Ethan could tell by the exaggerated way their mouths were moving, Dorian and Enmerkar were shouting at him. However, he couldn’t hear a word they were saying. Their voices were drowned out in his head by a hissing sound that grew in volume until it felt as though his head would split open. He closed his eyes and the noise slowly resolved itself into countless whispers which he could not make out. Dorian touched him on the shoulder.
Ethan opened his eyes in time to see Enmerkar grab a bar of soap from one of the shower stalls. He used it to draw a circle around Ethan. Enmerkar mouthed the words, “don’t move.” He appeared to be chanting something, but each time Ethan tried to listen, the whispers grew louder. Enmerkar completed the circle and then encircled it with symbols. Before Ethan could ask him what he was doing, Ethan’s limbs began to tremor. An all too familiar feeling of something rising up internally overtook him.
He looked into the mirror and saw his startled expression as a creature’s face was suddenly superimposed over his reflected visage. The ghostly face quickly darkened and came into sharper focus as it began to solidify. Ethan was filled to almost to bursting by the increasing presence of the demon. It felt as though his insides were being shredded by the creature’s attempts to pass through his body. Ethan screamed in agony and attempted to help it along by focusing his dwindling strength on pushing it out.
Once again Enmerkar grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him until he opened his eyes. He mouthed the word stop. Driven to the verge of madness by the pain, it took Ethan a few moments to comprehend that Enmerkar wanted him to stop trying to force the being out. Enmerkar placed a hand on his forehead and his mouth moved rapidly. Ethan supposed it was some sort of spell. He stopped pushing and closed his eyes, forcing himself to relax and allow the pain to wash over him without reacting to it. The sensation of fullness gradually subsided.
When the pressure in Ethan’s chest eased, he sighed. The hissing sound in his mind faded and the voices grew quiet. He went limp with relief and stumbled slightly. Dorian pressed his hands against Ethan’s back to keep him propped up inside the circle. Enmerkar’s booming voice was jarring to Ethan’s quieted mind.
“Where in the building did you open the portal?”
Ethan’s head was foggy. It didn’t register that Enmerkar was talking to him until he grabbed him by the throat. Ethan’s eyes flew open. Enmerkar’s hand was beginning to crush his throat, cutting off his oxygen. Ethan’s vision swam. In another moment, he would black out. His peripheral vision was rapidly fading.
“The portal damn you! Where did you open it?”
“I… up in room 211,” croaked Ethan.
Enmerkar dropped Ethan onto his knees inside the circle and disappeared, leaving him gasping and sputtering. He bent forward with hands on knees as he fought to draw in ragged breaths. Ethan struggled to his feet and swayed. His legs felt weak and rubbery. He needed to sit down, before he fell down. Dorian stopped him before he could step outside of the circle.
“Stay in the circle Ethan. Don’t move until Enmerkar gives you permission or else it will make him more angry.”
“I…need…to sit…down,” Ethan panted.
“Hang on, I’ll get you a chair.”
Ethan waited for what felt like an eternity before Dorian returned with the chair. He felt strange. When Enmerkar took possession of his body, it was equally painful. Only that time, he had felt himself again the moment that the demon had separated from his body. Something was different this time. The fogginess in his head wasn’t lifting. Ethan slowly realized that his third eye was closed so tightly that it felt sealed shut. Enmerkar materialized in front of Ethan once more. All at once, the memory of the demon’s hand on his forehead reminded him of a fleeting sensation that had overtaken him.
“What did you do to me Enmerkar,” ventured Ethan.
“Ah, I was wondering how long it would take you to realize that I took back your powers,” he chuckled.
“More like stole them from me!”
“It had to be done. You are too irresponsible to wield that much power. Which reminds me, hand over the grimoire.”
“What? No, I’m not giving you…”
“I wasn’t asking you. Hand it over!”
Ethan knew that the smart thing to do was to give Enmerkar the book. Pride and anger wouldn’t allow him to bow down. Not this time. He had no right to steal Ethan’s powers. Now, he was trying to take the only thing Ethan had left which gave him hope. Without that book he was completely powerless. It was his escape plan. He just knew there was some nugget of knowledge, some rune, some spell that he could use to regain his freedom.
He couldn’t just hand it over. Not even if it meant being tortured by Enmerkar. To just hand it over would destroy what little self-respect he had left. Ethan stood his ground, ignoring Dorian’s pleas and Enmerkar’s demands. One angry swat from the demon and Ethan was knocked out of the circle and into the brick wall across the hallway with such force that he felt the back of his skull split and he winked out like a blown out candle.
Dorian let out an involuntary shout as Ethan crashed into the wall and collapsed in a heap onto the floor. Enmerkar dispassionately flipped Ethan’s body over and retrieved the grimoire from his waistband. He turned on his heels and left Ethan flopped over like a broken doll. Dorian rushed over and checked for a pulse.
“He’s dead Enmerkar. You killed him! Aren’t you going to bring him back?”
“No need, he is not dead.”
“But he’s not breathing.”
“Wrong Dorian, he is barely breathing.”
“Then why isn’t Ethan moving?”
“Because he is in a…deep sleep.”
“You cracked his head open like an egg! What do you mean he’s in a deep sleep? Are you saying he’s in a coma?”
“Ah yes, I could not think of the right word.”
“Aren’t you going to fix him?”
“I have not yet made a decision as to what I intend to do with him. Perhaps I will leave him in that state for a while. At least then, I will know he is not starting any more fires for me to put out.”
“That’s not fair! You brought me right back.”
“You are not a troublemaker. You are impulsive and dimwitted but docile. I don’t have to worry about you intentionally causing problems do I?”
Something in the feral way Enmerkar stared at Dorian deflated any defiance that had begun to rise up in him. Rather than argue, he averted his eyes and meekly shook his head in silent agreement that he knew his place. The memory of a crushed brainpan was still painfully fresh in Dorian’s mind. He contented himself with glowering at Enmerkar’s retreating back.