The Ritual By Scott Haring
Sebastian stood in the doorway, an impatient frown on his face. “You’re late,” he spat through yellowed teeth as Alford scrambled out of the Jaguar and dashed the few short steps from the driveway to the awning-covered portico, shielding his face from the rain with his newspaper. “Sorry, Master, but in this rain the drivers in this town—“ “There is no time for pitiful excuses,” Sebastian said, turning his back on the younger man. “Timing is critical. I thought you were serious about your training. Perhaps we should delay—“
“No! Please, no, Master,” Alford begged. His face paled and he looked like a frightened 15-year-old beneath the Wall Street suit and perfect hair that labeled him a captain of finance and industry. “I am serious. Tonight I will show you.”
“We shall see, apprentice, we shall see.” Sebastian wore a suit much like Alford’s, though it did not hang nearly as well on his bent, wizened frame. His movements were slowed, to be certain, but they were still sure. In his day, Sebastian bought companies like so many boxes of cereal on the shelf. Presidents and kings sought his counsel, as did other, more shadowy powers. Sometimes, Sebastian would make a suggestion to a world leader without being asked. A wise leader always complied.
Sebastian and Alford walked through several rooms of the mansion to an office. An elegant desk sat at one end atop a fine oriental rug, with leather chairs for an occupant and two guests. The walls were lined with shelves groaning with books and odd bits of bone, jewelry, clockwork constructions, crystals, stuffed and preserved animals, body parts in formaldehyde jars, and more. Alford barely gave it all a second glance as he took one of the guest chairs.
“You have done well … so far,” Sebastian said, leaning forward in his chair. “You have learned to find that which is hidden. You have learned to charm and beguile. You have learned to see what is yet to come. And you have used those advantages to gain a fortune, gain power, gain … personal fulfillment.” Alford thought of the blonde back at his penthouse that afternoon and could not suppress a smile. “But this is not real power. This is just the surface of a deep, dark lake you cannot yet fathom.”
“I know that, Master,” Alford replied, “and while I am most grateful for what you have taught me so far, I am eager to move forward, to grow in my training. I have read many of these books” — he motioned to the shelves surrounding them — “and I know what awaits me.”
“Do you?” Sebastian asked. He reached below the desk and pressed a button. A catch released, and a set of shelves in the back corner of the office swung open. Alford could feel the warm, humid air as it rolled out of the opening, carrying years of dust, mold, and the unmistakable smell of blood.
“You have paid a price for the secrets you have learned, the powers you have obtained,” Sebastian said as he rose from the desk. “But the powers you have are small, easily thwarted, easily taken away. And you haven’t paid much for them.”
“Haven’t paid much?” Alford fumed. “I’ve funneled hundreds of millions to the accounts you’ve set up, and never asked one question about it. I spent eight months under SEC investigation, all to ruin one of your enemies.” “And you were cleared,” Sebastian said calmly. “Do you have any idea how many things I was investigated for in my early days? No, of course you don’t. Because as I gained in power, I was not only able to beat the investigations, I could erase all record they ever occurred. This is the kind of power you are truly seeking.”
The two moved down a softly lit stairway, cut precisely from the bedrock. Alford strained to look, but could not determine the light’s source. “The Dark Ones who give us our power demand a payment, a blasphemy for each boon. The greater the power, the greater the blasphemy must be.”
The pair reached the bottom of the stairs, and stepped into a small room with a marble fireplace at one end and more bookshelves lining the walls. Lit candles ringed the room atop the bookshelves. A black cloth covered the mantelpiece, and a large sheet of plastic covered the floor, directly below the barely conscious man hanging by his wrists in the center of the room.
“Wh-who is he?” asked Alford. “Nobody,” Sebastian said calmly, as he reached behind the man to the mantelpiece, retrieving a dagger, nearly a foot long with a wicked point and slightly s-curved edges. Alford finally took his eyes off the gently moaning man to look at the dagger, and noticed carvings on the handle that matched markings on the abattoir’s wall.
Sebastian handed Alford the dagger. “Take the next step. The greater the blasphemy, the greater the power.”
“As you say, Master,” Alford replied. He took a deep breath, and as the hanging man’s eyes grew wide, Alford spun and plunged the dagger into Sebastian’s chest.
“The greater the blasphemy, the greater the power,” the younger man gloated. But his face turned pale as Sebastian straightened up and, with a wicked grin, pulled the bloodless dagger from his chest. “You understand great blasphemy, apprentice,” he said as small blue balls of light began to form at the five fingertips of his right hand. “But not great power. Not yet.”
The screams echoed through the empty mansion.
Sebastian led the woman down the precisely cut stone stairs. “The Dark Ones who give us our power demand a payment, a blasphemy for each boon. The greater the power, the greater the blasphemy must be.” Already the youngest network news anchor ever, she wanted more. But even she was taken aback at the sight of the man dangling by his wrists, still dressed in the Wall Street suit and perfect hair of a captain of finance and industry. “Who is he?” she asked. “Nobody.”
flash fiction by Jason Allard
Rex Monday stepped through the door cautiously. Judging by the smell, the corpse hanging on the rack near the fireplace had been there for a day or two, but the candles on the bookshelf and on the black-draped mantle, under the arcane circle, were still burning strong. Nothing moved.
The body had been a young man, no older than fifteen or sixteen. Judging by the state of the body, he’d died hard. The bruising and lacerations to his torso had happened before the time of death, but they weren’t enough to be fatal. Rex couldn’t tell just what killed the boy. There wasn’t enough blood. Perhaps he’d been hanging long enough that breathing had become simply too hard. He wasn’t in the classical crucifixion pose, but it might be close enough. At least his eyes were closed.
Rex looked at the sigil on the wall. It looked like it had been drawn with a charred stick from the fireplace. A pentagram inside a pair of circles, with five strange symbols between the points of the star, and odd scribbling around the outside of the circle. This case was getting stranger all of the time.
“I’m guessing this all wasn’t here the last time Madeline was home,” he whispered.
He turned away from the wall, and looked more closely at the room. Nothing seemed out of place, or disturbed, but he couldn’t be entirely sure. He stooped and looked under the couch. Tucked away underneath was a leather flogger, a small, steel barbell attached the end of each thong, and a Damascus-bladed ritual dagger.
“Just what the hell was going on here?” Rex asked himself.
“That’s none of your business.”
Rex spun, his hand instinctively reaching for a gun at his hip that wasn’t there.
“Who are you?” he asked as a pair of large, burly men entered.
“That’s also none of your business,” the blond one said. “Just go home and forget all that you’ve seen here. Tell Mrs. St Clair that you are no longer working on her case. Let the cops find her missing husband.”
“I can’t do that,” Rex said.
“We were afraid you’d say that,” the dark-haired one said. He reached under his windbreaker and produced a large handgun. “Put up your hands.”
Rex sighed and held out his arms. The blonde one stepped forward and quickly patted him down. The man chucked and stepped back.
“What kind of detective are you?” he asked. “You won’t believe it, but this guy’s not even carrying a gun.
“Well, that makes things easier,” the dark one said. If he said anything else, it was lost to Rex as the blonde’s fist slammed into the side of his head. He fell hard, and curled into a ball as the kicks started raining in.
Rex was barely regaining consciousness when they tossed him from the car. The pavement was wet and cold.
“Remember what we said, and stay out of things you don’t understand. If you don’t, someone else might suffer for your stubbornness.”
The car door slammed shut, and the vehicle roared away into the night.
What next? He couldn’t give up. Not now. This was getting personal.
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