0 Prologue

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December 24, 1994

My name is Gwyn Alexander Blackhill, age sixteen, self-proclaimed amateur wizard, protector of Sterlingwood and possibly the Greatest Idiot Alive, as well as the Unluckiest Bloke Alive.

I mean, how unlucky do you have to be to have a demon from the Court of Greed dressed up as Santa Claus hunt you on Christmas Night?

And how stupid do you have to be to have brought it on yourself? I could cast little more than a light spell on the fly, the only reason I’d survived this long was because no one took me seriously enough to bother with a serious effort to be rid of me – and now that, obviously, someone had done so, I found myself unable to deal with it.

Demons don’t just show up willy-nilly, you see – they have to be summoned by a demoniac, which means, there was a human out there who wanted me dead or worse. This thing had hunted me for the last eleven hours, even pursuing me into a church and crossing a blessed threshold made of pure silver (demons hate pure silver). Which meant this thing was at least of the Sixth Circle, if not higher up. A real super-demon, as far as most of the world was concerned. Right now, I was hiding in our quaint little town’s ridiculously oversized graveyard, behind a Parthenon-style mausoleum. The demon had been distracted when I threw a stone through the window of a jewelry shop – Court of Greed, remember?

So, taking stock. I was in a cemetery, sitting in three feet of snow. I had been running from a demon since noon, it was almost midnight now. The subzero temperature was getting to me. I’d blown all the tricks and minor spells I’d accumulated since I’d awakened, and I probably felt even worse than I looked.

Just then, I noticed puddle of frozen water next to where I was sitting. As if the universe wanted to mock me, it provided a crystal clear mirror image of me. I, in fact, looked worse than I felt. My hair was an unholy black mess, my ears looked like they had been burned, my lips were cracked and my – barely adequate – winter clothing wouldn’t have looked out of place on a homeless person. Not to mention how bad my eyes looked at that point. As if that was not enough, I was also covered in snow, with frost clinging to my eyelashes. My mates at school always told me I looked prettier than any girl, but if they could see me now, they’d probably think differently.

I was tired. Demon Claus – hey, it needed a name! – most definitely was not. Even if it could get tired – I wasn’t quite sure to which extent such a concept even applied to them – it had spent the day just walking after me, hunting me through sheer persistence the same way my ancestors used to hunt their own prey.

Irony, you can’t live without it, but you can get killed by it.

And I’d kill for a cup of hot chocolate right about now.

Snow crunched in the distance, near the entrance of the graveyard – I’d closed the door, hoping that the magic of the place would keep the demon out, or perhaps slow it down enough for… for…

Well, honestly, just for me to catch my breath. I was out of ideas, save for one, and that one was liable to kill me if it failed. That would surely also be the case if I didn’t try anything, so I was just trying to catch my breath before I did it. I’d need as much strength and focus as I could muster for this.

I heard a grunt, an impact of something fleshy against the gate and the sound of wrought iron groaning. I didn’t have much time.

Forcing myself to my knees, I felt pangs and twitches all over, promising some brutal retribution on my muscles’ part the next morning – which I’d be thrilled to go though, since that would mean surviving this night.

“I so… need to… work out… more,” I panted as I took my shoulder back off and opened it, pulling out thirty feet of silver wire – it had cost me a small fortune, money I had taken out of my food- and schoolstuff-budget. My book budget of several months, on the other hand, had been paid to a very grumpy svartalf to forge me the silver-and-cold-iron athame I pulled out next – one edge silver, one cold-iron, the metals forged into a leaf-shaped blade with a black wooden handle wrapped in red silk.

I didn’t have nearly enough essence left to banish the demon, even if I’d been skilled enough to draw in enough mana to compensate. Even thinking about fighting it directly with any spells was out – I didn’t even know any combat spells that might be of use for fighting a demon. I had nothing to offer to any entity I knew enough of to summon, except for the one everyone could summon and trade with at any time – but that would be worse than falling prey to a demon, anyway. Running away was no longer an option, not in my current state, not to mention the fact that the weather had actually gotten worse, and it showed no sign of stopping. No corn for poppin’ though.

Collecting five grave lights that were still burning on the way, I sought out the central point of the graveyard – a circular section paved with dark stones, with eight paths radiating outwards – I cleaned out as much snow as I could in a hurry. Of course, it would only be replaced within a minute at most, but the action was more important than the result, here.

The next part was going to be way, way worse. I had to strip naked.

Shivering, each cell of my body begging me to do anything that did not involve taking my clothes off, I wished I’d had any amount of body hair, but no luck – I was lucky I even had hair on my head, considering my mother’s genes. Though, if I ever grew up, I’d at least never have to worry about shaving.

If you ever want to know true misery, go out into a snowstorm and strip naked after nearly twelve hours of running away from a demon. I dare you. My teeth were chattering. I had never had my teeth chatter. It was a profoundly uncomfortable sensation.

When I was done, I folded my clothes up and put them into my bag so that at least they wouldn’t freeze solid from all the sweat and melted snow that had soaked into them. Save for my jacket, of course, which I laid out five paces from the center to the West, so I wouldn’t have to sit down on the snow and frozen ground.

Then I took my athame and faced towards the East – the four larger pathways pointed towards a cardinal direction each, and the main entrance of the place had been built at the East end, making the place ridiculously well-suited to rituals of all kinds. I’d been using it for years now, ever since I’d managed to learn some about the basics of ritual theory (a fascinating subject, though it involved far too much nakedness for my taste).

“Silver wire, scarlet blood,” I chanted as clearly as I could as I cut with the silver side across my right palm, deep enough for it to bleed properly, then unwound the often used wire, drawing it diagonally across the cut to wet it with my blood.

Slowly, I wove a pentacle out of the bloodied silver wire, keeping my eyes towards the East – with the snow falling as it did, it was imposisble to see the gate from here, which also meant that Demon Claus wouldn’t be able to see what I was doing – and I had to finish before he could. “Silver wire, scarlet blood; living pentacle, dead ground.”

The whole “plan” relied on him acting as it had the whole time – just walking towards me in the straightest part possible.

Ouch. I’d cut my fingers on the silver wire. They were so cold, so stiff, weaving the pentacle was a pain. And this one, I had to modify a little, to work the grave lights in. Making sockets at the points of the star.

It took me nearly five minutes, with the sound of pounding and growning, bending metal in the distance every now and then. It didn’t take him that long to get into the church.

I laid the pentacle out in the center, adjusting it as well as I could. Then I put my finger to the “top” of the pentagram, which was pointing towards where I wanted to sit, infusing some of my very limited remaining essence to close the circle. I put the grave lights into the sockets, then piled a thin layer of snow over everything to hide it from a casual observer.

And then I finally set down on my jacket (after wiping it as clean as I could). Crossing my legs, I laid my wrists on my knees, the athame dangling from my left hand.

It didn’t take long for the sound of the gate being broken open to reach me.

Then, slowly thereafter, heavy steps. A massive silhouette appeared in the falling snow, coming closer.

Seconds later, he stepped into full view, right out of the curtain of falling snow at the edge of the crossroad. He was at least nine feet tall, but stooped over and obese to a disgusting level, his belly almost touching the ground. What little could be seen of his face was gnarled, rotten flesh stretched taut over a deformed skull, a dirty white beard that fell to the ground sprouting from it, the individual hairs so thick they looked more like worms – and they could move, as I’d learned earlier. His eyes were invisible in the shadows cast by his thick eyebrows and deep eye sockets, but a dark red, evil light flickered within.

He was wearing a coat the colour of half-dried blood, trimmed in dirty grey-white fur, and a matching pointy cap with a human skull at the tip. He had a big, blood-stained bag slung over his shoulder. There was a wide black belt, invisible beneath his massive belly, only poking out at the sides. Heads were hanging off of it… young heads.

Too young. Just the sight had made me loose my cool, when I first saw him. Made me attack him with a baseball bat, which is not a smart thing to do, even when said bat is enchanted.

Humans are almost always the underdog in physical conflicts. And the universe doesn’t love underdogs. That’s just Hollywood. I’d burned half my spells in those first few moments, just to get away from him again.

Then he did something I absolutely didn’t expect. He opened his mouth – all chipped yellow fangs – and spoke.

“Little boy,” he growled, his voice like rusty nails on a chalkboard. “Thou hath been good prey. It has been a long time since I was so challenged, and by a child no less!” There was a weird note of respect in his voice.

I swallowed deeply. I had never run into an intelligent demon before (not that I had more than the most basic experience with them – after all, I was still alive and sane). “I did not mean to entertain, only survive.” I had to get him into the circle. Try and bind him.

“Nonetheless, I had fun. But now, the fun ends. I must slay thee, as per the terms of my contract,” he rumbled, and took two long steps towards me.

Right into the middle of my circle.

“HALT!” I shouted in my strongest voice, pointing the bloodied athame at him. “I bind you within my circle, demon!”

He stopped, a weirdly human frown appearing on his rotten face. “A silver circle. I did not think thee possessed of enough essence to create one, child.”

He was right. I didn’t have enough essence to create a proper circle. But I had an entire graveyard full of memories to draw upon. And graveyards were inherently places of rest and binding. I was tapping the latter, the aspect of keeping the dead inside, and the living outside. This thing was so rotten, it probably passed for some kind of dead thing. Its body was probably made from corpses.

“You are bound now, demon! Agree to leave, agree to neither me nor mine any harm and I shall release you!” I shouted, pointing my athame at him.

He looked at me, his features neutral – at least those parts that I could make out. His beard shifted, wriggling. “Thou art far more capable than I was led to believe, boy. Mine demoniac shall answer for this minor deception. But thou can not bind me. I am a Baron of the Court of Greed, a Noble of the Fifth Circle! Thou shall not bind me, Gwyn Alexander Blackhill!”

Crap. I didn’t even know of any way to securely bind a demon of the fifth circle! I jumped up and hurried to my backpack, but he was faster, reaching into his sack. He drew a surprisingly delicate looking knife (though still a damned big one) from the sack as he let it slide to the ground – the impact made the ground shake.

Then he took a step – and he had already caught up to me, kicking me in the flank with boots made of what looked disconcertingly like human flesh.

I heard ribs shatter, and all air left me – my vision went black.

When I came to, I was lying against a mausoleum wall, naked and weak. I tasted blood on my tongue, and felt only pain from the neck down.

“Thou shall die slowly, and a soul as strong as thine shall serve me well,” Demon Claus said as he approached slowly, without hurry. There was no need for any – there was no chance of me standing up and running away.

I don’t want to die. I couldn’t leave my parents, my little brother behind in a world this dangerous. I racked my brain, searching for a solution, but there was none I could think of.

No way to save my life.

Which didn’t mean I was going to give up.

“Thou hast no chance,” he rumbled, seeing the expression in my eyes. “Surrender, and I shall make thy death swift and painless, as a reward for the exceptional hunt thou hast gifted upon me.”

“B-b-bugger off,” I said. I couldn’t save my life. But I still had my athame in my hand, and I could still feel my right arm, if barely.So I had to settle for saving my soul at least. “My soul is… mine and mine alone. So fuck. You.” I raised the athame.

“No, child! Don’t be naughty!” he shouted, jumping towards me.

Goodbye Franky. Goodbye mom, goodbye dad.

What a fucked up world, to die on Christmas night alone and cold.

I pushed the athame into my heart.

Merry soddin’ Christmas, Gwyn.

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10 thoughts on “0 Prologue

  1. Interesting. The line at the beginning about a demon of Greed dressed like Santa Claus is what hooked me. That actually makes a disturbing amount of sense.

    We normally think of Santa as a symbol of giving, of charity… But look at him from the view of a small child: He’s some magical guy who will give you whatever material possessions you want. I could easily see “Santa” as a role for demons to play to teach children Greed.

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