Happy Holidays and Welcome to Day Eight of the Demon Interrupted Holiday Marathon!
The Holiday Season is the season for TV and film marathons. Who doesn’t like to sit in front of the telly with a bowl of popcorn, their fave drink and totally veg out over blissful hours of telly favourites? The holidays are also the time when we love to curl up with a good read. With that in mind, I thought it was an excellent time for a marathon reading of my paranormal erotic novella, Demon Interrupted, which I wrote and ran as a serial on my blog over six months earlier this year. BUT at that time, I could only manage an episode every three weeks, so I thought it would be fun to make it more easily accessible.
For those of you who don’t know, Demon Interrupted is a Lakeland Witches spin-off story set in the fabulous landscape of the Lake District with the witches of the Elemental Coven. With the completion of Elemental Fire, I left my witches with so many stories untold, and they left me with so many mysteries I wanted to know the answer to that I felt compelled to return.
Starting today, for the next nine days I’ll be running a sizzling, chilling instalment of Demon Interrupted for your reading pleasure. Today I’d like to share with you chapters 15 and 16 of Demon Interrupted. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Thanks for joining for this Work in Progress. And 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!
‘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.
‘Elaine! Elaine, please wait!’ He shoved his way into the bothy behind her, but inside, he found himself looking into the eyes of a young shepherd, who stood over the hearth cooking porridge.
The shepherd nearly upset his cooking pot and fell back against the meagre stone ledge that served as a bed. ‘Milord, what are you doing here?’
It was then that Ferris realised he was wearing Farringdon’s body. The man had tried to run from his nightmares, but Ferris had taken advantage and rode him into the woods and into a cave. There he’d led the man deep into the winding tunnels and let him believe he was lost there in the dark, that no one would ever find him except for the demon that he ran from. As long as Farringdon clung to life, he would never be free of the demon. And in truth, the man would not live much longer. Ferris had become bored with his incessant grovelling and whining and grew impatient to get back to his little witch.
Ferris turned his attention back to the shepherd. ‘They all think you’re dead. They think she killed you and done away with your body. They come for her last night and took her off to the gaol, they did.’
The flesh that he wore suddenly felt icy and the heart in the chest he now controlled beat a wild tattoo. ‘They have taken her? They have taken Elaine?’
‘Yes milord. They thought you was dead.’ He squinted at Ferris. ‘In truth you don’t look so good, milord, shall I serve you some porridge.’
‘As you can see, I’m not dead. I’m perfectly fine.’
‘They don’t know that, do they? Everyone knows you think she’s a witch. Everyone’s afraid of her, and the way you look, who knows what vile magic she worked on you, even if she didn’t kill you.’
‘There is nothing vile about Elaine!’ Ferris backhanded the poor shepherd, who fell back on the bed and covered his bleeding nose with his hand.’
‘Please, milord, I meant no disrespect.’
‘I’ll return to High Moor and when they see that I am unharmed, they will release her into my care.’
The shepherd sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. ‘Then you best hurry, milord. The elders are talking to hang her for her crimes. They think she’s cursed, ain’t that what you always said, milord? They think she’ll curse them all and their worldly goods and their seed.’
‘What crimes? She has committed no crimes!’ He grabbed the shepherd by the collar and shook him until his teeth rattled. ‘She is innocent. If anyone deserves their hatred, it is I.’
‘I’m sorry, milord! I’m sorry. Please! I meant no harm.’
He shoved the shepherd back hard against the wall and ran for the door. It was nearly half a day’s journey by horse back to High Moor House. Though alone, Ferris could make it easily in an instant, he needed Farringdon to prove that Elaine had not killed him. Though the man was deserving of death, which he would soon get, Elaine should not suffer for helping to rid the world of him any more than a farmer suffers from killing the vermin in his field.
He rode the horse at a murderous pace. Fortunately Farringdon had a taste for good horse flesh, and during the journey, he ended Farringdon’s worthless existence and chased his spirit from the vessel, which he needed in order to free Elaine, and which would be of more use to him purged of its evil. Any further tormenting of the toad’s soul paled in comparison to Ferris’ need to reach Elaine. He had to reach Elaine. His whole world, his whole existence had become only the need to be with her again, only the need to hold his dear little witch in his arms and whisk her away from this dreadful place. Yes, he would have to come to her as Farringdon, but once she was safe, he could quickly discard the vessel, and he would take her somewhere far away, somewhere warm and exotic, somewhere that they could be together and be happy.
Happy? The concept twisted his heart. In all his endless existence he had never thought about happiness. He had never contemplated what it might mean to be more than himself by virtue of giving himself to someone else, but since Elaine had summoned him he thought of little else. He urged the horse on still faster. He had not realised that the pleasures of the flesh hung in such a fragile balance with the frailties of the flesh. His heart ached, his stomach knotted, and the breath he now needed to keep the vessel viable raked at his chest like fire. He could not lose her! It was intolerable even to contemplate such a thought. He understood the frailty of flesh, he understood the delicate frailty of Elaine’s flesh, and he knew just how tenuous the life force was that animated all flesh. He feared that the frailty he now felt had little to do with the flesh he wore and had everything to do with frailties he had no idea a demon could experience.
The horse threw a shoe when he was but a short distance from High Moor. Cursing at the top of Farringdon’s lungs, he dismounted the lathered horse and continued afoot pushing the man’s weakened, unfit flesh beyond what it would survive if it were not animated by a rider. But even so, he could not save Elaine without the lump of flesh he wore as proof of her innocence and, indeed in his eyes her innocence shone like the sun. The rasping for breath, the hammering of the heart, the aching of muscles were easy enough for him to ignore when his plan was to discard the flesh of Patrick Farringdon as soon as Elaine was safe and away from High Moor. He prayed to the goddess of all things good, though he doubted she would listen to one such as he, he prayed on Elaine’s behalf. Surely the Divine would not deny one so vibrant, one so worthy, one who had already suffered so much. But he knew in the selfish depths of his demon’s being, that he prayed to a deity in whom he had little faith for one reason and one reason only. He could not lose her! He could not lose Elaine!
‘His fever’s dangerously high,’ Ferris heard Sky’s voice as though it came to him through a long tunnel as he ran, endlessly ran, on Farringdon’s cursedly weak legs. ‘What the hell is he doing? We’ve got to bring it down. It’s almost like he’s rejecting his body.’
‘It’s not his body,’ Tim Meriwether said.
Ferris viewed them as though they were all looking down at him through a mist.
‘He’s dreaming.’ He felt his lovely Cassandra nudging at the edge of his consciousness, trying to ease her way into his dreams. ‘If I could just get in, maybe I could help him.’
‘Then hurry,’ Tara said. ‘If you don’t, there may be no choice but to…’
As the wall of High Moor appeared from the top of the hill, Ferris forced all thought from his head except reaching Elaine. He had to reach her on time. The burning in his chest, he knew beyond a doubt, was from far more than his efforts to push the flesh he wore beyond its endurance. Something was wrong, something that he should know, something far too important for him to have forgotten. The feeling of wrongness pushed at his sternum like a leviathan trying to escape, and he ran, stumbling and falling, ignoring bruises and cut, ignoring the hammering of the heart taxed nearly to failure as he raced down the stony road that led to the village.
‘He will not like this.’ He could barely hear Lucia’s voice above the roar of his efforts to breathe. ‘It was never my plan for him to go through this again, and alone. But he would not listen to me. He would not yield.’
She mattered not: nothing mattered but getting to Elaine. As he shoved his way into the gate, stumbling in the dust, the village was quiet. He saw no one on the streets and the feeling of wrongness tightened around him. A skinny cat blinked at him from its post atop a wood shed. As he rounded the corner into the square, he nearly ran into an old woman carrying water from the well.
‘Where’s Elaine,’ he shouted, grabbing her by the shoulders and giving her a shake. ‘Where is my wife?’
The old woman yelped and dropped to her knees covering her head. ‘Please milord, don’t hit me. They thought you were dead. We all thought you were dead. We all thought she kilt you.’
‘Where is she?’ He screamed.
‘Oh dear goddess, please, mother, please don’t make him see this again,’ Cassandra cried out to Lucia.
‘I cannot prevent what he must do,’ the Lucia said.
He ignored their voices, even as the truth of it crashed around him, even as he forced his way to the village green hoping against hope that he was not too late.
‘Dear goddess, there must be something we can do,’ Tim cried out. ‘Cassandra, can’t you help him? Lucia? Damn it do something.’
The crowd stopped jeering when they saw him. They parted for him and the world went deadly silent as he stumbled forward to see what he never wanted to see, what he had blocked from his memories for 300 years.
‘Fill the tub with ice,’ Sky commanded. ‘We’ve got to bring his fever down.’
‘If this isn’t really his body,’ Tim said, ‘then he must be rejecting it. Is that what’s happening?’
‘He rejected it a long time ago,’ Lucia said. ‘Trust me, rejection of the vessel he wears is not an issue now.’
The silence dissolved into an endless roar long before he realised it was he, screaming his anguish to heaven. Four men lay dead at the foot of the oak, the last managing to cut her down before Ferris ran him through with his own sword. He kept no count of those he killed or injured in his rage before someone cut her down. Would that everyone in the village was dead and the place burned to ash and razed to the ground. Their lives he would gladly trade for the beating of a single heart. His own life he would gladly trade to feel once again the breath of the woman he cradled in his arms. But she was gone, and even he with all of his great power could not return her life force to her.
Cassandra sobbed in empathy.
‘Let him finish the dream,’ Lucia called out. ‘He has to finish the dream if he is to heal.’
But he would never heal. There was no balm for the depths of his wound, no comfort in the Ether, the Dream World or any realm beyond. The heavens opened and the rain poured turning the village green into a sponge and the streets of the village into a swamp. He did not remember when those who had come to watch her die had left. Surely they must have fled in fear for their lives. He remembered once pushing the battered flesh of Farringdon beyond its limits as he carried his beloved Elaine to a place on the hillside covered in heather and riddled with caves. There above the village in a remote place, he buried her near a stream that tumbled from a spring in the caves.
Two nights later, he attended the meeting of the village elders in the meeting hall. By then the rage in his belly had turned to ice. Only he walked away from the flames. From the side of her grave, he watched the blaze long into the night, heard the anguished cries of the villagers as they struggled to put out the fire and identify their dead. In his mind they were, all of them, already dead. They would sleep soon, and he would return to the village. If Elaine could not live, then neither could they, after all it was their actions that cost her life.
‘I don’t care! We have to get the fever down now,’ Sky said.
‘The ice bath is ready,’ Kennet replied.
But it was fire he watched, fire that burned, fire that avenged and yet it was the icy cold of death and emptiness he felt in his belly.
‘Come back to them, my darling Ferris.’ Cool lips pressed against his.
‘Elaine?’ He opened his eyes and found himself alone in his bed with Elaine leaning over him, caressing his burning cheek. ‘Elaine my darling, I told them! I told them you were here.’
‘No, my Rider, you are hallucinating once more. I am not real.’
Once again he sat on the hillside by her grave watching the flames rise in the night sky below.
Elaine sat down next to him and took his hand. ‘If you kill them all, every last one of them, and their livestock, even those from the next village who came to watch me hanged, I shall be no less dead. And you will live on, my darling Ferris. ‘You will suffer endlessly alone. I do not want that for you. I never wanted that for you. Go back home. They wait for you. They love you, and this world you see is now nothing but dust. It has been dust for a very, very long time. Remember it, for you must. Mourn it, for you lost much, but you cannot undo it, not now, not ever. Go home, my love, and remember that you are much loved by your little witch.’
He wanted to hold her, but she had no substance, like the mists that rose up from the high meadows at night.
‘Go to the Fire Demon, my Love. She will help you. She has use for you. Time does not hold her as it does me. Go with her, my love. Go with her and heal. Wait for me at Elemental Cottage, and when the time comes, when you have healed, I will come for you. We will be together again’ She blew him a kiss, then turned and walked into the hills.
He woke with a gasp of blessed oxygen as though it had been an age since he drew breath. The ice was no longer in his belly, but all over his body. The giant tub in his bathroom had been turned into the arctic and he was naked and shivering in its depths with the three strong men of Elemental Coven holding him in place while he struggled, Cassandra held his hand in an unyielding grip and Sky shouted, ‘hold onto him. Keep his head up! Keep his head up, damn it!’
‘I remember.’ He forced the words through chattering teeth. ‘Goddess help me, I remember.’ And then he wept as he had not wept in 300 years.