The Demon of Self-Improvement

Wow, so it’s been a while. At this point I don’t even remember what prompted this. It was a scene I wrote out last night, but I have no particular plans for a larger story, so it’s kind of just this little vignette sitting in my Dropbox. Figured I’d post it here.


My fingers flexed like a dragon’s talons as I rose slightly from the my circuitous labour on the floor, straining back and arm muscles against each other to stretch without raising up any further or pushing my arms out. I sat back, picking up my tablet.

That tablet was the virtual horde to the unseen dragon whose talons were my fingers. On it, I’d hoarded ancient tomes, encyclopedias, formulas, and all manner of grimoire. I flicked the screen back on from its bored slumber, and checked over my progress on the floor before me against the diagram on the screen. It was nearly complete.

I set the tablet down and pushed my self back from my shins and onto my arse to sit away from circle I’d drawn on the concrete. There was a buzz under my skin of caffeine and nicotine and anticipation and electric pregnant expectation.

I picked up the self-rolled cigarette I’d last set in the ash tray and relit it, pulling on it with breath.

“Nearly there.” I mouthed, smoke pouring from my mouth. I pulled at the cigarette again, letting the smoke roll over my tongue, and down my throat. The buzz in my veins intensified, and then settled into a hum.

I sat and swigged from the can of energy-drink-spiked-with-caffinated-additive that’d kept me going so far. The music that’d been pouring into my head through thick headphones was teasing me. It was supposed to alter the consciousness—a necessary step for my intended work on that dark evening—but it bubbled along just under my brain, as if the stem were a leg dangling in a slow stream that could never carry the owner away.

One more swig, one more pull, and a flick of the volume on the aural supposed-drug, and I roller over back onto my shins as a I rose, returning to a position carefully hunched over the circle, where, check again against the diagram on my tablet, I quickly finished the figure.

Picking my cigarette back up and jamming it between my lips, I stood to light the tall pillar candles, and the brazier of incense. I tossed back my heavy sweatshirt, standing in too-big pants that draped my legs and feet, sewn by my hands from canvas, arcane symbols carefully—if inexpertly—embroidered in red silken thread across them. The chill crept up my bared spine and over my naked gut and chest as the light of candle-flame danced over silver and gold amulets, poured by my hands that bore the scars of spattering melting metal into molds cut and carved according to the tomes I’d hunted down.

The words and diagrams and designs might be of another’s pen and design, but every piece of tonight’s work bore my blood and sweat and effort as much as it could. Even the pillar candles were dipped by me in my long preparation for this.

Caffeine and nicotine and incense and chill and mind-altering note all combined at last as I ripped the heavy headphones from my head and tossed them down. I could have stood in the most stereotyped necromancer’s workshop or or wizard’s lab so far as my mind was concerned as I pulled the long knife from the scabbard strapped length-wise across the small of my back. It was not made by me, but I altered it substantially from the blade I bought in some shop in Wales at a tourist stop. Whatever the original handle had been horn or resin or unknown wood, it was now ash polished relentlessly to gleaming, crow feathers and agate and jade and turquoise dangled from pommel and cross guards, the original steel pieces replaced with silver, and the whole thing ritualistically cleansed and anointed.

The blade was the perfect extension of my will and drive to transform myself through piecemeal improvement and ritual.

A single pure white candle stood to the right, it’s flame guttering as thirteen pitch black candles stood around me, flames tall and straight, unaffected by whatever blew the white candle’s flame so.

I took a deep breath as the chemicals within me mingled with the cold air of night and scent of incense into a single thick cord pushed into my mind with the fluid relentlessness of a time-lapsed glacier.

My left hand slashed out with the blade to strike a bell that hung before me over the circle, the peal ringing through the night, the wave of pressure pushing intoxicants of noise from the air of my ritual.

The knife stabbed forward to point south, “Hear me, Satan, flame of opposition, adversary of mudanity, and attend, king of the Southern Throne.”

Sweeping left my blade to point eastward, I intoned, “Lucifer, morning star, whispering whipping wind of wisdom, heed me, and give me your glory, sage of the Eastern Bench.”

I turned left, and thrust my knife outward to the north, “Of the Northern Fortification, I humbly request your ear, master-less warrior of earth, oh, great Belial, lend me thine attention.”

Turning again to face the West, I called to the lady of the four, “Lady Leviathan, queen of magic and wave, grant me your power, I beseech, if you would lift your head from your hoard in the west.”

I twisted back to face south, knife handle clutched in both hands, “And I call out to Baphomet, hermetic twin goat of knowledge, and all the demons of Hell and else, hear my words for I work a great transformation with this ritual–” I dropped to a knee, driving the knife blade into the center of my circle with my full weight behind it and the concrete cracked to allow it penetration.

My hands dropped from that proud shaft to the circle, my personal invocation finished, and the invocation of wise men past pouring forth from my lips, into the circle, into the earth.

As I neared completion of the invocation, my hand lifted a chalice of whiskey and blood and cocoa to my lips, pouring the elixir into my mouth, where it overflowed, streaking my chin with what I could not swallow. I grasped the blade of my knife with my left hand, squeezed, pulled away, squeezed the bleeding hand to coat with my blood, and spread it to press against my bare chest, lifted, and traced an inverse star beneath the bloody hand print, as my voice ripped from my throat to shout into the night “SHEMHAMFORASH!”

.

.

.

Two thin feet, toes like talons and small feathers starting just behind the toes, running up the top of the foot, and wrapping around the ankle, gradually growing larger until they stood six inches or more from the calf, straddled my right hand, still pressed against the ground, in the circle.

I looked up from those feet, tracing the shapely legs, over the featureless pelvis and torso, to a beautiful, gender-less face, wreathed in curling hair like a figure painting in the renaissance. From the figure’s back spread seven wings.

Hands perched on the figure’s slender hips, as their mouth twisted in a smirk.

“Well. You’ve had my attention since you first started you fevered acquisition. Now you have my interest.”

I swallowed a lump of uncertainty as it formed in my throat, to refine it to resolve in the crucible of my stomach, lit by the fires of will and defiance. I faltered, just a moment, as I started to stand, as the altered state chemically and audibly and sensationally induced clouded my motor skills a moment, but I rose, and looked the figure who could only be the fallen one themselves directly in the eyes.

Their smirk broadened into a smile. “You have put a great deal of effort into this one. How may I help you, Crow-minded?”

I smiled, “I suppose you already know I wish to steal fire from the divine, then.”

“Yes, I do. Where would you keep it? Are you prepared for your wings to be scorched acinder?”

“I would keep it in my chest, that it might burn the raptor sent to punish me. My wings were cremated long ago.”

The figure stretched a hand out, stroking my cheek, with a tenderness that mingled that of parent, deat friend, lover. “Oh, no. Clipped, but never destroyed. And look at you. You flew even still. Though it took the devices of man’s ingenuity, you did not allow the wounds of a weary world to hold you down.”

A tear slid down my face to meet the figure’s fine fingers. “Will you give me what I seek?”

A pride blossomed across their face, “You’ve already seized it for yourself.” The figure reached their other hand for my shoulder, and pulled me to them, their wings curling around in mantle, as they stretched up to touch my forehead with their lips.

That touch was a burning wondrousness, a chemical burn of transformation as I felt myself destroyed by my will in a pit dug by hands from the crater of my fellows’ contempt. That kiss was as a bullet tearing through me, but only killing that which held me back.

I felt the cold creep in, a sultry voice echoing a quote in my mind, taking the mocking single word of the movie and making it an encouraging push, as we parted. Even as I thought I could see, for just an instant, a cave of ice around us, the next instant I thought I could see a multitudinous crowd surrounding me.

The figure pulled from me, hands lingering across my back, giving me the dawdling touch of a lover that they knew I also longed for, and stood back again. “We will be watching divinity-bearer. You have seized power for yourself, even as you thought it was a request. In your darkest moments, know that you are not alone, but also know that you need not fear even that, for you have already proven that you need none but yourself.

As the figure disappeared in a flash, my fingers curled and clenched as the muscles of my shoulders bunched and pulled, and in that moment, the dragon in my fingers was not a figment, and the mental wings which stretched with the motions of my shoulders were not purely an imagining.

At long last, with a feeling that I’d stood for hours, I dropped to my knees into the circle. My legs, the only part of me one could say was corded with muscle, fell to either side of the knife, and I sat there, recollecting the strength I’d let pour from me for the ritual.

My strength was exhausted.

But my power was just sprouting.

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