6 – Incubus
The creature flicked its tail, the tip pointed, and the sound cut through the air. A rush of heat. Dread shuddered down Alex’s spine and he bit his lip against a scream. The taste of iron.
“So…” The creature opened its mouth and ran its tongue along curved fangs. Its voice was like fire. “You’re Alex.”
It was the way the creature said Alex’s name that spurred him to action, halfway between a question and a prayer. A groan.
Alex thrust his covers at the creature and dove out of bed. His knees hit the floor hard.
“Nunc te intellego!” Alex yelled. “De chaos venisti, ut chaos revertus!”
The creature jerked back and caught its legs on the duvet. It tumbled to the floor with a yelp and Alex didn’t wait. He scrambled out the door and onto the streets, the tarmac scratching his bare feet. The night was deserted.
“Alex, wait,” came that crackling voice. Husky, like the sun’s corona. A flicker of red from inside Alex’s house.
“Nunc te intellego! De chaos venisti, ut chaos revertus!” Alex crossed his arms in front of him. His breath came in clouds.
The red light paused. “De chaos? Meus?”
Oh shit, it spoke Latin.
Alex barrelled down the road as fast as his legs would take him. Adrenaline burned through his blood and the night air bit into him, wind whipping past his eyes. Kari. Melody. Someone help him, damnit! Lampposts were the only things that broke the darkness, standing immovable sentinel. Where was everyone else?
“Stop running, man,” the creature called from behind him. “I don’t—”
Alex cried the incantation and chanced a glance backwards. The creature froze in the middle of the road, flames blazing around it. With a jolt of horror Alex realised it was completely naked.
No, stop looking!
The moon hung full in the sky and wisps of fog drifted through Rilhey, thick with the scent of salt. Damnit! Where was Melody when Alex needed her?
An arc of blue streaked through the sky the other end of Rilhey and Alex skidded to a halt with a wince. If he ran, could he make it to Melody in time? Even if he did, if Melody was fighting there would invariably be more abominations where she was. Alex took a step in her direction.
“Shit, Alex, you run fast.” The creature bent double at the end of the road, its hands on its knees.
Hysteria dripped down Alex’s spine. Whatever this creature was, it was not a Melody problem.
Alex yelled the ward one more time and took off towards Kari’s house. Houses soon gave way to trees as he left town, the ocean breaking to his right. The forest’s branches tangled the moonlight so that it fell in scarce beams, the darkness pressing in on all sides. Each time Alex slowed he heard the creature’s footsteps behind him, and red light encroached the shadows. He sped up again.
At last. Kari’s house poked out of the earth in a horrifying mess of geometry, but to Alex it was a welcome terror. A single light peeked out of the top window, glowing a colour he couldn’t quite describe.
“Kari!” Alex gasped down breaths as he banged on the door, the sound crashing through the night. “Open up!”
His knees trembled and the cold rushed in at once. Goose bumps burst all over his flesh.
“You’ve finally stopped.”
The creature jogged down the road and Alex scrambled back against the door. His heart pounded in his chest.
Whatever this creature was, it knew his name. It knew Alex, down to his very core, and his blood turned to ice at the realisation. Why else would he be filled with such intimate fear? Whenever it spoke its voice tugged at Alex’s mind so that his thoughts clouded and his fears muddled.
An abomination. It had to be, but such power…
The door clicked open and Alex fell back with a shriek before righting himself.
“Alex?” Kari blinked. “Is this about Nathan again?”
Alex was so relieved he couldn’t speak, his lips trembling. The creature stalked forwards but Alex sank past the threshold of Kari’s house. Safe. Despite being the middle of the night, Kari still wore the uniform she had to school. Come to think of it, Alex hadn’t seen her wear anything else.
Kari’s eyes flicked between Alex and a puff of air escaped her lips. “I assume you didn’t summon an incubus on purpose.”
“It’s an incubus?” Alex glanced the creature up and down, from the taut muscles to the haunting face. He should have guessed. If an incubus looked like anything, it looked like that.
“Alex?” Hana slipped down the stairs, her green eyes sparkling. “Sweetie, you should be in bed right now.”
It was only as Hana spoke that Alex’s exhaustion sank in. Sweat cooled against his skin and his limbs trembled. Most terrifying of all, it was only Monday.
Kari pointed at the incubus. “That chased him here.”
“It did?” Hana snapped forwards and two more eyes split her face.
The incubus stopped shy of the door and shrank back. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”
The atmosphere dropped and the shadows jumped, a hollow wind shaking the trees.
“A misunderstanding?” Hana pushed outside, her grin as wide as her face. “Youdare defile my darling boy?”
Hana twisted and grew, gaping mouths bursting across her skin. Waves of madness roiled out and Alex averted his gaze. His head throbbed as if all the stars in the universe were searing at the edge of his brain and vision wavered. The incubus, now Hana…
“Holy fuck,” came the incubus’ terrified voice.
HOW DARE YOU USE SUCH LANGUAGE IN MY CHILDREN’S PRESENCE, howled a thousand whispers. YOU FILTHY PARASITE!
Kari shut the door. “Let’s make tea.”
I’LL MAKE YOU WISH YOU WERE NEVER FORMED!
Then the screaming began.
Alex paled as he followed Kari to the kitchen. The incubus hadn’t tried to kill him, and the thought of subjecting anything to Hana, abomination or not, made Alex’s gut coil with guilt. But then, a selfish part of him was grateful whatever effect the incubus had on him had now stopped.
Alex sat and rubbed his eyes. God, he was tired. Kari reached for the top shelf but her hands barely brushed it. Alex wasn’t sure what he saw next, but Kari set down three mugs so she must have reached the shelf somehow. He blinked.
“Is breakfast tea okay?” Kari said.
“Not bubble tea?” Alex rubbed his arms.
“This isn’t a bubbly occasion.” Kari flicked on the kettle.
A faint shriek shook through the house, followed by an unholy roar, and Alex shuddered.
“Will she…” Alex swallowed. “Will she kill him?”
Kari shook her head. “It’s too risky.”
Risky? Alex’s fingers curled. A clock on the wall ticked and he focussed on the sound to still his racing heart.
“Milk?” Kari said.
“Yes, please.” Alex watched Kari walk to the fridge, but when she opened the door an arctic wind gusted out.
Snowflakes settled on Kari’s hair and her eyebrow twitched. “The penguins have raided the fridge again.”
What Alex could glimpse of the fridge was snowbound and significantly larger than it had any right to be. He rubbed his eyes, but nope, it was still there.
“I need to hunt for milk,” Kari announced. Her nostrils flared. “I shouldn’t be long.”
Alex hesitated to his feet. “Uh…”
“Could you feed the abyss while you wait?” Kari asked. “It likes its tea black.”
“The abyss?” Alex quirked his eyebrow.
Kari pointed. “The wicker basket.” Kari disappeared into the fridge and Alex was alone once more.
The clock ticked. Alex dragged his eyes around the room, from the granite surfaces to the mahogany cupboards. It all seemed so ordinary, yet there was a snowfield in the fridge. And penguins.
Alex must still be half-asleep.
Wait a moment. Had the incubus left Alex’s front door open?
The wicker basket stood in the corner of the kitchen, an ancient thing woven from waxy branches. Alex’s fingers twitched, then he decided whatever was in the basket couldn’t be worse than Kari’s disappointment. Summoning his courage, he swiped a mug and opened the basket.
Pitch-black greeted him, a void darker than anything that should have been possible. Huh. Alex was about to close the basket when two pinpricks of white blinked open and a line split the darkness—a mouth.
SPIFFING. The abyss’ voice was a whisper through Alex’s soul. YOU’VE BROUGHT ME MY TEA.
Alex froze. “What?”
MY TEA. The abyss grinned. I DO LOVE TEA, BUT I DON’T HAVE ANY HANDS TO DRINK IT WITH.
Alex poured the tea into the abyss’ mouth and the abyss gulped it down with a sound like oblivion.
It sighed. THAT HITS THE SPOT. THANK YOU, OLD CHAP. The abyss smiled back at him.
“You’re welcome.” Alex wasn’t even surprised anymore, just bemused. He shut the basket with a wry shake of his head.
Kari nodded. “It likes meeting new people.”
Alex jumped, his heart leaping into his throat.
“I got the milk.” Kari held up a carton dusted in frost. A single feather tumbled to the floor, a fluffy white.
“What…” Alex’s voice caught in his throat. “What’s with your house?”
“It’s where we live.” Kari frowned. “You have one, too.”
Alex was too tired to come up with a reply. He sat back down and soon his hands were wrapped around a mug of tea. Steam wafted past his nostrils and warmth bled through him.
The door creaked open and Hana swept in, her cheeks flushed. “It turns out there was a misunderstanding.”
The incubus trailed behind her, or at least, Alex assumed it was the incubus. Gone were the horns and tail, and instead of crimson the incubus’ skin was a coppery brown. Hana had swaddled him in a white bedsheet and he hunched over, the cords in his neck taut.
Alex started to his feet. That feeling was back again, a spark simmering in the back of Alex’s heart that jumped each time the incubus breathed.
“Before we start,” Hana clapped her hands together, “Calis here has something to say.”
The incubus had a name. Calis looked up and fire burned in his irises, trapping Alex in their heat. Magic. That was what it was, some sick power that twisted Alex’s heart and played on his hormones. Nathan. Alex liked Nathan.
“I’m sorry, Alex.” The gaze Calis fixed him with was so quietly intense Alex had to look away.
Hana cleared her throat.
Calis flinched. “I’m sorry for frightening you in the middle of the night, and for chasing you when you ran.”
There were so many layers to Calis’ tone Alex couldn’t figure out if he was being sincere or not. Alex didn’t know which option he’d rather.
“What did you do to me?” Alex gripped the table with white knuckles.
“What do you mean?” Calis cocked his head.
“This…” Alex clutched his racing heart. “This feeling. You’re messing with me somehow.”
Hurt flashed across Calis’ face. Kari and Hana glanced at each other.
“Alex, sweetie, you may want to sit for this.” Hana stretched her arm across the table and pulled out Alex’s chair, then patted his head.
Alex took a seat and straightened his back against the chair. He couldn’t look at Calis, and Kari was staring at him so intensely he focussed on the table instead. Dark veins swirled through the wood and for a moment they almost seemed to move.
“Kari told me what happened with the cultist,” Hana said. “You were cut, weren’t you?”
“I was.” Alex rubbed his arm where the ghost of a scar should have been. Where was this going?
“I’m afraid to say your blood must have fallen on a summoning circle.” Hana met his eyes. “You and Calis are soul-bonded.”
The world around Alex stilled. Summoning circle? Soul-bonded? What the hell did any of that mean?
He wracked his brain for memories of that night, of the madman, Melody and Kari. Unknown horrors screamed through his mind, though, and whenever he prodded his memories too hard black spots danced in front of his vision. Blood. Even though Kari healed him, there had still been some on his arm. Could it have splashed somewhere on his way out?
“Alex?” Kari’s voice cut him from his panic. “Do you understand what a soul-bond is?”
Alex laughed nervously. “Is it bad?” It sounded bad.
“Yes.” Kari offered a sympathetic smile.
“The circle that summoned me used your blood to carve a pact between our souls.” Calis held out his hand before him and fire flickered through his veins. “We’re joined as one, and we die as one.”
Alex’s stomach dropped. “You mean…”
“If one of you dies, so does the other,” Hana finished.
Alex jerked to his feet and his chair hit the floor with a crash. No. This couldn’t be true. He was seventeen, for god’s sake! He couldn’t deal with this level of bullshit. A normal life. That’s what Alex craved, not monsters and Knights and this.
Alex could feel that spark in his chest more strongly than ever, the pact on his soul. Why him? Why could he never have what he wanted?
“Calm down, man.” Calis grinned. “I promise I’m tougher than I look.”
“Get rid of it,” Alex breathed. “I don’t want this. I can’t—”
“You’re panicking,” Kari said.
“No shit,” Alex hissed. “What will my parents say?”
And Melody, she’d definitely notice something was wrong. How could Alex show his face to her when he had a sex demon attached to his soul?
“Oh god, how will I speak to Nathan?” Alex’s chance at normalcy was ruined. University, a job, a relationship… All the futures he could have had, now shattered by this single curse.
Gentle hands cupped his face. “You’re going to be alright, sweetie,” Hana said.
Alex’s breathing relaxed and he sank back down. His head pounded.
“You can’t get rid of the soul-bond.” Calis looked down. “I promise I’ll make it up to you, though. Whatever you need, I’ll be it.”
Hana nodded. “Think of him as a magical pet. You can even put a collar on him, if that makes it easier.”
“A collar?” Alex frowned. Human or not, keeping Calis as a pet just didn’t feel right.
“That’s a kink, mother,” Kari deadpanned.
“It is?” Hana scratched her head. “Kids these days are so adventurous.”
Alex glanced at Calis again, and the borderline pitiful expression on his face. At least the incubus knew when to feel guilty, and Calis didn’t seem to want Alex dead.
Alex exhaled. “It could be worse.”
Kari smiled. “You could have been soul-bonded to a penguin.”
“I don’t have my keys.” Alex’s hand rested on his front door. Locked out of his own house, as if his night couldn’t get any worse.
“Let me.” Calis brushed his fingers over the lock and the door clicked open, the corridor shadowed.
Everywhere Alex went, it was always magic.
Alex murmured thanks as he pushed past Calis. Moonlight stained the kitchen a cold silver and Alex stood there, trying not to focus on the sound of Calis breathing. The same empty rooms, the same overgrown garden, only this time Alex wasn’t alone. His eyes went to the photo of his parents.
Alex flicked on the lights. “I’ll get you some clothes.”
He grabbed the first outfit from his closet and walked back into the kitchen to find Calis having dropped the bedsheet, completely unashamed. The sheet slipped down his bronze skin, trailing past smooth muscles until it pooled on the floor.
“Here.” Alex handed him the clothes.
“Thanks.” Their fingers brushed and Alex’s heart skipped a beat at how warm Calis’ skin was.
Alex’s eyes lingered on Calis’ body as he dressed, tracing his hairless chest, then heat rose to Alex’s cheeks and he shook his head. Irritation burned in his stomach.
“What exactly is an incubus?” Alex collapsed onto the couch. “A sex demon?”
Calis laughed. “If only. What I was before you summoned me is a bit complicated, but right now I’m an incarnation of your own desire.”
Alex’s stomach twisted in humiliation. Desire. It was like something out of a bad fanfiction, and Alex wanted no part of it. He didn’t want Calis, but saying so would be unfair. It wasn’t Calis’ fault they were soul-bonded.
“If you’re an incarnation of my desire, you know what I want, right?” Alex stared up at the ceiling.
“You want a lot of things.” Calis sat on the couch opposite him. “You’re going to have to be more specific than that, man.”
Alex had to set things straight. If Calis was going to be living with him from now on, there had to be some ground rules.
“I want to be normal,” Alex met Calis’ gaze, “and that means no magic. No fire.”
Calis nodded. “Just think of me as human.”
You’re too hot to be human.
Alex bit his lip. These emotions storming through his brain, they weren’t real. Of course Calis was attractive; he was made to fit Alex’s lust.
“And I…” Alex swallowed. “I like Nathan.”
He’d finally said it aloud. The tension flooded from Alex’s chest and his lip curled—a crush, something normal. Something human.
“I see.” A flicker of fire, then Calis smiled softly. “Then I’ll do everything I can to help.”