There’s a ringing chime in the distance. The moment was now, Zel knew it. The bells resounded erratically, unable to keep its own time.
A darkness was dwelling over the village, it was going to strike, taking the form of beast. A clinster. Something was the matter though. The spirit well under the regent’s manner was being used as a portal. The old man was an eclectic occultist. From what Zel could decipher, he was unaware of the vulnerability he exposed the town to. A shut-in, with no living relatives, he must be fairly ignorant of the attacks.
These attacks started out as an urban legend. Lately real deaths were getting confirmed though. Something like that would cause trouble once word got to the public at large. It was the reason Zel was here in the first place. If she knew about, then it was already dangerously out in the open.
Once she located the well, she had a few hours to sabotage it before the typical ritual. It was a decent spirit well. She found it in a root cellar, about meter large against the wall. It glimmered a blue sheen reflection.
It had been used too many times. The old guy obviously didn’t realize the maintainment aspect of an enchantment like this. It would be a fairly simple mend, but then it would only be a matter of time before he broke it again.
She could destroy it, but it would be replaced, unless she stopped the guy permanently. Zel felt better about destroying the phantasm, but it could easily be replaced by any other negative force. It was unfortunate, no easy answers morally.
She dusted burning powder heavily along the floor. If it was a clinster, its body would combust the powder on contact. The fire would spread quick, look like an accident. If it didn’t kill him, it would likely scare him off enchantments for awhile.
Fire was good, it was a natural element. Bringing too much magic to any situation could only end poorly. The people no longer trusted that sort of thing, no nation on the earth did.
Zel leaned up against an alley wall nearby, awaiting the fireworks. The bell for midnight ceased, and it would only be a few moments now.
The house would begin smoking anytime, but never seemed to. Eventually, she had to investigate, after returning to the root cellar, she found the dust had been smeared away. The darkness was palpable, an eerie tumultuous feeling set in on her spine.
A dark whisper wound its way around the room.
“Looking for something?” A raspy voice called out from the corner of the room.
Zel pulled out her flashlight. It clicked on, and the light beam illuminated the room.
The old man winced at the sudden bright light, “What the…is that really necessary?”
“Where’s the entity?” She asked.
“What? Can you put that away, I’ll light a candle or something.”
“Fuck off.” She replied, brandishing a gun.
“I don’t even know what you’re doing, my eyes are very bad.”
She heard movement behind her, and wheeled around. A scaled wolf creature snarled back.
“Don’t hurt Vincent!” The old man cried, “He’s my familiar!”
She sighed, and mumbled to herself. The clinster barked once, and she riddled it with bullets.
“No! What have you done?!” He cried out, “Years of my work!”
“You’re a doddering old fool, and nothing can be done about that.” Zel growled.
The old man stood up angrily, “I’ll make you pay for this, what you’re doing now is against all policy, I’m the district regent.”
“Practicing diabolism?” She replied, “What was the policy on that again?”
Zel point the handgun his direction.
“P-please, I-I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
She grabbed him at the neck, and pulled him in front of the portal.
The pistol nuzzled deeply into his chest, sizzling.
“Aah! Stop.” He cried.
“Do you want to die, or live lord regent?”
“Live, put it away!”
Zel returned the gun to her jacket. She brushed herself off momentarily. She shoved him through the portal. His yell was cut off abruptly.
She walked back to the dying clinster, its body was destabilized, and starting to liquefy. She dragged the dripping corpse to the portal and chucked it in.
“Well that could have ended better.” She said half amused.
Waving her hand, she closed the portal, sealing them in for good.
“Maybe next time, I’ll just burn the house down instead.” She mused
She returned to the street, settling into a café. She ate a small meal, trying to forget about the whole affair. It bothered her that people like that were the public face of magic. Ignorant, power hungry, and callous.
She had been moving through the city districts for a few years now, and most of the other magicians she found had acted like this. Too much pride, too little dedication.
Magic was never innate, but it came more easily to some than others. Most people never figured out they had a particular talent for it until they reached their later years. An obsession with death almost always soon followed. How to beat it, how to use it…how to become it.
It was a grim and confusing world. In less than a century the word magic had gone from nonsense, to a scientific practice, and then back as nonsense, with an additional, “dangerous” moniker.
Zel was a stranger in the new world. When she was younger she had wandered to an early exhibition. Back in those days, people thought it was something worth spreading to everyone. As a child she had loved it, and through her parents, was allowed to study minor helpful things.
Fire, and death were all a part of magic too, but that wasn’t the forefront of things then. Small stuff, conveniences, and services were at magic’s root, creating small amounts of water, dust, or just an entertaining image.
Zel and a small community of people inherited the modern magical practice. The idealists like her had to share space with the more negative ones, the ones who had caused the banning of its use by humans in the first place.
She did her best to resolve the bad image of magic, by throwing old wizards into their own portals, and other good deeds. This type of work was dour, but necessary. Using magic to extend one’s own life was extremely seductive to anyone having to face death. Once you become reliant on it, you lose your own humanity. To avoid death and pain, a human can justify anything to themselves.
The wall exploded into splinters. Another clinster leapt onto a customer, tearing into their shoulder. People began screaming, and panicking. Zel rushed to her feet, and kicked the table. It sailed into its scaly flesh.
It was stunned temporarily, snarling her direction. It pounced at her, and then burst into flames. She sprinkled the remaining thermite powder from her hand carefully, hiding it from view.
Zel exited the burning café through the wall, searching for answers. It was possible that multiple clinsters had escaped over time, or maybe the regent hadn’t been alone. The line between occultist, and cultist was never especially defined.
The sirens of the police ran through the night. She walked away with a controlled casualness. She made her way to the next block, turned left, found a side street, and finally an alley. The siren was still loud, like it was coming from all directions.
“You think we’re mad don’t you?” A whisper in the shadows spoke.
Zel turned, around and clicked her flashlight on instinctively. Three well dressed people stood facing her. It was hard to tell if they were looking at her. Each one had a thick black cloth tied across their eyes, covering most of their face.
“That’s normal really, someone like you.” A light elderly voice spoke, “Alone, consumed by the contempt that our society has for you, you are unanchored.”
“So you say,” Zel spat, “I take trash like you out all the time, how many people have to die before you’re satisfied?”
“Leave our acolytes alone Zel, the Southeast Corridor is our district now,”
Zel drew her pistol again, she watched them carefully. The sound of the sirens were dying down, but could still be heard from the alley.
“Where does your sect meet?” She asked calmly.
“Are you going to force us to tell you Zel?”
“How do you know my name?”
The three laughed lightly.
“No need to hunt us down Zel,” The elderly voice reassured, “We’re not threatened by you, if you’d like to see our cloister, simply follow us.”
The three turned and began moving further into the alley.
“Don’t try to shoot us though. The bullets you brought were quite unlucky.” One called back.
Zel followed them through the alley, taking aim at one, she pulled the trigger. Sure enough the slide froze up with an unsatisfying click. It took a few moments to eject the bum round, but all of them performed the same way. She gave up after four more attempts, putting the gun away.
They arrived at a dead end. Two of the blindfolded ones, made a chalk outline against the far wall. They drew a series of interlocking circles, and then a large rectangle encasing it.
The third cut her hand, and smeared the wall with her blood. The bricks sank inwards, making a dark entrance. The three went inside and vanished quickly. Zel looked at the entrance skeptically, shining her flashlight in. The darkness seemed to rebuff the light, offering nothing, but an unnatural glare.
With a sigh, she put the flashlight into her large jacket, and headed in. It turned out to be a shallow impression in the wall. After about five feet it stopped, the crevice was completely consumed in shadow.
Suddenly, the walls closed in. She gasped, but found herself in a large open darkness, falling. She slowed and landed on an invisible floor. After a few moments she moved forward, and exited the darkness.
She saw a garden and a large manor. Looking around, she realized that she was inside a giant cup. It contained an unnatural blob of darkness which was suspended inside it. She climbed out of the brass cup, and began walking through the garden.
She headed towards the manor, although she knew they knew exactly what she was doing. It was probably the “join us or die” proposition. Zel would get this a few times a week during a good month.
No one wants a troublemaker with power wandering into their business. To a thing like a cult, if your power can’t be used, it must be destroyed.
She soon noticed that the garden was crawling with clinsters. They seemed subdued, watching her suspiciously from the periphery of the walkway. She arrived at a large double oak door. She looked around one last time, taking in the environment.
Where would the trap come in? The next room was likely, if not right here, she thought. The clinsters formed a small ring around her, barring her exit. They sat together drilling into her with their eyes.
“Isn’t that cute?” Zel smiled, “There’s so many of you, I don’t know how I could possibly take you all with me.”
She walked up to them, and picked out two smaller whelps. She picked one up in each arm, and opened the heavy door with her foot. The clinsters would normally attack, but this whole area had some blunt domination effect on them. They looked at her, angry, confused, but ultimately docile.
Eventually she stumbled inside the candle lit chamber. They murmured at her unusual appearance. The cultist sat in chairs that faced her in a rough crescent. A man in crimson robes stood up, and spoke.
“Uhh-welcome, I see you’ve found some of our servants. We are the Howling Moon society, and-“
“Let’s cut to the chase,” she said, “Who’s your leader?”
“Well,” he continued, “We’re a complex interlocking set of sects and societies that-“
“Who’s the leader in the room?” She said straining to keep hold of the clinsters.
“That would be me.” The red robed man confirmed.
“Good, have someone help me with these, I can’t carry them.”
Several robed figures came forward.
“Just set them down Zel.” One said.
She huffed, and dropped one. It landed ungracefully, sleepily getting to its feet.
“Here take this one.” She said suddenly.
She threw the second clinster into the cultists. They caught it, tumbling into each other.
Zel grabbed the one on the ground, and splashed it with powder. It began burning and screaming, and she hurled it into them. It gave a vampiric scream and exploded in the air.
The fire doused them all, and the second clinster exploded, shooting flames across the room. Several fires raging, Zel ran into the crowd.
She revealed a small electronic cylinder, it had to curving spikes of the end, like pincers. She flipped it on, and it lit up with bright LED lights.
Several of the cultists rushed her, protecting their leader. She grabbed the first one, stabbing him in the chest with the apparatus.
He screamed, she pulled it away from him, carrying an unstable energy field with it. That’s the neutral name for it, the name the designers of the tool had used. What it really was, was their soul.
She pressed another button, and the soul formed into a blade. She slashed the ghost blade through the crowd. It passed through their bodies with no resistance. They fell down limp, the soul blade shattering apart afterwards. The room began rushing through the flames at her from all sides.
“What are you doing?!” The leader shouted, he pulled a gun from his robe, and fired. Although pointed directly at her, the bullet seems to decide voluntarily to miss.
Zel ran into him as he fired frantically, slamming him against his large chair, “Destroying your souls! Beings like you don’t deserve any life what so ever.”
She pierced his chest with the soul stealer, “Only oblivion will have mercy on you.”
He screamed, and she ripped his powerful soul out. She flipped a switch on the handle, and the soul turned a bright red.
She swirled it widely into the incoming cultists, it flicked through the air, and combusted into a long whip of fire.
Zel lashed them fiercely, destroying everything unfortunate enough to get in the way.
“Rats.” She muttered smugly.
She ran out the way she came, setting the garden and the rest of the clinsters up in fire. The whirr of a siren echoed in the distance. She looked back at the burning manor, and hoped it wouldn’t spread too much. She pushed a button on the soul wand, the fire exploded outwards in a concentrated jet.
She doused the cup in fire. The brass melted, losing its shape. The portal was carried way in the smoke.
Zel looked around, and found an untouched section of the garden wall. She pulled herself over, and began walking away.
Ahead was a new part of the city, an endless labyrinth of buildings and people. She would need to find a place to recharge, to figure out where she was.
In the end it was all the same, one district bled into the next in their haphazard world. People were the same everywhere. There were the fearful, the beasts, and everyone else was trapped, stuck in the middle of the madness.