The wind howled around the castle in demonic fury as the apprentice made the finishing touches to the circle of power. His Mistress had been locked away in ritual seclusion for the last four days, leaving it to him alone to prepare the materials required for the summoning, and as the hour drew closer he could not help but feel a measure of pride at the honour she had bestowed upon him. As his hand unconsciously traced the final patterns in salt he contemplated what other rewards She might bestow upon him once the great ritual was done. Completing the circle he pushed himself to his feet and examined his work, assuring himself that everything was as it should be, reaching out here or there to make a minor alteration to the dread sigils. Only when he was perfectly satisfied did he turn and leave the chamber.
Making his way through the drafty corridors to his own room he paused momentarily outside his Mistress’ chambers. He had often lain awake at night listening to the sounds that came from those rooms, his imagination fired by the alternating cries of pleasure and pain that he heard. Whatever pets his Mistress kept in there she had never chosen to share them with him and for a second he almost reached out to open the door. Just as his fingertips brushed against the warm bronze of the handle a sound behind him made him jump and he snatched back his hand as if bitten. Turning to face his Mistress he could feel his face burning with the shame of almost being caught.
“There’s nothing in there for you, boy,” She said, her voice seductively low and soft, an effect amplified by Her nakedness. The apprentice tried to turn his gaze away from Her all but perfect figure, but felt his eyes drawn to Her one deformity, Her twisted and blackened left leg. She had never shared how She had acquired the injury, and he had never gathered the courage to ask Her directly, but he recognised it as a constant reminder of the price of the path he had chosen to follow. No demon summoner could avoid being marked by their craft.
Realising he had been staring he tore his eyes away and mumbled an apology.
“Do not apologise, child,” She told him, reaching out to lift his chin. Her hand was warm; Her eyes were warmer still. “You should never apologise for a compliment, no matter how inappropriate it might seem.”
She held him there for a few moments more before lowering Her hand. Without waiting for his reaction She turned and walked away, heading for the summoning chamber. As She disappeared from view the apprentice was struck by the unassailable feeling that he would never see his Mistress again in this world.
He never discovered the truth about that fateful night, or the secret of his Mistress’ bedchamber. He had been awoken from a fitful sleep by an ear-shattering scream from somewhere within the castle, but before he had banished the fog of sleep from his mind a massive explosion had ripped through the upper levels. Pulling on his clothes he had rushed from his room to find most of the castle in ruins, the epicentre of the collapse located exactly where the summoning chamber had been.
Not knowing where to go or what to do the apprentice had fled, taking with him only the most essential of equipment and the handful of texts his Mistress had taught him to read. Gods willing he would be able to find his way to the great college in the capital, where he would be able to apprentice himself to another mage until his studies were complete. He did not dare contemplate the alternatives.
S. Naomi Scott (c) 2018