He was terrified, but despite his horror he was connecting the dots. Dots lost to him earlier, dots ignored, dots now recollected through the stench of blood, the filth of innards. This was what he was being prepared for. The books, the call signs, the dead, dead language. This was what a summoning actually felt like, it felt cold. Clammy. Damp, like the last torch that flickered. Damp, despite fire.
The diagrams of the beasts, the weird scratches, the claws, the horns, the teeth, it was all real. Demons existed. Everyone in the room was dead, everyone but him. It had proceeded to devour the rest. The whole affair had been a hidden ritual, and the boy, even at his age, knew that no help was coming.
The Demon of Shadow ate with a savage delight. It lowered itself onto the dead bodies and ate. Occasionally it would tear away an arm or a leg and eat it separately. Organs lay strewn across the stone floor, washed in blood. A platter. Lungs wolfed down, livers, kidneys, the brain, sometimes a bone or two, mostly the ribs. Skin. Other bones, mostly vertebrae and the skull, ignored, sometimes briefly gnawed on.
It would occasionally glance at the boy, as if making sure he was still there.
The boy did not have a choice but to stay. The door was locked, the key lost somewhere in the pockets of one of those the Demon was devouring. It was in the hopes of spotting the key that the boy watched the Demon eat; it was pulling something new out of a body. A heart.
`Your heart, it beats like a drum,' it whispered.
The boy gave a start. The Demon was looking at him. White teeth, sharp. Fang-like, but not quite. The heart, bit into. Blood, black, oozing and running down its hand, black.
`Name,' the Demon said.
The boy did not reply.
`Name!' the Demon hissed.
`A-A-Adri,' the boy stammered.
The Demon gnawed at the heart with a disapproving shake of head. 'Names, they have power,' it said, mouth full. 'Tell me your full name, boy.'
`A-Adri Sen,' the boy whispered.
`Adri Sen,' the Demon drawled. 'My name is Chhaya, and I am not going to eat you.'
The boy did not react.
`Aren't you . . . glad?' the Demon asked, its attention back on the feast. Loins. Muscle, often resisting. Chewy.
`If you do not speak,' Chhaya said, 'then you will never speak again, boy. Your silence makes me impatient.'
`You would break your word?' the boy asked, slowly.
`You just told me you will not eat me.'
`There is a story about silence,' Chhaya rasped. 'About silence fickle, silence eternal. Thin line between death and silence. But the past is in the past. You seem to have found the voice.'
`If you will not eat me,' the boy said, again with thought, `then I can talk.' His voice was strained. It threatened to break at places. This was costing him every ounce of his courage, courage he never knew existed.
`Ah, old flesh,' Chhaya said with relish. 'Tough to chew, but sometimes it has an aftertaste, like a lifelong marination.' It lowered itself onto a body and breathed in deep. `This one was born for me.'
`You killed them all,' the boy spoke softly, more to himself. This was death, more death in an hour than he had seen in his life, and now, desecration. It was wrong, the way the Demon ate them. It wasn't supposed to be. There was no-respect.
`This old flesh had a name,' Chhaya said. 'He was called Mryttik. Do you know why I was summoned?'
The boy shook his head.
`He wanted me to kill someone. An enemy of his. And after hearing your name, I see you will understand. He wanted me to kill Victor Sen.'
The boy's eyes twitched. His father. The old Necromancer had wanted to kill his father. He searched for his sympathy for the ones murdered, the ones being eaten. It was still there.
The Demon was watching him again. 'How does it feel, boy? This could have been the flesh of your father.'
`Flesh is still flesh,' the boy replied, unable to believe what he was saying, but transported, his opinions being given temporary freedom.
`Indeed it is. Wise beyond years, boy? If so wise, then tell me the three rules of summoning our kind.'
The boy snapped himself out of the stupor. A different classroom, a very different teacher. The same questions. 'Higher Power, The Telephone Call, and Precautions,' he said with practiced ease.
`Explain,' the Demon said, biting into a calf.
`Demons belong to a higher power,' the boy said. 'They are greater creatures than humans, not servants to be summoned and banished. It is this respect that must be remembered at all times, by every Tantric.'
`Second,' Chhaya rasped.
`A summoning is like a telephone call,' the boy continued. `The Demon in question always and always has the choice to reply, thus be summoned, or simply let it ring.'
`Never summon without precautions. Call a Demon only if you carry the power to send it back, ideally the power to end it if need be.'
`Yes,' Chhaya hissed. 'Yes, nice rules, good rules. Keep you safe. After tonight, do you think they work?'
`Mryttik broke two,' the boy said.
`Yes he did,' the Demon said. 'He also called something from a realm which does not answer to your kind, never has. What do you say to that?'
The boy did not know what to say. He had just seen death for the first time. These questions did not suit him.
`The answer is stupidity,' the Demon said with relish. 'Power is tricky, and Mryttik, lost in his fantasies of revenge, forgot the basics.'
It was waiting for a reply this time. 'May he find peace,' the boy said softly.
The Demon gave a sharp guffaw and almost choked on something. 'No tattoo ceremony yet, boy?'
`Wait for it. They will kill this, this softness. Another question for you, the most important one. Answer this and I will let you leave.'
An opportunity, unexpected. The boy listened, not daring to breathe.
`How am I inside this circle?' Chhaya asked.
`Impossible,' the boy said. He did not know how. The whole thing defied what the books had taught him. He had noticed it earlier, but the shock had been too much to allow thought. He looked at the circle again, the circle on the stone floor. Most of the chalk had been washed off by the blood, but he was sure it had been flawless. And even if the Demon broke the Pentacle-the star within the circle-it could not step inside the positive circle, where the Tantrics had been. Where it was, right now, eating.
`Then how am I here?' Chhaya had turned to face him now.
`How am I here?' the Demon hissed again, standing up. It took a step towards him. Then one more.
The boy froze. His brain was shutting down once more, fear gripping him. His throat was dry. Chhaya had almost reached him. It stank of the dead, its black shining.
`HOW AM I HERE?' the Demon roared, teeth gleaming in the dark.
A rush of fear. The overpowering smell of fear. Death. No promises mattered for this Demon. The answer did, perhaps. The answer.
`Because you're not!' the boy shrieked. Chhaya's fangs were inches from his face. It had stopped.
`Because you're not here. You're not a Demon of Shadow. You're the shadow of a Demon.' The boy paused. 'Another Demon, who is not here?'
Chhaya withdrew. It backed away slowly to the centre of the room, face still on the boy.
`Another one,' Chhaya whispered. 'After centuries, another one who answers. Wise beyond years, truly.'
`Let me go,' the boy said.
`Yes,' the Demon whispered. Tut the debt of a life is not so easily paid. If I spare you, you have to remember.'
`Remember what?' the boy asked.
`There is a Game, a Game we must play,' Chhaya said. 'There is time, there is a lot of time, but we must play.' `What Game is this?'
The Demon opened a palm, something was in it. A small object, gleaming softly in the light of the last torch.
`One in which choice is but an illusion,' the Demon said. `Take this and I will explain the rules.'
`If-if I take that, can I leave?' the boy asked.
`You will be thinking about the rules all your life, until it is time to play,' the Demon said. 'Yes, you may leave afterwards, but listen now, and listen well.'
The boy nodded and reached out. His fingers trembled. Chhaya dropped the object in his palm, cold and heavy. The boy observed it with interest, reading silently from the inscriptions. `Why does it say Keeper?' Adri asked.
Book's Sample Pages
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