Sympathies for the Devil

Author’s Note – Here’s my latest work for your consideration, my final assessment this year for Creative Writing Skills, those of you who have read either Hellblazer (Vertigo Comics) or the Bartimaeus Sequence by Garth Nix may recognise the styles I’ve adopted. All mentioned characters (apart from the main character!) are figures in various occult circles and.. well, I hope you enjoy it!

It was late March, and the weather showed it, sheets of rain whipping down through the streets of London. It slicked my hair to my head like a skull cap, and felt more like a bucket of water was being poured over my head. I stepped off the curb into a puddle and cursed briefly as I quickly hopped out of it. If I wasn’t conserving my energy, I could be lovely and dry beneath a little impermeable charm.

Cars flew past in the haze, and I considered jumping in one of the low-slung, black cabs which beetled in and out of view to my right. But I could see the flag of my destination flopping limply about in the breeze, like a dead pheasant hanging from its ankles, so decided against it. Somewhere in the darkness above me, thunder crackled across the skies.

The light from the doorway greeted me as I approached the lavish gentleman’s club, and gradually the torrents of Pall Mall gave way to the warm glow of the Royal Automobile Club. The doorman, yeah there was a hazed[1] doorman, opened the door for me and I breezed in, resisting the urge to shake all over him.

Inside it was bright and warm, the huge lobby was decorated lavishly with flowers and a small statue of a cherub grinning mischievously out at everyone. I smirked in amusement. Fat little winged baby. Up the stairs, sitting proudly on the thick midnight and gold coloured carpet, an old Jaguar E-Type lay still, like a tiger in captivity. Marble decorated the walls, and a sign by the door to the left read ‘Please do not disturb’. I turned to the receptionist and held up a business card I had borrowed from their own front desk[2].

‘Hi there, John Smith, here for the Apple-and-Cross[3] business meeting.’

The receptionist, a wiry twenty-something with greasy blonde hair and glazed eyes, looked at the card I’d lifted, his mind filling in the details for me. He checked the screen in front of him and the looked me in the eyes, seemingly involved despite the fact that my illusion had put him on autopilot.

‘Welcome to the R.A.C., Mr Smith, can I take your coat? You’ll need to wear a visitor’s pin for the duration of your stay here.’

I took the badge he offered me and pinned it to the front of my shirt. ‘Thank you, but no, I won’t be staying long. Could you point me to your facilities though, it’s been a long journey.’ The receptionist nodded helpfully and directed me to a small door in the corner of the lobby.

Once in the toilet, I locked the door and stripped down. The Magyk wards that laced the walls in this place were nearly tangible, feeling like static running across my skin causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end. It was no wonder that this building had stood for a few hundred years. Magyk had been a high class thing back then. A ‘gentleman’s secret’. And it showed, even the shitter was immaculate. I stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror, impassive, and took the Sharpie Marker from my coat. My reflection’s face was immobile, unreadable, like a death mask. Only the spark of emotion in my eyes and the bags beneath them gave any indication of the life still running through my veins. But I was on borrowed time anyway.

With the Sharpie, because even men of Magyk have to admit that permanent markers are better than chalk, charcoal, or incense, I began to draw wards upon my skin. To my right shoulder – the Sun of Horus, an ancient Egyptian ward for the preservation of flesh in heat, an eight-pointed star with runes around the edge. Drawing with my left hand made it kind of shakey, but once I was finished drawing and muttering the Words, it smoked briefly and sank into my flesh leaving only a ghostly imprint upon the surface. Next the Cross of St Peter, an upside down cross upon my sternum, to ward against hellfire[4]. Then the Star of the Nile; for physical strength, the Neverending Spiral; to hide me from counter-spells, the Curse of Sands, the Familiar, and so on, the list goes on. Suffice to say that when I was finished, my legs, arms and torso were covered in my own spidery hand-writing, with ghostly tattoos and glowing runes criss-crossing my body. My skin felt charged, buzzing with the interaction of my spellwork and the wards in the building. If I had walked in the door with this many, I would have tripped more alarms than the time I got caught after-hours in the Louvre[5].

I dressed myself, shirt undone at the collar, and hooked my coat into the crook of my elbow before leaving the toilet. With slow, deliberate steps, I made my way towards the meeting hall, beginning to unconsciously clench my fists.

Something grabbed my arm, and I spun around, almost ready to strike out. If it hadn’t been Mal standing there when I turned, the culprit would have likely been rendered into ash and splinters. His touch on my shoulder sizzled a little, my own Magyk reacting to the divine touch.

‘Malachi[6].’ I breathed as he looked at me, innocent hazel scanning my face. You could get lost in the eyes of the angel. Look too long and the universe takes your consciousness kicking and screaming into oblivion. Normally he wore shades, I was surprised to see his eyeballs at all.

‘Don’t call me that. What are you doing, John?’ Straight to the point with Malachi, I supposed it made sense, I wasn’t meant to be here. The meeting was meant to be between Higher Beings and Higher Beings only.

‘Me? Oh nothing.’ I said, “just came to say my piece and leave, I’d hate to rain on this fancy parade you lot have got going on. Though, I think having your cousin sit there is a nice touch.” The cherub statue turned and gave me a deadly look, flipping me the finger while the receptionist had his head down.

‘I’m serious John.’ Said Malachi, pulling me to the side of the room as a group of three Japanese Oni walked past, dressed in suits and with their traditional horns poking from beneath slick, business-like hairstyles. ‘Why are you here,’ asked Mal again, as I watched them go into the function room.

‘You know, with all the good I do for you lot, I would have thought I’d at least be on the list for the corporate get-together.’

‘Don’t be flippant. I can call Michael[7] and have you expelled from the Club. You shouldn’t be here anyway.’

‘I would like to see you try.’ He got his wish. I wasn’t being flippant now.

Malachi drew himself up to his full height, which was still beneath my eyeline, and puffed out his chest, wings appearing from the haze and spreading their considerable span across the corridor. It was a boring bit of posturing. Angels seem to think their wings make them really imposing. As if I’d be worried about a bit of muscle and feathers. ‘Care to take this outside?’ Mal said. Eyes flashing as he looked up at me.

I was about to take him up on it, can’t resist taking the Holy Ones down a notch, but right now I had bigger fish to fry.

‘I want Paimon, Mal.’

Malachi stopped. Realisation spread across his face like ripples on a pond. He closed his wings, and they once more disappeared into the haze. Meanwhile, I stared hard at him, gauging his reaction before continuing.

‘Tonight is the first time he’s been in this dimension in over a decade. And I’m going to take what’s owed.’

Crossing his arms, Mal retorted slowly. ‘And if you do, I won’t stand in your way. But it’s not going to bring them back.’

‘No, it won’t. But I’m going to wipe that smug bastard from existence all the same.’

‘You are acting alone?’ I nodded, and Mal sighed.

‘You have a genuine grievance, I cannot stand in the way of blood-for-blood. But know that this will damage your reputation. This summit is on neutral ground for a reason.’

I locked my gaze on him, looking cold and hard into those deep pits in his eyes, seeing galaxies twinkling in them. ‘I don’t plan on leaving the same way I came in, Mal.’

The angel lowered his gaze and nodded. ‘Go on in then, before I change my mind and try to save you from yourself.’

He gestured to the door and I took a moment to shoot him a look of gratitude before walking through it.

The function room was huge, with a high painted ceiling and the same midnight and gold coloured carpet as the lobby. The bar on one wall played host to near on one hundred assorted beings, from Jinni to Angels to Oni to Demons. I knew exactly which one I wanted though. The tall, strong-looking man with a woman’s face, seated in a chair away from the bar. Looking hard at him, the Haze shifted to reveal a ghostly crown upon his head. In his vanity, the demon-king had refused to remove his headgear, aside from that he looked normal, at least as normal as Higher Beings let themselves look. Wearing a tailored suit and a head taller than his legion of minions waiting hand and foot upon him.

I walked slowly over towards him, hearing that mocking, booming voice echo around the room. Surprising that I didn’t hear it from the road, but then again – Magyk. He ignored me as I approached, until I was almost right in his face.

One of the legion turned to me, greasy hair hanging lank in front of his face.

‘Can I help you sir?’

I’m more a man of actions over words, I’ve no time for small-talk. Straight away, I pushed the lackey aside and began activating the runes circling my arm. They burnt through the fabric of my shirt like tissue paper, igniting into the shape of a blade extending from my clenched fist. Paimon was so surprised, likely no-one had dared raise a hand to him before. My plan hinged on his inability to anticipate this surprise. And it worked. I buried my fist so deep in his chest I could feel the sparks of Magyk travelling up his spine.

My wards did the rest, spreading out and burning through his body like an infection. Lighting his soul on fire.

I leaned close and whispered to him before he immolated.

‘Give my sympathies to Lucifer.’ Then he was gone.

 

[1] Hazed – a term we use for normal people who are stuck with a ‘Veil’, a spell which restricts their sight to… well… normal stuff. Basically it’s just so that Seraphim, Cherubim and all the different types of demons present in our dimension can hang out ‘sans-illusions’ without causing a fuss.

[2] I put an illusion on it, of course, I’m not an idiot.

[3] Angels and demons never can resist being dramatic, or ironic. Calling their fake business meeting something to do with their cults would have tickled any of them.

[4] You’re damn right I’m protecting myself from hellfire. That shit burns hotter than a Spanish lingerie model.

[5] It’s a long story involving a succubus and a Samoan Fertility icon, don’t worry about the details. Though she was very agreeable…

[6] A third level Seraphim, I met Malachi in Palestine while chasing a Jinni-of-the-Desert. We bonded over some beers and shared experience once we’d caught the bastard. If anyone was worth trusting in this place, it was him.

[7] Yeah, the divine Michael. He’s a complete tool. Conversation is all ‘holy, holy, holy’ this and that. More boring than an imp on a Monday.