Author Topic: The Jar  (Read 5576 times)

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Offline The Cedar Witch

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The Jar
« on: May 22, 2019, 06:26:37 AM »
For Brooce
Continued from here



Sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the pile of bricks, Astrid composed a brief message, fingers shaky with exhaustion and barely-contained fear.

Sorry to bother you but I might’ve bitten off more than I can chew here.  Found something in the basement of 13 Broomfield Crossing (South) and I don’t think I can leave. 

She would've written more but she was on the last bit of battery while composing the message.  The phone died after the text sent successfully and Astrid’s face was blanched white.  The fact that she even had to reach out for help made her feel some level of inadequacy.  She should have been able to do it--and would have, had the moon been right.  The blade needed a twin for this very reason.  Something forged in shadow.

The copal smoke from the censer bowl curled slowly up into the air from its spot in front of the crumbling wall, and she tipped a few more nuggets of resin onto the charcoal disk.  Her black dagger had been drawn across the floor behind the bowl, creating a barrier between the secret room and the rest of the basement, and was now thrust point-down into the floor.  The barrier waned occasionally, though she had fortified with as much strength as she could muster. 

How long would it hold?

Astrid watched the swirling mass in the jar.  She could have sworn that there were a pair of eyes peering back at her, but she chalked it up to being tired and seeing things.  A third, maybe more, of the sealing wax had crumbled to the floor and the witch exhaled in frustration.

The contents of her messenger bag were dumped unceremoniously off to the side on the floor.  There wasn’t much there that would’ve helped her in this particular situation.  She had packed light today.  There were a few other bundles of herbs, empty glass vials with cork stoppers, a few small mason jars filled with different kinds of salt or incenses (most for meditation), a stack of notebooks, a handful of pens and pencils, a dozen or so reference books, a spool of wire, and a pair of pliers.  Nothing to deal with this.  Would've been great if she packed some snacks at least.

With every door and window in the house open, sound traveled readily.  The piercing wail of a baby coming from upstairs made her jump.  It was still in the crib then. Because it had completely slipped her mind.  Of-fucking-course.  That was the least of her concerns now.

Astrid took a slow breath and closed her eyes, stilling her mind.  After a few measured inhales and exhales, there was a blinding flash of pain as a vision pressed into her mind.

Three hooded figures stood before her in front of the demonic sigil on the floor.  The room was not yet walled off, cement not yet sunken in and no shelves lined with jars of things could be seen.  The room seemed to barely contain them, but there was enough space to walk around easily.  The three were mid chant, making a slow circle around the sigil while holding black pillar candles dripping wax steadily onto the floor.  One of the figures stopped suddenly and pointed directly at her, as if they had seen Astrid through the vision.  She was frozen in place, filled with the urgent need to flee.  The other figures turned to face her, and one took a step toward her.  Then another.  Still she could not move, and soon the figure was at arms reach.  She could see beneath the hood now: pitch black eyes, leathery skin with deep wrinkles, the tips of what looked like horns breaking through skin.

There was a hand on her shoulder and the paralysis finally lifted.  Astrid jolted away from the touch, spinning around a struggling to get to her feet.  Her mind was slow to leave the vision and she pressed her hand firmly against her forehead.
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente

Offline Harlequin

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2019, 08:03:16 AM »
Since the turn of the century, anything newer than a rotary phone tended to crumble in Sabrina's hands. Smartphones melted. VHS tapes, cassettes, toasters, radios and televisions (as long as they were made before 1998) were the only exceptions.

She technically had a phone, but Tansy held onto it. So it was Tansy that received the text, and she that excused herself from the table at her BFF's apartment and breathed onto the bathroom mirror, transcribing Astrid's message with her finger in the fog. Sabrina received it in her vanity mirror, where she was applying one last swipe of bordeaux-colored lipstick.

Of course it was a basement.

She capped her lipstick and set about gathering her tools. Hopefully Kerr didn't mind her canceling their get-together last minute.

***

The witch felt the house far before she approached, its malice spread through the pavement beneath her feet like a many-limbed parasite; a sickness. Then came the reek of death and terror, then the blight itself.

The stairs didn't look trustworthy so she skipped them with a step. Somewhere a dog growled, an infant wailed, and the house lay before her like the pried-open fist of a dead man. Astrid had begun with a cleansing. As she entered the house and moved to the basement, she ignored the spectres that didn't hide from her. She was not the source of their malice, but a target. The misery permeating the house rubbed against her aura, somewhere between slime mold and ground glass.

Sabrina found Astrid frozen, staring agape at something in front of her; something Sabrina couldn't see. Instead, she saw the jar and the things on the shelves, and the circle. She knelt and placed a hand on Astrid's shoulder, mouth set grimly. She lifted her hand when the other witch recoiled, and asked "What do you see?"

Offline The Cedar Witch

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2019, 08:33:05 AM »
"Ugh, fuck."  Both hands pressed to her face now as the vision fully receded.  She looked up at what had touched her, squinting against the spots until she recognized Sabrina.

"Oh, thank fuck it's you."  The relief was palpable in her, pushing against the fear still quivering inside.  Things would probably be okay now that she wasn't alone.  Astrid looked back to the jar--there was about a quarter of the seal remaining.  The barrier created by the knife pulsed weakly and she could feel it pulling at her for more power. 

What do you see?

"Three people--or maybe demons?--performed some sort of ritual here."  She motioned in the direction of the secret room.  Something definitely blinked in the jar, she couldn't have been imagining it this time.  "You--you saw that, right?  I have no idea what is in there."
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente

Offline Harlequin

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2019, 02:14:28 AM »
Sabrina nodded. Whatever it was, it was winning the fight against its current bindings, and seemed to be getting to work on Astrid's barrier.

Sabrina was dressed for a night out in a cream linen pantsuit that clashed terribly with the sledgehammer strapped to the worn leather pack on her back. She toed off her white ballet flats and tested the circle with a bare foot as she plucked a butterfly knife from her chest pocket. The barrier would hold; Astrid had done good work, especially under duress.

Her eyes flashed, catlike, in the spare light a she looked down at Astrid. "I'm going to take a closer look."  She stepped over the barrier, and the darkness held at a breaker by the Astrid's barrier lapped at her ankles. She hummed a note low in her throat, both warding herself and giving Astrid an idea of where she was in the low light. The sigil sang back in time to the slow beat of her heart, louder as she approached.

She knelt and picked up a loose brick before stepping over the low wall into the room, crouching to avoid bumping her head. The sigil was more binding magic, but what was in that jar was something else entirely. Something not of this world or any Sabrina had visited. The eyes inside the swirling mass glowed up at her, unblinking.

Astrid would hear the scrape of a metal on stone as Sabrina carved another mark into the brick she held. When finished, it produced a faint sodium glow, helping illuminate the space as she placed it on top of the jar, momentarily replacing the crumbling wax seal.

She retreated to the protection of Astrid's circle, "The circle is another binding, " she said, "Demonic. I don't know what's in that jar, but disturbing the house disturbed it and we are going to have to deal with it before long."

Offline The Cedar Witch

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2019, 02:30:13 AM »
Astrid watched Sabrina work, squinting against the low lighting of her flashlight pointed up at the ceiling from its place on the floor beside her.  The hum sent a tingle of static through her and she held her breath as Sabrina stepped into the room.  There was another wail from upstairs as if disturbed by Sabrina's intrusion into the small space.  Astrid was about to say she'd run up and take care of it, but she didn't want to miss anything down here.

When Sabrina added the glowing brick to the top of the jar, Astrid felt a bit of pressure release on the protective barrier.  So whatever was in that jar had been trying to get past it.  Great.

Her body was coiled with tension now as she listened to Sabrina's summation of what was in that room.  It didn't sound good at all.

"Fuck."  She breathed softly, terrified of how close she was to serious danger.  She should've reached out sooner--she knew there was something else here besides the spirits she had been in the process of sending to rest.  Astrid definitely didn't come prepared to deal with anything demonic with just the average supplies she had with her on the way to class.

"I heard the same chanting upstairs in the fireplace as in my vision,"  she began thoughtfully, remembering the growl when she tried to stick her hand inside.  "There was... something metal in there, in the ashes.  I couldn't touch it.  I don't know if it's related or not." 

"What should we do?"  Her voice was serious as she looked up at Sabrina.  It was her intent to see this finished to the end, no matter where it lead. 
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente

Offline Harlequin

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2019, 10:06:30 AM »
“Well, it seems that they’re  after the same thing we are: keeping this thing contained. Maybe it’s part of the binding.” Sabrina shifted her bag off her shoulders and set it next to the the supplies Astrid had spilled from hers. She took a deep breath, finding comfort in the heavy scent of the copal smoke.

“Couldn’t touch it how?” She asked, concerned, “did it harm you? Mentally or physically?”

Offline The Cedar Witch

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2019, 10:20:05 AM »
"No, I just-"  Astrid paused as if trying to remember, exhaling heavily.  The cleansing process and setting the barrier had been exhausting and she pushed off the feeling of it catching up with her.  The fireplace in the living room downstairs had a huge pile of ashes and what looked like fire damage all around on the ceiling. 

"Uh, when I tried to get a closer look there was something growling at me so I backed off."
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente

Offline Harlequin

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2019, 02:14:43 AM »
“Well, whatever it is, I think it’s best left alone for now. I didn’t feel anything from the fireplace when I entered.”

Apparently satisfied, Sabrina nodded. Astrid had done well in heeding that warning. “I’ve heard that as well. Have you seen a dog?”

Sabrina’s gifts, natural and otherwise, had never included Sight without ritual assistance. By merely setting foot inside, Astrid knew much more about this place than Sabrina ever would.

As for a plan of attack: “I’d err on the side of action. Lay a little more groundwork out here to make sure what we let out doesn’t get past us. After, let’s get into that room together, where I can pull you out while you Look if it gets too much— that will give us at least a little more information — then smash that jar when we get close to running out of time. What do you think?”

Offline The Cedar Witch

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2019, 03:05:46 AM »
"Not Here but Before,"  Astrid said in reference to the dog.  "I think the body is in the backyard."  She said softly, calling to mind the abused corpse and flies with a shudder.

As for the plan, Astrid nodded in affirmation.  Hopefully smashing the jar wouldn't also mean freeing the thing without destroying it, but she trusted that Sabrina knew what she was doing.  Astrid shrugged off her jacket and laid it on top of the pile of stuff she had emptied from her messenger bag.  She rolled her shoulders and tilted head from side to side, resulting in a series of cracks and a minor release of tension.

"Okay.  I think that sounds like a plan to me."  Already she began to draw deep into the well of her energy reserves.  She was definitely going to sleep like a fucking rock when it was over.  Ideally, anyway.
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente

Offline Harlequin

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2019, 05:18:32 AM »
"Then lets get to work."  Sabrina opened her pack and fished around until she'd produced a bundle of herbs -- which she lit from the charcoal disc in the censer, joining the witches' energies and intent with the shared flame.

Few words were exchanged between the two women as they went about securing the basement, weaving their energy together with carved sigils and murmurs instead. Sabrina whistled to ground herself, and the clear, bright sound grated against the malcontent suffusing the house. The barrier they produced was far from iron clad, but it was better and larger than a wax seal.

That part of their work done, Sabrina knelt next to her pack and unclasped the sledgehammer. Astrid would see the old marks in the worn wood; simple runic symbols of striking and destruction, carved deep and inlaid with resin. On either steel head of the hammer were marks she wouldn't recognize. Less simple, more sinister. Sabrina hefted the hammer easily in one hand, and gestured with the other for Astrid to enter the previously bricked-over room.

Offline The Cedar Witch

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2019, 08:27:15 AM »
The warding went smoothly.  Astrid was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly.  Working with Sabrina felt easy, moving and twining together energy in a familiar dance as if they had practiced together numerous times before.  Being far from her family now, she had been working magic alone for years and she had forgotten just how different it was with another.  She missed it, honestly. 

As soon as she laid eyes on it, Sabrina's hammer seized Astrid's attention with an electric zing.  Her fingers twitched with the memory of holding her own.  They'd been stashed away, unused for too long.  But those were for creation.  This was for destruction. 

"That is a beautiful piece."  She said, almost starry-eyed and voice full of awe.  It took her a beat to snap out of it and refocus on the task at hand. 

The witch cleared her throat, turning an uneasy eye on the room with the jar.  She hesitated.

"Do you want to establish a link or should I just tell you what I see after...?"  It was a bold suggestion, surely.  It was also the most direct.  Inviting Sabrina to see through her mind's eye involved a bit of trust so she wouldn't have taken offense if the other witch declined.  Besides circumventing the time it would take to explain her vision, the link would lessen the possibility of missing anything important that Astrid might otherwise overlook.
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente

Offline Harlequin

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2019, 12:34:50 PM »
“Thank you,” Sabrina’s half-smile at the praise was just this side of...shy, perhaps? But was quickly replaced by a grimace.

“Ah, the latter, I think, for now. I have a—“ she sighed. She would have to get used to it explaining this, now that she was out of the house, “I’m the host for an intelligent ectoplasmic entity. It has thoughts of its own and I don’t want those clouding your Sight. Once this is said and done, though, I’d be interested in experimenting.”

The Treacle hissed obscenities into the folds of her brain, and gave her a sharp jolt that she felt like an ice pick just behind one eye. It didn’t like being denied a toy.

Offline The Cedar Witch

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #12 on: May 29, 2019, 10:19:51 PM »
That would explain the thing she sensed when they first met.  Astrid nodded in understanding.  She was very interested in experimenting later, preferably after food and rest.

"Alright,"  she breathed, turning toward the room and taking a few steps forward.  Taking a second to send energetic tethers into the earth, she came to a stop in front of her knife.  Should she take it with her?  It still served a purpose as a layer of the protective measures that had been placed, but now with the room fully warded and Sabrina's presence, Astrid wondered if it was still needed.

Best to leave it alone.

Her throat felt dry now and she swallowed uncomfortably.  Closing her hand around the fox jaw hanging from her neck, she gingerly stepped through her barrier and over the short wall into the room with the jar.  There was a heaviness that sucked the breath from her lungs and threatened to press her to her knees, but she stood steady and fought to acclimate to the pressure.  She could see the eyes in the large jar clearly now, the dull light from Sabrina's sigiled-brick reflecting in the orbs with a glint.  That wasn't the most unsettling thing about being in the room.

Astrid was filled with the need to reach out and touch the jar.  To open it.  It was like the most intense hunger she had ever felt and she trembled with the effort of resisting it.

She threw a glance back at Sabrina for reassurance, gripping the necklace tight, before turning back to the jar.  Giving a quick tug on her mental tethers, she focused on feeling the ground beneath her feet and the pulse with the earth.  Astrid took a steadying breath in through her nose and out through her mouth.  Then she closed her eyes.

Struck with the feeling of crashing into ice cold water, her eyes flew open.  The room was mostly empty, save a single hooded figure dipping a paintbrush into the viscus, crimson contents of an ornate metal bowl.  Astrid was grateful for the release in pressure that was palpable through the vision.  The air felt static and alive, and without the distraction of the heaviness she could feel that The Veil here was perilously thin. 

The hooded figure dragging the paintbrush across the bare cement floor looked up at her suddenly, and for a moment Astrid was convinced that she had somehow been discovered.  The figure's face was the same as the first one she had seen, with pitch-black eyes and horns.  They stood hastily, leaving the paintbrush in the bowl and bowing their head in a gesture of reverence.  A cold chill passed through her as a tall, muscular man in a suit passed through her non-corporeal form.  His hands were clasped behind his back.

"Chtah--" the figure began respectfully but was cut off.

"How long before you are ready?"  His voice was steady and commanding.  It set Astrid on edge.

"A few hours,"  the hooded figure replied earnestly.  Fearfully.  Deepening her sense of dread. 

Astrid blinked and the scene before her changed.

It was dark now, air thick with a distinct metallic scent.  The sigil on the floor in the room was complete.  Three hooded figures held pillar candles in front of them.  As they began a chant, she realized that this was part of the vision she had seen before.  They began their slow circle, chanting in perfect unison that increased in tempo as the chant progressed until it was impossible to make out individual sounds in the din.  One tipped the candle sideways, a stream of black wax pouring onto the floor.  The others mirrored the action, one after another, and they continued their trek around the sigil.  The room began to vibrate but they continued the chant, undeterred. 

At the sound of a loud crack, the chanting stopped and one of the figures looked up directly at her.  Just as the vision before, pointing.  The two others turned and looked, and the first began to approach her.  Astrid held her breath, heart pounding as she pressed the fox jaw to her chest.  The figure passed through her and she whirled around to see what they were walking toward. 

Filling the empty basement were tendrils of twisting blackness reaching out from what looked like a rip in fabric hanging in the air.  The heaviness began to build, a steadily rising tide.  There was an indescribable sound coming from the rip like nothing she had ever heard and it pierced through her.  It felt almost as if it were also emanating from within her.  Building in the back of her mind, joined by a crescendo of whispers.  She almost missed the panicked movements from behind her.

"Quick!  Contain it!"

Astrid gasped when Sabrina snapped into focus and the heaviness pressed down on her again fully.  She scrambled out of the room, tripping over the wall and catching herself just barely.  Now separated from the room by her barrier again, she leaned over, putting both hands on her knees and fought to slow her breathing.
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente

Offline Harlequin

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2019, 12:31:43 PM »
Sabrina watched the other witch avidly. The hand not holding the hammer remained raised, ready to pull Astrid out of the room if things went well and truly bad.

And bad they went, but Astrid pulled herself a half-second before Sabrina chose to act, and the tall woman’s tension shifted. She placed a steadying hand on Astrid’s back, waiting until she was ready to speak.

When Astrid did speak, Sabrina’s expression darkened, lips twisting into a snarl as she finished. “Zeus,” she spat, with a hard shake of her head. She continued, half to herself, voice heavy with venom, “Clearly I was amiss in thinking his taking the West off Jake’s hands was a positive.” She shifted her with a painful-sounding crunch. “That sounds like The Blackness; where my…passenger, originated.” What Astrid described was impossible; or should have been. Sabrina had seen to it that this realm was severed entirely from The Treacle’s birthplace. The Treacle itself coiled tight in her belly at the thought. It wanted to know what would happen if they went back as little as she did.

“That door is shut. If he tried to open it, he’s either a fool or a child.” Everything she knew of him said he was neither, but actions spoke louder than rumors.

Meanwhile, the tug of the thing in the jar became more intense. Sabrina felt it as the gentle lapping of small waves turned to the pull of a tide. They were running out of time.

“If you want to Look again, do it now.” Her attention turned fully back to Astrid, focus as intense as the beam of a lighthouse.

Offline The Cedar Witch

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Re: The Jar
« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2019, 11:43:57 PM »
Astrid was starteled by the venomous mention of the Greek god and her face showed this.  But the context that Sabrina added was enough to clue her in to who she was talking about.  She hadn't been following the local politic too closely but knew enough that the West District had gone to another leader.  The tone of the other witch's words filled her with unease.  It reminded her of how Sabrina was at The Trial.

She wanted to ask questions--there was so much that she didn't understand.  But Astrid could feel that time was running out as well, and she was nearly beyond the point of exhaustion.  She trembled.

"I... I'm not sure if I should,"  her admission was extremely reluctant and spoken barely above a whisper  "But I could!"  She added quickly, not wanting to let the opportunity slip past her fingers.  And there was a bit of desire to impress Sabrina, foolishly pushing that decision as well.  There was a quick mental digging in of heels as she straightened, crossed over to her knife's barrier again.  She took a single step over and felt the stir of a breeze as the past washed over her vision.

The other hooded figures rushed past her, fingers crackling with deep red static of spellcasting.

"You idiots!"  it was the deep voice again, filled with anger.  The one Sabrina named Zeus.  Astrid whirled around to watch, eyes catching a massive demon instead of the man in a suit.  It felt like something was squeezing her heart and her hand flew to her chest as if to steady it.

The shadowy tendrils reaching from the rip had spread further now, touching nearly every corner of the empty basement.  The first hooded figure was busily trying to push the creature back into the rip but to no avail.  The others joined, adding their magic together with sparks flying.

"That thing is not what we planned for!"  the floor seemed to shake as Zeus crossed the distance between where he was standing and joined the hooded figures by the rip.  They seemed to shrink beside him.

"Must I do everything myself?"  In his hand was a glint of metal--something that Astrid could not see clearly.  He took the wrist of one of the hooded figures, who cried out in pain.  There was a flash of blood spilled onto the metal object and the room began to vibrate, filling with the rushing sound of a jet engine. 

Then everything went black and Astrid slipped to the floor.
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente