Note: I had a long talk with a wiccan friend of mine over e-mail a few months ago, and the second half of this part is in direct result of that. However, I cannot vouch that I remember *anything* with complete accuracy. Please don't be offended, or worse, decide to switch religions due to what I have written.
It took almost three hours to get our entire motley crew back to Ben's house. The police insisted on doing a complete inventory on everything we had either in the car or on our person, and told me that if I didn't cooperate they would impound my car and press charges.
At this point I was beginning to wish that I had left Jess behind and had taken Mike with us instead. Another witch in our circle, Mike is an easy guy to get along with, and did I mention that he's a criminal attorney? Mike can be useful to have around, but he's like my TV Guide. Whenever I need him, he's nowhere to be found.
My poor little Neon reeked of the embalming fluid that the rat eyes had been floating in, so Connie and I had to roll the windows completely down and open the sunroof. It made me glad that Jess was riding in Ben's car, because there is only so much complaining I can take before I start getting violent.
Ben's house was a comfortable three-bedroom affair, clean and nicely decorated, but with just enough battered pieces of furniture to make it feel lived in. I've never liked houses that look as though a camera crew is going to be dropping by at any moment. Connie's house looked like a shrine to Martha Stewart for three years, but fortunately the arrival of her son put an end to that. Once children enter the scene, you can kiss your stainless couch goodbye.
Ben - in a stunning display of chivalry - had apparently been planning on sleeping on the fold-out couch during our stay, but I quickly nixed that idea. It was a sweet gesture, but I didn't want to put the man out of his room. It was quickly decided that Connie and I would sleep in the guestroom while Jess braved the couch.
After dinner, the three of us trooped upstairs to the one room that all of us had been avoiding. For a long moment, we stood in the hallway outside of my cousin's room, none of us quite willing to open the door. It wasn't just nerves, either. Without even going in, I knew that some pretty powerful magics had been conjured in there. It was making the back of my neck prickle, and I wasn't even all that sensitive.
Finally opening the door, I walked into the room, with both Jess and Connie close on my heels. Once inside, I nearly fell over.
It certainly wasn't the decor. At a quick glance, my cousin seemed to be almost a stereotypical 18-year-old girl. Her fondness for the Backstreet Boys found an outlet in the multiple posters on her walls, along with many other posters of handsome movie stars. Her desk was littered equally with make-up and school books. Clothing was carelessly strewn over almost every surface, and several ragged dolls found perches on top of piles of college brochures.
It was a closer glance, though, that revealed things even more frightening than her autographed picture of Leonardo DeCaprio. Nestled between garish concert posters were charts of constellations and the local plantlife, with handwritten notes on the margins of various applications to wicca. Many of the books scattered around were on the subject of the Craft, and even though candles were very popular to have, it was obvious that she was using hers a great deal. Many ceremonies call for candles, and a lot of witches even use them as a focusing for basic exercises or just relaxation. A box half-shoved under her bed revealed her personal arsenal of supplies - chalk, feathers, herbs, and the like - and the air seemed to tremble with magic.
After about half an hour, Connie spoke up. "Val," she said, her brown eyes worried, "she shouldn't have this much power. A lot of the spells that she was casting are beyond witches who have been practicing the Craft for more years than she's been alive. Even if she started right after the last time you saw her, she *still* wouldn't be able to work half of these."
"If she had a coven," Jess tossed in, "they might've been able to contribute enough raw power to pull off a few of them." Jess was practically scowling. A graduate student with a flair for conundrums, she just couldn't figure this one out. We all knew that the coven was a pretty unlikely possibility.
"To get that much power she'd have to be working with at least 10 members, all of pretty high natural ability." I said, "This is a small town, and from the looks of it, pretty white-bread. I really don't think that there would be so many serious practitioners. Especially ones who would be willing to expend so much power on spells like these."
Amy had been kind enough to mark the spells that she had been able to pull off. Petty spells, mostly, but requiring either extreme power or finesse. Manipulation of other people, manipulation of basic elements, a few love spells, and animal transformation.
When most people think of magic, they think of 'The Craft' crossed with the Wicked Witch of the West. Neither is a good representation. The former is a silly movie, and the latter is a woman in dire need of a makeover. Even a quick glance at some Wiccan literature will quickly inform someone just how wrong either of those notions are.
I'm not the Wicked Witch, nor do I use love spells to lure men into my bed (personally I've found liquor to be far more useful in that area). I don't go around casting random spells to make my boss' pants fall down during his big meetings, and I don't prance around in flowing dresses and embrace trees. I usually wear jeans, and there aren't many trees to embrace in the trauma ward of a hospital.
It's tempting, of course, to cast small spells on people who annoy me, or on guys who I would love to go out with. But a good deterrent is the Threefold Law. Everything you do shall be visited upon you times three.
Which is why Amy's choice of spells was so troubling. Manipulation of people is a very gray area, and one many of us try to avoid. The spells of elemental manipulation that Amy was choosing were ones that were relatively simple, but required an enormous amount of power. Elemental manipulation is better approached with a softer touch, because basically the God and Goddess don't really appreciate powers being thrown around haphazardly. Pissing those two off was not a very good idea. Love spells were just a bad idea to start out with. I had never yet seen one that turned out well, even when cast by very experienced witches.
What I had seen had raised a lot of new questions, but it had also answered a few of my old ones. For one thing, I knew without a doubt that Amy had not left by her own choice. Some of the items left behind were imperative to use in a wiccan ceremony, tied very personally to the caster. They could be remade, but only after a great deal of time and energy. Too much trouble when the objects were readily available. Also, Amy's day calendar showed quite a few plans for the days after her disappearance. If she had been planning to leave, she wouldn't have bothered to write down the reminders.
While Connie and I trudged off to bed, Jess decided to stay up a while longer to look through Amy's books. My little cousin had been fond of jotting notes down in the margins, and Jess planned to find out as much as she could about just what Amy had been meddling with.
I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. I would've put it off just as stress, but both Connie and I woke up several times from dreams that we couldn't remember.
As a result of my restless night, I was in a gloriously cranky mood the next morning. Jess and Connie were no better, and I couldn't really blame Ben when he made a quick retreat to work, leaving me a spare housekey.
The moment he was out the door, all of us had one of those moments of silent understanding and everyone went back to bed. Two hours later, we were far more prepared to face the day.
While stirring her coffee, Jess filled us in on what she had learned from Amy's books.
"From what I can gather, Amy worships Hecate. She is a member of a coven of three, with another girl and a guy named Michael. They're using mostly Hermeticism ceremonies, but I still can't figure out where they're getting the power, since from what she is saying none of them have been practicing for more than a year. And one more really freaky thing is that she actually sites a few instances where she called on the Goddess directly for power, and got it."
Jess managed to time all of that for moments that either Connie or I were trying to swallow. I nearly choked on my muffin and Connie completely spit out her coffee twice. Denmark was getting smellier and smellier.
Amy's choice of Hecate as a Goddess figure was a disturbing one. Wiccans who worship a god or goddess by a particular name are not necessarily worshipping the same person that you might have read about when going to school. They worship an embodiment of the major aspects of that god or goddess, and label it with a name to make things easier. Saying that I follow 'Diana' is easier than saying 'the chick who is the moon and is the wind in the trees and is the howl of the hunting wolves ect ect'. Hecate, though, is the Witch Queen. Magic from her is quicker, easier, and also a bit darker. Hecate isn't as concerned about how magic is applied. The Threefold Law still applies, though, which can be a definite problem when the time comes to pay for your actions.
The number of people in Amy's coven was also interesting. Three, seven, and nine are powerful numbers. For some older magics, coincidentally enough mostly under Hecate, three was the preferred number. For most other covens, though, four and more people were prefered. My own coven consisted of eleven of us, six women and five men.
Hermeticism gave me a good idea of the kind of ceremonies that Amy and her friends were holding. The main focus of it was using seals and runes and objects used as symbols of power. All in all, Amy was using the quickest routes to powerful magics. Still, not even this could account for actually being able to call directly on her Goddess, something which absolutely boggled the mind. Something was very, very wrong.
After breakfast was over, we once again marched up to Amy's room, where we began putting together a location spell. The uncomfortable feeling from last night was back, though, and I insisted that we take careful precautions. We used the supplies that we had brought in with us, leaving Amy's untouched. If we hadn't had to be in an area tinged with Amy's own psychic scent, I would've held it as far from her room as possible. Preferably in the next state.
I was paranoid, and I knew it. Connie and I made a protective circle around the area we would be working in, lighting candles and asking for guardians to attend every point. I know that I surprised the others when I pulled my bronze pentacle out. Usually I keep it hidden under my shirt on a long chain. A pentacle is usually a flat piece of metal inscribed with the pentagram. Its an instrument of protection, or a tool used to evoke spirits. This particular pentacle was one that I had had since my teens, and one that I placed particular faith in. It's usually a bad sign when I pull it out.
Jess was going to be the focus, so Connie and I concentrated on giving her our power, while she focused on a candleflame. Jess is an Enocian, meaning that she calls upon supernatural creatures - usually demons or angels - to do things. Despite what it sounds like, it is a pretty common practice, and a very safe one, too, as long as you know your limits. The most reaction I've ever felt during an Enocian ceremony was the occasional gust of wind.
Jess was silent for about ten minutes, her forehead slightly creased in concentration. Then, her body relaxed as she lifted her blue-eyed gaze from the flame to a point about five inches to the left of my shoulder.
"I want you to find Amy Madison. When you have done so, return and tell me where she is. Now go." Jess gives great orders. I honestly think that in a past life she was some fascist dictator. I understand that she needs to be firm with whatever creature shows up, but it's not very impressive compared to how she treats the waiters at restaurants. After all, the supernatural beings are just doing her bidding. The waiters are actually serving her food.
A small breeze started to pick up, and the candles began to flicker unsteadily. Usually that's nothing more than a minor surprise, but today it seemed somehow....sinister.
I was just reminding myself that I was probably just going senile when the growling started. It was a low, gravely sound that seemed to echo right into my bones. Jess' hands were starting to tremble, and Connie was so shocked that she very nearly fell out of the circle. Luckily, I caught her in time. It didn't take a college diploma to realize that leaving the circle at this point would be a very bad idea.
The air just outside the circle seemed to distort, kinda like something in Star Trek when they're seeing some kind of time/space anomaly. Only what stepped through this distortion wasn't Patrick Stewart (to my everlasting regret) but a demon.
The eyes were red, without pupils. It moved on four legs like some kind of dog, and it even had a stubby little tail. Greyish-brownish skin that looked cracked and rough covered it, and the wrinkled face sported a mouth with enough teeth to put saber-toothed cats to shame. There were three huge claws on each foot, and a stubby row of spines up its back seemed to twist up into two horns right above the eyes.
All in all, it looked like one of those Gozar-dogs from the first Ghostbusters movie, and I wonder whether Twentieth Century Fox had more connections to Hell than even I had thought.
All of this ran through my mind in a matter of seconds, while the thing nudged at the barrier of the circle a few times. With a sick feeling in my stomach, I realized that it was testing it. Closing my hand around my pentacle, I whispered a soft prayer to my Goddess.
She must've heard me, because suddenly the demon-dog turned and jumped out the window. No, let me rephrase that. Jumped *through* the window. I was going to have to replace the glass for Ben.
Though the thought of my kinsman's anger at a broken window was hardly comparable to the present task of tracking down a demon-dog who could jump five feet in a single bound, crash through a window, and still take off running.
I hate vacations.