“As the focal point of the Summoning, your job will be simple.” Taz pointed to the center of the room, the lowest point of the sphere that had been dug out of the earth. “Sit there.”
Sedgewick didn’t sit. He knelt. When I moved to stand behind him, he twisted to look up at me.
I smiled in reassurance, then almost laughed. Me, reassuring Sedgewick.
He nodded, smiled in return, and settled back on his knees.
I placed my hands on top of his head. He shivered. His hair was unexpectedly soft.
Taz picked up the bowl of blood that sat on Khura’s altar to the west. She heated it gently over the fire on Isiya’s altar, added seeds and dirt from Thueta’s altar, then selected a small, fine-pointed feather from Osira’s altar. She handed these to Kanady, who dipped the feather in the blood and began to carefully write: Sedgewick’s cheeks and eyelids and the backs of his hands, my palms and lips and throat. They wrote in the First Tongue, the primal language that the Creators had used to mold the elements and shape the world. The only language to which ironwood would respond, and which was still used by the cervitaurs who lived in the groves. Once, everyone had spoken the First Tongue; but then humans and sprites and unitaurs and cervitaurs had grown and spread across the world, and new languages developed. Unitaurs had completely forgotten the First Tongue, and humans only used in ritual — or to command ironwood.
Taz began to sing the summoning. She set one hand on Sedgewick’s shoulder, and one on mine. Kanady returned the bowl of blood to Khura’s altar, then began to sing. Their voices curled together as I joined in, the words rising up out of my lungs, up my throat, rolling across my tongue. But the harmony was incomplete. We were missing our fourth.
I just hoped we were strong enough, and that Odressa was willing to speak with us.
The air grew heavy. The fire flickered. A scent like moss and wildflowers filled the chamber. The blood words heated against my skin.
Darkness circled the curved ceiling. It swirled, curious. Dipped down, returned to the ceiling.
Higher souls were infinity unique in their form. Immediately after death, especially traumatic death, souls often appeared in a shape similar to their physical bodies. But I had encountered higher souls in the shape of rainbow-tinted clouds, gigantic four-eyed foxes, and trees with shimmering golden leaves.
The darkness thickened as Taz and Kanady and I continued to sing. We called to Odressa, pleading with her to appear, for our need was great, our cause was noble, our hearts were honorable.
Burning dots of ash like fireflies lifted from Isiya’s altar, wrapping around, penetrating, illuminating the darkness. Then fresh water, salt water, blood, dirt, seeds, feathers, bird bones, rocks, sea glass; all lifted into the air, joining the fire to give the darkness form and substance.
The higher soul of Vigilant Odressa floated lightly in the air above us. Her eyes were shining blue-green sea glass bracketed by fragile bird bones and lit from within by Isiya’s fire. Her armor was glimmering rocks and rich earth and swirls of seeds in a dozen different colors. Her hair was feathers, white and black and red, streaming behind her, rippling.
“Necromancers, Vigilant, I have heard your call and answered. What need have you of me?”
Her voice was a whisper of sound, the breeze caressing my cheek.
Taz and Kanady continued to sing softly, while I responded in the First Tongue. “Afyra, Odressa. We would ask you a terrible question, for an enemy threatens our city.”
“Many enemies have threatened many cities in the centuries that I have wandered creation.”
“Afy, Vigilant Odressa. But this enemy makes use of a strange and foul rite. It strips the children of the Creators of their elements and even their higher soul —”
Wind gusted through the necropolis, slamming into me. Sedgewick rocked back on his heels, his back knocking into my legs and belly. I dug my feet into the dirt, closing my eyes against the whirlwind of dirt.
Blinking, I found Odressa directly in front of me. She was so close that I could see the yellowing on the bird bones that framed her sea glass eyes, and the tiny pinpricks of flame that illuminated their blue-green depths. Her feather hair was a wild halo.
“Many have sought this knowledge, generations past and even now. Only once in the centuries that I have wandered have I seen it used well — by my own dearest Syl. It is knowledge that tempts, the twists, that turns hearts to greed and envy and fear.”
I swallowed hard and licked my lips. Taz and Kanady continued to sing, their hands tight on my shoulders, digging into my flesh.
“Afy, Vigilant Odressa. I do not seek this knowledge to use it against others, for my own selfish desires. I seek it that I might understand my enemies, the enemies of Egleia, that I might put an end to their schemes and their use of this foul rite, before they cause any more misery, fear, pain, and death.”
“Egleia has no enemies. She has utterly destroyed them all.”
I frowned. Was there an edge to Odressa’s voice or was it my imagination?
“I … Vigilant Odressa … I do not understand.”
The ghostly figure of fire and dirt and seeds and feathers whirled up over my head, raced along the ceiling, slithered in and among the elemental pillars. Taz tripped over the words of the summoning song, but quickly corrected herself. Her eyes were big and she stared at me in confusion. Beneath my hands, I could feel the stiffness in Sedgewick’s posture; as if he was preparing himself to jump to his feet and protect us, even against one of his own.
Odressa stilled, hanging in the air directly above and in front of us. “The Wheel of Unbecoming is a primal rite, given to us in the beginning by the Creators Themselves. It is profound and dangerous and terrible, to be used only when creation itself is threatened — not to settle petty political squabbles.”
My breath caught. “You speak of Petral.”
Odressa exploded. Dirt and seeds and rocks and feathers rained down upon us. Taz and Kanady stumbled to a halt, the sudden silence making my ears ring. For a moment, the fiery blue-green sea glass eyes hung in the darkness.
“Egleia has committed a terrible wrong. There are those who would seek to right that wrong — no matter that, in doing so, they commit an even more terrible offense against creation and the Creators.”
The glass eyes dropped to the dirt with a dull thunk and the fiery sparks winked out. The darkness that was the higher soul of Vigilant Odressa swirled around the ceiling once, and was gone.
“What do you mean you told them about the Wheel of Unbecoming?” Meritha squawked. “Binding! Muted! Exiled! I don’t know how to survive in the wilderness! Poisonous berries and good berries look the same to me!”
“I didn’t tell them,” I slowly explained, again. “Vigilant Odressa did. What, I was supposed to tell her to shush in the middle of the Rite of Summoning?”
Meritha paused. She held a tub of ice cream, towel wrapped around her hand to protect it against the cold. She aimed her spoon at me — “Good point.” — drove it down into the ice cream, and then shoveled the overflowing spoon into her mouth.
I didn’t want or need more ice cream at the moment. I needed real food. Between vomiting up the maple and walnut bun, and consuming only a few scoops of black raspberry frozen goodness, and then performing a Rite of Summoning, I was feeling seriously hungry and light-headed.
Taz and Kanady, both looking somber, were setting the dining room table. Sedgewick was toasting garlic bread (on the stove, not by hand). We had both taken a few minutes to change clothes, and Sedgewick was once again in jeans, a t-shirt, boots, and a shoulder holster; the sword was gone, tucked away in his room. I had pulled on my favorite old cardigan, long-sleeved short, jeans, and chunky socks. Meritha had tugged her shirt back on over her tank top; she leaned against the counter on the opposite side of the kitchen while I dug a large can of lentil, apricot, and raisin soup out of the pantry. I joined Sedgewick at the stove and dumped the can into a big pot.
He looked down at me and tried to smile. I tried to smile back, half succeeded, and turned on the burner.
“Now what?” Meritha asked, mouth still full.
She tilted the tub and I finally saw the flavor: sea salt caramel chocolate. Paper bags on the counter next to her were filled with more tubs, all different colors; the bags were beginning to darken with damp as the ice cream warmed.
Meritha licked her spoon. “We start questioning every Petral refugee in Egleia? Figure out who’s holding a grudge over their home city being reduced to rubble eighty years ago?”
Sedgewick’s expression flickered. “At last count, there were fifteen thousand refugees from Petral living in Egleia, most of them in the parks along the southern wall. And don’t forget that refugees fled to Taranz and Theleia, as well, and probably further south to Syris.”
Kanady returned to the kitchen and started pulling mugs from the cabinet. “What about Petreia?”
Meritha grimaced. “Never been, but I’ve heard stories from Rangers over the years. It’s a bunch of shacks and tents. Whatever people could carry away before the city fell and whatever they’ve been able to scavenge from the wilderness since. Heavily armed and not welcoming. No surprise.”
“I’m hungryyyyy,” Taz sang from the dining room.
I stirred the soup, watching it bubble. “Almost done,” I yelled back.
Sedgewick filled a plate with the warm garlic bread. “This should hold her for a few minutes,” he said, and followed Kanady back into the dining room.
“This is seriously bad.” Meritha started shoving tubs of ice cream into the freezer: sea salt caramel chocolate, black raspberry, chocolate rum cherry, mint cotton candy. “You realize how seriously bad this is, right?”
Her voice was startlingly devoid of humor. This was Meritha Javes, Officer of Law and Enforcement; not Meritha my friend who dressed as a wood sprite and got drunk at the Spring Equinox. Task complete, she turned back to me and began folding up the wet paper bags.
“Eighty years ago, someone or several someones from Egleia used a Primal Rite for the wrong reasons. They unmade a city. Though fuck if I know how that works. Which means all kinds of bad things. First, they hid what they had done, because I sure as fuck don’t remember learning any of this in school. Second, they lied about it, because see point the first. Third, they had the power to not only perform the Wheel of Unbecoming, but also enact points one and two, which means that we are talking about people very high up, possibly the High Holy Orders themselves. Granted, they’re all dead now, but I have to wonder how much of that information was passed on to their successors.”
She paused, allowing the unspoken accusation/question to hang in the air.
I stirred the soup, my jaw tight.
Meritha continued. “Finally, I need to remind anyone here of what happened the last time a Primal Rite was used for the wrong reasons?”
Kanady spoke from the doorway. “We got the White Grandmother.”
“We got the White Grandmother who turned herself into a fucking living cancer and the Creators Themselves had to perform a Summoning. They had to specially create the heroes necessary to bring her down. How many Divine Summonings have there been in the history of the world?”
“Three,” Kanady answered, and for a moment I could hear my mother’s voice overlaying theirs. “The elemental abominations birthed by the Arcanists of Kazyth. The Mad Dragon of Orzira, who poisoned the world with every breath. And the White Grandmother of Suxia.”
Meritha waved a hand at Kanady in affirmation. “Which means that if Vigilant Odressa is correct — and I doubt that she’s wrong — it seems likely that a Divine Summoning would be necessary to undo such a colossal fuck up as this.” She waved the stained paper bags in a big circle, then tossed them into the recycling bin. “Congratulations, Miss Most Powerful Necromancer of Her Generation.”
I heard the clatter as plates and silverware were suddenly dropped on the dining room table.
Goosebumps ran up and down my arms, and I felt cold, despite standing next to the stove. I very carefully set down the spoon, flipped off the burner, and turned.
Meritha watched me with her arms crossed. Taz had joined Kanady in the doorway, her mouth an oh of shock. There was no sign of Sedgewick.
I licked my lips, swallowed, and responded very slowly and clearly. “I am not a Divine Summoning.”
Meritha didn’t answer.
“I am not,” I said again. “I’m just me.” I turned away, lifted the pot of soup off the stove, and set it on a hotpad.
Kanady and Taz slowly backed away, parting to let me pass. I set the pot of soup down in the middle of the table. I finally spotted Sedgewick: he stood behind me next to the big dining room windows. The curtains had been drawn, but I could hear the ravens.
He just … stared at me.
I flushed and looked away.
“Dinner is served.”
It was the worst dinner of my life. Even worse then my ordination dinner, when my cousin Marcilia had stood up and told a dozen “funny” stories about our childhood together. She neglected to mention the incident at Javith Lake, when she had shoved me into the water and stolen my bike, but had gleefully related plenty of others.
This dinner was far worse.
No one said anything, but I kept catching covert glances out of the corner of my eye. Taz, then Kanady, then Taz again, then Meritha. Only Sedgewick never looked at me, keeping his focus on his food.
The silence and the suspicion grated on my nerves.
The ravens were definitely laughing.
I finally tossed down my spoon and snapped, “Enough already! I am not a Divine Summoning!”
“Mmm,” Kanady said around the spoon in their mouth, exchanging a long look with Taz.
She pursed her lips and frowned. “I hope the poem is good. Because the Saga of the Dragon of Orzira is just awful.”
Kanady made a face. “Villanelle. Worst poetic form ever. blech”
“Think we’ll be in it?” Meritha asked. “I could be the spunky comic relief. Like the Nine-Tailed Cat.”
Sedgewick remained silent.
Kanady frowned at her. “I never read the Nine-Tailed Cat as the comic relief.”
“Yeah,” Taz agreed. “He ate an entire army.”
“Yep. And that was hilarious.”
Sedgewick stood suddenly, pushing back his chair. “Excuse me.”
Meritha watched him, her eyes narrowed. I followed her glance as he crossed the living room and pushed aside the curtain and to peer out the window. Then he lifted a hand to his ear.
He must have put in his ear piece when he changed clothes. Or had he been wearing it the entire day, even up to the Skiya River and to see the Hag in the Great Pyramid, and I hadn’t realized it?
“Standby.” He flicked the curtain back down and turned to us. “A representative of Grandfather Arcis would like to entire the coven house and speak with Necromancer duMar.”
I felt my eyebrows jump.
“Yep.” Meritha stuffed the last of the garlic bread into her mouth. “Passed the information down to their successors. Ten to one he wants to find out how much you know. And whether or not you plan to blab it all over Egleia.”
“Seconded,” Kanady said, elbow braced on the back of their chair.
I shifted in my chair, directing my attention to Sedgewick. “In that case, we should return the favor.”
He gave a curt nod, turned away, and muttered something that I couldn’t hear.
A moment later, there was the rumble of tires, the flash of headlights through the curtains, and a car pulled up in front of the house. I stood, pacing a few steps into the living room, and felt Taz and Kanady come up on either side of me. Meritha’s chair scraped and I caught a flicker of movement as she disappeared into the kitchen.
Cha-Cha, materializing from elsewhere in the house, curled between my legs.
Sedgewick pressed his hand to the ironwood door. “Achiya.” It flickered out of existence, but I couldn’t see past him. I only heard a car door open and close, and footsteps as someone came up the stairs and crossed the front porch.
He finally moved aside and a Zoemantic Vigilant stepped into the house.
Whereas the Necromantic Vigilants favored the colors and symbols of autumn and winter — black, blues, very dark reds, brown and gold — their Zoemantic counterparts preferred those of spring and summer — white, greens, light reds and pinks, yellow. This Vigilant sported full tactical armor, the equivalent of formal battle dress: a heavy, tightly woven white body suit; forest green plates of strong, light-weight metal over her chest, arms, and legs; and thick-soled boots. She had tossed her hooded face mask over the back of her collar. Two long daggers hung from her belt, with two more on her forearms.
She bowed. “Necromancer duMar. I am honored. I am Carys Armeia, First Vigilant of Arcis, the Grandfather, High Holy Zoemancer of Egleia.”
“First Vigilant Armeia, you are welcome. May I present my covenmates, Taz Okura and Kanady Rees, and our First Vigilant, Willow Sedgewick.”
Half smiles and half bows to each as I introduced them.
“How may we be of service to the Grandfather?”
“You will present yourselves to him at the Great Pyramid tomorrow, immediately after the dawn rite.”
“For what reason?”
Armeia’s eyebrows twitched, her expression quickly smoothing. “I cannot answer that question. His reasons are his own, and not shared with me.” Another bow. “Tomorrow.”
She turned and exited without a backward glance. Sedgewick followed on her heels, calling the ironwood door back into existence as soon as she stepped through.
A door slammed, tires rumbled, and the car pulled away.
I bent to pick up Cha-Cha, my arms shaking slightly, and turned to exchange glances with Taz and Kanady.
“Yep.” Meritha lounged in the kitchen doorway, tub of mint cotton candy ice cream in her hands. She shoveled a spoon into the frozen goodness. “Definitely wants to grill you to figure out what you know. Or worse. You’ve had weapons training, right?”
[End Part Seven. Part Eight appears in the May 2021 issue of ev0ke.]
[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]