“There isn’t a demonic deal in past or future that does no harm. You should be wary of any demonic proposal that appears to work only in your favor.”
Seraphina had always had very lucid dreams ever since she was a child. Her dreams that night, however, were extraordinarily vivid even for her.
She dreamed that she woke, startled by the sound of rats yet again and followed the noise to the basement door. She opened it, some part of her repulsed by the action but she did it nonetheless. She was greeted by the sounds of churning, crashing waves and the scent of salty ocean. Darkness stretched before her and despite her fear of deep water, she started down the stairs. She was desperate to find the rats and put a stop to them once and for all.
Fetid wind beat against her face as she made her way down. Determined, she kept on, only stopping when she realized that the stairs were as far as she could go. Before her was an endless black sea, undulating and horrible.
“What is this place?” She whispered.
A thick, voice chuckled from a distance. It was a sinister laugh like the Shadow Man‘s she had heard in her waking life, but also different. It was a woman’s voice.
“She comes to greet us at last…” The voice said, rolling the R-sound and drawing out the S’s like a serpent. “We’ve been betting on how long it would take you to find us. I’m afraid you’ve lost me a hefty some of slaves, Pretty Girl.”
“W-who are you?” Seraphina demanded, trembling and casting her gaze around for the source of the voice. “Who is we?”
“I thought it would be at least another moon cycle before we saw you.” The voice echoed in the cavernous darkness as if Seraphina hadn’t spoken. “The minds of fresh Mortals aren’t usually so… perceptive… to the gateways when they tear open. I must concede that I am surprised…”
Seraphina teetered on the edge of the final step, shaking and almost falling into the dark water. “Show yourself!” She shouted.
“Is that what you want, Seraphina Evers? Do you want to see me?”
“Y-yes…” Seraphina said, terrified that yet another thing new her name before she’d offered it.
No sooner had the voice intoned the strange word than a crimson light bloomed into life. From deep in the depths of the water before her it started to rise; a large red orb moving toward the surface of the ocean. With more light came the revelation that the strange new place had no discernable ceiling. There were no support beams either. No walls. Nothing to suggest that the place had once been a basement at all.
Seraphina stumbled back and fell upon the staircase as the top of a head broke the water’s surface. It continued to rise, revealing short Cleopatra braids and the face of a woman beneath them. Thick black charcoal rimmed her eyes, a dark slash of midnight beneath each lower lid. Her eyes gleamed gold, shining in the dimness. The woman laughed as she rose higher still from the watery depths, lips spread to reveal a set of razor sharp teeth.
Her petite shoulders were covered in precise scars that echoed the ridges of a gator’s back. Her neck, biceps and waist were ringed in gold jewelry in the style of the ancient Egyptians. From all that gold cascaded sheer fabric that accentuated her curvy form and hid nothing. Splashing drew Seraphina’s gaze to the crocodile tail that slithered behind her. When her red feet finally rose to alight on the surface like Christ himself, Seraphina sat in awe.
The red woman, and she was red; it was no trick of the light, was an incredible sight. She spoke to Seraphina again and this time, with her voice uninhibited by distance, it felt like velvet rubbing against her ears.
“You are wondering what I am and what I want.” It was a statement.
“I am the one who splashes in the Nile. I am the one who takes and breeds into the world a new line of Gods. I am come to remind the humans what it means to witness true power.” She spread her arms wide as if to present herself, fabric sighing as she did so. “I want to show you change; a new world, one better than the present. One better like the old days.” She leaned forward and rows of tiny golden beads in her hair clacked together. “You want that too, Seraphina Evers. You want to see power. You want to witness magic.”
“Yes…” Seraphina whispered, entranced.
“No.” Another voice joined the mix, one that echoed through the dark and shook Seraphina to her core.
The stairs behind her creaked, the wood bowing under pressure. Seraphina turned to look and immediately wished she hadn’t. On the stairs not three feet away loomed the black smoking shape of a man. His features were obscured. His obsidian head with its two violet orbs cocked to the side, midnight tendrils of shadow billowing.
“Do not fill her with power, Seraphina. She will bring only ruin to you and your world.” He was the man from the basement, back before it has transformed into the new wretched place. His voice was no longer amused like she remembered it, but stern and serious.
Seraphina didn’t know how she could give the red woman power even if she wanted to. As if to answer her thoughts, the smoking man continued.
“She needs your tongue, your worship. Do not pour your desires into her or she will become stronger.”
“Silence, Hound!” The red woman drew Seraphina’s attention back to her. “I am Sobek. I am come. Same my name and make me whole.”
The shadow man‘s form swirled down to materialize on the steps where Seraphina sprawled. She shot to her feet, rocking and almost falling into the ocean again. His black hand caught her wrist and yanked, pulling her against his curiously solid chest. She screamed.
“I will not harm you, Little One.” His gaze swiveled to Sobek. “She will.”
“You both could hurt me for all I know!” Seraphina yanked her wrist free and pushed away from him. “Why should I trust a hell-spawn over a dragon woman? I swear this is the worst dream I’ve had in ages!”
“You are aware that you are dreaming?” He asked as Sobek let out a hrumph at her title of ‘dragon woman’.
“Of course! I’m always aware! I — “
“Seraphina Evers…” Sobek interjected. “Ignore this beast and come to me. He will poison your mind.”
“No.” The shadow countered. “She’s coming with me.”
He became formless again and enveloped Seraphina. The last thing she registered before the world went black was Sobek howling in defeat.
Seraphina was dumped inelegantly into gritty sand. She loathed sand. It was course, and got everywhere; in her mouth, between her bare toes. She sputtered, coming to her knees in the shifting granules, peering through waves of tousled dark hair. All around was obsidian desert. A vast plain that stretched for miles in each direction, dotted with skeletal trees. It was brighter there than in the basement, but not by much. A low greenish moon hung in the sky, bathing the landscape in its sinister hue. She glared at it as she rose to her feet and dusted herself off.
“You’re welcome.” Came the Shadow Man’s deep voice.
She whipped her head around to find him leaning casually against a petrified tree trunk, all billowing limbs and curling tendrils.
“I thanked you for nothing!” She snapped. “What the hell is going on?”
“I just saved you from one of the nastiest creatures the Void has to offer and you were just berating me for it.” Humor had returned to his voice. “You’re the strangest human I’ve ever met, Seraphina. Your kind are usually convulsing with fear by now and here you are, spitting like a cat.”
“Happy to disappoint.” Seraphina snarked. She tried to overlook the strangeness of being addressed as human, and failed. “You’re the same one from the attic and the basement, then? Dead guy with the bells?”
“I am not a… dead guy.” He said the last two words as if they were the funniest things he’d ever heard. “I am known by many names; Hound, Daemon, Cerberus. I prefer Noxul to those.” He tendered a low bow that spoke of older times, and continued only when he rose back to his considerable height. “I am neither dead nor living by your human standards. I am as I have always been; just as Sobek is.”
“Which is what, exactly?” Seraphina was getting very tired of asking questions. Every encounter with Noxul seemed to leave her with high adrenaline levels and more confusion that she’d started with.
And… Her mind supplied, there is also your infatuation with the situation that’s been building for the past day… don’t forget that.
She slammed the proverbial door on that train of thought and continued glaring at him. Mustering all the haughty stubbornness she could to keep her impending panic at bay, she huffed.
“Sobek and I are masters of power in our own rights but with different rules and desires.” He continued. “My purpose is to seal the gateways between our realms when they tear open, as I mentioned previously. I erase the damage from your world as best I can. Sobek seeks to enslave and wage war. It’s the only thing that brings her pleasure.”
“Gateways.” Seraphina echoed, remembering their talk in the basement yesterday and his mention of beasts and tears in the veil.
“Yes. To and from the Void.”
“The Void.” She echoed again. “I’m sorry, you mean like ‘heart of darkness, antediluvian horror’ Void? Like Void, void?”
“The Void, void…” he repeated, snickering. “Precisely.”
“You know, this is all a bit much to take in.” She laughed nervously. Sarcasm and laughing, it seemed, was all she could do to keep from crying. ”Really. This is the worst dream.” She reaffirmed.
“Oh, not quite a dream.” His tone became conspiratorial. “More of an… accepted invitation.”
Seraphina opened her mouth to ask what the hell that was supposed to mean, but he elaborated before she could.
“We exchanged gifts, you activated the calling card with your blood, I answered your call. Sobek sort of…” he shrugged, “intercepted you before we could come here.”
She thought that was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard. “I didn’t put my blood anyw — “ She stopped, remembering the smear of crimson on the parchment after her run in with the cat.
“See? You remember! Anyways, I brought you here to present a proposal, Little One. Not reminisce about past adventures. Your basement is now a waypoint to a place much like your human Hell. I’m sure you’d like to see it returned to its previous state…”
She nodded, content to hold her protests since he was finally getting to something she wanted to listen to.
“And as you now know, I can make that happen. It’s my job.” He continued.
“So you say…”
He inclined he head, the smoking tendrils of hair writhing as he did so. “Well, there are two ways I can do that. Option one is I gather enough power on my own to cross over to Earth. I destroy the lesser beasts who have already crossed through. They have.” He added after the face she pulled, “I return your world to its previous state, or as close to it as is possible. Then I leave, sealing the gateway behind me.”
“Does there really need to be a second option?” She asked. “That sounds pretty good to me.”
“Oh, I’m sure…” He chuckled. “Accept for the fact that it would be the long way around, with the chance that Sobek slips through before I can stop her. You do not want that, by the way. Option two involves you helping me prepare much faster and I stop the beasts before they have a chance to feed.”
At the mention of the word feed, Seraphina instantly wanted to leave. She could leave; had always been able to wake herself from a dream with a little concentration. It was a trick she’d taught herself at a young age for when her nightmares became too terrible to bare. She decided she would do it, but after she got a few more answers.
That’s it. Her mind taunted her. Just a little more time, just a few more questions. Keep it up and you’ll make a fine meal for him.
“You’re assuming that I trust you any more than the draconian Cleopatra, back there.” She gestured with a hand to nowhere in particular. She didn’t actually know which direction they’d come from.
Or how we came here.. or where here is…
The sand beside Noxul shifted, drawing Seraphina’s attention. It swirled upward into the shape of a chaise lounge, suspiciously similar to the one in her living room. Noxul reclined on it, making himself comfortable, and sighed. “If it’s trust you want, let me remind you that we have met three times now and I haven’t harmed you. She, on the other hand, did just try to enslave you with her magic. Not that you could have known that, I suppose. I don’t expect you to fully comprehend your situation, no matter how casually you converse with me.” His voice lost its playful edge again. “But Seraphina, if she is able to pry into more human dreams like she has done to you, she will gain strength enough to rip through into physical form before I can. That will end very badly for you and everyone else in the vicinity. The last time her and her cohort descended upon Earth, enough damage was done that I could not erase her mark from this world completely.”
Seraphina thought for a moment about the style of Sobek’s dress, the Egyptian god with the same name and the crocodile head. “Ancient Egypt.” She breathed.
“The same. So, help me, or don’t. The choice is yours, but things would go much smoother if you did.”
Seraphina contemplated it all for a moment. ”In a hypothetical world where all this is true, I would help you by doing what, exactly?”
“You would use the gift we exchanged. You would summon me to Earth with the calling card I left.”
“HA!” Seraphina barked with laughter. “Yeah, sure! I’ll just summon you right over so you can feast on me with the rest of your friends. Not a chance!” She squeezed her eyes shut and centered herself, saying, “I think this conversation is over.” She reached within for the calm she used to wake herself from undesirable dreams.
The last thing she heard before the dream dissipated was a tinkling bell and Noxul’s voice saying, “Oh! What a curious trick!”