This episode is number 28 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.
It was the night of the dark moon, and since Botchett had “fixed” the flickering streetlamp in the back lane, its intermittent orange glow no longer a distraction, there was little to disturb Aveena as she sat cross-legged in the back yard of Goddess Rising, only the faint traffic noise from the ring-road and infrequent bursts of merriment from revellers at the pub on the corner.
The basement residents were under strict instruction to remain inside and to keep away from the small, barred window that provided the only natural light into the cellar. Only Swazzle remained, hovering outside on the back step after helping Aveena with her preparations. Hopping from one foot to the other, not sure whether it was fear or excitement he felt at the coming ritual, he was sure of his embarrassment at seeing Aveena naked. He had never seen one of the Big Folk without their clothes before, male or female.
Aveena sat in the centre of the circle she had constructed, her back to Swazzle, illuminated only by the flickering glow of the small fire she had built in front of her, onto which she carefully placed a small iron cauldron. To the left of the fire lay a wickedly-sharp looking knife, the firelight reflecting writhing serpents in its blade. Next to that, three small crystal phials. These Swazzle recognised. One held Pogmorton's blood, gathered at the time of his death, another held Twinkle's blood, taken at the same time. A third was filled with Rushalka's tears, Swazzle still had a knot in his stomach at the way he had followed Aveena's instructions at Rushalka's hospital bedside, provoking her sobs with the blunt news of her brother's death. A little way off nestled the final item, a dull green stone the colour of phlegm and about the size of a hen's egg.
This was Lady Mandrake's amulet, a simmering malevolence seeping from it to the point that Aveena had placed it within its own circle. A circle within a circle. Swazzle was secretly relieved he had not had to have anything to do with the amulet. He had seen the effect obtaining it had had on Aveena's relationship with Botchett.
As the witching hour approached and the liquid in the cauldron gently warmed, wisps of steam beginning to curl into the chilly night air, Aveena began to rock gently backwards and forwards. Dead on the stroke of midnight, how did she know, Swazzle wondered, Aveena rose and began to whisper, the chant rising to a gentle murmur as she turned to her left and moved slowly round the circle.
Swazzle blushed and tried to avert his eyes as Aveena came around the circle towards him but found he could not, his gaze drawn to the Pogmorton tattoo on her thigh. He could have sworn it looked different about the eyes, clearer, glittering. Must be the firelight, Swazzle thought as Aveena turned her back on him, continuing her circular journey.
As the ritual progressed over the next half hour, Swazzle's rising unease made him wish he had not asked to be present. A ghostly mist swirled around the circle, drawn from the earth as Aveena passed, curling and eddying in the wake of her passage, forming a sharp edge where it met the circle's edge. Within the mist spectral shapes started to appear, among which Swazzle could make out a fox, a raven and several other, more worryingly humanoid outlines.
The chant continued, clouds rolling in slowly to blot out the stars. A sudden rumble of thunder made Swazzle jump. He released a breath he had not been aware of holding. Aveena's voice rose slowly, always remaining slightly louder than the thunder that rumbled closer with each booming peal. The shadows, seemingly energised by the approaching storm, capered at the circle's edge, growling and snapping at eachother while Aveena continued moving, oblivious, concentrating her energies on maintaining the chant unbroken.
Every third time she passed her starting point, Aveena bent without breaking step and cast one of the phials into the cauldron, which hissed like an angry cat on receipt of each morsel. Once all the phials had been fed to the cauldron, and the surface of the liquid took on an oily sheen, Aveena stopped dead, her back towards Swazzle. She knelt, cradling the amulet in her hands before spitting on it and tossing it into the cauldron. The instant the liquid closed over the amulet a silent shockwave blasted out from the cauldron, blowing away the mist surrounding the circle, scattering the creatures.
Aveena picked up the knife, thunder crashing overhead as she held it up to the storm. An instant before she began the downstroke, Swazzle had a sudden premonition of what was coming and clamped his eyes tight shut. As a result he did not witness Aveena plunge the tip of the knife into her thigh, nor did he watch as she drew the blade carefully around Pogmorton's outline. By the time he dared to peep through laced fingers, Aveena was holding something childlike and bloody above her head while blood pooled under her leg in the firelight.
The chant reached a crescendo with a sudden shout in a language Swazzle did not comprehend, and Aveena cast the body into the cauldron. Seconds later a single bolt of lightning arced through the night sky into the cauldron. For a split second Aveena's circle was alive with tendrils of silver light, which slithered and danced over its surface, giving it the appearance of a huge, domed spiderweb. Then it was gone, the night an inky black once again, only the odour of ozone on the breeze and spots dancing before Swazzle's eyes witness to the lightning's presence.
Aveena collapsed backwards, her outstretched hand falling dangerously close to the circle's edge. Swazzle stuffed his knuckles into his mouth as a Pixie-sized hand, still wreathed in the cauldron's slimy ichor, grasped the cauldron's edge one finger at a time.
This week also marks the release of the eleventh episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 11 over at Angie Capozello's blog Techtiggers' Soapbox. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.