Chapter 3 : Prophecy and Portent
Morgana hurried up towards the hallway, her thoughts churning. She paused for a moment at the top, taking a deep breath while she thought. She glanced at the statuesque grandfather clock. On the painted dial above the hands, the sun was starting to peek out as the nightscape faded. The outside world was only about fifteen minutes away from losing the safety of darkness.
On seeing this, Morgana decided to set course for the garden in order to gather a large bunch of sage. Quite frankly, they were going to need all the help they could get, she mentally muttered to herself as she yanked the heavy wooden back door open. She made her way down the three crumbling back steps and started across the ‘charmingly’ overgrown lawn towards her herb garden. Just a couple of steps into her route, her foot collided with something solid. Half tripping-half jumping over the obstacle, she glanced back towards the offending object. It appeared to be a foot. Her eyes swiftly took in the rest of the mass attached to it. Was that..? It was. Another bloody delivery guy. Literally. Looks like UPS this time. Dracula must have grown bored of the usual Amazon flavour. Sighing and making a mental note to have words with Carlotta about the Drac Snack Disposal Protocol (again), Morgana hurried on.
She surveyed the herb garden with slight dismay. Not nearly as unkempt as the lawn but definitely needed a bit more attention than she’d been able to give it recently. But there was no time for that and besides, it actually worked in her favour right now, as the sage had positively exploded. She hastily gathered a comically huge bunch and turned back towards the house.
She had, in fact, picked so much sage that she couldn’t see exactly where she was walking. The first whispers of light were threatening the safe cover of darkness as the edge of her foot scraped against what she assumed was the unlucky delivery guy. As Morgana shifted her armful of plants to see the ground, she realised her foot was on fire. Like, actually on fire. The small but fierce flame sizzled out a second later, but the edge of her now ruined Chelsea boot was glowing, and a searing pain danced across her heel.
“Fuckety fuck sticks, what the…”, she gasped as she peered towards the source of pain. The unmistakable outline of a silver crucifix glinted in the pre-dawn inkiness. Her lips pursed. Not good. Really, really not good. She felt a frown forming as she noticed two more just behind the first. Still in pain, she hobbled towards the back steps, not wanting to add to her injury by being caught out as daylight fully broke. Her gaze passed over the far corner of the house. To her growing concern, she clocked another three crucifixes arranged there under a rose bush. Spinning awkwardly on her unburnt foot, she realised the first three were arranged at the opposite corner.
Morgana pushed through the back door, now oblivious to the stabbing sensation in her still glowing heel, and across the hall to the front door leaving a trail of sage behind her. She opened it just enough to crane her head out to see across the porch towards each front corner.. The sun had risen just enough to feel like ant bites on her cheeks, but that was not as alarming as the trio of crucifixes that were tucked behind the ivy, again at both corners.
Slamming the door shut, Morgana closed her eyes, which had begun to go cloudy after exposure to the first rays of sunlight. She remained still for almost a minute, waiting for her sun-clouded vision to clear. Rising to her feet again and kicking off her ruined boots, she scooped up the scattered sage as she headed purposefully towards Cassandra’s study.
Cassandra paced from one side of her study to the other. Outside, dawn was just about to break, although it was impossible to tell with the windows the way they were – carefully covered with blackout blinds and drapes. The last thing she needed was a stray beam of sunlight slipping through and barbecuing her where she stood. The floorboards creaked as she completed another lap, her eyes fixed upon the page in front of her.
Every surface in the room was strewn with books and scraps of paper covered in scribbled notes. Her bookshelves looked like they’d been ransacked by goblins. However, no matter which way she looked at it or how many different translations she tried, the passage that she had been poring over all night remained stubbornly unmoved by her increasingly desperate attempts to transform it into something less foreboding.
Finally, with a wordless noise of defeat and frustration, she snapped the Codex of Eternal Damnation shut and flopped into the closest armchair. She’d just set it down on the coffee table, figuring that maybe she and the book needed a little space before she lost her temper and hurled it out the window, when the heavy wooden door swung open to reveal Morgana.
The eldest, besides herself, of all in their nest, a casual observer might mistake Morgana for the kind of free love, Boho chic twenty-something one would find wearing a wreath of flowers at Coachella…or the local Starbucks. But despite her penchant for long floral dresses, Morgana was not your average basic bitch. Anyone who treated her as such was in for a rude awakening. Possibly a fatal one. There was a fireiness bubbling below the surface, the only exterior hint being her flowing red hair.
Currently, she had what looked like a fistful of herbs in one hand and a large black raven on her right shoulder. Neither came as much of a surprise to Cassandra. Before she could move any further into the room Munnin, the raven, launched himself into the air and settled with a clatter of talons atop one of the large bookcases lining the walls. With a dry rustle of feathers and a muffled squawk, he settled into an almost statue-like stillness, one beady eye cast down upon Cassandra.
Morgana’s eyes swept the room, taking in the dishevelled state of it. Cassandra, equally dishevelled, was slumped almost drunkenly in an old leather arm chair. As Morgana moved further into the room Cassandra noted that she had somehow developed a slight limp.
Morgana regarded her sister thoughtfully for a moment before she spoke, “So. It seems we have a problem.”
Cassandra nodded, “Yes, it does.”
As Morgana tilted her head curiously, Cassandra could see Munnin mirroring the movement unnervingly in her peripheral vision. “What do you know?”
Cassandra picked up the Codex and gestured vaguely with it, “Not nearly enough. I know that we are in mortal danger. I know that whatever it is will come for us on the night of the Betrayer’s Moon when we enter the parvum mortis and are vulnerable.”
Morgana nodded, tight-lipped.
Cassandra raised her eyebrows questioningly, “And you? What have you heard?”
Morgana limped to the desk and helped herself to the chair, “The runes, the stones, the cards…they all speak of death and destruction but they give no details. Whatever is coming for us will come in six days, like you say, on the night of the Betrayer’s Moon. What I can tell you is that someone, or something, has been casing the house.”
Cassandra sat up straighter, alarmed, “How do you know?”
With a tense half smile, Morgana lifted her bare left foot. Burned into the sole was an angry red imprint of a crucifix. Shocked, Cassandra leaned closer and noted the tiny red Christ figure within its outline, smoldering in Morgana’s flesh. Well, that certainly explained the limp.
“Huh. How in the name of Athena did that happen?”
“Huh indeed. I was in the garden, collecting sage before it got light, when I stepped on it. I checked the whole garden. Someone has placed a silver crucifix at each point of the compass. Three, actually.”
There was a silence for a moment as they were both lost in their own thoughts, contemplating this alarming development. Finally, Morgana spoke again. “We need more details. Fast.”
Cassandra nodded thoughtfully, “What are you thinking?”
Morgana gave her a steady look. “Conjuring.”
Cassandra grimaced, reluctantly nodding in agreement.
Sultry light from many candles flickered and flared across the pitted walls of the basement. Combined with the haze of pungent smoke drifting from the crackling brazier, Cassandra felt she had stepped back in time to some primordial cave. It reminded her of her many visits to the Oracle at Delphi. The memories set her teeth on edge. Morgana was muttering an enchantment under her breath in some ancient language while steadily feeding the flames dried sage. Every now and again, she’d reach into the pestle and mortar at her side and throw a handful of something in that would make the coals hiss and spit for a moment. Finally, she looked up and met Cassandra’s gaze.
Cassandra caught her lip in her teeth for a moment, fighting her natural urge to object. With a sigh, she nodded grimly. This was one of those times when being supernatural really blew goats. She watched as Morgana settled herself cross-legged in the circle of salt on the cold ground. Getting as comfortable as she could on the bare concrete floor, she looked up at Cassandra one last time. Her steely gaze had more than a twinge of anxiety to it.
“If things get out of hand, you know what to do?”
Cassandra nodded once more, “Yes.”
Morgana held her gaze, “And you promise me you’ll do it?”
For a moment their eyes remained locked, both lost in her own unspoken thoughts. Then Morgana closed her eyes and began to chant.
“From the depths I summon thee demon, come forth and do my bidding. I demand true sight and service. Come hither under my power and be constrained within the circle.”
Cassandra glanced around warily as the light in the room seemed to dim and the candles guttered in their sconces. A wash of hot air ruffled her hair, carrying with it a waft of putrid odour. She felt a shudder run the entire length of her body. In the corner, Muninn croaked disapprovingly.
Conjuring was a nasty business. Entities from the lower realms did not appreciate being tied up with magic and forced into the service of sorceresses, vampire or otherwise. It tended to send them into a murderous rage. Although demons were a fairly unstable lot at the best of times so it didn’t take much to push them over the edge. Many an unfortunate magician had met a messy demise by bringing forth a demon without the proper protections in place. But this wasn’t Morgana’s first infernal rodeo.
The drone of Morgana’s chant pushed on as the air in the room became hotter and more oppressive, almost sauna-like. The flames on the candles writhed and whipped as if they were being lashed in a gale. Cassandra felt her skin crawling as the shadows around her seemed to creep closer, all light being sucked inexorably towards the centre of the room where Morgana sat, her eyes clenched tightly shut with concentration and her voice rising and falling with increasing urgency.
Suddenly, a monstrous shadow began to rise up from the ground before her, dark and fathomless as the deepest pit of Hades. Morgana’s voice cracked as if she was under almost unbearable pressure. Cassandra watched with a growing swell of fear in her chest as the thing expanded to fill the room, sucking the last remnants of light into it and filling the space with the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh.
Morgana’s voice was a persistent shout now, her fiery hair whipping around her face and writhing like snakes. The thing crouched over her as if to swallow her whole. Cassandra tensed, wondering if she was going to have to do the unthinkable – cut the tether between her friend and this reality to protect every other living being in it. However, before that particular dread overwhelmed her, there was a deafening crack and…
“You motherless cocksucker, who the fuck do you think you are? I am Abbadon the Destroyer, you want to fuck with this? Huh? What?! I’m going to rip your spine out through your eye socket, you piece of shit! I’m going to piss in your worthless skull!”
Cassandra looked around, confused, for the source of the flood of threats and vile language. She looked to Morgana whose eyes were now open and who was also casting about with a small frown. Finally, they spotted him.
Abbadon was adorable.
He looked like a cross between a quokka and a chinchilla and he was only about half a foot high. His large, dark eyes were filled with a seething fury that was slightly at odds with the fuzzy adorableness of his little face. The stream of invective pouring from his teeny mouth in a high pitched squeak was enough to make a sailor blanch, but Cassandra still couldn’t entirely shake the urge to pick him up and cradle his fluffy little body against her cheek.
They both stared at him, uncertainly.
“What? Cat got your fucking tongue? You fucking wait, I’m gonna rip your fucking faces off and feed them to the hounds of hell. You have no idea, you’re going to writhe in agony for eternity you fucking fucks.”
Morgana seemed to snap out of her shock and cleared her throat.
“Heed me, demon. I have summoned thee for truth and sight. Do my bidding.”
Abbadon spat a minute gob of something vile onto the floor, “I’d rather guide my father into my mother than help you, you stinking meat sack.”
Cassandra’s curiosity got the better of her before she could stop herself, “Do you even have a mother and father?”
Abbadon spun around to face her, “And who the shitting fuck are you? It’s a turn of fucking phrase, numb-nuts. Read a book.” His words definitely lacked the intended threatening quality delivered in his helium shriek.
He swivelled back to face Morgana, “Yeah what? What are you gonna do, huh? You think you’re the big dog? You wanna see who’s got the biggest dick in the room? Huh? You’re on, I’ll fucking crush you. I’ll fucking destroy you AND your pea-brained friend over there. You’re gonna scream as I –”
Morgana muttered something which caused Abbadon to flinch violently, his little body seizing up suddenly. Cassandra fought the urge to dash over and stroke him in concern.
He raised his doe-eyes to meet Morgana’s gaze, clearly trying to look menacing but failing, epicly and mega cutely. “Fuck you. You–”
Morgana raised a hand and cut him off.
“Demon. Abbadon the Destroyer. I seek a name. Once I have what I ask I shall release thee.”
Abbadon narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “You can stop speaking like some Shakespearian twat, you fucking moron.”
Morgana sighed and rolled her eyes, “Fine. We need to know the name of the person or persons that are going to try and kill us on the night of the Betrayer’s Moon in six days.”
Abbadon’s little pink mouth remained, for the first time since he’d been summoned, stubbornly pinched shut and silent. His whiskers, however, trembled as if his cheeks were full of word-wasps trying to sting their way out…
Morgana spoke in a warning tone, “Demon…”
His tiny features screwed up tightly, clamping down with all the might that a six inch being could muster. But his efforts were in vain. Suddenly, like a dam bursting, a single word exploded out of him in an almost glass-shatteringly high pitch.
Morgana and Cassandra’s eyes both widened. Morgana spoke with shock.
“Romanov? A Romanov is here? For us? Which one?”
Abbadon scowled defiantly, “Go shit on your brainless bimbo friend, you sloppy vampire whore.”
“Which. Romanov. Demon.”
Grinding his tiny teeth audibly in a futile attempt to prevent the tip-off being wrenched out, Abbadon replied, “Alina. Alina Romanov.”
Morgana looked up at Cassandra, “I don’t know her, do you?”
Cassandra shook her head.
Morgana looked down at Abbadon, “I thank you for your service, Abbadon the Destroyer. I release thee back to the lower realms and as the circle binds I close this gate between the worlds.”
“Die horribly, you repellant bitch.”
“Be gone, demon.”
With one last offensive paw gesture there was a hollow pop and Abbadon the tiny, fluffy, adorable Destroyer was gone.
The warm glow returned to the room as the candles, along with everything else in the space, seemed to almost breathe a sigh of relief, matching those of Cassanadra and Morgana.
“How the fuck can something be THAT fluffy but also THAT repugnant at the same time?”, wondered Cassandra out loud, as the last of the hell reek cleared. Morgana chuckled wearily, trying to stretch and click the stiff, heavy feeling that always accompanied a conjuring out of her body.
“No idea, the Lords of the Underworld work in mysterious ways. The only thing more screamingly unpredictable than conjuring the physical manifestations of universal evil that I’ve ever encountered was that time I tried to program the VCR. Right, I guess we ought to go fill the others in on their potential imminent demise then.”
Emerging from the basement, Cassandra and Morgana crossed the hall, pausing to poke their heads around the lounge door. Nisha and Mindy were sitting on a heap of cushions, engrossed in a board game involving some kind of odd plasticky blue duck on a light-up dancefloor.
“We need you both in the kitchen please. Nest meeting,” said Cassandra, looking around for the missing vampire. “Where’s Carlotta?”
“Er, she’s in the kitchen already I think,” said Mindy, looking nervous. “Look, if this meeting is about that broken vial of unicorn tears, I can explain, I promise…”
Cassandra rolled her eyes and made a mental note to revisit that topic later. “Alas, something less trivial I’m afraid. Come on.”
Carlotta held up her hands in a slightly defensive gesture, “Look, it’s not that I’m not taking this seriously, it’s just…I mean…”The Codex of Eternal Damnation”? Are we sure this guy wasn’t perhaps just a teensy bit prone to glass half empty outlook on life?”
Cassandra’s lips pursed in annoyance but before she could come to the defense of her new book Morgana spoke up.
“It’s not just the prophecy, Car, and it’s not just the cards or the stones. We performed a conjuring.”
Carlotta’s eyebrows shot up in surprise but all she said was, “Bold move.”
Nisha was looking back and forth between the three older vampires, “Conjuring? Conjuring what? Is that why the whole house smells like burning tires?”
Turning away from Carlotta, Morgana spoke to Nisha and Mindy who both had curious if somewhat apprehensive looks on their faces. “Yes, conjuring often brings forth not just a being but also something of the place they’re being brought forth from. In this case it was one of the lower regions of hell, hence the smell of brimstone. I’ll Fabreeze later.”
Suddenly Cassandra cut in, “Look. We all have a big problem here. There is a vampire hunter coming for us. Already here in fact, if the delightful array of crucifixes arranged artfully around the perimeter of our home are any indication. The hunter could be outside this house right now for all we know. And I’m afraid it gets worse.”
Carlotta let out a mirthless bark of laughter, “How can being hunted by a vampire slayer determined to send us all screaming into the depths of hell get any worse? Are they going to play Jedwood tracks while they stake us? Is their dress sense tragically passee?”
Cassandra met her gaze with an almost apologetic one of her own, “It’s a Romanov.”
Carlotta blanched. Then, blinking in a slightly dazed way, she managed to utter, “Oh shitfuck.”
Nisha frowned in bafflement as she looked from one horrified face to the next. Even Mindy had gone pale, and she was the normally last person anyone would expect to know anything about vampire lore or mystical goings on.
“Wait…what’s a Romanov? What am I missing here?”
Ignoring Nisha for the time being, Carlotta spoke up again. “Wait, I thought the whole lot of them relocated to California ten years ago so they could join in the vampire slaying circle jerk happening over there?”
Morgana shrugged, “That’s the last I’d heard too but apparently there’s at least one here in London. Alina Romanov, to be exact. I’ve never heard of her and neither has Cass, so maybe she’s one of the younger members of the clan. A scion of House Romanov, as it were.”
Finally Nisha ran out of patience, “Oi! Will one of you please for Pete’s sake tell me what the hell the House of Romanov is and why they seem to want us all dead???!”
She looked over at Mindy for support but Mindy, still looking oddly pale and clammy, was staring fixedly at the floor. Wondering fleetingly what on earth had gotten into her, Nisha’s attention was diverted when Carlotta began to explain.
“The Romanovs are an ancient family of demon hunters. They’re not your average hang-out-in-graveyards, hero-complex, leather-overcoat-wearing, fedora-tipping neckbeards who want to stake a vamp and feel like a big man. The Ramanovs are organised, they’re funded, and they are experts. They are also relentless. They believe that they are all that’s standing between humanity and the apocalypse.”
Nisha’s eyes had widened as Carlotta spoke, “Right. Well. They sound…intense.”
Morgana’s eyes were distant, she was clearly remembering something specific as she replied, “Oh they’re beyond intense. They’re inexorable.”
She glanced at Carlotta and Cassandra, “And this isn’t our first run-in with them. The last time we barely escaped with our lives.”
Carlotta shuddered, “Prague.”
Nisha frowned as she digested this, a morbid curiosity rising in her. She wanted to ask more about this clearly harrowing encounter they were remembering, but thought better of it, turning her mind back to the crisis at hand. “But why is this Alina Romanov so intent on killing us now? We don’t even know her, what could we have possibly done to draw her attention to us?”
Cassandra opened her mouth to speak but then Mindy’s trembling voice piped up from the corner where she sat wringing her hands.
“Um…I might know something about that.”
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