Magic Burns Chapter 7

THE PLACE STANK OF ROTTING CITRUS AND OLD socks. Julie clamped her nose. "What stinks?"

"Valerian extract." I pointed to the dark stain on the wall. Glass shards studded the floor below - looked like Esmeralda hurled the vial against the wall. "Our head witch had trouble sleeping."

Narrow to the point of inducing claustrophobia, the trailer lay steeped in gloom. Blood-red tattered drapes hid the windows. Julie picked up a flyswatter off the narrow counter separating the tiny kitchen from the rest of the space and used it to push the curtains open. Smart kid. Who knows what the hell was on those curtains.

In the light of the afternoon, the trailer looked even sadder. A beat-up fridge took up most of the cooking area. I opened the fridge. Years ago I had bought a perpetually cold egglike object, which the seller had called an ice sprite egg. I have never seen an ice sprite, although there were rumors of a swarm in Canada. The egg cost me a pretty penny, but I hung it up in a small sack in a corner of my fridge, and it kept my food partially frozen through the magic waves. Esmeralda had used a cheaper, "friz-ice" method: chunks of enchanted ice, sold for a small fee by Water and Sewer Department. They melted about twenty times slower than regular ice. The trouble with friz-ice was that eventually it did melt, and it had done precisely that, and some time ago too, leaking all over the ritualistically beheaded black chicken on the middle shelf. The sickeningly sweet stench of decomposition slapped my face.

I gagged on putrescence and shut the door before I vomited onto the chicken corpse. Chopping off chicken heads when you're worshipping a bird took some balls. Either that or Esmeralda was an equal opportunity dabbler and tried other magics on the side.

The kitchen held no clues, and I headed to the opposite side of the trailer. I passed a small immaculate bedroom on my left: bed made, no clothes strewn on the floor. An equally pristine bathroom followed, and then I stepped into what should have been the final room.

The Honeycomb had expanded the room, pulling the ceiling up and widening the walls. The grimy linoleum floor ended with the hallway. The bottom of the room consisted of packed dirt, and it sloped to the center, where an iron cauldron sat. The curve of the floor and the bloated ceiling made the room look nearly spherical.

Past the cauldron, at the opposite wall sat a wicker chest. Next to it stood a concrete picnic table. The table was stained with blood.

Behind me Julie shifted from foot to foot.

The magic sat over the cauldron in a big tense knot, but I sensed no wards. I took a step onto the dirt. The room shimmered a little but remained as it was.

I approached the cauldron and lifted the lid. The greasy stench of burned fat and rancid broth assaulted me.

"Ugh!" Julie stumbled back.

My eyes watered. My stomach churned and squirted acid into my throat. I swallowed it back down, took an iron ladle from the handle of the cauldron, and stirred the nauseating brew. Chicken bones, with shreds of rotting meat still clinging to them. No human. Thank God for small favors.

The magic wave died. The technology regained its control, snuffing out the knot of magic above the cauldron.

I slapped the lid back onto the cauldron and moved on to the altar. A few black feathers had stuck to the blood. A long curved knife, sharpened to a razor edge, lay on the table. Black runes, etched with hot wire, covered the handle of the knife. The pieces clicked together in my brain. Now the chicken in the fridge made sense.

Julie finally braved the room. "Is that human blood?"


"So what, she did voodoo or something?"

"Voodoo isn't the only religion that uses chickens. Europe has a very long tradition of divination using bird entrails."

She looked blank.

"You behead a chicken, cut it open, and try to foretell the future by how its guts look. And sometimes" - I used the knife to raise a blood-spattered rope from behind the altar to show her - "you don't kill the chicken first."

"That's just sick. What kind of people did that?"


Julie blinked. "But druids are nice."

"The modern Order of Druids is nice. But they didn't start out that way. Have you ever seen any girl druids?"

She shook her head. "They're all guys."

"So why was Esmeralda messing around with druid rituals?"

Julie stared at me. "I don't know."

"Neither do I."

I had a feeling that she had done it because someone had instructed her to do so. The sick premonition that had made me shiver at the edge of the pit returned full force. The deeper I got, the less I liked this.

I crouched before the wicker chest and opened it, half-expecting more grisly chicken remains. Books. MacKillop's Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Myths and Legends of Ancient Ireland by McClean, Awaken the Celt Within by Wizard Sumara, and Mabinoghen. Three books on Celtic rituals and one about King Arthur.

I handed the Awaken the Celt to Julie. Of the four, it was by far the easiest to read and it had pretty pictures. I grabbed Myths and Legends myself, hoping Esmeralda underlined the important passages. I turned to the index and came to a page with three bloody fingerprints in the middle of the M's. Esmeralda had dipped her hands into the chicken blood and didn't wash them before reading the books. Did she feel anointed? I studied the lines by the prints: Mongan, Mongfind, Morc, Morrigan...Oh shit. I flipped the volume to articles starting with M. Please don't be Morrigan, please don't be Morrigan...A big fat bloody fingerprint on the two-page spread on Morrigan.

Why me?

I felt like throwing the book against the wall. Found a good goddess to worship. "Bestoloch."

"What does that mean?" Julie asked.

"It means 'imbecile' in Russian. Looks like your mom's coven worshipped Morrigan. She isn't a nice goddess."

She thrust her book in front of me. "What's wrong with him?"

On the page, a giant of a man swung a huge sword. Gross bulges broke all over his body, the monstrous muscles swelling above one shoulder, threatening to envelop his head. His knees and feet twisted backward, his colossal arms could've brushed the ground, his mouth gaped open, and his left eye thrust out of its orbit. A glow, indicated with short strokes of the ink pen, radiated from his head.

"That's Cu Chulainn. He was the greatest hero of ancient Ireland. When he got really mad during battle, he went into frenzy and turned into that thing. It's called warp spasm."

"Why is his head shining?"

"Apparently he got very hot during the spasm and after the battle people had to dump water on him to cool him down. In one story he jumped into the cauldron filled with water and the cauldron broke..."

I stared at the cauldron in the middle of the room.

Julie tugged on my sleeve. "What?"

"Hold on a minute." I approached the cauldron and took the iron handles.

"Too heavy," Julie said.

I grunted, picked it up, and moved it aside. The lid shifted a little, spilling the rancid broth, thankfully not on me.

Under the cauldron lay a small pit. Narrow, barely large enough to permit passage to a small animal, maybe a dog the size of a beagle. The edges were smooth, the circumference perfectly round, as if sculpted with a knife. I looked into it and saw darkness. The odor of earth and the cloying stench of decay rose from the gloom.

Deja vu.

Julie pried a clod of dirt from the ground and headed for the pit. I caught her.

"But I want to know how deep it is."

"No, you don't."

She dropped the clod with a sneer. I obviously plummeted a few notches on her cool people meter.

Three small impressions marked the sides of the pit forming an equilateral triangle - the tracks from the cauldron's three legs. Just like the tracks at the coven's meeting place. The big pit in the Gap was missing a cauldron. And a huge one at that.

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