames crackled behind them.

“Listen,” she whispered, and Ryan strained his ears. He blushed as a low moan pierced the night, rising on his elbows to glance past Nahash to see their immediate neighbors writhing as they were illuminated by the firelight.

Two of her comely sisters were occupying a pelt not five feet away, the head of one buried between the meaty thighs of the other as she held onto her horns, moving rhythmically. He couldn’t make out a great deal, but that only made the scene more erotic, his imagination filling in the blanks as one of the Seirim pushed her long tongue deep inside the other.

“In the absence of mortals with which to sate their lust, they set upon each other,” Nahash explained. “I cannot fault them, for I have felt that great need myself. It must be hard to possess a material body after so long and to refrain from indulging in it, testing its capacity for pleasure and sensation.”

As Ryan looked about the smoldering fire, he realized that there was similar activity coming from every pelt. The Seirim squirmed in heaving piles, their thrusting bodies cast in an orange light, deep shadow teasing him as it obscured the sordid details.

“Shall we join them?” Nahash whispered, her fingers wrapping around the growing bulge in his pants.

“Won’t they see us?” he stammered.

“They’re too occupied to notice,” she chuckled. “Besides, you are among the Seirim now. Forget the prudish ways of your people and heed the call of the wild.”

She slipped her fingers beneath his belt, closing them around his erection, holding it gently as she let it throb against her soft palm. She watched his turmoil with her golden eyes, his desire growing as his cheeks burned red, his member beating in her hand. Arousal gradually overcame his embarrassment, the wanton moans and lustful cries of the Seirim that echoed over the crackling fire goading him on, and he fumbled with his belt as Nahash smiled knowingly at him. He struggled out of his clothes and discarded them on the grass, the fur pelt soft against his bare skin, the two of them melting into a passionate embrace. Their hands roamed across naked flesh, their lips seeking one another out, their bodies locked together in a slow dance.

Nahash had haunted Ryan’s dreams since their last night together. The sudden explosion of passion and then its jarring absence had driven him half-crazy during the days that they had been apart. He traced her familiar curves with his fingers, taking generous handfuls of her thighs and hips, as soft as memory foam as they yielded beneath his digits. Nahash pushed out her chest in invitation as his questing hands wandered upwards, Ryan molding her supple flesh like putty, his erection pushing into her plump belly.

“One would think that you had missed me,” Nahash chuckled.

“Don’t hold back,” he stammered, more than a little tipsy. “I’m ready for you this time.”

Her smile turned salacious, and she batted her long lashes at him, no doubt drinking in his anticipation as a mortal woman might sample the aroma of a wine before her first sip.

“Then let us consummate our binding.”

A wave of warmth washed over him, a kind of dull euphoria, those amber eyes of hers seeming to glow all the brighter as she loomed over him. He saw the stars above her horned head as she lay him on his back, her pale features and white fur framed against the black sky, lit by the bonfire. It all seemed to recede as he watched it through the haze of that smoldering pleasure, the trees and the clouds melting away, even the glow of the flames driven off until all that remained was Nahash.

“Listen to my voice,” she said in her husky contralto, her words creeping up his spine like questing fingers. How could he not? Even her voice was dripping with sensuality, deep and feminine, breathy in a way that made his heart leap. He felt as if she could bring him to climax with nothing more than a whisper in his ear.

“Nothing is forbidden, no desire taboo, no fantasy too indulgent. I’m going to run your body through its paces in a way that only a Seirim can. I will dine on your pleasure as though it were the ripest and most succulent fruit.”

He felt hands on his skin, too many of them to be hers alone, the same trick that she had played on him last time. It had taken him by surprise back then, the sensations had been too intense and too unfamiliar, but he welcomed them now.

Fingers lightly brushed his chest and belly, his muscles twitching at their touch, roaming hands stroking him all over as though he was encircled by a team of masseuses. He knew that there would be nothing there if he opened his eyes, and so he kept them closed to further the illusion, his imagination feeding into the sensation as his mind’s eye conjured slim fingers attached to buxom Seirim. Those slender digits entwined with his own, pinning his hands to the pelt, more of them gripping his ankles to stop his ceaseless writhing as the phantom digits set his nerves on fire with their relentless teasing.

It was almost too much to process. When he reacted to one rub or gentle scratch, there were two more to distract his senses, his spine arching off the rug as he felt dull claws drag down his back. They ran through his hair, glancing his neck, playing lightly over his thighs and belly. They seemed to touch him everywhere but his member, now rigid and aching, longing for a fist to grip it and start pumping.

Those fingers delved into the flesh of his thighs and ass, becoming more wanton in their explorations, two hands cradling his warm face as a third wrapped around his throat. Could Nahash feel through these hands, or did they exist only in his mind? Was this as much for her benefit as for his?

He twitched as he felt soft fingertips trace his wrists from the heel of his hand down to his elbow, his own sensitivity surprising him. The same gentle touch drew swirling shapes on his ribs and stomach, his brain sparking like it was being short-circuited. Ryan was lost in a daze, his thoughts muddled by both drink and pleasure. He would never have imagined that Nahash would be capable of so much using only her hands. Albeit, a great many of them. One of the fingers slipped into his mouth, and he curled his tongue around it obediently, his hips thrusting into the air in desperation as her digits brushed the skin just above the base of his erection.

Even with his eyes closed, he could feel Nahash’s presence, sensing her golden stare as she looked down covetously at his tortured body. He could imagine the cruel smile that was no doubt spreading across her lips.

As if to answer the thought, he felt a kiss on his neck, lingering and wet. It mouthed and bit gently, a long, winding Seirim tongue escaping to taste the sweat on his skin. From the opposite side came another, planting more tender kisses on his shoulder, crawling up his jugular to pinch his ear between its teeth. He shivered, swearing that his face might set on fire as the two disembodied mouths licked and teased, their warm breath blowing on his ears as they spoke in unison.

“Hear my voice, sweet boy. Feel my touch…”

He felt a palm cup his face, turning it towards one of the waiting mouths. Its warm lips pressed against his own, its serpentine tongue slithering forth, its slippery coils bulging his cheeks in a prurient kiss. It tasted just like Nahash, and its technique was identical. Ryan leaned into it, doing his best to meet the lurid embrace, the dexterous organ so agile that she could have probably used it to pick a lock. His efforts were distracted by the second ghost lover, whispering obscenities in his ear as it paused to bite and suck, the roving hands that caressed his body keeping up their pace.

“This pleasure is but a taste of what I can do to you,” the second murmured as the first licked the roof of his mouth, her embrace growing more needy and aggressive. “Soon, these tongues will paint your body, their lips will roam across your skin. Have you ever imagined what it might feel like to have half a dozen women share your manhood between them? Would you ever have dared, or was the idea so self-indulgent that you couldn’t even entertain it?”

The first released him for a moment to let him catch his breath, then gripped his face in its hands, plunging back down again. Ryan could feel her need, her barely restrained desire poured into every quick flurry, every lingering stroke dripping with her affection.

There was another hand on his face now, pulling him away from the kiss and turning his head in the opposite direction, the first lover’s tongue sliding out of his mouth as their lips parted. Before he could take much more than a faltering breath, the second conjured Seirim had delved her fingers into his hair, pulling him close to subject him to another bawdy embrace. His eyes rolled back into his head as yet another sinuous tongue slid into his mouth, this one more sensuous and placating than the first.

It combed his hair and cradled his burning cheeks as it moaned softly, making his head spin with the deft strokes of its practiced organ. It had too many hands for one person, but that was hardly a complaint. The first imaginary lover bit his neck, licking the red welt that it left in his skin, then it pushed the tip of its winding organ into his ear before picking up where its counterpart had left off.

“I’ll feed on your emotions,” Ryan heard in his left ear.

“Drink them down like sweet honey,” another added from his right.

He shivered as he felt a pair of pillowy lips slide around one of his fingers, sucking it into a warm mouth, a tongue winding around it like a tentacle as it coated his digit in viscous saliva. Another bit him softly on the hip, yet more beginning to plant kisses and drag their tongues across his body. There were as many mouths as there were hands, and he squirmed uncontrollably as several of them licked and pecked at his inner thighs. One slid its slippery tongue into his navel, the first phantom chuckling to itself by his ear, enjoying his reaction.

“Poor creature. You feel as though you might lose your mind, don’t you? But I am not a cruel mistress. Let me ease your suffering, for the appetizer is but one of many courses.”

The slow, soothing kiss broke off, the tongue sliding back between its disembodied lips. The numerous hands left his skin, and the mouths ceased their teasing, leaving Ryan lying in silence and darkness for a moment. He opened his bleary eyes to see Nahash straddling him, her juices dripping from between her thighs, fat droplets of her love landing on his belly. She was blurry, out of focus, only her yellow eyes burning through the haze like a pair of headlights in the mist.

“Not yet,” she said, Ryan hearing her voice as much in his head as with his ears. “I want you, in every way, but not yet…”

She reached down a hand and covered his eyes like a blindfold, and when Ryan felt her lift it away, his vision did not return. She must have blocked his sense of sight with her magick, and that would only serve to heighten those that remained.

He gasped as he felt warm breath blowing on his throbbing member, as if a pair of lips were pursed not an inch from the tip, a sucking kiss to his belly making him lurch a moment later. These were more of her illusions, Ryan beginning to shiver with anticipation as he remembered her threats and promises.

His demonic partner wasted no more time, the smooth lips of a disembodied mouth sliding over his glans, sending a bolt of harsh pleasure shooting through him like an electric shock as they glided against his sensitive flesh. It held the tip in its warm mouth, its prehensile tongue battering him, coating his pulsing erection in a thick layer of drool.

A second pair of puffy lips came from below, another slimy tongue licking at the underside of his member, another mouthing gently at his balls. Mouth number three licked and sucked, tugging gently as mouth number two slid up and down his shaft on a layer of warm saliva. Ryan was delirious, points of light dancing before his eyes as his brain fizzed and popped like it was being fried in a pan, his limbs still bound by the ethereal hands that pinned him against the downy pelt. Their movement was unceasing, the three serpentine tongues coiling and stroking, their smooth organs encompassing his manhood in a prison of damp velvet.

It was as warm and as wet as being inside Nahash, but each of the tongues was moving independently of the rest, the rhythmic contractions and muscular flexing that one would expect from a vagina replaced by what felt like a ball of snakes that roiled with a ceaseless fervor.

The second mouth slid up his length to meet the first, the two kissing wetly around his head, trapping it between two wrestling tongues as they made out clumsily around it. The third sucked ardently at his balls, rolling them in its mouth, lashing them with its dexterous organ as he bucked and gritted his teeth against the pleasure. Although he knew that it was merely an illusion, the sensations were indistinguishable from reality, every glance of their slippery tongues and every warm breath felt as though it was really happening to him. For all intents and purposes, it was.

He groaned as the first phantom Seirim broke away from its shared kiss, cradling his throbbing cock in its tongue, guiding it towards its mouth. It slid all the way down his shaft, wrapping its lips tightly around the base. He felt the slick muscles of a throat seize around his glans, squeezing it as if his ghostly partner were swallowing, more of that viscous drool escaping to wet his pubic hair. It held him there, not needing to breathe, but simulating the sensation of someone struggling to accommodate him for the sheer pleasure of it. He felt it gag, swallowing in waves that made his toes curl as its gullet massaged him, his glans bumping the back of its throat.

The second and third mouths continued their work, unconcerned that their counterpart was hogging the spotlight, mouthing and kissing at his balls and thighs as he fought the growing urge to come.

“Don’t cut the fun short,” he heard, a breathy voice whispering beside his ear. He flinched as he felt a hand grip the base of his member, squeezing hard to cut off his rising climax even as his erection pulsed and jumped inside the first Seirim’s throat. He grunted his displeasure as the hand released him, vanishing back into the aether as the remaining two tongues lapped at his shaft apologetically.

Nahash could sense his mounting excitement, of course, and she was in complete control. She would not allow him to finish until she’d had her fun.

His member swelled inside the first Seirim’s gullet again, its tongue lapping at the sensitive underside of his glans, teasing him back to full mast. Its twin sisters resumed their maddening work, their puffy lips crawling across his most sensitive anatomy as their hands gripped his thighs and hips for purchase.

The ethereal Seirim that had him lodged in its throat began to move, drawing back with its lips pursed until only the tip of his erection remained between them, circling it with its powerful tongue. When he was suitably overwhelmed by the cruel sensation, it slammed back down, driving him deep into its twitching esophagus. His hips rose off the ground to thrust deeper, his member gliding against its damp flesh, Ryan bucking reflexively to meet its downward motions. The pace of their messy coupling grew faster and less refined, the incorporeal Seirim allowing him to fuck its throat as its tongue lolled from its mouth, needing no air and feeling no discomfort. His shaft was coated in a sheen of its warm, bubbling saliva, helping to ease him deeper.

Nahash had been right – to even fantasize about a scenario like this was self-indulgent. Even in his most depraved dreams, he would not have been so presumptuous as to imagine himself at the center of a harem with what felt like a dozen women attending to his every desire. As good as it felt and as wild as it made him, it was not what he wanted…

Nahash seemed to sense that sentiment in him, resting a hand on his chest as she leaned down close. Somehow, he could feel that this was really her and not some apparition that she had conjured for his benefit. He couldn’t see her, but he smelled her earthy scent, felt the warmth that she radiated as their cheeks brushed together.

“As I said,” she purred, her husky voice whispering in his ear. “No desire is taboo, no fantasy is too indulgent. I can make your senses dance like a puppet on a string, I can play your nerves like a harp. You will see and feel whatever suits me.”

“I want to see you,” he stammered, her proximity maddening. He couldn’t reach up and touch her, he couldn’t see her face, bound and blindfolded by her insidious magick as he was. She chuckled, the hands that pinned him relenting, his vision returning as if he had just left a dark cave.

“What a beast I would have to be to deny such a heartfelt request,” she cooed, her golden eyes coming into focus as he blinked his vision clear. She was resting atop him, smiling down at him, the only thing in focus as the world around them remained dark and indistinct.

“This all feels incredible,” he began, wincing as the phantom Seirim let his member slide from its mouth. “But, this isn’t what I want.”

“Don’t you like it?” Nahash asked, her tone uncertain. “I sense your pleasure, but…”

“I like you Nahash, not what you can do for me,” he insisted. “All the magick tricks and illusions in the world won’t feel half as good as just being with you. There’s nothing more exciting to me than that.”

The darkness around him faded, and the illusory appendages vanished along with it. Nahash was once again cast in the orange glow of the flickering fire as she crouched over him, the starry sky above her gaining clarity as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. He was struck by her beauty in that moment, her eyes bringing to mind images of light reflecting through a block of amber as her pristine, white fur blew gently in the breeze. She was radiant, otherworldly in appearance, yet alluring in her strangeness.

She must have felt what he felt, his emotions adding credence to his words, and she cradled her elongated face in her hands as she gazed down at him and batted her eyes. He felt her cushiony thighs tighten around him, and she wet her pink lips with her tongue, her expression warming as his mind began to clear.

“Flatterer,” she whispered, the accusation betrayed by her smile. “I am already bound to you. You need no longer woo me.”

“You know I’m telling the truth,” he laughed. “You can read my emotions like a book. Tell me, what do I feel?”

“A great warmth,” she replied after a moment of reflection. “A swelling in your chest when you look upon me. Love.”

“Then, I’m vindicated.”

“You must be mad to love an old goat like me,” she chuckled. “Have you no interest in a young wife of your own kind?” He shook his head, and she stifled another laugh with her pale hand. “Then, I am glad of your madness.”

She guided his member between her flushed lips, lowering herself down onto him slowly, a moment of resistance making them gasp in tandem before he entered her. She took him to the base in one fluid motion, leaning back to support herself with her hands, her heavy breasts bouncing as she settled atop him. She didn’t move for a few moments, enjoying the sensation of his cock throbbing inside her, giving him time to savor the feeling of her silken walls pressing around him. She was so hot, feverish, her insides fitting him as tightly as a tailored glove. He could feel her every breath, her every subtle movement translating into her loins, squeezing his manhood with all the dexterity and fine control of a fist.

She began to rock her wide hips back and forth, slow and steady, rolling her horned head back as she cupped one of her swaying breasts. Ryan watched with drooping eyelids as she kneaded the pillowy flesh, as malleable as wet clay beneath the hands of a sculptor, yet pert enough to spring back to its perfect shape when she relented. Her paunchy belly twisted, the abdominal muscles beneath flexing and writhing, her flowing motions as much dancing as lovemaking.

Ryan sank his fingers into the quivering meat of her thighs, her burnished skin yielding beneath them, dimpled by her developed muscles.

She seemed almost as taken with their newfound pace as he was, her reflective eyes unfocused, her body shifting and gyrating mechanically as she let her reflexes take control. She ground his rigid erection against the velvet walls of her passage, pleasure sparking as if the lovers were naught but two pieces of flint being struck together.

They fed into each other, every throb and shiver felt by one reflected in the other, human and demon trapped in an endless spiral that took them higher and higher towards their inevitable climax. The other Seirim were still going about their sordid business all around them, but he was completely consumed by Nahash. A blindfold was not necessary to keep his attention focused on her.

She was doing that thing with her hips again – it was mesmerizing. Percussive, sinuous movements, shimmies and slow figures of eight as if she was dancing to some unheard rhythm. She raised her arms above her head as though lost in a trance, drawing shapes in the firelight as Ryan thrust into her from below.

It was an ever-changing pressure that stroked and squeezed him from the inside, as if she had reached a hand down into her very body and was massaging him through her satin walls, her wet flesh gliding against his skin as it wrapped him in warmth and pleasure. She had such fine control over her body, seemingly able to manipulate every muscle in her torso with the dexterity that one might have moved a finger, her pace constantly alternating to keep him on his toes.

She had him locked between her massive thighs, like a pair of damned tree trunks, her glassy skin shining with an almost reflective sheen of sweat as she twisted and thrust. There was such a wonderful fullness to her body, her weight lavishly distributed to all of the places that drew the male gaze, buxom and shapely as the shadows cast by the fading fire accentuated her curves. She was fertility given form, the sight of her tickling every primal instinct buried deep within his brain. Her hips and thighs were such that she could have strapped an anvil about her belly and carried it without breaking stride.

Ryan felt a newfound aggression welling inside him, a burning heat in his stomach that demanded action, an impulse as old as time itself as Nahash rocked back and forth on top of him. She sensed it, slowing as she gazed down at him, smirking at his red face.

“Do I excite you so? Do not deny your impulses – let them overtake you. Do as nature intended.”

She seemed to know what he wanted before he did, catching him in her thighs like a wrestler and rolling over onto her back, bringing him with her so that he was lying on top of her. She propped herself up on her elbows as she looked down at him expectantly, her breasts spreading under their own substantial weight, her legs parting to present herself to him in invitation.

His member had slipped out of her during the tussle, glistening with her excitement as it throbbed in the cool night air, a thick strand of her juices breaking to fall to the pelt below. He could feel the heat coming off her as he glanced down at her lips, rosy and swollen with anticipation, her pink flesh dripping and twitching as if begging for his attention.

“Are you going to ravish me?” Nahash asked with mock surprise in her voice. She was taunting him, goading him on, her golden eyes sly as they watched him expectantly.

She laughed as he took her hourglass hips in his hands, clawing at her supple meat, pressing his pulsing member between her labia to grind it up and down her vulva. Her massive thighs quivered, her expression turning sultry, Nahash biting absentmindedly on one of her dull claws as she let the sensation wash over her with an appreciative sigh. Their contact was so slippery, hot enough that he feared he might melt, a bead of his own excitement welling at the tip of his member as their loins rubbed together.

She was so touchable, he couldn’t get enough of it, taking handfuls of her doughy flesh and squeezing it between his fingers. Her body was a playground. Wherever his hands roamed, they were met with her paunchy curves, pale skin as smooth as varnished wood and feathery wool that was as deep and as opulent as the finest fur coat.

He couldn’t hold back any longer, using his leverage to thrust inside her, the sudden penetration making Nahash arch her spine. She pushed up to meet him, taking him as deep as he could go, the two of them shivering together as their bodies joined. She was even tighter than before, her passage narrowing around him as she took his member to the hilt, every twitch and shiver translating through her smooth walls as he felt her welcoming thighs press around him. Her head lolled back, crowned by a forest twisted horns, the Seirim taking in a sharp breath as he pulled back out of her. Her passage clung to him, sucking ardently as if attempting to keep him there.

Perhaps she wasn’t accustomed to being on the receiving end? Her purpose was to seduce men, after all, to have her prey so affected and so mesmerized by her seductive powers and her illusory magick that they could scarcely do more than writhe beneath her like beached fish. He was surprised by how sensitive she now seemed, how she reacted to every pulse of his member inside her, feeling the warm blood rushing through his organ as it throbbed and flexed.

Her clenching muscles finally relinquished their hold on him, and he took a moment to rub his glans against her glistening sex, feeling the firmness of her engorged clitoris and her delicate folds beneath it. Her gaze was hungrier now, those yellow eyes locked to his as if to convey some unspoken threat, don’t you dare stop.

Ryan would have taken her by the horns like a bull if he could reach, but her head seemed a mile away from him due to their difference in stature. Instead, he contented himself with taking rough handfuls of her hips and belly for purchase, slamming back inside her with all of the force that he could muster. Her seizing depths sealed around him as if he had sprung a trap, flesh like satin soaked in honey pressing down on him from all sides, her pillowy thighs closing around him with a vice grip to pull him closer.

They quickly found a pace that suited them both. It was slow and heavy, silent save for their primal grunts and sighs, as if their bodies were communicating on some lower and more base level than language could achieve. He relinquished control as she had advised, his reflexes taking over, running on autopilot as his conscious mind gave way to raw passion and animal instinct. She used her legs to slam him harder and deeper, crossing them behind his rump, the lurid sounds of their coitus joining those of her sisters to echo through the clearing.

Nahash reached a hand behind his head, bringing him close as she lay on her back. She pressed her breasts together with her upper arms, pulling his face down between them, pushing it into her boundless cleavage. Her earthy scent filled his lungs, her smooth skin brushing against his burning cheeks as her soft wool tickled him, Ryan finding himself completely enveloped. He rested his weight on her without fear of causing her any discomfort, her voluptuous body rocking like a waterbed as they moved together.

Doing this outside had its benefits. The night breeze cooled their sweat-drenched bodies, the dim firelight giving everything a dreamlike quality as it bathed them in its flickering glow. He nuzzled, rubbing his face between her yielding boobs as she squashed them around his head with her biceps, his fingers exploring whatever they could reach. There was a soft layer of fat on her back, his digits sliding over the dimples at the base of her spine, his hands roaming lower to weigh her rump as it rose from the furry pelt beneath them to meet his thrusts. Her ample cheeks were more than two hands could handle – it was like trying to lift a beanbag chair – malleable flesh spilling between his fingers as he probed for the firmer muscle beneath.

Some of the Seirim around the bonfire had turned their attention to the couple now, eyes like golden coins peering at them through the gloom, heads rising from between parted thighs to stare in their direction. They could sense his emotions just as Nahash could. They could feel the palpable carnality and lust, as alluring to them as fresh meat was to a wolf, drawing them to him like moths to a flame. They slowly crawled towards the rutting pair, some on their hands and knees, others crouched low as though trying to avoid detection.

It was a little unnerving, or at least, it would have been if Ryan had not been completely consumed by his desire for Nahash. He barely registered them as they crowded around the pelt, heads adorned with gnarled horns swaying back and forth, peering over one another and jostling to get a better look like dogs lurking beneath a table in anticipation of falling scraps. They were lit only by the firelight, a ring of ghostly figures surrounding the two lovers, cast in dark shadow as they wet their lips and watched with a tangible craving.

He got the distinct impression that they would have jumped him had Nahash not already staked her claim, a dozen of the comely creatures taking turns, having their way with him to sate their supernatural lust. As good as that might feel, Ryan was smitten with his own Seirim, his lover squirming beneath him as he glanced up at the encroaching spirits.

Nahash noticed them too, her expression softening as though she felt pity for them. She had secured a mate while they had not, leaving her kin to satisfy their own needs. Azazel had hidden the clearing from mortals who might come snooping and who would usually have served as sustenance for the hungry Satyrs. They would probably resume their ancient activities soon, luring men to their bonfire in order to feed on their emotions, feasting on their pleasure and gorging themselves on the energy that sustained them. But not tonight.

There was something exciting about being watched by so many ravenous Seirim, Nahash smirking at him as he redoubled his efforts, running her dull claws up and down his spine as he plunged in and out of her. He was getting close – it was impossible to hang on for long with Nahash. The very purpose of her existence was seduction. Whether Azazel had conceived her with that goal in mind, or if she was merely the natural result of copulation between the Watcher and a beautiful mortal woman, she radiated sensuality in a way that made her irresistible to him.

Those nights that he had spent in her arms, the heavy globes of her chest pressing tantalizingly against his body, feeling her warmth and the slow beat of her heart but not being able to indulge the impulses that raged within him…it had been enough to drive him half insane. Now, she was bound to him, the unnaturally heavy wedding band gripping his ring finger tightly as a constant reminder. Her libido was insatiable, and he doubted that a night would go by from now on where she didn’t exhaust him.

Nahash increased her pace, their bodies slamming together with renewed vigor, pulses of raw pleasure rolling over him as her passage flexed and contracted as if trying to draw his emission from his body through sheer force. She crossed her arms behind his neck, leaning forward to plant her soft lips against his, stealing a wanton kiss as they fucked in earnest. He delved his fingers into the soft ruff of wool that lined her neck and shoulders, gripping it as one would the hair of a lover, pulling her towards him as he met her embrace. Her tongue slid into his mouth, his head spinning as her long organ danced across his palate, wholly unashamed.

It pushed him over the edge, and he felt a pressure swelling inside him, an urge that was impossible to deny as wracking pleasure seized his muscles. Nahash blinked as she felt his member throb, her thighs tightening around him, squeezing him close in anticipation. She broke off their kiss, wrapping her arms around him. She plunged his head into her cleavage, his strained groan muffled by her bust, the first pulse of searing pleasure driving a thick wad of his emission from his trembling body.

Nahash gasped as she felt its warmth spread through her like magma, her legs gripping him almost painfully as if trying to take him deeper. Ryan’s mind went blank, his eyes tightly closed as another throb tormented him, his nerves lighting up like a Christmas tree as his body forced another flood of ejaculate into Nahash. Her pelvic floor muscles milked it from him, rolling up his shaft in waves, tighter and hotter than anything that he had ever felt. She came too, a guttural grunt slipping past her pursed lips as her massive body began to quake. Ryan could feel the vibrations in her loins, the rhythmic contractions making her passage wring him of everything he could give her, painting her most intimate reaches with his seed.

They clung to each other tightly, their roaming hands taking purchase wherever they could, their bodies heaving together like one organism. He heard her heart pumping, his ear pressed against her fluffy chest, her bosom shaking around his head as her orgasm tore through her. His muscles burned with exertion, his climax almost painful in its intensity, glistening sweat making their skin slippery.

The Seirim watched them, their long lashes fluttering, their golden eyes losing their focus as what must have been surges of white-hot pleasure washed over them. They felt what he felt, and while he wasn’t sure how intense it was for them, they were visibly stirred. Hands shot between thighs and sought out breasts, long tongues wetting lips, the creatures practically salivating as they dined on his second-hand euphoria.

One last shudder rolled over him as he gave her his last, Nahash’s silken walls coaxing it from him with all the finesse of a trained hand. He slid out of her, along with a cloudy blend of their emission that dripped to the pelt below, matting the fur as strands of it clung to her milky thighs. Her ample chest heaved as she caught her breath, a hand sneaking down to rub her sodden mound, easing out one last shivering aftershock.

Ryan was glowing. He felt giddy, a satisfied ache permeating his lower body as his muscles recovered from their ordeal. His member was glazed with her juices, sticky and wet, and he fell back to sit between her giant legs as she smirked down at him.

In a second, the Seirim that had surrounded them set upon him, half a dozen pairs of clawed hands gripping his chest and arms. They slid across his belly and thighs, his body still tender and sensitive, a cry of surprise escaping his lips as their desperate explorations pierced the haze of his ecstasy.

“H-hey! What are you…”

Three heads darted between his legs as the sisters eased them apart, Ryan too dazed and exhausted to put up much resistance, the Seirim jostling and bumping into each other as they attempted to get at his still rigid member. He clutched at a pair of horns as one of them curled its serpentine tongue around his cock and dragged it into her mouth, sucking away the viscous juices greedily. Before she could finish, one of her sisters had shoved her aside, taking her place as her lips crawled across his shaft. Another mouthed at his inner thigh, licking away whatever drops of fluid she could find, while a fourth dragged her tongue across his belly. Sparks danced before his eyes, his opposition melting away as they cleaned him. One of the Seirim cupped the face of one of her quicker sisters in her hands, slipping her tongue into her mouth to get a taste, the pair falling to the pelt as they embraced.

The same was happening to Nahash, who was biting her lip as she watched some of her fellow spirits go down on her, their long tongues digging deep inside her in an attempt to reach the lurid concoction that had been pumped into her depths. He could see flashes of pink as they licked and probed, two tongues winding into her passage at once as more of the frantic Seirim cleaned her thighs like people dying of thirst licking the dew from a rock.

When they were done, they scurried back to their respective pelts around the fire, the show apparently over. Ryan glanced at Nahash with eyes that he was barely keeping open, and she reached for him, bringing him with her as she collapsed onto her side. They lay together, tired and satisfied, the pink glow of the rising sun just beginning to show over the forest as the embers of the fire smoldered.

“As I mentioned, the fluids borne of our union have powerful alchemic properties,” Nahash said apologetically. “They are irresistible to my neglected sisters. I could not deny them a taste. I hope you don’t mind their intrusion.”

“I feel bad for them,” he sighed, nestled in her arms as he lay his head in her feathery ruff. “Will they be okay? What will happen to them now?”

“Azazel sees no reason to intercede. This night was for our benefit, and once we have left, they will no doubt resume their ancient activities. They will lure wandering mortals with their dancing and revelry in order to feed on their sexual energy. Things will be as they once were.”

“Is that going to work out in the modern era?” Ryan wondered. “News travels fast these days. What if they’re discovered?”

“I honestly don’t know,” she replied, stroking his hair with her dull claws. “But, I’m sure that they’ll be fine under Azazel’s guidance. He is wise and powerful.”

“And, you won’t be coming back here?”

She took his hand in hers, drawing his attention to the black ring that clung to his finger.

“I have no need of summoning circles or sanctuaries any longer. As long as Azazel is fed with energy, I shall not want for it either. Though, if it’s all the same to you, I would like you to keep the chalk circle that you drew on the floor of your apartment. It can be…soothing to rest within its boundaries.”

“So that’s why you were always crashing on my couch,” he laughed. “Does…this mean that you’re moving in with me?”

She chuckled, pulling his face into her fur.

“I go wherever that ring goes, and if you are living in your apartment, then I suppose that I am too. I can come and go as I please, of course. The immaterium is always open to me, but as you know, I prefer to be corporeal whenever possible. I love this plane of existence,” she sighed, glancing up at the sky wistfully. “Everything from the feeling of firm ground beneath my hooves to the taste of the rain on my tongue.”

“Suits me just fine,” he replied. “It’ll be nice to have someone to come home to again.”

Ryan felt a chill crawl up his spine, and he propped himself up on his elbows, looking over Nahash’s prone figure at the fading bonfire. Azazel was crouched beside it, cast in dark shadows, his three ruby-red eyes staring at Ryan through the gloom. He heard the Watcher laugh to himself, a rumbling sound that was as much the bleat of a goat as anything of human origin, and then he unfurled a pair of great leathery wings. They must have been twenty feet across, kicking up dust as they flapped, lifting the great creature off the ground. The wind blew out the bonfire as if it had been nothing more than a candle. It cast the clearing into darkness, that trio of smoldering eyes all that was visible as Azazel rose into the dark sky, the fading laughter heard only in Ryan’s head as the beast vanished over the treetops.

He fell back to the pelt, that ominous voice echoing in his head, wondering what Azazel’s deal was. Where was he going? Had he unwittingly unleashed some kind of monster upon the world? As bad as the fallen angel’s rep was, he had done nothing so far to indicate any malice or evil intent, and yet his mere presence made Ryan’s skin crawl.

Nahash pulled him close, her warmth driving away the cool morning air, and she whispered to him as fatigue began to overcome them both.

“Thank you, Ryan, for all that you have done.”

“I should be the one thanking you,” he replied sleepily, suppressing a yawn. “I might have been living in a tent in these woods right now if it wasn’t for you and Orobas.”

His life had taken such a strange and sudden turn, but despite everything that had happened, this was starting to feel normal. Maybe that was what it really meant to be a magician – having this insanity be a part of your daily life and being able to handle it without losing your grip on reality. He shuffled closer to Nahash, feeling her smooth skin beneath his fingertips, listening to her slow and steady breathing. It was hypnotic, and he closed his eyes, joining her in an exhausted and contented sleep.

CHAPTER 10: A TASTE OF FREEDOM

Becky mounted the steps of the apartment complex, muttering angrily to herself, tapping at her phone as she rounded the corner and made her way past the numbered doors towards Ryan’s apartment. How dare he ignore her calls. She had wanted to teach him a lesson, that was all. He was supposed to realize what he had been doing wrong and man up, start giving her the attention that she deserved instead of taking her for granted. Instead, he had gone dark, dropping off the face of the earth and refusing to answer any of her calls or messages. She hadn’t seen head nor tail of him since they had met at the coffee shop that day. Worse, she had seen a new car in his parking spot the last time she had driven by, a nice one. Had he landed a better job since they’d split up?

She rapped on the door loudly, then stood back and waited with her hands planted on her hips, silently seething as she heard the door unlock from the other side. She was ready to tear into Ryan as soon as she saw his face, a thousand curses and insults swirling in her head, but the wind was taken out of her sails as the door opened.

There was a woman standing in his apartment, tall and willowy, with pale skin and platinum-blonde hair that bordered on silver. She was wearing a fluffy, white bathrobe as if she had just gotten out of the shower. She was beautiful, and Becky was taken aback for a moment, her face reddening as she realized that she had been supplanted.

“Where’s Ryan?” Becky demanded, the tall woman cocking her head curiously as she examined her with a pair of hazel eyes that were so light as to appear amber under the right conditions.

“He is working,” she replied in an accent that was hard to pin down. Damn it, even her voice was sexy, Becky fuming silently as she looked her new competition up and down in disdain.

“Well, I need to speak with him, and he hasn’t been answering his phone.”

“You must be Becky,” the strange woman mused, a smile curling her lips. “Ryan has told me all about you.”

“Oh?” Becky replied, blowing a strand of her dark hair out of her face. “I’m afraid he hasn’t told me anything about you. Who might you be?”

“My name is…Natasha,” the stranger said with a smile. “Pleased to meet you.”

Becky simmered with quiet jealousy. Had Ryan done this just to get back at her for cheating? It had only been a couple of months, and she knew that he was no Casanova. To replace her so quickly, he must have been motivated by more than just loneliness. Asking a total stranger if she was banging her ex wasn’t exactly the polite thing to do, but with no access to Ryan, it was the only way to satisfy her curiosity.

“Am I to assume that you two are…?” Becky trailed off, prompting the woman to finish her thought.

“I’m his wife,” the woman replied, raising her hand and brandishing a black ring so that Becky could see it. Becky’s brow furrowed as her anger got the better of her. In the few weeks that they had been apart, the bastard had gotten married? He’d been with Becky for three goddamned years, and he’d never tried to tie the knot.

She couldn’t believe that Ryan had bounced back so quickly. A new job, a new car, a new girl. It was as if Becky had never existed, and she couldn’t abide being ignored. It was the one thing that drove her crazy.

“So, you won’t tell him to call me, then?”

“I could relay a message for you,” Natasha suggested in that infuriating, breathy voice. “What did you want to tell him?”

“Just tell him that he’s a piece of shit,” Becky snapped. “Where did he meet you, anyway? Vegas? He can’t have known you for more than a few weeks.”

“Don’t you believe in romance, Becky?” Natasha asked as she smirked at her. The bitch was taunting her, unbelievable.

“I just wonder which one was cheaper,” Becky hissed. “You, or the car?”

She turned her back on the woman, storming off down the corridor.

“Wait,” Natasha said, and Becky stopped to look back at her.

“What?”

A cold filled the corridor, chilling her to the bone, a smell like rotten eggs stinging her nose. The tall woman was standing outside of the apartment now, just staring at her, those hazel eyes now glowing yellow like those of a cat. A shadow crept along the walls and ceiling to fill the hallway, crawling along the carpeted floor as if it was being cast by grasping fingers, reaching out to her. Becky wanted to scream, but the sound caught in her throat and petered out into a whimper, her feet refusing to move as though she was caught in a nightmare.

Natasha grew, the already tall woman stretching as Becky watched in horror. Her legs cracked and creaked as they snapped into a new shape, her bones appearing to break before Becky’s eyes. A crown of gnarled horns sprouted from her blonde hair as if they were growing out of her skull, rising to brush the ceiling. Her fingers grew claws, her arms elongating, her face stretching grotesquely as the previously beautiful woman opened her mouth and brayed like a goat.

Becky’s flight reflex finally kicked in, and she fled in the direction of the stairwell as if the devil himself was on her heels, stumbling over herself as she descended as fast as her feet could carry her. She reached the bottom, bursting through the door of the complex and out into the street, rushing past a startled Ryan without so much as glancing at him.

***

Ryan stepped through the door of his apartment, throwing his jacket onto the coat rack. He found Nahash lounging on the couch where he had left her, a mug of steaming coffee in her hand.

“Welcome home,” she said, taking a long sip as she watched him walk over to her. She made space for him, and he flopped down beside her, kicking off his shoes as she draped an arm over his shoulders. “How was work?”

“Good,” Ryan replied. “But, the strangest thing just happened. I could have sworn that I saw Becky running out of the main entrance just now. She went by too fast for me to be sure, but whoever it was looked like they’d just seen a ghost. Did you…do something?”

Nahash hid her smirk behind the mug as she took another sip.

“That was Becky, yes. She came looking for you, but I politely informed her that you weren’t taking visitors at this time. She is a remarkably jealous and avaricious woman. I don’t understand what you saw in her.”

“Unfortunately, I lack the ability to read people’s emotions like you do,” he chuckled. “Sometimes, you can live with a person for years and never truly know them. What have you been doing all day?”

“Exploring,” she replied, swirling her drink around in the mug. “We had coffee back in my time, but I like yours better.”

He glanced at the coffee table in front of the couch, seeing that it was strewn with wrappers and containers.

“Looks like you’ve been busy,” he mused, leaning over to pick up an empty bottle of hot sauce. “Did you…drink this?”

“I like the way it burns,” she replied, delving her clawed fingers into his hair to stroke him as he sat back. He exhaled, his muscles relaxing. She really knew how to help him unwind. “Next time you buy food, bring me more like it,” she added excitedly. “The spicier, the better.”

“Or, you could actually put it on food as intended,” he suggested. “Hell, I’m making enough now to buy you whatever you want. I can think of a hundred things that you might like to try. It might not have been conjured by a Watcher, but I’m pretty sure I can find some dishes that you’ve never tasted before. We live in a global economy now, y’know. Oh, that reminds me…”

Ryan reached into his pocket and withdrew a small plastic packet, tossing it into her lap. She picked it up gingerly and examined it, struggling to read the brand name.

Pop…Rocks? What is this?”

He helped her open the packaging and poured some of the tiny, pink crystals into his hand.

“Stick your tongue out,” he said, and her long organ parted her lips obediently. He tipped them onto it, and she took them into her mouth, Ryan failing to suppress a grin as her eyes widened.

“What is that!?”

“It’s just candy,” he laughed. “I saw it at the food court at work, and I thought of you. I’ll get you something sour next time, maybe a Warhead. I can guarantee that you didn’t have those back in Sumeria.”

She smiled as the candy fizzed on her tongue, every sensation, every taste and scent an adventure to her. It made Ryan realize how much he took for granted. The gentle breeze, the feeling of a warm shower on his skin, the sensation of a cold drink soothing his parched throat on a hot day. She was giving him a whole new appreciation for life. She had been deprived of a physical form for so long that she took pleasure in the simplest of things, and he would do well to follow her example.

“What of tomorrow?” Nahash asked after the effects of the candy had worn off. “Are we still visiting the shore?”

“Yeah, I got tomorrow off,” he replied with a nod. “My boss was surprisingly cool about it. Whatever you did to make them like me, it stuck. The moon will be full, and it’s a weekday, so nobody will be around. We can spend the whole night down there.”

“I want to feel sand beneath my hooves again, smell the salt on the breeze,” she sighed. “I’ve not seen the ocean in eons.”

He patted her thigh reassuringly, then rose to his feet, stretching his arms above his head.

“Well, we’d better get some food. I’ve not eaten since lunch. Let’s get takeout. Judging by your recent…explorations, I’m thinking buffalo chicken. Don’t cock your head at me, I know you don’t know what that is. You’ll just have to trust me.”

She rose from the couch to stand behind him, the weight of her breasts resting on his shoulders as she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close.

“And after?” she whispered in his ear. “I hunger for more than just food, Ryan. There are other desires that I wish to sate.”

She brought her lips down to plant a kiss on his neck, sending a pleasant shiver rolling down his spine. The familiar warmth of her magick flooded through him, making him dizzy, like he had just taken a shot of whiskey.

“All in good time,” he replied. “The night is still young.”

-THE END-