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Chapter X: Morning At Vex's
Chapter XI: Enochian
Chapter XII: Photographs

 
 
 




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Most of the shops on Mill Ave opened a little late on Saturday, as if to set aside the morning for other things and prepare for the glut of people that would be passing through. The Hippy Gypsy threw its incense swathed doors open a little early that day. The girl who tended the store that morning smiled when she heard the birds singing in the trees that lined the Ave. The other stores, however, were a completely different story as to why they opened late—or not at all—this particular Saturday.

The Cold Stone Creamery, further away, set right next to the post office, opened two hours late because the entire morning shift had become sick with an unexplainable bout of pink-eye. All up and down the Ave, stores were still closed even at 11 a.m.; nearly all of the people who normally tended the stores weren’t feeling well. Urban Outfitters only had two out of their entire staff who weren’t sick with allergies, upset stomach, or some other inexplicable malady.

The only restaurant on a stretch of Mill from University to the bridge completely unscathed by the plague illnesses was none other than the Coffee Plantation. It opened at its regular time, entertained the morning’s first customers, and started serving coffee amidst the confusion and conversation struck up by the strange turn of events.

Nathan pushed the front door of the Coffee Plantation open and entered to escape the increasing heat of the day. He had not gotten up that morning with the expectation that he’d be visiting Mill so early in the day; instead he had intended to hook up with Vex again when the skies grew dim and she made her usual visit to the Ave. Then Saturday morning congregational Mass at his parish had been unexpectedly cancelled, due to the pastor being ill; the Christian Reading Room wasn’t going to open for another hour; and Nathan discovered he had a hankering desire for some coffee.

“At least you guys are still open,” Nathan said, casting a kindly wave and greeting to the girl behind the counter, who was waiting on a single customer. She smiled and waved back after counting out change and closing the register.

“Hey, Nathan,” a voice said from nearby.

Nathan turned his attention to an unshaven and grinning young man sitting in one of the uncomfortable interior chairs—there were two types: those with cushions and those without—and inclined his head.

“Anthony,” Nathan said, “when did you get back? Weren’t you on walkabout or something like that?”

“Yeah, yeah, well, I had a feeling that I’d been away for too long. So I’d kicked my old bike into gear, trucked it back up the road, and here I am. How is life treating you nowadays anyhow?”

“Not bad,” Nathan said. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and took a deep breath. “Things have been a little bit strange. Yes, I know what you’re going to say: things are always strange around Mill. But no.” He rubbed his fingers against his forehead. “It’s the bad sort of strange. I think that Satan has plans here. It’s reminding me of Sodam and Gomorrah. The iniquity is grotesque, Tempe’s previous mayor was a Sodamite, the moral fiber of the culture is decaying before my eyes—” He let the words hang in the air and shook his head.

“That bad, hey?” Anthony said with a shrug. “This is a college town; moral fiber isn’t what they’re about. That’s why there are people like you, after all. Eh, the way I see it, good is good as long as nobody is being hurt. And you should give our mayor a bit more credit.”

“I doubt the Bible would agree with you on that one, sir.”

Anthony waved his hand. “Nevermind all that. Get yourself a drink and come back and grab a seat. How about a game of chess? Perhaps we can get our minds off of the wickedness in the world for a moment.”

“Sure.”

While Nathan was off at the counter ordering himself a drink, Anthony went and grabbed one of the rolled up, plastic chess mats from the games cubby, and one of the pouches with the chess pieces. Already there were two chess games being played at the neighboring table. He left the clock behind; a good game of chess needed some conversation, and conversation wasn’t easy when the game was timed.

He returned with a steaming cup of coffee—one sugar, three creams—and sat down across the table.

“Things have really gone batshit down in Sedona,” Anthony said. He had finished setting up the black pieces on his side of the board; one pawn and a bishop were missing. He stole one last, expectant look inside the pouch, saw that all the remaining pieces were white, and gave up. Nathan took the bag from him and started setting out his pieces.

“Sedona?” Nathan said. “Isn’t that where all the hippies and aliens are?”

Anthony held up a finger as if to tell Nathan to wait a moment, he fished around in his pocket, and removed a penny and a tall blue board game playing piece. “The penny is a pawn, and the Candyland guy is a bishop.”

Nathan nodded. Miraculously, the white side wasn’t missing any pieces.

“Anthony!” the girl behind the counter called. “Do you want a refill?” She waved a green Coffee Plantation cup at him. “If you have the money, I can ring it up and bring you a fresh cup.”

“Sure thing, hon,” Anthony replied. “And could you add vanilla to it? Café grande, just like the last one.”

“What were you doing in Sedona, anyway?” Nathan asked after a moment of watching the coffee being poured.

Anthony turned back to Nathan. “Yes, Sedona is where the hippies and the aliens are. That’s where I was just at before I came up here. I spent some time in a bed and breakfast dedicated to Bell Rock.” He set the exact change, plus tax, required to buy his coffee at the corner of the table. The coffee was set down next to him, the change scooped up; Anthony picked it up and took a sip without missing a beat. “I arrived this morning, in fact.”

“I haven’t been,” Nathan said after a long moment, absently sipping at his own coffee. He winced; it was a bit too hot. “To Sedona, I mean.”

“Well, you should,” Anthony admonished. “It’s a beautiful place—if you ignore the hippies and the aliens, not that they’re that bad either. The landscape is just beautiful, magnificent in fact, very blue skies, the clouds are streaks of white, the rocks are so red that you’d swear they were painted… Ah, it’s a good place.

“Been getting a little out-of-hand recently, though, I might warn. See, there’s this metaphysical vortex down there that attracts a lot of people. Psychics and the like, and aliens too apparently, Sedona is something of a hub of activity for every sort of strange occurrence. The people down there have been getting really antsy about something. A lot of the local mystics have been leaving town, people have been seeing strange omens out at Bell Rock.”

A sudden silence passed in the conversation.

Several chess moves later, Anthony spoke up: “On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t go there…you’d hate it.”

“You think?” Nathan said, trying to suppress a laugh. “I know that I come across as a real prude.” He took a breath and examined his situation on the chess board. Nathan had never been good at chess, but it still amused himself to think that he had a strategic mind. He moved the piece.

Anthony quickly capitalized on the move, placing a knight to capture a pawn and directly threatened Nathan’s king.

“Checkmate. Good game. Try again?”

“Clever,” Nathan said. “Yes, I’ll have another go. How did you do that?”

“This time you go first,” Anthony said, grinning. “That? That was just a variation on Scholar’s Mate. It’s a trick where you can checkmate someone in the first three moves. Took me a bit longer to get you, though. Hasn’t anyone used that on you before?”

“No.”

“Nasty trick. Good for getting newbies. I’ll play more fair this time.”

“I don’t think I’ll fall for that one again,” Nathan replied.

“Good,” Anthony said. “That’s why we use it anyway.”

“As I was saying earlier,” Nathan went on. “I know that I come across as something of a prude. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy myself. Though, I figure that if I visit Sedona it will be for the scenery and not the vortex.”

“Speaking of scenery, where are all the people?”

“I don’t know,” Nathan mused, watching as Anthony set up the last black piece. “At this rate when Vex shows up tonight we’ll be the only people out here.”

Anthony nodded. “If you see her before I do, say hi to her for me.”

Nathan stared out the window at the eerily empty street and an uneasy frown played on his lips. Out of the emptiness, something sinister gazed back; for a moment it seemed as if the sky had been torn back and a negative sky glimmered beyond. A presence of great evil stared down.

In the window, the chess game reflected back. Nathan sat across from Anthony, the chessboard lay set with the armies of black and white facing one another across a field of white and blue plastic. The black king turned to look up at him, plastic eyes gleaming with malice; it smiled a grin filled with lion’s teeth. The damned legions of Hell itself boiled around the black king. The white army lay routed and scattered in disarray, their white king leaned heavily on his staff like a crutch; his crown broken and sundered. The army of black charged. There was no escape.

A chill rushed through Nathan.

His breath caught in his throat, Nathan touched the cross at his chest. “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”

“Did you say something?” Anthony asked.

The chill vanished, the trance broken by the spoken words and the prayer.

“Nothing,” Nathan said. The chessboard was complete now. “Nothing… Shall we play?”

 

The entrance to the Hayden Library sat an entire story below ground, immediately underneath the green grass of Hayden Lawn. Students interested in entering had to pass through an arch of tan colored stone covered with green vines and red flowers and descend a cascade of steps into a wide courtyard—complete with tiny fountains gushing water in the corners. The entrance was a red-orange stone structure that reminded Vex of a reversed monastery gatehouse with a pair of pillars housing a giant concave window and balustrade rails winging the structure on the higher ground level.

Like most of the desert, the only green around the structure came from withered looking trees planted to line the shadowy walls; green trees, palm tree tops, and other foliage poked up above the terra cotta banisters and muddled with the royal blue of the Arizona afternoon sky. Birds chirped angrily from atop the shade wall and fluttered away. With the clarity of the sky came a hot, but gentle, breeze bearing the lingering musk of wet stone, the brittle scent of chlorine, and the sweet potpourri fragrance of the flower gardens blooming.

While starting down the steps towards the underground entrance, a flash of prismatic light slashed through the wide window between the pillars. Blinded for a moment, Vex put her hand up to shield her face as she trotted down the stairs. For a brief second the multicolored light silhouetted the lighthouse protrusion beyond.

Inside the lobby, a bored-looking student attendant sitting in the circular reception desk completely ignored both Vex and Patrick as they strolled past. Dim sunlight bathed the room from the glass windows facing outward and the skylight that poked out into Hayden Lawn above. The clean, pine scent of cleaning detergents mixed with the papery odor of books, clinging to the ubiquitous, lingering library hush.

Vex led Patrick deftly through the various ups and downs, past glowing computer monitors, studious college kids buried in books, wooden showcases, tables, and bookcases. The quiet rustle of papers and low murmuring voices greeted them when they walked past a study room; a chair creaked with startling volume and an embarrassed student ducked her head as she froze in her seat. Vex simply smiled at her as she walked past and into a stairwell surrounded by glass windows.

“Why can’t we just use the elevator?” Patrick huffed, trying to keep his voice down. He pushed to keep up with Vex’s sweeping gait as she ascended the stairs. “Wouldn’t that be a bit faster?”

“The floor that we need to get to isn’t accessible by elevator,” she explained. “They’re remodeling it.”

“How high up is it?”

“Just four more flights.”

The stairwell finally terminated several floors up at a grey door with a large safety-glass window.

Vex waved Patrick to silence before he asked any questions, withdrew her athame from one of the hidden pockets in her dress, and knelt down in front of the door. He looked down at the knife with a dubious expression as she set the spell to work. Unbinding incantations were reasonably simple when a person had a clue how locks operated. With the tip of the whalebone blade touching the keyhole of the lock, she spoke the words quietly under her breath, coaxing the lock to unlatch.

With a soft click the lock undid itself and Vex thanked it quietly.

Patrick shuffled nervously nearby. “Okay, that’s new to me,” he said. “I didn’t know that you could pick locks. Say, wasn’t this what got you thrown in the clink just two days ago anyway?”

“It wasn’t locked that time,” she said.

The door swung open to reveal an unfinished room. Carpets were rolled up and laid against the walls, empty bookshelves stacked flat against the back, and the floor was smooth concrete. The smell of dust and disuse immediately followed the panorama of emptiness. Vex could feel her skin prickle. The magical residues from the previous working still remained.

As did the working sigil, the candles, and the disturbed dust that Vex had seen before. Although, there were extra footprints added to the dust now: those of Vex herself, and the ASU police officers who had cased the scene while she was handcuffed. It looked as if nobody else had accessed this room since then—except that Vex knew better. The soulstones had been removed from the three other candles.

Vex cursed herself for not returning immediately after Patrick had come to get her from jail. It was a stupid thing to wait so long. She could only comfort herself that more than likely the other soulstones were taken while she was in police custody.

“You’re getting sloppy, Vex,” she said to herself.

“What?” asked Patrick.

“Nevermind,” she said. “Stay here, okay. Don’t touch anything. I mean that.”

“Sure, sure,” he said. “What is that symbol?”

“It’s a sigil,” she explained as she pulled her digital camera out of another pocket. It activated with a soft whrr and extended its lens. “They are common to certain magickal incantations used to summon and control extraworldly entities. Like demons and the like. Most cultures have them, but not all cultures use symbolic words in their works. Normally they’re pictures, images of what’s being summoned, controlled, or banished.”

Vex circled the sigil and took a few scene shots of the entire setup in relation to the rest of the room. Then she snapped a few pictures of the sigil itself, with the salt and iron circles around the outside and the puddles of wax goo that once were candles more visible. The Wicche Script around the outer circle had been drawn by an expert hand; someone with artistic experience in calligraphy had painted them. The sigil and the Enochian were a different matter altogether, but they still appeared to have been painted by the same person; their lines were blurred, splotchy and rougher than the perfect elegance of the external script.

Patrick waited silently while Vex continued to take snapshots.

“The outer circle is a magickal barrier,” she told Patrick. “They might not have known it, but the barrier plus whatever working they did achieved some real results. When I came here that night the barrier was intact; I had to cut through it in order to get at the candles.”

“That’s where you found that soulstone.”

“Yes. And there were three more. They’re gone now.”

Vex walked to the windows. The room they stood in was spacious by ordinary standards. Wide windows at each of the four walls produced sweeping vistas of the buildings and the layout of the campus. She spent a moment at each of them to get pictures of the view with careful attention to give clues as to the facing and the orientation of the sigil to the windows themselves.

“I’m done,” she announced.

“So, what’s next?” asked Patrick.

Vex sashayed over to him, her black dress flounced in graceful waves at her feet, stopped just barely too close to him, tilted her head back…

“You are going to take me—” she started to say; then thumped the camera against his chest with a grin, “to the Computer Commons and help me e-mail these pictures to Brent.”

 
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