Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Contractual Obligations (Part 1 and 2)

Jan. 21 and 22

I'd fucked it up. After 92 years of diligence it was embarrassing how it finished. It had to end sometime, but I had hoped it would be a little more dignified than my smudging the conjuring circle after I slipped in a puddle of melted snow while making tea.

My head was throbbing and I could recognize Cid's eerily handsome face even blurred. My glasses had fallen off and I absently wondered if they were broken.

"The circle is broken, Lindy," was all he said. But the hairs on my arms stood upright.

When I had first conjured him in my cozy kitchenette, he had been a ball of slithering, spitting wrath. You Shall Know Pain Unlike Anything You Have Ever Experienced. Each word was emphasized just enough to make me aware of the capitalized letters. Sparks flew from his eyes. He put on quite the show of speaking in tongues, throwing flames and having a righteous tantrum. It took forever to get the stink of sulphur out, and I still may lost my security deposit.

But my circles have always been strong. I got top marks for six straight years. I graduated at the top of the class, double majoring in Conjuration and Summoning and Hexology, with minor Advanced Critical Arcane Theory.

Even with all that, I spent nearly a quarter of a century researching this particular binding. I practiced on lesser thralls, perfecting not only my technique but my questions. But the lesser demons knew a lot of dirt. And often times were willing to spill their guts for nothing more than a glass of warm milk and a chocolate chip cookie. Those items were premium in Hell, apparently.

The higher order of demons rubbed elbows with Lucifer and Asmodeus and prior to taking a nose dive from the silver spires of the heaven, knew a thing or two, which made them tricky to bind. There are litanies of names of foolish mages who tried and failed to properly bind those of the higher orders.

Melkin the Elder had a solid binding and had snagged a high-ranking Cherub. The Elder requested limitless power. Which seemed great, until the demon had made the master wizard paranoid - since he had gifted him all this power, couldn't he just take it away? The beast played dumb, until in a fit of pique, Melkin released the binding in order to see if he could beat him. Rather than face the enraged caster, the Cherub hid himself away. Melkin ended up incinerating himself looking for the damn thing.

Imps playing dead until the Apprentice stepped into the circle only to be disemboweled; a Sorceress who is still possessed and harrying the people of a far off kingdom after her mother promised the devil she had bound the first thing to greet her upon returning home - thinking it would be her faithful dog, she didn't think much of it.

One witch lost her soul when she failed to specify that the demon wasn't allowed to kill her family. A warlock bit it when he was driven to suicide after not putting in an anti-vexation and insanity clause. One entire school was swallowed up by the earth - we're not entirely sure what that contract said, but we imagine the irony fit the bill.

No matter how well you cross your Ts and dot your Is, it turns out bad. But it never really stops anyone. I thought I was better than that - and I was.

Until I wasn't. Until I had to shovel the walk to the propane guy could deliver and a bit of snow melted in my kitchen.

The first decade had been the worst. Cid probed every whorl in the circle, and tested every rune to its limit. He hissed with increasing frustration. Nothing worked.

Once he realized he couldn't force his way out he sat in the middle of the circle and stared at me with his odd, goat-like eyes.

The contract was something that everyone tried their best. But even practitioners of the arcane arts are ultimately human. I brought mine to the best law firm in the country and paid through the nose to have it gone over with a fine tooth comb. Then I brought it to the Inquisitors to make sure I hadn't missed any other divine loopholes. I checked it and double checked it and quadruple checked it.

"Before we get down to business, you'll note that the circle places you firmly in my kitchenette. You have access to the island. I made you scones and there's fresh tea."

Cid took the scones and ground them into the tiled floor and flung the tea against the edge of the circle where it vaporized upon impact. I expected as much. Most of the big guys stayed in hell on principle.

"I'll thank you not to throw around my good china. Now, if you're quite finished, here," I handed over the contract. He took it with an audible sigh and began flipping through it. After the first few pages his eyes narrowed. Suddenly he laughed and then looked at me.

"Are you serious?"

"Oh, yes. Quite serious."

The laugher slowly drained from he eyes and he just stared at me for what seemed like an age. I simply stared back and he blinked and then looked at the contract again.

"I need a pen."

"There's a pen on the counter," I said. "There's also another batch of scones in the oven. Try not drop them this time."

And that had been not quite a century ago. And we'd both worked quite hard keeping up our ends of the bargain. He supplied me with lead upon lead. I supplied him with any book he asked for and home cooked meals. He was particularly fond of bacon and cheese scrambles.

Each day I would reinvigorate the wards on the circle. I made sure to have an exorcist visit once a month. I did my best to hit the confessional on the regular and work at my end of things.

I felt his arms lifting me up to a sitting position. His hands were bitingly cold, even through the fabric of my blouse. I started shivering immediately. My stomach lurched and I honestly wasn't sure if I could keep from vomiting. It would fit in with the rest of this grueling embarrassment. All I would need to do is crap my pants to complete the scene. We were so close.

I opened my eyes and pushed my silvery hair away from my face. I could feel blood running down the side of my face. There was a bright red puddle, about the size of silver-dollar pancake on the floor where I'd lain. I wasn't sure how long I'd been out.

"Don't move," said Cid. And I froze, he was squatting next to me and at first I was seeing him in double. I swallowed and made my eyes focus. His face was preternaturally still.

"Did you mean it?" he asked.

I hesitated for just a moment surprised that I even had the option to reply. "Yes. With all my heart."

"Then we aren't done yet," said and handed me the contract and tapped his taloned hand at clause 74-B.

"Should the circle become broken, the Contained is, of course, free to do what it will."

He stood up and went to the sink and ran the water. He held his hand under the flow and frowned at it. Rummaging through the draws he found my meat thermometer and used it on the tap water. He nodded and then held a dishrag under the tap.

"You said you wanted to 'fix this,'" he said, he came back over to me and hunkered down he could stare at me with his odd eyes. I felt a warm wet cloth being pressed against the side of my face. "I still have a few more leads you can check on. You know, when you're feeling up for it."

I watched him, my head was throbbing, and I held the cloth to my bump - I probably needed ice rather than a warm compress, but demons always were rather shit when it came to healing.

Cid moved back to the kitchenette and began to putz around. Filling the kettle with water and putting it on the stove. He scooped some loose-leaf tea into the infuser. He leaned against the counter and looked at me.

"You don't trust me," he said.

I shrugged, and swallowed my nausea.

"I've got a concussion, Cid, and I just released a high-order demon into the mundane world. Let's just say, I'm not on my best game today," I said. He threw back his head and laughed. He stopped suddenly and touched his mouth and then frowned.

"They train us about your kind, you know," he said, still holding me with his gaze. "They make sure we know that you're all liars, just trying to scrape for power, money, or sex. Maybe a few other things. That any deal you make will get you those things. But it didn't make sense, what you were asking for."

I put the cloth down, it was soaked red. I felt light headed and had a twinge of worry that I might actually die. Head wounds bleed a lot, I remembered reading that.

"In order for this to work, you needed to see it," I said. "You needed to see that not everyone is like that. All you see, for all of eternity, are those of use who screw it up. And we do, because we're just people. But some of us get it right. Not all the time - I'm no saint. But enough of the time. But how would you know? I'm going to barf, Cid - be a dear and get me a bowl."

Pressing the cloth against my mouth, my whole body hitched and I could taste vomit as it burned at the back of my throat. Cid hurriedly got me a large basin, just in time. My head felt like it was going to split in half as I retched. When I was finished I sighed.

"Can you drive?" I asked, and he shook his head.

"I have other means of transport. But ... you won't like it."

"I don't like vomiting with my head busted either. I suppose it's all relative," I said. "If we're going to go, you should turn the kettle off."

Cid turned off the kettle, made sure the birds that came to the feeder had plenty to eat, and helped me lock up. He then quickly drew a pentagram on the floor. He scooped me up and I had the not altogether unpleasant feeling of being cradled in the arms of a terrifyingly powerful being, but feeling very safe. I allowed myself a little contented sigh. I hadn't felt like this since I'd lost Chester, who had died from a brain aneurysm in our tenth year of marriage. I snorted lightly, wondering just what Chester would think of the situation I'd gotten myself into.

"What is funny?" he asked. I patted Cid's chest, my whole body felt heavy, especially my head.

"If you can't see what's funny about this, Cid, I don't know if I can explain. But I think you should hurry. I'm so tired," I whispered. My eyes fluttered closed and I hardly felt it when we transposed ourselves interdimensionally. Which, if you know anything about travelling through the outer realms, is a sign that I'd hit my head rather harder than either of us realized. Tearing through space and time is incredibly uncomfortable for mortals. Ask anyone who's been through a black hole.

I woke up to beeping and the smells of antiseptic mixed with bedpans. There was a tube in my throat that was breathing for me and my arms were strapped to the bed. Which, in retrospect, that was for the best because I wanted very badly to pull out all the carefully placed tubes and needles. Doctors frown on such behavior, thus the tying down. Another machine began to beep loudly as I struggled against my restraints, failing utterly not to panic and gag against the intubation. Within seconds, the tiny room was buzzing with folks in surgical masks and pasteled scrubs. Someone injected a shot of something into my drip and the world blurred out again.

The next time I woke the tube was out of my throat, which still felt raw. My wrists were still bound in padded straps, but there was a button near my hand. And I did what anyone would do, I pressed the button. Glancing around the room I saw it was filled with monitors that buzzed and beeped along with my heartbeat and measured my oxygen levels. It was otherwise empty. And I felt tears unexpectedly spring to my eyes. With no way to dab them away, they trickled down my face and soaked into the sterile white pillow.

The door opened and a nurse bustled in.

"Look who's up!" she said, and smiled at me. "You had quite the day, haven't you?"

Rather than reply, I turned both hands upwards and raised them as far as the restraints allowed.

"Do you promise to behave?" she asked. I suppressed the urge to answer honestly and simply nodded instead. The nurse began to unstrap me, and the sense of relief was immense. Suddenly, I felt awful. Poor Cid.

"I don't blame him for leaving," I muttered.

"Who? Your son? He just went to get a sandwich. We could tell he didn't like seeing you all hooked up. Betty sent an intern to let him know you were up."

"My... son?" I asked.

"Yes," said the nurse, who glanced at me with concern peering deeply into my eyes. "I'm going to ask you a few questions. What is your name?"

"Linette Dearstrom," I said.

"How old are you Ms. Dearstrom?"

"I'm two hundred and ten in March," I said.

"You look wonderful for your age, if you don't mind my saying. You'll have to tell me which hedgewitch you see," said the nurse. "Who is Prime Minister?"

"Unless I've been out longer than I thought, it should be Sage Venicus the IV," I said.

"And your son is...."

My eyes flickered to the door just as he returned and I smiled and he smiled back. "Cid."

"Great!" said the nurse.

[WP] The demon that tried to strike a deal with you was absolutely not prepared for the level of specificity you've prepared to make sure there are no loopholes for him to abuse.