The residual energy from the demon didn’t have a will of its own, but it still put up a fight. First, I put a salt circle down around the casket. Without knowing what to expect, I wanted to take at least basic precautions. Then I cast the simplest cleansing spell I knew, hoping to get a baseline of what to expect. As soon as my magic connected with the demon’s power, it grabbed hold of me. A wave of otherworldly magic crashed into the barrier of the salt circle. Agent Boone took a step back from me and the body. I held my ground, not because I had more courage or fortitude than him. I just couldn’t move. It took everything in me to keep the cleansing spell going.
We got it wrong. The body’s energy wasn’t just leftover from something so powerful squatting until the person burned out. It was a hook in this dimension. My cleansing spell pulled on the demon’s fishing line. Whispers I couldn’t understand flitted into my mind. No human words sounded like that. Still, my brain did its best to find meaning.
The word satisfaction pressed into my thoughts repeatedly. Each time, it brought new associations. I felt the ghost of simple pleasures, like a refreshing drink of water and the taste of chocolate. They grew more complex. The caress of a hand up my thigh but twisted with the feeling of getting away with something. I felt the lightness of being freed from my ties to DPI and the Bentons. Then a pang of guilt over that freedom costing other people’s lives. I pushed back against the associations, using my will to rename them. Temptation replaced satisfaction in the continuing whispers. Knowing the truth of what this entity offered helped me close my mind to it.
Once I’d cut it off from my mind, the demon’s power diminished. The energy it left on the body was a trap, but it could only spring it one time. Even something as strong as this being had limitations on our plane. My cleansing spell cut the body’s tether to the otherworldly presence. As the last of the demon’s magic faded out of our world, I felt its rage. A creature I didn’t fully understand declared me its enemy, which scared me more than anything in this world.
My legs wobbled beneath me. I wanted to believe the spell drained me, but I knew that wasn’t the whole truth. Agent Boone must have seen my unsteady posture. He caught me with his arms around my shoulders and kept me from falling as my strength failed me. As much as I appreciated his reflexes, I didn’t want this to become a pattern for us. Call me a cliché, but catching me before I fell qualified as swoon-worthy behavior in my book. I didn’t need a physical attraction to grow into an emotional one. I had already complicated things enough between us with how much I hid from him. He supported me over to the closest chair before letting go.
“What happened?” he asked.
“The body became a connection point for the demon. It couldn’t keep the body going anymore but left a trap for magic users. If I didn’t already know what we were dealing with, it might have found a way back into this world through me,” I said.
“I thought the demon needed an invitation? You’re saying he could have just taken over if you weren’t prepared for him?” he asked.
“It, not he,” I clarified. “Creatures from other dimensions don’t play by our constructs. And invited isn’t the right word.”
“I’m not asking about the semantics,” he grumbled.
“The summoner brought the demon to this plane. Once it established a link to our world, it still needed a willing host to walk freely. It got that from this man. When the man died, it didn’t sever the link; it just ended the walkabout. So the connection reacted to my magic and let the demon try to convince me to let it in,” I explained.
“But you turned it down,” he said.
“More like I shut it down before it got around to a convincing argument,” I said.
“You were tempted?”
“Not by its opener. I don’t know what else it could have offered if it had kept going. I’m not so cocky as to think I’m beyond anything it might have offered,” I admitted. Now I understood this man and Donald Lowell a bit better. They let it take over, but I knew it gave them compelling reasons to let it in.
“So you turning it down, does that mean it’s gone?” he asked.
“I cut this point of connection. But that doesn’t mean it can’t find other ways in. The mourners should be safe to come back in,” I said. I thought about repeating this encounter with Donald Lowell’s body when we got to the Sutherland & Green funeral home. This time, I had the upper hand with knowledge about the demon in advance. But if I tried another cleansing, would that advantage matter next time? The demon knew me now. What if it was ready for me the second time around?
We got through the next two stops on Boone’s list without incidents. Thankfully, he agreed to get coffee on the way to the Sutherland & Green funeral home. He paid for both our drinks. I didn’t fight him. I’d had to pickpocket a few more people to pay for things over the past few days. I’d receive my first full DPI paycheck soon enough, and then I’d be able to pay my own way again.
Normally, I liked to savor my coffee, but I practically chugged this one. If he noticed me rushing, Boone didn’t say anything about it. I needed all the energy I could get for round two with this demon. But when we got to the funeral home, I’d hyped myself up for nothing. We didn’t see Donald Lowell’s body anywhere during our tour.
I couldn’t decide what to do about it. If I told Agent Boone about the body, I’d piss him off for sure. He’d already busted me for taking this investigation into my own hands once. I doubted that I’d get off as easily for a repeat offense. On the other hand, I’d been counting on DPI to find out more about Donald’s life than I’d managed. We’d found a different lead, but that didn’t guarantee anything. If I told Boone about the missing body, we doubled our chances of finding something useful.
The funeral director told us they’d cremated a few bodies that morning. Burning the body would cut the connection just as well as my cleansing spell. Actually, it worked better because it didn’t give the demon a chance at taking over a witch’s body. Even with the frustration of losing a lead, I felt relief knowing I didn’t have to fight it again. I kept my mouth shut, figuring I could always tell Agent Boone the truth if our first lead didn’t go anywhere. For now, I’d hold back until I had more information.