We are delighted to present a peek at a work-in-progress: Chapter 1 of the forthcoming Moon Maiden Books release of "Chasing Demons", Book 1 of the Time-travelling Demon Hunter series. This is a very lightly edited version of Chapter 1 from Mary's first draft of the book (and therefore subject to change in the final release), a 2014 NaNoWriMo winning project. Mary welcomes your feedback, so feel free to leave a comment!
The demon hunter didn’t know I was in love with him when he left me on that cold, rainy December day. Whether those of a particular faith would say the rain was heaven crying at the havoc wreaked by the demon we’d recently vanquished, or hell crying at having to take the demon back was anyone’s guess.
If I’m being honest, I don’t think I even knew I was in love with him then. At least, I hadn’t admitted as much to myself yet. It had been a wild and hectic few weeks, from the moment the demon hunter walked through the door of my shop until the moment he blinked out of existence that December day. Well, that is, he still existed…somewhere. Just not here, and not now. You see, he’s not just a demon hunter. He is a time-travelling demon hunter. And yes, I know how crazy that sounds, trust me. I own a metaphysical, or ‘witchy’ shop as I like to call it, so I am used to the odd, the weird, the out of this world. I am also a witch. No, a real one. But time travel is not any magic I know of. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
First, please indulge me while I pause to describe my shop and home. Morgaine’s Garden does indeed have a garden - two, actually. My shop with its upstairs flat are situated on a lovely large bit of land just over the road from the beach in a small hamlet between larger towns along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There are several similar buildings along this stretch of beach road, but I am currently the only shop-owner taking advantage of the upstairs flat as a residence instead of storage. The public garden, accessible through a side door, is where store-sponsored events and rituals are held. It is the larger of the two gardens, a flower-lined walkway leading from the side door to the larger space behind the store. The smaller, private garden is accessible from a spiral stairway from my upstairs flat, and also from a door in the back corner of my storeroom. It is quaint and cosy, and most like an English cottage garden. The entirety of the gardens are surrounded by a privacy fence, with my private garden walled off from the public portion. Having the fence also protects my plantings from the near constant, sometimes harsh, salty ocean breeze and allows me to grow a few nice plants that would not otherwise thrive in this area. My office was in the corner that looked out over the public garden, partially beneath the inside stairs that lead up to my flat. Now that we have our setting, let us continue.
It was Samhain, more mundanely known as Halloween. It is the pagan new year and a time to transition to the coming darkness of the winter months, and this year it would also be a time of healing and grounding. As it happens, the full moon fell on the 31st of October this year, which made it particularly auspicious for us pagan folk. Samhain magic is generally thought most potent on the first night of the full moon nearest the first of November, but these days Samhain is usually always observed on the 31st of October (I speak of the northern hemisphere - in the antipodes, this time of year is Beltaine). I’d had an open house at the shop - “Celebrate the Samhain Full Moon at Morgaine’s Grove”. Morgaine isn’t my real name - I don’t share that with very many people because names have power. But, Morgaine is my magical name, and the original Morgaine was the patron of my coven. It was just past 11:30pm and most of my friends and clientele had departed for other gatherings, or their own personal rituals. I was closing then, with plans for my own midnight solitary ceremony, looking forward to the quiet ritual of healing and grounding I’d planned. Brighid (magical name, not her real name, as you might have guessed), my closest friend, was the last to leave after having helped me tidy up a bit. I watched and waved as she turned the corner toward her home. With her long, wavy ginger hair and tall pre-Raphaelite figure combined with an exquisite Stevie Nicks dress sense, she looks more like a witch shop proprietress than me with my fine, mousy, albeit long and wavy hair. I try for the whole gypsy-boho skirts and scarves look, but being on the short side, ankle length skirts usually brush the floor on me and sort of diminish the look. I slipped back into the shop, easing the door closed to lock up. That’s when he appeared. A broad, muscular torso beneath a head of shoulder-caressing wavy black hair, with a strong, smiling face featuring glittering blue eyes seemed to appear from nowhere in the 10 or so inches of opening between the door and its frame.
“Sorry!” he said. “If I could just borrow you for a moment?” He was English. My parents moved here from England just before I was born. I like the English. Love that accent. But, I was a bit wrong-footed by his sudden appearance.
“I’m…I’m just closing,” I said, not opening the door further. “We’ll be open again in the morning…”
“That might be too late,” he interjected. “Won’t take a moment. Please?”
Annoyance warred with curiosity as we stood there staring at each other, him smiling so charmingly and beseechingly. “Really? Can it not wait until tomorrow? It’s been a long day, I’ve got a ritual planned, followed by tea and biscuits, and cuddling with my cat.”
His smile didn’t falter. “I really must be clear - it is rather an urgent matter. I was told that if you were reluctant, I should appeal to you by your sigil, the Ivory Raven.”
That did it. Fewer people knew of that than know my real name. I narrowed my eyes at him. “Who are you, and how do you know about that?”
“Please,” he cast a glance back out into the street, “perhaps not in the open doorway?” As far as I could tell there was no one else nearby, no other sounds but those of the ocean over the road tickled my ears.
I hesitated only momentarily before stepping aside and allowing him to enter. If he knew my sigil, chances were that he was no threat to my well-being, so I closed and locked the door behind us, pulled the shade, and motioned for him to follow me to the private office I kept in the back. I was at least going to have my cup of tea.
The soft glow from the dimmed lights of the storeroom lead the way to the office. I turned off the lights to the shop area on the way. The office door was open and the light filtering through the windows from the moon was almost enough to navigate the room by, but I turned on the overhead light and motioned my visitor toward my little sitting area in the back corner by the window looking out over the garden. It was in a cosy little nook created by the rise of the stairs and the landing where they turned back toward the shop area as they lead up to the flat. My guest made his way over, turning his gaze from me to the direction of travel just in time to barely miss banging his head on the sloped wall. I stifled a giggle as he deftly ducked to his left and chose the chair farthest from the slope. I turned my attention to tea making, picking up my electric kettle with the intention of filling it from the tap in the storeroom. It was already full. Odd…I didn’t recall having filled it, but with all the bustle of preparations for the party, I was not overly surprised. I popped it back on the warmer, turned it on and set about prepping the tea cups.
“You’ll have some tea, won’t you?” I grabbed the milk from my mini-fridge.
“Yes, please. I’d love a cup.”
“Right, then. You’ve got some explaining to do…” I prompted.
“Where to start? Um…my name is Alexander Ramsey and I need your help…as a witch.”
“Please don’t tell me you’ve interrupted my relaxing evening plans because you need a love potion!” The kettle finished boiling and I poured the water over the teabags to steep. “There really isn’t any such thing, you know.”
“No, no! Nothing like that, I promise you! No, this is something rather more serious.” I heard him shifting in his chair. “Now, before I go on, I want to ask you to please keep an open mind, because I know this will sound beyond the realm of possibility.”
I stopped fussing with the tea and turned to face him.
He fidgeted again. “I’m not from here.”
I couldn’t help myself laughing. “Yeah, I got that from the accent.”
He shook his head, chagrined. “What I mean is I’m not from here, or from now.”
I lifted an eyebrow. Well, I tried to. What I actually did was lift both of them, because I’ve never been able to master lifting only one at a time. However, I digress.
“I am from England. But, I’m from England in the year 1892.”
“Um. I’m a time traveller.”
“OK,” I started toward the door. “I’m not sure how you heard about me or my sigil, but I think maybe you need to leave.” If this was Brighid’s idea of trying to set me up with a lonesome loser, no matter how handsome he might be, I was going to hex her into next week.
He stood, but didn’t move from the sitting nook. “I told you it would sound impossible, but I assure you, I am not mad. I am telling the truth, and time travel is possible, but of course there are rules, and restrictions to keep the timeline intact.”
I stepped over to my desk and reached for the phone.
“No, please - wait! I’ll prove it to you! Look -” he closed his eyes for a second and his entire body…blinked, for want of a better description. As if he were a light that someone had turned off and right back on again. “There,” he said. “I just popped back about 20 minutes ago to fill the kettle for you.”
“Oh, puhleeze!” Weird blinking illusion or not, I wasn’t falling for…but then a memory flashed into my mind. I was standing in the shop with the last of my guests and there he’d been - crossing behind Brighid and a couple of customers sipping punch, nodding to me and walking out the door. In this new memory, I’d just assumed he’d drifted in and out as, or with, one of my customers. But, it was definitely him, and given the direction he’d been walking when I noticed him, he could very well have come from the storeroom after having topped up my kettle. And I am certain I had not seen him during the party until just now.
I felt dizzy. As I gave my head a shake, he appeared at my side, taking my elbow and gently leading me over to the sitting nook, his other hand lightly around my waist. “Sorry about that. It can be disconcerting to have a memory flip.”
“Memory flip? I don’t…um…Mr…Mr…”
“Alex. Please call me Alex.” He settled me into one of the chairs and crossed over to the tea table. “How do you take it?”
“How am I supposed to take it?” I mumbled.
“Oh! No, I meant the tea. How do you take your tea?”
“I, um,” I huffed out a silly giggle. “Just milk, please.” I leaned forward and put my head in my hands while the dizziness passed. When I looked up, he was placing teacups on the little table between the chairs. He’d even plated up a few of the dark chocolate Hob Nobs I’d ordered from a British foods importer. I felt movement around my ankles and looked down to see that Pippin Severus Sagan, my cat, had decided to investigate the commotion downstairs. “Oh, hey Pip.” I reached down to scratch him behind the ears. He wound his way around my ankles and and settled in front of my feet to study the intruder sitting in what he considered his chair.
“Ah, Pip is it?” Alex leaned forward and slowly extended his hand. “Sorry for the disruption.” He glanced up at me. “Cats, as you are probably aware, have a keen awareness of magic, but also of disturbances in other planes that people generally are unaware of.”
I nodded, still a bit disoriented. I watched Pip - he was an excellent judge of character, and if he trusted Alex, then I knew I could as well. Pip gave Alex’s fingers a quick sniff and then head-butted his hand. Well, he was all right by Pip, then. I reached for my tea and took a soothing sip. “OK. Let’s say I believe you, and let’s face it, that was pretty convincing. How do you do that? Is it some kind of magic? I’ve never heard of a spell that -”
“Oh, it’s not a spell. At least, not in any way you would be familiar with. It’s…I can’t explain it, really. We don’t know if it is some extra-terrestrial technology, or some sort of ancient magic we can’t know of in the present time.”
“Alien technology? Highfalutin talk for someone from 1892.”
“Well, I am a time-traveller, so I suppose you could say,” he grinned, “I’ve been exposed.”
“How far into the future have you been?!”
He considered for a moment. “I shouldn’t really divulge too much, but…well, some few years hence.” He quickly added, “But, don’t even think of asking me to tell your future - I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”
“Mmhmm. How did you come to be in possession of a method of time travel in 1892?”
“That is an interesting tale. The short version is that I was contacted by another time traveller, who became a mentor of sorts. Someone from a much earlier time and a founder of the society of…of which I am a member. There is a connection to your patron, actually.”
“Morgaine? She…she really existed?” I was gobsmacked, as my Mom likes to say. My family’s coven goes back centuries, and our patron was said to be Morgaine of the Camelot legends, but we were never completely convinced that it was actually THAT Morgaine. I mean, of course there’s a possibility that Arthur was a real person, or at least that the exploits of several warrior kings or princes became the legend. “She is part of our coven’s origin story, but we always thought Morgaine of the Fae was part of the fantasy, and that our Morgaine was just a contemporary of those times, given that name in the tales handed down through our generations for the Avalonian association.”
“Oh, she was…is, quite real, although some of the legends are certainly misguided at best, some even invented for storytelling value or political expediency. But Morgaine, Avalon - very real.”
“Wow.” I watched as Pip hopped up into Alex’s lap and settled in as if his thighs had been made for a cat ornament. Regardless of Pip’s obvious approval, I was still a bit wary that this guy might just be a good con artist. I am well enough versed in magic and the paranormal not to dismiss him out of hand, however. I had so many questions, but his next statement derailed my queries.
“She is the one who instructed me to mention the Ivory Raven to you, actually.”
I nearly did a spit-take with my tea. “She…knows who I am?!”
“Well, she is a very powerful witch. And, of course, a time traveller - one of the first.”
Morgaine of the Fae, the Lady of Avalon, half-sister to King Arthur - or whatever the truth of it actually is, knows who I am. Had she travelled to this time period? Had I actually met her and not known it? Was she one of the coven members, several of whom were of my mother’s generation and who I only saw on the major sabbats? Would Alex tell me if I asked? I could probably guess the answer to that question.
“Me being a time traveller is only part of it, though. There is something else you need to know - the reason I need your skills and your magic.”
Uh-oh. There was that dark cloud of ominous foreboding. “You might as well lay it all on me, skippy.”
His brow furrowed. “Skippy? Maybe that mind flip was more disorienting than I thought.” He leaned forward slightly and said slowly and clearly, “My name is Alex. Alex Ramsey.”
This time I laughed with abandon, which seemed to worry him even more. I looked down to see Pip giving me side-eye from his perch on Alex’s lap. “No, no - I know. Skippy is…kind of a nickname, it can be a term of endearment among friends.”
“Ah, I see!” He looked immensely relieved, and amused, but then he turned serious again. “Now, to the crux of it. This time travelling, it isn’t just for a lark, you understand. It is quite serious business.”
I sat up straighter and gave every indication of listening intently.
“There are forces in the world, forces from other planes of existence which can sometimes impact this world. You know of lesser demons, of course. Imps, bogarts, flibbets, alps, pucks…those sorts of things. Minor demons that are easily dispatched with a ward, or a few words of banishment. They tend to pester people when they get bored, and just as easily tire of that activity and return to their own planes.”
I nodded. “I’ve encountered some, yes.” Not that I’d actually seen their physical forms, but I had definitely experienced their pranks and antics and had banished my share of them.
“There are varying levels of hierarchy on the demonic plane, and heavily warded gates to prevent higher demons from crossing into the human plane. At best, the higher demons can merely send a lesser demon to persecute a human they may have taken a disliking to, or a group of humans just for the spite of it. Their only access previously to our plane on their own has been if they have been summoned by name and invited to possess the body of a willing human, and then, their powers are severely limited, and their strength is limited to that of their human host. They can, of course cause quite a bit of damage using the adrenal functions to boost the strength of their human host, but they can do no real harm to the grand order of the human world.”
Something occurred to me then, and I needed to know. “What just happened in September 2001. Do you…are you aware of the attacks?” He nodded. “Was that demons possessing those men who hijacked the planes? Because, that was pretty harmful to the grand order of the human world.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I am afraid those men were all too human.”
Of course. I knew that, but I still wanted to find something other than pure, misguided human hate on which to lay blame.
“Couldn’t you, or another time traveller have stopped it?”
He glanced down. “There are some things we can not do. There are certain restrictions that prevent us - physically prevent us - interfering in certain events, no matter how much we might wish to.”
I sighed, exasperated. “Let me guess, it’s like on Doctor Who, right? Fixed point in time?” Being a child of English parents, I grew up with the Doctor. I love that show. He looked confused. “Never mind. Sorry. I had to ask.”
“It’s okay.” He took a sip of his tea.
“Please continue. You said their ‘only access previously’…”
“Yes. Very observant. Something has happened to the wards on one of the gates. There is…a leak, so to speak. It is allowing higher demons to gain access to the human plane without having been summoned and without need of a willing human body to possess.”
“That can’t be good.”
“It very much isn’t.” He set his teacup down and stroked Pip for a thoughtful time before continuing. “That is why I am here. I’m not just a time-traveller, I am a time-travelling demon hunter. And I am here because there is a demon loose. The transition to our plane has weakened it, and it must be stopped before it gathers its full strength.”
“And you need something from me?” I prompted when he seemed reluctant to continue.
“I do.” He nodded slowly. “I need bait.”
“I need you to help me trap the demon. It is a complicated issue. We…members of my society…we can vanquish the demon once it is trapped, but we can not trap them ourselves.” He flapped a hand in the air. “Rules and restrictions and that. It requires a powerful witch, freely willing to act as bait with the magical skill to then entrap the demon for us once it is drawn to her or him. There is some good news,” his lips quirked up at one corner, not entirely reassuring. “Any time a demon transitions to this plane, it is weakened somewhat, but because it is Samhain, and the veil between the planes of the living and the dead is thinner, we have a slight advantage. Those from this area with magical essences who have passed on will have sensed the presence of the demon and attempted to repel it. Unfortunately, even en masse, their status as departed spirits mean that their powers will not have been enough to send it back to its own plane, but fighting the dead will have weakened the demon further.”
“Just how many of these demons have you sent back so far?”
“Well, this is a recent occurrence, this leak. And since the demons can come through at any time or place in our timeline, it has been hard to track them. We have finally managed a warning ward that will alert us when it happens, but until then it was just a matter of picking up on altered timelines to know that we had a demon on the loose. Once the demon is at full strength and active it is very difficult to send them back. My mentor wished to protect me, to carry on the work, therefore I have only been on two missions so far, and those were to vanquish demons we detected before they reached full strength.”
I sat back in my chair and fixed him with a look. “Extremely dangerous, is it?”
“Low chance of success?”
“Well, fair to middling.”
“…No pay, actually.”
“Saving the world with no hope of recognition?”
“Not a chance.”
I stood and offered him my hand. “Let’s do this.”
© Mary Layton. All rights reserved.