Here is a snippet into a world where everyone’s inner demons are visible, to those with the sight…
The book was pale leather, almost frail feeling. It was probably human skin. The most interesting part of the book, though, wasn’t the binding. It wasn’t even that only the passage that interested Luke was clearly legible or that it was in perfect, modern English.
The book didn’t exist.
Luke could feel it, he could turn the vellum pages and hear the crinkle they made. His roommate could not. He had cleaned the counters through the book, never coming into contact with it despite the fact that his hand was stuck half through it. On impulse, Luke had thrown the fragile text through the other man with no effect. Now he was sitting on the floor in his bedroom, chalk words and symbols laid out on the floor before him, the book open to the ritual page as he double, triple, quadruple checked the engraving. A carving knife sat on the floor next to him, with intricate inscriptions doodled up the side in sharpie.
“I’m not crazy,” he whispered, picking up the knife, “I hope.”
Pushing the knife into his gut was harder than he had expected, but the book had been very clear that the wound had to break the abdominal wall. He pushed as hard as he could, relaxing whatever muscles he could through the primal panic, feeling the hot red slide of <i>wrong</i> and <i>pain</i> through the haze of detoxing from the meds the hospital had put him on. When the knife handle was hard to grip through the slick blood he coated his hands in it and traced blood over the chalk figures. It was important he finish the symbols before he passed out, otherwise a demon wouldn’t be summoned– though it would be another, almost neater solution to his problem.
He hoped the book wasn’t imaginary, or this would be one of the more interesting puddles of blood his family had found him in. If it didn’t work he really hoped this was the last one they found him in. He finished the last symbol and sat back, pulling the knife out with a steadying hand on his stomach to keep his large intestine where it belonged.
“I’m not crazy,” He assured himself again, slumping to the ground as his vision began to black out around the edges.
“Well good because otherwise this would be really difficult to explain.” A dry male voice chimed in from behind him. Luke jumped, grabbing for the bloodslick knife in surprise and rolled over, scanning the intruder from the ground up. Dressed in designer jeans and a tight black band tee shirt, the demon had lava red skin with yellow markings he couldn’t make out in the dim light, a curly shock of cobalt blue hair, and a young face with a shadow of a cobalt blue beard. His eyes were pupilless and bright sky blue, glowing even when the demon flicked the lightswitch behind him, flooding the room with light and revealing a clutch of shadowy soft black wings.
“Well you’re gorgeous.” Luke blurted as he sat up. He realized his words after they left his mouth with a blush and looked down to see a perfectly clean floor and a shining clean knife. His hands were no longer bloody and his gut didn’t hurt.
“I guess you wanted to sell your soul for some better digs?” The demon looked around, clearly disdainful of the small cheap room and its smaller, cheaper furnishings. He didn’t seem terribly surprised to have been summoned.
“No,” Luke got to his feet, checking his stomach for a wound nearly as an afterthought, “I want to not be crazy anymore.”
The demon narrowed his eyes, blue crackling brightly in the darkness. “You’re not insane. You’re upset, and you have some traces of drugs in your system–“
“Antipsychotics, antidepressants, and a few others to keep me calm.” He explained.
“Why?” The demon tilted his head, his eyes growing a bit brighter as he scrutinized Luke.
“I see demons.” Luke explained, uncomfortable with the amount of staring that was happening.
“Obviously,” the demon agreed, gesturing at himself broadly.
“No, I see them everywhere.” Luke sighed, “The little old lady in the shop downstairs is a Kitsune, my roommate is a hydra, his ex girlfriend was a succubus, the girl at the grocery store is a harbinger of death. I see demons everywhere.” He picked up the book, “This book said if I summon you you can give me my heart’s desire for 10 years. I just want to see what normal people see. I don’t want to see the ghosts of all my psychiatrist’s patients when I go for treatment, I want to be able to work in a store without knowing the man I just rang up is a serial killer and I don’t want to be committed. Again.” He was panting now, desperate to be believed.
“That book shouldn’t exist in your realm. You shouldn’t have it.” Luke took a second to follow the seeming non-sequitur.
“My roommate walked through it the other day, it would have tripped him but he didn’t even know it was there.” He agreed, “Was it right, though? Can you fix me?”
“Wait, what do you see when you look at me?” The demon’s wings stretched out with a blue cascade of sparks, he seemed to have six or eight of the pitch black feathered things but it was hard to tell when they were moving.
“Reddish altogether with leopard spots?” Luke was pretty sure that was the pattern on his arms, “Blue hair, blue eyes, no pupils, a bunch of different sized black feathery wings that you’re showing off.” He enumerated with as much detachment as he could muster.
“I can’t take away truesight.” The demon looked chagrined, bright eyes wide, “I didn’t even know humans could have it!” Suddenly the demon yelped, wings fluttering as he leapt away from the gleaming golden hound that appeared in the room. The beast stood four feet at the shoulder and smoke was drifting from her mouth and eyes lazily. When she moved, her fur gleamed like flickering flames. Luke couldn’t even bring himself to be surprised at her appearance.
“What are you doing here?” Luke asked the intelligent beast as she walked calmly onto the bed, sitting primly with her tail curling around her toes. She yawned, puffing more pungent smoke into the room, filling Luke’s nose with the smell of burning sandalwood.
“That’s a hellhound, the Bearer of Death,” the demon pointed at the beast Luke was now petting behind the ears “Can… Can hellhounds talk?” He had his wings wrapped protectively around his torso, though he didn’t seem to be aware of it.
“No but they can make themselves understood.” Luke replied, “Bear isn’t the only one I’ve met but she has the best manners.”
“She?” Luke had thought his incredulity was capped out, but it seemed the demon was stepping it up to new levels.
“You didn’t think she was a boy hound, did you?”
“I didn’t think hellhounds had genders?” The demon’s voice seemed to veer into the question without his consent. Bear sneezed and flicked an ear derisively at him, sending his wings rustling in panic again.
“I’ve known Bear off and on for years, and though you’re clearly surprised to see her here, you don’t seem that surprised to see her at all.” Luke gave the hellhound a steady look. She pointedly refused eye contact.
“It… She… collects the chits I issue and gives me access to the magic I use,” The demon answered hesitantly.
“Wait.” Luke turned with his hands on his hips as he faced the hound, “You knew the summoning would bring him, right?” The hellbeast looked anywhere but at Luke. “I’ll take that as a yes. If you knew the demon couldn’t fix my sight, why even give me the book?” He shoved at her chest to bring the beast’s face forward again. She pinned her ears back and stared defiance. “Did you bring me the book so I would summon him specifically?” Luke asked.
“Why?” The demon asked. Bear huffed, looking between the two of them pointedly.
“You picked me a friend?” Luke winced at the anger in his tone.
Bear nodded a bit more sheepishly.
“I can find my own friends.” Luke huffed.
Bear shook her head side to side.
“I could if I wanted to.” Luke insisted, “This is exactly like when you brought me back to life, just because I saved your life <i>once</i> doesn’t mean you just get to dictate mine!” Luke groaned, pacing.
“Is that how you got truesight? Near-death experience?” the demon asked tentatively into the awkward silence
“No, I was born with truesight.” Luke’s tone didn’t invite follow up questions.
“I’m guessing she holds your chit?” Luke asked the demon over his shoulder, an idea slowly forming.
“Huh?” The demon was folding his wings carefully behind him, rustling the black feathers on his smallest set almost absently.
“Your chit, you clearly made a deal at some point.” Luke replied. If the demon didn’t know people could be born with truesight, he had to have gotten it somehow. A hellhound deal was the easiest way.
“I asked for clarity, to know what I truly was. With the clarity I got ability. Truesight, teleportation style flight, basic wish fulfillment. It’s been good so far.” The demon rubbed the hair on the back of his neck nervously. It was kind of cute.
“And this was the hellhound that gave you that clarity, right?” Luke pointed at Bear.
“Yes.” The demon was rather pointedly studying his shoes now.
“How many years left?” Luke asked.
“Two.” He mumbled.
“You know,” He turned to Bear, “Two years isn’t very long for a friendship. I mean, it’d be pretty forced anyhow since you hold his chit, so I have a… proposition.” Luke smiled disarmingly at the hellbeast.
Bear’s ears pinned back but she nodded.
“Release his chit.” Luke shrugged
Bear growled, a horrible rending sound that echoed like hundreds of screaming voices. Luke studied his fingernails casually, ignoring her; if she were going to kill him it would have happened years ago. The demon pressed against the wall, his biggest wings were wrapped back around his chest, his smallest were on his biceps, and his medium wings wrapped each leg.
“Hear me out,” Luke cajoled when she silenced, “He’s gotten you probably dozens of souls already and he could get you more if you still give him access to wish magic. You still have the option to continue working with him to get more souls. More importantly, no, <i>most importantly,</i> I would consider it a personal favor. An absolution of your honor debt. You get absolution, I get to stop wondering what new and terrible favor you’re going to do for me in an attempt to get it.”
The silence was thunderous as Luke’s heart raced in his ears.
“What?!” The demon whispered sharply. Luke knew full well was playing with fire and gasoline. Hellfire and gasoline. The hound paced around the bed. She looked at Luke with her black death pit eyes, then at the demon. Luke stared back levelly and the demon studied a wing more closely, avoiding her.
“Come on, Bear, what’s the point of giving me a friend for two paltry years? That’s practically nothing, it certainly wouldn’t pay back my <i>saving your eternal life</i>, but this? This would.” The hound tilted her head, thinking. After several eternal seconds, Bear walked over the edge of the bed and calmly up to the demon, sitting almost politely in front of him. He relaxed incrementally, pulling his wings back again in a show of good faith. She stood and booped her nose against his sternum, sending green and gold sparkling shockwaves across his chest.
“Good choice!” Luke praised, rushing and wrapping his arms around the hell beast’s neck. Bear’s tongue lolled out, dripping black pit that fizzled out of existence when it hit the carpet and she exhaled a huge puff of sandalwood smoke. When Luke looked up, the demon was studying himself in the mirror on Luke’s closet door.
“Can you see reflections in truesight?” Luke asked, standing beside him as Bear took up residence on his bed again.
“Yeah. Yes. Um, I can.” the demon stammered.
“Convenient,” Luke huffed. He couldn’t see demons in reflections or images, often leaving him with no idea if a picture and person match or not.
“Thank you.” the demon whispered, staring at Luke in the reflection.
“Yeah well, don’t mention it.” Luke shrugged. “Ever.” He sighed, “Look, up until ten minutes ago your 5-year plan was ‘be dead in two years.’ Go home. Figure out your life.”
“But–” The demon looked meaningfully at the bed, but Bear was gone, disappeared just as she had come. Luke was used to it by now, but it was still rude.
“If we’re meant to be friends, it’ll happen organically, not because an invisible dog had an invisible book that told me to stab myself in the intestines, okay?” The demon did not look okay. Luke sighed, and gathered his will, focusing on the demon, ”Go. Home.” he commanded. The demon disappeared to the sound of wingbeats. Luke sighed as he opened the window to air out the sandalwood, he hated to boss around the self aware demons, but sometimes it had to happen. He could have commanded Bear to give back the demon’s chit, and he could have told her to leave, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Hopefully she should leave him alone now and if he was lucky, the demon would be too freaked out to come back.