Remuneration

The fourth floor window of the old apartment on Rivington looked out on a bar, a noodle shop, and a rather weather beaten elementary school. The roof of said noodle shop housed a sort of neon crucifix of two chopsticks forever clamping down on huge strands of metal ramen. Above that monstrosity was a long sliver of silver gray sky and above that vast clouds amassed like an army.

Sparrow felt the storm growing around her. There were static crackles of far away lightning. It was only six in the afternoon and already the sky was dark.

As she leaned on the windowsill, she let her finger absently trace the white wooden frame and its dozens of layers of paint. As she sighed the glass fogged over in a neat circle. Without thinking she drew a symbol in the fading gray moisture on the glass.

It was some little ward of protection. Something in the back of her head told her she might need it. She felt a thimble full of her soul escape her body, feeding the spell. Some vital energy bled from her and although she knew that it would heal, she mourned the loss for a moment before turning to answer the doorbell that was about to ring.

The girl who came in and plopped down on Sparrow’s bed looked like she was dropped out of a teenage fashion blog right onto her futon.

Corrin was just south of being legally able to buy a drink and somewhere north of five foot ten. A gangly blonde wore huge round sunglasses that made her look less like a movie starlet and more like a cartoon house fly. She had been coming to Sparrow’s apartment every few days for a month and although she certainly had “the spark,” that undeniable natural gift for magic, she hadn’t been able to grasp much of the basic theory Sparrow had tried to explain.

As usual, she sat cross legged on Sparrow’s futon with her notebook open, laid neatly on her knees, which besides her face were the only part of her not covered by multi colored fabric of one kind or another.

Sparrow looked at her bookshelf, pulling out a few old tomes that might help her explain things. As she bent over, her shirt rose up to reveal the tattoos on her back.

“Whoa, cool ink,” the girl, who was called Corrin, announced.

Sparrow didn’t laugh, though many ridiculous things were going on. Sparrow, to be honest, didn’t laugh much at all. She was an observer of life and she found having a silent detachment often helped in that observation.

“That’s my signifier. A lot of people get theirs tattooed on their bodies. It’s often the focal point for spells one directs towards themselves,” Sparrow tried to explain without any condescension.

Condescension was the main tone of most formal magical training, in Sparrow’s experience. She had only recently taken Corrin under consideration to be her first apprentice. The younger girl was eager and excited, but lacked even a basic understanding of magic theory. That was surprising, considering Sparrow herself had started research as early as twelve and by high school she’d already scoured every occult bookstore in town and had even taken to the then nascent internet for clues about the magic she instinctively knew was out there. Still that was no reason to treat the young girl the way Sparrow herself was treated during her apprenticeship, which was to mean like shit.

The sigil at the base of Sparrow’s back was sometimes, not always playfully, called a “tramp stamp” by lovers, friends, and passersby; all of whom were ignorant of its meaning. She’d placed it there for a reason and disliked the connotation she later learned about tattoos at the base of one’s spine.

“These three symbols, woven together in a circle, formed my identifier. It’s not my given name, nor my chosen name, but my casting name; the marker I used in place of my names, because names hold too much power to be thrown about.”

Since the first time she’d seen them, the twisting snake like figures of the Enochian language had called to her, mysterious and ominous. It was said, in the first few books she’d found in the library, that it was a language so powerful one should not even speak it allowed until they knew what they were doing.

In time the fiction and the myth were stripped away and the truth of the language was made plain. The truth of the Hieroglyphica Pact, when the angels, demons, higher and lower spirits spirits laid out the rules for their communication and contracts with humankind. It was considered the formalization of wester spellcraft and the dawn of modern magic.

“Why’d you put it on your back? I mean, if you need to focus on it,” Corrin asked carefully.

Sparrow stood in front of the girl and stretched her arms up above her head. She then took off her shirt, which was a short, eggshell colored, vintage lacy top that only came down just below her breasts, and twisted around a bit so that she could see the tattoo in the mirror across the room.

“I find it helpful to have it where I can’t readily see it. It should be something you focus on, but don’t fixate on. It should be an anchor, but not a target. Plus I sort of think of my spine as the focal point of my body. Some people see their hands, or their eyes, or mouth, or their heart,” she said as she moved her body in practiced bends and curves, visualizing her spine, every vertebrae, and she felt some tingle of electric magic float over her.

“That’s kind of cool. Do you know what my focal point is?” the girl asked, writing down some notes.

Sparrow, who had been focusing her powers as the girl spoke, looked back at her with new eyes. She was now a bit more connected to the energies of the room and the energies of the girl.

The blonde was outlined in a slight yellow and gold aura. There was something there; she had the spark. Still Corrin’s eyes were closed to the magic around her. She was curious and interested, but not driven. She either hadn’t had the taste that makes people addicted, or she didn’t have the ambition to reach for it.

In that moment Sparrow knew that the girl might learn the ways of some kind of magic someday, but it wouldn’t be from her. Corrin needed a more patient teacher.

Sparrow thought back on her first teachers and their patronizing voices. How they rolled their eyes at her novice questions. She smiled, thinking she understood them a little more, but they were still assholes.

“I think that’s enough for today, Corrin. I’ll give you a call about what’s next,” Sparrow said softly, hoping the half lie sounded okay.

The call would come, but it would be to tell her it wasn’t going to work out.

Corrin gave a half smile, seemingly unaware of Sparrow’s intentions.

Then, as Sparrow put her shirt back on, something bad happened. Something wrong came over the apartment and Sparrow felt the air around her thicken and the shadows swell.

Corrin’s eyebrows furled a bit as she looked at Sparrow.

“Is something wrong, teacher?” she said, still unsure what to call shorter, prettier, only slightly older woman.

Sparrow felt, with her still magically amplified senses, a strong force come over the room. It was the familiar sensation of some darker power bleeding into her home. The little apartment visibly dimmed, but that could be reasoned away as clouds moving further over the late day sun.

“Everything’s fine, Corrin, just got dizzy for a moment,” Sparrow said, her stomach falling as she considered what could be coming next.

“Let me go to the bathroom for a sec and then I’ll walk you downstairs,” Sparrow said as calmly as she could.

Corrin nodded and busied herself looking over Sparrow’s large bookshelves.

In the bathroom Sparrow closed the door and took a deep breath. Turning she saw herself in the large mirror. Her reflection showed a woman in her early thirties with a face and body that made most think it was more like her early twenties. She was carded often.

She had sharp features, a severe bob haircut, longer in front than in the back. Brown-almost-black eyes. She was short, a hair over five feet. She looked scared.

Then, with a little crack, the light bulb blew out. With the door closed there was only a slight glow from the tiny window next to the shower and Sparrow saw her dim reflection in the dirty mirror in front of her.

She eyed her own reflection, then everything went red, then a form appeared next to her reflection.

“So quick to send her away? Pretty thing she is,” said the shadow figure with a low warm bass voice.

“Belphegor,” she whispered, the name feeling dirty in her mouth.

“One of my names, only one. You’ve called it before. You’ve asked for my favor,” he said, the tiny room shaking a little with his gravelly laughter.

Sparrow’s body slacked. She had been waiting for his inevitable return. She’d been waiting for him to come and collect.

“Remuneration,” he said, dragging out the word until his voice crackled like fire.

“You little meat sacks like your paper and your blood. You like your deals and your contracts. Well, here I am and here you are, and there she is in the living room all white skinned and stinking of ignorance and honey,” his voice had become cooler, softer, even seductive.

Sparrow closed her mind to his sick charms. She felt the energies of her apartment shape themselves around her. It was her home and thus her most protected and comfortable place.

As she watched the shadow in the mirror study her she knew none of that mattered.

“I’ve come to call in my boon, little witch. I’ve come for my payment,” he said, seriously, the seduction gone and only the evil remaining.

She sighed. There was no fighting. She’d made a deal and it was time for her to pay.

As she looked deeper into the mirror the shadow of the demon came into focus and then, illuminated by hellfire, showed itself.

One of the most difficult things to explain to the uninitiated was that something could be many things at once, especially on one of the mystical planes. Belphegor was both a man and a demon. The two version of him shimmered like a three dimensional version of a little hologram you got in a box of Cracker Jacks. His human form was a handsome man in a dark suit with a dark tie and haunting knowing eyes. His mouth wore a slick cocky smile.

This form was both handsome and repulsive; a used car salesmen, a con artist, a pickup artist.

His demon form was huge, Sparrow guessed twenty feet tall. His leg were as tall and wide as his entire human form. His skin was blood red, his body a mass of luridly bulging muscles. Each of his hands ending in odd numbered long ebony talons. His mouth was a wide smile of jet black teeth. From his back huge wings jutted, flexing impatiently. He was almost uncomprehendingly horrifying. It took most of Sparrow’s will to concentrate on his human form, simply so she didn’t start to scream.

“What do you want?” she said in a shaky whisper.

There was laughter.

“The pretty one on your bed,” he began.

“That’s not in the contract, her life isn’t mine to give-” she said but the shadow grew and the bathroom became hot as the fires of hell flickered around her.

“I wrote the contract little whore. I know the rules. Her life is meaningless, I want her power. She is untouched. She is untrained. She possesses the spark of magic and I want it taken from her. I will give that spark to whom I chose. I will give it to one of my disciples,” his voice was a roar, filling the room, filling the apartment, though Sparrow knew Corrin couldn’t hear it.

The mirror was full of flames then and the demon’s wings spread wide.

“I don’t know how-” she said, eyes burning with tears, and she was telling the truth. The power to take someone’s vital essential magic was far beyond her, even with someone so young who had no real grasp of their energy.

The laughter came back, but now loud as his roar.

“I will help you, little bird. You accepted my help before. I will give you this gift for free, just for a few hours, just enough to get me what I want,” he said and his forms moved in on her in the mirror.

She wanted to run. She wanted to use the spell she kept in her ring to vanish. She wanted anything but the demon’s touch. Still it was inevitable.

The heat was all around her and in the distance she heard the buzzing of a thousand wings and the crackle of a million fires.

The touch was minute, but it was a potent combination of every leer and every catcall and every forgotten moment of dirty uncles and scaly handed teacher that took liberties. Then it was gone and there was a searing pain on her chest.

“You have it. It’s there. You’ll know how to use it. And use it you will or I’ll step across this mirror and take more than your magic with me to hell,” he said, again with the seductive voice.

Then, as suddenly as he had come he was gone and only her reflection looked back at her.

Back in the living room Corrin was looking through the collection of tomes and books of shadows. She hardly noticed Sparrow’s return and when she did she jumped.

“Shit! I didn’t see you. Man, you have a lot of crazy books. I’ve never even seen most of these languages. Is this thing like real human skin?” she said as Sparrow came over and took the very powerful book out of the girl’s hands and put it back on the shelf.

Sparrow looked into Corrin’s eyes and smiled. She let her smile brighten the room. She let her hand brush against Corrin’s and let the familiar seduction spell twist around both of their bodies, slinky and sexy, feeding lust into their veins.

“Sometimes I forget how pretty you are under those big sunglasses,” Sparrow said nonchalantly taking the taller girl’s glasses off and putting them on the table.

Corrin blushed deeply and looked back at Sparrow from under her thick eyelashes.

“Would it be inappropriate if I said I wanted to to kiss you? I mean with me almost being your apprentice and all?” Corrin asked sweetly.

Sparrow felt cold inside, but there was heat between her breasts where the demons mark seared her and she held back her correction that the girl was only her perspective apprentice.

“Magic is an inappropriate art. It defies the laws of man. To be a witch is to do as you will,” she said, letting her own magic mingle with the demon’s “gift” and pushing more lust magic into the blonde’s body.

The effect was obvious. The girl swooned and bit her lip. Sparrow felt like a demon herself. Closing her eyes for a moment she could see magic around her own body, flowing pink and purple energy from her hands floating into the girl’s body, slipping into her skin, twisting and swirling around her nipples, between her legs, over and into her eyes.

“I’ve always had a thing for, like, Asian girls,” Corrin whispered.

The comment had roughly the same effect as a smack across the face to Sparrow. She’d heard it in bars and dorm rooms and back alleys. Her eyebrows furled and the little knot in her stomach loosened. She’d given the girl a lot of slack when it came to magic and to learning, but in the end she was like so many others.

Sparrow looked into the blonde girl’s eyes and let the hate fuel her magic. She saw herself reflected in the girl’s blue eyes and imagined the girl thinking of her own brown hair and brown eyes as some “exotic flower” or “foreign beauty” just like so many had seen her.

She’d been objectified as a rare Chinese doll. Not a person, just the personification of a certain aesthetic. Few things made her more angry.

“Come here and kiss me. You make me want to break the rules,” Sparrow said and she knew the inflection in her words was the demon’s seductive tone.

Corrin walked to Sparrow and they folded themselves into each other’s arms and fell onto the couch. The girl’s lips were pink and glossy and she tasted like vanilla.

Sparrow had always thought one of the most important parts of magic was being able to give in to the forces around you. It was a big difference between the way she casted and the way the others she’d studied with did. Talia, the witch, had commended Sparrow on her ability to “succumb to the power.” Henry had said it was the exact opposite of responsible magic.

It was often scary, one never knew if they would get pulled in and ripped apart by the mystical tides. Still Sparrow had always come back.

She felt the new thing inside of her, the demon’s power. She knew how it worked as if she was given a new limb. It was as obvious as making a fist.

As the girl kissed her she felt her body curve and slide around the taller, more slender, student’s form. Their hands were hungry and their mouths never stopped kissing. The girl had already wanted her, so it was easy to fan the fire into something uncontrollable.

“You’re driving me crazy. I want you. I want you to fuck me,” Sparrow said, though her eyes were cold.

Luckily the blonde wasn’t looking at her eyes, she was pulling off Sparrow’s bra and then her her own shirt and in moments they were naked and the pale girl’s skin seemed like porcelain against Sparrow’s light bronze skin, which was covered in little groupings of thick black tattoos.

Sparrow was rough with her, letting the power inside of her move her hands. The girl’s eyes glazed with lust. Sparrow took her hair in her hand and pulled hard.

“I want you to do what I say, like a good girl, do you understand?”

Corrin, her mouth open and emitting little bird like whimpers nodded enthusiastically.

“Say it,” Sparrow commanded.

“I want to do whatever you say Sparrow, I mean, teacher… m-mistress,” the girl said fumbling for words.

“Good, then get down on you knees and eat my pussy,” she said slowly, suddenly aware of how aroused she’d become, wondering how much if that was the dark magic and how much was her own appetites.

The girl almost fell to the ground trying to obey. She kneeled there looking up at Sparrow waiting for her to open her legs.

“Are you going to lick it?” Sparrow said, once more taking the girl’s hair in her hand and adding another hand around the girl’s neck.

“Please let me, please, I want to make you come, please let me!” The girl begged.

“I want your tongue on my clit and two fingers in my pussy,” she said right into Corrin’s ear. “And you don’t even think of stopping until I come.”

With that she released the blonde and sat back on the couch, opening her legs wide, and tried to fill her mind with nothing but sex.

She shook her head thinking of the demon, how he was a bastard who knew exactly how to bring her to her darkest place.

There were waves of guilt followed by waves if rationalization followed by waves of pleasure. Sparrow’s head was full of sex, magic, and darkness and it all made it a lot easier to give in to what she was doing.

The girl was far more skilled at fucking than she was at magic. The tiniest laugh caught in Sparrow’s throat as she thought that was a good thing. Her tongue lapped and swirled and her fingers pushed into Sparrow, wet and thicker than she expected. The magic swirled too, around both of them. The energies bubbled and amplified the feelings, Sparrow turning her own pleasure back on the girl, making them bound together in a powerful feedback loop.

Then Sparrow was coming. She was coming against the blonde girls fingers and her mouth. It all seemed to come out of nowhere, but Sparrow rode it and enjoyed it and then, as she pushed over the last peak she felt her muscles tighten and at that point when an orgasm is supposed to end it only went up a notch higher.

The fear spread through Sparrow when she felt the orgasm pulse and swell and become something else. The pleasure warped and swarmed around the mark on her chest, the demon’s mark, and then both the pleasure and the symbol pulled free from her body.

Corrin stumbled backwards, mouth wet and jaw slack. The orgasm left Sparrow’s body like a blue white ghost. For a moment the thing was the same shape as Sparrow, then it pulsated and swelled and became something else. The creature was like a phosphorous winged thing, moaning and mewling, seven feet tall and thin, with low clawed fingers a beak-like mouth.

It hovered there for a moment before it flew towards the blonde girl. It flew at her and she screamed as the spectral creature dove into the girl’s body, only to come out the other side with a ball of gold energy in its talons.

Sparrow saw the whole thing in slow motion. She knew the orgasm and demonic energy fueled thing had ripped the very spark of the girl’s magical ability out. It was a fairly easy thing since the girl was untrained, unknowing, innocent of the ways of magic.

The thing disappeared with its prize, exploding in a little firework like light. The girl passed out.

Sparrow cleaned her, dressed her, kept her asleep with a simple spell. She dragged the girl into a circle Sparrow had carved into the floor under the rug from Ikea. She lit the candle and call the cardinal points.

She deleted the whole thing from the girl’s mind. She let her down softly, rewriting that first meeting. Sparrow explained that no, Corrin didn’t have the spark. She would never be a witch.

When the girl work up she was sad but accepting.

And that was that. The deal was done a Sparrow was free of the debt. The girl went on her way, never to remember that she once had the spark of magic.

As Sparrow put away her books and cleaned her apartment the next day she considered that the marginally powerful girl was probably better off. The life of magic was one of struggle. Deals and bribes and blood and lies. It was all tricks and pain and in the end what were you left with?

Looking in the mirror again Sparrow cursed silently under her breath. There was a hole in her now, a guilty secret that would eat away at her and it was never going to go away.

“Never make a deal with someone smarter than you. You’ll always end up the sucker,” Henry had told her long ago.

Belphagor was thousands of years old and he’d seen empires rise and fall. Some thirty-something witch wasn’t going to get him. She’d been a mark from the start.

Looking down at the circle on the floor she wished she could wipe her own memory.

She rolled the rug back over it and considered what was next.

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