Pay attention to your dreams.

As a modern witch, I know things don’t work the way the witches in fantasy seem to think. A dream is not a wish your heart makes. It’s a fantastic evaluation of conscious and subconscious information combined to make an unfettered excursion in the realms of whimsy. They’re also greatly influenced by our latent anxieties and because of that susceptible state, magic.

That subconscious information told me I was under attack.

If I think about it, I can imagine that the first strike was accidentally mine. I did what no other witch had done. It was a mistake. I did something that I had ethical qualms about both then and now, but I still haven’t come up with a better answer. I give you the riddle; if you know of a group of people who were brought to a state where they did things they would not have done given the choice, would you leave the traces of that event to break them?

I thought not.

And yet, who was I to choose for them? I took away their opportunities for growth, for regret, for developing new communities and connections because of the event they shared. I made my own scar upon their identity with my own best intentions in mind. As their protector, I robbed their of their capacity to reclaim the power that was taken from them.

Not just any witch could have done it, but I did, and that pride sheds its own shadow upon the act.

A signature.

I am ahead of myself. Let me step back. I need an action plan, a report of what has happened, an analysis. We are losing this war, inch by inch, and if we do, I cannot tell you what worse things will break free.

I was not aware we were under attack in the first dream. I often drift during my sleep, sensitivities slipping to dreams of power and of passion, as they are born of the same roots. I remember dreaming a dream of lust that was not mine. I rarely like men in the first place, and then I do not like the hypermale image, the hair and the bulging muscles, and the sense of wanting to possess things that such a creature usually projects. This person’s dream was explicit in the desire, although never the face. There was an enormous power in her lust, for it was a woman, and she focused on the things that brought the fastest pleasure. No build-up, no suspense, just pleasure never-ending in a release of madness and wet streaks of salt.

I recognized the emergence of the incubus right away, and in tasting my power it pushed me out of the uncomfortable voyeurism of the dream and into my own waking concerns. Cubim, as I think of them, are common and harmless in small doses; an artist paints open a passageway, and then once fed they disperse. They’re hungry, but our culture exhibits so much in the way of lust that it takes little to bring them through, and just as little to dispel them. They don’t like witches; we can, of course, use our networks to bind them, our roots to control them and get what we want, from what is within their power. They’re common servitors because they, like many other extradimensional entities, have the ability to move faster and through realities we cannot. Could I say honestly that I’ve never had traffic with such creatures? No. Do I dial them in for my own personal pleasure? No. Do I know those who do?

Perhaps I should explain my role in the talent underground? There are many who confuse power with deity. I say, Confuse, without any real rancor. While some of the witches call on Names, that is all that is left of many gods. The power remains only because of repetition, and, well, competition. The sluggish remnants of the thought forms may retain self-interest, and that interest is generally of the Thou shalt have no other gods before me, to help sustain their power. The role of priestess is often to act as occasional avatar, proponent, and conduit for those gods. A smart priestess controls that conduit, making sure the web does not feed them wantonly.

Ah yes, the web. See, witches are connected, like roots to a tree. Very rarely do the esoteric arts spawn seeds of independent talent these days; there is almost always a connection, an initiate and the initiated, and their initiates, and so on, a branching web of connections. That was the problem. The lure.

Ahead of myself, again. Oh yes. I am not a priestess. I can take the role, but I do not have the component of belief. I think of the god-forms as tools. Tools that we utilize to adapt the universe to our convenience, whether that convenience be something as small as hitting only green lights, or vengeance against the one who broke our hearts. My ex-boyfriend, E, once described me as, Hermione if she’d been chosen for Slytherin. I can live with that. It’s not that I have no moral brakes, it’s just that I don’t let ethical concerns act as air bags. I drive fast. I live clean. I worship nothing. I enjoy power. It all flows together. I’ve no patience for those witches who only listen to their intuition and allow things to grow organically: my web is a crystalline matrice of design. I choose those who I will give access to power (my students) very carefully. I nurture them how I need them. My newest had a great deal of potential power, but needed to know how to focus it, as is often the case. We were working together well, although she didn’t seem interested in women. They can’t all be perfect.

My ex- and his friend always go to the same bar. (He also always orders the same thing at Dairy Queen. I didn’t date him because he was super into redesigning himself. Sometimes I like consistency.) Even though he wasn’t a regular, I knew he’d be there. I… kind of still have a thing for him. I know where he is… most of the time. I got up, washed a little, and put on a suit and my battle face.

It’s not quite a dive, although it’s primarily a student bar. A little young, in my opinion, for the boys, but they have some older clientele who aren’t creepy. “So, E.” I slid onto the seat next to him. He was annoyingly inebriated, and staring at my legs. “Up here, E.” I crossed my legs and pointed to my face. I gave him a moment to focus. “Are you listening?”

He nodded a little too vigorously. He wasn’t listening. I changed my tactics some, deciding to get him more involved.

“Good, because I’ve got a problem. And it’s 37 minutes to midnight, which is when it becomes your problem.”

He laughed kind of weakly. The I kind of think it was supposed to be funny, laugh I dislike coming from men. It’s a judgment on women that we like men described as having a good sense of humour, but then we’re not allowed to take advantage of it. I sighed inwardly. Time for a brace of cold water, because I didn’t want to have to repeat myself.

I snapped my fingers. One sobering cantrip, calling on spirits to relieve him of spirits, so to speak. See? I can be funny.

“I hate when you do that.”

Something was sharper about his gaze. I’d pay for it later: magic isn’t free, but I couldn’t be bothered now. “It works, doesn’t it?”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t hate it.” He sighed.

“I thought Ed would be bringing you here. I tried not to pack the scorn into it that I thought it deserved. Look, I think we’ve got a demon.”

He looked away like he was taking it personally. What do you want me for? You know I don’t do exorcisms.”

“I just want you to keep out its friends.” If I’d wanted an exorcist, I’d hire one. You can’t exorcise cubim; they don’t possess. They’re ephemeral, a happening of time, space, and desire.

“What kind of things are we really talking about?” He said it like he didn’t believe me. That’s one of the things that frustrated me about him. I considered what he meant by the question. Oh. Every time I tried to keep things on an even keel, he came at it from some crazy fourth dimensional angle you weren’t expecting.

“Certainly not about our relationship again,” I sighed. I let that one sink in, while he considered the situation. I leaned back, taking up his cup. Good enough. I sipped from his ice cubes. “I think you can handle it.” Always tell a man that; it’s good for their confidence.

He rolled my eyes and once I placed his drink back down, he moved it back pointedly closer to him. “You’re leaving me a choice of bad or gross. Since you’re smarter than to enlist my help except as cannon fodder for `bad’ and by the way, I’m smarter than that, too, it has to be gross.”

“It has been a busy season for Nyquil.” It was a joke between us that saying bless you still had meaning.

“Oh man. Snot demons.”

I laughed. “No, not Phlegmnauts. I made up the name. Besides, they’re a myth.”

He sneezed, then winkedà’cause that’s the kind of guy he was.

“No, I thought you’d like this one. Incubi.”

He groaned. “You know I don’t have a girlfriend, right?”

I smiled. “As much as I’d like to remind you that I don’t inquire into your personal life, yes.” I slid off the stool. I couldn’t help but tease him, though. I never could. You know, dear, you don’t actually have to sleep with them.”

He looked up at me. “An army base,” he guessed.

I shook my head.

“It’s not a convent is it?” he asked, as if he were hoping.

I laughed aloud. “Seminaries and sentinels?” I gave it the tone of ‘Really?’

I decided to throw him a bone, so to speak. “Where are we?”

He groaned. “College town. That means only one thing.”

I nodded. “Roommates,” we said together.

He finished the dregs of his drink with a sigh, and caught Ed’s attention. Ed never liked me. I never cared for him. That kind of mutual antagonism was the source of many a sitcom laugh. They passed some man sign that was indecipherable to the testosterone-impaired.

“You done with your smoke signals or should I just wait in the car?”

While he was paying, I looked out over the parking lot. I took a moment to check the aura of the place. I’d felt…something. Witches are better at knowing when they’re being watched, or if someone is talking to them, or all those other things that raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It was unnerving that I did not recognize it, so I got my keys out and caught up as he walked over to my car.

He had to adjust the seat, but I spun out and started driving. He clicked his seatbelt in pointedly.

I laughed at him. First, do no harm.”

“Second, do no harm, third, do no harm, but by the time you’re in fifth, you’ve driven past harm and are into really sorryville,” he muttered.

“I heard that.” You have to let them think they’re clever, but not too clever.

I focused my will and knew suddenly where I was going, and why the dream was so vivid. Sylvia. The newest addition to my web. She got ahold of me over craigslist,” I said aloud. He didn’t say anything, stumbling out of the car door when we arrived. I shivered as midnight passed. The earth has its forces, and the trailing waves of what was dark at midnight peaked once more between 3:00am and 4:00am, in the darkest before the dawn, sense.

It was an old wooden house converted to apartments. It only had one door in the front, and several windows with drawn shades. There wasn’t a directory or a buzzer, so I just knocked on the door.

“Sylvie?” I called. I put a little of her Name in it. Witches get facets of Names in rituals, and the one between student and teacher was one I could use.

She opened it, blurry-eyed and reeking of sex. She was barely dressed in an oversized man’s shirt, some jeans that might have been hers, and she was covered in an aura that spoke to me of brimstone.

“Sylvia?” I asked again, slowly. Was she aware of me?

She nodded. I glanced at E. He wasn’t drooling, yet. I shot him a look.

“How many people are in there?” I asked.

“Eleven, including me,” the girl whispered. It was the sexiest voice I think I had ever heard on another woman, and I had to take a breath. I adjusted my jacket, bringing my armor to mind mentally.

“Making us thirteen. Stereotypical,” I muttered. “Will you let us in?” The invitation. Always important.

“Oh, yes,” the girl said, way too quickly. Then I saw her energies change, like a light trying to peep out of the darkness. “Please, you have to help us.”

I walked into the hallway, leading the way towards the noise. I turned around and saw that Sylvie had draped herself and was kissing E like she had dropped something she needed down his throat and her tongue was the best tool to retrieve it. I rolled my eyes, but he didn’t see me.

“No, no, we need to join the others,” I heard him say, but I was too far staring at the horror in front of me.

The act of sex is one of those things that is beautiful in concept and grotesque in action. This was not beautiful in concept, but bestial, primal, with no sense of restraint. Bodies writhed and groped and snarled. I counted three of the demons, only one male, the other two female. E was on his own. The radio was blasting a wall of noise.

I dropped my jacket, because I was going to have to lure one to me. Oh, fine, and my pants. I drew upon powers of lust, bringing his attention to me. He tried pulling my hair, and pulling me to him and his engorged, if very pretty, penis. I began to send repulsion towards the hands that grasped towards him. I had also looped in a succubus. Great. Perils of being sexually flexible, I guess. The lust rose within me, and I got distracted for a moment, so I grabbed what was at hand.

I suppose I should offer a polite cough at that statement. At the time I just smiled at its noise of pain as I began to twist what I had in my reach. E stared at me in horror. “Remember why we’re here?” I changed my polarity, such as it was, my energy from lust to sleep, pushing the others to it. The demon began to fade, although I could feel its desire turn to anger and then sadness.

As the gate began to call them back, I found my pants and my jacket. E stood staring at the sleeping, naked masses.

“You know,” he began, awkwardly, “they really messed these people up.”

I shook my head. I knew. Imagine waking up after that, entwined with your neighbor who you barely knew and liked even less. At least there was no risk of fertility in this act; a side-effect of demons was the effects they had on the reproductive system, but still, waking up wet and sticky with little knowledge of how you got that way… well, I looked at an older lady who would have been the poster child for a grandmother with too many cats. It was probably not how she intended to spend her evening.

I made up my mind.

“Get out.” I started closing windows and got to that radio as soon as possible.

He held up his shoes. You mean you’re going to do something definitely gray edging to black to make it all better? Ends justify the means?”

I sighed. “What do you want me to say?”

“I think I just said it.” Judgy McJudgypants stood there like a five year old not getting his way.

“Close the door on your way out.”

“I’ll wait in the car,” he offered. Good, he could get out of my way.

Sylvia was stirring, less under the spell than most. I focused on using her energies to bolster this, her connections to these people; it wouldn’t be easy. Mass mind-control efforts never were, but they were something most of the orders had done. That feeling that something important happened in your dream? That’s generally backlash. The laying out of bodies, the cleaning, this was the classical role, and the returning them to their beds was just a bonus. The freshening of the room, that took us until dawn was a whisper in the sky.

Sylvia was a blessing. She did not ask too many questions, although I suspect half of it was apologetic for her behaviour and half of it was because I kept her working too much to think about it. I didn’t want to invest so much of myself into this place, this stranger’s house, but I know I had to seal the process.

Hindsight isn’t perfect. For one thing, it’s easy to suddenly consider that you knew more of what was going on at the time. Asking, How much did I suspect subconsciously? isn’t a reasonable question. Did I know then about the betrayal? Did I know then that the seeds that blossomed were seeds of war? Should I regret? Would I change what I did?

Let’s draw the curtain to close on this scene. There is more to discover.