Jude and Shoim track down the bad magic they sensed as the coven worked.
Jude reached in, then out, seeking for the “scent” of wrongness. He noted the well-known blotch of the Beck Farm, and the fainter rot at the Graff place. Closer to town he sensed two problem places, one stronger than the other. “I like this not,” he murmured to Pasaru as they made their way toward the closer one. Both spots remained still, at least to his magical senses.
“No.” The harrier shifted a little. “I want to fly.”
Jude extended his arm. Pasaru began to flap, and Jude tossed him into the autumn night. The harrier climbed into the darkness, disappearing. Now free to move, Jude sped his steps, shifting to a Hunter’s lope. Ordinary farm and field fences no longer posed a problem. He skirted two farm yards, and edged around a freshly-harvested wheat field, lest his prints in the dust warn his prey. The sense of wrong remained steady as he drew closer, not growing in intensity. The magical “scent” faded with time as a true scent might. Whatever made it had departed, or been sent back to its plane of origin. The night no longer felt soiled.
Pasaru dove down beside him, leading him along an old, half-forgotten road between the trees to a pasture. Jude slowed, calming his heart and quieting his breath. Pasaru hovered over one corner, by a dilapidated bit of wooden-rail fence. His mage started along the outside of the sagging wood, then changed his mind. Poison ivy and nettles lurked ahead. He jumped the fence with ease and extended his hand, a tiny puff of shadow in the palm. Pasaru swept toward him, hovered for a heartbeat, backwinged, and landed. Jude gave him the magic and began circling the abyssal trace. “A summoning,” Pasaru breathed.
Bits of the summoning circle and pattern remained. The sorcerer had used a ring of mushrooms as his base, and traces of chalk gave a few of the mushrooms crimson caps. The magic worker had trampled the grass inside the “fairy ring” flat, then used more chalk on the pattern. Chalk and something else, something Jude recognized all too well. Please, Lady of Night, please may it just be animal blood. He circled the ring, then lowered his shield the tiniest bit, reading the land. “The summoning failed.” The abyssal presence had stayed only long enough to stain the ground. “Or it worked, but could not hold what it summoned here, on this plane?” The books he had read did not describe how that might come to be.
Pasaru bobbed. “Yes.” He spoke slowly. “The summoner was not strong enough to hold the call, or realized that he had the wrong plane and released the entity before it could fully cross.”
“Let us pray for the first to be the true cause.” Because if the sorcerer desired to call something from an infernal plane, he and Pasaru would have to plead for aid, lots of it, should the call succeed.
Jude drew power through his Familiar and sent the magic down into the earth, lifting and cleansing the last trace of the abyssal taint. When he finished, he sought the second abyssal spot. He could no longer sense it. “The second place is gone.”
“Faded away. Was weaker. We need to recharge, Tenebriu.” The Familiar’s voice sounded strained. Jude found a low place in the fence away from the poisonous plants and retreated into a woodlot. There he found a branch for Shoim, and got the harrier’s meat out of his bag. As Shoim gulped his meal, Jude sipped some water and had some of the nuts and fruit that he carried. He could not risk losing himself in memories again as he ate, not until he was safely concealed. They needed to Hunt, if the opportunity arose and if their prey were not more than they could deal with. No, Jude scolded himself. He wanted to Hunt, wanted the Fruits of the Hunt. That was quite different from truly needing the Fruits. He drank more water and considered where to go next.
A yawn answered the question. He needed rest and food, in that order. Jude checked his mental map and nodded. It would be an easy walk to his preferred resting place, assuming that no one had found it, that no one had broken into the old stone building, that . . . He set the worries aside. The Great God and St. Michael had watched over him and Shoim thus far, and the Most High always provided.
Once Shoim finished eating, Jude packed his meat box away and set off. Again, the harrier dozed on his mage’s fist. Jude envied the bird. Soon enough will you sleep, sleep forever, he reminded himself. A tractor and empty grain-wagon rattled and roared past on the gravel road ahead of them. Jude waited for the dust to settle, then hurried across. Soon they crossed the corner of one of the nature preserves that dotted the less-desirable or abandoned bits of Devon and River Counties. Jude stopped at the spring. Shoim stepped from glove to ground and stretched. Jude filled his water bottles, then rinsed the empty meat container in the downstream trickle away from the spring. This spring he could trust to be safe to drink. He’d tested it several times to be sure. Four others and a public well served for washing, but the water passed under too many cow yards and septic systems for him to feel comfortable drinking. The usual tracks around the far end of the spring’s pool reassured him. Raccoons, deer, skunk, coyote, small rodents, and night birds had left their traces since the last rain.
“Branch, please,” Shoim requested, once they reached the property with the stone house. Jude found one and set a little bit of magic on the limb. Shoim launched, then landed up, out of danger’s way. He refused to sleep under a roof unless the weather threatened life and limb. “Night.”
“Defender be with you.” Jude continued to the small clearing, now less of a clearing than before, around the small, stout building. He circled with care, looking for trail cameras and sniffing for the scent of other people. Surely someone else knew about the stone house. Surely. But no one had ever visited, or if they had they had not tried the lock or the newer, stronger plywood he had placed inside the window-openings. Once sure he would be unobserved, he made his way to the door. He unlocked it and eased in, locking it once more.
He made his way to the small back room, the one with the false seal over the window, wood he could remove from inside should he have to flee. Jude unrolled the sleeping pad and bag. He sat, rinsed his hands, and opened the bag of kompoti Lucy had made. “Great God, thank You for sustenance. Lady of Night, thank You for hospitality to the stranger. Son of God, thank You for the bounty.”
He pulled a plum-filled, spiced dumpling out of the bag and ate slowly. Memories flowed with the flavors and he let them wash him back in time. If his face felt damp, he could blame the dust in the old house.
(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.