Freebie Mondays: Pocket Preparation (Story 22 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Pocket Preparation (Story 22 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Here we are at last on the final story of the 22 Stories in 22 project!

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “every god can fit in your purse if you try hard enough.” This prompt was actually provided by a friend who sent this message to one of our stream chats. Except they were trying to say ‘every dog can fit in a purse.’ For once, I’ll bless autocorrect for providing us with this lovely idea!

This story ties in with my Aruvalia Chronicles series and features the second generation of characters, Dormal, Silverbell and Valerian (Domerin and Crescent’s children). I specifically wanted to give them the spotlight at some point during this project, especially since they’re starting to become more prominent characters of the series.

I really like the concept of this particular short, but I’m not entirely sure I like the execution. I’m seriously considering re-visiting this short for a brush up in the future.
. . .

“There’s definitely some kind of supernatural influence at work here,” Valerian murmured, his voice low and soft as if he feared being overheard.

Dormal crossed his arms behind his back while he stood at the small, lightly frosted window that looked out over the estate’s front garden. The staff that maintained this space was minimal, and none of the townsfolk would have ventured within the walls of the estate grounds without an invitation, so this fear seemed highly unfounded.

Then again if there was some kind of supernatural presence nearby, it wouldn’t have to obey the laws of normal physics. And if anyone would know about such things, it was Valerian. He was sensitive to otherworldly powers, after all.

“You think your… friend would be willing to help us out with this one?” Dormal cast his brother a sideways glance. He chose his words with care but, since there was no one around to overhear, he wasn’t overly worried about disturbing someone with the reference.

Valerian barely lifted his head when he glanced in his brother’s direction – keeping his blighted eye veiled, though Dormal had made it abundantly clear the strange markings didn’t trouble him.

“I think he’d rather not,” he admitted with a soft sigh.

It was warm inside the house. Dormal tended not to call for a fire in the massive hearth that dominated the central sitting room, but the modern furnace installed in the estate several years ago meant it stayed cozy without the extra effort.

Still, he thought he saw a hint of his brother’s breath curling along the frosted window, creating a fresh set of ice crystals.

He frowned and scanned the dormant garden. It looked like a sea of spiked twigs and burlap wrappings dusted by a light layer of snow – hardly a postcard-worthy image. But he had seen these gardens at all other stages of the year and recognized the current state of the garden as protective – ensuring the annual flowers would bloom to perfection when sun warmed these lands again.

Like his father, he had never put much stock in the supernatural. His connection to the magical fields that permeated the world allowed him to track most strange occurrences. Things that other people considered anomalies made perfect sense to him – and could often be replicated. But he admitted to being stumped by recent events.

When he first heard the stories of the trouble plaguing the townsfolk shortly after the royal children’s’ arrival for a long-needed winter getaway, he had been certain they could be rectified within the week. A simple glance at the magical currents in the area and a little nudge here or there should have done the trick.

But the stories were only the tip of this particular iceberg. The odd holes appearing on the edges of farmland weren’t just land disfiguration, for example. The land had been displaced, replaced with soil from thousands of miles away and in quantities that didn’t match the dimensions of the holes. Numerous objects had gone missing ranging from simple farming tools to expensive computer equipment, and no amount of searching had turned up potential suspects.

Some of these objects appeared a week or so later in a different location. At least one expensive computer had been discovered smashed to pieces in a basement on the opposite side of town. But most of the objects never turned off. They simply vanished into the ether.

No people had gone missing yet, but there was genuine fear.

Dormal had begun to suspect a rogue adept, someone making use of forbidden magic with unexpected consequences. A situation that could easily escalate if not dealt with swiftly. But some of the odd occurrences didn’t fit that bill either. The swapping of business signs in town, for instance. What rogue adept would waste time and effort magically switching the signs on two corner stores? Or randomly redistributing all the hanging tavern signs on the main street?

Magic had been involved in all of these incidents – the speed of the shift was enough to indicate that even without his careful magical probing. But he had no idea why someone would waste the energy.

“The townsfolk are starting to believe they’re cursed,” Silverbell announced as she swept through the door. A thin layer of white clung to her shoulders, and she shook it free as she shrugged out of her coat. She pulled the green-colored gloves from her hands and set them aside, then she hugged herself to return some measure of warmth to her limbs. “It might be a good idea to nip that in the bud as quickly as possible.”

“We would know if we were dealing with a curse,” Dormal grumbled. That he could easily have banished without all this rigmarole.

Warmth returned to his sister quickly, especially when she joined the small gathering beside the window. Her arm slid instantly across Valerian’s shoulder and, together, they turned toward one of the couches.

Dormal lingered a moment longer, peering out across the white-powered landscape before he abandoned the window and wandered toward where his siblings settled down.

“I’ve just come from surveying the latest carnage.” A small smirk touched Silverbell’s lips when she said this. “It’s nothing major, just the swapping of some colored labels. But it’s caused a bit of chaos. This time the target was several popular coffee shops, so the town is in a little bit of an uproar.”

“Never mess with the coffee,” Dormal agreed, feigning a more serious tone.

“We are definitely dealing with some sort of trickster,” Valerian declared. He still refused to meet the gazes of either of his siblings, but he didn’t sound as shy as he had before – a good sign.

“You think it haunts the area?” Dormal pressed. “Something awakened by a recent expansion or, perhaps, the time of year?”

Valerian shrugged helplessly and shook his head. He had allowed his hair to grow longer since the demon incident so that it fell over his eye when he stopped moving. “I honestly don’t know. And I wish I did, because I’m sure we’d all like to deal with this quickly.”

“Well,” Silverbell suggested as she sat up from her easy sprawl and crossed her legs, “I have a suggestion, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

Her tone was serious but a half-grin danced across her lips, giving Dormal the impression she was mocking him just a little.

“You want to do a séance?” he retorted, barely resisting the urge to snort.

“Listen,” she countered, shooting him a sharp look, “trying to commune with this thing is our best chance of figuring out what the hell it wants. And if we can give it what it wants, hopefully it’ll stop fucking with the locals.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Valerian challenged quietly.

“Then we find some way to banish it,” Silverbell replied, lifting both her palms in a helpless shrug. “It’s better than running around chasing our tails with nothing to show for it. And just because it hasn’t ventured close to the royal estate yet doesn’t mean we can count ourselves as immune from its meddling.” She held up a warning finger when she said this.

“I never said I was going to leave the locals to fend for themselves,” Dormal replied and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He tried not to sound wounded, but it was difficult. He took his responsibility to help others just as seriously as his father, even if he didn’t get to exercise it nearly as often.

“Nice to know you’re still every inch your father’s son,” Silverbell teased gently, mirth dancing through her eyes.

“So how do we do this?” Valerian demanded, his soft voice cutting through the teasing. “Some kind of ritual?”

Silverbell made a soft, thoughtful sound. “If it is a spirit, asking it to interact with us is probably our only chance to pin it down.”

Valerian pressed his lips into a grim line, and Dormal read a lot from his silence. If they weren’t dealing with a spirit, any form of ritual would put them at a lot more risk. No one knew that better than him.

After a few moments of tense silence, Dormal sighed and said, “It’s up to you, Val. If you don’t think it’s worth the risk, we won’t take it.”

Valerian gritted his teeth, clearly struggling with the weight of the decision thrust on his shoulders. But at last he breathed deeply and said, “No, I think we’re out of options.” Then he fixed his sister squarely in the center of his gaze – blighted eye and all – and added, “Just be damn careful, okay? I’m not sure I could pull your ass out of this fire, and I don’t want to explain to Domerin why he has a second demon situation on his hands.”

It was an easy enough agreement to make.

*   *   *

Dormal would never understand why spiritual rituals involved dozens of candles. His mother had explained to him on numerous occasions – and his sister had repeated her teachings – that candle flame could be used to purify. But surely one candle would have been enough.

Silverbell had spent half a day hunting down thick red candles, which she arrayed at odd intervals throughout the sitting room. The couches and chairs had been pushed to the sides of the room, and the intricate rug that protected the aged wooden floor had been rolled aside to grant her the space necessary to draw a chalk rune circle. Some of the candles rested on the floor within the rune drawings, others were perched on tables and shelves scattered along the outside of the room.

If Dormal applied magical theory to the formation, it was easy to see that they were dealing with dual layers of protection here. A circle in the center to prove as a shield and – theoretically – trap whatever they summoned within the confined space. But the smattering of other candles were a second line of defense, a way of keeping the spirit from darting elsewhere in the house if it escaped the confines of the rune circle.

Of course magical theory didn’t apply directly to supernatural occurrences, which was why they were in this situation in the first place. So if they summoned something into that rune circle, Dormal doubted they could count on traditional mage shields to subdue or block it.

And he had strong doubts about whether or not they could make something appear. He had never seen a spirit made manifest, though he had been to several places that possessed odd supernatural energy. Usually the anomalies dissipated over time of their own accord.

His father would have considered this whole exercise nonsense, and Dormal couldn’t say he blamed him. Most of the things people wrote off as supernatural were designed to look that way.

Perhaps a lack of result here will finally allow us to prove to everyone that something else is going on here. Something tangible that we just haven’t pinned down.

Silverbell finally finished the last of her preparations – which involved a stick of incense and a lot of chanting. She set the fragrant stick back in its holder and sat cross-legged at one side of her chalk circle before announcing, “I’m ready to begin.”

Dormal stiffened as he pushed off the wall. He exchanged a glance with his brother, wondering just how skeptical Valerian was of this process. But then he nodded and gestured to the circle. “Where do you want us?”

“East,” Silverbell replied, indicating Dormal. Then she locked eyes with her twin and said, “West. We’ll leave the northern position open for the spirit to take, if it deems us worthy of communication.”

It was all Dormal could do not to roll his eyes. It wasn’t that he disrespected the beliefs of his mother and sister – he tried his best to hold everyone’s personal beliefs in high regard. But this felt like a game they might have played while they were kids.

Swallowing his response, Dormal circled his sister and sat in the indicated position while his brother sat across from him. Valerian’s muscles were tense, making his discomfort easy to spot. But he shook his shoulders and settled his palms on his knees.

Dormal mirrored the gesture.

Silverbell gave them both a moment, perhaps understanding that this was unfamiliar territory for Dormal and far too familiar territory for Valerian. Then she began to chant. She chose elvish for this incantation – perhaps because of the language’s lyrical quality. Her tone was low and soothing, and the flow of words from her lips seemed almost hypnotic.

Dormal’s eyelids drooped and his shoulders relaxed. He almost forgot why he was here until he heard Silverbell’s voice ring loud and clear throughout the room, proclaiming, “Come to us, spirit! We leave a space open for you. State your name and intentions that we might fulfill your desires.”

Dormal held his breath. He expected nothing to happen. They had nothing to move between them to indicate the presence of a spirit, so he wouldn’t have to accuse his sister of moving anything on her own. He figured they would simply sit in awkward silence for a few minutes while Silverbell repeated her entreaty.

He wondered how long it would take her to give up.

But she never had to speak a second time. The air between Dormal and Valerian warped and shifted. It was so sudden, so unexpected, Dormal almost leapt to his feet. But he knew just enough about these situations to know that he would break the circle if he did that, and that would be bad. Especially if there was actually something here; they couldn’t let it escape the protective circle.

It took a moment for the ripple to resolve into a shape. When it did, it was much smaller than Dormal expected. Not a bipedal figure with its legs crossed in the way of the siblings – this was a small four-legged creature.

Dormal stared at it for a long moment before he recognized the ears of a rabbit. They were tilted up and back, as if to express curiosity. A pair of long antlers rose from the rabbit’s forehead, calling to mind the image of a jackalope. But this strange beast also had a pair of small wings folded at its side and a pair of long fangs protruding from its mouth. It’s fur was long and scruffy, indicating its wild nature. Its color was washed in an eerie blue glow, making it difficult to place any of its markings, but Dormal was pretty sure it had glowing read eyes.

“Oh please-” he blurted before he caught himself.

This had to be some kind of trick. There was no way this was a real thing.

The creature grinned, making its pointed fangs seem more prominent. Dormal had been exposed to Crescent’s infamous pirate friend, Silkfoot Lightvolt, often enough to recognize the glimmer of mirth in the creature’s eyes.

It was definitely having a laugh at their expense.

“Welcome spirit,” Silverbell interjected after shooting Dormal an acid glare. “Do you wish to state your name?”

“Clever little child,” the spirit replied, its rabbit lips perfectly forming each of the words, “you know the kind of power associated with names. So while I am impressed that you would attempt to so boldly acquire mine, I’m afraid I cannot provide it.”

“Fair enough,” Silverbell replied with a polite nod.

But the words set off alarm bells in the back of Dormal’s mind. True names had power for only the most powerful magical practitioners. So was this the projection of a mage after all?

He cast a glance in Valerian’s direction and noticed he had gone stiff as a board, his shoulders partially lifted, his eyes wide.

Could this be a demonic figure, then? Something they all knew for certain existed, having dealt with one in the past.

“If you will not tell us your name, spirit, will you at least share your desires?” Silverbell continued. Both her tone and figure were unruffled, as if she were merely catching up with an old friend over coffee.

The rabbit creature chuckled. “What if my desire is merely to remain amused?”

Silverbell replied by arching an eyebrow. “I suppose I could take no offense to such a confession, though you must be aware we cannot allow this chaos to continue.”

“A shame,” the odd creature replied, its tone mocking. “Though I do not yet see how you propose to stop me.” The creature looked even more bizarre with a wicked grin spread across its features and its fangs pointing almost horizontally out from its mouth.

Dormal nearly shuddered.

He needed to focus. Careful not to draw attention in his direction, he activated his mage sight.

A bright aura appeared around the beast. He wasn’t entirely sure, having never dealt with the concept of ghosts before, but he felt certain a supernatural being – something dead or departed – would not possess such warmth and magical richness. He would expect it to be cold and washed with an odd resonance.

He caught his brother’s gaze, and Valerian moved his eyes rapidly between Dormal and the rabbit thing several times.

So it had to be some kind of imp, something that came from the same plane as his passenger. Which would explain why it didn’t want to get involved.

<Imposter,> he murmured into his sister’s head, a quick soft message that hopefully their visitor wouldn’t pick up on, though he was sure to stress the imp part of the message.

Silverbell replied with an almost imperceptible nod. Her focus remained on the creature across from her, and her expression remained carefully neutral. Dormal had no idea how his sister intended to deal with this odd thing, but she must have a plan.

“How unfortunate,” she murmured as she reached for a pouch laying beside her right leg, “that you think us powerless in the face of your trickery. Did you think I came to this circle unprepared?”

Her hand dipped into the dark fabric pouch and, while she grasped for whatever lay within, the air rippled next to Dormal again. He felt certain the rabbit was trying to vanish and – for the barest hint of a moment – a larger figure took its place. The flicker made it difficult to discern the trickster’s real features, but Dormal was fairly sure bat wings were folded tight against its back.

The rabbit returned and offered a sharp snort in response to Silverbell. Before it could speak, however, she drew a small ring from her pouch. On it were several charms. Dormal didn’t recognize most of them, but the symbols were easy enough to describe.

The first was a pair of moon charms, each with a full circle and a half crescent arranged in configuration. He recognized this as representing Aruvalia’s twin moons, though he wasn’t sure what the placement of the individual moons was supposed to represent.

Silverbell thrust the symbol forward and murmured something in dwarvish – which caught Dormal entirely by surprise. She spoke the words with great conviction, and it took Dormal’s brain a moment to translate them.

This was some kind of blessing – may the moons shine light upon each path you walk, or something to that effect.

Silverbell had moved on to the next while Dormal was still processing the first. This symbol was a massive leaf adorned with gold on the outside and green gemstones lining the central portion. This blessing she spoke in elvish – may the roots of your ancestors allow you to reach high.

The rabbit creature grunted softly, as if this caused it great pain, so Silverbell spoke another blessing and pressed the leaf closer to the imp’s image. It turned its head as if trying to escape the holy imagery, but remained steadfastly within its position at the head of the circle.

With a shrug, Silverbell retracted the keychain and flipped through several more symbols. She stopped on another tree. This one had roots and leaves carved along its edges, and a great silver star was perched between two of the branches on the right hand side.

“May the celestial mother turn her eyes on you,” Silverbell proclaimed in common as she thrust the tree forward.

This produced a low wail from the imp’s lips. The rabbit image melted, and the flickering countenance of the horned, winged figure reappeared. It seemed more solid in color than the rabbit – its skin a vibrant shade of aquamarine, its wings lined with dark navy sails. It dug its claws into the floor, as if that would anchor it.

Silverbell grinned, drew back the keychain and flipped through several more symbols, arriving at last at an intricate star. The different sections of this symbol glimmered with gemstones, glitter and what almost seemed to be captured starlight.

His sister set this symbol against the imp’s forehead – now that she could see it – and in a light tone she said, “The light of all stars shines in this space, clearing and cleansing the world of evil influences.”

The demon tilted its head backward to unleash a wicked scream, but it never got a chance. It seemed as if a hole opened beneath it and it was sucked away even as bright flash of light issued from the symbol Silverbell held in front of her.

It all happened in a moment. A great rushing wind extinguished several of the candles and, when the hole closed, there was a light smear of chalk where the rabbit thing had been. There were no claw marks, and Dormal detected no other magic.

He hadn’t even seen magic issue from the star pendant!

But then where did the light come from?

He blinked as he regarded his sister, but she merely smiled smugly and returned the charms to the pouch. Then she slid her legs to the side, rose, and brushed the chalk dust from her legs.

“That’s quite the pocket arsenal you’ve got there,” Valerian murmured, obviously impressed.

Their sister responded with a grin and a shrug. “It never hurts to know alternative methods for dealing with these sorts of situations.” This was clearly directed at Dormal – her eyes lingered on him a moment and flashed with righteous triumph. But then she turned and headed for the door as if this had been a perfectly typical morning.

“Besides,” she declared just before disappearing through the door, “any god can fit in your purse if you try hard enough. Doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

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