Tuesday Tidbit: The Hunt

Arthur and Lelia go Hunting.

The peeping frogs sang as he got out of the car. He had parked on a long-neglected county road. The property owners lived in a different state, and the county never quite found time or resources to maintain the road more than once every few years. The pond near the road brimmed full. The owners of the cemetery had visited earlier that evening, before dark, and had checked the trail cameras. He had brought what he needed to blind the cameras without obviously doing so. As soon as the shadows grew long enough, he added the image loops to the cameras, except for the one on the gate. It had failed, completely, and hung forlornly from the sagging metal gate. A weather change thundered to the west, forecast to arrive after one AM. He waved away a mosquito and listened.

“You too? That makes both of us,” the child said. Tay murmured an answer as they appeared in the deep twilight. “I can see why the guys guard that spell so closely.”

“If we need it, we need it. If not, we leave it alone,” the Familiar replied. “Company,” he murmured.

The child stopped and inclined toward Arthur slightly. She carried the bag that held supplies for her Familiar, and wore a practical split skirt and sturdy boots in her customary black. Arthur removed his own bag from the car through the open window. “Take this, be ready.” He handed her a silver-bladed hunting knife.

She hefted it and nodded once, expression cold and hard. He gestured with his head toward the field with the older graves. She nodded again and followed him, staying in his footsteps as they crossed the open ground.

“Ah.”

He glanced back at her. Shadow magic moved and a shield formed around them. Something else also shifted, racing along the fence line. “As illusion to hide us, sir.” He turned his attention back to the barren area ahead of them. The sense of wrongness grew stronger. He stopped well clear of the patch and set his bag down. Silver crouched and did the same, allowing Rings to descend to the ground.

“Ugh,” the lemur said. “It’s old and mean.”

“Yes. It feels like what Naphtha and Blossom described with the hungry ghost.”

Arthur turned so he could see both Silver and the unhallowed place. “What mean you?”

“Anger, age, a desire for revenge, but also something more, sir.” She drew magic and held out her right hand, palm up, eyes narrowed. “Terra voco.”

The ground shifted as he watched. He reached into the bag and removed a wooden stake. A dark form—another Hunter—eased out of the night toward them, then stopped well clear of the troubled place. The lone Hunter watched but did not speak. The child frowned and murmured once more. “The presence remains in the ground, sir, but . . . It is aware and awaits full dark.”

He had feared that, but better to move now than wait for the nosferitau to emerge fully. “Follow and be ready to use the blade I gave you.”

“Sir.”

He removed the folding shovel from the bag and set to work. The lone Hunter slipped closer and gestured, asking for the shovel. Arthur gave it to him and prepared for trouble. The younger Hunter worked quickly but with great care, not throwing dirt. He had only cleared perhaps a foot of earth when the gleam of white cloth and a hand appeared out of the dirt. The scent of bad death filled the summer night, the stench of mortal sin freely chosen. Silver gagged, then swallowed hard as the Hunters cleared more dirt. A man, his body far too well preserved, appeared in the dark, rich soil. He wore a white shirt, black pants, and had fair skin. Lips too full and red, nails grown into claws confirmed the Hunters’ fears. The lone Hunter moved clear, shovel ready to use as a weapon.

Arthur breathed a prayer and rammed the stake into the creature’s ribs. “Aaaarrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiigh!” The shriek pierced the night, near deafening him. He pulled one of the small bottles of night-rich water from the sacred spring and splashed the creature’s face and staring, open eyes. Both Hunters jumped clear as silver white flame engulfed the creature, then dissipated. Only ash remained, and that sank into the ground.

Silver stepped closer, eyes still half-closed. She extended her left hand once more. “Nothing remains here, but the land will not soon recover. A few seasons will be needed to fully heal the soil from the evil.” She backed away.

“The second presence,” Rings warned. He pointed with his silver-white tail. “There.”

The lone Hunter nodded and turned, starting to move toward the cemetery. Arthur hesitated. Something . . . A sticky sweet taste, like a honeysuckle bower in the heat of the day, filled his mouth and nose. Not decay, but a scent that ought not be here. He inhaled to call to the others.

“No you don’t!” He spun in time to see Silver closing with a lithe, shimmering form. The other woman wore a close fitted gown, pale, that emphasized her feminine attributes. She moved with seductive ease, her eyes and smile trying to draw him in. The stranger beckoned with a graceful gesture that promised much. Arthur glanced to the younger Hunter. The man stood still, entranced but not moving toward the second evil creature. Silver hissed, “Both these gents are mine. Find your own date.”

The pale woman shook her head, allowing waist-length, shadowy hair to flow free. Everything a man desired of carnal pleasure could be found in her eyes and smile. Arthur shook his head. What she offered no longer tempted him. The younger Hunter took a step toward the woman, then another. Arthur called, “Silver.”

She extended her left hand toward him, magic flowing from the night through her to him. He caught it, pushed it through his signet and raised the shield spell held there. He took a step back, and another, moving between the other Hunter and the moroiae. The shield could not break her calling, but would weaken it. He needed to get the stake and get to the grave, end this.

The fell spirit glided toward him. “Leave him, them,” Silver commanded.

The spirit turned and opened her mouth, fingers extending into claws, and flowed toward Silver.

Silver bared her teeth and crouched. The moroiae came closer, jaw unhinging! Silver ducked and lunged. Starlight glinted on the silver blade as she rammed the knife up, into the ribcage. “Crap! Lux Arumque.” Light and gold, shadow magic poured into the silver blade. The seduction call failed. Arthur released the shield and raced toward the fight, the younger Hunter just behind him. The female spirit arched her back, mouth open, blackness pouring out. That should not happen! “Nox arcana, nox benedicta,” Silver chanted, forcing more magic into the creature.

“Arrrrreeeeeee!”

“Look away!” Rings called. Arthur ducked, covering his eyes as a silent explosion shook the night. Birds launched into the darkness, and the scent of brimstone and corruption filled the air. Warm wind flowed back in, washing the night with life and goodness. Nighthawks circled, and an enormous owl passed between Hunters and mage, then departed. “Late to the party,” Rings grumbled.

Silver took a long breath, then another. “That wasn’t Wings, that was—” She sat in the clover, then sagged onto her side.

Rings flopped against her, panting. “Bag. Sugar,” he said. “Still holding illusion.”

Arthur found the recharge bag and tossed the little sack of soft candy to the other Hunter. “Give to the Familiar,” he commanded. He pulled the can of sugar cola out of the bag and knelt beside Silver. He eased one arm under her shoulders and lifted her. Too light, she had no flesh or fat on her bones. He held her up and handed her the can. She leaned against him, opened the can, and drank. Her head sank to her breast once more. “What need you?” he demanded.

“Rings. Water, nuts, fruit, sir.”

“No, you.”

She sagged again. “Pisicagheara?” the lone Hunter asked. A bag with chocolate and nuts appeared. “The Familiar recovers.”

“Good.” Arthur gave her the chocolate, then water. After half the chocolate, she rallied and sat on her own. “Remains anything?”

She nodded. “Another cursed presence, as yet not fully ripe, in the cemetery. The new grave. Hurry, please, something’s trying to feed from them and I don’t know when it will come.”

Rings leaned against his mage. Arthur got to his feet and pulled a second stake from the Hunting bag. The younger Hunter nodded and led the way to the cemetery. They moved quickly over the short clover, releasing a sweet, natural scent into the soft air. They jumped the low fence, not bothering with the locked gate. This time, Arthur dug and the other Hunter watched, alert, mouth part open to taste the night better. The soft dirt moved easily, too easily, and Arthur found the lid of the casket only two feet below the ground. “It seeks to walk,” the lone Hunter breathed.

“Yes. I open, you strike.” He used the shovel to pry the lid up. He needn’t have worried. It jerked open as if of its own accord and he leaped back. The younger hunter struck, driving the stake into the heart of a young man too thin and worn for his years. The body sighed and sagged. No blood emerged. Arthur opened a pouch of basil. “Great God, Lady of Night, grant his soul rest.” He tossed the basil onto the body. Green and blue licked the corpse, then faded. No trace of the dried blessed herb remained, and only the proper scent of a body recently dead reached Arthur’s nose. He closed the lid and re-buried the coffin. As he did, a faint trembling passed under his boots. He and the other Hunter moved clear. The earth sagged, and the coffin took its proper depth once more. Dirt flowed into the grave without their aid, and the Hunters knelt, then rose and departed as they had come.

The child remained in the clover meadow. “No. There was something else in there, besides what Pisicagheara described,” she said to Tay.

“Whatever it was, I don’t think you should remove that knife,” he said, sniffing toward the pale, crumpled shape from beside his mage. “She’s really dead now, but that other thing left a bathtub ring.”

A loud sigh. “Did you have to remind me?” She turned to the Hunters and bowed, then stepped clear. “The body is empty, but traces of a second spirit remain. Or not spirit, perhaps, sirs, I do not know.”

Arthur considered the form. “Link to me, of your grace,” he asked, taking the beads from his pocket. She drew her own chaplet from hiding and laced it over her fingers, head bowed. Shadow magic and clan magic flowed together. With his free hand he removed a second bottle of water from his belt pouch and undid the cap. “Lady of Night who blesses the stars, St. Michael, Defender of the Lady, be with this one, of your grace. Great God who knows no evil, be with this one, of Your mercy.” He splashed water over the woman three times. The form shivered, lost its shape, and dissolved into white smoke. Nothing remained save the knife, now twisted, half-melted.

“Amen, Selah, so mote it be,” the lone Hunter said. “Lady of Night, thank You. Holy God who dwells in all that is good, thank You.”

“Amen,” the child and her Familiar replied. She turned to the younger Hunter.

He rose to his feet and approached her. She smiled and extended her right hand. The lone Hunter bowed, took her hand and brushed it with his lips, then released it and straightened. He turned to Arthur. “Sir. I go.”

Arthur nodded, and the other man disappeared into the darkness. The child undid the illusion hiding the field, then busied herself with collecting wrappers, bottles and can, and packing them back into the bag. Arthur drew the touchstone on its chain from the pocket of his waistcoat and let the blue and brown stone hang from his fingers. It showed no evil—nothing remained on the silver. The child fluffed the clover, then helped Tay onto her shoulder. Arthur got his own bag and placed the knife in it for the time being, after hiding the touchstone once more. He offered the child his arm. She took it, and they walked with slow steps to their cars.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

8 thoughts on “Tuesday Tidbit: The Hunt

  1. Very nice. Good structure and reason for all three magical encounters, with a mother’s instinct to protect her relatives. That’s a tremendous amount of power, to mangle a silver knife in that fashion. Hmm … from Arthur’s view, it gets obvious that Leila is still not caring for herself the way he wishes her to. I’d imagine some quiet words or a couple of large, extra meals and a pointed look, when things go back to their personal version of normal.

  2. Excellent!!! Lelia is pushing too hard. At some point she IS going to collapse at exactly the wrong time, unless Arthur et al force her to get her act together and eat… grumble…

    • That’ll be awkward. Arthur spanking her for being a froward child and not eating, with her husband’s and Familiar’s consent, and all dreading the thunderbolt response …

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