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Jecia Singh. Venday, Pisces 18th, 2351 AA. 11:27 PM. Pacific Palisades.

“What do you mean you ‘destroyed’ it?” Jecia demanded.

She couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice. We have fought too hard for this. I refuse to be derailed by some empty-headed dipshit.

“I ripped it up. I thought about burning it and flushing the ashes, but that seemed a bit juvenile.”

Sev and Juel both swore. Breaking a physical object would irreparably damage, or at least grievously obscure any enchantments bestowed upon it. Unfortunately, it will do fuck all to the actual curse, which had already been transferred from the card to Kileena Brightman.

“Where are the pieces?” Sev demanded.

Friedrich gave him an indignant look, as if he couldn’t believe the impertinence.

“I tore them for a reason, officer. What do you intend—”

“We are trying to save your girlfriend’s life, and that card is our best shot at doing it,” Juel said.

Friedrich looked slightly taken aback, but recovered his poise quickly, and comfortably settled into a condescending rant:

“I am not Athenaeum educated, but I am well-read on the subject of magic and symbology in particular. I’ve learned that an intervention born of true love, like a storybook kiss, is one of the most effective methods for breaking curses, according to antiquity.”

“Why not say a prayer on a copy of Mother Goose while you’re at it?” Jecia snapped. “Symbology is a sham. Without using your wyrd or an animus to properly fuel a spell, your ‘intervention’ will do nothing except obscure our only link to the killer.”

Of course, symbology appeals to Stiegan. It was a New Age concept conceived by Hollywood’s “freethinking” elite, that recast the principles of xenomancy as a sort of pseudo-religious guide to magic for non-amagia. He can’t fathom the possibility that he isn’t the smartest person in the room. I bet he has fun opinions on climate change and vaccines as well.

“You had other cards before, I assume,” Friedrich scoffed, “And yet those girls all died. I think it’s high time we sought solutions outside of the Amagium.”

In that second, she realized he understood nothing of love. It wasn’t about grand gestures and abrupt, decisive thinking. It grew. It grew strong if you nurtured it, strangled one party or the other if not pruned, but he had gambled Kileena’s life to play the hero. And that’s no kinda love worth writing about.

Jecia could feel Sev and Juel’s wyrds, throbbing with anger. She took a breath herself, trying to quell the anger as if it were encroaching exus, and exhaled.

“We’re pressed for time. So here’s what is going to happen: you give us the scraps immediately, and we try to salvage a lead, or we arrest you, here and now, for obstructing a entropathy homicide investigation and then toss your place looking for them.”

Friedrich hardened his gaze.

“You’ll have to arrest me.”

Works for me. Jecia spun his entire body around with a quick kinetic corkscrew, seized his wrists with sorcery, and drove him to the floor with her boot. Sev knelt to his prone body and immediately attached inhibitor cuffs to his wrists. Friedrich laid on the floor, winded and baffled. The entire arrest took about half a second.

“How… how dare you!” Friedrich wheezed. “This is brutality!”

Juel used a wind animus to cast a voice muffling contract. For the next ten minutes, Friedrich would only be able to make sounds when Juel allowed it. The kid thrashed and screamed for a few seconds; all noise swallowed by the spell. When comprehension overtook panic, Juel spoke:

“Where are the shreds?”

Juel relaxed the spell long enough for Friedrich to answer.

“I threw them away!” Friedrich said petulantly.

“No, you didn’t,” Jecia said, her patience straining. “You didn’t discard them for the same reason you didn’t burn them. You want to show them off once the curse is broken, so you can play the hero, and show that you succeeded where we have failed. But the curse won’t break.”

Friedrich curled his lips at Jecia in contempt. When Juel permitted him to speak, he screamed at the top of his lungs. Juel muted him again and sighed. Friedrich spat on his own floor to express his contempt.  I have never wanted to rough somebody up more than I do right now. But that will only play to this prick’s internal narrative, and he’s definitely the litigious type.

Sev raised his hands for Juel and Jecia to hold a moment, then knelt to face Friedrich:

“We are going to ask you where the card is one more time. If you scream, mouth off, or are otherwise uncooperative, I will sedate you. Then we are going to uproot every inch of this apartment looking for the remnants of that card, and believe me when I say we don’t have time to be delicate. I will tear up this carpet, rip that television and every picture off of your walls, slice your mattress open, and destroy any locked container that gets in my way. So please. Spare us both the trouble.”

Sev’s voice was calm, implacable, and deeply intimidating. Something about it turned Jecia on, but she shunted the thought from her mind as soon as it arrived.

Friedrich finally nodded his head. Juel allowed him to speak:

“The safe in my closet. Code is 3305,” he said petulantly. “Now release me from—”

Sev hit him with a sedative contract and Friedrich instantly went slack. Jecia could tell from the etheric ripples that he had been careful with the spell, but by no means gentle. The kid would probably wake up with a splitting headache.

“Careful, Sev,” Jecia cautioned. “He’s gonna make a fuss.”

“He’d make a fuss anyway,” Sev said, dark and stormy.

Juel had darted toward the bedroom, and a couple seconds later, he called:

“Found the safe!”

Sev and Jecia jogged after him. By the time they reached the walk-in closet, Juel had the safe open and was carefully going through its contents. After about two minutes of searching, they found the pieces in a cigar box filled with herbs and salt. It was ripped into seven pieces, and the herbs all had magical properties associated with healing and curse breaking—but it was a sloppy, shotgun approach, and none of the reagents had been activated with a contract, sorcery, or alchemical solution.

“Can you get a read on it?” Sev asked Jecia.

Jecia tried to reach out to the sundered whole. But the enchantment was like a piece of weaving that had also been torn apart. Certain threads hung loose. Others were severed altogether. The information that Feryl needed was hopelessly corrupted.

She shook her head. Too early to give up.

“Maybe Feryl can think of something. Let’s get back to central.”


Even without the usual interminable traffic, it took them two hours to get back to the precinct. Between the collapsed freeways and various cordons, navigating the city was a season in hell. Friedrich lay loosely cuffed in the back of the cruiser, snored the entire way back to the precinct, and remained asleep when they deposited him in an interrogation room.

It was a quarter past one, and the forensic lab was empty. Sev considered asking Feryl to come in to review the card immediately, but Jecia persuaded him that they all needed some sleep. He drove her home, and she insisted he stay over so they could commute straight back to the precinct in the morning. That, and I’ve been waiting for this too long to squander it.

Jecia passed out in his arms, and when they woke six hours later, she found herself more refreshed than she expected. Simply being near him, knowing that he had her, and more importantly, that she had claimed him as her own, was self-affirming and restorative. They ate cereal and juice together, watching the latest word on the quake. Then they saddled up on Sev’s bike and returned to the precinct.

— Sevardin | 8:12 AM, Satday, Pisces 19th | Downtown Los Angeles (LAKF Central Precinct) —

“Yeah. I have no idea how to piece these traces back together,” Feryl told Sev. “Sorry, Boss.”

Sev’s venture reconvened in the forensic lab with Feryl and Rick at the start of their shift. Even though Rick had been seeing to emergency duties since the quake, he was still technically the lead detective on Black Lotus and was excited to hear they had recovered a card.

“I thought I was ‘the boss,’” Rick complained.

“Nah, you’re the Big Man. He’s the Boss,” Feryl corrected. “Anyway. The urdo spectrometer would shred the remaining magic after just one burst. The only thing I can think of is developing some sort of translation ritual to allow Detective Singh to use her psychometry to give us readings. But again, layering more foreign magic on the scraps may do more harm than good.”

Sev took a deep breath, weighing the venture’s options. He had braced for the worst, but hearing Feryl had no ideas was still a devastating gut punch. Juel had a thousand-yard stare. Jecia looked incensed. We are so close. Finally, Sev found his voice:

“Keep trying to come up with a solution, but don’t do anything that risks destabilizing the scraps. We’ll go back over the evidence we’ve gathered to date, see if we can figure out who the demon’s contract holder is.”

“I do have some good news,” Feryl said. “If we can get a clear look at the card’s metaphysics, I think the ritual will work, even without a psychic platform to sway the collective unconscious to Kileena’s favor.”

“How? Or, why?” Jecia asked.

“The quake has completely dominated everyone’s thoughts. There is so little psychic energy devoted to the Black Lotus enigma now that a strong counter push should be enough to break the curse by itself. At least, if the readings from my divinations are accurate.”

“Double check your work and we’ll do the same,” Sev said.

— Juel | 8:28 AM —

Sev’s venture stared at the evidence board, which was now so ingrained in each of their minds that they could reproduce a convincing map of it without looking. Juel didn’t see it anymore. The answer was staring him in the face, somewhere between those photographs, strings, and thumbtacks, but it was obscured by his fear of failure.

Ever since the venture had recovered the torn card, Juel had been haunted by visions. Not genuine premonitions, but potential worst-case scenarios, sharp and vicious as rusted scissors in his head. He saw his boy turned into a puppet by a demon. He saw horrors from the bowels of Hell violating his wife. And he saw himself dying before any of that even happened.

The card was our key to stopping the demon. All the demons.

If I gather my family now and flee the county, I’ll never forgive myself. Even if we all survive. But he was still tempted. People think of temptation as torque. A binary check that you have to beat. But temptation is a war of attrition. It constantly gnaws at you, day after day. The doubt led his mind to another dark detour. How many times will I be able to risk my family to do the right thing when I could be by their side, protecting them?

And then he began to spiral. Juel stood and vaguely gestured that he needed to get something. At first, he thought of grabbing more coffee, but the notion made his stomach turn. I have nothing but acid in my gut. And my nerves are already fried.

Instead of heading to the break room, Juel merely paused in the hall. He looked outside at the dust that still had yet to settle. The weaponized air seemed to choke him just by looking at it.

Am I even cut out for this? No. Nobody’s meant to do this psychotic job. I’m just a bit more suitable than average. But demons are on a different level. This kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. It hasn’t happened since the Great War.

“You good, brother?” Sev asked.

Juel looked up sharply, and then nodded.

“Yeah. I’m good.”

Sev gave him a flat look.

“Come on man, don’t brush me off.”

Juel was hoping Sev would press him rather than pressing forward. Cause I can’t keep pushing. I need a minute. I just need a fucking break. After a few seconds of Sev patiently waiting, Juel found his voice:

“I’m tired, man. And I’m scared.”

Simple statements, but Juel could tell Sev was listening. He waited a moment before speaking.

“First of all: we are gonna get through this. This hard moment, and then this case. Okay?”

It didn’t quite rally Juel, but it made him laugh.

“I’m serious,” Sev insisted. “Because I need you, man. We need you. This venture? When we are on the same wavelength? We are unstoppable. We are as three bodies with one mind. And that means we need to help each other when one of us is hurting.”

Juel nodded. My turn to think. What’s at the heart of this?

“You know the job, man. We don’t always come home. And I want Ethano to know his daddy. To have a sense of who I am. And if there really is a demonic incursion, I—”

“I can’t pretend to relate,” Sev said somewhat sadly. “Not completely. From everything I have heard, being a parent changes you. Fatherhood is a profound thing, especially given who your father was. All I can tell you is this: As long as I draw breath, Juel Flores will come home to see his boy and wife.”

“Don’t risk your wyrd on promises you can’t keep, Sev,” Juel said. “What if it’s out of your hands? We are powerful, and more powerful together, but sometimes…” Juel’s voice drifted.

Sev nodded.

“At the very least, I can promise you this: Ethano Flores will know who his daddy is,” Sevardin said. “If you aren’t there to tell him, I will tell him. And if neither of us are there, Elamni won’t let you be a stranger in his life. Everybody you’ve worked with, from… who were your last two guys? The meathead and the puckered asshole?”

“Ven and Scint,” Juel chuckled. It had been just over a week, but it felt like a lifetime ago.

“Yeah!” Sev said enthusiastically. “I thought Ven was a lost cause for sure. Brutality charge off the bat? Now you’re telling me he wants to work public outreach instead of cracking skulls. That man will remember who set him straight. And he’ll make sure Ethano does too.”

Juel smiled. At first it was just to humor Sev, but he admitted that the thought did cheer him somewhat. The gloom began to thaw.

“That is the worst-case scenario, and you are skipping a lot of important steps to get there. First, even if we can’t mend the card, we have a much clearer idea of how these murders work, and what type of person might be responsible. We will work the evidence.”

Juel nodded.

“Secondly, and more importantly: this thing with Jecia—”

Juel saw an opening and decided to take it.

“Dude, I get it. I’m glad you got laid too, but I don’t think it will save my life.”

Sev cracked up and Juel joined in. When Sev had regained himself, he paused, gestured something to the effect of ‘you’d be surprised,’ then shook his head to dismiss his own comment and continued:

“Let me finish: for the first time in a long time, I have something to come home to. Someone to come home to. And I have a—this is a sad commentary on my last few years and it sounds lame to say it out loud—but I have a brighter tomorrow to fight for now. If what I have is a fraction as good as what you have…”

“You aren’t giving up without a fight,” Juel finished

“And what a worthy fight, right? The fact that you—that we—have so much to live for, it isn’t a weakness. It’s true power. It the purest form of motivation a person can have. You remember what your father said?”

Juel rolled his eyes and started to say something snide. Ajola had hundreds of aphorisms; some repeated regularly, and some used only once, usually as an excuse to tell a pertinent story. But this time he knew exactly which expression Sev was referencing.

“’When all is lost, look to love,’” Juel said.

“I love you, brother,” Sev said. “We are gonna win this.”

Juel looked at Sev and nodded. That’s more like it, hermano!

“Doing the right thing,” Juel said, extending his hand.

Sev took it and pulled him into a hug.

“The right way.”

Sev was right. They were a powerful team. And Sev’s newly acknowledged love for Jecia was like a beacon. Its light had cleared the darkness that seemed to cling to him since his legs were broken. Part of it seemed to burn away as he worked the Black Lotus case. He wasn’t exactly a bundle of sunshine—but to Juel’s eye, he was also living honestly again. The stakes gave him a sense of purpose, and with it, he was unstoppable.

I can see why Jecia fell for you. He remembered his conversation with her, the day that Sev went on his suicidal ranging mission. Her infatuation with his wyrd. Her ability to detect something that even he didn’t know about his best friend. And then a wild thought occurred to him. An idea so far fetched that it was idiocy to actually hope for it. And yet. What if it worked?

“Sev, get the card scraps. I have a crazy idea, and I want to see if it will work.”

— Jecia | 8:33 AM —

Jecia was reviewing the evidence board with a frown when Juel barged in with Sev. He wore a sort of wild expression that she didn’t recognize on him, while Sev seemed utterly baffled.

“You remember the conversation we had when Sev was out playing Lone Ranger?” Juel asked.

Jecia pinkened and shot a glance at Sev. I don’t want him to know I was pining over him! Christ, Juel, have some subtlety!

“About Ashael and Luthaine?” Juel prodded.

Jecia clenched her eyes shut. That was probably the worst way you could have phrased that. Sev looked confused and asked Jecia:

“Wait… when did you two talk about Ashael and Luthaine?”

“Before you and I did. There was considerably more clothing involved,” She assured him, then turned to Juel. “Are you seriously suggesting what I think you are?”

Juel gestured “fuck it,” and said:

“You’re the one who believes in this shit.”

Jecia was at once annoyed to have Juel throwing her beliefs back in her face, and intrigued by the possibility he was proposing. Sev can recreate the inherence of objects in his own wyrd. What if he could reassemble the Inherence of a broken object by using my psychometry? Or what if I could look at the card fragments through his wyrd like a lens?

“Are you telling me you don’t think it’s possible?” Juel asked. “You told me that the first time you laid eyes on Sev, you got lost in his wyrd. Hell, I have seen you being fascinated by—”

“Alright!” Jecia said, flustered. “It’s worth a shot.”

“Can somebody please fill me in?” Sev asked.

“You and I are going to try performing Mortal Breath magic,” Jecia said.

Sev raised his eyebrows and looked between them. He’s skeptical. And he should be. The odds against this are… extremely long.

“Your wyrd was what drew me to you at first,” Jecia said. “You keep a record of everything you touch with you. The records are clearer for the things you care about… but you are somehow able to recreate Inherences in your wyrd.”

“…And you are a psychometrist,” Sev said, doing the math. “But Jecia…I don’t even know how to…’use’ those Inherences. I’m not even aware they’re there.”

“But I know how to use mine,” Jecia said. “And if you can use my wyrd, you’ll be able to see them as easily as I do. If this works, I can help you learn how to do it, Sev. And very quickly.”

Sev smiled at her. And she knew it would work.

“Let’s do it,” he said.


“For the record, I think this is beyond bloody stupid, but it costs us almost nothing and it would be absolutely hysterical if it works, so I’m here for it,” Feryl said, when they had gathered in the forensic lab with the scraps.

Grimm had come along with them, since they were technically ‘risking’ key evidence in his case, even though the risk they posed to the torn cards was minimal. Probing an object with a wyrd, teasing out it’s secrets and hidden qualities, was considerably less invasive than blasting it with the ethero-spectrometer.

They pulled the scraps out of storage and placed them in their original configuration on a ritual dais. The mood was mostly good-natured skepticism, but Jecia found it hard to breathe. This can work. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about my relationship with Sev. And it doesn’t mean the case is doomed. But if it does work….it means quite a lot indeed.

“What do I need to do, Jesh?” Sev asked.

He had never called her that before, but she decided she liked it coming from him.

“Channel your wyrd into mine,” Jecia said. “Try to mingle the energies as deeply as possible. My wyrd should give you a sense for where the Inherences are in your wyrd. Focus on that part of your wyrd. Then use it to look at the card scraps.”

“Any arcane gestures or phrases I can use to help—”

Jecia shook her head.

“This is all you. Think of it as the… ‘you-est’ form of sorcery you can possibly do. Anything from a language you yourself didn’t come up with will just dilute it.”

Sevardin nodded and took a deep breath. He looked into her eyes and she got lost in his beautiful, amber irises. They matched the rhythm of their breathing together, wyrd and lungs exhaling and inhaling in concert. Feryl said something—probably something snide in hindsight—but she honestly didn’t feel it.

Then she felt his wyrd envelop hers, the raw essence of his magical energy hugging hers. It felt good. Distractingly good. But as he tried to locate his gift within himself, he stumbled. He doesn’t trust his gift, because he’s never tried to use it before. But if it works like my psychometry….

Their mutual distraction caused their wyrds to polarize and scatter in a pleasant but feckless rush of effervescence. Sev gestured that they should try again, and Jecia nodded. She extended her hands and he cupped them inside his.

This time, when he massaged their fields of power into a cohesive whole, Jecia felt a spark of something. It was like touching a poorly insulated wire; not quite shocking, but a powerful, audible buzz quivered within. Sev didn’t seem to feel it though. And he began to lose heart.

“It’s too soon to give up,” Jecia said. “Let me lead.”

Sev nodded. He withdrew their energies from the card carefully, taking care not to damage the magical traces embedded within. She could tell that he was disappointed. Worse yet, he seemed to blame himself, as if this wasn’t a longshot to end all longshots. She took his hands in hers and took a deep breath, prodding him to do the same.

Once again, they matched their breathing, wyrd and lungs. Jecia took control. Rather than trying to shape Sev’s energy, as he had done with her, she used his wyrd as a sort of lens for her own. She focused her psychometry on the card, but channeled it through Sev’s wyrd, until her own energies were coated with his.

For the first few seconds, there was no discernible difference. She worried that he would be disheartened again, and give up. But then the buzz came back. And this time Sev sensed it as well.

The buzz became an indescribable, incandescent charge. It was primal. Atomic. Foundational. Sev leaned into the sensation and emanated breathless encouragement at Jecia: You’ve got this. We’ve got this.

Jecia started to see the card differently. The torn threads of magic between the pieces began to repair themselves. Strands of ether reattached, slowly, and stray threads began to weave back into their original pattern. Feryl, Juel, and Grimm watched on the etheroscope as a magic shadow of the original card took shape over the torn pieces.

“Oh, good gods that is creepy,” Feryl said, as if it were an enormous compliment.

To Jecia, the process felt natural, but it also wasn’t easy. She realized that Sev had started to assist her rather than merely following her lead; neither one of them was in command of the other. Their focus was evenly split between each other and the card. It was like meeting somebody halfway across a tightrope—if that tightrope were a live wire—while also maintaining a mutual balance at the middle of the strand. The euphoria continued to grow, threatening to overcome her focus.

Jecia heard Grimm ask Feryl:

“Is that clear enough? Can you actually work with that?”

Feryl squinted and made a wincing expression.

“I’m afraid not. Can you give me a little more… fidelity?” He asked Jecia and Sev.

Jecia could see the shadow Inherence was literally rough around the edges. And the strands in the middle of the spell flickered. Jecia reflexively tried to force the energy to become stronger, but Sev caught her and redirected the broadly spread force into something specific.

“Don’t force it,” Sev whispered. “Section by section.”

She heard his words before he spoke them, and it made her glow. As she took his concept and ran with it, the individual spell threads of the enchantment became crystal clear.

“Yes!” Feryl said. “That’s good! Keep doin’ that!”

“We can’t do the whole card at once,” Sev said, his voice an entranced monotone.

“Feryl, can you read it section by section?” Jecia continued.

“Err. Yes!” Feryl said.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jecia saw him slashing the enchantment’s parameters into a notepad, never looking away from the shadow inherence Sev and Jecia had conjured.

She began to feel lightheaded. Sev felt it through her wyrd, and tried to steady her, but in the process began to lose his own sense of balance. She returned the favor, and they managed to stabilize their breathing rhythm with a risky back and forth rocking. The rest of the world receded around them. We might have only one shot at this. And if we misrepresent the spell, Kileena is good as dead.

“Stay calm,” Sev said aloud, gently, and in the process, lost focus.

They fell out of rhythm, releasing their Mortal Breath in a euphoric rush that left them both vaguely dizzy. Scratch that. Really dizzy. The brightness—Jecia didn’t know how else to describe the light feeling in her wyrd, head, and body—gradually faded.  She found that she had to manually breath for several seconds after, as she and Sev shared a shaky smile.

“I can’t fucking believe that worked,” Grimm said, gaping.

Jecia never understood the expression ‘gob smacked’ until she had seen Grimm confused. The phrase seemed tailor-made for his face.

“I can,” Juel said, watching them with a satisfied smile. “Think about it. Academically, Jecia knows more about the Mortal Breath than Ashael and Lothaine—”

“Nah mate, it’s still like walking up to a Roulette table and putting your chips on ‘bedtime story.’ Which, last I checked, is not a standard bet. And we shouldn’t go celebrating just yet. I only got the connections for three of the pieces.

“Alright,” Feryl said, sighing. “That was the very first section of the card. How often can you two do that trick? And for how long?”

Jecia looked at Sev.

“We’re going to find out,” Sev said.

“We’re going to go until your notes are complete,” Jecia corrected.

— 12:47 PM —

“This wasn’t in any of the studies,” Jecia said, checking Sev’s pupils.

“Or in any of the stories,” Sev added.

Their nose bleeds had stopped, which was good. And his pupils dilate normally too. Also good. He winked at her when she finished with the light cantrip, and she snickered. Both of them were trying to play it cool, but they were scared shitless with splitting headaches.

Over last four hours, they had feverishly practiced the Mortal Breath. They could establish a connection at an interval of about three minutes, and their longest connection came at the end, lasting just over fifteen minutes. In the end, they had occupied an extremely stable trance like state, and they were able to exit the trance without any apparent problem, even though their wyrds had been sore leading up to the final trance.

Both of them passed out on their feet on the way out of the lab, as if they were struck dead. Juel and Grimm were able to revive them fairly quickly, and now they both sat in the break room, chasing water with ibuprofen.

“How’re the patients?” Feryl asked.

“Stable enough,” Jecia said.

“Good. Your life-threatening stunt gave me exactly what I need,” Feryl said. “It will take me a few hours to tie the rest of the ritual together. But between the readings from Shapiro’s brush and paint, Kileena’s card, and her own sympathetic samples…” he simply nodded. “I think this will see us through.”


As Feryl figured out the ritual’s final formulas, Sev’s venture interviewed Steigan Friedrich, considering the twisted possibility that he might be responsible for the curse. But they unanimously rejected the possibility after twenty minutes of questioning.

Jecia was disgusted. He disregarded his lawyer’s advice at every turn, volunteering potentially incriminating information, and made wild, authoritative proclamations about how the curse worked, and why the Amagium fundamentally misunderstood it. There were moments when it seemed like he was actively trying to mislead the venture. But he’s just an idiot. He doesn’t understand how the spell works, even from a lay perspective, like Shapiro did, and he’s explaining it based on his own half-wit understanding of curses.

They considered asking Friedrich to be present at the ritual as a supportive force, but again, Jecia determined that his affections for Kileena were superficial and selfish. If he tried to do anything other than think warm thoughts and reassure Kileena, he could destabilize the entire spell. So they sent him home as he threatened to sue for brutality, invasion of privacy, and whatever other charges he could think to bring against him.

In the end, Feryl settled on seven people being present: himself, Juel, Jecia, Sevardin, Rorick, Kileena’s mother, and Kileena herself. As they had planned for Esmine Carter, Jecia would be the ritual’s primary caster. I persuaded her to keep fighting after all.

Just after five PM, Feryl finished the ritual’s formulas and determined its unique requirements. The spell wanted a wide-open space. As he explained it, the inherently broad nature of egregoric magic would respond best to a similarly large ritual array. Elevation would also help the spell reach a zenith quickly. In the end, the venture settled on a brushy section of Griffith Park, at the top of the Dante’s View hiking trail, and planned on casting the spell at midnight, having missed the sunset.

The venture set out immediately and worked on prepping the area. Using rough sorcery, they cleared the brush and stones in a two-hundred-foot circle. At the center of the cleared space, they hastily started assembling the array of arcane symbols intended to focus the spell’s complex energies. Juel, Sev, and Rick dug shallow trenches, filling them with brick dust and silver thread.

Meanwhile, Feryl explained the principles of the ritual to Jecia at a level so far above her head that she wondered if there was a point.

“Of course, with magic, the intent and will are more important than academic knowledge of the principles, but knowin’ what you’re on about can’t hurt,” Feryl said.

They finished the array around eleven thirty. There was a moment toward the end where Jecia was worried that they would have no time to mentally prepare, to brace for the actual performance. But now that she had twenty-seven minutes of dead air to spare, she wanted nothing more than to start casting.

She and Sev found a quiet spot away from the array, overlooking the city.

“This would be a good spot for a date,” Jecia said.

“I’ll make a note,” Sev said.

They were quiet another moment, and she leaned on his shoulder.

“Rationally, I can’t believe we did that,” Jecia said. “But having experienced it—”

“It was natural,” Sev said, reading her meaning. “It was… irrefutable.”

She nodded.

“Ever since I was abducted, part of me worried that I was cracked. A small part of me worried that I would wake up and discover I never got out of the chair. But now… I know this is real. And if something in me did crack, I know it’s fixed.”

“It’s funny,” Sev said after a second. “I’m coming at it from the opposite perspective. I never thought of myself as cracked. Even after my legs were broken,” Sev said. “But the Mortal Breath was like finding a part of myself that I didn’t know was missing. Or maybe a part of myself that I had forgotten. As a kid, I was always chasing that storybook dream. The path to a happy ending. A love for the ages. But somewhere along the lines, I gave up on it. Stopped searching. And now… here it is. Laid before me.”

He looked at her with warmth and reverence, eyes still awed at what they had achieved together. She smiled. We are going to beat this thing. Because we are going to change the world together, and we can’t afford to get tripped up by something as petty as a demon.

They kissed. And they felt complete.

— Satday, Pisces 19th. 11:53PM | Griffith Park—

Jecia started the ritual at precisely eleven fifty-three. Feryl had designed it to take approximately seven minutes to cast, reaching its climax at midnight. She stood before Kileena, waving a bouquet of cleansing herbs like a conductor, as she recited the arcane words from Feryl’s script.

Three minutes in, she began to weave the two anima that would fuel the core of the spell together. Feryl had specifically selected a bespoke spirit crafted to have high metaphysical defensive potential, and another that profoundly represented the magic of the resting laws, to act as a stabilizing force that would ground out the entropic energies of the curse.

The spell began to take on a life of its own. Jecia got lost in the incantations. The array shaped her wyrd, which in turn guided her movements. She let the magic suffuse her entire being. And the others were also entranced, watching her.

Nobody saw Cynthie Brightman reach for Rorick’s gun. Rick himself didn’t realize what had happened until after Cynthie had fired.

Jecia didn’t even hear the bang. She was so deep in the magic that she only realized she had been shot when her ritual’s etheric pressure abruptly faltered. Only then did she feel the pain in her chest. She choked on her chant. Her fingers stopped drawing the appropriate arcane symbols. I have to restart. I have to fix it.

But she could no longer stand. She couldn’t even breathe.

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