VOLUME INDEX



Prelude: Only a Day Away
Chapter I: Vexations
Chapter II: Bad Omens
Chapter III: Magic

 
 
 




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Streetlights whisked by, casting shifting bands of white light across Vex’s hands and the steering wheel. All of the traffic lights were green tonight; it was an easy fare, a straight shot down Southern from Mesa Drive to just past Mill Avenue. Price. McClintock. Rural. The major streets blurred by in an almost surreal progression. Three in the morning on a Wednesday night. No traffic.

The stars were out on a very clear night and the moon glowed like a silver disk in the sky overhead. If it weren’t for the fact that this taxi’s A/C was stuck permanently on, Vex would have rolled her window down.

That’s when Vex noticed her: a woman standing by the side of the road, like an apparition, just past Rural. A pool of lamplight embraced her as she looked at and through Vex as the taxi passed. When Vex checked her rearview mirror to get another look at the woman after passing, Vex saw that she was no longer standing there.

A chill swept through Vex and numbness tingled in her hands on the wheel.

Daughter. Our daughter, a voice said in her head. Are you ready? It begins.

 

“Do you think we did it right?” David asked, licking his lips. A sheen of sweat glistened on his forehead in the flickering candlelight. With a huff, he wiped some of his short brown hair away from his glasses.

“Of course we did it right,” Darlene said. The heat was creating a slight amount of perspiration on her forehead as well. Silently she thanked herself for pulling her hair into a long braid. Now it wasn’t likely to stick to her face or get tangled up.

“Good,” David breathed with relief.

Darlene paused a moment to light the next candle. “If I were off by one tenth of an inch at the point we would be so screwed by now…” She stopped after lighting the small black wick and looked back over the design on the floor drawn out in silver powder over red paint. “Uh oh.”

“Uh oh, what?” David said suddenly concerned, his startled eyes became comically gigantic behind his glasses.

“I think that I drew a line wrong,” Darlene snickered. “We’re all doomed!”

David frowned, hearing the sarcasm in her voice. “That is so not funny.”

“Chill out, you two,” Mary Beth snapped as she stepped around a bookshelf into the candlelight. Her squarely-built boyfriend, Korey, followed close behind. Darlene waved. Mary Beth’s curly red hair bobbed around her freckled face as she nodded back.

The four were now together. They had been practicing magic together ever since they’d met each other in the Hayden Dormitory recreation room the previous year. Though, nothing so elaborate as the ceremony tonight. Everything had to be perfect, the sigil work on the floor done by Darlene, the white robes sewn by Mary Beth’s hand, the necessary chants pulled from books by David, and Korey… Korey was always simply an extension of Mary Beth with muscles.

Korey and Mary Beth were both dressed in the white silken robes that everyone had donned at the beginning of the ceremony. Mary Beth’s robes were adorned with strange symbols drawn in with magic marker that spiraled up from the hem of the robe and split into two twining spirals around her breasts and connected near her throat in a symbol like the one Darlene had painted on the floor.

“It does look a little crooked,” David whined. He adjusted his eyeglasses and pointed.

Darlene gestured dismissively with her free hand. “I drew it exactly like it is in the book, it’s crooked there too, haven’t you looked?” She held the book out to him with one hand, he squinted.

Mary Beth sighed loudly. “It’s an Elder Sigil. It’s not a Star of David, okay? The so-called crookedness is because that point develops into the Celestial Spiral, there, with the seat of power where that candle is.” As she spoke she swirled her hand about the symbol and traced the lines with her pointed finger. “Darlene did a good job of painting it. I’d say it’s flawless.”

“Thank you High Priestess,” Darlene said, making a smart bow.

“I’m not High Priestess until the ceremony starts.” Mary Beth waved an admonishing finger. “So, is everyone ready?”

The rest mumbled their assent.

“Good. No interruptions?” Mary Beth leveled her gaze and looked pointedly at David.

He shook his head. “This top floor of the Stacks has been closed up for renovations. I just happen to have the key. It’s three AM. Nobody is going to bother us.” He pushed his glasses back up onto his nose. “At least I don’t think so.”

“Good enough,” Mary Beth said. “I know that we haven’t done anything so complicated before, everyone knows that we have to keep as close to the script as possible, right, or this just won’t work. Everyone ready?” She glanced around and only willing expressions greeted her. “Positions everyone. Like we rehearsed.” She knelt down and scooped up her conducting wand up, a small black rod with a silver tip. The wand was actually a conductor’s baton, painted black, and consecrated in the way the book demanded for the spellcraft.

Darlene walked around the Elder Sigil on the floor and out of the two circles of salt drawn around the entire working area. Both circles had not been connected yet; that would happen right before the beginning of the ceremony. Different magical symbols had been drawn by Darlene’s deft hands in salt and iron between the two circles.

She knelt down in the shadow of an empty bookcase and unhooked the latches on her violin case. She lifted the lid and removed her violin and its bow in a single practiced motion. A stand with the necessary sheet music had been set up inside of the circles directly opposite where Mary Beth would be standing. Darlene set her violin at the base of the music stand and dodged Korey as he moved to his place.

While Mary Beth hummed softly to herself and looked as if she were off in another world, Darlene added the last bits of salt to complete the two circles.

“The warding circles are now complete,” Darlene said. “The book warns that nobody must cross these lines or the protection will be broken. So, nobody leave the circle, no matter what you see or hear.”

“Spooky,” Korey said with a wry smirk. Silent up until this point, his sudden addition seemed to punctuate the group’s anxious mood. Mary Beth made a silencing gesture and the grin on his face faded and his expression returned to appearing bored.

David snickered, but he too was silenced by a glance from Mary Beth.

“Darlene,” Mary Beth said.

Darlene nodded, brushed her thick brown braid off of her shoulder, and lifted her violin to her chin. She had to bat at the paper on her music stand with the bow to make it stand flat; an uncanny draft of air ruffled at the pages and pushed them slightly to the side. When Mary Beth lifted her baton high and pointed at Darlene, she began to play.

The song started out with several very long notes on the G string. Darlene could feel the vibration through her hand from the instrument as she pulled the bow across the string. Each motion of her bow hand brought out a slightly varying sound from the last as she walked the instrument slowly up the scales. Soon she moved to the next string and the song became more complex, forcing her to switch between the strings with carefully timed motions. All this came easily to her well practiced reflexes.

Soon, Darlene felt as if she were running her hands through water, the music flowed through her, and she became the instrument.

Sweeping the baton along with Darlene’s music, Mary Beth’s eyes took on the far-away look again as she focused on the spell. Korey and David watched her carefully from their places along the sigil, standing with Darlene in a semi-circle in front of Mary Beth.

When Mary Beth lowered the baton again and swished it side to side, they saw what they were waiting for and began to chant.

“Anaton, anaton, redmarath ar-ay ar-ay,
Domare naghti, domare naghti, tavi.

Rothame, rothame, redmarath ar-an ar-an,
Domare naghti, domare naghti, tavi.”

The chant melted into the violin as Darlene adjusted the speed of her playing to match the boys’ baritone chant. Mary Beth smiled as she could feel the music and chant interweaving. The chant repeated two times and it was her turn. The spell required three components, the Musician who was Darlene, the Chant being Korey and David, and the Voice of the High Priestess.

Mary Beth took in a breath and lifted the book up in her other hand to reference her lines and when the music was right, she began to sing. Slightly off key at first, she quickly brought herself down a notch to match the violin perfectly; Darlene also changed her playing slightly to accommodate Mary Beth’s voice as she began to sing.

After the first few words, a breath of air stirred in the silent room, ruffling at the pages of the book, and rattling the nearby windows. Mary Beth smiled. Something was working. David glanced around a little, the gleam of the candles glinting in his glasses, but he didn’t break the chant.

Darlene seemed lost in her playing and didn’t notice when the pages of music were buffeted from the music stand by a short snap of wind. Her eyes closed to the world, she kept the tune breathlessly following the chanting, and Mary Beth’s heightened singing.

The lines of the sigil seemed to liquefy in the candlelight. A soothing orange glow began to suffuse out of the figure that extended through the lines in a gentle cascade. A brief and barely noticeable change, but Mary Beth was certain she wasn’t the only one who had seen it. Shadows seemed to lengthen in her peripheral vision. She could see shifting figures in the candlelight, and the windows began to fog over.

As the song began to near its end, the bookshelves nearby shook with the vibration and frenetic energy of Darlene’s violin playing. She had become so absorbed in the final gyrations of the song that she had nearly knocked the music stand from its place. As quickly as the music seemed to dash into a harmonic train wreck it began to taper off…

Mary Beth sang the last line of the song, letting her voice draw out for as long as she could keep her breath… David and Korey let their chanting subside… Darlene—in a reversal of the first few notes played—slowed, let her numbing fingers drink up the vibrations of her violin’s strings, and took her bow from the still resounding strings…

As the last note faded all that could be heard in the room was Darlene’s hard breathing.

A gust of sudden wind flooded into the room, it raced from the floor like a torrent of black, rose up like a whirlwind around the Elder Sigil and blew out all the candles. Their wicks sputtered and spat as they spent themselves into the gust and suddenly the room plunged into darkness.

David gasped.

After a moment everyone’s vision began to return; the light from outside the windows emitted by various ASU buildings was more than enough to see by. For a long moment nobody spoke.

“Did it work?” Darlene asked finally, as she slowly sank to the floor as if unable to stand. She set her violin gently onto its back and let her sweaty hand slide down the back of the bow. “Did we do it? I could really feel it, but my hand got greasy, I was afraid the bow would slip.”

“I think I saw something,” David said, adjusting his glasses and glancing outside the circle.

“All that for better grades,” Korey snickered. “Well, that was fun.” He wiped his hands off on his pants and stretched with a yawn.

“I think…” Mary Beth said calmly. “I think it worked. I felt it. I really felt it that time. Wow.”

“So,” David said cautiously. “Does this mean that I’ll ace that test on Monday? Heh.” He pushed his glasses up his nose again. “Well, bring it on.”

Mary Beth and Darlene shared a gaze for a moment and then both shook their heads. The entire spellcraft was indeed supposed to help benefit their grades, although the old book spoke of benefits to “power” and not academics. The book, and a few websites later, and the two had come up with a formula that seemed to suggest that it would offer just that.

“Cool enough,” Korey said. “So, who wants to go get some food at Denny’s? I certainly can’t sleep after all that.”

One of the candles lit again with a sizzle.

Darlene narrowed her eyes. “Are those trick candles?”

“Uh, no,” Korey said. “I bought them, I should know.”

“It could be a paraffin flare,” David said in his lecturing voice. “The candles may have been put out by the breeze but they were still hot enough to ignite the wax again.”

Just when he finished, a second one lit again, and with it a low moaning sound whistled against the windows.

“Two?” Darlene said.

The sound began to rise in volume and the rest of the candles lit, flashing to life. Mary Beth turned around suddenly as if she felt someone touch her and she backed towards the other three.

“Did anyone else see that?” David said, swallowing hard.

“See what?” Korey said, walking towards the edge of the circle. “I’ll go turn on a light or something.”

That’s when the screaming started.

 
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