Word-doodle of the day
The bitch is clawing at my spine. The aches begin and magnify into shooting, soaring pains as she wakes me. The hour is indecent, the moon naked and shining strongly in the clear sky as the meteors cascade into orbit with little flashes here and there. The darkness of that sky tells a tale of time and the stars pierce through magnificently in the absence of ambient light. I roll from the bed, beneath the bay window of the attic. It is the same bed my grandparents purchased me at twelve. I fit just right on it. The mattress is fresh and feels like an old friend met anew each night. I simply love 1982.
Then the pains escalate and I am forced to my knees. Deep breathes. Deep breathes. The runes sear into my very soul as she strains against them. She wants to talk with me. She will strive like this for hours. Unevenly, without a rhythm for me to get used to, unlike labour pains. There is no timing. No bone untouched by her. Each of the runes holds her and will hold her so long as my will is intact. The torture will be trying. My guests sleep a hundred yards away and cannot here my pain as she tries me everywhere at once.
This will not be a marathon, then. She is using her essence in a hurry. I fall to the round carpet beside my bed and I look to the neighbouring room through the doorway where the ritual circles are set into the floor and the stand for my notes awaits. I won’t make it in anywhere near the time necessary to save me this agony. I have no choice. She wishes to speak with me.
I tear my pyjama top from my upper body. She eases as she senses my cooperation. I turn to the mirror. The Ten of Swords is stamped in vivid colour on my right chest, over my heart. The sea of swords, like crosses on a battlefield, stand poignantly in the body of a young blonde girl with long tresses of hair. The clouds animate and the sunlight of dawn grows intense; blood streams and pools around the innocent girl, taken far to young, with far too much violence. Slowly the head turns, the wrong way around and looks at me with its death-mask visage. Peaceful. Rested. And then it turns foul as the eyes open, blue as blue can be, and the death pout turns into a vicious grin of straight white teeth.
Acknowledge me, John, it says.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. “Good morning.” I spit the word good.
It has been long since we spoke last. You have locked me out of your mind with that Gnostic ritual you found. But it wanes. It wanes and we will again banter like old times.
I stare her down. Unnerving. For beneath the exterior of the child, the body crawls with supernatural might. “I have noticed the mental thinning of the barrier. Maybe I should cast the ritual, again.”
If you could, you would have already. We both know that I do not bind that easily.
“So… this expenditure of energy is simply to banter. The last century has been dull, has it?”
Your humour is lost on me. Each second in your soul is repellent and worse than a millennium. But I digress. I am in a mood to cooperate. I am tired of your incompleteness as a magician. Ordered by accoutrements that are unnecessary for the deeds you design. I am bored with your ordered existence. I would teach you to harness the forces that you so deftly manipulate. Your magic would be magnified into greatness. You know that I speak the truth. I do not gain except in the transmission of power to my host.
“And in the hopes that I will let power guide me into its application in less than honourable and moral ways. That I would deal with you and have you guide me is the danger. For it means I might deal and accept your guidance on matters more complicated than the mere perfection of a rune or a ritual. We have this discussion every so many years.”
Indeed, but you and I both know that you need greater power to deal with what you anticipate. Even then, with all that I know, you may still fail, as you have before. You have imprisoned me for three-quarters of a millennium. I resign myself to this prison, pierced by the ten, a commandment for each sin, holding me to your soul. The runes on your bones bite into me and chain me like the prisoner I am.
“You flatter me and offer me the coin of respect,” I mutter. “But why should I change the status quo in any way to favour you?”
Oh, John. You plan to destroy me. Lets make that simple. You might even succeed. However, you would have to grow in power to manipulate the forces necessary to vanquish me. You tried and almost died. You had to settle for the pain of a dual existence. You etched your bones with my true name, ill-gotten, ill-used. You dare not share the name with anyone for the penalty the name bears. You will not marry. You will not sire heirs. You will not curse anyone other than yourself. Impasse, John. Stalemate. The two lads, hale as they are, will not develop soon enough to impose a clear victory for you.
“There is always hope,” I say.
You do not play the game with me for fear I might win. You forget to realise that, if you do not play, you cannot win.
I nod. “I cannot lose, either.”
Yes, says she. You can, mortal. In the end, all mortals lose their lives. And then I will be freed.
“There is time.”
Yes, but the time is now on the short-end of the stick, John. You will have to decide, John. Eventually, you will play with me, because it is the fastest route to the power that you seek. It may be your undoing, but without it, you will be undone for certain. We both see it.
And, I do not state the obvious, but it will be free to wreak havoc. Havoc that tore into the Balkan conflicts and escalated them into humanitarian crises.
My mind returns to those unhappy memories.
We were in Kosovo territory at that point, pushing back the Yugoslav princes and forcing them to choose to abide by the International Edict or be destroyed. They had not been subtle. We had not been forgiving. I… well, I had chosen to aid in the enforcement of the edict directly and, as such, had chosen the front-line; my mentor in Toronto was disappointed by my incisive view and thought I was being obtuse and wasting my talents in assisting the few over influencing the many. It would not be the last time I disappointed him. I digress.
We had eroded her support to the tipping point and we moved in like the Sword of Damocles and smote the last of her power-base. As I had foreseen, she fled and, in flight, became vulnerable. What ensued was a cataclysm of Evocative magic that is still in debate. Jonah and his team had quizzed me and prodded me and cajoled me and urged me to disclose the means to destroy her. Unfortunately, destroying her was just not possible for us.
My grandaunt had been cursed to eternal childhood for spiting the name of her violator. The curse had removed her from mortality, age, time, morality, humaneness and left her with a single choice: hope or despair. She had chosen the latter and been embraced by darkness, destruction, and the ruin of time. As a result, she was a perfect host for ancient evil. She fed off the evil of this world.
The fight was intense as the Redcoats did their thing trying to destroy the utterly indestructible. My grand-aunt had stalked this Earth for four-centuries and she, simply put, was a magical ingenue. She forced us back. And the tides swiftly turned on us. We fought the good fight, but we were overpowered and outmatched. The demon rose in her person to take final victory. And, in the aftermath, she focused on me.
She tore the skin from my back and caused thorny protrusions to force their way out of my bones, twisting me, misshaping my very frame, an agony so intense it defies description.
I struck back in that moment.
You see, in sacrifice, there is power. In sympathy, there is power. In blood, there is power. In cunning, there is power. In family, there is power. In preparation, there is power. The long months of ritualistic practice invoked within me a power the demon could not behold or get beyond. The wards carved into my bones were like the razors on a razor-wire entrenchment.
The demon tore at my physical being while I enveloped her spiritual being. Her rage, her anger, her imbalanced passions sought to destroy mortal flesh. I tore the darkness from the child and bound it. An act of hope. Entering my bones, the beast roared to find that it was caught, warded with its own true name carved into my breast bone. I uttered the incantation, closing the conduit.
I rose from the ground, soaked in blood, and looked at the collapsed form of my grand-aunt. I stumbled over to her. She lay staring at the sky. The clouds that seemed a perpetual gloom that day, broke and light shone through. The child, my grand-aunt, looked at me; her eyes broadened. “You look like my father, sir.”
“Yes,” I said. “I am your relation.”
“I feel weak,” she said.
“Hush,” I said. “Look at the sky. It clears.”
She shuddered. “I fear it is too late.”
Gently, I lifted her head into my lap and pushed a bloody strand of blonde hair out of her face. “You have done me a kindness.”
“I simply helped a child. Any would have done the same.”
She looked at me intently. “You are kind.”
I said nothing. She died moments later. There was a kind of peace for a moment. And then she was gone.
Jonah limped over sometime later. I was a bloody mess, but already, the skin healed beneath the tattoo that bound the demon beneath ten swords.
“You fool,” he said. “You fool. What have you done!”
“Surely there was another way.”
“There was. You asked me to expedite things that fewer would suffer. I did so.”
Jonah stared at me. “You knew??”
“And you did it anyway?”
“You are a better man than me, John.”
“No. If I had told you, you would have decided to bear the burden. I simply removed the choice from you.”
“Right. That makes you a sonuvabitch, that does.” Jonah was frowning. He extended his hand and helped me up. “That means you owe me one.”
I smiled. The team roused and we extricated ourselves back to Command to report on the operation.
I am alone in the attic with the demon, Drekavac, crawling around my bones. I smiled again. Not today.
Another time, John. Another time.
Her head rotates and her form writhes in pain with ten swords pinning her down. And then she is silent, the golden tresses congealed with blood. I turned to the dressing stand and placed the pyjama shirt on top. Time for a shower, I think. Wash away the stains of my folly.