Over the Hedge
I didn’t realize how bad Alice was taking all of this until she started throwing up. At that point, I had to turn my attention away from the fight and focus on helping her. I didn’t really know what she was going through in that moment, but I knew that she needed someone, and I was the only someone available. So I tried my best to help calm her down, though I doubted she was really paying that much attention. I did my best, though, and when she was finally calmed down enough I turned my attention back to the fight. Hopefully things hadn’t gone too far off course while I was failing to give magical support.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was the priest, standing in front of an open portal with an elder entity trying to reach through, holding Rick prisoner. The arm was translucent, and I realized it was still partially in the metaphysical realm. The spell wasn’t complete yet. It needed something more to push it over the edge, and there was a blade pressed against Rick’s neck. I let go of Alice and stepped forward into the clearing, just at the edge of the trees. Matteson was still opposite me, and the priest’s eyes were fixed on him. Rick looked at me, though, and gave a weak smile.
I tried to think of a spell that would help. Something I could cast to free him while the priest was occupied with Matteson. Something I could do to turn the tide. But as soon as my mind turned to magic, it went foggy. I couldn’t think straight, I could barely stand. I tried to push through it, but it was unyielding. I get it now. During the fight, when no one knew where the priest was, he must have been preparing. Setting a trap. Ensuring that my attempts to use magic against him would fail. I tried to take a step forward but the world started to spin and I fell to my knees. My vision was blurring slightly. I reached out toward Rick and could see tears coming down his cheeks.
“I said I wouldn’t hesitate,” he said. The priest looked at him and then at me, and smiled. He turned his attention back to Matteson. The closest thing to a threat in the clearing.
“What?” I asked. He smiled again.
“I love you, Jackie.” With that, he bent forward slightly, and then pushed off against the ground. He pushed back against the priest, who was too caught off-guard to react, and they both hit the low stone altar and rolled backward into the portal. There was a blood-curdling scream, and the arm of the creature reaching through the portal fell back into it after them.
Matteson charged forward and I suddenly had to make do with whatever plan I could scrape together on the fly. Everything we had talked about was out of the question as soon as he was in the middle of things. So I felt around on the ground for a stone and, once I found it, I invoked its strength in a protection spell to buy him time to free the others. I knew I couldn’t put it too close to them, so I created it a little ways out, between them and the cultists that Matteson wasn’t already thrashing. One cultist ran full steam into the protection spell, and I felt it shatter as my focus was split trying to find more components. I was about to try again when I saw that the other cultists were taking their time, and then focused on Alice as she ran toward me. Two cultists made a break for her, and were close enough that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to help her in time. Before I could cast anything, though, two large roots burst out of the ground. Each one grabbed a cultist and pulled them underground, kicking and screaming, and Alice stopped and stared wide-eyed.
“Alice!” I yelled. She turned to me and I waved her over. She ran into the woods and dropped next to me, and we began crawling through the underbrush to get away from where anyone might have heard me calling her.
“Did you do that?” she asked, quietly.
“Nope. I think that was you.”
“I thought it was, too, but that seemed like…a lot, you know?”
“Well, you were in danger.” I peeked up again after taking cover behind a log, and saw Matteson attacking someone while Rick took a shot and a step backward. “Roderick did say your magic would defend you, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She leaned against the log. “I don’t know if I’m really ready for all this, Jackie.”
“You don’t have to be.” One of the cultists moving toward Rick pulled out a hatchet and drew back as if to throw it. I bit my tongue until I tasted blood and then lit his ass on fire. I checked the portal. It was wavering slightly, but it was still open. I couldn’t figure out why at first, and then looked again at the people Rick and Matteson were attacking. There was blood everywhere.
Being spilled in the middle of a ritual.
“Oh no,” I whispered.
“What is it?” Alice asked.
“You weren’t the bulk of the sacrifice,” I said, pointing. She looked over the log and I saw realization dawn on her face. “They were!”
One of the things that had concerned me most about Matteson’s knowledge of the supernatural is that, despite access to a wide array of information about magic and spellcasting, he seemed to have only really studied the stuff he found personally relevant. This included an extensive knowledge of supernatural creatures and the ability to recognize many situations that could arise with them, but it didn’t include much about actually dealing with a spell as it was being cast beyond rushing in and breaking the magic. Which, admittedly, is a useful skill to have; but it gets in the way when one’s handling of the magic is reliant on understanding what the spellcaster is actually doing.
So I had to stop him from barging in the moment magic was actually being cast, and then again when the portal opened. Opening the portal, I knew, wasn’t particularly easy, but I did note the way they were doing it. The magic looked familiar, like they had learned it from some of the same sources as I’d learned my magic. It looked like it was connected to the modes and norms I had learned from Hecate. I needed to look into that connection. Either their understanding of magic was by chance in the same broad category as Hecate’s, which would suggest it originated somewhere in the Hellenized world, or they had learned this spell directly from Hecate herself. Either way, of course, recognizing that enabled me to more easily predict where they were going and what they were doing. The portal was open, and it took most of their energy to do that, based on the number of people they currently had available. If they wanted to then draw anything through, especially under their control, they were going to need more spellcasters and, I estimated, the blood of at least three adult humans.
We had to wait for the sacrifices to arrive before we could make our move. If we showed our hand too early, we could create a bigger problem.
Thankfully Matteson saw where I was going with this thought, and he resumed waiting with me. It was another five minutes or so of the cult holding the portal open before we started to see other figures emerge from the trees. From our vantage point, it was hard to tell much about them, except that there were two of them not wearing robes. I figured those would have to be the sacrifices, but two really didn’t seem like enough. I was sure they were going to need a third, at least. But now that they were here, and clearly not dressed as part of the cult or as willing sacrifices, we needed to establish a plan of attack. We whispered to each other about what angle to come at them from, and started to creep closer. As they drew nearer to the altar and we approached, we were finally able to make out more detail about the intended sacrifices.
They were Alice and Rick.
“Oh, fuck,” I muttered. Before the words were fully out of my mouth, Matteson was up and charging.
29 April 2007
When I woke up in the cabin, Rick was gone. He wasn’t gone from the cabin, of course, but he wasn’t in the bedroom and when I slipped into the upstairs bathroom for a shower he wasn’t there. The whole thing was odd, but I didn’t linger on it. I got my shower, got dressed, and headed downstairs where I found him finishing up in the kitchen.
“I didn’t know you even knew how to make pancakes,” I said, looking over the assortment he was laying out on the table.
“Well, it’s a special trip and I thought I’d try doing something special,” he answered. I kissed him and sat down.
“Do the others know? We don’t want everything to get cold.”
“I knocked on their door a little bit ago, they said they’d be right out.” He put the last of the food on the table and sat down next to me. I started making a plate, trying a little bit of everything. “You know they have real maple syrup in the fridge here?”
“As opposed to what?”
“I dunno, but you have to taste it,” he said, handing me the glass jar. I was pouring it on my pancakes when Alice and Matteson joined us. We all got to talking, and everyone was impressed with the breakfast. I told Rick I might have to keep him around and he gave me a smile and a nudge.
Matteson mentioned hearing some noises in the woods last night and Alice said that there’s always noises in the woods at night, but Rick said he heard them as well and thought they sounded more like people. We agreed to keep an eye out but Alice noted that sound carries a bit out here and the next cabin was a couple miles away, so it was probably just some hikers. Either way, we had plans for the morning and didn’t see any reason not to do exactly that.
So after breakfast, we all headed down the yard to a trail through the woods behind the house. We’d packed a lunch, and it took us a couple hours to get to the vantage point Alice was telling us about. It was a magnificent view, and we hung out there for a while and had lunch before heading back. On the way back, however, Rick dropped his water bottle and it rolled downhill through the trees away from the trail. We all went looking for it, and found it at the edge of a clearing with a large stone in the middle of it. Alice said she’d never known it was there, but it looked nice, so we all went in. Something felt off to me about it, and when I glanced over to Matteson he looked tense.
“Are you sensing something here?” I asked him. He grunted and nodded.
“What is it?” Alice asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Something feels wrong.” We went ahead more carefully, and when we got close enough to the stone we all, aside from Alice, stopped suddenly.
It had a red spiral engraved on it.
15 September 2005
I was trying to stay hidden while still seeing the portal, which was something of a trick to pull off. The darkness on the edges of the room helped, but with most of the large machinery gone there was very little to hide behind. I ended up finding a pile of steel beams and rebar, all bent or cracked or welded poorly, and signaled to Matteson that I was ready.
He wasn't kidding when he said his main strategy would be to physically assault magic users, it turns out. He charged out of his shadows and had three of them hit before they were able to mount much of a defense, which I thought had bought me enough of a distraction to start closing the portal with the ritual I had started upstairs. Then there was a fireball being thrown in my direction, and much to my surprise Matteson just...canceled it. From a distance. Like it was easy. It was then I began to suspect that he had undersold the exact nature of his powers when initially telling me about them. I decided to just trust him and focus on the portal, and tried my best to ignore the ongoing violence and shouting, as long as it was all happening over there.
Rick took us all by surprise when he showed up waving a gun around. I'd seen enough people using guns in my life to know he was uncomfortable with it, and I almost stepped forward to tell him to leave while he still could before I was cut off by Matteson.
"You motherfucker!" he yelled, "I told you to wait in the car!"
"I got this, man!" Rick replied, despite the fact that it was obvious to me he barely had control of anything, let alone the situation. "All of you back off! You hear me?" A couple of the robed figures drew knives and started walking toward him. He pointed the gun at them and continued crying out for them to stop, threatening to shoot, but his hands were now shaking bad enough that I could see it from the other side of the room. I glanced to Matteson, who was engaged in a fistfight with some guy while the remaining uninjured figures were resuming their chant, and realized that if I helped Rick before closing the portal I might miss my chance.
"Goddess, let him be okay long enough for me to help him," I whispered, before continuing the ritual. It was easier now than it had been before--maybe the person Matteson was fighting was crucial to the effort, or maybe his proximity to the portal was helping me, I didn't know--and I was able to start slowly making progress. It was still me against six other people, but in retrospect I don't know if any of them actually knew magic or if they were just lending will to someone else's spell. I closed my eyes and focused.
A shot rang out, there was more yelling, and I was squeezing my fists so tight that my fingernails were drawing blood from my palms. I felt the portal closing, I could sense the presence on the other side just waiting, watching. Something about it felt vaguely familiar, as if I had encountered it or something like it before, but I couldn't place it. Rick screamed. Another shot. Less chanting. And then--
I opened my eyes to see Matteson standing on the altar, his feet straddling the dead woman and his fist clenched around the space where the portal had been. The robed figures on the spiral were all laid out on the ground, and I was certain they had been hit with backlash when the portal closed abruptly. The man Matteson had been fighting was gone, and Rick was actively attempting to dodge one figure's attacks with the knife while the other figure was sitting on the ground nursing a gunshot wound to the arm. I let out a quick spell, without adequate preparation, and heard two of my fingers break as the person attacking Rick went flying against a wall.
"Let's go!" Matteson yelled, and we all ran for the exit.
Rick had taken a few slashes and definitely needed patching up, but it wasn't anything we couldn't handle back at the house. He didn't want to go to the hospital and have to explain what had happened, but between Matteson's sewing (with a needle he heated over the stove) and my herbs, he seemed to be fine. Charles was furious when we got back to the car and he found out what happened, but he barely got a word in before Matteson ripped into Charles about bringing a gun into his car without telling him.
"Where'd you even get that thing?" he demanded, flying down the country roads.
"It's my uncle's," Rick replied, softly, holding a towel to a cut on his arm we would be tending when we got back to the house.
"Does he know you have it?" Rick grumbled something, and Matteson just punched his steering wheel.
"He was trying to help," I offered.
"He almost got killed!"
"Not next time," Rick said, his eyes fixed and burning with conviction. "I won't hesitate to do what I need to do next time."
"There shouldn't be a next time!" Charles screamed. "Rick, look, I get you're into all of this stuff, but can't you see this is dangerous? And you!" He pointed at Matteson. "You've crossed a line! Never again, you hear me? Don't ever drag us into some shit like this ever again!"
"Well what was I supposed to do? Just let them finish summoning whatever that was!?" Matteson answered.
"Okay everyone stop! Matteson, slow down before you kill us all or get pulled over," I said. Everyone stopped and huffed and leaned back into their seats. Matteson slowed down. "Good. Now, we've all had a rough night, let's just get Rick cleaned up and get some rest, okay? We can talk about this when we've all calmed down." Matteson started to laugh as we continued. "What?"
"Not tonight," he said, in a poor imitation of my voice. It took me a second to register what he was talking about, but once I did I laughed as well, then covered my mouth and cleared my throat.
"No," I said, "definitely not tonight."
Rick and Charles crashed on the couches in the living room, and Matteson helped me find some supplies to make a splint for my fingers before we each went to bed. I made a note to revisit whatever it was that seemed familiar about the entity on the other side of the portal, but was in no condition to do any work on that tonight.
The blog of Jackie Veracruz.