Blackest Spells is an anthology put together by C.T. Phipps and the next installation in a series of anthologies released by a brilliant group of small and indie press authors. We last reviewed Blackest Knights in November 2018 and, as with most anthologies with names I know from the GFRW group, I am excited to check out this next edition. While I put together the review, have a quick look at an excerpt below!
Dark wizardry. Witchcraft. Curses. Hexes. Evil Sorcerers. Fantasy has a long history of people wielding the forces of darkness for nefarious ends. Blackest Spells is a collection of eighteen short stories and novelettes detailing stories of shadowy figures wielding unholy power. The sequel to the Blackest Knights anthology contains stories ranging from the machinations of the fae to wishes gone wrong to wicked plots in space.
Contains fiction by: Michael R. Baker, Allan Batchelder, C. H. Baum, Matthew P. Gilbert, S. D. Howarth, Matthew Johnson, Christopher Keene, Paul Lavender, Ulff Lehmann, Frank Martin, Richard Nell, Martin Owton, C. T. Phipps, Michael Pogach, Jesse Teller, Damien Wilder, and David Niall Wilson
By. C.H. Baum
Learning a trade is never easy. It takes repetition and involves endless trial and error to finally learn through experience. While a good mentor may speed the process, it really comes down to good, old-fashioned hard work and persistence. Some may be driven in their youth; they know what they want to do. Some may accidentally fall into their profession, finding an unknown talent and enjoying their trade. But, usually, young men and women are forced by circumstance to practice whatever skill, good or bad, that opportunity throws in their path. Jonathan was a quintessential example of the latter.
Salin was furious. Again. It seemed like he was always furious. “Damnit boy, I told you to summon a demon for threshing!” Jonathan dodged the blows from the Summoner’s staff and searched for safety under the giant, mahogany table stacked with scrolls. The ritual beating wasn’t scheduled for another three hours, so he’d attempt to save his bruised back until it was mandated that he comply. He immediately regretted his decision. The dark nether regions under the table were the dominion of Guul, Salin’s pet demon. Guul skipped over and sunk his teeth into Jonathan’s ear, leaving a semicircle of little pinpoints in his flesh.
“Owwww! You stupid little son of a b—“ Guul giggled and jumped away before Jonathan could swat at him. The demon’s laugh sounded like the tinkling of little bells as his leathery wings aided his escape.
“Boy, get up here. NOW! I asked for a Threshing Demon, and you summoned a Trashing Demon! It destroyed the entire ritual and knocked over six of the summoning braziers before I could dispatch him. How many times do I have to say it? IT’S IN THE INTONATION! That monstrosity almost burned the tower down. I rue the day that I agreed to take you on as an Apprentice.”
“You think I like this? You think I had a choice? You saw that I had some ability to summon, and knew my family was so poor they just wanted to be rid of the extra mouth. They practically drooled over your four silvers and two coppers. That’s barely the price of a stall mucking apprentice, and you swindled them out of my future.”
“That’s just it, boy. You had no future. A stall mucker would have been too good for the likes of you. Now get up here. Today’s beating has just been moved up on the schedule. Over the barrel you go.”
Jonathan stood up straight, determined to take his beating like a man. He walked over to the barrel, head held high right up until the point he had to bend over to grab the ceremonial handles. Salin readied the staff while Guul took his position at his little piano. That stupid, foot tall demon made a habit of playing his tiny piano while Jonathan received his daily beatings. The music was always played in B-flat, ominous notes of eternal sadness and damnation. He was a demon, after all. The tiny piano music made it seem like Guul was almost sorry for him, but Jonathan knew better. The tinkle of little bells accompanied the first burning strike across his back and continued for several minutes as Salin spent his overzealous fury.
A sweaty Salin finished the beating and dug his finger into one of the bloody lashings while breathing heavily. “Don’t fail me again boy. I will beat this in to you until my arms fall off, and then I’ll summon a Demon of Peeling to finish the job.”
Jonathan screamed in pain, first at the scraping nail inside and under his flayed skin, and then at the unexpected bite of Guul. It left a matching semicircle of punctures on the opposite ear.
Salin laughed at his pet’s behavior and directed a command at Jonathan, “Get out of my tower. I will call you tomorrow and you better not screw up again.”
Jonathan gathered up his pain and shuffled off towards his room over the barn. At first, when he had been assigned the sleeping quarters, right after being purchased from his parents, he thought the smell of animal feces was unbearable. But after a few days on his new job, it was the only solace he found to lick his wounds and plan his next move.
One of his first procurements, or thefts, really, had been a summoning book. There were thousands upon thousands of demons and the book held some of the more popular summoning techniques. But, fire was forbidden in the barn, so he had very little time to read before the light failed and he had to wait restlessly for the next beating.
Tonight, he let the book drop open at random, and Hell’s luck was with him. It opened to the lesson on how to summon a Demon of Light. If he had a small light, he would read into the night and learn ever faster between beatings. Maybe even surprise his master with a particularly hard demon spell. So, he scraped away the thrushes from the floor, drew a summoning circle, and put a tiny bit of onyx in the bottom point of his pentagram. The smaller the onyx, the smaller the demon, and he was going for just a little bit of light to read by. He didn’t want his master scrambling out to investigate unnatural daylight in the middle of the night.
He carefully reviewed the revisions to his circle, making the necessary adjustments to the lines and orientations, while squinting at the book to make sure it was drawn exactly as it was on the pages of the manual. Once he was satisfied, Jonathan began his intonation, “Gall Folinge Hackmarem. Bin Golish Bolemfaram. Demonius de luznimbus, acklolum.”
The demon began to form in the pentagram, slowly materializing from the fires of Hell to kneel in the world of the flesh and blood. It was not what he expected. Black hair framed the most beautiful face he had ever seen. The reddish tint to her skin seemed to reflect the sinuous, dancing flames of Hell, even though she was in the land of the living. Her jet-black eyes glinted with evil knowledge and secrets. “Why have you called me, master?”
“To be my light, but you do not look like a Demon of Light.” Jonathan tried to mimic the confidence of his master when he first woke a demon, barely avoiding an adolescent squeak.
“I am not a Demon of Light. Even better. I am a Demon of Blight.” She winked at him, sending a chill down his spine. He was very grateful she was still confined in the summoning circle.
“That was not your purpose as summoned, demon.” Jonathan sounded less sure of himself with each passing moment. “I am your master, and you must obey, or return to Hell.”
Her wicked, beautiful smile shook him to the core. “Make your attempt, Apprentice. Send me home.”
Banishment was the only thing Jonathan had grasped quickly in his studies, so he made confident forms and signs with his hands while chanting, “Minik hollum DEMONIUS REDITUS!”
Plump lips split over fanged canines and she chuckled seductively. “I am yours. Forever. I cannot be banished, Apprentice. We will be inseparable for life as we are bonded in Hell. While I am yours, you are also mine.” She stood, a full three inches taller than Jonathan, and rolled her delicate neck.
Jonathan couldn’t help but notice her chest, the shape of her hips, and how sexy leather wings looked on a beautiful demon. The tight leather strips that served as her clothing barely contained her curves.
“Jonathan, master…..do not look at me like that. I am a Demon of Blight. Everything I touch, withers and dies. Would you choose to be impotent the rest of your days?”
“Ummm. No. I’d rather keep that as is.” He glanced sheepishly at the floor, having been caught ogling a demon that wasn’t a succubus. “What is your name?”
“Kaelish. I was elfin before I was damned.”
“Well, it seems we are at an impasse. I want to banish you, but my chant is not working. You appear to want to stay, but you are stuck in the summoning circle until I give you orders and release you. I will be forced to leave you in the circle until you choose to leave on your own.”
“Your master hasn’t told you yet?” Her mirth shook her breasts as she laughed.
“Told me what?” Jonathan could feel the terror rising in his voice. Being the brunt of a very dangerous joke was not something he enjoyed.
“That each Summoner gets one demon familiar. But the pet chooses the master. It is always done when they are an Apprentice, when the intonation is weakest. I have chosen to be your familiar, and you my master.” She began to trace the black acrylic of her nail along the summoning circle, dragging sparks and smoke where she touched it.
To Jonathan’s horror, the sparks and smoke erased the binding circle, and she stepped out to stretch in the loft. The stretches gave Jonathan tantalizing views of the undersides of her breasts and he looked away against his baser instincts.
“It is time for you to sleep, Apprentice. The morning will bring surprises. Some desired, and some, ummm, not so much.”
* * *
Jonathan woke with the light of the newly risen sun sliding slowly across his face. He stretched and started to climb down the ladder from his loft. He caught the hem of his rough robe on the rung and fell straight down to land on his back, knocking the air from his lungs. He blinked away unconsciousness and gasped for air while Kaelish stood over him laughing. The inverted vision of her form left him conflicted between desire and pain.
He wheezed out, “I’m not in the mood to be laughed at, demon.”
“You should be excited to start your new life.” She reached down, grabbed his hand, and pulled him to his feet with an unexpected strength.
A horrendous stench of rotting meat got stronger as they walked towards the front of the barn. Jonathan dry heaved from the smell, and asked, “What the hell is that?”
Kaelish pointed to the dairy cow’s pen, and whispered, “In order to keep my blight at bay, I must eat each night. An animal sacrifice is required for my feast.”
Jonathan poked his head around the slats of the pen and retched. The dairy cow had been obliterated. All that remained was red gore smeared all over the inside of the pen. It was like the cow had exploded and only liquified beef, hooves, and smatterings of hair remained. The smell was overwhelming. It smelled of rot, death, and methane.
Kaelish shrugged, “It was one of the unpleasant things I warned you about last night. Let’s head to your master’s workshop for one of the more pleasant ones. I am much more powerful that your master, or his pet, so we will have some vengeance.”
Jonathan covered his mouth, but even without breathing the stench, his eyes watered until they were outside in the light. “So how does this work? Can I kick him in the balls? Can I strap him to the beating barrel? Oh, even better, can you burn Guul’s piano?”
“We will let it play out and see what happens. I need to warn you though. Your master will be furious that you’ve been chosen by a powerful demon. He will tell you all sorts of lies to get you to try and sever our bond, and to get you to stay as his apprentice. Do not believe his lies, or you will miss your chance at greatness.”
“My chance at greatness?” Jonathan asked.
“Because of our bond, your bond to a powerful demon, you are no longer required to be an apprentice. You are a full Summoner and are more powerful than your master. He holds no dominion over you now. In his jealous rage, he will try to destroy us. But we will travel and offer our services to the Prince. There are many that will pay a hefty price for a control of my blight; the Prince more than any other. Prepare to live a life of luxury and hedonism as one of the Prince’s prized associates.”
Jonathan grinned more at the thought of hedonism than luxury as they walked the short distance to the Summoning Chambers.
Kaelish grinned as she reached the closed door and put a finger over her lips as a signal to remain quiet. She slowly lifted the latch, opening the door to reveal Salin bent over some scroll, preparing for the day’s work. Guul was at the piano, tickling the tiny keys and playing some ominous march. The demon was the first to sense something was afoot and turned to take in Kaelish and Jonathan. Salin wasn’t slow to react either, and turned around a second after Guul.
The vista of such a powerful demon must have been shocking, as Guul let out a high-pitched whine that sounded like a call to battle, while he half ran, half flew to the summoning circle drawn on the floor of the workshop. Salin scrambled in a panic to join his pet in the circle, looking like a bumbling idiot in one of the passing mummer’s shows. He tripped on his robe and fell face first into the fist sized quartz stone at one of his points. He’d have a tender black eye tomorrow, for sure.
Salin gathered himself, straightened his robe, and asked, “What in the Hell have you done, boy?” His voice carried an indignant tone that belied his current position of cowering behind a summoning circle.
“I’m done with your beatings, I’m finished with Guul torturing my ears, and playing his stupid piano, and I’m done being your Apprentice.” Jonathan spoke with more authority than he’d felt since being taken on in this miserable line of work.
Salin looked over Kaelish again, and responded, “You’re a damned fool.”
Jonathan knew his previous master was shaken and responded, “You only call me a fool because you are protected by your own summoning circle. You would not be so brave to call me names if you had to face me on even terms. This is my new pet, Kaelish. She is brilliant, beautiful, and powerful. When we are done here, we will be heading out of town to offer our services to Prince Torrek.
“You are a bigger idiot than I ever imagined. Do you realize the danger you’re in?” While pointing at Kaelish, he went on, “That is an abomination. She is a Demon of Blight. How many times have I told you it’s in the intonation? I bet you tried to summon a demon a Light, or Fight, or maybe even Might. But you got Blight. Do you know what blight does?”
“Yes, but she can keep it at bay if she eats sacrifices. So it’s a weapon that can be unleashed whenever she wants, against whoever she wants. The Prince will pay through the nose for her services.”
“She is lying to you. I warned you about never summoning a demon without using my summoning circle. I can always banish, even the most powerful demon, if someone else uses my circle. You must use your master’s circle to summon your first pet. If it is too powerful, too dangerous to be unleashed, the master can send it back to Hell, and you can attempt to summon another. If you had waited long enough to learn the process, we could send her back and ask for something more controllable. Now that she’s here, you are tied for life.” Salin wrung his hands and paced back and forth inside the scribed shapes of his circle.
“You’re lying to me. You always have. You saw that I had some talent to summon, cheated my parents out of an apprenticeship fee, and haven’t taught me anything but the pain of the lash, and the dread of bite marks on my ears! The Summoner’s Council should send you to Hell.” Jonathan had a full head of indignant steam as he raged on. “I’m done here. Cower in your circle old man. I’m beginning my journey that starts the rest of my life.”
Kaelish had been quiet up until that point, leaning up against the doorframe. “Guul, come to me.”
Guul’s eyes glazed over, and he shuffled outside the circle while Salin stared in horror.
“You, you shouldn’t be able to do that. Guul, come back!” Jonathan had never heard that level of panic in Salin’s voice.
Guul ignored his master, and skipped over to Kaelish, hopping on ungainly feet, and flapping his little wings. The little demon was somehow susceptible to the compulsion, even while inside his master’s protections. Kaelish reached down, picked him up by his neck, and bit off his entire ear. She threw him violently back into his master, hitting Salin the chest, and knocking him to his ass. Guul remained eerily quiet.
She pointed at the duo while chewing the ear, and said, “If you follow us, I will eat you both.”
Jonathan and Kaelish turned as one and walked out of the workshop.
Kaelish swayed her hips as they walked north and said, “You did well in there. He did not deserve you. You will be the most powerful Summoner in the Kingdom. Maybe even the world.”
Jonathan smiled back. “This is the best day of my life so far.”
* * *
Jonathan woke with a start, blinded by his small fire. They had walked all day, putting as many miles between them and his old life as possible. He had fallen into an exhausted sleep as soon as they found the small cave, and Kaelish told him she was going to hunt a sacrifice. “Kaelish, is that you?” He gripped a rock like a weapon and strained his eyes against the blackness at the cave mouth.
Salin stepped close enough to the mouth of the cave to be recognized. “No, she’s off feeding on a farmer’s livestock a couple of miles from here. It’s just me.”
Jonathan was suspicious of the visit and asked, “What do you want? Why are you chasing me?”
“You have your pet now, bonded for life. An extremely powerful and dangerous familiar. No one will ever threaten you again, for fear of her reprisal. Did I ever tell you the story of how I ended up with Guul?”
Jonathan felt like he was finally being treated like an equal, and so invited Salin in. “Sit, tell me the story.”
Salin twisted his robes out of the way, sat down beside Jonathan, and warmed his hands against the flames. The light danced against the ugly bruise forming around his eye. “My master banished a couple of familars before I ended up with Guul. You remember that I told you it was all in the intonation. At first I tried to summon a Demon of Lust and got one that rusted everything within a few hundred feet. That demon had to be banished, because we couldn’t keep any iron tools or braziers. Then I tried to summon a Demon of Rage and got another pet that just smelled like sage. My master explained that he would have made a fine pet, but that I was allergic to sage, and couldn’t keep him. See? The sage was easy enough to control, but I couldn’t concentrate with all the sneezing.”
Jonathan nodded his head. “So the intonation comes out in our language as a word that rhymes, or sounds similar to what you’re trying to summon….”
Salin nodded his head. “Exactly.”
“So how did you get Guul? He just plays the piano.”
Salin grinned, “I had a crush on a local girl and was trying to seduce her with my summoning prowess. Let’s just say I was not trying to summon a twelve-inch demonic pianist.”
Jonathan’s eyes went wide with realization. “There’s a spell for that?”
Salin used the distraction as an opening to shove a razor-sharp dagger in between Jonathan’s ribs, slicing a deep gash that punctured clear through the heart. He gently leaned Jonathan back to the floor of the cave as his life bled into the ground and whispered, “The only way to dispatch her, before she kills everything in this world, is to kill her master. And yes, my apprentice, yes. There is a spell for that.”