VOLUME INDEX



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

 
 
 




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Four figures huddled together. Blood red lines drawn on the floor tracing a twisted hexagram with a circumscribed hemi-spiral. Hiding within a barrier of salt, protected by the ancient talismans against evil…

The room twists. Footsteps trace the outside of the barrier. Seeking a way in.

Blood on her hands. The blood on her hands slick like sweat—

 

What the hell are you doing!? Wake up!” a voice shouted in panic.

Startled by the shout, Vex looked up. The bright stream of headlights shone through her window, another car was directly in front of her! She wrenched the wheel hard as a horn blared and the bright light blinded her as her foot sought the brake. The shriek of tires on the pavement rang in her ears as she watched a lit neon sign slide absurdly past outside the windshield.

The taxi came to a lurching stop by the curb and with a hiss the engine stalled. Her knuckles had become white with pressure from holding the wheel and her hands were slick with sweat. Vex could hear her heart beating in her ears louder than a subwoofer speaker.

Vex’s fare, the man the back seat, didn’t look very happy. Mr. Suit and Tie with a Crumpled Fedora—now a smashed and crumpled fedora—must have clutched it against the divider grating when she made that maneuver. His face was red as she turned to look at him. A brief glance out the window and Vex could tell that she was just on the other side of Mill Avenue.

“Look,” the man said after a moment. “Where I need to go isn’t that far away. I’m just going to get out here. If that’s okay.” He said this as if he was going to give her a choice. He opened the door and pushed some bills through the hole in the safety grating. “Keep the change.”

The man walked away briskly without looking back and quickly vanished into a side-street while Vex tried to recover herself.

“They never learn, do they,” Vex growled to herself and turned the key. The engine coughed once but then roared to life. She pulled the taxi into gear and hit the accelerator as hard as she could. The taxi peeled out hard from the curb and she spun it around to face back down Southern; moments later the cab was careening onto Mill Avenue.

The vision clearly depicted somewhere Vex had a little bit of familiarity with: the Hayden Library Stacks. She’d been in them before looking for books. She couldn’t tell quite exactly where but she figured that when she got closer to the exact area it would become obvious. Things of this sort generally were.

 

“Does anyone have any freaking clue what that was?” Darlene said sharply. She pushed David away from her; he had all but climbed into her arms by clinging to her when the screaming started.

“I think we should get out of here,” David said, hugging himself.

“Well, it’s over now.” Mary Beth threw her head back and raised her voice in authority, trying to take command again. “We have to clean up the ritual—”

“Sorry, hunnybun,” Korey said quickly, cutting her off and grabbing her hand. “I think we can leave it. Let’s get the fuck out of this place.”

Korey half-fought, half-dragged Mary Beth towards the exit, David wasted no time in following, and Darlene didn’t waste any time in getting her violin back into its case before turning to follow the other three.

Before she went after them though, she paused just long enough to blow out all the candles. She spent barely enough time to blow each one out—hard—but not so much as to remain alone in the room for any longer than necessary. Satisfied that the candles didn’t look like they were going to flare to life again, Darlene immediately sped to the slowly closing door to the stairwell.

“What took you so long?” Korey said when Darlene squeezed through the door.

“I couldn’t leave candles burning,” Darlene said irritably and glared; “something could catch fire.”

“This is someone’s idea of a stupid joke,” Mary Beth railed back at Korey, whose grip did not wane.

“Some joke,” Darlene said as the door closed behind them. Everybody sighed with relief when they heard the door at the top of the dark stairwell latch solidly; even Mary Beth, who despite her air of nonchalance, showed obvious signs of anxiety in her expression.

Chattering nervously amongst themselves, the four exited the Stacks through a side-door unlocked by David’s deft handling of his keys and they walked purposefully away from the place. The full moon lit their way when there were no sidewalk lamps, but as a whole the group avoided the backs of buildings and anywhere darker as they made they way to IHOP on far side of campus.

If anyone had been paying attention to their surroundings instead of carrying on in an uneasy hurry towards the restaurant and away from the Stacks, they would have noticed a darkly clad figure racing to where they had just exited.

 

Vex found the room with extreme ease. The magickal residuals from whatever happened were especially intense in the Stacks, gathering strength as she went up the stairs. Obviously something had taken place on one of the upper floors. After checking a few doors, she finally found one that was open—the very top floor.

When Vex pulled the door open, the air rushed out in a hollow sigh. It played gently with the black locks of hair that hung on either side of her face and ruffled her lacey black clothing. Caution compelling her footsteps, Vex reached into her belt and withdrew her ivory athame—a magickal knife carved from whalebone and etched by her own hand to stand proof against anything Otherworldly.

Her boots clacked solidly against the unfinished floor and echoed through the various bookshelves scattered around the room. Deep furrows were churned in the layer of dust on the floor where some bookshelves had been pushed out of the center of the room to make space for a very fascinating display of lit candles. The center of the room stood completely clear of dust, but the edges showed footprints and signs human of activity.

“What do we have here?” Vex said to herself as she stalked into the room.

The people involved in this ritual were obviously long gone. They were probably just stupid college students anyway. Perhaps they spooked themselves. It would be for the best; if Vex ran into them doing this she would have had to beat some sense into them.

The design on the floor looked exactly like the one she had seen in the unbidden vision in the taxi. A twisted hexagram painted with a spiral and several extra lines that added the optical illusion effect of a second star, a pentacle that didn’t exist in the lines. The entire diagram was surrounded by two circumscribed circles poured with salt containing recognizable Enochian symbols invoking angels and Witch’s Script invoking other protections.

“Sigil work.” Vex shook her head as she surveyed the layout.

The Enochian seemed almost out of place with the sigil in the center, as if they didn’t belong to the same traditions. It was just like kids these days to find old books of mysticism and then mix them together like a tossed salad. Generally, that’s also all that came out: something only good for cleaning out someone’s bowels. However, once in a while someone with actual talent would inadvertently create a working with real power and bad things would happen.

A music stand that had been set up on the far side of the sigil was knocked over on its side. The metal bands of the stand flickered in the guttering candlelight.

Vex stepped towards the music stand and was stopped by a sudden sense of unease. She glanced down to see that she had nearly crossed the salt lines. The magickal protective circles were still intact and the barrier was trying to resist her passage.

“Someone knew what they were doing,” Vex said.

The magickal barrier’s power was infinitesimal compared to what Vex could muster, so she just cut through it with her athame and broke the protection spell by drawing her boot across the lines of salt. The air crackled with the release of the bound energies in the spell.

Vex moved between the candles with purpose. They looked as if they had been burning for hours, having nearly become piles of melted goo on the floor. One in particular caught Vex’s attention. It seemed to be misshapen in the center, something was bulging from it. She picked it up, blew out the flame, and examined the bulge.

With her pocketknife in hand, Vex removed a nicely cut, glistening quartz crystal from the center of the candle. Replacing the pocketknife in her belt, Vex prodded the crystal with her athame. It responded with a soft pulse of orange and felt slightly warm in her hand.

A soulstone. Vex quickly accounted the sigil and the candles. Three of the seven candles appeared to have soulstones in them, including the one that she now held, but Vex counted four positions where people could have been standing. Soulstones were used to trap spirits for use in magical invocation or—as the name suggested—to take souls from living people.

Someone in that group of four wanted the souls of the other three.

Vex hefted the stone in her hand and shook her head. This was no ordinary group of would-be wizards she was dealing with; suddenly things seemed a lot more wicked.

“Freeze and drop the knife,” a voice said behind Vex.

 A flashlight beam was shining over her shoulder and illuminated the sigil. Vex cursed herself for not even noticing the security guard sneaking up behind her. She realized that she really must have been lost in thought.

“I’m not going to tell you again,” the security guard said.

“It’s not what it looks like,” Vex said. She carefully slid the soulstone into her pocket and put both hands up.

“Slowly, on the ground, and kick it away.” he said.

Vex complied, letting herself down slowly and setting the knife as far as she could reach to her side, stood up again, and kicked the athame with her foot sending it skittering across the floor.

“Okay, turn around, slowly. Keep your hands out.” Vex turned around slowly but the light was in her eyes, all she could see was the flashlight, maybe the gun, the man’s badge, and his brownish pants. ASU Police. Vex recognized the uniform instantly.

“I think that I can explain.”

“You can explain at the station, young woman,” the cop said.

 
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