The wind was behind me, thankfully, but I still had to renew my warming charms several times as I left Vancouver behind and flew over the dark forest of the crumpled foothills. The clouds were getting thicker; sometimes I could only catch glimpses of waving treetops below. I kept correcting my course as the Point Me got stronger; after several hours the 20 degrees of play had narrowed to a beeline course. I was getting close.
I dipped towards the tops of the trees. She was quite near now, but ahead I could see that my cover was ending; the trees abruptly stopped on the sharp edge of a clearcut. I didn't want to chance being noticed despite my disillusionment, and I certainly didn't want to blunder across any wards or alerts before I knew what I was walking into, so I landed at the edge of the trees and began to pick my way up the hillside.
It was hard going. The clearcut wasn't new; the raw ends of the stumps were a weathered gray, and tough-leaved salal and mahonia and bright fireweed had begun to spring up. It must have been cut about three years ago from the size of the shrubs. The ground was littered with a chaotic mess of bleached snapped branches and rejected logs. The land fell away in deep furrows between the stumps. In the swath of destruction, there were a few living trees standing alone, mysteriously spared. They were naked and windswept, most of their branches gone. What kept those few alive in the midst of all the death? I felt a sort of kinship with their stripped-down forms. I used one three-quarters up the hill as my landmark and climbed.
Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon a narrow deer track leading mostly up and began to follow it. I could see now the far edge of the cut at the crown of the hill, a dark halo of trees barred by the lines of the light trunks. There was a tall pile of discarded fallen trunks and branches at their foot. The Point Me focused on it. I knew that this was my destination. I somehow knew that there was no one to see me here.
When I scrambled over the edge of the barrier, I found myself on a relatively flat and clear piece of ground just before the shelter of the trees. It must have been cleared with magic from the center out, each stick and trunk for a fifteen meter radius had been swept forcefully into the pile that formed the wall of the clearing. I couldn't detect any wards or alerts. At the lower end, furthest from the trees, was disturbed ground, lumpy and uneven. At the upper end was Jody.
She was lying on her back with her head near the trees. Her eyes bulged and her tongue was pushed up just behind her bared teeth. There was a dark line pressed into her neck just below her chin, and the skin had broken in a few places. The tips of her fingers were bloody. No doubt she had struggled as they were garroting her. It was a fairly effective way to kill a witch; no verbalized spells, and the hands would be too busy to try to cast.
Her jeans by her right knee were discolored. I took a branch from the pile, wedged it below her hip and levered her up. The back of her knee was discolored with blood and there was a short horizontal cut. Stabbed from behind to bring her down, then quickly slipping the garrote around – it would have been quite simple. Simple enough that they hadn't bothered to use their special knife, whatever it was. I used my wand to turn out her pockets. Nothing.
I clambered to the top of the pile and sat on a log. The clearcut left me with an open vista to the west. Rumpled hills stretched away, their dark cloaks of forest occasionally broken by other cuts. The low clouds decapitated the tallest hills to the northwest just above the snowline. I looked down at Jody. Her clothes weren't very wet and she still had her eyes. She had probably only been dead since last night. She was fresh. I had her name. I still needed to talk to her; I could still make her talk.
I jumped back down into the clearing. Jody stared peacefully up at the clouds as I began to prepare the ground. I cut a wide circle into the ground around me. Thankfully I had my salt with me; you never know when you might have to build a ward, and this would need to be a strong one. I poured salt into my cut circle, and then made another circle inside it and filled it with salt as well. Preparing the symbols between the two circles took up more than an hour and the light was fading as I finished. The Dee-Kelley method was really intended for two casters, but theoretically it was perfectly possible for one to manage, and I didn't have a choice.
I said the words and cast and called her name at the end of it.
It is one of the oldest unaltered spells, and probably the clearest example of Frazier's second principle; all energy must have a source. Immediately after the words left me the color and light flattened. It began just outside the outer ring and ebbed away from me. My vision was collapsing into grainy dull shades when I looked outside. In comparison the unremarkable ground within the circles seemed to be a riot of color and detail. I could feel the cold weight of the spell just outside the circle. I had done it with two, but somehow it was more than twice as heavy now without Lucius standing next to me. The weight of it forced me to my knees. The sound of wind and moving branches had been pulled away and all I could hear was my own breath, my own heart, and my knees shifting on the earth.
What little light there was left was gathering densely above her chest in a vertical line. The connection wasn't good. I closed my eyes against the sickening wavering light for a moment and called her name again. I could feel the spell strengthen. I opened my eyes.
She was standing above me just outside the outer circle, absolutely still, fishwhite and gray and solid as a stump. I had pinned the snapshot of her between two of my symbols between the circles. I knew that it was strengthening the spell, but now I wished I couldn't catch a glimpse of the bright color of her face in front of that clay-like thing. I wanted to be quick.
"Jody Garner." I said her name a third time.
"Yes." Her voice was as dead as she was.
"Who killed you?"
"Grithix… and Trollusk too."
"He wasn't there, I don't know if he knew."
"Why did they kill you?"
"They thought I helped an elf escape." I clenched my fists. Idiot
The spell was eating away at the outer circle; I could see the grains of salt diminishing rapidly. The spell was getting heavier, too. I needed to get to the point.
"Where do they have the elves now?"
"They took us to a building… an abandoned school in a town called Kastner."
"Are there wards on it?"
"How are they keyed?"
"To our blood."
"Have the wards been keyed to you?"
"Yes." That was a relief; I could use my potion to get in.
"How many goblins are working with you and Lee?"
"Three. There are others they sell with."
"Were there two more?"
"Two helped them build, but I think they were killed and sold."
"Are there any other humans working with you?"
"What is the knife they are using?" She was silent for a moment.
"Lee said the name means 'clean cutting.'"
"Is it goblin-made?"
"I think so."
"Did they make the tunnel?"
"They make… tunnels." I didn't think that was the right question, but I was out of time. My heart was pounding. I felt cold and short of breath, and the outer circle was almost gone.
"I dismiss you, Jody Garner, go." I barely got the words out. The spell released with a snap as light, sound and color came back into place. I could see Jody's body lying undisturbed as before. I lay down myself, I was shaking hard and I couldn't seem to catch my breath. I held that spell too long. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again it was almost full dark; the pale trunks and stumps and Jody's white face were just blotches in the dim light. Had I fallen asleep or fainted? I staggered to my feet groggily, cold all the way through.
I cast warming charms on myself first, cast a lumos
, then worked on obliterating my circles and symbols. I picked up the photo again. The paper was yellow and brittle now, especially around the edges, and the image had faded to nothing more than a ghost of a smile. I put it away carefully. At last I was satisfied that I had left no traces.
I climbed to the top of the log pile and unshrunk my broom. I wasn't up for a long apparition just now. Despite the warming charms a deep cold lingered and I felt weak.
I flew low, just splitting the difference between the clouds and the waving treetops. I would need to find someplace to warm up soon. It took me about an hour to find a place to stop. A small cluster of lights threw up an orange glow against the clouds. I flew straight for it and landed in cover, my arms shaking as I dismounted. I leaned against a trunk in the darkness and stared across at the small group of buildings set on the edge of the road. The lit one was a bar called Busch's Mill.
Probably it would have food. I hoped it would have food, I was almost desperate for that, but that old feeling had come rushing back, keeping me on the other side of the road in the shadows. If I went in there, everyone would see it at once, how wrong I was, a twisted, crooked thing, a walking dead man among the living. I would have to put on a face and pretend to belong, like I always did, and they would put on their faces and pretend they couldn't see anything wrong with me… I shook myself free from the inertia that seized me. Waiting wouldn't make it easier, and I had to have food.
I cleaned the streaks of dirt off my knees and coat then crossed the road. There was still the wrong money in my pocket, damn it, but there hadn't been any time to change it. They could refuse to serve me, but they couldn't get the food back once I had eaten it. I determined to say nothing until the bill came.
I got a table by myself away from the bar. I thought I would be grateful for the light and warmth, but somehow it made me feel even more set apart and awkward. I had to force myself to look the waitress in the eye as she called me 'Hon' and gave me the menu. I ordered coffee and the largest thing I could find listed, a steak and baked potato. I could hardly focus enough to choose a salad dressing. Her second time through reciting the meaningless names I stopped her at random: "that one."
Finally she bustled away. Thankfully the coffee came almost instantly. I dosed it with as much cream and sugar as the cup would hold. When I was done the saucer was stacked high with a pile of paper and plastic packets. When I lifted the cup they were left in a high ring around it like the ring of logs. I downed the sickly sweet stuff in a couple of gulps.
It helped a bit. The food helped more. I didn't taste it much, but by the end I was almost ready to rejoin the living. I still didn't feel enough part of the living to argue, negotiate or wheedle over the wrong bills I carried. When she left the bill I placed a pile of money, enough to cover it and more for my wrongness. I left, back out into the cold night. It was time to go.
A/N: More fun with dark magic! John Dee and Edward Kelley were astrologers, alchemists and advisers to Queen Elizabeth and several rulers in central Europe in the mid-late 1500s. They were known for speaking to spirits.
Thank you all for reading! Let me know what you think!