Hexenkessel Interludes: The Ghost Crucible

Good EST morning, readers mine! I’ve struggled to balance my need for worldbuilding and characterization in Hexenkessel with the first commandment of erotica–get to the sex!–so here’s this as a solution: these interludes, which will serve either as companion pieces to the erotic entries themselves, or as stand-alone short stories.

This piece begins a few minutes in advance of the erotic encounter promised by its events, which I’ve already started writing. No need to drag our feet! Let’s join a demon named Ermengarde as she accepts an unusual invitation…

***

I am not a scholar of bright and colorful words. I cannot tell to you what I see in the storm and chaos behind soil and sky with clearness, or weave pictures by the jump of my tongue. Another demon might. I will tell you of feeling. That is something I can grasp. That is something I can command.

Surprise is a tickling knife to me. Cold, undeniable, and gone again just as it begins to cut. I heard a call through the pigments of things that could be, and have been. It surprised me because it lacked any command. There was no snare, no threat, no bribe either. It was as a doorway left open. How long did I weigh its offering before I stepped through? I could not know. Time does not exist away from the devices that count it.

Surprise blew away what dreams I had dreamed. In the emptiness, it was easy to feel curious. That is an emptiness to fill, an itch to scratch, or perhaps an ache that must be soothed by something that receives it.

I pass through the portal. The world falls heavy upon my forming skin. Blood-red skin and golden eyes, black hair short upon my head, and in soft tufts between my breasts, and shaggy upon my loins where the mass of my sleepy shaft hangs downward. Mine are the horns of the bull cast in bronze and a dragon’s tail studded by black-glass spines. I expect many things: hooded figures, hushed voices, ritual candles. There will be cries of fear, or joy, or both. Musty air and moldered floors. Such places greet me when I am summoned.

Not this time.

Clean tiles. Smooth black floors that shine like darkened mirrors. Silver glows trim the outlines of plinths, pillars, and half-seen statues like the shattered halos of an angelic host–bled dry of all color. Many altars on different levels, many archways and paths to join them. Flames of deepest blue break their light in the edges of the crystals entrapping them. Something vibrant laces the air. A skew of every color. It forms mist clinging to the raised circle where I stand.

Mist that hangs too thick and clear to be natural mist. It does not disperse. Its oily waves make eight lines stretching from the center. Stretching out from me. No inscriptions. No warding gestures. I am free to walk where I will.

Only one watches. A figure in shadow. The glows of the chamber and the crystal-caught flames have a way of sliding off their shoulders. A suggestion of plump lips painted black and pale skin under a black veil. Wisps of white hair that sometimes devour the dim light and sometimes throw it towards me like the sparkle of razor steel.

She speaks. “I bid you welcome, visitor.”

I am reminded that the same silk that weaves a gown can bind the hilt of a sword. I do not think things like this of myself. Somehow, they must come from her. But she, I cannot feel. Cannot feel the ensnaring energy of mortal flesh. Cannot feel her in the air around me like the fullness of a meal I’ll soon have. She shrouds her aura with emptiness.

The shadowed one melts further into the darkness, or curtsies. It might as easily be one as the other. She comes to me as a smear of shapes half-seen. Wrongness feels like rattling deep in my bones, a blow to the head. I am no creature of mortal sight. A demon should see through darkness if she wishes to.

This one’s darkness, then, is more than the darkness I know.

“Who are you?” I ask. It is the obvious question. And urgent.
She smiles the smile of one who knows how secret her secrets are, and revels in it. “The presence that you will not enchant,” she answers.
“If I am your guest, then speak without play,” I say. I do not mean to gouge splinters from my fangs from the force of my demand, but it is appropriate, and perhaps the crackle of my form as my power heals the fractures in me will halt this mystic’s foolery.
“Yet I know naught about your nature,” the mystic says. “The words I speak in seeming play reveal much to those who experienced that which first revealed the words to me.”

I glare. The mystic takes no offense, and is not frightened, though I am a head and more taller than she. At least, that is what it seems from what her shadows allow me to see of her. She laughs. It would be a very pleasing laugh if she were not so given to cloying riddles. She speaks further. “Until I spoke, how would I know whether you shared the revelations?”

I do not like my curiosity. It often leads me into nonsense such as this.

She shakes her head. “But enough. I thank your patience. I am Karlotta von Geisttiegel, Pfalzgr√§fin to the Scharnach Valley.”
“That is a polite enough greeting,” I say. “I am Ermengarde. A native-spawned demon of Hexenkessel. In full, a succubus. I will not have argument on that count. I am what I say I am, and your mortal nobility is meaningless to me. We will call each other by our first names.”

Karlotta does not bristle, but laughs. She seems full of amusement. Still I cannot feel her presence. She touches my senses as nothing. It is the sound of a mirthful abyss. “I confess I would be disappointed if you said otherwise,” she says. “Then well met to you, Ermengarde. Well met, and welcome to Geisttiegel! That is the castle in whose liminal halls we stand. I hope you shall enjoy whatever time you spend here.”

Geisttiegel. The Ghost Crucible. Other demons have spoken to me of hidden places with ill-omened names. My scoffing at them seems, suddenly, misguided. I glance down at the still-hovering mist that serves this mystic for a summoning circle.
“Your summoning circle has no wards or safeguards,” I say. “You are here alone. How were you certain of your safety?”

Karlotta tilts her head. The black veil shifts. I should be able to see the traces of her right eye–at least of its brow. I cannot. There is only shadow. “If you wish to know how I could be certain the entity who manifested would not seek to harm me, why…” she straightens. The plump lips smile. A hint of teeth that shine a little too brightly in this darkened place.

“I wasn’t certain at all. Still, I am not concerned. I should clarify. A forced guest is not a guest, but a prisoner. I thus ordain this not as a circle not of summoning, but of invitation. We cannot seek another’s consent to stay with us without allowing some risk that we will be hurt, now can we?” She spreads hands that seem only snowy ripples in the gloom. “Open hearts are easily wounded.”

“It is always open?” I ask. “Anything could enter your realm?”
“Anything at all,” she says. She grins.
Fear is a mass of sickening threads cutting through my belly as they twine together. Cold, and dragging me in upon them as they tighten.
“You are a witch, then?” I ask.
“Just so,” she answers.
“And?” I ask.

Karlotta chuckles behind closed lips. She purses them slowly into her next words as if to catch the speech between them. To savor it. “I have already said,” she answers.
“And why did you summon… invite me?” I ask.
Karlotta sighs. It is a simple sigh empty of art or hunger. Relief is a muzzy pressure urging me to fall. I hate myself for it. “Admittedly, I initiated my ritual hoping for intimate companionship,” she explains. “And had you answered perhaps ten or twenty minutes ago, I would ask you to join me for it.”

I am silent.
“But a long wait in evocative spaces leaves my idle desires to war or fuse,” she continues, “and so I fear I must away and satisfy another hunger. I am a witch of many mouths. Best that I do not ask you to feed the one I hoped you would feed. I would struggle to distinguish it from the others until they have had morsels of their own.”
“It is bold of you to assume I would be but a morsel,” I say, folding my arms.

Karlotta laughs, and nods, and my worry is not lessened for either. “I am given overmuch to overconfidence, no? But enough.” She gestures, and far across the chamber a blue flame springs into life at the apex of a dark-red door in a black arch. “That way lies the greater part of the castle. Walk wherever you will save those rooms claimed by other guests. If you desire anything, you have but to ask the staff. Call for me if a dispute arises, and I shall mediate.”

She walks, and my sight shudders or the chamber itself vibrate soundlessly. Now she stands within the circle’s core at the eight-point nexus of the misty trails, and I am where she stood a breath before.
“I forbid violent clashes within these halls, save by my own special permission,” she says. “If you and this rival or that nemesis wish a duel, it’s not for me to tell you how you spend your lives. But you shan’t spend them on bloodshed while you’re here.”
“What manner of succubi do you know?” I ask, and cannot withhold the confusion that wrinkles my brow.
“Many. Perhaps all,” Karlotta says, and again there is that terrible grin.

The chamber begins to fade through her. As though she is paper with ink bleeding through her, or the shapes beyond her are fire burning her away. “Past me in the darkness lies the gateway to my private chambers,” she says. “It should go without saying, I hope, that I ask you not to enter without my presence and invitation. It’s as much home to me as anywhere else.”
An odd phrase. Is she not the lady of this castle? Where else would her home be?
“Oh, and the most important rule,” she says, even as the last of her erases from this reality. “The castle staff are all mortals here of their own volition and good will. Mistreat them in any way, and I will teach you oblivion.” One last time, that grin.
“We will see each other later, Ermengarde.”

The witch is gone, and her painter’s-sprawl mists go with her. The only light left now in the chamber is the blue flame at the red door’s apex. I force myself not to run to it.

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