by Rachel Calish
Surviving an onslaught of dark forces took talent and strength—and allowing the Demon Abraxas into the world. Now Sabel Young’s order wants her to answer for her actions. All Sabel wants is the freedom to love the woman she rescued, Ana Khoury.
Nearly killed—and worse—in a world of magic she didn’t know existed, Ana is nursing new scars and old. Her brother wants to journey to South Dakota to confront their shared past before that opportunity is lost forever. The centuries-old feud between demons and witches isn’t going to stop Ana from going with him.
Sabel knows there’s nowhere that Ana can go that evil won’t follow. She fears their newest ally, the Demon Gabriella, is a more profound danger than their enemies.
GCLS Goldie Awards
The Demon Gabriella — Finalist, Lesbian Paranormal/Horror.
The eyes glaring at Ana through the upstairs window were varicolored red with slit pupils, like a snake’s. A passing car’s headlights outlined the dark, misshapen head. Fear and adrenaline spiked through her, pushed on a rising wave of anger. She jumped up from her meditation cushion and threw the window open. A semitransparent black body scuttled up the side of the house like a crab.
Call Lily, the familiar voice of the demon Abraxas spoke into her mind.
“You call Lily, I’m going after it,” she snapped back.
Sure, she let a demon live inside her body, but that didn’t make it okay for snake-eyed creepers to look in on her at all hours of the night. Plus she wanted to test the enhanced strength Abraxas gave her.
Ana leaned out the window and grabbed a bracket of drainpipe and a bar of the decorative wood siding. Hauling herself up, she kicked out a leg and pulled herself onto a narrow ledge. From there she ran two steps, gripped the edge of the roof, and swung around and up onto the deeply slanted, shingled surface.
The little demon crouched at the far end of the roof, eyes widening with surprise. It fled up over the peak and she followed.
She spoke to Abraxas internally, in case one of the neighbors had an open window. How can I be strong enough to pull myself up onto the roof and still have a belly? she asked him as they ran.
Your body is a complicated metabolic organism, he replied.
Too many carbs, Abraxas said. Lily is on her way.
The little demon scampered up the next roof and Ana jumped across the few feet between houses without effort. A light wind from the south carried the smells of sweet pine, juniper and lemon that mixed with the gray scent of wet pavement from a light, early evening rain.
Six months ago, she’d been a corporate publicist whose biggest challenge was asking out the professor who made her guts feel like molten lava. Restless and too curious by half, Ana had stumbled into a murder and been captured by a group of demon summoners. She’d let Abraxas into her body to help her escape.
She hadn’t realized she’d end up sharing her body with a demon full-time.
Ana went up and over four more roofs, paying close attention to her footing. Her agility hadn’t increased with her strength. The fleeing demon was gaining a longer lead, it jumped from the last gabled roof down to the flat roof of a store as they approached a larger street.
She sped up and leapt after it, absorbing the impact by making a quick roll across the flat surface and letting her momentum carry her back up to her feet. Some of the effects of sharing her body with a demon were upsetting, to put it mildly, but she liked how much more resilient he’d made her. And his lessons in demon magics were pretty sweet.
Does Lily know the direction we’re going? she asked Abraxas.
He answered with a wordless affirmative. He was probably still in the process of sending her their location. Half-demon, Lily was the best banisher in San Francisco. Ana had met her that first week with Abraxas, when she was still trying to get rid of him. Lily helped them fight the stronger demon, Ashmedai, who wanted to kill Ana and bind Abraxas to him instead. They’d been friends since. More than friends when it came to Abraxas. Somehow he and Lily were carrying on an intimate relationship despite the fact that he had no body of his own.
The little demon scurried down the side of the two-story flat-roofed building and ran for the four-lane street. It was the size of a large dog and would be mistaken for one—if people could see its black form at all. Most humans couldn’t see demons.
There were few cars this late and it dashed across with only a moment’s pause. Ana held the edge of the roof, let her legs dangle and then dropped to a ledge at the one-story level.
She dropped again, caught that ledge for a moment and then let go. Her legs hit the sidewalk with minimal impact. She pivoted and sprinted across the street toward where the demon was climbing the wall of another shop.
She couldn’t scale the two-story wall, but next to it was a shorter building. With a quick prayer that she had enough speed, she ran two steps up the side of the building and threw her arms up as high as she could reach. Her hands closed over the edge of the roof. She pulled up hard and scrambled with her feet against the bricks until she was up on the roof. On the side of the taller building, not facing the street, were pipes and brackets and a myriad of handholds that made it easy to climb to the higher level.
Did you see that? she asked Abraxas, though of course he had. I’m like a ninja!
A long sigh of exasperation crossed her mind in reply.
The demon wasn’t even halfway across the higher roof. It had slowed, thinking she had only the strength of an average human and no way to chase it up the wall. Seeing her, its black-veined, red eyes looked around furiously, seeking escape. It turned to run but hit the side of a protruding metal vent and staggered sideways.
Wait for Lily, Abraxas warned.
This was too perfect and she didn’t want to chase this thing over another block of rooftops only to have Lily bind it before she could get her hands on it. The little shit had been staring in her window and she wanted to be the one to punch it in its lopsided, toothy mouth. Then Lily could have it. Not that Ana could punch a mostly-incorporeal demon, but Abraxas could. And he could bind it well enough if they could grab it. She ran forward and dove at it.
As soon as she got her hands on it, she felt it begin to dematerialize. Like many of the small demons used as servants, it didn’t have a physical body and could only pull the barest amount of solid matter around it so it could function in this material world. Holding it was like trying to enclose a biting, struggling cloud. For Abraxas to bind it, she had to get her arms around it in a circle. She stepped forward and to one side, trying to get a better angle.
Under her skin, Abraxas moved to help her contain it. She felt his energy flow through her arms, but so did the little demon. In a desperate effort to escape, it popped out of the material world. Ana’s arms tightened on air. Overbalanced, she tripped forward, hit another vent, stumbled and saw the edge of the roof coming up too fast.
She caught it one-handed. Her momentum carried her over the edge and she felt a painful twist and jerk in her shoulder as her body’s full weight snapped down under her. Her fingers lost their hold. She fell the rest of the way to the pavement.
Abraxas tried to break the fall by putting the loose cloudy form he sometimes wore between her and the concrete. That didn’t stop her from slamming into it with enough force to knock the air out of her lungs.
Gasping and coughing, she tried to feel through the mass of pain in her back, arm and head to see if she’d really injured herself.
Nothing broken, Abraxas told her. He could scan through her body faster and more completely than she could. Torn muscles and tendons in the shoulder. Get ice on it and I’ll see what I can do.
He could encourage her body to heal itself more quickly than normal, though hardly at a superhuman level. She wouldn’t be bouncing up off the pavement and shaking herself back into place.
If you try to lecture me about this, I’m going to tell Lily that you ogle other women when she’s not around, Ana told him.
Just because you let your anger lead and forgot that it could banish itself? That’s not enough subject matter for a full lecture. And you should think about that ogling accusation, considering that you’re in control of our eyes.
Ana was still working on a retort when Lily drove up in a sporty matte silver crossover. Sometimes Ana thought Lily would be driving a sports car if she didn’t need to carry so much magical stuff in the back. Lily worked the hip soccer mom look, probably because being half-demon, she appeared to be midforties but was closer to midnineties. Her thick, wavy, dark brown hair was pulled back and she wore a loose sweater with yoga pants and oversized slippers. If she’d arrived midchase, Ana knew Lily would have those slippers off in a second because her taloned eagle feet were much better for running over rooftops than anything that came standard on a human body.
Ana had managed to get herself sitting and pushed with her feet and good arm until she was leaning back against the wall of the store she’d fallen from. Lily crouched in front of her.
“I heard you had a misstep. Do you want to go home or to the hospital?”
“Home,” Ana said.
Abraxas moved so that part of his being was outside of Ana, beside her, also crouching like Lily. His form looked made of mist, and anyone standing more than a few feet from them wouldn’t see him at all.
“Before it dematerialized, I touched it,” he said. His voice, outside of Ana’s head, could sound like anything from wind and sand to a thunderstorm. Right now it was at the quiet end of that spectrum. “It was from Ashmedai.”
“He’s not—” Ana started, then had to cough, which sent pain shooting from her shoulder across her chest. She bit back a groan and tried again. “Not allowed in the city.”
“I don’t like this,” Lily said. “He must be gathering allies. At least one who can summon demons in the city for him.”
“Sick of this,” Ana said. “It was looking in my window while I was trying to meditate.” She didn’t add that she’d been relieved for the distraction and an excuse to stop sitting.
“If we catch the next one, I can try to get it to tell us who’s doing the summoning,” Lily said.
“I don’t want to keep chasing the little ones. This is the third one I’ve seen around my house this month. We have to find a way to get to Ashmedai, before he gets any stronger.”
“We’re working on it,” Lily said, meaning the larger group of protector demons that she and Abraxas were part of. “Do you want me to call Sabel?”
Ana sighed slowly so the motion wouldn’t jar her shoulder. It had turned out that the hot professor was part of an ancient order of witches and way more clued in about this magic stuff than Ana had been. She and Sabel had been dating for the last three months and she wanted nothing more than for Sabel to come over and sit with her while she iced her shoulder, but that wasn’t fair to Sabel.
“Let her sleep, she’s teaching this week. I’m okay, really, I think. But can we pick up a bag of ice on the way?”
She let Lily help her up and into the car, wondering if Sabel was in bed already and if so what she was wearing. Sabel had the best collection of lacy undergarments and things that were allegedly pajamas but that Ana thought weren’t meant to be worn for more than five minutes. But she saw them rarely and almost never got to take them off Sabel because of the centuries-old feud between the demons and the witches.
How much of her impatience to get rid of Ashmedai came from simply wanting to be closer to Sabel? And did it matter? Ana had defeated Ashmedai once and if she could just get rid of him for good, they’d all be happier and a heck of a lot safer.
* * *
Careful of her sore shoulder, Ana leaned back and to the left in the small, hard chair. Two days after the fall from the roof, she thought it shouldn’t still hurt that much, but it did. She was glad for the distraction and happy to watch from the back of the classroom while Sabel lectured her class. Sabel wore a soft gray boat-neck top with a small string of pearls. Her black hair was pulled into a loose braid, exposing her slender neck.
Sabel was saying, “According to Jung, ‘Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’ One way the Shadow appears to us is by our projections onto others—what you hate in others, you hate in yourself.”
Ana could think of plenty of things she hated in other people that had no connection to how she was, but she was afraid if she brought that up to Sabel later in private, she’d get argued out of thinking that way. Sabel stepped out from behind the desk and Ana saw that she was wearing a dark gray tweed skirt that ended just below her knees. Her calves looked bare, though they probably weren’t, and her feet were in sleek black pumps with low, skinny heels.
Ana wanted to cradle one of Sabel’s calves in her palm while she slipped off the shoe and then run her hands up under that skirt. But she couldn’t. Not just because of the strained shoulder, but also because Sabel wore an invisible, magical device that was supposed to protect her from demon possession.
The leash, as they called it, was hypervigilant. It tended to also protect her from Ana, since her body hosted a demon—Abraxas—and was therefore shot through with demon magic. They could kiss and sit close, but the hotter things got, the more energy the leash registered, and the more likely it was to trigger and start to constrict painfully around Sabel’s ribs until she lost consciousness.
“This weekend, look for one incident in your life where a person makes you angry or upset,” Sabel told the class. “Then explore it to understand how it’s connected to a factor in yourself that you can’t stand. We’ll discuss that on Monday along with chapters three through five.”
Scattered groans rose from the students and Ana gathered that chapters three through five must have a lot of pages. Sabel disconnected her laptop from the projector and closed it while the twenty-odd students shuffled notebooks, tablets, papers, pens and sundries into their bags and backpacks. Like a flock of birds they rose, turned, massed into a roughly triangular formation and funneled through the doorway to the hall, leaving Sabel alone at the front of the room and Ana in the back.
It took her a minute to realize Sabel was standing with her hands on her hips regarding Ana with a bemused smile.
“Don’t tell me you have a teacher fetish too,” Sabel said.
“No.” Ana licked her dry lips. “Just you. That’s a really nice skirt. Did you tell yourself from the future that I was coming to visit?”
Sabel laughed. “You’ll only know the answer to that if you see what’s under the skirt.”
Ana tried to get up from the unsteady chair and managed to knock it over and nearly fall the other way before she caught herself on a desk. She straightened up with as much dignity as she could, which wasn’t a lot.
“We’d better go to my office before you break something,” Sabel said.
“Lead the way,” Ana told her with a grin.
“Uh-huh,” Sabel replied, but she was smiling too.
She dutifully turned away from Ana and preceded her out the door. Ana mostly tried not to stare at her neck and hips and legs as they left that building, crossed a corner of campus, and navigated the narrow halls to Sabel’s office. As an adjunct professor, Sabel had been awarded an office that was about the size of a supply closet. It held a desk, two chairs and two bookcases with enough space to drag in a third chair if necessary and if no one needed to get out the door in a hurry.
Ana paused inside the door with her hand on it and looked at Sabel; she couldn’t remember if Sabel had office hours now or not. Sabel nodded and Ana shut the door.
“Abraxas?” Sabel asked.
“I dropped him off at Lily’s; they’re working on—”
Sabel grabbed the lapels of Ana’s jacket and kissed her. Ana’s arms went around Sabel, pulling her close as Sabel’s lips opened to her. She couldn’t resist sliding her palm down from the small of Sabel’s back to stroke the curve of her ass under the tweed skirt.
Sabel broke the kiss with a breathless laugh, but she didn’t move away from Ana. Her fingers touched the sides of Ana’s face and played with the short hair at the back of her neck. “I like the new jacket,” she said.
“I’ll wear it to bed if you’ll wear the skirt,” Ana said, more to make Sabel laugh again than as a real suggestion.
She’d rather see the skirt come off. What she’d most like to see come off was the leash the other Hecatine witches had put on Sabel. Most of the time they could barely touch each other without her hurting Sabel.
At least now Abraxas could travel farther from Ana and Lily had made him a golem body he could use at her place so that he could spend time there. When he was outside of Ana, it was easier for her and Sabel to touch. Still, they’d had enough close calls in which the leash nearly rendered Sabel unconscious when they tried to have sex that they were stuck in a terribly frustrating stalemate.
Sabel had been appealing to her mentor, the witch Josefene, to have the leash removed. But since it had already worked once to prevent a demon from using Sabel’s powers against others, the witches seemed reluctant to remove it.
“Is Josefene…Did you talk to her?” Ana asked.
“She wants to meet Abraxas.”
From everything Ana had heard, the witches, including Sabel’s mentor Josefene, were strongly opposed to the Sangkesh demons. The Sangkesh were the demons sworn to protect humans against worse demons. Lily was one of them, as was Abraxas. Ana swallowed against the guilt rising in her—if she hadn’t chosen to keep Abraxas and let him use her body as his home base while he gained strength, the leash wouldn’t be an issue.