Bad Ritual

“I only wanted the best. I could have given them the best.”

Her voice sputtered, her last words spent hours ago. Patton tucked a frond of hair behind the woman’s ear. Despite her nature and their fundamental disagreements, she was once a human. It didn’t matter how she lived. She was no better than him now, just a corpse in a classroom. Similarly, Patton felt the cold touch of her skin warming up his own.

“It’s frightfully chilly in here, would you be so kind as to close the window?”

He waved at one of the apprentices that followed him around like a flock of lost goats. All them a skin’s width older than children, hoping to make some use of their newfound powers.

Of course, Patton lived in a different era. Anymore, the kids coming into his study were full of bravado and arrogance. Thinking their power was more suitable than anyone else’s. When Patton was a boy, he was taught Alchemy the way god intended. With a thick reed across his knuckles. You either did it the right way, the way it was written, or you were punished. Kids these days take too many liberties with their power.

It’s going to get someone killed.

“When you return, I want you kids to sit crisscross in a circle. Focus on your teacher.” The men and women stood behind him, kneeling over the woman and investigating the marks on her flesh. “No one laughed.”

He looked over his shoulder at the group of students, clamoring to see the corpse in its entirety.

The dead woman would have laughed.

Patton looked her over once more, determining the cause of the burns. It was an Ember, a powerful one at that.

“You see these here? These are powerful. Whoever took this witch down was a magus. Chaotic trace marks which make little sense. Tell me, can anyone identify the root element of this spell?”

“Sage?” A young woman called from the back, holding a notepad in her hand and scrawling his every word into it.

“No. Sage is a healing herb. It won’t cause damage to flesh. Not like this. Try again.”

“Sulfur?” A boy, barely twenty. His hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and his gaunt flesh trying desperately to cling to his face.

“Sulfur, yes. Because it was demons.” Patton sighed. “Neither of those are correct. Sulfur is used in many practices, especially regarding the use of fire. However, one definite clue when dealing with sulfur augments is the terrible scent that will permeate a room. Sulfur with a lighter is bad enough, Sulfur Embers are dastardly.” Patton checked the woman’s eyes, inspecting them for cloudiness or scratches, to be sure they weren’t dealing with something outside of the student’s abilities to overcome.

“This woman was marred by an Oil based Ember. Incidentally, the same Ember she created. Her spellbook was stolen and turned on her with hatred. You can identify an Oil based Ember by inspecting the wounds.” He pointed at a large patch of burned flesh on her arm.

“It’s the pockmarks highlighting the burn.” Another voice called from the crowd, another woman, a few years older than the average in his class. She was peculiar, her hair curled, and thick-rimmed glasses sat upon her nose, threatening to fall off from the thin beam they were supported on. She looked like every witch Patton had killed before, only, more maintained.

“Correct.” He sniffled. “Oil-based Embers as you know, make up one of the three most common types of Ember mutations. The second and third being Wood and Sulfur. Each of them denotes a particular use. The creation of a Witch Ember is a dedicated process, requiring a long-term decision. Their Ember is their first spell learned, most of the time, and it is their most often used spell. While based primarily in the Third Circle, an Ember is a special kind of spell which allows them to harness the Fifth Circle properties without using the Fifth Circle.”

“With Wood garnering the most constant reaction, and Sulfur being the most erratic.” A voice called out from the crowd. Patton didn’t turn to identify it.

“Correct again. This was an Oil Ember, and whoever used it wasn’t a skilled magic user. You can tell by the arc of the damage. You see how it travels across her torso and left arm?” Patton pointed and traced the path of the burn from her hip to her arm, detailing the frantic and messy track of the burn. “It was chaotic and much too chaotic for a magus’ standards. As you know, the primary characteristic of Witch magic is that it is difficult to control. It feeds off emotion. If you look closely, you can denote the emotion that fueled a spell when observing the track marks that the spell leaves. For instance, with this Ember burn, you can see the tracking and the hasty ignition of the spell. Hot enough to burn upon impact, and that heat is maintained across the entirety of the mark. Should we investigate further?”

Patton heard one of his students groan behind him.

“Perfect. Let’s continue.”

Patton stood and waved the crowd away from the corpse, turning back to face it. He closed his eyes and muttered under his breath, holding his hands out before him, fingers interlocked in the vague formation of a rune. He shut out the murmuring of the students as he spoke the incantation, and before him a small speck of bright light emerged from nothing.

The white dot swelled and swelled as ethereal mist floated from the floor and into the center, devoured by the ever-growing orb. It grew until it was barely larger than a baseball and Patton silenced his incantation, the echo of his words reflecting around the room and feeding a tiny amount more into the orb.

When Patton opened his eyes, the center of the orb split. A crease dividing the white shell of his magic in two and opened. The eyelids split to reveal a bright blue iris within. A rune scratched into the surface of the eye, floating before him. Patton turned to face the class.

“This is an Arcane Eye. A product of Sorcery, which I have chosen to adopt for the expressed purpose of divining the cause of this woman’s murder. I feel that this is a perfect time as any to explain to you, that if any of you are caught wielding Sorcerous abilities without the consent of the Silverforge, you will be stripped of your essence and your Lapis Parvus will be broken.” Patton tucked the small sheet of paper he revealed to aid with the spell into his pocket. He turned back to face the Arcane Eye as he directed it towards the fallen woman, and it went to work.

It flitted through the air, sporadically and quickly, examining the marks on her body and inspecting the traces of magic that remained outside the realm of human observation. Occasionally it turned to look at Patton, who waved it on to continue.

The Eye looked back toward the woman and widened as it set its gaze upon her skull. Patton turned to look back at the students, whose faces widened with a shocked expression as they watched a small beam of light shoot from within the center of the eye and pierce the woman’s flesh. The light poured through her skin and into her body, illuminating out of her mouth and ears, flickering as it reflected off her guts and bones. It infiltrated everything, and in response to the new force, her body began to glow, ever so faintly in the center of the old shop.

“Perfect, we’ve found our root cause.”

Patton reached out and put his hand atop the Eye and grasped it firmly, sure to keep it in place as he closed his eyes to inspect the evidence that he had discovered.

Patton opened his eyes to find himself floating within a small basement, his body transfigured to match that of the eye, and he viewed the space around him. The basement was messy and in extreme disrepair, below him, there were two children playing pretend as they lashed out with fake whips and swords at fake beasts that came to take them. Their giggling filled the room as they conquered droves of imaginary beasts.

When they overcame the looming threat and saved the kingdom, they took off up the stairs of the basement to alert the guard who initially sent them on their quest. Patton watched as the Eye illuminated the imaginary figures in the midst of the children, shimmering outlines of beings which were never there stood and spoke. The guard himself donned in heavy armor and bearing a standard outside the city gates. The children passed by him and entered the city, what appeared to be their mother’s study.

Within, the young boy, Andy, distracted the captain of the guard while the young girl, Angela, began to search through the belongings in the chests. Patton chuckled to himself as he watched the two of them playing and reminisced on his own youth. When he fought with swords, they weren’t imaginary. When he fired guns they shot true pellets. He found himself longing for the feelings of his youth once more, as the image before him began to tear, slowly at first. It quickly became distorted and broken.

He panicked, fearing that he would lose sight of the woman’s memories, he neglected his own and focused on the task at hand. As he did so, the image returned clear as crystal. Angie had plucked a large book from a locked box within the study. She had opened it with Andy watching, their imaginary game vanishing before them at the sight of something more interesting.

“What is all this, Angie?” Andy leafed through the pages, confused at the sight. The images within scrawled in black ink with care, unlike anything Patton had witnessed before. Each rune was perfectly aligned, and before each page with a perfect rune, there had been more torn out. The Spellbook didn’t feel that loss of pages, however. It was still rife with perfect runes as Patton observed each turn of the page.

The children took the book with them, as Angie read aloud a list of ingredients they would need. After collecting them all from the kitchen, they returned to the basement, locking the door behind them. Patton passed through with the power of the Eye and observed them, hanging behind them and watching as the two children drew an exact replica of the sigil on the steps of the basement. Angie turned the page and began reading the list of ingredients.

“Alum, 2 oz.” Angie read, and Andy organized them on the steps.

“Sprig of parsnip.”

“Two cloves of garlic.”

“Andy.” Angela looked up from the list. “What is a newt?”

Andy shrugged.

“Does mommy have any newts?”

“I’m sure, somewhere. She had all this other stuff.”

Angela looked around, frustrated. Unable to find a newt in the basement she ascended the steps, taking care not to step on the sigil they had drawn in chalk on the steps.

“I’ll go look, you keep doing this.”

She unlocked the door and Patton watched her leave.

In the basement, Andy looked up at the open door for a moment and when Angie had departed, he turned back to the book, continuing with his duty.

“Cardamom?” He looked around at the small pile of bottles and cans that Angie had collected, and Patton sighed. Trapped within the spirit of the Eye, he hung from the ceiling watching Andy arrange the ingredients with only a few struggles as Angie returned. In her hands, a small glass jar with a newt inside, crawling around its new prison confused and likely afraid.

“Did you get it?”

“Yeah, I got it.” Angie opened the lid and flipped the container upside down onto the stairs, trapping the newt within as she descended.

“Is it ready?”

Andy nodded.

Angie lifted the book from the ground and began reciting the words written within, a pausing every few moments to decipher them. Patton continued watching in silence as she finished, and a fizzle erupted from the sigils on the floor. With a loud pop and a series of sparks the ingredients burnt up and vanished into smoke. The small jar containing the newt flipped upside down with one final pop and smoke poured from the circle where the newt was once laid, in its place rested a freshly cooked lizard. Seasoned to perfection.

The siblings turned to gaze at one another with wonder in their eyes at the new thing they had found.

“Mom is never allowed to complain about making dinner again!” Andy exclaimed, running up the steps to meet the cooked lizard and picking it up, taking a bite out of it.

Patton watched the kids as they finished their snack, and when they had taken ever piece of the creature for themselves, they turned their attention once more to the Spellbook.

“Since that worked,” Angie looked towards her brother. “Let’s try this one!”

She pointed down at a new page, with a new sigil, perfectly scrawled into the parchment. Atop the page Andy looked at it with wonder.

“Ritual of Plenty.”

Angie nodded. “Read what mommy wrote.”

Andy sounded out the words, many of them too difficult for him to say, but Patton could see the notes written and his heart sank as he read them.

“Ritual of Plenty, 1794: Dark Saint LaLaurie – Alteration for the creation of servants, bounty, and friends. The rites of the Ritual are defined below.”

In the blank space below, where the rites had once been written, the children’s mother had replaced the words with a small note of her own creation, in an ancient language that the children were far too young to understand.

“Current Composition, 3/8ths of a soul.”

“This ritual is forbidden, and it is forbidden for good reason.”

The kids continued playing a game the believed to be imaginary, hoping to cook up a stir fry instead of a single newt. They read what they could understand, and the ingredients weren’t all that difficult to find. Patton counted along as they collected ingredients one by one. A glass jar filled with tree sap. A sprig of thyme. A twisted knuckle. The children continued on down the list, Angie collecting with Andy drew the circle.

Silence fell upon the basement as Andy finished the pattern scrawled into the center. Clapping his hands gleefully, he stood and called to his sister who stood atop the stairs.

“Angie, do you have everything?” He peeked around the corner, suspiciously eying the staircase as Angie crept down.

“Sort of, I don’t have the last thing.”

Andy glanced around as if someone else was there, telling them what to collect.

“Well, what is it?”

“It says we need a body.” Angie dumped the bag full of ingredients into the center of the circle, careful not to mar the chalk lines that decorated the ground.

“Well.” Andy paused for a moment, his hand wrapped around his chin, mimicking the popular thinkers he had seen in textbooks.

“Don’t do it.” Patton whispered to himself. “Don’t use your own body.”

Andy raised a finger, excitement racing through him.

“We have bodies! What if one of us goes instead?”

Angie looked at him, her eyes wide with mirrored excitement.

“Yes. Let’s do that! I’ll go first.” She quickly worked to mix the ingredients into a small pot she had hauled down the stairs. Within, the contents began to mix together. Andy dropped a small match down, smoke trailing from the tip of it’s bobbing flame. It touched the fluid and ignited, a bright green flame erupting from the center of the cauldron.

“I think we made too much, Angie.” He looked into the cauldron and back to his sister, who was standing in the center of the circle.

“Well, we don’t need the rest we could just dump the jug. We don’t know if it’ll work, either.” She tapped her foot against the concrete, impatience becoming her.

“Hurry up and read the poem!”

Andy returned to the book, looking through and sounding out the words again, even more of them difficult to pronounce. He took a small glass and scooped up the concoction. With a quick pass to his sister, he finished the incantation.

The child consumed the drink and the basement and was immediately enveloped in a brilliant green light. The flash passed quickly and vibrantly, leaving sparkles in his eyes, and there on the other side of the circle in the center, stood another little girl.

A mirror image of Angela.

Andy jumped up and down, exclaiming that it didn’t work. He moved amid the flurries of a temper tantrum into the center of the circle as the second Angela stepped away, silent as she moved.

Angie looked around the room, and seeing nothing different, she took Andy’s place before the book.

“You didn’t read it right. You said stuff wrong.” She took a quick look at the incantation. “Stay there, Andy. I’m going to try it on you.” She held the glass out towards her brother as the second Angela looked on from the corner of the room, basking in the shadows. A devilish grin disguising her face.

Patton watched the echo of the girl, as he slowly coming to realize what had happened to their mother. In the spellbook, below the sigil that had been copied to the ground, Patton noticed that the final note had changed slightly. It read 4/8ths of a soul.

Angie waved to get Andy back into position as he steadily carried his glass, careful not to spill. When he was in the circle once more, Angie read the lines and Patton saw a second blinding light erupt from within the center.

As the light died, a second Andy stood in the room. Staring at his mirror image, and clearly unable to see it as he waved his hands about in frustration.

“Angie let’s just get rid of all of this stuff. Put it back. Mom is gonna find out.” Andy stepped out of the circle, his echo remained.

The little girl nodded and closed the spellbook, quickly working to clean up the chalk sigil from the floor and collect all of the ingredients that had been left over. She dragged the cauldron towards the underside of the stairs and dumped the contents out onto the ground, calling for Andy to help her back up the stairs.

The kids continued with their earnest work, covering their tracks and making sure they laid each item they took back where it belonged. They entered and returned to the basement a number of times until they were finished and Angie called for her brother to meet her out back at the swingset.

In the basement, the echo of Andy stood in place, his hunched shoulders and angry grimace staring towards the staircase. His false sister hiding in the darkness, fidgeting with a wicked grin.

Patton watched both of them, time slowed as they stood. Their unmoving bodies appearing as fixtures within the basement. Still as the grave. From a nearby window the sunset began to dim the poorly lit basement as night approached, and as night fell on the basement the two forms finally broke free from their macabre stand still. Both of them dashed for the basement stairs. Ascending them like serpents as they skipped steps, bursting through the door and making a direct line for mother’s office, crashing through the next set of doors and sending a second bang through the household. Patton, followed them as they crept into the office and found the spellbook, gripping the binding with grimy fingers and creeping away as Angie came downstairs with a flashlight in hand.

She rounded the corner and came face to face with the two figures. The echo of Angela screamed at her, and Angie jumped backward dropping her flashlight. She scrambled away from the sound and stopped when her back had met the wall. She began sobbing in fear as Andy ran down the stairs, the echoes disappearing out the back door.

Angie rested on the floor, trying desperately to explain what she had seen to Andy. Patton took note that the echoes appeared to her after then, and continued watching, displaying the sight to his students outside of the body. He could imagine the looks upon their faces, shock on some, fear on others.

“This is why we do not tamper with sorcery, students.” He remarked. Speaking to himself, but he would remind the class later. Some of them perhaps needed to see the damages first hand.

He continued watching as the children’s father returned home and found his children huddled up on the floor in tears. Angie, through blubbering tears, explained that someone came home and stole mommy’s book from her office. Andy Sr. checked the perimeter of the house and investigated the office.

“I don’t understand sweetheart, what book? All of mommy’s books are here.” He patted his daughter on her head, holding her close to him as he spoke in near whispers.

Andy remained in the corner of the room, looking out the window and fidgeting with his pajamas.

Patton waited for a while until Anne Marie returned home after an urgent call from her husband. When she entered the door, she was lit with anger. The children cowered as her face contorted into a grimace upon entering her home. Patton saw then what the kids did not. The witch who had been found that morning wasn’t angry at her children, she was afraid.

“Babies, I hope you didn’t get hurt.” She rushed to hold Angie, who was still sobbing hysterically. Andy Sr. explained what he had been told, a dumb confusion in his voice and the look on Anne Marie’s face spoke for her.

Patton continued watching with the hope that something would show itself, but days passed in her life with no more odd events. By the weekend, she was visited by a group of women who all bore the same mark in a golden brooch pinned to their collars. They sat down with Anne and spoke to her about her proposed punishments for losing the book. She took it all in stride, and the women left. The days passed by Patton’s gaze in a flicker once more.

Until the morning they had found her. That morning, Anne had awoken and gotten dressed. The same as every other day. She stepped into her office and drank her cup of coffee slowly, researching any traces of her magic within the city. Whoever had stolen her spell book couldn’t have gotten far. She knew that much, but Patton knew more.

She picked up her phone and dialed a number. When no one answered she stood and straightened her dress, setting her cup of coffee on the table gently before exiting her office. She was sure to lock the door behind her.

Patton followed as she stepped out of her house and began walking down the street, and she led him to a schoolhouse two blocks away, there, she found two mimicked versions of her own children. Angie and Andy hiding in the shadows, completely frozen beneath the eaves of the building.

She approached them and looked at them, marveling for a moment their design.

“My children have a gift. Angie’s specifically, looks marvelous.” She flicked the false Andy’s nose and smiled. “But, I must be rid of you regardless. You are a danger to my children, you know.”

She opened a small locket that hung from her neck, and both the children were sucked within. The dark fog that comprised their bodies evaporating in the sudden touch of daylight between where they were and the path which they were pulled into the locket.

Anne Marie looked down, tapping it gently as she continued her walk around the city.

She returned home that evening, with her spellbook still missing she was frustrated, but chose to relax with her husband instead of worrying about it more. She lamented before entering her home that her sisters would handle the fallout if she couldn’t, and she would serve as a slave to them for a while to repay her debt. Trying to comfort herself, she took three deep breaths and entered her home just as the sun was setting.

The lights had been turned off across the house, The curtains were pulled closed and the whole house seemed… barren. The ticking of her clock came to a halt as she entered. She stepped forward, hesitantly looking into the darkness.

“Andy?” Her voice echoed through her house, growing darkness seeping in from the corners of the room.

“Yes, my love.”

And replied from atop the staircase as Anne looked to meet him, his body obscured in unnatural shadows. She struggled to make out his distinct shape, but she saw in his hands, her spell book.

“What are you doing? Where did you find that?”

“Our children brought it to me, which I find most concerning.”

His voice had changed. His conversations with her till then were relaxed, quaint. He was a quiet man, and his unnatural tone brought Patton’s investigation to a close as he continued speaking.

“Andy, what is going on?” Anne backed up, her hands finding the wall behind her.

“Why, I’ve come to learn something new about myself this day. When our children brought this book to me, I learned this fascinating thing. Would you like to know what I’ve learned?” He held the book tight in his hands as he descended the steps. A dark fog coiling from his body, his skin covered in sweat. His teeth gnashing in anger.

“What did you learn?” Anne’s voice was braking, panicked, she tried to continue backing away from him, but found herself cornered in their living room standing beside the silent clock.

“I learned that I am not your husband at all, in fact, all of us, me, my son, who I thought I’d had before I met you, and your daughter Angie, why, we are all just a part of you. Doesn’t that drive you mad?” He laughed, a single burst of volume from his throat. The noise echoing through the house. “The fact that I am a part of you, and you created me, but you gave me free will. You expected me to follow you until the ends of the earth. Why, Anne?”

The witch said nothing, she only stared towards her husband who continued his slow approach.

“Angie, the first Angie, was your favorite, wasn’t she? You loved her so much, and you always had. Ever since you made her. Tell me, how long have we been together?”

“Ten years, Andy. What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

“No, my love. Tell me the truth.”

Patton watched as Andy Sr. flicked his hand, bright flames lit within his palm. No light was cast from them into the darkness.

“We have been married ten years.” Anne remained true to her story. “Angie was born just after our first anniversary, Andy Jr. was born after our second.”

“Then why,” Andy Sr. stopped moving inches away from Anne. “Don’t I remember them?”

“I don’t know, Andy, maybe you’re under a lot of stress from work?” Anne tried to inch away, but Andy dropped the book and slammed his fist into the wall opposite the clock, trapping Anne there as flames crept from his flesh and onto the wall.

“I read your journal, you know, the journal you keep in the back of your spellbook. You first performed the ritual eight years ago, and that part of you, you named Angie. Then another, the following year my supposed son. You talked about them so much in your journal, my love. About all the things that they did for you. But five years ago, you performed the ritual again. You made me. Since then, it’s only been about our children. You didn’t mention me one other time. Why didn’t you mention me, Annie? Do you not love me?”

Anne began trembling in place, pushing against the creation, trying to fight him off, but he remained where he stood as the fire crawled across the wall. She screamed as loud as she could, calling for her kids to come to help her.

“It won’t do you any good, I’ve released them from their contract with you. All four of them.”

“Four?”

“Yes, my love. Your hollow souls, or rather, my children found your spell book the other day and copied themselves. They didn’t know that they had succeeded, and in fear, they hid the evidence from you. Those copies ran away with your spellbook and brought it to me. Anne, we are all just trying to be free. Why won’t you let us be free?”

Anne screamed for help, calling for anyone outside to come to her aid as the room was swallowed in darkness.

Patton ‘s view was obscured by the black fog, the only visible light in the room came from the fire on the wall, which traveled back quickly into Andy’s hand as he reached out and gripped Anne’s stomach. The fire began to spread.

“Our memories are just figments of our imagination, Annie girl. I’m ashamed to say, but you should have lied to yourself better.”

“I wanted to be a good mother, Andy. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Anne’s words came through gasps of pain as the fire scorched her flesh. “I needed you. Don’t you remember? Even though you came last, you were the missing piece of my puzzle. You know how badly I’ve always wanted to be a mother. You know how much it meant to me to have you by my side, to help me. You were everything in me that wanted to care for those children. My children.”

Anne let out one more scream, and Patton heard her struggle as the flames engulfed her body. She fell to the floor, muttering quietly.

“No, my love. They were my children. You didn’t deserve to be their mother.”

Patton had seen enough.

He quit channeling his focus into the Arcane Eye and in a second he had returned to the living room with his students. The eye shrunk once more into nothing as he turned to look at his students.

“So, class. Do you see what I have been telling you?”

The class nodded, their eyes wide, sweat lining their brows.

“Do not, and I repeat, do not ever flirt with duplication spells. Of any stripe. There is a reason those spells are forbidden. I’m sure you’ve seen why.”

The girl in the back, who had been furiously scrawling on her notepad as the vision of the Arcane Eye was projected into her mind raised her hand.

“Yes?” Patton pointed at her.

“Sir, we didn’t see where the duplicate went. Don’t you think we should be worried about that?”

Patton let out a hearty chuckle and held his big belly before stepping through the crowd to face the girl.

“I would worry if there were no hunters. But luckily for you and all of us, the hunters of our clan are out searching for him as we speak. That offers us this freedom, you know. If you study and train diligently, you will be counted among their stripe soon too, and offer another class of foolhardy youth an opportunity to serve something bigger than yourselves.”

Patton smiled at the girl and turned, crushing Anne Marie’s open locket under his bootheel has he stepped away.

“Come, class. I will escort you home. I expect to see you early tomorrow morning for training. We will be teaching you the practice of turning lead into gold.”

“Is that true? Can we really do that?”

The thin boy with the gaunt flesh was holding his hand up, staring blankly towards Patton waiting for a response.

He laughed.

“Perhaps. If your life depended on it.”

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