I’m very happy to offer the sixth instalment of Demon Interrupted, a new story from the Elemental Coven that will be unfolding in its entirety right here on A Hopeful Romantic over the next few months.
The Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy left so many stories untold and so many fun places in the lives of the Elemental Coven yet to be explored, that a serial seemed like the ideal way to share more of the coven’s adventure. With a coven that specialises in sex magic, it’s not only exciting to revisit my witches at Elemental Cottage, but it’s sizzling hot. Here are the links to the previous episodes in case you missed them:
Enjoy Chapter Six, and thanks for joining the fun with this Work in Progress. If you want to know more about the Elemental Coven’s sexy adventures, check out the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy: Body Temperature and Rising, Riding the Ether and Elemental Fire. Enjoy!
Chapter 6 Demon Interrupted
Beneath the Weight of Shadow
‘I will go after the shadow and the ghost.’ Anderson helped Cassandra to her feet and moved to cut a door in the circle.
‘Not by yourself,’ Tara ordered. ‘We don’t know what this thing is. And Cassandra, you stay here,’ she called as the succubus joined him. ‘We need someone non-corporeal. Take Fiori.’
Anderson nodded his agreement, paused only long enough to brush a quick kiss across Cassandra’s lips then he and Fiori vanished from the circle.
‘Lucia? What’s going on,’ Tara called out as she scrambled to where Cassandra already knelt next to Ferris with his head in her lap.
‘He’s freezing, Cassandra said, pulling his robe over him and then reaching for a blanket at the foot of the sleeping pallet. She looked up at the coven leader as the others gathered around. ‘He’s not responding at all.’
‘Is he in the Ether,’ Tim asked. ‘Is that possible?’
The succubus shook her head. ‘He has no skills in the Ether, and no ability to go there unconsciously that I know of.’
Skye, who was trained in healing arts and had some skills in first aid, moved to his side and laid her fingers against his throat. ‘His pulse is faint, thready. Whatever that was –’ she nodded toward the cave entrance ‘– it came from inside him. Almost like it belonged there.’
‘Or like it didn’t,’ Tim said.
‘Goddamn it, Lucia, I need you,’ Tara yelled into the empty air, ‘Where’s the damned demon when you want her?’
‘She’s not known for being cooperative,’ Kennet said. He took a bottle of water from one of the rucksacks and handed it to Alice, who hunched trembling in the corner. ‘What happened?’ He sat next to her and pulled a Mackenzie tartan around her shoulders.
‘At first, I thought it was just a shadow,’ Alice said. She took a sip of water and wiped her eyes with a hand that was still none too steady. ‘It was like all of a sudden Ferris got … bigger … all over, and I don’t know why I didn’t think about it. I don’t know why it didn’t seem strange. It was so intense, so solid, nothing at all like shadow. And then when I … when I came, I knew. I could tell that whatever it was, it had taken with it Ferris’s essence.’ She shivered. ‘I’m sorry I panicked.’
‘You have nothing to be sorry for,’ Kennet said. ‘You had good cause.’
‘Cassandra, do you know anything about this? Has anything like this ever happened before,’ Tara asked. ‘You’ve known Ferris most of your life.’
She shook her head. ‘I knew Ferris possessed some magic, but honestly, until we came here, I’d never seen him use any of it. He was always there, but until we came here, I never really noticed him. Until we came here, he was … I don’t know. He was always there when I needed him, but it was almost like he didn’t exist the rest of the time.’
‘Lucia!’ Tara shouted again. ‘Where the hell are you?’ She turned her attention to her man. ‘What is it, Kennet? What’s wrong? I can see it on your face.’
‘Well –’ he moved away from Alice and laid a hand against Ferris’s chest ‘—the way that shadow left him, it reminds me of when Lucia possessed me, the way she left my body, at least when I was aware of her leaving.’
‘But you never lost consciousness when she left you, did you?’ Tara asked. ‘ I never have. Sometimes I don’t even feel it when she leaves, though I usually feel it when she comes back home.’
‘And speaking of the devil,’ Tim said. ‘It’s not like Lucia to stay away when she’s called. She never likes to miss a good party. How long can she be away from you, Tara, before … you know?’
‘Before I die again? I don’t think there’s a sell-by date, Tim. There’s some kind of connection inside whether she’s with me or not. I feel her absence, but not in quite the same way Kennet did, and certainly she never rendered me unconscious when she left, though I reckon she could if she were inclined.’
‘Wait a minute –’ Marie said, ‘– If you’re saying that Ferris is possessed by some kind of demon, we could have just sent Anderson and Fiori into danger.’
Just then Ferris’s body jerked hard, his back arched, and he began to convulse.
It was good that the moon was full. It made following the shadow and the ghost much easier. Anderson felt no threat from either of them. He did not know what the shadow was, though it certainly seemed to him that the thing might have been in possession of Ferris’s body. Because there was much they did not understand of the situation, he preferred as many of the odds in his favour as possible.
‘The shadow –’ Fiori’s disembodied voice filled Anderson’s ear, or what would have been his ear had he had form other than that of thought and will ‘– he was with Ferris the last time he made love to me.’
Anderson glanced at her and continued following the disturbance in the air through which the strange couple had passed. ‘Did you speak to Ferris of this?’
‘At the time I thought I only imagined it. I was groggy from a bad dream and he comforted me. I didn’t feel threatened. It felt only as though Ferris were suddenly a much larger man, different, but still Ferris. I felt full of him, full of his presence. The space around me felt full of his presence. I don’t know, we all have secrets, and none of us really knows Ferris that well.’
‘My dear Fiori, even Cassandra does not know Ferris well, and though it seems that Lucia has released him of his responsibilities to her, he does not wish to know his past. I think that rather odd. It seems to me …’ Anderson’s words died in the throat he did not at this moment have, and he halted their progress with nothing more than an act of will. At the edge of the tarn that glowed silver-black in the moonlight, the strange ghost with the noose around her neck threw herself into the arms of the shadow.
‘I found you. Thank goddess I found you. Oh Ferris, I was so worried. I thought I’d done something wrong. I thought that when you learned what … what I’d done, you were angry and you left.’
‘I didn’t leave you. I swear I didn’t.’ The shadow spoke in a voice that was quite recognisable as Ferris’s. With careful hands, he removed the noose from around her neck and gave it an angry toss. Anderson could see the angry ligature marks on the woman’s delicate throat, and the curse that Fiori uttered told him so did she. ‘I don’t know what happened,’ the shadow said, ‘but I promise I didn’t leave you intentionally.’
‘Ferris?’ Anderson spoke softly, not wanting to startle the couple, and eased himself into a form that was fully visible, but had no substance. He was not yet certain if, indeed, the dark entity was Ferris. But the shadow turned to face him, and he could see the likeness of a man broad of shoulder and clearly several inches taller that Anderson, who was, by no means, a small man.
The shadow, who still held the woman in his arms looked up at Anderson and nodded. ‘I’m sorry.’ His voice was soft, unobtrusive, as Ferris’s voice always was. ‘I don’t know what happened.’
Anderson took a cautious step forward and Fiori followed, her eyes locked on the woman. ‘You are aware that you have left your flesh unattended in the dream cave?’ Anderson asked.
‘So it would appear.’ Ferris looked down at the large hand that was not resting on the woman’s shoulder and released a long breath of which Anderson was fairly certain he had no need in his present form. ‘I … don’t know what happened,’ he repeated. Then he glanced from Anderson to Fiori and back again. ‘Lucia? Is she in the cave?’
‘She was not present when we left,’ Anderson said, ‘But it must be said that we did not linger to take attendance.’
‘Perhaps you might introduce us to your friend.’ Fiori took another step forward, her eyes on the ghost.
‘This is Elaine.’ Ferris did not loosen his hold on her. ‘Elaine these are my friends from the Elemental Coven, Fiori and Anderson.’
‘They’re both … dead,’ the woman said, catching her breath as though the realisation shocked her.
‘As are you, my dear woman,’ Anderson replied. ‘However, Ferris is not, and I cannot think it is healthy for his flesh to have him too long absent from it, so I would humbly request that we all return to the cave as quickly as we may.’ Almost before he finished speaking, the two vanished, and he and Fiori followed suit.
Alice let out a little squeal and crab-walked backward as the shadow-man, who had left Ferris’s body in such a hurry, materialised in the cave with the ghost of a young woman in his arms. Instantly Ferris’s physical body calmed on the floor of the cave.
‘What the fuck?’ Tim said, glancing from the couple to Ferris on the floor and back again. Then Anderson and Fiori materialised next to them.
‘This is Elaine. I am told she is a friend of Ferris’s.’ Anderson spoke as calmly as if he were making introductions at a dinner party. For an instant no one in the cave moved. All eyes were on the couple. Skye still knelt next to Ferris’s body with her hand resting against his throat and Tara and Cassandra knelt next to her. Tim and Marie and Kennet sat near Alice.
With a sharp catch of his breath, the shadow-man, who seemed much more man than shadow now, eased forward and stared down at the flesh that had only recently housed him. He did nothing but stare. The ghost, Elaine, did the same. But hers was a more fearful countenance, and Anderson thought it strange that she held no such fear for the shadow-man as she did for the unpretentious fleshly man now unconscious on the floor of the cave.
‘There’s still no sign of Lucia.’ Marie spoke to Anderson and Fiori.
Kennet growled. ‘Not much nightlife in Keswick on a Wednesday night. I suppose she could have gone to Penrith … or Birmingham.’ He shrugged. ‘Hell she could have gone to Bangkok for all I know.’
‘I’ve never heard of a demon clubbing,’ Marie said. ‘I can’t think it would be much fun without a body.’
‘I don’t know what she gets up to when she’s not at home,’ Tara said. ‘She doesn’t tell me and I don’t ask, but damn it, I hate it when she ignores me, and I know that’s what she’s doing.’
‘I fear it’s me she’s ignoring,’ the shadow-man said. ‘And I can’t say that I long much for her company either, but under the circumstances, I suppose it would be good to know what’s going on.’ He didn’t sound very convinced of it.
‘Are you some kind of demon?’ Tim asked. A ripple of tension passed through the room. Tim had a reputation for being blunt and saying what was on his mind, but the shadow-man did not seem offended. Instead he stood contemplating the idea. And the shape of him was beautiful, Anderson thought, much more like a god than a man, fit to grace the temple of Apollo, fit to kindle the lust of any libido. And yet in the shadow there was no flesh.
‘I can’t truthfully say,’ he replied to Tim, ‘As far as I know, I’m Ferris Ryder, and that –’ he nodded to the body on the ground ‘—is also Ferris Ryder, though I have no idea how that can be. I think that perhaps Elaine –’
Tara raised a hand to silence him. Carefully she came to her feet and moved toward Elaine, who stood just barely inside the entrance of the cave now and seemed to be inching slowly in that direction as the conversation unfolded. ‘Elaine –’ Tara’s voice was only slightly more than a whisper ‘—how is it that you suddenly wear the flesh?’
Instantly all eyes were on the woman, and there was a collective intake of breath, for she was, indeed, in the flesh. A fact that surprised even her.
‘Is it because of you?’ Tara looked up at the Shadow-man, who shook his head.
‘Apparently I can choose to be … corporeal if I want,’ Elaine replied. ‘Though in all honesty, I have no memory of even being a ghost until I met Ferris, who was wearing the flesh of Patrick last night.
‘Who the hell is Patrick,’ Tim asked.
‘He is Patrick,’ she nodded to Ferris’s body. ‘And how he now lives but is not Patrick, I do not know. I killed him myself. Of that I’m certain.’
A harsh choking sound drown out the coven’s murmured response to Elaine’s confession, and all eyes were once again on Ferris’ body, which went rigid, then gasped a desperate breath, and it was as though by doing so, he rendered the shadow-man little more than a wisp of dark smoke, which swirled in the air, then vanished into Ferris’s corporeal chest.
Elaine let out a little cry and her knees gave just as Anderson caught her against his chest.
On the cave floor, Ferris spasmed twice then sat up and looked around the chamber. Cassandra knelt next to him and handed him a bottle of water. He drank deeply and coughed.
For a long moment the only sound in the cave was his effort to catch his breath.
‘Ferris?’ Skye said, at last. ‘Are you back with us?’
He nodded, then his gaze settled on Elaine and held, but he did not speak. He only stared at the ghost in the flesh.
When the silence had stretched beyond the point of uncomfortable, Tara laid a hand on Ferris’s forearm and spoke, ‘How much of what just happened do you remember?’
He started to speak, then cleared his throat as though his voice had rusted from disuse. ‘Everything. I remember everything.’ With ease that belied what he had just endured, he stood, holding the blanket to him to fight off the residual chill from his unconscious state, and moved slowly toward Elaine, reaching out his hand.
When she cautiously moved to his side, he spoke, still not taking his eyes off her. ‘At least I remember everything since my arrival in Cumbria a few hours ago.’ He looked back at Tara. ‘Before that …’
‘Before that what,’ Tara prompted.
He released a slow breath that echoed in the chamber like a wind. ‘Before that there are … blank spots.’