Crowley appears about two metres above the ground, and gravity isn’t too happy about that because it immediately tugs him down. The ground is also not happy with him, because Crowley lands with loud thump that he knows will cause bruises.
Bruises he can’t heal, because his powers just got sealed away.
Well, shit. Looks like whoever’s summoned him actually knows what they’re doing.
Crowley’s been summoned before, has been called upon countless times since humans learned how to write. He’s been summoned by priests, cults, scholars, kings, witches, and, on one memorable occasion, a bachelorette party. He has enough practice with the process that he can feel out some of the enchantments that have bound him, and right now, he can tell whatever spell has trapped him here is a doozy.
Crowley’s powers are gone, and he knows with a certainty borne of his demonic nature that they won’t come back until the circle is broken. It feels like a tiny void has been cut out of his soul, filled back in with human enchantments that strain up against his essence, pushed inside his skin like magical bloat.
Crowley’s still lying on the floor, eyes closed, and he will eventually need to get up and survey his surroundings, but for now he’s going to try and glean as much information he can without moving.
So he lies still.
The floor is scratchy, wooden, and very cold. There are no planks, so it must be plywood. There is a faint, burnt scent, and even with dulled senses he can smell how it lingers underneath the overwhelming odour of wax. Around him, Crowley can hear the tail end of some Latin chant (so cliché) and can make out at least five distinct voices.
The chant ends, and the room is quiet. Crowley can feel multiple gazes raking up and down his body.
He keeps his eyes closed and makes an effort to visibly breathe.
It’s hard to be intimidating when you’re wearing your husband’s fluffy blue bathrobe and black silk pyjamas, but Crowley’s worked under worse conditions, and with worse clothing.
In fact, this outfit may be a blessing in disguise.
There are many different ways to handle being summoned. With amateurs, it’s easy to intimidate them, throw a little fire and brimstone around, because more often than not, amateurs may be able to summon a demon, but they don’t remember to bind them. With practised occultists you need to be a bit more careful. In those situations, it’s important to keep an ear out for the exact wording of questions and commands, to give away as little as possible until the opportunity for escape is spoken into existence.
Then there are the summoners who really know what they’re doing, the ones who remember to bind not only the demon but the demon’s power. They’re the ones who have plans, who know what demonic magic can do and want to use it for their own ends. The trick in these situations is to be as useless as possible.
This is exactly what Crowley intends to do.
Tonight’s theatre performance might not have any special effects, but Crowley is a damned good actor, and he’s going to play his part to perfection. It’s a shame his audience won’t be able to appreciate it.
Crowley sits up and opens his eyes as blearily as possible. He looks around in feigned confusion, squinting, before rubbing his eyes and groaning.
(The brief glimpse around the room reveals stone walls peeking out behind tapestries, a gothic, vaunted ceiling, and nine figures cloaked in black standing around him. Most importantly, Crowley sees the thick circle burned into the floor, gets a quick glimpse at numerous symbols he can’t focus on yet. He already knows the situation is dire, but the confirmation that he might be well and truly fucked is nice).
“Demon.” A rough voice speaks somewhere to Crowley’s right.
Crowley pretends to startle and turns to face the speaker.
The speaker has pulled down their hood, revealing a furrowed brow and long, blonde beard. “Serpent of Eden, Beast of Hell, Progenitor of Sin, the Demon Crawly, we entreat you.”
Crowley squints at the human. “What?”
The speaker ignores his question. “While we have summoned you, we bind you to these rules…” and ooh, this is bad, because Crowley can feel the circle’s enchantments swelling under his skin, ready and eager to bend him to this human’s will.
“One: you cannot lie to me. Two: you will follow all my orders. Nobody else can command you but me. Three: you will not harm me physically, spiritually, and mentally. Four: your powers are at my disposal. You will not use them unless I command you to.”
And even though the words scorch themselves into his soul like lightning, even though these airtight rules threaten to choke him, Crowley is aware that, although the humans don’t know it, they’ve already made a classic blunder.
Simply put, the circle is too strong.
Crowley’s powers are bound so tightly that he can’t perform any miracles even if this human orders him to. The inscriptions written out in the circle supersede the human’s commands, even if the circle is what forces Crowley to obey this human in the first place. The written will always take precedence over the spoken in summoning rituals like these.
As long as Crowley is clever, he can use this to his advantage.
And Crowley considers himself pretty damn clever.
So Crowley stands up, trying to look a bit nervous while he worries the sleeve of Aziraphale’s bathrobe, and says, “Um, sorry, not sure how much I help you.” It’s not a lie. Crowley isn’t sure what these humans want.
The speaker looks at him. “Are you the Serpent of Eden, the Demon Crawly?”
“Yup.” Crowley gives a dopey grin.
The speaker continues to look at him, inscrutable. Crowley lets his smile fade, starts fidgeting the way Aziraphale does when he’s uncomfortable with a situation but won’t say anything.
“Are you the demon that tempted Eve with the apple of knowledge of good and evil?” the speaker asks.
“Oh yeah! That was me,” Crowley says, nodding vigorously.
One of the hooded figures to Crowley’s left whispers something before being hushed.
The speaker is glaring now. “Are you telling the truth?”
“Didn’t you just say I can’t lie?” Crowley asks, as innocent as can be.
The speaker grits their teeth. “Are you telling the truth? Answer yes or no.”
This seems to reassure them, and Crowley can hear several people around the circle shift their robes. The speaker relaxes somewhat, their posture becoming less rigid.
“What powers do you have at your disposal?” The speaker asks, and now Crowley can have some fun.
See, despite having finite lives, humans generally don’t factor in the temporal nature of existence when issuing commands. The human didn’t specify a time, so Crowley chooses to only list the things he can do right now.
Which isn’t that much, to be honest.
“Weeeelllll,” Crowley tilts his head, puts a hand on his chin like he’s considering it, “I’m good with computers, I’m an excellent gardener, I’m fantastic at finding new restaurants, and I can identify at least three different rat species by sight.”
Not surprisingly, the humans around the circle don’t appear impressed with this resume. Crowley puts his hands on his hips and beams.
The speaker looks nonplussed and says, “Is that all you can do?”
“Nope!” Crowley continues to grin, guileless and proud, “I also dominate at karaoke.”
The hooded figures around the circle are fidgeting, glancing left and right. One is looking right at Crowley, so he gives them a little wave.
The speaker is turning red. Their voice is harsh when they ask their next question.
“Can you possess the body of a human?”
“Nah.” Crowley says, and he really can’t right now, not with his powers sealed.
“Can you inflict magical harm, such as physical wounds, blindness, and lameness, upon the bodies of humans?”
“Can you summon wealth, either from human sources or from nothing?”
“No can do.”
The speaker looks furious, which could either be very good or very bad for Crowley’s immediate well-being. They spit out the next question with gritted teeth.
“Are. You. The demon. Crawly?”
This answer doesn’t make the speaker any happier, their teeth grinding together audibly, but then they take a deep breath, pause, and ask:
“Why have you answered our summons?”
And as Crowley hesitates, only for a moment, he feels the full weight of the enchantment crush into his soul, feels the tendrils dig deep inside him and squeeze the answer out of him.
“Didn’t have a choice,” Crowley gasps.
The speaker gives a grim smile, and it speaks volumes about what situation Crowley’s got himself into. If a hint of pain is enough to make this human grin, what could they want to accomplish with a demon at their beck and call?
“Why have you chosen to appear before us in your current form?”
“Didn’t choose,” Crowley mumbles, and even though appearing powerless is his plan, the amount of mortification he’s feeling is only half a farce.
The speaker tugs their beard before asking, “What were you doing when we summoned you?”
Crowley hesitates again, because as much as he’s trying to present a façade, his intimate moments with Aziraphale are not meant for this human’s ears. Those moments lounging in bed together, snuggled under the covers while Aziraphale reads, are hard fought for, hard won, and still too new and delicate to expose to the light of day. Crowley and Aziraphale can barely hold hands in public without panicking, so he is not about to share the fact that he uses Aziraphale’s thighs as a pillow, not with anyone.
But the enchantments don’t grant Crowley any dignity. They press an answer out of his chest with a ruthless, uniform pressure that is impossible to fight.
“I was cuddling with my husband in bed.” It comes out in a rush, like the exhale of a breath held too long. Crowley is mortified.
But regardless of how Crowley feels, the mundanity of the response must have thrown the humans if their expressions are anything to go by. The speaker looks baffled, opening their mouth before closing it with a snap, and judging by the whispers around the circle, the hooded figures are beginning to lose faith. Whether it’s in the supernatural, the summoning ritual, or their leader, Crowley’s not sure.
It’s a start.
The leader shakes their head, then gestures to the figure beside them, whispering something in their ear that Crowley can’t make out. Both turn to look at him, and Crowley fiddles with the sleeves of the bathrobe, attempting to look nervous without appearing insincere.
“Demon Crawly, you will hear my words and obey,” The speaker says, glaring, “You will not break any of the rules I have bound you to. You will stay here and not leave this place.”
“I can’t leave this circle, you don’t need to tell me that.”
“Silence! You will be silent until I return to this room!” the speaker commands, then turns to leave, gesturing to the figures around them. Five of the other cultists depart with their leader, and the remaining three step back from the circle without taking their eyes off Crowley.
The wooden door of the room closes with a boom, and Crowley is silent. He has to be.
Crowley’s thrown the humans off script for now. He’s presented them with the most useless, powerless demon imaginable, subverting their expectations and denying them even the first step of their plan, whatever that plan may be.
But humans are adaptable, and Crowley can’t expect this act to fool them forever.
So he looks down at the circle and starts to plan his escape.