VOLUME INDEX



Chapter XIX: Seeing Things
Chapter XX: Crime Scene
Chapter XXI: With Much Ado

 
 
 




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Personally, Vex would rather have done all of this alone. Except that she also didn’t want to leave Patrick out of this part of her life—it was a very, very large part of it—and she had discovered from past relationships that it took a lot of explaining why she kept odd hours beyond her hack job. Then there was also Megan, just a girl who had been whirled up into events when the man named Richard handed her a Tarot card. A Tarot card that now seemed to be more portentous than had been originally obvious. Of course, the fact that Megan was now seeing visions containing the four dead kids that had set Vex onto this wild ghost chase meant it was best she be kept close.

Dozens of magazine clippings covered Mary Beth’s door, featuring different depictions of war zones and strife, sometimes with headlines—but only those that listed numbers of dead. It all seemed rather morbid for how Patrick had described her door earlier. Overlaying the carpet of human atrocity, as if floating on an endless sea of reflected misery, were bumper stickers for Amnesty International and Sun Devil Social Club. A small poster in the middle held the picture of a red headed girl smiling and knocking a glass of champagne with an older woman

“That’s her,” Patrick said, pointing at the poster.

Vex looked at Megan. The girl hugged her cat backpack and said, “Yeah.”

The police hadn’t shut up the room with police tape like she saw on TV and in the movies; instead a piece of paper sealed it against the molding with orange strips on either side. The hallway was empty from end to end, nobody was stirring, so Vex drew her athame and with a single motion she sliced the paper at the doorjamb.

“Won’t they notice that?” Patrick asked.

“I’ll fix it when I’m done.” Vex kept her tone cryptic and her words short; after cutting the seal she suddenly had too many things on her mind to explain—the voices were there, lilting dusky whispers near her ear. Patrick opened his mouth to say more, but she raised a silencing hand as she tried to listen to their words.

Patrick shrugged, frowning deeply, and Megan cast a nervous lopsided grin at him.

“This is so exciting,” she said. “I—”

“Quiet,” Vex snapped.

The voices were faint, but she could hear one speaking from the other side of the door, like a man mumbling about what he saw. She focused on that one. Megan and Patrick had gone utterly silent and she was grateful for that; the uttering was almost too quiet to be heard. She strained as much as she dared to listen, they had not noticed yet, and if she was careful they wouldn’t.

Hematomancy, it said as if reciting out of a book. An artery is preferable to the vein; the blood flows swifter, surer like a river testing its banks. When the blade is covered, side-and-side, flick’d like casting from the aspergillum. Once, twice, thrice, the aspersion against any flat vertical surface—a wall, a stone, a mirror. The recitant touches his closed eyes with the blood and imbibes from a specially prepared chalice, then speaks the words…

After listening as long as she could without tempting the things that lingered on the other side, she straightened up.

“You two stay out here and keep a lookout. I don’t want anyone disturbing me. And I need to be alone.” She didn’t precisely need to be alone—but she didn’t need either of them witnessing what might happen in the room when she started what needed to be done.

A magickal ritual of staggering power had been acted out in that room. The agitation and excitement behind the murmurs on the edges of her hearing told her that much—some of them broke through the bubble of meaningless conversation to offer secrets, suggesting an understanding of what she could feel. Sacrifices were made in that room, blooded offerings to things that she could barely recall how to pronounce after hearing the voices speak their names. That power could be yours, the distant voices offered, listen to us. She shut them out.

No temptation was worth the price of that type of black magick. She’d seen it before, people who murdered other people for mystical gain also murdered a piece of themselves—they never came back quite the same. A corruption so damning that she feared its very touch. The mere presence of sacrifice magick here, in that room, gave her the chills, and if she wanted to know what happened there she had to go in.

She had to go in alone.

Back in reality, Patrick was speaking.

“…are you sure?” he said. “From what I hear…it’s gory in there. On account of—”

“I know,” Vex said, lowering her voice to a hollow mutter. “There’s blood splattered all over the walls, seeped through the carpet, and soaked into the mattress.”

Megan looked pale. “I think I’ll stay out here, thank you.”

“I’m not so sure…” Patrick began. Vex put a hand on his shoulder.

“Trust me,” she said. Her fingers stroked down his arm until they rested on his hand. “I’ve seen much worse. I have to walk into fire. I must do this alone. I’ll be fine.”

Reluctantly, he nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out for you. I think between the two of us, Megan and I can distract anyone who gets curious.”

“Sure thing,” Megan said absently. She had moved a few steps away from the room and had herself pressed against the wall. “It’s creepy. Seeing her.” She looked away. “I stayed awake after that nightmare because when I close my eyes I can see them. Covered in black birds. Those red beaks… She’s one of them.”

Patrick’s distressed expression gave Vex pause.

“Trust me,” she said again, but she knew she didn’t have to. She could see it in Patrick’s eyes that he did.

For the scene of a crime that had occurred only a few days prior the cops and their agents certainly cleaned up the place well. The room was spare, totally devoid of any furniture on one side—the side where the murder had happened—the other side had two ugly chairs propped on the bed. A heavy dividing wall split the room into two separate areas, each one had a bed, a closet (both empty), a desk area with a lamp, and a dresser full of drawers beneath a scratched and marred mirror.

Murders, especially sudden and brutal ones, leave marks that human eyes cannot see, human fingers cannot touch, but sometimes they can be sensed. She herself was extremely sensitive to such things, but Vex could not pick up on any of the emanations that would have been present after such a terrible crime. All of the emotional energies—the blood dread, the terror, the pain and agony of the victim—had been spent, burned like Hell money, and poured into the ritual.

The metal box with wood paneling that the mattress would have sat upon lay empty, it loomed like a vacant stretcher in the convalescent ward of a hospital. Parts of the drab brown carpet were missing, cut away in squares to reveal darkly stained concrete stippled with gooey lines of yellowed glue. A chemical smell hung in the room like cheap perfume, mixed with an aftertaste of long stirred dust. The paint on the wall looked as if it had been scrubbed with metal bristles; the plaster had been raked away in numerous places. The room certainly appeared to be in disrepair and disarray, but little evidence remained of any blood, except the suggestive stains on the bare, bone grey concrete.

It wasn’t until she heard the door click shut behind her that Vex let the voices return. Now that she was in the room they clamored like a mob on the other side of a closed elevator. Growling, clawing, muttering insensate commentary, they each had a piece to speak about the previous goings on and every one wanted to be heard. This was the part she never really liked, the part where she had to open herself up to them—just a crack, like a child peeping through a keyhole into a room filled with gibbering madmen. For the most part the voices mumbled only to themselves, shambling around in the dark, unseeing and unthinking, but for some of them this was just camouflage. Like the one that claimed to be her mother, it started out just like another one of those mutters, but Vex paid it too much attention and in that attention it blossomed into the threatening creature that could manifest itself into a spectral echo of the dead flesh-and-blood woman.

Steadying herself, Vex opened herself that tiny crack—just enough to let a glimmer of thought through—and reached. She could sense, beneath the restless vocal excitement, the movement of something larger, something gigantic and slumbering, as though a monster rolling over in its sleep. Unhesitating, she focused on the lecturing voice that spoke about blood divination, hematomancy, and listened again.

She plucked the words from the air, the memory of the voice echoing them back to her:

Damare naghti tavi.

The room rearranged with a suddenness that stole Vex’s breath and the voices rose up all around her. She shut them out and focused on the room.

Clothing suddenly filled the closet, and some of the drawers of the dresser had been pulled open, bloody garments spilled out of them onto the floor. The carpet squelched wetly beneath her boots as she shifted her weight to survey the surroundings. The only light came from the feeble desk lamp beneath the overhanging shelves above the desk. In the dim half-light, she could see that the bed was once again occupied.

A tall boy, blond and muscular, lay on the bed, pickling in his own blood; he clutched the blankets, his hands turned to claws from the agony of his wounds. His eyes open, he stared at the ceiling, shaking and gurgling as bubbles of red frothed at his throat. She looked at her hands: blood covered them from finger to elbow. In her left hand she held a curved, bloody dagger covered in obvious Enochian lettering; and in her right hand a heavy brush on a bending leather rod, strapped to her wrist like a riding crop.

Vex tried to turn towards the mirror to see who she was, but her eyes would not move. Crumpled in a closet corner like a rag doll, she spied a mass of clothing, damp with blood, that looked like a dress and a nightgown of the girl whose picture adorned the doorway. As they were partially hidden by the shadows she could not tell if she was alive or dead. Not that she needed a better look to know, as a single alien thought lingered in her mind.

I’ve done it! I’ve done it. She’s dead and I’m still here.

Her eyes locked onto the wall. The boy’s blood had been spattered everywhere with the haphazard manner of an abstract artist flinging colored paint with a brush against a blank canvas. It splattered in clotting inky blotches that drooled and bled into one another with strange symmetry. With almost the same familiarity of seeing shapes in clouds, Vex could see what seemed to be clouds in the murky blood Rorschach images. They drew down out of the “sky” into a large letter ‘A’—the similarity of the reflected scene to the images on the news did not escape her notice—and then down, down, into an earthen eldritch dark. The ground drank the clouds into an open rectangular doorway surmounted with grim architecture constructed of impossible angles and optical illusion convergences of veins and insectile limbs.

And there were words.

A non-voice that rattled in her bones; it spoke in the manner of a man dying from a crushed throat trying to recite his last thoughts. She couldn’t understand any of the speech, but the message was clear. Obstacles needed to be removed; a price needed to be paid; rewards would be tendered…

Distracted from the vision, Vex noticed that the boy on the bed was looking at her. But, she realized, he wasn’t looking at the person whose vision she was experiencing, he was looking at her. She could see her own face reflected in his eyes; there she looked pale and stricken, the makeup around her eye that protected her from the very vision she had summoned floated on the pale bones of her face like a recent bruise.

“You…?” he said.

“Shit,” Vex replied. “You’re not entirely gone, are you? Hang on. I’ve got you.”

A bit of him still did remain, and like the effect that created revenants and ghosts, it lingered in self-pity at the place he had been murdered. She reached for the scrap of his soul, sweeping her fingers like a net for the astral stuff. She felt a tug and closed her hand around it. With the proper magick she could ensconce his lifeforce in a makeshift soulstone, and perhaps save him from whatever fate the ritualist in this vision had in store for him.

The boy on the bed convulsed, his mouth opened to scream; instead blood gushed out.

There would be no saving this boy: he was too far gone.

A presence entered the room, howling. The sound shook the room like an earthquake, the walls cracked, the windows broke; the diaphanous tendrils of spirit-stuff she grasped between her fingers tore away, stolen into the bleak.

“Fuck!”

The door exploded open with such vicious force that it slammed into the wall and stuck—the knob embedded in the plaster. Vex backpedaled, shaken unexpectedly out of the vision. She summoned wards to defend herself and dropped into a fighting crouch—lethal spells of every variety filled her mind as she girded her armory of deadly magick. Her ears rang, the room was blurry, and she could not make out the silhouette in the doorway. She would only have to get past its wards—probably with her fist—and she would end it.

The shadow resolved.

Patrick entered the room. He wore an intense expression on his face and gripped a gun in his hands. He moved to her, sweeping the cramped space with the gun. He did not lower it until he was standing right next to her.

“I heard someone else in the...” he said. “There was a scream and something hit the wall.”

Vex relaxed; the wards faded.

Megan stood, pressed against the door of the opposite room, her cat backpack hugged tightly to her chest. “Vex,” she said, “your boyfriend is Rambo.”

“Put that away,” Vex said to Patrick through clenched teeth. “We need to get out of here. Everyone is coming to my apartment. Now.”

She had expended too much energy casting about at wraiths in the room. The wards the protected her against the intrusions of the voices were brittle and almost shattered—she could feel them prizing at the cracks like street urchins pulling at a grate to reach a dropped coin. It took all she had to shut them out, but still she could hear them whispering.

After her boyfriend did something to the gun and then made it vanish somewhere onto his person she pressed the taxi’s keys into his hand.

“You’re driving.”

She didn’t even look back to see if they were following her, she longed too much to emerge into the banishing heat of the sunlight and be away from this place.

 
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