The tome had been a passing fancy.
The tome had been a passing fancy.
It was a universal trait among his clients (few that he had that could truly be considered clients and not one-off customers); they all knew of his fondness for grimoires on the topic of summoning hellish beings, and thus they frequently called him with news of such books. Elijah Locke would come each time-so long as he had no more pressing business to attend to at home-in the often vain hope that one of them would have indeed stumbled upon something of value. Often time the books that his clients offered him were mere recreations and lacked the true power of the original spell book, while others were common texts written in languages that the client did not speak and thus assumed to be something mystic. Sometimes, however, something truly great would present itself. Locke realized, as he lightly bushed his fingers across the words that were still as back as they had been the night they were written, that this was one of those times.
Eli had never seen so many books in a single place before. In fact, he could count on one hand how many books (Real, true books, not the almanacs his farmer father brought home once a year) he had seen besides the family's Bible. The twelve year old boy reverently ran his fingers along the spines of the books, giving each title a searching glance. He could barely read them, of course. Reading wasn't important, not when his time could be better spent helping his father with the fields, or his mother with cooking or cleaning. His hand suddenly stilled, seemingly of its own accord, hovering just over a red leather-bound book. Eli frowned and squinted his eyes (eye, really. And accident in the field last year had claimed the right. It was still hard thinking that he had only one.) as he tried to read the title embossed on the side of the volume. Ars... Ars Goeth? Ars Goaty? Ars... Goetia?
Locke snapped the pristine copy of the Ars Goetia closed-ignoring the tingling behind his eye patch with little difficulty-and looked up to face the client that had uncovered the volume. The woman, a Mrs. Elizabeth Cunningham, smiled serenely over her cup of tea. "Well?" she demanded, her voice playful in its levity. She had been one of the first to do business with him, as well as one of the most frequent, and she could read him unfortunately well. She knew that he was interested, could read it straight off of his carefully blank face, and a part of him wondered why they even bothered with this song and dance.
The book dealer carefully set the volume to the side and steepled his fingers, considering the woman sitting across from him with his lone silver eye. "It's a copy of the Ars Goetia, one of the most powerful tomes written about summoning demons I have encountered," he began, "Almost all copies have been destroyed, either by the church or frightened townspeople, so I must admit that it is in remarkable condition. No pages seems to be missing, and all of the text is still legible from what I can tell. The only other copy I am familiar with was faded, but not even that much has-"
"Was?" Mrs. Cunningham cut in, proving once again that she was not the pretty, stupid doll that Mr. Cunningham sometimes seemed to think.
Locke smiled thinly, although even he wasn't sure if his ire was drawn more from the unpleasant memories her question drew, or the fact that she had the gall to interrupt him while he was speaking. It was very rude, after all. "There was an accident which resulted in its destruction. This is the first time I have had the chance to see a copy since."
Eli slowly slid the book off of the shelf and looked down at it in wonder. Really, when he got a look at it, the book wasn't any more special than the others around it. The cover was scuffed, and when he opened it, he discovered that many of the pages were faded or torn. And yet, it felt as though there was a thrum of energy coming from the book, drawing him toward it. He stopped his aimless flipping through the pages and stared down at the words listed above an intricate diagram. "K... klahtoo... ber-rata... nick-"
A hand suddenly descended onto the boy's shoulder, and Eli let out a startled shriek, promptly dropping the book. He whirled around and promptly came face to gut with the portly owner of the book store. His lone eye quickly flicked up to look fearfully at the elderly man's face, and he stammered out what might have been an apology or just another squeak of fear before the man held up a silencing hand.
"What do you think you're doing here, boy? Where are your parents?" the man said gruffly and promptly snatched the book up off the floor, showing surprising limberness for his age and girth. The man frowned and turned the text over in his hands a few times before glancing at Eli again. "Can read this, boy?" he asked.
Eli shrugged helplessly, quailing slightly under the man's harsh gaze. "Yes...? No? A little? I don't know," he squeaked out. After a moment, the man snorted and shook his head before handing the faded tome back to the very confused Eli. "I'll tell you what, boy," the man began, "You seem harmless enough. Help this old man pack up all these books and you can keep that one. No one else has ever shown any interest in it, anyway."
Eli's eyes widened like saucers, and he threw up one arm in a slippy recreation of the salute he had seen the city guard perform. The man snorted and shooed the young boy toward some less priceless merchandise at the front of the tent. As the boy ran to the front, the man's gaze turned vaguely puzzled. He suddenly had the strangest feeling that he had done something very foolish indeed.
Mrs. Cunningham sat back in her seat and considered the book that lay between herself and Locke. "It must be very valuable if it is so rare, then," she stated glibly. There was a harsh snort from across the table, and the woman's eyes to shoot a questioning look at the bookseller.
Locke gave a sardonic little smile. "Not particularly. To normal people, it is nothing more than an eerie-looking book with many strange symbols in it that make no sense. You can open it right now, and the words will blur across the page. Even to those who do understand it, it is extraordinarily dangerous and prone to getting those who try to read it killed or worse. No one in their right mind would have anything to do with it," he stated, not quite managing to restrain another snort. "I am willing to take it off your hands, but not for much more than what you gave for it. I am inclined to say that was about two or three hundred krowns, given how the types of dealers who get their hands on such things tend to wheedle their customers. I will give you four hundred, take it or leave it."
There was a moment of silence as Mrs. Cunningham stared at the book, a curious frown between her eyebrows. "Forgive me for saying, Mr. Locke, but you speak as if this book is alive," she murmured.
At this, Locke outright laughed. "All books are alive, Mrs. Cunningham. They are filled with the thoughts, feelings, and very souls of their creators. However," he replied, eyes once again trailing to the grimoire settled between he and his customer, "Some take life a bit more literally than others." As as if on cue, the book suddenly shook violently where it sat, and Mrs. Cunningham screamed.
Eli grinned down at the book that he now possessed. His book. The idea still somewhat baffled him. This was his. Not his fathers, not his mothers, not something to be shared with five other siblings. His. The boy hugged his new possession to his chest and sucked through the back door into his house's front hallway. He had just begun to sneak up the stairs to his room when he heard his mother's voice shout at him from the kitchen.
"Elijah Locke! Where have you been? Get down here this instant!" she yelled, not even having to look away from her place in front of the stove to know which one of her children had just snuck back inside. Eli's shoulders slumped, and he quickly stowed his treasure behind the shelves in the hallway to reclaim later. Sheepishly, the boy trudged back down the stairs and sidled into the kitchen area. Without a word, his mother pointed to the kitchen table, where Eli's younger sister, Anna, was in the process of peeling vegetables for dinner. "Help your sister, and try to think up a good excuse for your absence. Your father was furious when he found out that you snuck off again," his mother said tersely. Eli's shoulder slumped further, and he shuffled over to the stool set up next to his sister. It seemed that he would have to look at his prize later.
The door to the small apartment closed with a soft click, the hard wood drowning out the sound of Locke's screeching landlady two floors down. The book dealer let out a long, drawn out sigh and sunk back against the door, eyes slipping closed. After a moment spent savoring the fact that he was back in his sanctuary, Locke slowly withdrew his latest prize from the satchel hanging from his shoulder.
In retrospect, he had gone a bit overboard in coaxing Mrs. Cunningham to let go of the book. She was, after all, very superstitious. The fabricated story alone would have been enough for her to let go of the book with minimal negotiations. He hadn't really needed to make it vibrate. It had taken ages to calm her down enough to get her out from behind her couch, and even then only after he had made a show of "sealing the book's evil powers." A load of pish-posh that. There was no such thing as "Sealing" magic. Still, it had gotten the job done.
Locke sighed and let the book fall open. Even after over a decade, the pages that greeted him were painfully familiar. He snorted quietly as he flipped past various runes and circles, recalling years ago when he had tried to make sense of them the first time. Now they came to him as easily as breathing. The reason behind that was itching unbearably, and finally Locke reached up and ripped the eye patch away from what he told everyone else was his "bad eye."
He knew without having to look into a mirror that the bright red demon's eye glowed for a moment before fading until it looked like nothing more than a pupilless red iris. Locke sighed quietly as the itching faded, apparently having appeased the demonic presence by allowing it to look at the text for itself, obnoxious thing that it was. He sighed and continued to flip through pages as he made his way further into his apartment. However, his steps came to an abrupt halt just outside of his kitchenette, and he stared wide-eyed down at the page he had flipped to.
"What in the..." he murmured, staring down at the burnt remains of where he was certain the entry for the demon that now resided inside of him once was. He quickly flipped to the previous page to find it unblemished, and then the subsequent page, which was also undamaged. He frowned and snapped the book shut again, ignoring the protesting tingle from his demon eye. That had certainly been the page that his parasite had been inscribed on. Why hadn't he noticed its state before? He hadn't been looking particularly closely, but still. And why was it like that? He traced the book's spine with his fingers, allowing his eyes to trail to the vast collection of other grimoires that lines the shelves on his walls. Perhaps when a demon was summoned, its page was blotted out to prevent other sorcerers from attempting to summon it as well?
Locke smiled wistfully and sat the book next to the most recent letter from his sister on his kitchen table. There was only one way to find out.
"What are these things supposed to be?" Eli muttered, cocking his head to one side as he stared down at the elaborate drawings of circles that adorned every page that wasn't crammed full of miniscule text. He frowned and squinted down at them, barely able to make out the dozens of tiny symbols etched in between the circles and lines crisscrossing the pages. "Are you supposed to draw these, or what?" he continued.
It had been a few weeks since he had obtained his book. It had taken quite a bit of finagling to hide it from his older siblings, and had been impossible to hide from Anna, since she seemed to have a policy against his privacy. Luckily she was easy to bribe: a few promised helpings to his share of desert had kept her from running to their mother. That of didn't mean she would leave him alone.
"You should try drawing one. See what it does," Anna said from where she was trying to read behind him. Eli scowled and hunched his shoulders, doing his best to hide the book with his body.
"Go 'way. 'M trying to read," he grumbled, turning the page. The next was only slightly less incomprehensible than the previous in that he was at least familiar with all of the letters used, if not the means of the words they were strung together to make.
Anna poked him in the back of the head, and when that didn't get his attention, she grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled. Eli let out a pained shriek and whirled around to glare daggers at his younger sister. The ten year old looked less than impressed. "I don't even scream like that," she sniffed, "Go on. Draw one, and maybe say the words on the page. It looks kinda like a spellbook or somethin' like Matt at the next farm over was talkin' about. Mum and Papa aren't home, and I won't tell. You don't even hafta give me your desert," she said, gray eyes round with thinly veiled excitement.
Eli frowned, but nonetheless swept the book off of the table and kicked the rug over into the corner of the room. "Fine. Go get some chalk from the barn," he ordered, doing his best to maintain some sense of elder-sibling authority.
The smile on Anna's face as she raced from the room could have lit the world.
The demon Locke had selected was one of the simpler to summon, while simultaneously being one of the more powerful. Locke stared down at his handiwork: five concentric circles lined with text and archaic symbols, divided by lines and a few additional rings at four points of the outermost circle. It wasn't a particularly pretty floor covering, when all was said and done, but it would have to work.
Locke took several steps away from the summoning circle and glanced down at the book. He felt his eye stir and begin the glow as the telltale tug of magic swirled within him, lending power to his summoning, a power than normal humans hadn't possessed in centuries. He began to read.
Eli frowned down at the sloppy circle he was standing in. It didn't really look much like the one in the book. It looked kind of like a pear, actually, and the symbols looked more like they had set a hen to scratching about the floor. Even if this was a magic book, he had a feeling that this was a little too different from what was pictured to work.
"I dunno about this, Anna," he said, glancing over at where the younger child was sitting on his bed, knees pulled up to her chest. The little girl shrugged and motioned for him to go on, even though she looked about as doubtful as Eli felt. The boy sighed and looked down at the large book in his hands again. The letters swam in front of him, almost as if they didn't want to be read, but Eli persisted. With a tremendous about of effort, he began to read.
Locke let out a contented sigh as he felt the magic rush out of him with the words as they left his lips. The circle in front of him began to glow a bright orange, and flames began to lick at the edges, seeking out breaks. He persisted, and the words rolled out in a cadence, power dripping from each syllable. Slowly, the flames began to meet up until the entire circle was alight. The air pressure in the room suddenly dropped, nearly sucking the oxygen from Locke's very lungs, before a column of flame exploded from the center of the ring. Smoke billowed out in a rush, the force of which nearly knocked Locke off of his feet, before it was all sucked back in with the same velocity. Locke shouted out one final syllable, and within the circle, glowing yellow eyes opened.
Something was wrong. Something was horribly, horribly wrong. Lights had started to flash shortly after Eli had started to read, but then there had been fire and smoke, and he had sort of panicked and stopped reading. Things had sort of spiraled out of control from there, considering how dark clouds were now swirling ominously around him, and he felt rather like he was being torn in half from the inside out.
"Eli!" Anna's frightened scream sounded distant and vague, more like an annoying buzzing in his ear. He ground his teeth and fell to his knees, his hands coming up to cradle his head. He could hear voices wailing in his mind, unearthly noises that caused him to tremble violently. He felt like puking, or perhaps clawing his own chest open to try and relieve the pressure of too many beings inhabiting the same body. A whimper tore itself from his throat as he crumpled further in on himself, instinct driving him to protect all vital parts, even if his attackers came from within.
"No..." he moaned, anger at all of the varying presences in his mind quickly beating out helplessness. "I don't want you here. Get out of my head. Get out!" he shouted, and the room seemed to tremble, "I said, GET OUT!"
A force similar to an explosion reverberated throughout the room with Eli at the epicenter. Across the room, Anna shrieked and she was thrown bodily into a wall, but Eli wasn't paying attention. He stared, instead, as the dense smoke seemed to writhe in the air for several second before it was sucked into the grimoire that had summoned it. Eli snarled down at it, and the book burst into flames. He whipped his head around like he was searching for other enemies. Anna whimpered, and Eli lunged at her. The younger girl shrieked as her brother crashed into her and loomed over her, his once damaged eye now glowing and unearthly red, absent of the eyepatch that usually covered it. "Eli..." she sobbed, fear choking her words.
As she spoke, the on the boy's face shifted, and a moment later Eli was staring down at his sister with undisguised horror. "Anna,"" he croaked, then promptly collapsed, twitching, on the floor next to her.
The demon Locke had summoned stood in a single, graceful movement. It had taken the form of a tall, exotic looking man with long red hair, and seemed to think that being decently dressed was optional. The harem pants and belt really did very little to conceal much, all said. Locke glanced down at the book and watched as the pages shriveled, confirming his earlier theory, but his mind had by now drifted to other things. Namely, how in Hell's name he was supposed to explain the demon to his landlord.
"You are the demon known as Zepar Antares, correct?" he asked instead, choosing to cross that particular bridge when he got to it. The demon inclined its head, an amused smirk tugging at the corners of its lips.
"Just Antares is fine, Sweetheart. You only have to specify family names when you call us up," it said, sauntering out of the circle and glancing around the small room with an appraising look.
Locke frowned at the unnecessary pet names and snapped the Ars Goetia closed. "I am willing to concede to referring to you as Antares if you would please refrain from calling me "Sweetheart." My name is Elijah Locke, and you had damn well not call me any other nonsense," he snapped and walked over to there shelf where he planned to keep the grimoire from now on. "As I am sure you can tell, I collect grimoires such as the one I just summoned you with. I haven't the foggiest when the last time you were on Earth was, but these books are very rare. I have had more luck than most in procuring them, but I could use the assistance of an actual demon in locating more. Will such a task be acceptable, or shall I send you back to the Netherworld?" he continued.
Behind him, Antares shrugged, a wicked smile splitting his face. "Sounds fine to me," and then after a moment, "Eli."
Locke paused mid-movement at the familiar nickname that had not been used in reference to him in over eight years. He swallowed down the feeling of warmth that accompanied it and finished putting the book away, but did not reprimand the demon. He couldn't quite bring himself to. "Very well. I... Feel free to explore my home, but do not leave the apartment." He heard a quiet murmur of assent, and then the sound of a door closing. Once the demon was gone, Locke halfway turned to look at the vacant space that had been left behind. A frown creased his brow and he began to tidy up. Perhaps it was just the demon inside of him happy to have one of its kin around, but he suddenly felt more at ease than he could remember since leaving home.
The old man frowned down at the fifteen year old boy standing in front of him. "You want to work for me? Why?" he asked, leaning back against the counter.
The placid young man inclined his head slightly, a a small smile gracing his feature. "I have four older brothers, Mr. Ingham. It is unlikely that I would be able to live of of a portion of my parents' land, so I find I must look for other means to support myself. I am interested in books, so it seemed that the best course of action would be to work under you and get experience in book dealing," he said, sounding far more eloquent than the usual farm brats that populated the town.
Mr. Ingham sighed and bowed his head. "What did you say your name was again?" he asked, a sort of resignation settling into his voice. Perhaps sensing eminent victory, the boy grinned.
"Elijah Locke, sir."
"Very well, Locke. Make your self useful or I'll send you back to your folks. There is a box in the back that needs to have the books in it organized alphabetically by author's last name. You think you can handle that?" the man ordered.
The newly christened Locke nodded and retreated to the room in question. As soon as he as out of Mr. Ingham's line of sight, however, his ingratiating grin fell, and he reached up to rub furiously at the demon eye hidden behind his eye patch. It had been nearly three years since he had accidentally merged his own soul with that of a demon, but he was still having difficulty controlling it. Not to say that it was sentient-more like a force in his mind with a singular will. There was no voice in his mind like there had been to begin with. The demon (or perhaps just part of a demon) merely had a terrible habit of trying to wreak havoc whenever Locke got too emotional. After nearly killing one of his brothers if a fit of pique a year and a half earlier, he had realized both the need for control, and some way to get the demon out.
Books had been the most logical source of assistance, and if the demon had been good for anything it was the fact that it was assisting him in understanding written words, regardless of language, which had also done quite a bit for his vocabulary. However, there weren't many texts to be found that were helpful in a small farming town. He needed a larger pool of reference, and a way to procure more texts easily, which had led him right to Ingham's Rare Books and the eponymous Mr. Ingham.
Locke glanced around at the stacks of old books, unable to identify if a single one would be of any use. He sighed. It wasn't much, but it was a start. He rolled up his shirt sleeves and approached the box he assumed contained the books Mr. Ingham had been referring to. He might as well make the most of it.