16 June 2007
It had taken some effort to find it, but Jackie was sure she’d identified a promising site to reach across the hedge. According to the water spirits, there was a ley line that crossed the Shenango River outside a little town called Pulaski. She’d heard about it early after moving to the area, but didn’t have the means or a good reason to bother hunting it down before. But now, with the search for Rick in full swing, and since Matteson had basically given her Henry’s car once she had her license set up in PA and he wasn’t able to drive her around, she was finally prepared to go investigate.
She arrived just after dusk, having gone home to change and grab a few final supplies after work. The main thing had been the blood. With Hecate’s magic not getting the results she needed, Jackie had turned her focus to the rituals passed down by her grandmother, which included animal blood. She was thankful the local butcher hadn’t asked too many questions about why she needed the blood, and knew she couldn’t risk the conversations that would happen if she tried to leave it at work during her shift. So it was in the fridge at the house, and once she had it in hand, she was ready to go.
It took about an hour and a half to set the ritual up, between making sure everything was in the right place and chanting the incantations over various elements. When everything was finally ready she took her place and pulled the ring Rick had been hiding out of her pocket. She stood silent for a moment, closing her eyes and holding the ring up to her forehead, thinking about him. About his face, her feelings for him, the moment she realized what he was about to do. The last words she ever heard him say.
“Walaya,” she whispered. “Ansarasa Richard?” The ring began to glow faintly as she kissed it and moved it away, holding it at arm’s length directly ahead. “Ansarasa kupia?” The air began to crackle and hiss as she poured her focus into the spell. She saw a road begin to form before her in her mind’s eye, a path through the hedge that led directly to the Crossroads. She tried to focus, to push farther, but she couldn’t get any more information than that. No paths from the Crossroads became clear, it was just a jumble of different roads and trails, a maze that had no end. She strained against the resistance, biting her lip until she drew blood, the ring glowing bright as day and burning her fingers as the blood dripped down her chin and fell to the markings at her feet. She could feel him there, just beyond where she was looking, if she could just identify a road. Her head started to throb as she pushed harder, but nothing came into focus. She pushed, and cried, and screamed, and repeated her incantations until she had no energy left.
As the vision suddenly departed and the ring fell from her hands, she fell to her knees and opened her eyes. Her head was spinning, her vision unclear, her body weak. She brought her burnt and shaking hands to her eyes as she cried, rocking back and forth as she battled to hold onto the last shreds of hope in her ability to find him. If this took everything she had, she reasoned, and it wasn’t enough…
“Impressive,” a male voice said. She looked up but couldn’t make out details of the man standing before her. He was dressed in a suit, and his hair looked long and dark, maybe with areas of gray, but it was hard to tell through the exhaustion and tears. “Jacqueline, was it? You’ve certainly made a name for yourself among the water spirits around here. Jacqueline the water witch, galavanting around with the Riverborn Anchor. Has he told you about me, young lady?” He knelt down before her, leaning his head close enough that she was finally able to make out some familiar features on his weathered face. “Have you heard about John’s dear old grandfather?”
Her eyes went wide as she realized this was Jeremiah, and she immediately reached out and began trying to utter a curse. But her voice was strained, and her body was weak, and she only got two syllables out before she fell over, coughing.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, pulling away to dodge her hand and then standing. He looked her over as he brushed the dirt from his knee. “You have considerable skill, I’ll grant you that. But you’re far outside of your league, and made of an awful lot of water.” He raised his hand and she felt her body lift off the ground as she fought for air. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t serve my purposes to kill you right now. I just need you to be a message to John.”
She whimpered as she felt her body being pushed and pulled, her muscles being kneaded like dough. Her lungs struggled to hold what little oxygen she could get in through her gasping breath, and her heart strained against her chest as her vision started to fade.
“Sleep well, little witch,” he said, just before she blacked out.