15th Instalment DEMON INTERRUPTED, A Lakeland Witches Story
As you may have noticed, there has been more than one episode of Demon Interrupted, every three weeks recently. That’s because, like moststories, DI, took on a life of its own and would not be wrapped up quite as quickly and as easily as I planned at the beginning. That means that instead of the fourteen episodes I had planned for this serial, there will be seventeen. The series will still end on Halloween, the last day of Things that Go Hump in the Night, but you’ll be getting more of Ferris and Elaine’s story before then, so sit back and enjoy episode fourteen.
And remember, all through the month of October, A Hopeful Romantic will be celebrating all things paranormal and all Things that Go Hump in the Night. There’ll be lots of your favourite authors stopping by bringing with them lots of paranormal fun. There’ll be lots of great giveaways and lots of scary, sexy, excitement, so be sure to put Things that Go Hump in the Night on your calendar. Remember, the fun begins October 1st. More on that in a later post.
If you’ve missed the previous episodes of Demon Interrupted, find the links at the bottom of this instalment.
Enjoy Chapter fifteen, 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 Witches Trilogy: Body Temperature and Rising, Riding the Ether and Elemental Fire. Happy, reading!
‘I will spare you a long, drawn-out search,’ Lucia materialised in the wing-backed chair near the library’s fireplace. That her comings and goings were commonplace in the Elemental Coven was evidenced in the lack of so much as a gasp of surprise by anyone else in the room at her sudden appearance. ‘Soul Riders are very obscure in your magical histories. As with succubi, most people think them only a myth.’ She nodded to her daughter and smiled.
‘So now you’re going to be forthcoming with information?’ Tim said, folding his arms across his chest. ‘About damn time.’
She offered him the kind of tolerant smile one would offer a child or a simpleton, who struggled to understand basic concepts. ‘I can speak of what Ferris’ dreams have already revealed, what he has already shared with the coven; nothing more.’ Her gaze came to rest on Ferris, who sat in the other wing-backed chair next to the fire, still unable to get warm, though Sky said he no longer had fever. ‘Believe me, it is not that I don’t wish to help our dear rider understand what has befallen him, but the pact between us was sealed with powerful magic that makes it physically impossible for me to do so until he does. My memory of that period in his existence is linked to his own, as he wished it at the time. If he desires to understand his past and who he is, then he must discover it for himself.’
‘Then he is a demon.’ Tim said.
‘Of sorts.’ Lucia shifted in her chair and smoothed the flames of the fire robe across her lap. ‘I suppose you could compare Soul Riders to the furies of the ancient Greek myths, but much more –’ she shrugged ‘– mercenary.’
‘In the dream, Elaine bargained for my services with the price of her own life, of her own soul.’ Ferris closed his eyes and leaned his aching head against the back of the chair. It was easier to speak of the dream with his eyes closed. For him it wasn’t a dream; for him it was as real as the breath he now drew. ‘What she asked of me, I was more than willing to do. Her husband, Patrick Farringdon, deserved the worst I could do to him.’ He opened his eyes and looked around the room at his coven family who watched him intently, but there was no judgement in their eyes. For that he was thankful. ‘I was more than happy to do it. I … fed on his fear, his distress as I forced him into his own darkness. As he grew weaker, I grew stronger, and I shared that strength with Elaine.’ He scrubbed his hand over his face. ‘In the beginning it was not so much avenging Elaine that drew me to take her bargain as it was the possibility of riding a pure soul after I had finished with her husband. That was an experience, I had never had before, an experience I had never contemplated until she offered herself to me.’
‘She was hardly pure if she summoned a demon to torture and kill her husband, was she?
The words were barely out of Tim’s mouth before Ferris exploded from his chair and had the man by the throat. ‘You don’t know what she suffered, farmer. You don’t know what she endured.’
A sizzle not unlike an electric current grazed his body and expanded outward along with the scent of ozone. Somewhere far away, he heard gasps and cries and people scrambling.
‘Let him go! Let him go, Ferris! Let him go now!’ Someone shouted.
It was Cassandra’s voice that brought him back to himself, her hand on his arm, her succubus energy calming the fire and syphoning it from him until he could contain it, and he suddenly realised he held Tim by his throat, his feet several inches above the Aubusson carpet, something that a man of Patrick Farringdon’s stature could not have done. He released the farmer, who stumbled backward coughing and grabbing his throat. Then he caught his balance, and watched in fascination, along with the rest of the coven, as Cassandra moved into Ferris’ arms and kissed him on the mouth. At the touch of her lips, the world contracted and he fell back into the tight confines of Farringdon’s body.
No one moved, no one spoke, but he could feel all eyes on him. He did not apologise for his treatment of Tim, but turned and settled back into his chair. Only after he had settled and drank the glass of juice Fiori had set on the nesting tables next to him did Tara speak.
‘That –’Tara nodded to Ferris, but spoke to Lucia ‘—is the rider’s true form?’
‘This is the form in which our Ferris had chosen to enflesh himself before he took upon him Farringdon’s vessel.’
‘But you know this,’ Ferris said. ‘You’ve seen me in that form.’ He nodded to Tim, who still rubbed his throat, then understanding dawned as the others stared at him blankly. ‘Then that too must have been only a hallucination.’
‘Still,’ Fiori said, ‘the last time you came to my bed, Ferris, when you eased the nightmares for me, while we were making love I felt that you were somehow larger, somehow more than yourself.’ She shrugged. ‘I didn’t think too much about it, at the time. I mean dreams and the magic they evoke can do strange things to people.’
‘In all honesty, it is very rare for a witch to have the power to call and control a Soul Rider without being ridden herself,’ Lucia said to Ferris. ‘Your Elaine must have been exceptional.’
‘Are there others like Ferris?’ Kennet asked.
‘Perhaps,’ Lucia said. ‘Though I have never met another. We demons tend to stay away from each other as much as possible for obvious reasons, but Soul Riders are even more reclusive. The power extracted from a soul is unfathomable, so a Rider could easily get by only taking one soul a millennium, one truly corrupt soul, and staying in obscurity the rest of the time.’
‘I took more than that,’ Ferris said. ‘I took often and without remorse. I don’t know how I know that, but I do.’
‘What do you remember beyond the dream?’ Tara asked.
He shook his head. ‘Only intimations, vague shadows of insight that I know are true, but don’t know why or how.’ He looked down at his hands. ‘I don’t know how I ended up in Farringdon’s body, and clearly in my first encounter with Elaine at Storm Croft, she didn’t know either. In fact, she had no memory of who I was at all.’ Now, knowing what he knew, it hurt to think that she didn’t remember him.’
‘Ferris,’ Cassandra, who had been kneeling on the floor next to him since he attacked Tim, laid a hand on his knee and looked up into his eyes. ‘It’s very possible that your first encounter with Elaine was only a hallucination. As far as we know, you hadn’t dreamed before your dream in the Room of Reflection three days ago.’
Three days ago? How could he have been gone that long? ‘I suppose it’s possible,’ then he added quickly. ‘That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t visited me, that she hasn’t been with me.’
‘That she lived, there’s no question,’ Marie said. ‘And there’s documented evidence of the hanging of one Elaine Farringdon, wife of Patrick Farringdon, who owned High Moor Estate. It’s astonishing that she hanged rather than burned. The villagers firmly believed she was a witch, as of course she was.’ She looked down at her laptop. ‘But according to the histories, which are surprisingly detailed, she was hanged as a murderess, though from everything I can tell, it was a lynch mob that hanged her. She was never tried.’ She cleared her throat and nodded to Cassandra, who took Ferris’ hand. ‘I’m sorry,’ Marie said softly. ‘Ferris, I didn’t mean to be insensitive.’
He shook his head and straightened in his chair, forcing himself to breathe normally, forcing down the rage and the pain he felt. ‘Then I failed her. I couldn’t save her.’ His voice broke. ‘Clearly I couldn’t or she wouldn’t have come to me as a ghost.’ He nodded for Marie to continue
This time her voice was softer, laced with sympathy. ‘After her death, according to the history of High Moor, her husband returned, not dead at all, but only travelling and, in his rage, in his pain at the loss of his wife he …’
‘He what?’ Ferris asked, gripping Cassandra’s hand until he was sure she must be in pain.
Marie looked up at him, her eyes misting. ‘He … took her body and hid it away. No one knows where. There are lots of caves in that region. That night he returned when the village elders were meeting in the church. He locked the doors and …’
She took a deep breath. ‘He locked the doors and burned the building with them inside. Then,’ she held his gaze. ‘Then he simply disappeared.’
‘I see,’ he said so softly that it was little more than a movement of his lips. ‘What else?’
‘Ferris, the really strange thing about what we’ve discovered is the accounts of Farringdon.’ Alice took over the story. ‘It would appear, as you say, the villagers hated him. In fact there seemed to be an incredible amount of sympathy for his young wife in the beginning. He married her for her father’s money, after whoring and gambling away all of his own. The accounts say that he beat her from their wedding night onward; that he bragged that while he may have been forced to marry her for her money, he had no intention of changing his lifestyle to accommodate the baggage her father couldn’t get rid of on anyone else in the kingdom. Apparently rumours of her being a witch made it difficult for her father to find a suitable match.’
With a growl of rage, Ferris threw his empty glass across the room and it shattered against the wainscot as the sizzle of the electric current surge over his body again. Next to him Cassandra tightened her grip on his hand and spoke soothing words that he could barely hear above his anger.
Marie spoke in a quiet voice. ‘It makes no sense that this man, who clearly despised and abused his wife, would be upset about her death. Oh, he might very well have played the grieving widower until the dust settled, but if as you’ve said was the case, he was already spreading rumours about his wife being a witch, then he would have found her death a vindication of his accusations. He would have never grieved her to the point of avenging her death upon the heads of all the village elders. The man was a lot of things, by all accounts, but he wasn’t crazy.’
The silence in the room stretched to the breaking point, and Ferris heard it as a deafening roar in his ears. The library felt as though it were stretching itself with the silence, pulling everyone else in the coven away from him. His head pounded. His muscles ached from the tension. When, at last he spoke, he could barely hear his own voice over the roar. ‘Then I was the one who did this thing. I was the one …’ he looked down at his hands as though seeing them for the first time, and fisted them until his fingernails cut into his palm. ‘I was the one, in this body, who avenged her death.’
No one spoke. ‘I am the one who failed her, when she trusted me, when she believed I would come for her.’
‘There’s more.’ Marie glanced down at her laptop, then back up at Ferris. ‘Though no one knows where her body was buried, there were accounts of sightings of her ghost for years to come. Nothing is left of that place now. The village was but a small one even then. High Moor was Farringdon’s last and poorest property. The rest he’d long since sold to pay his debts.’
All eyes were on Ferris. He knew they all hoped desperately he would remember, though to remember such hideous events was not his wish. He understood now why he chose not to remember them, why he made no attempt to discover his past. He was a demon. That would have been difficult enough for him to stomach, but there was no conflict in his being when Elaine summoned him. That he had done hideous things, he had no doubt. The very act of being a Soul Rider should have been repugnant to him, and yet of all the evils he had done, of all the heinous acts he had committed, even that he had burned the village elders alive he might have come to terms. But that he had failed Elaine, that she had died before he could come for her, this was the breaking point, the precipice beyond which he could not even beg forgiveness, for how could there possibly be any?
‘You must reclaim those memories, Ferris,’ Lucia said. ‘Though the pain of it seems unbearable, you must remember. The consequences have not changed if you do not, and you risk everything by trying to avoid the truth.’
‘I told you I wanted to return to the dream,’ he said. ‘I have to find Elaine, and if remembering the truth is the only way that I can do that, then I wish to remember every detail. I wish to know her suffering as though it were my own. I wish to … make amends.’
‘Ferris it happened three hundred years ago.’ Tim’s voice was unusually gentle.
‘Maybe so, but for me it feels like yesterday.’
Cassandra took his hand again and brought it to her lips. ‘You have no need to make amends, my dear Ferris. I’ve been your penance. Surely you know that. And no one could have been more trying that I’ve been.’
He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. ‘You have been my reward, little succubus, and my salvation.’ He closed his eyes and laid his head against hers, feeling her magic effervesce over him like a sea of champagne. He pulled away, still holding her hand.
‘She is not your salvation, demon, that you must find for yourself.’ He looked up to see Elaine standing in the doorway, wearing the robe she wore when she worked magic. She beckoned to him. ‘Come back to yourself, Ferris, my darling. It’s been too long, and I can’t come home until you do. We are bound to each other by powerful magic, remember?’ She turned and walked away.
‘Elaine! Wait!’ As he stood to follow her, the room fell away. He could hear panicked voices a long way off. Cassandra’s fingers slid from his. And he followed Elaine into a field and then onto a remote hillside, to the door of a shepherd’s bothy, into which she disappeared.
Here are the links to the previous episodes in case you missed them:
Chapter 6 Beneath the Weight of Shadow
Chapter 7 Possessions
Chapter 8 Necessities and Inconveniences
Chapter 9 Demon Dreams
Chapter 10 Backlash
Chapter 11 Chasing the Dream
Chapter 12 The Summoning
Chapter 13 Tenuous Threads
Chapter 14 Corporeal