MIRANDA'S RIGHTS by Shalanna Collins
The demon Asperioth felt himself being conjured just as he was finishing up a complex three-day working.
Because the first tug came when he had his hands full, he couldn't even try a countermeasure. The working was too strong, anyway; someone out there must have his Name. He rose up into the air tail-first, cursing and dropping the components for the last step of his spell as he was sucked into the vortex between the demons' realm and that of the mortals.
The feeling was like being pulled butt-first through a knothole. A too-small knothole.
He materialized in a deep-forest clearing bathed in the light of the full moon. Someone must know a little about what they were doing. His hooves crunched on pine needles; the scent turned his stomach. Looking down, he saw he stood in the center of a salt-encrusted pentagram inscribed in a double circle engraved in the soft dirt. Apparently, someone knew quite a bit.
Or had been reading up on Summoning in the occult literature.
He blinked. As his infravision adjusted to the harsh light, he could make out a petite figure. A human female stood before him with black-draped arms upraised, her toetips barely tangent to the edge of the magickal figure.
Her voice squeaked forth with a whiny nasal accent. "Asperioth, I command thee!"
She'd heard his Name somewhere, or read it in a book, he supposed. That made things tougher for him: once they knew your Name, you couldn't resist the conjuring when you were called. That was part of the reason he'd been pulled so suddenly. And unless you could fool them, you were compelled to obey. Within reason.
"What do you seek by calling me, O woman?" He boomed it out with an echo, hoping he sounded properly fearsome. Asperioth couldn't quite remember the language, the exact phrasing that he was supposed to use. It had been so long since he'd had his Name called by a mortal. "I have little time to spend here. Tell me your desire."
"I want more power." Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight. "More power at my command without all these material components and . . . rituals." Her lips parted, revealing slightly pointed canines at the edges of her smile, and she glanced over her shoulder.
Asperioth followed her gaze to a naked human male, almost as young as she, panting on a woolen blanket behind her. The youth lay unnaturally twisted and still, as though stunned from a working. It was a sophisticated method of raising power; she was no newcomer to the Craft, nor apparently to the rules of diabolical magick.
"I could give you more power in the same way this one has given it." Asperioth beckoned, hoping he wasn’t leering too obviously. "Come hither into the center of my pentacle, and I shall grant your request."
"I am young, but not one day old, dear." She grimaced. "A demon child is not in my plans. Anyway, I've never heard of going into the pentacle with the demon."
Asperioth winced. “Please--we prefer the more correct term, ‘antiangel.’”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
Asperioth spread his arms wide, then pulled them in a bit as a shower of tiny blue sparks shot from the edge of the pentacle’s central pentagon, in which he stood. “I will do you no harm and plant no seed. You will find I can give you great pleasure as I increase your power.”
She gave him a hard look. "Don't mess with me. You can give me power at my command with a single word. I want that word of power."
Well, it had been worth a try.
"All right. But within the confines of this figure, I feel cramped and uneasy. When I am made to be so, I cannot think." The pentagram seemed claustrophobically small; it was squeezing his potbelly and his rear pillows. "Rub out a line so I can come forth, and I will grant you a word which will allow you to command power in an instant."
"Forget it." She glared at him. "You're not coming out here, and I'm not coming in there. Do I look stupid? You stand right there and think fast. Just give me the word."
All right, he would give her a word. But first he had to know what it was worth to her. "What is the payment you are willing to give for each use of this word?"
She scowled, pushing her wild dark hair back behind one ear. "What are you talking about?"
So she hadn't read up as thoroughly as all that.
"I mean there is a cost for each use of the word. The power does not come from the sound of the word alone. It must be paid for by the sacrifice of some mortal component."
"Component." Her voice wavered a bit.
He paused for dramatic effect. "Your pet . . . the use of your right arm . . . your singing voice. . . ."
"Those things are not negotiable. They're too personal." She squinted into the blue light that surrounded him, as if thinking, although he doubted it was remarkably deep thinking. "What about another person?"
"That could be satisfactory." Asperioth looked at her with new respect. He had to admire her ruthlessness and her brazenness in demanding such things so confidently of a power like himself. And she was almost as free from the burden of compassion as he was. However, she should have had all her dragons in a row before Calling him. "This grows tedious. State your exact offer."
"I don't know yet. Can I state it at the time I use the word? Another person, still to be named."
"Named at the time of the casting. All right." He felt he was giving her ample exception.
But she paused. "Wait a minute--let me think if I want that, or if there's a better way." Stroking her chin as if she were an aspiring member of Z Z Top encouraging her beard, the human appeared ready to muse until Tuesday.
His own abandoned spell would be ruined, unrecoverable, if she kept him here much longer. He could feel steam rising out of both ears. "Do not anger me, mortal woman. Show the same courtesy you would use to a fellow magician, or better. You forget what I am and what you are."
He clapped his hands over his ears before her invocation of Light could do any damage. "Please! No need for that kind of language. I have your word of power." After waiting one suitably solemn moment, he pronounced a word in the magickal tongue. Guttural and hissing all at once, it would be a challenge to her.
"Can't you give me an easier one?" She squinted at him as if things were blurring over, which would mean her hold on him was fading. She was running out of energy.
"The words are the words." He sent a hostile light out of his eyes to convince her. "They cannot be other than what they are."
"All right, all right. Say it again clearly so I can get it, and you can go."
He pronounced it once more for her, slowly, to be fair, because she had proven herself brave as well as admirably wicked. “Use it wisely. Remember the price.”
She smiled and raised her arms. “I release thee, Asperioth, and return thee to thy proper realm.”
He felt himself slipping back into his own dimension. "Thank you," he heard her calling as he clattered back onto the floor of his own workroom.
He bared his fangs in what passed for a smile. Her fatal mistake was a beginner's error. She had failed to pronounce the peace. She should have ended not with a stupid thanks, but with something like, "Depart now, and may there ever be peace between me and thee. So mote it be."
So now he had her. When she Called him next--if there was a next time--he had no obligation to comport himself with peace. "Mortals today," he muttered, picking himself up and dusting off his legs, which were sticky and covered with dried cinders from the floor. "Complete fools. But when has it ever been otherwise?"
On the morning of her thirtieth birthday, Miranda Callahan came awake with the certain knowledge that her best friend was casting a spell on her.
"The moon enters the house of the dragon, and Hecate works her magick on me." Miranda groaned, raising her head off the sketches for her latest cartoon panel. She'd fallen asleep at her drawing table again.
Charcoal sketches are unforgiving. The entire page was smudged like yesterday's mascara. In the gentle morning light, the new cartoon seemed particularly uninspired. Her fingers flew to her temples, where they automatically started massaging in circles.
What could be worse than waking to unfamiliar magick--except, of course, waking up in a cold bed without Alex. Which she'd cleverly avoided by conking out at her desk around three in the morning.
She had to put a stop to this enchantment, immediately. Being manipulated was never her preference, no matter how well-meaning the manipulator.
But the spell was already working on her.
This spell was benevolent, though, she'd swear. She felt optimistic, for a change, and a little buzzed, as if she'd been affected by the margaritas she vaguely remembered drinking in her dreams.
Her stomach guggled. She hadn't been spelled unexpectedly like this since her mother had semi-retired from the Craft.
Reaching toward the ceiling, she rolled her head back and forth, working at the crick in her neck. She knew she ought to be concerned, perhaps even panicky, about being magicked. As a confirmed control freak, Miranda was uneasy around witchcraft; she'd witnessed its unpredictable power too often in childhood. Yet she found that being the focus of a spell weaving its way around her moment by moment was oddly soothing. Somebody cared.
She was tempted to give in, to surrender to the euphoria that the spell wanted to build in her, maybe just a little.
"Dagnabbit, Zepp, quit it," Miranda said aloud. "Don't turn me into a frog, because I know what your idea of a great lilypad is. Isn't it bad enough having another birthday so soon?" But the spell was not to be waved away.
Sweet, misguided Zepp.
This old mock-Tudor mansion was drafty, especially up in this third-floor turret. It had been Alex's idea to add their aerie of a bedroom during the first phase of remodeling, but he hadn't realized how inadequate the cheapie brand of insulation would be. Slipping her feet into her marabou slides, she reached for Alex's brown velour bathrobe. Burying her nose in its collar, she sucked in his musky scent. She could hardly believe his "two weeks away to gain some perspective" had stretched out to seven and a half.
She doubled the robe's belt around her waist, shivering a little. Anything sprung on her without warning and utterly outside her control--such as this spell--usually made her teeth itch. Howsomever, Miranda was certain that Lynn Zepp wouldn't pull a trick like this unless the spell was intended to help, unsettling as the differences between her concept of "helpful" and Zepp's might be.
The intense aroma of bacon--with a suggestion of burning sugar, as in cinnamon toast--wafted up the turret's spiral staircase. Miranda sighed. She'd put on three pounds last week, yet she knew she'd offend her mother if she didn't eat a plateful. Cooking was Mim's passion and her current mission in life.
Mim--alias Mimetia McGaha, the "Divine Madam Mim," albeit retired--seldom practiced the Craft these days, at least not openly. Still, what Mim had learned over twenty-eight years she certainly hadn't forgotten in five. Miranda padded downstairs, confident that her mother would know what could be done about her impending ensorcelment.
As she emerged in the sunny morning room, her two orange Pomeranians rushed for her legs. She snatched up first Woofie, then his sister Amadée, and kissed each firmly on the head before setting them back down to compete for her attention. Deciding on the coy approach, she smiled at her mother. "Morning, Mamacita. Notice anything different about me?"
Mim looked up from behind the pastry island and smiled indulgently. The spot of flour on the end of her nose told Miranda that she'd been mixing up biscuits from scratch.
"Happy birthday, sweetie. Do you feel any effects from Lynn Elizabeth's magicwork yet?" Mim habitually called Zepp--along with everyone else--by first and middle names, despite Zepp's expressed preference for being called solely by her last name. Those who normally objected to this Southern-gothic practice made an exception for Mim. "She started raising power and sending a spell your way about forty minutes ago."
Miranda winced, for drama's sake. "And this didn't move you to come wake me--or, better yet, try to block the spell?"
*end of sample*