Noah landed gracefully on the ground, feeling exceptionally pleased with himself. He turned around to look at the large gate he had just scaled. It looked intimidating, but in reality, it was child’s play for a man of his skill. Although he had to admit, carrying a bag of safe cracking tools on his back made the task more difficult than it needed to be. He maneuvered his way out of the bag’s handles and caught it just before it hit the ground. The metal tools inside clunked against each other, making more noise than Noah was happy with. He looked over to the modest security guard’s house right next to the huge gate. It was empty, just as he was told it would be. In fact, he had been told not a single living soul would be at this property tonight. Noah was wise enough not to allow this to make him drop his guard completely. However, he was feeling more comfortable than he usually did in situations like this. Truth be told, Noah was feeling particularly chipper on this cool spring night. He put the reason for this down to three things. First, this job was already shaping up to be an easy one. His fixer had told him that the owner was out of town, and in an uncharacteristic display of good nature, had given all of his staff the week off.
Second, if what he had been told was true, this would also be the most lucrative job he’d had in a while. He had been instructed to steal the contents of a safe in the owner’s study. The cash (of which he was told there would be a lot) and jewelry (which he was led to believe was expensive) contained within was his to keep. There were apparently a few old artifact s that his fixer’s contact was willing to pay top dollar for. Third, and this is the point that pleased Noah the most about this job, the owner of the huge and lavish mansion that stood before him, was a complete and utter asshole. And Noah loved nothing more than stealing from assholes. Wayland Garrett was a steel tycoon who had made his way to the top through coercion, blackmail, and extortion. In recent years, he had used his financial clout and political contacts to keep his crooked ass out of jail for one count of rape and two counts of assault with intent to harm. The first was an eighteen-year-old college student, and the second to be the focus of his ire, a waitress at a fancy restaurant. A little part of Noah was disappointed Garrett would not be there tonight. He would’ve liked to rough him up a bit. However, this job also had some icing on the cake, as if it even needed it. Apparently, the artifact s in Garrett’s safe were so damning to his reputation, if Noah didn’t steal from anywhere else in the mansion, there was an excellent chance that Garrett would not even report the theft. This gave Noah cause to smile as he strolled confidently across the meticulously maintained lawn up to the marbled steps of the mansion. As he approached, he found himself humming “Reet Petite” by Jackie Wilson. The song had plagued him from the instant he had woken up that morning. He had not heard it in years and had no idea how the song had wormed its way into his head. In fact, it had been so long since he had heard the song, it took a maddening two hours of humming the earworm before it finally dawned on him what it was. Now the song had burrowed into his brain like an alien parasite and refused to move. Noah enjoyed the little ditty as he waltzed up to the front door. He looked at the sturdy oak door and then at the lock and smiled to himself. Typical rich asshole. They always seemed to spend a fortune on a door that looked like it could withstand a direct hit from a bazooka without giving a moment’s thought to the lock. This one was so basic even a novice could pick it. Noah gently set his bag of tools on the ground, pulled his lock pick set from his pants pocket and set to work on the lock. He had the door open within twenty seconds. As soon as it was open, Noah picked up his bag and hurried inside, closing the door behind him. He wasted no time looking around for the keypad alarm on this side of the door. He located it quickly and ran over to punch in the code he had been given to disable the alarm. Something unusual made him stop in his tracks. The keypad was not beeping. No countdown had begun, signaling the imminent arrival of blaring alarms and armed security. Noah looked at it more closely and saw that the electronic panel was inactive. A broad smile spread across his face. It looked like Garrett had forgotten to activate the alarm before going on vacation. A little odd perhaps, but as Jackie Wilson merrily chimed, “Reet petite, the finest girl you ever want to meet…” in Noah’s mind, any concerns he may have had vanished as he walked away from the dormant alarm. A double set of richly carpeted stairs complete with ornate banisters curled around both sides of the large open hallway. On the landing at the top of the grand two-way staircase was a set of mahogany double doors. Had Noah not been humming as he ascended the staircase, he may have heard something large moving behind the double door. Likewise, had he not been so distracted by thoughts of the riches, which were almost within his grasp, he may have noticed the small pool of blood trickling out from under the doors. Had he not been so preoccupied with ensuring the doors closed quietly behind him, he may have noticed the bloody carnage and eight-foot-tall demon in the room beyond before it was too late. He sure as hell noticed it the moment he turned around, which was the exact same time Jackie Wilson vanished for good, leaving Noah to face the music by himself.
The demon looked across the barren, desolate wasteland of jagged black rocks and crimson streams, which flowed slowly between them like lethargic arteries. In the distance, echoing across the rocky landscape and blackened sky, it could hear the cries of torment and pain being inflicted on the souls imprisoned in this realm of hell. Untold millennia of suffering and anguish had seeped into every rock and rivulets of blood, becoming part of their very essence. The demon could taste it in the air, feel it with every touch of cold, hard rock or warm, visceral stream, and this made it “happy”. It liked these moments when it was miles away from the other denizens of this realm. It enjoyed surveying the lifeless landscape, breathing in deep the suffering in the air, caressing the stone and feeling the sorrow embedded deep within. It took pleasure in running its hands through the channels of blood and feeling it ooze between its fingers, knowing these were made by pain inflicted on others. And again, it felt something it could not quite explain. If it could feel the full range of human emotions, maybe its current state of mind could be equated to happiness. Or maybe what it felt in these moments was simply the absence of anger and hatred. Satisfied, for now, it stood upright, ready once more to exert its dominance over those weaker than it, and torture the souls trapped here for eternity. The demon went to take a step forward, but as it did, it felt a pull in the small of its back, like it was tethered to something behind it. It took a moment to register, and the demon attempted once more to walk forward. This time the pull was more like a tug, and instead of taking a step forward, the demon stumbled a step back. What was happening? The next tug was more violent and forceful, lifting the demon off its feet, yanking it back as if it weighed nothing. Suddenly, the demon realized what was happening. It had experienced this once before, and it roared in fury. It was being summoned. As powerful and as ancient as the demon was, it was still a creature of magic and as such bound by the laws of magic. Only man was gifted with true free will.
Demons could be bound and forced to follow the command of lesser creatures with the right incantations and rituals. The last time this happened to the demon had been almost a thousand years ago, but it still remembered the humiliation of being forced to bow like a lowly dog and serve the demands of man, the lesser being, as if it were yesterday. For thirty-three days it had been in the human’s thrall, powerless to do anything but comply meekly with its demands. However, the human had not read the small print in the spell. When it was finally time for death to claim it, the human’s soul was condemned to an eternity in the demon’s realm, and this time, he was at its mercy. Every single day from then to now, the demon had ensured special care was taken to guarantee that this soul suffered thirty-three times more than the other souls condemned to its realm. But even this daily retribution did nothing to quell the rage of indignity it had suffered almost a millennium ago. And now someone dared to do the same thing again. It could feel its blood boil, it roared with such ferocity that it felt its throat tear and bleed. It was lifted further and further off the ground, helpless to stop its ascent. But as it was pulled higher and higher into the sky, it sensed that something was different this time. Something not quite the same as when it was summoned previously. It searched its mind frantically to find the answer, not so much from learned knowledge, but from an inherent arcane sixth sense deep within it. Suddenly, the answer popped into its mind, and it was as certain of it as it was of its own magnificence, and it smiled. This time its summoners had omitted a part of the ritual. They had completed the incantation to tear the demon from its realm of existence, but they had failed to complete the part of the ritual that would bind it to them. When it arrived on Earth, it would be free to do as it pleased. It would be free to exact immediate revenge, sending those who bitterly offended it by this transgression straight to its plane of hell. There their eternal punishment would continue on its return. More pertinently, it would be free in the realm of humans for thirty-three days to wreak carnage, death, and destruction as it saw fit. The pathetic mortals would be powerless to stop it. Its time in the realm of man would be a black mark in their history for all time, a cautionary tale about what happens when mortals dare entertain the idea they should have dominion over the immortal demon races. And this thought made it “happy” once more. With a loud “pop” it blinked out of existence from its realm and instantly appeared on Earth. It took a moment to survey its new surroundings. It was in a room with a ceiling only a little taller than it. Windows adorned the walls on either side of the room, letting in the pale moonlight from outside. There were three exits in the rooms, if one excluded the windows, although if any of the humans had the will to retain their minds in its presence it could not exclude the possibility that their terror may cause them to throw themselves through the glass in an effort to flee. Beside a dead human female, who lay blooded and splayed out on top of an oak altar, were twelve humans in dark hooded cloaks. Four dropped dead within seconds of the demon’s arrival; the terror of what stood before them too much for their hearts to endure. The minds of another five snapped (almost audibly to the demon’s ears), unable to comprehend the magnificence of what they had summoned. The remaining three fell to the floor, screaming, crying, and soiling themselves, realizing only too late what they had done. The demon was not surprised by these events. It has seen similar reactions once before when it was summoned all those centuries ago. Twenty humans had been present then, and only one had the strength of will to endure being in the demon’s presence. Even then the human had fled, leaving the demon on bended knee for almost a full week before finding the courage to return. This time though the demon had not arrived on Earth bowing meekly; it had come through to this realm proud and full of wrath. No mortal could look upon this terror unscathed. The reaction from the humans in this room had not only been predictable but expected. Out of the corner of its eye, the demon noticed an ancient tome and bloodied bone-handled dagger on the altar next to the dead woman. The tome contained the spell used to summon it. It was the same one which it had hoped was destroyed after his last tenure on Earth, something it would make certain of this time around. It was the sight of the dagger that made the demon take a brief involuntary step back and hiss. Not only was the dagger a blasphemous creation and permanent reminder of who had slain its unholy lord, it was also the only mortal weapon in this world that could harm it. The demon felt rage consume it once more. How dare these humans summon it in the presence of a weapon that could kill it! Fury overwhelmed the demon, and it quickly tore through the humans, killing each of them swiftly and brutally. It even shredded the ones who deigned to die before feeling its wrath. Within moments, all lay lifeless in front of it. Its temper only marginally decreasing from boiling point, it gave thought once more to the ancient tome and dagger. The book would be challenging to destroy, but it could be done. The dagger would be a different matter. It dared not touch it for fear of the power within its blade, but destroy it, it must. As it contemplated its options, it heard the doors behind it open. It turned to see another human standing in the entrance of the double doors. Maybe this one was late to the summoning, but curiously it was not dressed as the others had been. This one smelled different too. It did not have the smell of someone who dabbled in magic or was fueled by a desire for dark power. No, this one smelled almost pure. This human did not belong here. It had stumbled upon the demon’s summoning by accident. It was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It made no difference to the demon. It would die and suffer as the rest had and would. The human did not seem to notice the demon at first. Instead, it placed a heavy bag on the floor. It then turned and closed the door it had come through. What was that sound coming from its mouth? The sound was one the demon was unfamiliar with, and it found it both painful and nauseating at the same time. All the more reason to make this one suffer. Only when the human turned back around did it notice the carnage before it, and its mouth dropped wide open. The demon raised itself to full height and glared at the human, waiting to see how fear would take it. Would the man’s mind break, or would its heart explode in his chest? Maybe it would have the strength to do neither and instead fall to the floor, curl up into a protective ball, and wait for the demon to mercifully end its mortal life. The demon waited in eager anticipation. The human did none of these things. Instead, it tilted its head and looked at the demon with a stupid expression on its face, mouthing three syllables. The demon’s body shook with rage, insulted that this human lacked the decency to break in the mere presence of such a glorious being. It roared with such force to exude blood and phlegm from the mouth. With a single clawed hand, it lifted the heavy wooden altar and swung it at the defiant human with such might as if to squash him against the floor with a satisfactory squelch. The sturdy wooden altar did in fact hit the floor with such force that anything caught between the two would have been obliterated. But it did not hit the human mark. In a further display of unbelievable defiance, the human did not stand there and accept its fate. Instead, it dove to the side and rolled across the floor out of the way of the large projectile. The demon momentarily gasped at the human, flabbergasted by its insubordination. How dare it not stand still to be killed. How dare it not look at the demon as if it had any option other than to die. To add insult to injury, the human man now ran towards another of the exits on the rear wall. Briefly unable to comprehend what it had just witnessed, the demon stood dumbfounded. Anger replaced its disbelief of this insolent human. Oh, how it would make it pay for this insult. It flung the altar at the double doors and gave chase, all thoughts of the tome used to summon it and of the dagger that could be used to slay it forgotten …