“Close the door, hurry!” Jesse said, racing into the storage chamber. Markum rushed in behind her, and slammed the door shut with a wave of his hand.
“The goblin guards didn’t see us,” Markum said. Sweat rolled down his face.
“Thanks to your hexes,” Jesse said. “Allucat.” The candles high on the wall sprang to life.
Jesse squinted, taking in the space. Boxes lined the walls, rugs sat rolled up in the corners, and crates stacked high created narrow passages through the room.
“You’d think the wizards of Menchet Manor could afford a cleaning spell,” Markum said, shouldering boxes out of his way.
“Shit, where are we going to do this?” Jesse said.
“Do you want me to check the other rooms?”
Jesse shook her head, “I doubt they’re any better, and the goblin guard would have seen us if not for your last hex. We’ll have to make this work.”
Markum nodded, and skirted ahead of her to peer through the rubble. “Jesse, over here!” he said. She followed his voice to a space that was a few feet wide.
She sighed. “I guess this will have to do.”
Markum smiled as he squeezed in next to her. “Hey. We got this.”
“You’re right,” Jesse said. “Sorry, I’m just nervous.”
“So am I. It’s not everyday you summon a spirit.”
Jesse smiled back. Markum gave her the same comforting look he had given her for years, and she relaxed. They had made it into the bowels of the manor, now all they had to do was lay out the supplies, summon the demon, and possess a wizard. Simple, right?
“Let’s get everything set up,” she said.
Markum crouched and opened the bag.
“Heart of frog,” Jesse said.
“Ray of moonbeam.”
“Check,” Markum said, pulling it out. He put it on the floor and covered it with a handkerchief to dampen the glow.
“Great,” Jesse said. “Hair of wolf?”
“Hair of wolf?” She said again.
“Uh, yeah, check.”
Jesse looked up, raising her eyebrows. “Are you sure?”
Markum shuffled around in the bag. He pulled out a tuft of hair and held it up. “Yes, see, look, I got it.”
“Okay, just making sure,” Jesse said, looking back over the list.
“I know, but I told you I packed the bag,” Markum said, putting the hair down.
“Honey, I’m just trying to make sure we are good to go. I want this to go well.”
“So do I! We’ve been planning this for months,” Markum said. “I got the bag set.”
Jesse softened. “I know. Of course I know that. But when we didn’t go over the checklist for our Unhappening spell, you had an extra head for three days.”
Markum sighed. “You’re right,” he shook his head. “I’m sorry, the adrenaline is putting me on edge. But, I count the Unhappening spell as a success. With two heads we had double the lookout!”
Jesse gave Markum a look.
“Okay, so it ate some of your hair. But the shorter cut looks great!”
Jesse brushed at her hair. “Let’s just focus. No one has sounded the alarm, and the meeting doesn’t start for ten minutes. We can get this done.”
Markum smiled. “You’re right.”
Jesse forced down the urge to pick up her list. Instead, she smiled back at Markum. “Only two more things, a toenail clipped from an iguana at midnight, and a monkey’s cough.”
“Check and check,” Markum said, pulling both vials from the bag. “We are good to go. You have the salt, right?”
Jesse pulled a glass container of salt from her sack and set it on the floor. “Got it.”
She poured the salt in a circle around them. Once completed, she set the jar on the ground and pulled a tattered book from her pack. She knelt next to Markum.
“Okay, the heart of frog goes at the top of the circle,” she said, pointing ahead of her.
“How do you know that’s the top?”
“I mapped it out earlier,” Jesse said.
Markum made a face.
“What?” Jesse said.
“Nothing… You sure you don’t want to measure again?”
Jesse sighed. “I mean, you can if you want to, but I already did.”
Markum grabbed the compass from the bag. “It can’t hurt!” He clicked the compass around and raised his eyebrows. “Hey, look at that, you’re right.”
Jesse mumbled ‘uh-huh,’ and handed him the heart of frog. “Just stick it on the circle.”
She smiled to herself as she read the spell and directed Markum. He only called her captain when she was being, well, bossy. Which happened a lot. Over the years it became a strange term of endearment for them. But she was in charge now. He had already done his part of their plan - getting them into the manor.
As she reread the spell, she admitted something to herself: she hadn’t thought they would get this far.
“Jesse? You ready?” Markum brought her back to reality.
“Yes,” she said. “I have to sit facing the monkey’s cough.”
They re-situated so she faced the vial, the cough - a wisp of gray smoke - curling around inside. Markum sat beside her. She closed her eyes.
“Good luck honey,” Markum whispered.
Jesse took a deep breath. “I entrust this circle of salt to protect me, and everyone and everything inside it. I call upon the ray of moonbeam as a guide and a guard.” She pulled the handkerchief off the moonbeam and its glow lit the circle. “Show me how to enter the eternal world. Protect me from those that would do me harm. Guide me to the one that will help me.”
The acrid smell of smoking salt filled the air. Good. “I have placed these objects into my circle to call him who will do my bidding. To call upon Hemilun-”
Jesse frowned. She knew the name. But the words burned her throat and refused to come out.
“Hemilun-” She tried again. She coughed, choking on the name.
“Jesse?” Markum said.
She shook her head, keeping her eyes closed.
“Hemilunana!” she said. Dread dropped into her stomach. The name was supposed to be Hemilunene.
“Uh, Jesse,” Markum said. “What is- who is that?”
A creature stood outside the circle. They were large, reaching so tall they had to bend down to prevent them from hitting the ceiling. Spindly skinny, the creature was covered in dark blue fur. Jesse frowned. She hadn’t known what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t this.
“Heyo! Names Hemilunana, or Hem for short, nice to meetcha,” Hem reached a long-fingered hand toward Jesse and Markum, but sparks emitted in the air, an invisible barrier slapping his hand back when he tried to cross the salt line.
“Youch!” Hem drew his hand back, and shook it.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Jesse said. She had been trying to call Hemilunene. A spirit of... malice.
“Oh jeez,” Hem bowed his head even further, sporting a turned up squat nose, and shaggy blue whiskers. He looked like a gorilla with a lion’s mane. “It happened again didn’t it?”
“What happened?” Jesse looked at Hem, the great fuzzy spirit, and to Markum, who shrugged. “What happened?” she said again.
“Let me guess, you were looking for my brother. Lunene? He’s scaly. Growly. Kinda mean? That’s what the salt is for.” Hem shook his head. “I should have known, no one ever wants my help.”
“I’m sorry, your brother?” Jesse said, trying to catch up. She looked at Markum. “Why didn’t we get the right spirit?”
Markum frowned, “I don’t know. You didn’t say the right name?”
Jesse checked the materials again. Monkey’s cough, ray of moonbeam, heart of frog.
“Oh shit,” she said.
“What?” Markum looked over her shoulder.
“This is fur of dog,” Jesse said. “I thought you said you packed the bag!”
“I did! I mean, all the hair looks the same.”
“Well now you’re learning the difference between the mighty wolf and the humble dog,” Jesse said, gesturing to Hem.
“Hey now, I’m not all bad,” Hem said. “I’m helpful, I’m loyal, I’m, okay, I’m not as mean but I can get things done, ehyyaah!” He knocked over a stack of boxes which splattered open, oats covering the floor. A cloud of dust exploded in the air.
“I meant to do that,” Hem said, as he brushed himself off. “Show you how strong I am.” He raised his arms and flexed.
“We’re fucked,” Jesse said.
“No, we’re not,” Markum gestured at Hem. “We’ll just have to make this work.”
“Yea, put me to work, I can handle it!” Hem said. “What’s the job?”
Jesse sighed. She couldn’t believe that Markum had packed the wrong hair, but she didn’t have time to concentrate on that now.
“Well, we needed someone to do a possession,” Jesse said.
Hem raised his eyebrows.
“For good reason!” Markum cut in. He gestured to the space around them. “We’re in the basement of Menchet Manor, which runs over the main vein of magic that feeds the spring for the town. It powers our mills, grows our crops, and provides our medicine. But the wizard that lives here is part of a secret collective and we’ve found out they plan to drain the vein tonight. They’ll ruin an essential resource and they’re going to cast an incantation that will give them power over the whole town.”
“It’s awful,” Jess said. “We’re here to stop them. Possessing a wizard means they could do the incantation wrong.” She gave Markum a look.
“Sounds difficult,” Hem said.
“Have you ever done a possession before?” Markum asked.
“Not...exactly,” Hem said.
Jesse put her head in her hands. “We’re so screwed.”
Markum patted her on the back. “No, no, it’ll be okay.”
Jesse knew he felt guilty about their situation. Which he should, because he swore that he had packed the supplies. Angry retorts buzzed through her mind. She bit her tongue. Laying blame wasn’t going to help now.
She could do that later.
“Let’s try it,” Markum said. “Would you be able to possess someone if we found them?”
Hem bobbed his head tentatively, “I could try.”
“We need the demon I picked for this job. Hemilunene,” Jesse said, shaking her head. “Do you think we could call him?”
“No, no, no,” Hem raised his hands up. “Come on, I can do this, let me try, please! Lunene gets all the work. This job could make people take me seriously.”
“If this goes wrong our community will be forced into indentured servitude,” Jesse said.
“Aw, come on, Jesse, let’s help him out, I’m sure he can do it,” Markum said. “And we don’t have hair of wolf. I checked. So we couldn’t call Lunene if we wanted.”
Jesse cursed. “Fine. Hem. You’re up.” Without another word, she swept the circle of salt away, wishing for the malicious demon she had intended to summon. The one who had possessed people multiple times.
But this bumbling idiot would have to do.
“Let’s go,” she said, heading toward the door. Markum scooped everything into the bag and followed her.
“Go where?” Hem said.
Jesse paused at the door, listening through it. “We’ve wasted too much time down here. We need to catch our wizard friend so you can possess him. Then you have to go to the meeting and ruin the incantation.”
“Oh, eh, we’re going already?” Hem said.
Jesse turned and gave him a look. “You said you could do this! You said you wanted a chance. It’s time!”
Hem held his hands up. “Okay! Yeah, I did, just thought we’d get more time to go over the plan, practice, figure out how to make it happen.”
“No time. We have to move.” Jesse nodded and opened the door. It led to a low lit hallway. She motioned for Hem and Markum to follow her out.
Together they crept down the hallway. Jesse had them pause at a set of stairs, listening closely. “Someone’s coming,” She said. “Stay here.”
She pulled a small pouch from her sleeve and took out a pinch of powder, throwing it over her head. Darkness dripped down her, until she was a shadow. She crept up a few more stairs, pausing at the top. Peering down the hall, she saw a wizard moving away. She hissed.
“That’s the signal!” Markum’s voice floated up from the foot of the steps.
“You couldn’t have told me that in the basement?” Hem said.
Jesse rolled her eyes.
“Just go!” Markum said. “She’s already upset about calling the wrong spirit!”
Upset was an understatement.
“Hey, that wasn’t my fault. I said I’d do the job.”
The wizard wore a long cloak embroidered with a compass rose with wings. The symbol of the secret collective. His large hood was pulled up, and he walked slowly but deliberately down the hall. Getting further by the second. Jesse turned and hissed again. She couldn’t believe these two idiots were fighting, and so loudly. What was the point of their signal if she could hear them?
Hem ascended the stairs. Jesse raised her shadowed arm and pointed at the wizard.
Hem nodded and sprang down the hallway. Jesse flinched as his claws click-clacked on the polished floor. The wizard turned just in time to see Hem pounce, letting out a shriek before he was cut off into silence. Hem’s lanky figure disappeared, a sign of a successful possession. Jesse leaned into the hall, watching with a frown. The wizard seemed to be struggling.
“Uh, guys?” Hem called. “I think I need some help.”
“Shit,” Jesse said. She motioned for Markum to come up the stairs as her shadow faded away, the spell over. They walked up to the wizard, who turned.
Wizard Grandmel’s face looked back at them, but with Hem’s eyes. And, Jesse saw with horror, Hem’s feet.
“What happened?” She said. Grandmel had furry blue toes. “What happened to his shoes?”
“I can’t wear shoes, they just burn off,” Hem’s voice came from Grandmel’s mouth.
“But why doesn’t he have his own feet?” Jesse said.
“He struggled a bit against the spell so I kind of only half did it. He’s struggling to kick me out as well,” Grandmel/Hem made a face, “But I think I can hold him back. For a little while.”
“Shit, shit, shit!” Jesse said.
“Okay, we can figure this out,” Markum said.
“How? He’s got the wrong feet!” Jesse said.
Markum opened the bag and dug through it. “We have this leftover heart of frog. Let’s do a joining spell.”
Jesse froze. “You’re insane.”
“It’s the only thing that will work. We just need to get in and out.”
“I’m sorry, what’s happening?” Grandmel/Hem said, curling his toes against the floor.
“He wants to combine bodies with you to give semblance to the possession,” Jesse said. She turned to Markum. “It’s way too dangerous! You’ve never done it with a spirit, let alone a spirit that is half-possessing someone else.”
“This is the only way to do it,” Markum said. “Grandmel was on his way to the spell chamber, we only have a minute or two more before they wonder where he is. Let’s do it, and let’s do it now.”
Jesse looked at him. She couldn’t let him do this, it was the whole point of the possession! He would be walking right into the danger! And the thought of life without him, even though they had their problems - she couldn’t fathom it.
“I’m sorry I grabbed the wrong hair,” Markum said, bowing his head.
Jesse wrapped him in a hug. “It’s okay. I don’t care about that. I just want you to get out of there safe.”
“I will. We will,” Markum said. He handed her the bag. “You’ll be right behind us, right?”
Jesse nodded. “I’ll be waiting in the wings, to help with whatever I can. Just tweak the collective’s incantation so it doesn’t work and we can get out of here.”
“Mess up a spell?” Markum grinned, “Never done it before, but I’ll try.”
Jesse couldn’t help but laugh. She pulled him close and gave him a kiss. “I love you,” she said.
“Love you too.”
“I love you guys!” Grandmel/Hem said, throwing his hands in their air. “Thanks for giving me this job. Now, let’s get a move on. Possessing this old man is giving me heartburn.”
“Try not to talk too much when you’re in there, okay?” Jesse said. “You have my husband’s life and the fate of our community in your blue hands.”
“Yes captain,” Grandmel/Hem said with a salute.
Jesse looked at Markum. “Here we go,” Markum said. He took the heart of frog, held it up, tilted his head back, and swallowed it.
“Yuck,” Markum said. His body shimmered, and he looked up at Hem. “I’m coming in.”
The transformation was so quick she almost missed it, but Jesse was relieved when Hem’s blue feet disappeared and shoes took their place.
“This is… uncomfortable,” Markum/Grandmel/Hem said. They gave Jesse a look.
“It’s now or never,” she said. “I’m right behind you.”
Markum/Grandmel/Hem nodded, and turned to head to the spell chamber. Jesse sent a quick prayer to the moon, then threw another pinch of shadow powder in the air so she could sneak behind them. Markum/Grandmel/Hem moved awkwardly, getting used to their steps. They reached the door to the spell chamber.
“You got this,” Jesse whispered. Markum/Grandmel/Hem reached back and squeezed her hand. If he made it through this, Jesse swore she would forgive Markum any time he forgot an ingredient.
And maybe just pack the bag herself.
They pushed the door open and stepped into the chamber.