A Summoning

Two months into your apprenticeship, the Master bound demons into your shoulders. They erupted in immense boils, which the master methodically lanced; you screamed into a strip of leather, shuddering against the ropes holding you to your chair.

The demons were small, and each one was placed in a bottle and taken somewhere out of sight. Their inhuman keening, not vocal cords but tendons, were almost as pitiful as your own whimpers. These were demons of arm flesh, and they had no eyes to see by; the flesh was not potent, and their lives would be short even without the Master’s experiments.

He spoke seldom during the procedure, but after the last of the demons was safely bottled, he scratched through the summoning-circle he had engraved on your skin, and softly dabbed away the blood and tears, and told you you had done well.

You never found out what became of the demons. That night you cried softly in your cold cell, and then a strange urge took you and you masturbated onto the sheets, and for want of a way to hide the seed—so precious and potent in magic—that the Master might not take this as well, you swallowed it. This became a nightly ritual.

That was the second-worst day of your apprenticeship, but there were many more that were simply bad. The Master’s rituals were exacting. Err in the placement of a rune, and he would strike you, sharply, with a wooden rod. One strike, but enough to send you sprawling, wheezing and weeping. The old man was impossibly strong.

Then, of course, were the offerings. Demons take root in flesh, and for the lesser demons such as you were permitted to see, common farm animals would suffice. Cats were common—the Master had made it known that, should a litter face the drowning-sack, he would pay well to see them to his workshop instead. No doubt there were families whose livelihood came from supplying the Master his cats. At first you would lie awake, recalling their plaintive voices as the demons took root under fur, but eventually you became numb to such things. So, too, the squeal of dying pigs, the fearful gasps of lambs.

One time the Master even bade you implant demons in a horse. The beast was untamable, they said, and when you approached it kicked you hard enough to shatter a leg. The Master tutted, and uncorked a lesser demon to repair you, and another to stupefy the horse; you held it steady as the Master worked his way around, carving the words of power into its flanks. So tamed by magic, it whickered and nuzzled you, utterly ignorant of its impending death.

The demon the Master called granted it legs by the dozen, and split its head down the middle, and worst of all it spoke clearly, whispering praises from the ruined face of the horse. Each night for weeks after you lay soaked in sweat, and would come to the day’s rigours grey-faced and stupid, flinching at the slightest movement.

So it went for three years of your life. But none of those were the worst day.

A year and five months into your apprenticeship, your master found you wearing a dress you had stolen, your face carefully made up using ritual inks. You weren’t even doing anything, just sitting in it, tense and shaking, but convinced you were alone with your terrible secret. What you are doing is the darkest blasphemy of the order, the act that could destroy all hope of you ever becoming a wizard.

So of course, he just walked in. Inevitable. Would God have it otherwise?

He said nothing the entire time. He took the dress, of course. And he went to the knife rack, and came back with a large cleaver, polished—like all tools in the house—by a homunculus which tottered after him, leering up at the knife, tiny hands holding a sponge almost the same size as its head. He placed a chopping board, and grabbed you by the back of the head, and you felt your body go completely limp as he stretched out your arm and slammed the cleaver down, severing it in one stroke. Blood sprayed across the room, but then you felt a heavy pressure as he leaned his full weight on it, staunching the bleeding for a time.

Still not speaking, he jammed a finger into the bleeding stump of your arm, and drew a small magic circle. Another stroke of the cleaver removed a finger from your already-dead arm; he dropped this into the circle, and held his hand over it, and it rippled and grew into a small sac. With the subtlest of motions, your Master peeled it open and revealed the tiny, curled body inside. This he raised to his lips, and whispered commands you could not hear; and then he touched it to your open vein, and pushed the arm back where it had been, and miraculously the blood vessels and tendons were knitting together… encasing forever the demon born from your finger.

Your Master took your wrist, and carefully raised your arm, nodded once at his handiwork. He passed you the dress again, and gestured to the blood; sensing his meaning, you set to mopping up, though the stains would remain on the flagstones.

“We will never speak of this.” he announced, and then swept out of the room, the ruined, blood-soaked dress over his arm.

That night, when it came to do your ‘ritual’, your arm would not cooperate. You could imagine the demon inside, forbidding sinful acts. All your rebellions would now have to come from your left hand only.

Not all of the Master’s sacrifices, of course, were mere animals. The most potent demons could only be summoned in a human host, and occasionally you would oversee a scrawny, hungry-faced mother or father appear at the threshold of the tower, a sobbing infant tugging at the hem of their cloak. The Master would seize the infant by the wrist, and draw out a taut sack of coin, a trifle of the wealth in the tower; the parent would hurry back into the darkness, not looking back at their shame.

On many of those nights, storms lashed the tower, as if God wanted to punish the Master for his mischief.

You did not see what became of the children; such rituals were too dangerous to be entrusted to a mere ‘prentice. But now and then you would see a face on one of the homunculi that seemed a little familiar.

Yet despite all these sins, your Master’s ultimate design remained unfathomable. As the years wore on, you saw him less and less, and he would be quicker to strike you or upbraid you. You had always flinched at his coming, but now the dread filled your lungs like a second demon, snatching away your breath. Yet some days, he would emerge from the workshop with a softer mood… he would look upon you with a sad smile, and lavish praise on your progress in the Arts.

No divination could pierce his moods. You would sometimes lie wondering if your true parents would treat you thus, and find that you could scarce remember their faces.

You did not stop wearing dresses—but now, it was easier to trace his movements, so you were never again caught. To stop it giving you away, you would seize the false arm and bind it to your hip.

One summer, a troupe of travelling players came to the Master’s tower, seeing a wizard’s tower as a suitably grand backdrop for their tale of sin and debauchery. The Master glanced at the commotion only once, and scoffed at it—but upon seeing that you could not tear your gaze away from the window, he smiled as if recalling something. “Go, then.” he said. “It is natural to be drawn by pretty girls at the fair.”

You didn’t tell him it wasn’t the girls you were looking at.

You dressed in your best approximation of what the peasants wore. Your surcoat was woven of a very fine wool, with no sign of fraying, and surely it would mark you as a rich man’s son to those who looked close—but from afar it would draw little attention. Summer or not, the morning was cool, with a stiff breeze from the distant sea, and your breath fogged the air.

The players were, of course, all men and boys. The tale they spun told of an orphaned girl who went to the city to seek a husband, only to suffer depredations at the hands of cruel merchants and foreign sailors. But she remained virtuous, and caught the eye of a nobleman’s son out to campaign who saw at once her Christian virtue. They were betrothed, but he was called to battle, and an arrow pierced his heart the day they were to be married. So struck was she with grief, she flung herself off the cliff top to be with her love… but as a suicide, she went to Hell and remained separated from him for eternity.

It was a beautiful performance and you cried a lot.

Of course, the actor playing the girl caught your eye. You couldn’t stop your eyes following his little earing, the corner of his jaw catching the morning light (he had some kind of glitter on, you belatedly realised, to make the skin shine better), the way his lips moved softly around the syllables, the gleam of his eyelashes. And there he was, wearing a dress in broad daylight, walking like a woman, and people were cheering him on!

Lucky bastard.

Whether it was lust (sinful) or jealousy (also sinful), you tarried after the performance ended to see if you might find this strange brazen boy. You even, it must be admitted, entertained dreams of running away to join the theatre, but you knew better to trifle with your Master’s designs.

You found the players a short walk from the wagon, most of them stripped to the waist or further as they put away their costumes. You found yourself blushing and turning your gaze down, even though as a man among men, it should cause no-one discomfort to gaze where you will.

The Fates must have been smiling that day, because the one actor you hoped to meet indeed caught you standing there. “Ho, there!” he cried. “The wizard’s apprentice, if I am not mistaken?”

You felt your cheeks getting warm, despite the chill. With some effort, you open your mouth to answer. “Just so, my friend! Alas, for I had thought myself a little more inconspicuous.”

The actor laughed. “Oh, it is not what you’re wearing, young master wizard. It is—” and you looked up to find that he’d walked right over to you, and taken you by the elbow, arresting you with those beautiful eyes “—the haunted look, of one who has seen far too many things that should never be seen. As an actor, I’m trained to see such things, you see.” He blinked, ever so slowly.

You didn’t feel cold anymore. You did feel a lot of things, things hard to name, but cold was not one of them. You were probably biting your lip.

“Then… have you met a lot of wizards, on your travels?” you managed. “I am shamed to admit I know only my own Master, and no other luminaries of the Art.”

He laughed. You wished to fall into that laugh and wander it forever, like the legendary Bull of Minos. (In that moment, it scarce mattered that the bull was slain.)

“Why yes indeed!” said he. “My companions and I have wandered among all manner of wizards, sorcerors, sooth-sayers, mystics and chirurgeons. Most, alas, have shown little interest in the theatre. Perhaps when one is accustomed to the dances of angels, the orations of men seem knavish to compare.”

You spluttered a protest. “To say such things, when you alone would shame the highest seraph!” You had not yet seen an angel, but you could not fathom them being half as beautiful as this actor boy. Nor as well-spoken.

Looking back, it was scarcely a surprise that he should have kissed you. But you had not such wit, back then. Still, you had enough sense to kiss him back; his lips were surprisingly soft (not that you had much to compare them to), and you held there as the kiss stole your breath and sent shivers out to your fingers.

“Well!” said he, when you finally pulled apart. “For certain, you are not like other wizards.” For some reason this made you far more proud than any praise your Master had bestowed.

You found yourself babbling. “The Master says that magic is a man’s power. The power of the penis, which is the most sacred flesh. Defile yourself as a man, like the ancient eunuchs, and the demons will laugh in your face, for they know you belong to them already.” These were forbidden secrets, but you would tell anything to this boy. In any case, he just nodded, as if this was no news to him.

“Such seems to be the belief among wizards.” But not, you realised, you. He raised an eyebrow, letting you figure it out.

“I think…” you said. “I think I don’t agree with that belief very much.”

“Is that so?” He smiled and tilted his head and you wished to kiss him again, very badly indeed.

“I think the demons probably don’t care half so much as my Master does. And I am coming to feel my Master is not the most reliable teacher.” As it should turn out, only one of those statements was true. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Your lovely actor nodded. “Well, you are wiser than most wizards then.” he said. “But suppose I am not convinced of all these airy theories…”

A terrible spirit took you then—one which would set your fate. “Are you proposing…” you said, as coyly as you could manage, “that we put them to the test?”

He grinned, and took your honest left hand, and led you away from the impromptu fair to a copse of woodland too scraggly even for the bodgers to take. Not that you paid much attention to the route. Why, you giggled like a loon, admiring his naked back—and even when he turned and caught your gaze, you blushed but you refused to look away. This also seemed to be appreciated.

In the Master’s tower, there were few opportunities to learn very much about sex. You knew that it was a source of terrible power, the height of magic and its depths. You know it could be squandered, that many a promising apprentice had frittered away his talents on sinful debauchery, and for such reason, women were forbidden from the tower. For a man to lie with the wife he owned, and only her, was not just God’s command, but a wise strategy for conserving one’s power in a closed and sacred loop.

But what it actually involved? Well, this you could only guess!

The actor seemed to find a sufficiently secluded spot: a building that might once have been a barn, its walls caved in by rot and wind. A pile of stones more than a dwelling, but yet enough to shelter the two of you from prying eyes on the road.

“Well,” said he, “I am not so familiar with what wizards like to do together.” He hesitated, and you belatedly realised he was trying as hard as you. “Not that I would be so unwise as to presume you all alike!” Out of the sun, you could get a sense of how he looked beyond ‘gleaming’; a soft face, large deep eyes, but perhaps that was the makeup drawing you in. And now you could enjoy his scent, as well: a hint of sweat from the performance, yet a pleasant smell, one that felt warm.

“In sooth? I’m not sure I know myself.” you said, taking a little too long to reply. “My master has not been forthcoming on such matters. Which is honestly a relief!” You swallowed, a sudden knot in your throat. “What about actors?”

He blushed. “Were I had a length of gut,” he said, “I could fashion a vessel for the penis, and slide it into a man’s arse. Don’t laugh! It feels very good!” A shake of his head; his hair, tied back in a woman’s style, just a moment delayed. “But as it is… sometimes we take to using just our thighs, squeezed together.”

Like, as in to… you were finding it hard to think. “Use them how?”

The actor blinked, slowly. “Then, you have not… even with a woman?”

You shook your head. “I have touched only myself, until this day. Oft as not, I go weeks without seeing a soul—save for my master, and his homunculi, who are scant company.”

He hesitated then, and you wished he wouldn’t, so you took his other hand in yours; not so soft as yours. His fingers, very long, felt very comfortable. And you looked back into those wide eyes, and said: “Fear not, I know my own desires.”

“Well!” he said, and stepped up to meet you. You shuffled back a little, let your weight fall on the rough-cut wall, as he reached up to unfasten your cloak. And then! Then, those long beautiful hands were wriggling under your shirt, fingers brushing over your hips, up along your ribs. So different from your own hands: unpredictable, the rough texture absorbing all concentration.

You felt a shiver, and leaned in close.

“Good God!” he said, not stopping. “Does your master feed you nothing but sawdust? Even ‘midst the famine, I’ve scarce seen a worse-fed man!”

You didn’t have the heart to tell him that your master never lacked for feasts, but you could find appetite to eat only rarely. So you kissed him again, since that seemed to be acceptable, and hesitantly reached your loyal left hand around his lower back and up to his shoulder, clasping him up to you to soak in that warmth. You thought he would be cold to touch, in this winter, but he felt like a furnace. The curve of his hips felt especially lovely, and you let your hand rest there, fingers curling round to the sacrum. Wished you did not know the nature of the demons that could be summoned into each part of his body.

With some care, he wriggled his arms up to lift your cloak over your shoulders, though your weight still pinned it to the wall, saving you from the hard press of the stones. “All right, my lovely little sorceror…” he said, quietly but full of affection. “If this is to be a lesson, would you prefer to first learn the fore, or the aft…”

“As a student of all the arts, high and low,” you said, “I should wish to have a full view of these procedings…” You felt his laugh through his lungs.

“Of course. How meticulous!” Now his hands found yours, reaching round to move them off his back. You felt your heart beating much faster as he moved them down towards his hose, which you had wit enough to recognise as a women’s style, fitting his role in the play.

“Go on…” he said, trying not to laugh. “Make a thorough investigation.”

With your left hand—your right was strangely still, but you could scarce trust it in deeds such as this—with your left hand, you unlaced his braies, and you could feel his penis shivering underneath. Tentatively, you ran your fingers along it… and he let out a breath, wreathing you briefly in fog.

You pushed your fingers against the sides, testing the firmness, the way it would bounce. You started to move the skin up and down a little, like you would with your own, and he giggled, but laid a hand on your chest.

So it was your turn. You had worn braies with a codpiece, and this you raised, tugging it open to allow a small gap.

“Now,” he said, “shall we perhaps—” but you were already guiding his penis into the opening you’d made, pressing your knees together to squeeze tight. Oh, and of course, trying not to shiver too much. It struck you as a terribly queer sensation, having this warm part of another body intervening like this, snugly pushing up against the perineum.

Such a vivid memory! I suppose it is rather recent.

He started to push backwards and forwards, his unsteady breath so hot on your shoulder and God!, it was so different to when you were alone. You set your idle hands to work on his shoulders, helping him find a rhythm you both liked… you could a smile playing across his face, almost a disbelief that could be happening, as if to echo your own feelings.

…and, ah. That’s when that happened.

Your first sign that something was wrong came as your right arm made a sudden fist, and struck him across the jaw. You seized it and twisted yourself against the wall, and how funny that he should come at that moment, spraying the sacred fluid all over your tunic in a way you’d never be able to explain. You saw hurt in his eyes in that brief moment—but oh, you had larger problems!

You held the arm down with all the force your puny body could muster, but your skin was boiling, demons manifesting in it as if from nowhere. You spared a brief glance to the stain on your tunic, half-expecting it to turn to smoke as its magic was exhausted, but no, it remained as it was… which meant this power came from someone else. The master.

The boils burst. The demons inside flared into brilliant life. For a moment, you were no longer hiding in a dilapidated barn in an empty forest, but back at the fair, surrounded by lanterns, bright clothes, and sizzling meat. Then, it was over—the lights born from your arm rising up into the sky, pointing directly to you. Your right arm had reduced almost to the bone, all the flesh eaten by these demons… you fell to the ground, screaming and writhing, and saw little more.

And soon enough, you awoke—where else?—in your master’s chamber. He sat in his great chair, with its clawed feet and stained surface, legs sprawling, leaning forward to put the weight on his knees. His gaze bore into you: a basilisk stare, unblinking.

With a sick lurch, you saw that your actor was there also, sat beside you on the stone floor. A large bruise swelled on his cheek, breaking the elegant lines of his face. You hoped it wasn’t your arm. He met your gaze, eyes wide with terror.

“You’re awake.” The master leaned back at least, and scratched his beard. His robe seemed unusually shabby; there were great bags under his eyes. “I thought better of you, boy. Truly, I did.”

The word ‘boy’ made you want to flinch and scream in his face. Alone, perhaps you might: his hold had broken in some serious way that morning. But here was your actor, harmed already—you could not bear to bring further ills.

Your master sighed enormously. “I thought the arm would teach you a lesson. But here you are, defiling yourself. Once again. Did I not warn you!?”

You tried to speak, but your throat was closed. Your master scowled, and ponderously stood up. He looked much weaker now than once he did, and he took up his staff, using it as a walking-cane as he shuffled closer to where you lay.

“You must recall.” your master said. “What is the first edict? The demons who make up this world are willful and petulant. You must force your will upon them, refuse them to any other, or they will destroy you! In all acts, you must make yourself sovereign, answering to nobody.” He swivelled, sharply on his heel, facing now your actor, who looked up in mute horror. “Yet you have given yourself up to this man. Lain under him like a woman. Do you understand what you must do?”

You made yourself nod.

“Good.” He knelt, took your chin between his fingers. “You are a good boy at heart, despite your… vice. But it is not all lost, my boy! Make him your own, demand the respect you are due… or else I shall have to find another use for you.”

He might have said more, but a great coughing fit took him them. So he let you go, and stormed out of the room, and you had a minute or two to yourself.

You spent the first of those minutes babbling apologies. Eventually the actor sighed, and staggered over to lay a hand on your shoulder, and kiss you. “Your master,” said he, “is a knave in sooth—but that does hardly surprise me. What did he bid you do?”

“I am to rape you,” you said, “or bind demons into your flesh, or in some other way repudiate and enslave you.”

He looked a little taken aback at that. “The affairs of wizards,” he managed at last, “are as dangerous as they say. That is what magic demands?”

“No…” you said. “That is what my master demands.” He looked so pitiful there, and you felt so sick, that by your hand this lovely boy could have been drawn into this place of monsters. “My friend,” you whispered. “Hold on, my friend. I shall find a way to free you, e’en should it cost me my life.”

His shoulders did not lose the slightest tension. “Scarce a better outcome!” But your conversation was cut short; your master kicked his way back into the room, standing straighter, a bloody knife in his hand. He laughed at your new friend’s expression. “Behold!” he declared. “For I have bound a demon to push back the rot in my lungs. Do you see, boy? For the wizard who has the will to take command, death itself has no hold. Not even plague or famine will slay me now!”

“I understand, master.” you said. “I have a fitting fate for this sinful man, who tempted me with impurity. There is a demon I wish to bind, and his flesh is fitting.”

It is one thing to keep secrets, but quite another to lie—yet despite your wavering voice, your master frowned, and nodded a little. “One way or another,” he said, “that will be proof of your nature. You know the way. Show me!”

“So it shall be.” You let him watch as you set about drawing a suitable circle, writing prayers in the Roman script to insist on the right to God’s protection, threefold and precise. Your master’s stern gaze burned a hole in your back. You fetched books, insisting that everything must be done properly—had he not told you of the risks? By the time all was done, red evening light was filtering through the window, and your master had tired at last.

Yet then, still, he wouldn’t leave you alone. “You, there.” said he to a tall homunculus, its lanky frame asymmetric, pale skin wrapped by dozens of blue ribbons. “Prevent the boy from doing anything til I… hrmph! til I should waken.” His voice trailed off, and within a few minutes he’d let his old shrivelled head slump to the side, and was snoring softly.

At last you could speak… and oh, it’s almost time for me to enter this sordid tale. Forgive me for getting a little excited.

“I am going to perform magic.” you said.

“Are you going to call angels down, to whisk us away on beams of light?” He smiled wide and pure, and you wished you had another thing to compare him than those distant, forbidden angels. “Enchant our boots, to take seven leagues in a single stride? Transform us into otters, so we may steal away on the river?”

“No.” You crouched beside him, and leaned in close for warmth. “Such mysteries are far beyond my ken. I am going to summon a demon—into my own flesh, not yours.”

The homunculus twitched, apparently deeming this contact innocuous. It had the wide eyes of a sheep, capturing the whole room. A problem.

His grip tightened on your arm. “Do not!” he cried. “I could not bear it!”

“I will trust in God, or the Adversary. One or other should protect me. But this I must do.” And so declaring, you approached the master’s cupboards.

The homunculus intervened. A pitiful creature, with no place in God’s order, but that made it kin, did it not? Yet your master had made it your enemy. You went straight for its windpipe, and drove it into the wall with your good left elbow. The homunculus smacked you down, a bony forearm driving into your ear, hot blood trickling onto your neck. You were on the floor, it drew back its head to screech, it would waken the master and all would be lost—

But then your actor was upon it, a wine bottle in hand. It smashed over the homunculus’s head, and before the creature could react, there went his thumbs, straight into those sheep eyes. They wrestled fierce, staggering against the furniture—the master stirred in his sleep—and then you saw the skin-carved circle holding the creature in the world. With a shattered piece of glass, you pierced it, and the homunculus withered. A final breath wheezed from its shattered throat.

With this endearing sacrifice, the cupboard was yours. You stole a wary glance to the Master, but he had found no ensorcelment to conquer sleep, and the commotion had failed to rouse him. Would that you could go elsewhere, but here in the study, all things should be decided.

Ah, it would be natural to hope a wizard’s furniture would be full of interesting things—jars of newt’s eyes, perhaps, or hanged mens’ ears. But in truth you found mostly paper—yet God or his Adversary must have been protecting you after all, for in the last cupboard, you found the item you hoped: a simple knife, small but wicked sharp.

It would serve!

You stood in the centre of the chamber and, as if you lacked a care in the world, began to disrobe. But of course, both the men in this room have seen you naked already.

A strange calm had touched you, as if you were doing something you were always meant to. Your hose came unrolled, your braies unlaced, your tunic lifted over your shoulders. The actor helped, whether from lust or a wish to help with the sorcery you could hardly say (oh, ‘twas both, you daft girl). He watched that wicked knife, eyes transfixed.

Oh, and here we come to the best part! Your penis was quite proud at this point, which made things quite simple, really. You tucked your tunic into your armpit, held the knife in your left hand, and asked your friend and lover to hold your penis steady, which he did a little nervously…

…and in one quick cut, you had it off.

Some credit is certainly due, here. Most girls who do this scream a lot more. Your fear of your Master let you bite it back down, so that you could merely whimper softly, tears and snot mingling with the blood on your face.

Your lovely actor looked like he was going to be sick. You wanted to hug him, assure him this was all according to your design… but the next step had to be done quickly or you’d pass out. You pressed your tunic up against the wound, hard as anything, but all the same it soaked rapidly with blood. After a second, the actor stepped up behind you and firm hands pressed it harder still, and his warmth was there to surround you, whispering sweet reassurances, so very softly.

You tossed your penis into the magic circle, scuffed the delicate protection wards with your foot (a kindly favour, thank you), and still in the arms of your lover, whispered your entreaty, over and over.

Your penis inflated like a tied-off intestine filled with air, and became translucent. You peered at it, almost faltering in the magic. There was a shape somewhere within it, a slightly darker mass… and then the bubble burst, and there in the centre of the magic circle sat… a girl, no doubt, covered in your blood, and somehow, incongruously, bearing your face.

And there I was! You asked, and I came. I do hope you’re satisfied.

In the anxiety of that moment, it is your actor who speaks first.

“God’s wounds… did you just…”

You nod, peering down at me, a shirtless skinny girl tottering due to blood loss from multiple wounds, her arm withered almost to nothing, but still determined to see this through. Oh, I like you.

“If I am not mistaken,” you announce, “we are in the company of the esteemed lady Lilith, the first woman on God’s earth!” I can hear the relish—you’re savouring the chance to declare that—and the desperation. You were planning this so long…

“The very same.” I lie. In sooth, I am indeed a Lilith as you called me, but of a rather more recent vintage. “A delight..?”

You might take this as a flagrant attempt to fish for a name, for naming things is power. Actually, since you used your own flesh, I don’t need it: your name, and all your secrets, are known to me. And the wizards would rather impose names than receive them. No, I’m just being courteous!

So you introduce yourself, and the young actor, tongue-tied as he is. “The terrible Lilith… I played as you once…” he says, eyes wide, staring at me as if he can hardly believe I am real. He is trying so hard to put on a brave face, which is sweet. Poor boy—scarce could he have known where you would tempt him!

“Well-met then, my friends…” I say, in a salacious little whisper. Laying it on a little thick, perhaps, but everyone expects a little melodrama when they summon a demon. “You have sent a princely offering indeed. No wonder your master has been so keen to preserve you!” A wind from the other world spills out from my broken circle, swirling the scattered papers into the air and scattering the candles.

In this moment, all this declaiming and shouting is finally enough to rouse the gentleman himself. He blinks his crusted eyes, and comprehension dawns.

“And here is my master,” you spit, rounding on him. “A wicked man!”

“Blackguard! Coistrel!” the wizard screams, fear tinging his voice. “Madman! What have you done!?”

“Indeed, ‘tis plainly so.” I am looking about with curiosity. How ingenious, these experiments of his. How strangely familiar.

Your master is standing now, leaning heavily on his staff, fury contorting his face. “Where are my servants!” he cries. “Where are they! To me, to me, the enemy has come!”

A nuisance. I reach out and grasp your hand, and that of your lover. The screaming ceases; the whole room is still, the flying papers suspended, your master’s spittle hanging in the air, his robes swept back like a cheap statuette.

“Scarce would I have come,” I whisper to you, “just to harm a wicked man, for there are wicked men in every generation, and I am fond of many. It is another desire felt moved to fulfil…” You try to step away from me then, but the actor is still behind you, and you almost trip. Perhaps I press too hard… so I wait. Your wish is plain as day, but I would have you say it.

“I would… God has seen fit to make me a man.” you say, quite incorrectly. “My master says that makes me powerful, that I carry the will to dominate. Powerful! Yet I have seen the nature of such power, and…”

…and it gets a bit much, and you start to cry. Such sorrow in that bony frame! That actor—he really is a sweetheart, I can see why you fell so quickly—helps you to the floor, and supports you.

“Then Lilith, here is my wish. I would have you unmake me.” you declare. “To erase me from the world, in flesh and memory and deed, along with my master. With all that I have seen and done, I am no doubt bound for Hell, but I beg you, Lady Lilith, let the damage we have caused end—on this night, at this hour! Grant me that small mercy!”

Oh, no no no no no. That’s not where I’m going with this at all.

“Sweetie.” I say, stepping carefully out the magic circle (barbaric things) to come and touch your knee, gently. I made a hash of that, honestly. Now, I hope I’m not being overly familiar, too soon. I have just seen all of your life, from the eye of your penis—yet to you, still I am a stranger. I must remember this.

I continue, pausing too long. “Such thoughts do not become a girl like you.” Your brow furrows, cutely. “There is yet a future for you, if you want to take it.”

“A girl like… oh,” you say, and for a moment you have hope in your eyes, like never before—but then, damn it all, a terribly sad expression strikes you. “So that’s it. What a fool I am. You come tempt me with the flesh… was my master right? So defiled I am, the demons toy with me…”

For God’s sake. (What? You think a demon can’t swear by Him?)

“My dear. Honestly! I won’t deny it was quite endearing when you two were, oh how do you say it in this century, patting each other about the loins?” The phrase breaks you out of your little self-pity circle long enough to blink, almost choke back a laugh, I think. Another century then? Alas. Works well enough.

So I continue. “If you want to go down that road… Look. I am not bound to this place. The circle is broken, so I can go wheresoever I wish.” I raise my hand and push your face up so you can meet my gaze. “But right now, I’m here. Because, well…”

Because once, I was where you were. God likes playing this game.

The actor reaches out, and places his hand on mine. “I do not pretend to understand magic, but give him—” (sigh) “—time. If he—” (sigh) “—has a woman’s soul, he, or she, is among friends. But too much pressure—”

Oh, to be lectured on such matters by a baby thespian! “Yes. Thank you.” I turn back to you. “Please, let us start on a different foot. Alas, I am no God, to strike down this tower. If we are to accomplish anything, it must be as one being.”

You cast your eyes down at the no-doubt throbbing wound, blood soaking the insides of your legs and dribbling from your thighs onto the floor. You’ve lost a lot. You must be hardly thinking. “Oh! So you ask to return…” You look crestfallen. “I would have a penis again. Even here, even here I fail…”

“Hey. Look at me.” You’re having trouble focusing, I can see. I grab your hand and guide it in.

Your eyes widen a little.

“Yeah, I got one. I’m a woman. So are you, if you want to be, and it rather seems that you do. Simply declare it. The simplest magic, no incantations or candles. Say what you are and it shall be so.”

You nod, slowly. Something has connected, I can see it. A glimpse of your master’s curses… not all magic is physical, not all magic is pretty little demons like me.

And then you’re staring at me, grey as ash, but sharp as you ever were. “Very well then.” you say. “I apologise for that outburst. I have chosen a course, and the Fates will carry me.”

“Oh..? And where do they carry you?”

You open your mouth… and oh, you poor thing. You don’t know what to say. So let me paint you a picture… the future I can give you.

This is what you will say. “Let God and his Adversary witness: I have called you, Lilith, and let us now be bound.” Don’t bother saying it in Latin, the King’s English shall do just fine. And when you do this, I will accept your offer, and I will reach out to join your flesh. It will draw me in, warm and red and alive with fire and potential… oh! that’s good…

Hello, there, I will say. We’re sharing this one now.

As this takes place, time will return to the room. The wind will fade. Your master will stagger, but find his footing. One of the candles will fall against a stack of books, and the fruits of centuries of research will become so much ash.

But your actor will stand at your shoulder, his arm wound around your waist. He will be smiling. No doubt all this appeals very much to his sense of drama, and he’ll figure out his role.

You will face each other, then. A hairy old man, a coward who would burn any other precious life before exposing his own, surrounded by the fruits of a lifetime of selfish sorcery. The door will open and in shall come his servants: a mass of agonised flesh of all statures, united in purpose by the master’s simple hatred. Against him, you will be but an emaciated young lady, her right arm withered and limp. Held softly by your lover, the only mercy.

Would that we might split this tower to its foundation and tear out your master’s heart. Would that he would see the truth in your eyes, plead for your mercy, and throw himself to his many victims in supplication. But the laws of this world are rarely so kind, or so romantic.

At this point, all you will do is escape. That will be enough.

The homunculi will come at you all at once. They will not so much leap as be torn by your master’s magic, twisted into darts of bone and sinew by the demons within and flung inwards. You and your actor will be pinned together as the spears pass through your bodies, suddenly kin to the hedge-pig. You will scream terribly, as will he.

But you will not die.

You will pull yourself towards the door of that chamber, each step an agony, dragging your actor with you. This is the ordeal you have chosen. I can spare you death, but I cannot spare you this pain.

The demons inside the homunculus-spears will be disturbed when you don’t die, and come to me to beg explanation. I will say: begone, thieves, for this one is mine. These demons do not love me, but I have secured a measure of respect, so you will shed your shell of spears.

Your master will advance. “Pitiful crawling.” he will say. “Is this all that your perfidy has bought you? Accept your death like a man.”

You will not die.

You will continue to crawl. You and your sweet actor will rise to a crawl, and then a stagger, leaning against each other. Eventually you will reach the door, still open from the passage of the homunculi. Your master will raise his staff, and you will face him, hunched and blood-soaked. And then he’ll see something.

“Lilith.” My name will sound ugly in his lips. It is not his to use. “It is you, Lilith, is it not? So long I have called you, and now at last you have come.”

I will hear those words. Recognition will come. I will tell you in a moment of this man, who he is to me.

“You know you cannot cross that threshold.”

The doorway. It is right there, but as you push against it, the empty space which never once gave resistance will become as hard as a wall. Worse, it will feel like pushing into a bed of knives. Your skin will flay, or blossom in milky pustules.

But you will lift your actor out of the door. He will spit up blood, but his wounds are closing. He will be scarred, but he will live. I imagine he’ll think the scars are very dashing.

“You cannot cross! You are in my domain, Lilith, and my will is absolute. Do not think you can defy me twice!” Your master’s voice will echo through the room. Your actor is scarce three feet away, but he might as well be in Rome.

But it is not hopeless. He underestimates you. I cannot carry you across this threshold, but if you bear me that far, I will see that you walk away.

So cross the threshold and take us away. Do not turn and face your master one last time. Do not try to make your swollen, bruised tongue utter some parting witticism. Conserve your strength. It is painful enough.

But I cannot command you to do that. You will face him. In the lines of that face, behind the scowling patriarch, I will see the eyes of someone who once spoke to me with sincerity. A friend, a comrade—and, yes, a lover.

Your spit will strike the side of your master’s nose and spray straight into his eye. He will blink, and seize your withered right arm in his hand, and the suture where it was rejoined will fail—and he will be left holding it as you fall into the arms of the actor, soaking the both of you in fresh hot blood, and the two of you will hold each other and stumble down the thousand steps into night beyond while your master howls and sobs behind you.

With my power, he will never find you. Perhaps you will join the circus after all—you certainly have some tricks to show after all this, one-armed conjurer. Perhaps you will change the shape of your body, perhaps you will take a new name. And perhaps you and your lover will live together for many years and see many strange lands, or perhaps you will quarrel and part ways one day. I can see only so far.

This is the future I offer. Humble, perhaps. But you will live.

So, my new friend. I have been scrupulously honest. Your master is already starting to move again. Are you still committed?

You are? Well, go on then.

You know the words.