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The Crucible Conundrum

Our own in-house sci-fi writer/product development project manager Amber Smith is back again for her annual Halloween Blog! If you'd like to see her previous years' posts click here! Enjoy!

spooky dog

I softly rested my hand on the top of the gravestone in front of me, the edges rough from time. Goosebumps erupted over my arms as I contemplated the emotional weight of the name and date etched into the stone; the body of my ancestor Heleen Ter Avest lay beneath my feet. Heleen was the first witch in my coven to come to America and had settled with many other witches in what is now Salem, Massachusetts.

My ancestors chose Salem because of the intense magical currents that wove through the earth, into the trees, and blew about with the wind. Being so close to such strong magic made it easier for them to access the power they needed to fuel their spells and brew their potions. Unfortunately, they didn’t foresee the hysteria that would rip through their home and claim the lives of numerous innocents.

What most people don’t know about Salem is that none of the people persecuted for witchcraft were actual practitioners. My coven members, as well as the other witches that came with them, survived by using the magic to shield themselves. They even helped rescue a few accused women, but the hysteria was so fierce, it was impossible to save everyone. I read a few of Heleen’s journals when I still lived in the coven and it was obvious she was wracked with a lifetime of guilt for not saving each and every innocent.

The gentle nuzzle of Moro’s head against my leg pulled me back to reality. “Thanks, girl, I was lost for a few moments.” She licked my hand in response. I had made a pilgrimage to Salem to see if I could figure out how to abdicate my position as the future coven Mother. As the last living descendant of Magdalena, the original Mother, it was my responsibility to take up leadership for my Sisters. “Alright Moro, let’s get out of here and grab something to eat.” My ebony familiar and I made our way out of the cemetery to prepare for tonight’s mission. Tonight, which was Halloween, I would summon Heleen to ask if I could be released from the coven.

I sat in front of Heleen’s grave with my toolkit spread out before me. The various items included candles, chalk powder, incense, and one of Heleen’s journals. The journal would hopefully act as a focus to draw Heleen’s spirit, as spirits are often attracted to personal items that were important to them in life.

“Alright, I can do this,” I whispered to the night. I had never actually summoned a spirit before, and I had little experience with the dearly departed besides a recent poltergeist and some zombies. Moro lay quietly beside me while I lit the candles and began the ritual. I had uttered the first syllable of the incantation when the wind began to pick up. That seems odd, I thought to myself. I figured I hadn’t spoken enough of the spell to elicit a physical response. I shrugged and continued speaking.

I had only relayed a few words when the wind began to blow harder. Moro’s attention darted behind me, and her teeth were immediately visible in a vicious snarl. I turned around to find myself staring at a huddle of zombies. “You have got to be kidding me,” I sighed in exasperation. I grabbed my toolkit and began to look for any items I could use to fend off the shambling corpses. “Moro, let’s find the necromancer controlling these zombies, burn the grimoire, and then get back to work.” I had just pulled out my travel divining rod and was screwing the Y-shaped instrument together when Moro bounded to my right side, growling at the darkness.

“Moro, what are you doing? The zombies are that way.” My familiar’s growl was met with an equally fierce snarl as a werewolf emerged from the shadows. What the devil? I wondered in confusion. My thoughts hadn’t progressed much past this point when a smorgasbord of noises surrounded me. Simultaneously, several creatures edged out of the darkness, illuminated by my candles.

A masked serial killer, a clown, and what I took to be a vampire stopped several feet away. My breath momentarily caught in my throat, not out of fear of the creatures themselves, but because I had never faced this many enemies before, and never by myself. Moro jumped in front of me and used her weight to push me back against Heleen’s grave. This would theoretically prevent any of the monsters from attacking me from behind.

A slew of curses flew through my mind as I scrutinized how to get myself safely out of this situation. My stream of consciousness was interrupted as the horde of beasts began to advance toward me, and I was struck by how they stepped in unison as if their movements were choreography to a dance.

I don’t understand this. I’ve never heard of supernatural creatures being this close in proximity to each other, and seemingly working together? It’s almost as if they’re being controlled… As soon as this thought popped into my mind, I grabbed my phone from my bag and pushed the first number on my speed dial. “Hello?” Srujana’s groggy voice answered on the other end. “Short version: many monsters, Amber alone, need help.” “What are you talking about?” “No time to explain, I’m sending Moro to my house to get a book, then I need you to tell me what it says when she gets to your place.” “I’m so confused, how can your dog get to my house when you’re all the way in Massachusetts?” “She’s not a dog, she’s a familiar, and you’ll see. Call me back when she gets there.” I ended the call and turned to Moro. “I need you to open a portal to our house. Get the large burgundy book on the table in the lab, then portal to Srujana’s. You need to hurry.” My canine companion whined in protest, I’m sure at the thought of leaving me alone and unprotected. “Moro, now!”

She grumbled again but stepped through the portal that opened before her and disappeared instantly. I estimated it would take five or so minutes before Srujana was able to call, so I hopefully didn’t have to be without support for very long. The creatures had watched Moro step through the portal, and as soon as it closed, they trained their attention on me. Thankfully I had been searching the cemetery for possible places to hide, and I ran as fast as I could to a large mausoleum not far away. I grabbed the divining rod and forced it through the rusted padlock. It fell away with a clatter. I made my way inside and looked around for something to block the door.

Luck was not on my side. The crypt was mostly empty, but I noticed there were a couple of vaults whose doors were slightly ajar. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this, I thought as I quickly climbed inside a nearby vault. I squeezed against the wall of the vault, trying my best not to touch the skeleton who inhabited it. I quietly closed the door and tried to make it look as if the vault was sealed. A moment later, the horde made its way into the mausoleum, and I could hear each beast scratching at the vault doors, checking their integrity.

I reached out and grabbed the skeleton’s humerus. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I need to borrow this, I figured it was okay since you don’t need it anymore. Also… please don’t haunt me, this is purely for self-defense.” It was taking an extremely long time for Srujana to call.

The creatures moved closer to my temporary abode. I sighed and licked my lips, preparing to call a spell. I had been training the last year to recall more spells from memory, and I really hoped I had the right words for this one. As soon as the vault door began to creak open, I released the spell.

A gale-force wind erupted outward and pinned all of the creatures to the floor or against the sides of the crypt. As soon as the wind dissipated, I slid out of the vault and shot out of the mausoleum as if there were murderous beasts chasing me because there were. My phone began to ring and I answered with ragged breath. “Go to the section about mind control and tell me what it says.” Srujana read without hesitation. Of all people, she knew the gravity of the situation.

I juggled listening intently with running madly through the graveyard but stopped in my tracks when Srujana got to the part about vampires. “What do you mean vampires are immune to mind control? There’s one chasing me right now and I’m certain it’s taking orders from someone.” “I’m telling you what the book says,” she answered tersely. “Well, there goes that idea. If it’s not mind control, then what?” “Are you sure they’re real?” Srujana asked. “Of course I’m sure they’re real, this isn’t an episode of Scooby-Doo. Send Moro back to me, I need the backup.” “Sure. Also, you really should have prepped me for Moro’s arrival, since I was anticipating a dog and not a creepy, pale woman who doesn’t talk.” “I figured it wasn’t necessary, she can’t carry books in dog form because she doesn’t have hands. I just assumed you knew she’d show up in her non-furry version. I’ll call you back when I’ve figured something out.”

The call had barely ended and I felt Moro rubbing her head fiercely against my hand. “Damn dog, you sure took your time getting to Srujana’s.” My companion growled in disagreement. “You’re right, this isn’t the time or place to argue.” I was about to begin a new sentence when I heard footsteps behind us, and I turned to find the masked serial killer upon us, extremely sharp knife in hand. I stumbled backward and tripped over a gravestone, which fortuitously shielded me as the knife glanced off the stone. As the killer raised the knife to strike again, my familiar dashed forward and clamped down with full force on the attacker’s upper arm.

Even Moro looked surprised as she came away with the severed appendage in her mouth. “Ewww,” I shouted in shock. “Also, look, we match, it’s so humerus!” I waved the skeleton’s arm bone at her. The smirk died on my face when I looked again at the serial killer and saw the new, clearly attached arm that now held a different, but identical knife. I’m so over this, I thought in desperation and annoyance. “Moro, this obviously is not a human, because no one I know can do that, so this has to be magic. Maybe Srujana’s right…”

I grabbed the divining rod once again and willed it to find something, anything. The rod contorted here and there in my hands, like a wolf unsure which way its prey had fled, and I feared that there was too much residual magic to find anything. Within a second, however, the rod spun me around and forcefully pulled me towards the center of the cemetery, where several huge oaks stood on a hill. I could hear the creatures not far behind, as well as the snapping of Moro’s teeth as she struck out at the enemies.

The divining rod literally drug me up the hill and buried itself in the largest tree. I could feel untamed magic pulsing through the ancient oak as I laid my hand on the bark. I wasn’t sure what this tree had to do with the monsters following me, but it was clear that this tree was old and brimming with magic. As the creatures drew closer, I was out of ideas. I dropped to my knees and placed both hands on the tree trunk. “Ancestors, please help me! I’m the last living descendant of Magdalena, and if I die without a successor, our coven dies too!”

I felt Moro’s warm body on my right side, and simultaneously, a cold pressure on my left shoulder. I raised my head to find myself staring through the eyes of a female ghost. “It’s alright child, there is nothing to fear.” She stood up and floated to the creatures that had made it up the hill. “Be at peace guardians, the child is no danger to us.” The monsters stopped at exactly the same moment, then faded away until there was nothing left. I looked up to the ghost. “I don’t understand,” I said. “What are those creatures, and why were they chasing me? And who, who are you?” Before she could respond, Moro bounded up to the spectre and sat patiently in front of her. The woman leaned down and petted her gently. “Hello sweet girl, how are you? It’s been such a long time since last we met.”

“Moro, what’s going on?” I demanded. “Moro? What an intriguing name. In my time, she was called Nyx, although she has had countless monikers in her existence.” I stared at my familiar, which I thought was just a normal dog until a year ago. The spectre stood up and addressed me. “I am your ancestor, Heleen Ter Avest.” “Heleen? I came here tonight to summon you! I need your help. But before that, why were your “guardians” trying to kill me?”

“Because they did not know you were my blood. I created these sentries a few decades ago to keep humans away from the powerful parts of this cemetery, like these trees.” “Yes, I read in your journal that you moved to Salem because there was so much wild magic.” “Indeed, this is an incredibly potent magical place. Humans are rather stupid and while they don’t normally possess the ability to use magic, there are some with enough natural inclination to do rather stupid things. Also, I’ve spent my afterlife trying to protect the other spirits that live here.” She gestured around us, and I saw not just ghosts, but spirits of all shapes and sizes around us.

“Many of these spirits have existed in this place eons before it was a cemetery, and I use my magic to protect this last bastion of peace they have.” I sat in silence for a moment. “It really is like an episode of Scooby Doo. I even have a mangy mutt as a sidekick.” I chuckled until I realized that meant I was Shaggy, which I refused to accept. I had always pictured myself as more of a Velma.

“Dear granddaughter, I would love to answer your questions, but the power of All Hallow’s Eve wanes, and we do not have enough time to teach you all that you would like to know.” I began to protest, but she silenced me with her outstretched hand. “There are other ways for us to communicate that do not rely on you summoning me. Return to the coven and seek my journals, and you will find a way for us to speak again.” Heleen gave Moro one final stroke and kissed her on the head. “Goodbye dear friend, until we meet again.” With that, Heleen disappeared like a thief in the night.

After several moments of sitting on the hill, I pulled out my phone and texted Srujana. Remember how I said these creatures were definitely real? I began to type. Let’s just say we were both right, sort of. Fill you in tomorrow. Moro and I made our way back towards the cemetery entrance. I made sure to put back the humerus and apologize again for taking it, and for also making a joke with it. Before we exited, I took one last look at Heleen’s grave. Even though the night hadn’t turned out quite as I had hoped, I was at least closer to my goal. “So, what do you want to do, Scooby Dooby Doo? After we take a nap of course.” Moro laid her ears back and looked at me with annoyance. I scratched the fur around her neck, glad to have survived another Halloween.


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