"Summoning circles are all about shape and form," the girl with spiky blue hair said as she drew in chalk on the bare stone floor.
The girl, who wore a cornflower-blue dress and looked like a rebellious twelve-year-old, was being watched by a young man. He was wearing plain black robes that were threadbare in some places, singed in others. At one time they might have looked sinister and occult, but now they just looked worn. Both were standing in an open space in a large library. Countless shelves overflowing with antiquated tomes ran off into the distance. While it might have looked like a young girl doodling on the floor under the watchful gaze of an elder brother, the truth was a little more complicated.
The young man's name was Phil Rowling. He was a warlock--okay, student warlock, previously of Wargsnouts College for Warlocks. This library wasn't located on Earth but in hell, or some plane thereof. The young girl's name was Cerulea and she was neither a girl nor young. Girls didn't have blue horns curling out of their spiky blue hair, they didn't have long slender tails terminating in a devil's point, and they definitely didn't have large bat wings emerging from their backs. Cerulea even had a pair of tiny vestigial wings on her head, located behind her pointed ears.
Cerulea was a succubus and while she looked and acted--most of the time--like a young girl, Phil knew she was far older. So old he couldn't even begin to guess. He saw it sometimes--a flash of ancient knowledge in her ruby-red eyes.
"It's about bending and distorting the latent fibres of the present plane of reality, and rearranging them into a new alignment that touches on and intersects with an adjacent and contemporaneous plane," Cerulea said.
She continued to draw, with a precision and skill that belied her youthful appearance, a complex series of circles, lines and symbols.
"The methodology of circle summoning is simple and precise. The inner circle opens a connection to the plane or planes of choice. This allows the summoned entity to enter this plane of existence.
"The outer circle forms a barrier to prevent physical matter and other energies from seeping through into this plane. Its purpose is to keep the summoned entity within the circle for long enough to allow the summoner to set out the terms and conditions of the contract.
"As long as the summoner is proficient in transcribing the design, circle summoning is one of the safest techniques of daemon summoning."
The girl stopped and looked down at her work with a satisfied smile.
"See," she said. "It's simple mathematics and topology."
Phil looked at the baroque, highly complex tangle of lines and curves Cerulea had drawn on the floor. If this was simple, he wasn't sure he wanted to see complex.
Cerulea put a finger on her lips. "That one might be a little too complex for your current level."
Next to her on the stone floor was a child's bag shaped like a cartoon whale and a mop and bucket. She used the mop to wipe away the chalk design on the floor.
"Now you try," she said, tossing the piece of chalk to Phil. "We'll start with something simple. How about the same circle you used to summon Rosa and Verde?"
Was that a good idea? It hadn't exactly gone well last time. Rosa and Verde, two other succubi, were the reason Phil was here. He and a fellow student had summoned them in a misguided attempt to setup a night of sexy fun. Jake, the other student, was dead and Phil was alive but in hell, where things were ... complicated.
Cerulea was waiting. Phil stood there awkwardly. Surely she didn't expect him to draw the circle from memory.
"Oh," Cerulea said. "You didn't have a chance to commit the design to memory."
Phil shook his head.
Cerulea tutted. "A diligent circle summoner should spend weeks drawing the summoning circle over and over until the design is etched into his memory. Don't tell me you took the book out of the library and just copied the design off the page."
Phil glanced guiltily at the floor.
Cerulea shook her head. "Humans. Always rushing. Hmm ... Mr Grinstead."
She tapped her tail on the floor. A complex circle appeared on the stone floor as if drawn in ghostly white light. In the centre of the circle the floor vanished to be replaced by a pool of abyssal black shadow. A strange creature rose up out of the darkness. It looked like a blue-skinned ape with a toothy crocodile's snout for a head. It was no more than a foot in height. Two delicate pairs of wings, flimsy like a fly's, fluttered behind its back. They didn't look sturdy enough to support the imp's squat form, but that didn't stop it rising up until it was hovering level with Cerulea's head.
"What was the name of the book?" Cerulea asked Phil.
"The Daemonica Malefique," Phil replied.
"Go and fetch the Daemonica Malefique from the library at Wargsnouts and bring it back here," Cerulea said to the hovering imp.
The familiar gave no outward sign of acknowledgement. It turned and--wings whirring behind it--flew in a slow straight line. A portal opened up in the air before it like a circular window. The imp buzzed through and was gone from the library, the portal closing up behind it.
"It won't be able to get it," Phil said. "The Wargsnouts library is protected by all kinds of?"
The strange circular porthole opened up again and the imp came back through. It was clutching a heavy tome in its claws that was almost as big as it was. Phil recognised the book as the Daemonica Malefique.
"Very good, Mr Grinstead."
Cerulea took the big book from the imp and patted it on the head. There was just the barest flicker of a smile at the corner of the squat thing's toothy mouth, and then it was gone--sinking back into the pool of shadow on the floor.
Cerulea placed the book on the floor and flicked through the yellowing pages until she found the one she was after.
"There you go," she said.
Phil made no move to start.
"Um. Won't Verde be angry if I yank her here from whatever she's doing?"
The smooth flesh of Cerulea's forehead creased up. She sighed as she planted her palm on her forehead.
"That's not how it works," she said. "It can, but the summoner needs to know the exact design for the individual daemon and most summoners don't bother because the ritual won't work if the target daemon is not available.
"The circle is used to open a connection. It can be to a specific region of hell and/or a specific type/race of daemon. The circle you used is to summon a standard succubus-type daemon from anywhere within the Lust Conjugation. Very general. Rosa and Verde happened to be the first to answer the summoning."
Oh, Phil thought. It kind of made sense. He studied the design on the open page of the book and began to copy it, in chalk, on the stone floor of the library.
"Don't worry about imperfections in the floor," Cerulea said as Phil struggled to continue a line over a crack between two stone slabs. "It's the mental image of the circle that's important. The chalk is only an aid to focus the mind. It's the projection of the circle from the summoner's mind that actually reshapes and bends reality."
Phil was surprised to find Cerulea's words made sense. As he drew the circle he realised he was no longer seeing the chalk lines but the mental image of the design he'd concentrated on and created in his mind. He finished and stepped back. He was sure he'd got it right this time. The circle felt clearer. Crisper.
Cerulea looked at his effort. "Oh dear. I don't think that could contain even a feculoid imp."
Phil deflated. He looked at the open page and then back at the circle. They looked the same. He was sure they were the same. Where had he gone wrong?
Cerulea looked at the circle and then the open page. She frowned. She crouched down and examined the book more closely. She blushed and put a hand over her mouth.
"Book's wrong," she turned to Phil and said with a smile. "Parts of the outer circle design have been omitted."
Wrong? Phil thought. Great, so he'd never had a chance of getting the ritual right in the first place.
"I'll fix it."
Cerulea went into her bag and pulled out a black pen. She lay down on the floor next to the book and started to draw directly onto the yellowed page. It looked wrong to Phil, as if a child was being allowed to doodle in a priceless first edition of Dickens. When she finished Phil was surprised to see her modifications matched the style perfectly. He couldn't see where the original lines ended and Cerulea's alterations began.
"Try that," she said.
Phil shrugged. He mopped away the chalk of the old circle and started afresh.
"How about now?" he asked after finishing.
Cerulea tilted her head from one side to the other as she examined his work. She looked at Phil, her red eyes shining. "Why don't we try it out and see?"
Phil would have preferred a simple, 'Yes, that looks fine.'
Cerulea put a finger to her lips and was thoughtful.
"Hmm. The problem with most succubi is they're cunning, duplicitous creatures. Even if there were flaws in the circle or ritual a succubus might pretend to follow the summoner's wishes if it amused them or suited their purposes. We need a daemon that's more straightforward. Then we'll know right away if the summoning was performed correctly."
Preferably something that couldn't do a lot of damage if the circle was wrong, Phil thought.
"A violence daemon would do the trick. Maybe a taurenox. They're big, strong, and as dumb as a rock."
Big, strong and violence daemon were words that didn't appeal to Phil.
"No. No good at all. Then there wouldn't be any sex. We won't be able to hold the reader's interest if there isn't any sex."
"Oh, nothing," Cerulea said.
Deep in thought, she flicked through the pages until she found something she liked and her face lit up.
"A ctenophox," she said. "Yes, that would be perfect. Schemes and subtlety don't interest them at all."
She picked up the book and passed it to Phil.
"It's a standard summoning incantation, similar to the one you used to summon Verde."
Phil looked at the page as Cerulea took the chalk and made some alterations to the inner circle pattern. The symbols and words were familiar to him as the same ones he'd been forced to learn by rote back at Wargsnouts College.
"What's a ctenophox?" he asked.
"A primal spirit of lust from the Benth'Id depths," Cerulea replied. "They're quite simple, although they do have a reasonable amount of raw power."
"Are they dangerous?"
"Only if you make a mistake with the summoning."
But weren't they summoning the ctenophox to test if he had made a mistake with the summoning, Phil thought. Again he wondered why they couldn't just summon an imp or something equally puny.
"Now for a little something to attract a ctenophox to the circle," Cerulea said.
She went back to her childish, whale-shaped bag and took out a small glass beaker covered in cellophane. A thick, creamy-white liquid formed a small layer at the bottom of the glass. Phil didn't need to ask to know the liquid was semen, probably his. Cerulea took off the cellophane covering and left the beaker in the centre of the chalk circle.
"What about the other ingredients?" Phil asked.
"What other ingredients?" Cerulea asked.
"You know, mice, other things."
Cerulea looked at Phil. "What would a lust daemon want with a mouse?"
"Um, the blood..." Phil suggested without feeling entirely confident.
Cerulea shook her head. "You humans have some very odd notions about magic," she said. "Now recite the summoning incantation," she ordered.
Phil read the words out loud from the page. As always, his tongue struggled to wrap around the alien syllables at first, but then there was always a point when the trickle of words tipped over into a flood. A kind of eldritch gravity took over, as if the incantation had reached a critical mass and would not be stopped. Instead of him saying the words, it was like the words took over, controlling his tongue to shape them as they tumbled forth from his mouth in a stream that only ended when his finger brushed up against the last rune.
"Good. Good," Cerulea said as the echo of alien utterances faded away. "Most humans make the mistake of trying to force the words to match the sounds they're familiar with. It's better to let the words take their own form."
A pinkish, bluish cloud started to condense around the beaker in the centre of the circle. It expanded and puffed outwards, forming a dense fog constrained within the lines of chalk.
"Ah, here she comes," Cerulea said.
A female form rose up out of the swirling mist. She was blue-skinned, naked and moved with a sinuous grace that was both alien and entrancing. She stared at him with golden-yellow eyes and swayed like a belly dancer, or snake. Phil found it difficult to look away. He thought he could hear music playing far away--a strange ululation that reminded him of psychedelic science fiction TV shows from the sixties.
He couldn't see the lower part of her body. The thick billowing clouds of mist formed an impenetrable veil that obscured everything beneath the little dimple of her navel. Waves of mist rolled up against the outer chalk circle and Phil heard crackling sounds, like sparks of electricity earthing in a puddle.
"Mystic presence contained," Cerulea said. "Visual entrancements, eighty percent negated. Aural entrancements, ninety percent negated. Olfactory entrancements, ninety-five percent negated."
The smoke teased Phil like a veil. He leaned forward as he tried to peer into the clouds and see her lower half. Nothing. He couldn't see anything of her legs, ass or sex. He jumped back as an electric-blue tentacle emerged from the thick mist and slithered across the stone floor. It reached the outer chalk circle and stopped as if it had come up against an invisible barrier. Another whip-thin appendage emerged and tested the other side of the circle.
What was hidden within the clouds?
"Physical presence contained," Cerulea said. "Now quick, she's strong, recite the conditions and terms of your contract before she breaks out. Remember, visualise exactly what you desire as you recite the words."
Phil knew exactly what he desired. He wanted the daemon to not kill him, suck out his soul, scramble his brains, or do anything else bad to him. He also wanted her to leave when dismissed and not hunt him down afterwards once she was no longer bound by the terms of the contract. Oh, and not to kidnap and take him with her when she returned to her home plane. That was worth adding considering what had happened the last time he'd attempted to summon a daemon. He recited his conditions in the formal language of daemon contracting. He'd learnt some of it at Wargsnouts and Cerulea had helped him with the rest during their study sessions.
More blue feelers slithered around the white lines of the outer circle, looking for any weakness. As the last syllable of Phil's binding incantation faded away the tendrils retreated back into the opaque clouds. The ctenophox slowed down her swaying motions and looked at Phil with a smile on her sensual indigo lips.
"What do you desire of me?" she asked.
Her voice had a strange echo, almost as if Phil was hearing them both normally and directly in his thoughts at the same time.
"Did it work?" he turned and asked Cerulea.
"Let's find out," she said.
Mischief glinted in her red eyes. She kicked the mop bucket over and a tide of soapy water rushed across the stone floor, obliterating the front of the chalk circle. The ctenophox's smile widened.
It was like a wall had been blown away. The sounds came first--a haunting, eerie melody that spiralled through his eardrums and resonated pleasantly within the folds of his brain. The ululating music surrounded him. He felt it vibrating in his teeth and then down through his bones. The hairs rose up on the back of his neck. He felt strange. Airy. Antsy.
The bluish-pink mist rolled out across the floor. It pushed out before it a strange aroma that tickled Phil's nostrils. The exotic perfume added to his growing sense of dislocation.
Smiling seductively, the ctenophox put her hands together above her head and started to sway like a sensual belly dancer. Phil couldn't look away. His field of vision was constrained to a narrow rectangle that started with the ctenophox's radiant yellow eyes and went down to the gleaming blue curves of her voluptuous breasts.
A slender blue tentacle rolled out of the billowing fog and coiled around Phil's right ankle, jolting him from his trance. Alarmed, he looked over to Cerulea for guidance as another feeler slithered across the floor and up his other leg.
Cerulea put a hand to her mouth. "Oops. Adult stuff. I'm not allowed to see this. See you later." She gave him a friendly wave before skipping off in the direction of the large bookcases at the back of the room.
Wait, Phil thought. What do I do n--
The tentacles around his ankles tugged and Phil fell backwards. He landed on his back and the wind was knocked out of his body. Dazed and still partially entranced by both the beguiling melodies and the ctenophox's hypnotic swaying, Phil didn't put up much resistance as the slender cords around his ankles pulled taut and started to drag him into the circle and thick clouds roiling within.