Excerpt: Rule of Three

I usually found set-up for magical rituals to be repetitive, but in a calming, familiar sort of way. From planning to gathering components to the exacting steps of actively performing them, it was part of being a mage. A job that ranged from rewarding to maddening, depending on the customers and the tasks, but a decent job nevertheless.

Demon summoning, however, was anything but calming.

None of my customers had asked me to summon a demon, of course. All mages occasionally got wackos wanting us to summon infernal creatures, brew irresistible love potions, grant them eternal life, and other sorts of tasks ranging from the unethical to the dangerous to the literally impossible, but I couldn’t blame any of them for this.

No, I was walking down my basement stairs with the last components I needed to summon a demon—a large container of salt and two vials—because I couldn’t stand to let Jae be right another goddamn time. Thinking back to the conversation over our weekly lunch meeting still made me seethe.

“You never do anything daring!” Jae said. I balked at the accusation, but ze cut me off before I’d gotten more than a few words in. “C’mon, Ian, we both know it. You’re a decent mage, sure, but look at your record. You’ve never done anything the slightest bit illegal, much less anything actually risky.”

“That’s not true! I’ve done loads of gray magic—”

“Gray magic? Do you even hear yourself?” Jae grinned, unabashedly entertained by my indignation. “You’re the one keeping up your goody two shoes image, not me. If you’re ashamed of it, why don’t you change it? Except we both know you won’t, because you’re too scared.” Ze snickered.

“Maybe I will!” I retorted, slamming my fist on the table. Predictably, this didn’t make zir take me any more seriously; ze just laughed.

“With more ‘gray’ magic? Please. At this point you’re such a goody-goody the only way you’d be able to banish that reputation would be by summoning a demon.” Jae laughed again as I tightened my fists, knuckles physically hurting from how hard I was balling my hands. “But fat chance of that. Illegal, heretical, and dangerous! You’d faint from the thought alone.”

“Not fainting from the thought of it yet,” I muttered, thinking very vividly about summoning a demon, crimson and muscular and twice our heights, to burst into Jae’s apartment and snap zir in two. But my comment went unnoticed; if Jae heard me, ze didn’t even do me the dignity of responding.

Angry determination had gotten me through the mad week of research. All other projects had been pushed aside while I stayed up every night until dawn reading anything I could get my hands on about demon summoning. I never denied that this was an extremely bad idea, but I was at my wits’ end when it came to Jae’s shit. We’d known each other for almost a year, and since the beginning ze had taken any shot at me that ze could get. Our social circles and our professions overlapped too much to avoid each other; there were only so many magicians in the city so we were all at least acquainted, if not actively fighting for fame, fortune, and, the main source of the two: clients.

It wasn’t until I had put together a ritual plan and gathered all the necessary components that I seriously considered backing out. Still, I didn’t find myself nervous until I began drawing the large circle of salt in my basement. I willed my hand not to shake, but I couldn’t forget that I was summoning a powerful being from Hell, purposefully calling forth a creature notorious for deceit and hungry for souls to bring back to its master. Still, I soldiered on; I had a point to prove, both to Jae and to myself.

The procedure itself was deceptively simple. I based my ritual preparations off Austor’s most basic imp summoning methods. For all that my sources varied in the logistics and precautions, they agreed that the key to success was intent. After all, according to both logic and the literature, demons wanted to come to Earth. Hell was not a pleasant place to be, even for demons, and it was much easier to capture mortal souls while on Earth. All it took to lure them here was a dual offering. The first piece was something personal related to why the demon was being summoned; the second was impersonal, relating to the base nature of demons. If someone wanted to summon a demon to strike a bargain for riches, seeking to exchange their soul or allegiance for wealth, they’d use an object of great value and significance, such as a signet ring or a jeweled circlet, for the former and an animal sacrifice for the latter.

Almost all the demon summoning rituals used animal sacrifices, but I wanted to avoid that if possible. It wasn’t a requirement, so I’d decided to try something different. Instead of an animal to be killed, I prepared two vials of my own fluids, one of blood and one of semen. I figured the former was appropriate, but it wasn’t much compared with killing a goat. The latter was unorthodox, but lust was one of the seven elements of the base nature of demons, so it seemed like a reasonable choice. If one or the other vial wasn’t sufficient, between the two I’d have enough.

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