Chapter 5

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Snarkness Rising

library / ˈlaɪbɹəɹi / (n) 1: an institution with books for public use 2: where students in distress go to die

The walk to Medias’ office felt unnaturally long for Shikya. Probably because of the foreboding, grotesque demon wildly more powerful than I could possibly handle. Her defiant, cross-armed stance was an excuse to hug and console herself while Velzix flitted about to investigate the Grand’s architecture and décor. Each time they approached a statue or bust of a prestigious wizard, the succubus-turned-imp would fly ahead, inspecting it ever so closely. Each time, Shikya worried the demon would push the object in question on top of her with a satisfying crunch. She can’t hurt me… at least not directly. The contract is good enough for that… or, I hope it is.

Instead of murder-by-artistry, Velzix would land on the stony wizard’s shoulder, hold her decrepit hand to her chest, and vociferously announce their titles and status to Shikya in the style of a noble castellan at a banquet. Despite the intermittent heart-leaping fear in her throat, Shikya decided against forcing Velzix to stop. She’s actually rather talented at this.

“My lord, I hereby introduce the Master of Wines and Sommelier Extraordinaire, whose clarity of thought is without precedence: Lady Bam B. Oozled! She joins us this eve, having found herself prostrate upon our steps, most assuredly felled awestruck by the towering quality of our libations and not by over-indulgence in the years-old, piss-riddled vomit she carried with her.”

Shikya fought down a smile at the continuing commentary as they neared Medias’ door, forcing herself to hate the petty demon. She held herself at the threshold, turning to Velzix, who was idly flapping away and inspecting her nails. I wonder if their wings are what keeps them aloft. I hope it is. I could pluck them and watch her stumble around on her grimy, grubby little feet. Shikya cleared her throat tactfully.

“Velz-… Vel.” The imp glanced her way with mild interest. “I’d much prefer if you kept civil with Medias Tel. And use his midname.”

Velzix issued an exasperated sigh. “Do you not trust your humble servant? I live only to please.” She dripped sarcasm, but continued after Shikya narrowed her eyes, “Fine. I promise I will use his midname and shall maintain civility, such as his prestige and station deserve.”

“Good. Medias has always been kind to me. … And do not reveal your true nature. Or insinuate it. Or hint at it. Or… anything similar.” She forced a small bit of her remaining mana into the statements for emphasis and to temporarily enhance the magical compulsion.

The glamoured succubus grinned contemptuously. “I had not planned to, but now I might just for spite. Commands made in distress are easy to circumvent, after all…” Observing Shikya’s emotions flash from shock to anger to resignation, she relented for a moment. “For fuck’s sake, why would I have gone to all this trouble if I simply reveal my trickery to the first thing with two legs and half a question?” A spindly hand rose to her tiny, gaunt chest in haughty fashion, as though the trickery were the pinnacle of subtlety. Not necessarily wrong, I suppose.

Shikya mentally noted Velzix used two forms of cadence and speech but could not discern which was mocking and which truthful. Likely both and neither, respectively. She re-affirmed her belief Velzix would undermine the contract with an impossibly circuitous and absurd leap of logic. Why a succubus… Why not a fiend? Gods, I’d even take another damnable naga. The thought of another grouchy and altogether-too-deadly half-snake caused her to reconsider, but not retract, the statement.

Tousling her hair roughly to shake the sense of dread, Shikya rapped on the door. A groaning yawn sounded from within, followed by a familiar creak of wood. Dealing with unexpected circumstances had delayed her, and it was late. Maybe he’ll cancel class this morning and sleep. Would be a welcome reprieve after tonight. She already resigned herself to skipping Jalind’s morning training. Why not make it the entire morning? Why not the entire day? She gazed back at Velzix. Well, being around others is a good idea. More -mancers to sling spells at Velzix when I inevitably get myself killed.

“Ah, Shikya! Bit later than expected, but… Oh! A winged imp!” Medias exclaimed at the hovering demon. “Do come in. This is an exemplary result!” He shuffled quickly toward a bookshelf to the right of the vast expanse of papers that was his desk. Shikya and Velzix moved inside, one taking the chair and the other perching atop its high back, stretching her wings.

Unaccustomed to deception, Shikya noticed her hands shaking profusely. Faced with few options, she crossed her legs and shoved her hands in between them to quiet their discontent. Oh, sure… Like it’ll do anything other than add to your shame. Maybe if you shrink into the chair far enough, you’ll pass through it into a cozy place without the burdens of consequence. Her mind would not be quieted as easily.

“So… this is the legendary ‘Medias Tel’ you spoke of?” Velzix asked, grinning mischievously at Shikya, who returned a quizzical gaze. Medias, intrigued, paused his searching to hear the answer, having no recollection of being a legendary figure of any sort. Velzix proceeded as though an answer had been given and bowed as deftly as the misshapen imp could. “Then I shall consider this meeting paramount among the few blessings I have been granted. For who would count themselves anything other than honored to stand in the presence of the man who carries a mighty fifteen venereal diseases and yet lives?! Remarkable!

Shikya’s blood drained from her face as her heart stopped. Silence hung in the air in contrast to the crushing weight she felt on her chest. I’m going to die. She’s killed me. This lurching must be my soul leaving my body. I wish you well, cruel world.

Contrary to expectation, her mentor guffawed loudly and shook with laughter. Velzix, too, chuckled snidely at what she must have considered a rousing success. Bewildered, Shikya sat dumbstruck, unable to find a mental purchase. Mad. They’re all mad.

As Medias calmed, he returned his attention to the shelf. “Now I’m quite nostalgic for my younger days; of my first contract. Imps have always amused me so.” Issuing a grunt of satisfaction, he plucked a scroll from the detritus some would confuse for a book collection. Placing the parchment on his desk and sinking into his plush chair, Medias elaborated, “This is an appropriately enchanted request to add your and your imp’s names to the Warlock’s Registry. Once you sign, I will affix a signature of my authority for validation… once I examine your new companion as a matter of course.”

Medias smiled in the direction of Velzix and winked, seemingly unaware of the transformation magic. The demon proffered a genial hand as if to say, ‘I would be so utterly thankful for your gracious endorsement, Medias Fire-bum Acid-mouth Tel.’

Shikya eventually reconciled her mind with the world and her body caught up to the present. “I… You w-… What do… This is normal?!”

“Well, yes. We had discussed their style of irreverence, but I admit experiencing it firsthand is jarring. To reiterate, imps prefer to insult and mock everyone upon first meeting them… and for a good while thereafter… Whether they continue depends on you as the warlock to include the contract stipulations on polite conversation. Of course, I found it much too enjoyable and curtailed it for only a select few friends and colleagues, though there are the standard risks of such modifications.”

Shikya slumped and sighed. She recalled their sessions devoted to post-contract spellwork. ‘You must focus the initial contract on the necessities: ensuring security and obedience. After the contract is formed, you can adjust as required.’ Even so, the degree of Velzix’s irreverence was unexpected. ‘…and remember: the more limitations, the harder the contract is to enforce. You must place your effort where it is needed most.’

A pair of bulbous eyes peered down at her. “How very dramatic… Do verbal barbs truly wound you so? Your master appreciates the genial undercurrents of an insult well-stated. I await with bated breath his proper response.” Velzix’s diminutive form shifted to face Medias, who scribbled a few words on the enchanted paper before snapping his fingers in realization.

“Indeed! A sincere apology is in order…” Medias paused his efforts and cleared his throat. “I offer my most humble apologies. My mind was indulging itself, thinking of how to best remove the overgrown knife you charitably refer to as a nose. Were it less obtrusive, I would have recalled common courtesy. As recompense, I bestow upon you an opportunity at my cousin’s farm. She would happily lash you to a stick as a makeshift scythe and cut chitin wheat three times more effectively.”

Shikya palmed her face in horror while Velzix bowed in acknowledgement. “A veritable pleasure to meet your approval, Medias Tel. You may call me Vel, Glorious Master of Magic and Trickery. ‘V-E-L’ if your understanding of basic language is as lacking as your wit.”

Without so much as glancing up, Medias retorted, “What I lack in wit, I have in wisdom, but I cannot expect feeble minds to discern wisdom when they distract themselves with the intersection of blunt objects and their more sensitive regions. ‘Tis no indictment of your proclivities, but fornicative indulgence in lieu of common sense is a regrettable loss to demonkind and the structural integrity of broom handles everywhere.”

The snide banter proceeded apace as Medias scrutinized Velzix with both questions and arcane sight. Shikya’s attention retreated inwards. How am I going to survive this… She shifted her hand off her face and to her hair, pulling fingers through it roughly. Well, at least my hands have stopped shaking. The rivalry between Medias and Velzix continued jovially. I can’t do this. I have to find a way out. Her mind paced from one idea to the next, each as ineffective a solution as the last.


Jolted from her reverie by the forceful tone, she looked up as Medias, who must have called her name several times. His hand held a parchment forward on his desk. He smiled softly, as though he understood her profound confusion. “I’ve been teaching at the Grand for the better part of two decades. Students come, they learn, and they leave, often before they understand their own limits. Too many are lost on the eastern fronts to arrogance and overconfidence…” Medias sighed and adjusted his glasses before proceeding. “The best of them, the survivors, are the ones who question their own ability. The talented who believe themselves ungifted live to overcome the greatest challenges. This institution may not commission a statue of those quiet heroes, but we break their silence with praise sung by the lives they touch.”

The thought she may yet surmount the demonic obstacle perched above her was a needed solace for Shikya’s mind. She glanced up at the top of her chair. Velzix peered down briefly and looked eager to offer such difficulties, but Shikya finally felt she had a slight chance. She stood and leaned forward to sign her name.

Research. I can research. I’m clever enough for at least that.



The Grand Arcane Academy’s library was a place of contemplation, of almost sacred introspection and discovery. Rows upon rows of tomes, scrolls, and maps created corridors of genius and canny theory. Vast collections of artifacts added to the splendor and evoked the natural curiosity of passersby. Truly, it exemplified the Academy’s illustrious status as an institution of learning. Solitary students and teachers occupied the tables at all hours, books strewn about as they cross-referenced historical accounts of ritual with modern interpretations of enchantment. Groups, and only groups, were permitted the spacious side rooms, replete with sound-dampening enchantments and illusory accouterments on the walls to host vociferous, intellectual debate.


The librarians made an exception in Shikya’s case and allowed her to use a group room.

“You know they can’t hear you anymore… I sure wish I couldn’t…” Shikya brushed a lock of hair away from her eye as she reread a paragraph, trying to ascertain its relevance to her situation, if there was any. Makes even less sense the fifth time around… She admitted Velzix contributed only half the problem; the other was a lack of sleep. A shake of the wrist revealed the time: half-past seven. If Shikya hadn’t endeavored to resolve her demonic conundrum in a single night, she would’ve had a full night’s rest.

“These bodacious specimens may not hear me, but they can see well enough. Judging by their reactions, I have a feeling they understand me.” She mimed a sufficiently lewd action to accompany her statement while a wizard passing by quickly pulled a book up to block the view. “Oh, come off it! You know you love it! They always come back for more of ol’ Vel!” It was terribly unclear if Velzix was acting the part of an incorrigible imp or simply behaving as normal.

Shikya moaned as she rubbed at her eyes. The hours of research thus far generated few useful results. The overwhelming majority of the library’s knowledge on summoning was hewn into her skull from the very start of her time at the Grand. Further, she began, and finished, with the extraneous material on succubi hours ago. Warlocks don’t over-share do they, especially the stupid, lustful ones with ill-conceived plans…

With so few first-hand accounts, Shikya resorted to collecting rumors from textbooks on the subject and offhand commentary from warlocks without a direct contract with one. Centuries-old gossip, as unreliable as it was, provided more context and data than decrypting the obscure euphemisms of summoners inevitably murdered by their succubi. Regardless, first-hand or not, they all pointed to one conclusion: I’m going to be killed… if she stays. Probably sooner than later.

Obviously, there was little question Shikya would dismiss Velzix back to the Realms and leave her there until the contract dissolved. The gentle reminder she retained that option kept her sane through the night and early hours of the morning. With half a plan in mind, she had shifted to researching fringe theories on summoning contracts, hoping for some miraculous method to prevent a specific demon from being summoned by another warlock. This proved even more fruitless than investigating succubi.

By 7:00, Shikya had proceeded into literal comical territory, flipping through The Witticisms of Warlocks: Contracts and Comics. Ella, another of her friends, was fond of saying humor always had a basis in fact and Shikya adopted a similar belief out of necessity. Having exhausted other avenues, she combined rest and research by chuckling at some of the claims. ‘Fiends are easily cowed by the roots of willow trees. Always carry several, but ideally just live under one.’ Each theory seemed more ridiculous than the last.

Apparently, Velzix grew bored with taunting passing wizards and had succumbed to stacking books in a dangerously tall tower. Shikya, finally noticing her demon’s antics, eyed the pillar as it swayed slightly from side to side. The imp hovered near its pinnacle, ready to capstone the project with a 700-year-old journal. I’ll never be allowed back in here…

With consternation, Shikya groaned, “If you don’t put those back on the table, normally, I’ll kick your ass back to whatever hole you crawled out of in the Realms.” Not thinking, she slammed the humorous book closed in a huff, jolting both table and Velzix, and immediately regretted it.

Moments later, gripping the back of her chair, Shikya hauled herself to her feet, rubbing at her head and taking care to trample on as few of the volumes as possible, now strewn about the floor. Stupid, damnable wizard I am… I can barely think properly. Velzix cackled gleefully at her misfortune, landing gracefully at the table’s edge, and tapped clawed fingers together in rhythm. Her protruding eyes curled into a haughty mirth.

“Yes, yes… laugh all you want…,” Shikya whispered exasperatedly, grabbing a few heavier items and tiptoeing between the rest towards the door. Might as well set these aside, anyway. The soft, idle sounds of the outside world fell on her in a cacophony as she opened the enchanted door to drop the first few hefty tomes on the return shelf outside the room. She halted for a moment as her head spun at the sudden resurgence of noise, but fought through it, stepped through the threshold, and turned to observe the mess. Velzix leered at her with two hideously overgrown eyes and a crude grin. “What?” A heavy thump of books landing unceremoniously on the shelf accentuated her question.

“Nothing.” The leer deepened. “Just enjoying the view.”

Shikya’s skin crawled. “Don’t. Don’t you dare.”

Without a second thought, she shot an uncomfortably large amount of mana into the statement and through the contract to explicitly end Velzix’s vulgarity. Shit! The edge of her vision went white, and the world tilted sideways. She gripped the doorframe, but not before it became apparent how little of her energy remained. Shikya held her position until the heady rush of vertigo passed, and her sight fully returned. She waited for the inevitable laughter and ridicule.

Velzix did not laugh and, in fact, appeared unexpectedly grim.

“Not very clever.”

The young summoner glared at her demon but didn’t find cruelty this time. Disappointment? Pity? Great… pitied by your own demon. On a second and more level-headed examination, there was absolutely a malicious, conniving smile. The imp hopped into the air, wings flapping, and extended a hand, examining it nonchalantly.

“How simple it would be to end your life…” Velzix hovered closer, perhaps too close. “No sleep…” Her hand reached forward as she whispered, perhaps too softly. “Barely any mana left…” An inhumanly sharp claw neared the bare flesh of Shikya’s neck, testing and straining the limits of the contract. “And the last of it used on such an unclear command…”

If Shikya watched herself in this moment, she would be impressed with her reflexes. An arcane circle swirled into existence around Velzix in a split second, replete with the structure and power for the task. Half a moment later, a harsh syllable of demonic passed Shikya’s lips as her hands clapped together, collapsing the circle. The imp’s face contorted in on itself, wings crushed into a pile of cartilage, and a deafening crack sounded throughout the library as the demon disappeared in a puff of smoke and violence.

Shikya, however, was not watching herself, nor could she have.

Fuck. Vision and awareness gone, she collapsed harshly against the stone floor, unconscious, as books and wooden debris fell on her, having spent the last of her mana reserves and a smidge of her own life essence. When she eventually awakened, Shikya would remember little except the pleasantly shocked face of Velzix screaming, ‘Wait!’

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