Gayness and spanking and black magic? Not perhaps a work the Christian Family Fellowship will be recommending as light reading.
I was roused from a nasty dream by the sound of harps - not, in this case, the heavenly host, but the ringtone on my mobile. The drum accompaniment was the vibrate setting attempting to jump said mobile off the bedside locker, a task in which it was only thwarted by all the other rubbish piled up there.
I peered blearily at the alarm clock: 2:25 AM. This was unlikely to be good news. The caller id on the phone said 'Mitchell' - my boss, and the High Druid of England. The real one, not the guy you see prancing round Stonehenge at midsummer. That confirmed it, if there had been any doubt. Definitely not good news. That thought cut through enough of the fog in my brain for me to answer the phone.
"Emmet? Thanks be, I was beginning to wonder if you'd lost your phone again."
"Mitch, it's half-past two in the morning. I might be the youngest Warden, but I'm not a teenager. I was asleep."
"I know, I'm sorry. You know that I wouldn't if - I'm afraid there's a problem."
"I gathered. What is it this time?"
"A demon summoning gone wrong, it seems. That's Marsha's best estimate, anyway. There is a definite spike at the demonic end of the scale, her pendulum was rotating so fast it was practically glowing. And there's a pretty gory mess at the scene - the summoner, one assumes. The police have asked for backup, as per the Protocols."
"Bugger. Can't one of the others…" even as I said it I could hear my own voice shading slightly into a whine.
"No they can't," he said heavily. "Look, Em, don't make this harder than it needs to be, there's a good boy. Of those who are currently active and on duty only you, Steven, or Elaine know enough formal magic to deal with a botched demon ritual, and Elaine has neither the grasp of Aramaic, nor, frankly, the raw power that you do. And you know why Steven's not around to send."
Ouch. Yes, I did know. Steven was, if all had gone well, in some godforsaken bit of the Highlands dealing with something that walked about without any skin and had left at least 3 people needing heavy duty sedation for the foreseeable future and brought about the deaths of 2 others. And that was down to me, because Mitch had wanted me to go and I had point blank refused to leave civilisation for the northern wilds. What goes around…
"Comes around, yes," agreed my boss. I hadn't realised up to that point that I had said it aloud. Perhaps I hadn't. Mitch is pretty powerful in his own right.
"Ah fuck it. OK, where is it?"
"Clerkenwell. They're sending a police car to pick you up - it should be with you shortly. The man in charge is a DI Marchmont, Mike Marchmont."
"You know him?"
"I've met him a couple of times. He doesn't like us. He doesn't like the supernatural - it offends him personally, and he seems to think we're responsible."
There was a pause at the other end of the line. "Now Em, you will play nicely, won't you? I have enough problems without you upsetting the Met."
"Oh I'll be a good boy. Cross my heart."
"Hmph." There was a crackle as he put down the phone. I got up, washed and dressed, not rushing - if the plodmobile turned up before I was ready it could bloody well wait. As it turned out, the knock on the door came just as I finished putting various items I thought I might need into my satchel.
Perfect timing, boys, I thought sourly. The knock came again, harder and somehow more irritated sounding. I opened the door before they could get into real police mode and break it down.
"All right, all right, I'm here." There were two of them, uniforms, both about 12. One was definitely cuter but much sulkier looking than the other.
"Emmet Gallagher? We're..."
"Yeah. I know, my boss called."
"Your doorbell isn't working. We've been standing here for five minutes," said Sulky accusingly.
"Well, then you'd better stop hanging around on my doorstep and get me to the crime scene, hadn't you?"
He scowled, but stood back to let me exit and shut the door. The ride through London took less time than I had figured, the roads largely empty of traffic at this time in the morning. All too soon we were turning up to an anonymous block of flats in one of the less interesting bits of EC1. Marchmont was standing at the doorway of one of them, surrounded by uniforms and guys in white paper suits.
"Boss, we've got the Gallagher bloke," said Sulky, rather unnecessarily.
"Great," said Marchmont sourly. "Harry Potter has turned up to save the day."
"Good to see you, too, inspector. Helped any suspects to fall down stairs lately?" Marchmont started his career at Stoke Newington, which used to be notorious for the number of 'accidents' that happened to suspects in custody.
He glared at me. "Just do your fucking voodoo and get out of my face, will you, Gallagher?"
"What is it you want, anyway?"
"I need you tell me what exactly the person who lived here thought he was doing. Ideally with the minimum of mumbo jumbo."
"Better take a look then, hadn't I?" I moved towards the door, looked back. "Have the crime scene blokes...?"
"Nothing's been moved. And don't you move anything either. I had to call you in, standing orders in this sort of case, but I can tell you they aren't keen on you contaminating their crime scene, and neither am I."
"I'll try not to bleed on anything then," I said.
"No-one would notice," muttered one of the uniforms, and got a cold stare from Marchmont for his pains.
As soon as I stepped over the threshold I saw what he meant.
Blood. Liberally splashed over floor and walls. The only reason it wasn't over the furniture was that there wasn't any. If there had been, it had been moved out of the room, so that the carpet could be rolled back and the floor revealed. The floor was some sort of composite, and on it had been carefully drawn in chalk a circle of Art and a triangle of summoning. In the south-west - was that window west? Yes, which meant that if it was a demonic invocation, it was a demon of the host of Belial. A sex demon, in other words.
I couldn't help the sigh. People never learn, even those that should know better.
"What?" Marchmont's question made me jump, I hadn't heard him come in behind me.
"People - I mean, how stupid can you get? Raising a sex demon. Succubus probably. Yes, they go like a train. Yes, they can give you a stiffy so hard it could knock a hole through solid concrete. But really, when you think what it is you're fucking - I'd rather stick my dick in a 13-amp socket, personally. Much less dangerous..." Something else had occurred to me.
"I thought you said the crime scene hadn't been touched?"
"So where's the body? I mean, all this blood..."
He glowered at me. "Have a gold star. You should be a detective."
"You mean there wasn't a body here?"
"Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck." I moved urgently forward to examine the writing on the floor. Normally when a demon summoning goes wrong the outcome is messy and brutal, but shortlived. Magician botches a Hebrew character in a sigil, or leaves a gap somewhere in his circle. Crotchety demon, not happy about being raised from its circle of Hell into somewhere where the air doesn't have enough sulphur and the light of Heaven is that much closer, breaks through the wards and protections, tears said magician to pieces in a creative and excruciating way, devours his soul or tucks it in a doggy bag for later, and goes back to its own plane of existence ASAP.
I'd assumed that was had happened here - although it wasn't entirely typical behaviour for a low-grade succubus, they're more than capable of it. Even lesser demons are about as safe and sensible to mess with as home-made nitroglycerine. But if there wasn't a body - even one in little pieces - then what had happened might be altogether nastier and more dangerous.
From the signs in the outer circle, and the sprigs of willow tied with rusty brown cloth in the triangle it was definitely a summoning of one of the host of Belial. I looked at the sigils of naming. Most demons have several names. The most powerful have many. The more of them you can incorporate in the summoning, the more control you have over the thing that is named. Belezzeb. Tashak-Yanis. Horekh. None of them rang an immediate bell. But there were too many of them for a simple succubus. No, interestingly, these were male names. Incubus, then. Only it wasn't. Too many names, name after name. Gath-salabar. Akkal. Philotanus. Beltanit. Someone had put their hook into the depths, baited not for sprats but for shark. And the bait had been taken. Only it looked as if the fisherman hadn't banked on just how well such a big fish can fight.
"Tell me what's going on."
"I think - I think this is more dodgy than I thought. It's not just a simple sex demon he was after." I rummaged in my satchel, pulled out a pendulum. I'm not as good with one as Marsha - none of us are - but it would help give me a direction. I muttered a few words of Latin, set it rocking lazily back and forth.
Marchmont made an exasperated sound. "This is fucking ridiculous," he muttered. "Demons and magic. In 21st century London. It's fucking..."
"Ridiculous. You said. Call them autonomous sentient energy fields if it helps. Maybe they are. They certainly aren't everything that centuries of religious accretion makes them out to be. But if it walks like a duck, and swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck..."
"It's irrational. I mean, if all this superstitious hocus pocus is true we might as well go back to the Dark Ages. It's -"
"It's everything you spend your whole life fighting against. I know. The thing is, Marchmont..." The pendulum had stopped swinging and begun to move in big lazy circles, picking up speed gradually. I turned - east, west, south - south. The pendulum was suddenly whipping round like a little propeller.
"Whatever we're looking for is that way."
"The thing is?"
"You were going to say something. You said it was everything I spent my life fighting against, and then you said: 'the thing is'. The thing is what?"
"Ah. The thing is, you spend your life fighting against that stuff. But so do I."
He looked at me as if he'd swallowed a lemon, unwilling to admit even that much in common.
My mobile sounded. Keeping hold of the pendulum with my left I reached into my pocket and flipped it open.
"How is it going, Em?"
"Fine, fine. Well, not so fine, actually. I think we've got another Gorsander situation."
There was a pause. A very long pause. "Mitch, are you still there?"
"Yes. Emmet, are you sure?"
"No, not a hundred percent. But this was a summoning of something old and powerful, and there's no sign of a body. I think whatever it was has consumed him whole, just the way Ashtarzamael did to Michael Gorsander, and is now wearing his body like a rather distressed suit."
"Do you know what has been summoned?"
"I don't know the names. Belezzeb was one, and Beltanit. And - er - Gath-salabar."
"If you'd let Steven put his demonology app on your phone you could have looked it up right now."
"And have them brick my lovely new toy for putting unlicensed software on it? No chance."
"Well, I think you should come back. Come back, and lets research what we're dealing with. And then we can deal with it together."
I considered it. It was sensible. It was the reasonable option. But when have I ever been reasonable? Besides, something was telling me that we needed to move fast, that this thing, whatever it was, had to be found quickly or something terrible was going to happen.
"I'll be back soon," I temporised. "Just need to wind some stuff up here."
"As quickly as possible, Em. Please."
"Sure, Mitch. Laters."
I closed the phone, caught Marchmont staring at me thoughtfully as if trying to figure out a puzzle.
"Office stuff. Now, inspector, do you want to find your missing body?"
"That's going to tell us?" he asked sceptically, looking at the now whirring pendulum.
"Yep. By magic."
He breathed out, heavily.
"Come on then, Harry. Do your stuff."
He followed me obediently out of the flat, onto the walkway. The trace - whatever it was the pendulum was picking up - was strongest from the stairwell. I started down it, but immediately the rotation slowed. Oh fuck, this could be very bad.
"Um - inspector?"
"Is there access to the roof of these flats up there?"
"No fucking idea. Probably, why?"
"Because I think that's where your body is. No!" This was as he turned to bark orders to the rest of his squad. "No, no, they are not to go up there. Not yet."
"I give the orders round here. You're just a civilian."
"A civilian with clearance that goes all the way up, if necessary. I mean it, Marchmont. Send your boys up there and you'll be lucky to get enough of them back to fill a bucket. This is my job."
A whole load of possible replies went through his head, I could practically see them. But all he said was:
"No. You are not going up on that roof on your own."
"Look, I'm the only one who can deal with this if it's what I think it is."
"And what if it isn't? Look, we can spend half an hour arguing about this, and then do it my way, or we can do it my way from the start. Your call. But give me any trouble and I'll have you cuffed and down the station so fast you'll think you're on your fucking broomstick, and I don't care if your boss does give the PM a daily blowjob."
"This is ridiculous. I can't deal with this and be worrying about protecting your men at the same time. It's too many distractions." To do him credit he stopped to think about that one for a moment. Then he said:
"Just one distraction. I'm coming with you. The rest of them can stay here."
It was the best offer I was going to get.
"OK, but just - look, stick this in your pocket, will you?"
I pulled out of the satchel a sprig of myrtle, around which had been tied a strip of parchment inscribed with tiny Greek letters.
"Flowers, you shouldn't have. Ugh, it's wet."
"Holy water. Just do it, will you? Humour me. I know it offends your professional scepticism as a cop, but look at it as keeping the hired help happy."
He growled at me, but stuck the thing in the buttonhole of his coat.
"Delirious." I took a deep breath, stuck my hands in my coat pockets so Marchmont wouldn't see them shaking. Up the stairs. Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to...
There was a door at the top, one of those with an emergency release bar. Someone had opened it. We stepped out onto the roof.
It was still dark but the glow of sodium lamps, that strange purple-orange night sky of London, was gradually being replaced with something greyer towards the east. It would be dawn in a couple of hours, and that would certainly weaken any demon that happened to be hanging around, but it wouldn't come soon enough to be helpful.
There were all sorts of things on the roof - square brick structures, and metal boxes with grilles, things to do with air conditioning and electricity and all the other services that keep a building like this running. Lots of places to hide, then, and few uninterrupted sight lines.
"He could be anywhere up here," hissed the detective.
Well yes, thanks for that blinding insight. But the pendulum said, as I rotated, that he was - over there. I moved very cautiously around one of those humming metal cubes, and...
"Oh, fuck!" I don't know if that was me or Marchmont, close behind me.
Somebody had chalked another circle on the roof, densely labelled with symbols. And within it a pentagram. And spreadeagled on his back within the pentagram, naked and covered in blood, a man. Scratch that - something that had once been a man. Given a little time, demons can reshape flesh like wax. This was in the process of changing, skin bulging and sloshing like a waterbed as muscle and tissue were re-arranged. It looked as if his bones had been melted - maybe they had. It made me want to throw up just seeing it.
The figure threw back its head and made a sort of bubbling growl. I think - and I wish I didn't - I think that's what a scream sounds like when you don't have a ribcage for your lungs to work in any more.
"We have to..."
"Marchmont, don't! Don't cross the circle!" But he was already past me. I snatched at his sleeve, missed, lost my balance, and fell heavily onto the gritty asphalt of the roof just as Mike Marchmont's foot crossed the chalk line of the outermost circle.
The body in the pentagram exploded. There was no other word for it. It became a red mist of blood and smoke that rose in a twisting column like a tornado, swayed, and struck like a cobra at Marchmont.
He gave a horrified cry, throwing up his arm to protect his face, exposing as he did so the sprig of myrtle in his buttonhole. The red fog recoiled, split, and flowed around him and straight at me.
Ever had a bad electric shock?
Multiply that freezing, biting, muscle-wrenching pain a hundredfold, and add to it a black anguish that sears your soul in the same way as the physical pain does your body. A blackness that sucks at you, suffocates you, swallows you down... that's what being eaten by a demon feels like. It embraced me more intimately than any lover - except this was no lover, it was a rapist of mind and memory and flesh all at once - and filled my nostrils with a stink that was like carrion, and sewerage, and the most delectable musky perfume you've ever smelled. It touched me. It touched me everywhere, in ways impossible to defend against, and every touch roused me to shuddering desire and filled me with unbearable loathing. It whispered obscenities and threats directly into my mind.
Gallagher, I'm going to have you Gallagher.
I'm going to fuck you body and soul, inside and out, and make you want it. I'm going to tear you up and use you and you'll beg me for more, more, more. And when I've tired of playing with you I'm going to eat your soul, very, very slowly. Every thought, every memory, every good thing you've ever known I'm going to take away and shit over and turn to pure foulness, until there's nothing left.
Do you hear me, little magician? Are you ready to start begging yet?
I was - I'm told, I'm a bit unclear about it myself - writhing and spasming around on the roof 'like a spastic' as Marchmont put it in a less than PC moment, with that foul red fog condensing into bloody slime and flowing into my nostrils and ears and eyes and, er, other orifices. And at this point Mike Marchmont did something that was either inspired or bloody stupid, depending on who is describing the event. He snatched up that ward I'd given him and shoved the myrtle leaves into my hand.
The demon screamed through my throat. The pain was astonishing, as if someone had taken a blowtorch to my hand. But for a moment, caught on the tip of that pain like a specimen on a needle, I was able to think, my head clear of the thing that was trying to take me over. My free hand scrabbled into my bag, grabbed at metal, pulled out an amulet on a chain.
"H-help me," I hissed between gritted teeth. Already the thing was recovering, I could feel it pressing at my mind. "Need this over - head."
He knelt, pulled the chain over my head. The amulet rested on my chest like lead.
Not so keen now, eh, you fucker? I began to chant, under my breath.
I'll smash you. I'll tear you up.
I ignored it, continued to chant. "By the four quarters, and the four elements. By Raphael, archangel of the South. By Uriel, archangel of the North. By Michael, archangel of the West. By Gabriel, archangel of the East. I command thee, I command thee, I command thee. By the holy names... the holy names..."
It was struggling, fighting me with everything it had. God it was strong! Every time I tried to say the names it made my jaw muscles go into spasm. I was going to lose concentration. I needed something to distract it. The ward? No, the power of that was drained. But the pain of it had held the demon back. It was happy to torment flesh, but as long as neither of us was in control it would feel those torments too, and it wasn't used to pain.
I'm winning, Gallagher. Do you know what I'm going to make you do? First we're going to cut the balls off that stupid pig Marchmont and feed them to him bit by bit. Then you and I are going to find every one of your friends and do the same to them. Perhaps I'll make you fuck them first, so you can remember them afterwards begging you to stop...
"By the holy names Ehyeh, Ialdaboth... unhh..." I slammed my fist into the wall but the demon caught it before I could do more than graze my knuckles.
"What? What can I do?"
"Hit me! NO, fuck off, don't touch me! For fuck's sake hit me. The pain - it can't take pain. Hit me now!"
"Not the fucking mouth, you idiot." I gingerly felt the fat lip he'd given me. Mind you, the demon had retreated.
"Now that was definitely you, not any demon."
I glared at him. "I need to complete the invocation to control the demon, I can't do that if you break my jaw."
"Where did it go? What's going on? Fuck, I can't believe I'm saying this. I mean - demons? I've never seen anything like this."
"It's inside me. It's trying to - I'll get you too Marchmont - no you don't you - ahh! take me the way it took the last guy, the one whose body we saw. He set a trap, the second circle on the roof in case it broke loose, but it got into him before he had a chance. I can - I'm going to have you BOTH - fight it but I need some way to keep it off until I can build up my defences. But it's hard. Fuck, this thing is strong."
"What's to stop it just exploding you and grabbing me, or anyone else, like it did before?"
"The amulet I'm wearing binds it. It can't change form or escape. The only way it can get away is by consuming me entirely. Then it can destroy my body and escape."
That's what you think, sneered the demon in my inner ear. Do you know who I am, little magus? I am Philotanus, Equerry of Hell.
Ooh, big deal. A mere equerry?
You are ignorant. You don't even know my name, do you, you stupid little shit? Watch, fool, and despair.
"Um, Gallagher? Gallagher?!" Marchmont sounded really rattled.
"Your eyes. What happened to your eyes? They're - they've gone black. Fuck, they're like chimneys, with these little sparks drifting..." He was backing away from me.
"MIKE." It was my voice but not my voice. Somehow sultry, with overtones of... no, I couldn't stand the guy. "Mike, don't be scared. No, do be, Marchmont, get out of here."
"I - no, I can't leave you, not like this."
"Good boy. No, come closer. Hold me, Mike, I need you to hold me." That perfume, that foul, marvellous, sexy perfume, like the reek of every erotic sin you've ever dreamed of, was rolling around me, was rolling off me, in thick cloying waves, and I could see Marchmont smell it, could see his face change, his pupils dilate. He took an unsteady step back towards me as if he was drunk.
"Yes, come on Mike. I want you. I need you. Come and fuck me, Mike. You know you want to. Stop it! Stopitstopitstopit! I refuse this. I am a Warden of the Walls of Night, a Guardian of the Hidden Cup. I - kiss me Mike. Taste me."
"You horny little fucker..." he murmured. He pulled me to him, buried his head in the angle of my neck and nipped me, hard, while his two hands reached around me and grabbed my arse. I pulled my head aside, trying to fend him off, but he was bigger than me, stronger than me, and he didn't want to take no for an answer. His hands were tugging at the fashionably loose waistband of my jeans, they were slipping...
"No, Marchmont, this isn't you, this isn't me, it's just desire. You want me, don't you Mike? You've always wanted me. You want to pin me down, rip my pants off and fuck me like a dog until I squeal, don't you? Come on then, big boy. I'm all yours. Will you fucking shut up? Marchmont, listen to me, for your soul's sake. Think, with your head, not your dick. Remember what I said to you about this thing. You have to hit me, you have to hurt me, ooh spank me, yes, that's it, that's it, the stupid fucker has just - yes, Mike, you have to thrash me. You have to, that's what I need. Thrash my arse, thrash it hard, and don't stop, don't stop for anything, for both our lives and whatever afterlife you believe in, please, whatever I say, don't stop!"
He thrust his hips so hard against me that I staggered, and his mouth found mine and savaged it, setting the cut from his previous punch to bleeding. I could taste the iron of blood in my mouth, and the bitterness of defeat. I hadn't got through, the thing in my body was playing him like a musical instrument, and I could feel it rising, its strength growing, like that moment in a crash just before impact when you can see the other thing coming and there's nothing, nothing you can do about it, and...
OUCH. He hit me! Mike Marchmont had brought his arm back and smacked it into my arse so hard that I bit my own tongue. He pulled back, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, a bit unsteadily:
"N-need it? Too fucking right you need it. Someone should have smacked your arse for you years ago. Cmere."
And somehow I was turned over his outstretched knee - is that a move they teach them at Police School? Who knew? and regarding that dusty asphalt more closely, as Mike Marchmont laid into my backside as if his life depended on it. Which it certainly did.
Fuck, that hurts! It hurts! Yes, you didn't count on that, did you you fucker? You thought it was all sexy fun, something to turn people on while you slurped them down like an oyster. Well having your arse thrashed properly hurts. And it seemed that Marchmont was all too willing to do a proper job.
I felt the demon retreat, slide deeper down, away from that stinging, interminable succession of blows.
"Unh, fuck, yes, keep that - oww! up." He grunted. One hand grabbed the waistband of my underwear and just ripped it, tore it as if it were paper. The strength of desperation I suppose. And oh fuck! Did the man have hands made of wood or something? My arse felt as if it was on fire. I was bucking, wriggling in his grasp, my body trying to escape the rain of blows even as my mind was trying to keep me there.
Concentrate, Emmet, you stupid fucker. Ignore the pain. You know how to do that, you've had enough practice. Quick, while you can. "By El and Elohim and by Shem Elohenu, by the powers of the uppermost circle of light, I bind thee, I bind thee, I bind thee. By the darkness that waits for thee I bind thee. By the eternal desolation that shall be thine, I bind thee. By the chains of the Abyss I bind thee."
No. I'll go. Just release me. I won't hurt anyone.
"No, you won't. Oww, god, that hurts!" The pain was like a white flame in my head - not to mention my arse. I kicked, and Marchmont locked a leg over mine, holding me even more firmly in position.
"It's fucking supposed to." But he didn't stop, didn't let up. I had a moment to wonder if I would ever be able to sit again, but I had a job to do. The pain was only pain. I almost welcomed it. Pain was normal, was human, was understandable. It was a lifeline in the dark, like the heat of Marchmont's body against mine, like his smell of sweat and fear that was so human and so much better than the foul, fabulous perfume of the demon. No, pain could be mastered.
And so could the demon. It was vulnerable now, partly bound, shrunk down. But give it a chance and it would surge up again. The longer it remained in my mind the more it would understand about me, about my body, and the greater its chances of mastering me in my turn, of using my body and my abilities to hurt and maim and kill. But it would take a full ritual to send it back properly, to reverse the damage that its would-be summoner had done. So it had to be got out of me, but not let loose. That was going to be tricky.
I stared down at my clenched hands resting on the grubby roof and flexed my wrist. From the sheath hidden up my sleeve a little knife fell into my hand. Its handle was black, and inlaid with complex signs in the finest of silver filigree. Other symbols chased down the centre of its blade, whose edges gleamed as finely as a scalpel.
I forced myself to open the left fist, put the tip to my palm, and pressed, drew the point around in a wide circle. It didn't need to be accurate. It just needed to close. Even through the pain that Marchmont was inflicting on me I felt the cold sting of that blade, and so did the demon.
No, no, master, I beg you. I command 30 legions of lesser spirits - they shall all do your bidding. I can discover hidden treasure, and give you knowledge of secrets lost since the dawn of time. Only release me.
What ever happened to 'I shall fuck you inside and out'? Not so big now, are we? But I didn't spare any breath to say it out loud - actually, I'm not sure I had any, what with the gasping and sobbing. Marchmont was really tearing my butt up.
"Now, do it now Emmet, while you've got it on the run."
"Quickly you fool. Do it!"
I spat on my palm - my spit was pink. I knew that damned ox Marchmont had made me bite my tongue. Then I slapped the palm, spit mingling with the blood from the cut, on my forehead, and spoke a Word.
There was a sort of silent explosion in my head - I've never had a stroke, but I imagine that's what one might be like - and a despairing scream that I sensed rather than heard with my outward ear. And then stuff was pouring out of my mouth and my ears and my skin and crawling up me like so many maggots to my palm where a sigil was forming, complex and interwoven, shining with a dark and terrible fire, within a circle that was suddenly perfectly round.
My vision went red and then black for a second. All the pain up to that point had been nothing compared with this. Because I was holding Hell in my hand, a little spiritual singularity, a black hole that swallowed everything and gave nothing back.
"Terminus est," said Mitch's quiet voice. And: "Terminus est," came another familiar and less welcome voice. Part of me wanted to just let go, to give in to the pain and drop into the welcoming blackness. But there was something I needed to do first...
"T-terminus est," I managed to grate out.
And as suddenly as that the pain in my hand was gone, the sigil fading to a livid red scar on my palm.
And Mike Marchmont smacked my arse again.
"It's over, it's over, you can stop now," I gasped. "Mike, stop."
"Said don't stop, whatever I say don't stop," he managed. He sounded nearly as far gone as me. Smack! Oh fuck, my blisters have blisters. "Stop! Please!"
"Oh this is a sight many would pay good money to see," said that other voice.
"Steven! Mitch! Tell him."
"Oh I think you deserve everything you're getting and more," said Steven. He was laughing at me, the bastard was laughing.
"Steven, don't be unkind. Inspector Marchmont, you really can stop now. You can stop. We'll take him now. It's all over."
He spoke soothingly, gently, as one might to a frightened and dangerous animal. I don't know if Marchmont was able to process the words, but the tone behind them got through.
"Yes, you can stop."
There was a pause. Then Marchmont's hand came down like a thunderbolt one last time. "That was from me," he whispered. Abruptly he let go of me. I slid onto the tarry roof. It felt nice and cool under my face. I thought I'd just rest here a while.
"Thank you, inspector," said Mitchell. "Our people can take things from here."
And I thought no, no, that's not the way to handle someone like Marchmont at all, he's cop to his bones, try to take away his toy and he'll throw a wobbly. I could practically feel the coming explosion. I wanted to get up and explain all this but somehow my body didn't feel like obeying.
He stared down at me. I stared up at him. He looked as if he didn't know whether to cry or scream or burst into mad laughter. He settled for his default expression, which is a scowl.
"Just fuck off, Gallagher. Don't come near me. Don't come near me ever again!" And he turned on his heel and near as damn it ran for the stairs.
"Score another killing for your charm and personal attractiveness," said Steven from somewhere above me in the grey light of predawn.
"Steven?" My voice was faint and ragged. He squatted down, lowered his head to mine.
"Sod off back to Scotland. Or fuck off and die, don't care which."
"There's the Emmet we know and love. Come on, Buffy, let's get you back to the gang and get you cleaned up." He put me over his shoulder in a fireman's lift and rose with a grunt.
Buffy? I think I preferred Harry Potter.
Heaven was white and smelled of lilies and disinfectant.
I turned in my bed and gave a muffled yelp as bruised and blistered skin met starched white sheets. OK, scratch Heaven. This was - where was this?
"Ah, you're back with us," said Steven. Definitely not Heaven.
"Where...?" I croaked. My throat felt like the less hospitable reaches of the Sahara.
"You're in St Thomas's, in a private room. Apparently they haven't cancelled your health insurance yet, despite the frequency with which you abuse it. Here, here, don't try to sit up, you'll..."
I yelped again, and submitted gracelessly to having my head cradled in one arm and being helped to drink water from one of those non-spill cups they use for toddlers. Still the water tasted so good that a thank you slipped out despite my best intentions.
I lay back. I'd been propped with foam pillows so that I was lying mostly on my side, not resting any weight on my poor abused arse. I looked at the play of sunlight on the wall for a moment, feeling exhausted even by the simple act of drinking water.
"How long have I been here?" I managed at last.
"You were brought in in the early hours of yesterday morning."
"Yesterday? I've lost a day? Fuck, I need to..."
"You don't need to do anything, and you're not going to do anything," he said with sudden fierceness. "Fuck it, Em, do you realise what you've done, how close you came to...?"
I tried for nonchalance. "It was no big deal." It didn't sound convincing even to me.
"No big deal? You do know what that thing was?"
"I was there, remember. I know what a demon feels like. From the inside, now." I couldn't prevent the shudder, nor the hiss of pain that followed it as blistered flesh met hospital sheets.
"Idiot," he said softly. "If you'd bothered to check, the way Mitch asked you to..."
"If he'd bothered to check," said Mitch drily, opening the door awkwardly, two cups of no-doubt substandard hospital coffee in his hands, "he wouldn't be the Emmet we know and love. Fortunately I knew that when he said he'd come back and check he had no intention of doing any such thing - the benefit of long experience. How are you feeling, Em?"
I mulled a couple of more or less smart and more or less obscene replies to that question, and settled for: "Sore."
"No doubt. Mr Marchmont did rather a thorough job."
I flushed. "I suppose I'm going to have to put up with endless spanking jokes now."
Steven grinned evilly, but Mitch just shrugged. "But to continue Steven's line of thought - do you know what it is you have sleeping in your hand?"
I raised my left hand, mummified in white. "Bandages?" I suggested innocently.
"Do you want another spanking?" asked Steven hopefully. I wrinkled my nose at him. "Funny man."
"I wasn't joking," said Steven. "What you have bound in your hand is a demon prince."
"A what? No, he said he was an Equerry. That's quite far down the hierarchy of Hell."
"You, of all people, should know that demons love to mislead. Here, don't take my word for it: Nicholas Rémy, fourth book of the Demonolatria 'the demon Philotanus is a great prince and president; he slew his lord Belial, and came into his honours, and hath the favour of Satan and rideth in his train.' And Jacobus Venantius of Prague: 'This demon is a prince of Hell that cometh as a pard, or else in the form of a young man of great beauty, and inciteth sodomy and all manner of unnatural lusts.' I suspect he said he was an Equerry of Hell, meaning a servant to the Morningstar himself, who as monarch can be referred to by the title of his realm."
Er, yes, now that I thought about it, he had said that. And taunted me with my lack of understanding. But a demon prince... you're supposed to have at least 3 people to tackle the higher ranking demons. No wonder it had been so hard to fight it.
"A demon prince."
"Yes, a demon prince. I suppose you're going to be quite unbearable about that, once you get out of here."
I thought back to that roof. No, I didn't think it was really something I needed to boast about. In fact, it was something I didn't really want to think about too much. The thing about having a demon inside you is that it speaks to all your own darkness. They can make you do horrible, terrible things, but there's a little bit of you that wants to go along with it, and knowing that isn't a very nice thing to know about yourself. And I so nearly failed, would have failed if it hadn't been for...
"It was Marchmont's victory as much as mine. The poor sod. He really hates all the supernatural stuff and he got dumped right in it. No wonder he didn't want anything to do with m- us at the end of it. He's probably half way to Australia by now, just to try and get away."
Mitch and Steven exchanged one of those looks I always hated as a child, as of two adults exchanging private information that the children are not to be let in on. Well, I'm no kid now, and there was no way I was letting them get away with that.
"Your - er - handyman..."
"Steven," said Mitch warningly. He can be quite protective. Sometimes I hate it, but right now it was kind of - well, comforting.
"OK, OK, your assistant, then, has been hanging around the hospital, wanting to make sure you made it through. I think he'd quite like to arrest somebody over the other night, and if you'd popped your clogs I suspect he'd have tried to make it one of us. Of course, now you're awake, he'll probably arrest you. Or put you over his knee."
"Fuck off, Steven." OK, it wasn't the wittiest rejoinder, but wit is largely wasted on my colleague.
"I'll go get him, shall I?" he asked.
"What? He's here?"
"I just said. So do you want to see him?" His offhand tone didn't quite mask the fact that he was genuinely offering me a choice. I knew that if I said no, no-one was going to get past him.
I bit my lip uncertainly. I didn't really want to, but I felt I owed Marchmont something. Well, quite a lot, actually. My life and sanity for a start.
"Em? You don't have to if you don't feel up to it," said Mitch.
"No, no, I'll see him. I owe him that."
Steven was back in short order with Marchmont. His right hand was a match for my left, swathed in dressings and surgical tape.
He nodded at me. "See you're awake then."
"Yeah. Um - guys? Can you give us a moment?"
"Of course. We'll just be outside," said Mitch. I wasn't sure if that last was for my benefit or for Marchmont's, in case he had it in mind to strangle me or something.
"How's your hand?"
"Sore," he admitted. "They say it will be a few days before I can use it properly again. Your boss somehow wangled me some leave with my boss."
"Mitch can pull a lot of strings."
"Yeah, seems like." There was a pause.
"And - um - how's your, er..."
"Arse?" I suggested brightly, when it became obvious that a simple English sentence was going to be beyond him.
"Sore. Want a look?"
He gave me a V sign, but it was obvious that yes, he did want to. So I pulled the sheets aside and let him.
There was a hiss of breath.
"Fuck, I'm sorry," he said quietly.
I blinked. Of course, I couldn't actually see it myself, though judging from how painful it felt still I imagined it looked pretty bad. But Marchmont was acting like he'd murdered me, and I wasn't having that.
"For what?" I snapped. "For helping to save both our lives, not to mention the lives of any innocents who happened to get in that thing's way once it had me?"
"For - I - Jesus fuck, I never knew I could do that to someone. I mean, a little smack on the bum is one thing, but this? This is sick."
"This was necessity. You were fighting for your life, make no mistake about that. And mine. And you saved both of us."
"I thought you did that."
"I couldn't have mastered the demon. Not without... If you hadn't been there, if you hadn't done what you did, I would be being eaten alive in Hell by now."
He turned away. "All this, Hell, Heaven, it's too much. What I did was too much."
"No, it was enough. Well, except for that last smack, perhaps."
He looked distraught. "That was a joke, Mike, just a joke."
A pale smile. "You can't tell jokes worth a fuck."
That was more like it. There was just one other thing.
"Er, there is something you should know. That particular demon."
"What about it?"
"It specialised in, well, in gay sex. So anything you may have done, any feelings you may have had, you shouldn't worry about them, they were just due to the demonic influence. You aren't gay or anything, you don't have to worry."
His expression went unreadable. "That's very kind of you to reassure me," he said coldly. Fuck, I just knew he was going to have issues about this, that's why I thought I should try and clear things up for him.
"I - I won't say anything to anyone, and I wasn't offended. I - er - well, it wasn't anything that worried me, you coming on to me." Well, OK, maybe at the time. "Not that you did. You yourself, I mean, just your body. So it's all OK."
"Yes. Quite OK. Those weren't your feelings at all. You didn't want to do it."
There was a silence. Then:
"You patronising little fucker."
"How dare you tell me what my feelings are? Who made you the expert on what I feel? And in any case, what made you assume that I was such a Neanderthal that I'd have a breakdown at the idea of kissing another bloke? We do have gay officers in the Met you know."
"Well pardon me for breathing. As for Neanderthals - well, if the cap fits..."
"If you weren't already in a hospital bed, I'd put you..." he paused, went on "in one." I had an idea that sentence had originally ended differently. In fact, the ghost words 'back across my knee' echoed so loudly in my head I almost thought he'd said them. One of the disadvantages of my abilities is that sometimes it's unclear what has been said and what has only been thought.
And suddenly what he was saying clicked.
"Uh - Mike?"
"Are you saying those feelings were - that you - that I..."
"Don't flatter yourself, Gallagher."
Oh. Maybe not then.
"So, when I get out of here, you don't fancy going for a drink somewhere?"
He shrugged. "I suppose I can tolerate your company if you buy me enough alcohol."
"I buy? You're the one who owes me a drink, after what you did to me."
"You reckon? Actually, your mate - the big black guy?"
"Yeah, him. He suggested that I should do it again. 'Frequently and repeatedly' were his words, in fact. Along with 'much needed'."
"Him or me?"
"Both of you." We looked at each other, and then a grin twitched his mouth, and I couldn't help but laugh.
"OK, rounds it is."
"Here's my mobile number. Give me a bell when you get out of here. Try not to piss anyone off so much that they murder you before you do, only it buggers up the crime statistics something terrible."
"Whatever. Look I have to go. Emmet..."
Oh. I think that's the first time he's ever used my first name.
"What you did back there - that was pretty brave. Taking on that pain, being prepared to go through all that."
"It's just the job. Not brave, just doing what has to be done. You should know about that."
"I do. Still, you're not bad, for a snotty little fucker."
"And you're not so bad yourself. For a fat, English plod."
"Fat? I swear, I am going to repeat the job on you." But he was laughing as he said it. I laughed too. But after he was gone, I couldn't help thinking. I'd told him his feelings weren't real. But I hadn't said anything about mine. I couldn't help feeling that the real hurt was still to come.
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