Flash Fic Challenge – Dark at Heart
This was the latest writing challenge, latest writing challenge, and I got Harry Potter meets True Detective. Well, I tried.
Dark at Heart
The letters burned green in the air, hovering over the charred corpse like a video advertisement.
Her partner, Burdett, sighed, impatiently shifting his weight foot to foot. “So, is it?”
Katya’s green eyes finally glanced away from the mystic sigils only she could see, the scar on her cheek tingling with residue magic. “No, Holt, people routinely burst into flames in meat freezers. Of course it was done by him. Or his people. The magic’s so similar it’s kind of hard to tell.”
He groaned and turned away, heading for the open door crisscrossed by crime scene tape. They’d turned off the freezer, but there was so much residual ice stored in the hanging carcasses of future dinners that it was frigid. Katya could see her breath exploding into clouds in front of her as she stood. What was Havok and his followers up to?
Random murders by ritualized dark magic, of mostly non-magic users. Now Havok and his followers were cruel, and had no problem murdering any innocents that got in their way, but how did a retired second grade teacher, a paper boy, a retail clerk, a low level magician, and a butcher’s assistant impede them? And why hadn’t he come after her yet?
No matter the protections around her, and the protections afforded her as a cop on the Magic Squad, Havok would come for her eventually. There was that prophecy tying their fates together, and the fact that he murdered her parents and tried – and failed – to murder her. It was not clear what happened that night, but supposedly she was to be sacrificed to vault his power into the stratosphere and keep her from growing up to be the biggest dark magic wielder ever, but something went wrong and she lived, while he went into hiding. Ritual sacrifices were tricky things, though. Do it wrong, by even a little bit, and that power could rebound on you big time.
As for the dark magic prophecy … she really didn’t get that one. Dark magic had claws, it ripped you up, left bloody psychic trails that only she could see, and she wanted nothing to do with it. But, if she was ever forced to, she might admit the realm of regular magic wasn’t quite for her. She had a natural talent for it that left her a bit overpowered, and she remembered her teacher calling her the most powerful magic user he’d ever worked with. And the most dangerous, besides Havok. Maybe that’s why they were fated to destroy each other.
Out in the main body of the butcher shop, Holt Burdett waited for her, chomping on his nicotine gum like a cow enjoying her cud. He was non-magical, because, even though he was a member of the Magic Squad, there were only three magic users allowed in it. The cops, for all their talk of diversity, really didn’t trust magic, and trusted its users even less. Her fellow magic users, Badawi and Ogawa, were on the lower tier, mainly workers of small spells and charms. The only reason she was accepted was because they just couldn’t turn the “Chosen One” away.
But then they turned around and partnered her with Burdett, who was as stolid and plodding as his name sounded. He was a fine, upstanding cop with a wife and kids in the suburbs, a decent work record, and a knee jerk dislike of magic. (And on the Magic Squad. That made sense to someone higher up, but she assumed they were drunk at the time.). “You really don’t know why he’s doing this?”
Katya glared at him. “Rumors to the contrary, I’m not attached to Havok. I have no idea why he’s doing this crazy shit. He’s a nutball. All that dark magic has burned him out head first.” This was true. This was also, at the same time, a lie. But she knew if she told him her current theory, she’d just confirm rumors she was crazy.
The sigils she kept seeing over the bodies of those killed with death curses all said the same thing: Claim this soul in your undying name, arise. This was not any kind of incantation she was aware of, nor was it the usual aftermath of a death curse. It told her these people were being sacrificed, fed to … something.
There had also been graffiti popping up all over town, the Latin word proficiscor. One of its meanings was to arise. So Havok and his people were trying to raise something from the dead. Or so was her first thought. But that didn’t make sense, as the only one who might be worth the bother was the dark wizard Gorlan, except if they could some how reconstruct him from his magical vaporization (unlikely), he was likely to kill Havok and his followers. No dark wizard liked their rivals. Besides, undying was right there in the spell, indicating what they wanted couldn’t die, not in the conventional sense.
It was the people showing up in emergency rooms, suffering inexplicable psychotic breaks but, to her eyes, tainted and smeared with dark magic, that tipped it. She couldn’t think of any god that required sanity as a sacrifice. Except one.
Burdett stared at her, his eyes hooded but still very clear. “You have a theory. You ain’t sharin’ it with me, but I know you have a theory.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, fixing him with a stare of her own. “Last time I mentioned it, it got me laughed out of the room.”
He snorted, and she had no idea how he didn’t inhale his gum. “Not this again.”
“It’s the only thing that adds up. You and the Chief can’t see it because of your prejudice.”
“Ha! How are we prejudiced exactly? ‘Cause we don’t believe in a fairy story?”
“Nothing about Cthulhu is a fairy story.” Yes, on the surface it was ridiculous. Cthulhu was a monster in a story written by a half-mad racist, except it was much more than that.
As ridiculous as it was, it was real. Or at least Cthulhu was. Some of what Lovecraft put to page was a genuine accounting of the Old Ones, the gods of magic, the gods of madness. They did exist, but not here, not right now. Not yet.
Burdett shook his head. “There’s only one god, and he ain’t a squid monster.”
“Wrong. After all the magic in the world, how can you boneheads cling to your superstitions?” She could see the objection coming, and shook her head at the same old argument. They’d had it so often it seemed like time folding in on itself, an ouroboros of conflict. “Forget it. Go back to the station and tell them I’m crazy. As usual.”
She turned and left the butcher shop. Burdett followed her. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m following my gut, if you must know. More stuff crazy people do.” Katya felt the pull of dark magic, like a tangible thread connected to her spine, wanting to pull her along. It was strong, much stronger than she’d ever felt it before, and she realized then that it might be too late. “Go back to the station, Holt, tell them to batten down the hatches. We’re in for a shitstorm.”
She got in the car, and was surprised when Burdett got in on the passenger side. “We’re partners,” he reminded her. “Where you go, I go.”
Katya considered protesting, but didn’t bother. It was quicker just to bring him along, and let him freak out and flee once the dark magic overwhelmed him. It was a reflex that non-magical people had, a Darwinian survival instinct.
She followed the pull until she began to see spectral green claw slashes in the sky, like something was trying to tear through reality itself. All this energy seemed to coalesce into a sickly green-black cloud hovering over the remains of a ruined warehouse, so thickly choked with vines crawling up its side it was difficult to make out the wall beneath.
Don’t go in there,” Burdett said, his face pale. He probably didn’t even know why he said that.
“I have to. Stay out here, and be ready to shoot at the first thing you see that isn’t me.” He said something else, but Katya didn’t hear him as she walked towards the building, pulled by the magic and repelled by it at the same time. There were voices chanting, and she knew they were calling on the sleeper to awake. It was a display only to make the masses feel like they were a part of it. The true work had already been done when those souls and sanity was sacrificed to him.
The decrepit warehouse contained half a dozen black robed figures, standing around a gaping pit. The only light came from genuine torches, made by wrapping rags soaked in gasoline and paraffin around sticks. Some were chanting Cthulhu’s name over and over, while others were simply bidding the sleeper to awaken.
The feeling of dark magic was so thick it felt hard to breathe. Arcane neon letters littered the air, a visual fog. None of the cult members here seemed bothered by her appearance, because it was too late now. She could see the blackish-green energy of dark magic rising from the pit.
Except … there was something, wasn’t there? She could try channeling it, using it to repel the dimensional breach that would allow Cthulhu in. It would undoubtedly kill her, but if Cthulhu came in, she’d be dead anyway. She had no choice in the matter.
She concentrated on pulling the energy in, filling her like an empty vessel, and it was like swallowing a torrent of dirty water. Or lava, as it was burning her insides, making her skin crackle. She was pulling enough energy that Havok noticed, and stepped forward, pulling out a sword. Behind him, a single black tentacle as thick as a telephone pole emerged from the pit. “You’re too late, Katya Stone. He is rising –“
Gunshots rang out, and Havok looked comically stunned before he stumbled backwards, and fell into the pit. She glanced back to see Burdett white knuckling it on the door frame, gun in his other hand, looking like he wanted to puke. “Whatever you’re gonna do, do it now!”
Like she needed to tell him that. She filled herself with dark magic, until it felt like her skin would burst. She then channeled it towards the pit, imagining it as an energy plug stoppering up the dimensional rift, feeling her skin tear as something pushed back, something that tasted like ashes and bile. It was digging sharp talons into the soft meat of her brain, and it was taking all she had to keep it from ripping out of her skull.
The earth was shuddering, the leftover walls of the warehouse vibrating, and she could barely hear Burdett screaming for her to get out. Katya was barely aware of her physical body anymore, she felt scrubbed out and hollow, but told herself to focus on walking away, walk towards the noise of Burdett, while a cocoon of dark energy shielded her. She didn’t know it had worked until Burdett’s clammy hand clamped onto her ankle.
They stumbled away from the remains of the building before it imploded violently, a blast of dust and dark energy sending them flying against the car. Not only did it hurt, but it left them gasping for breath for several seconds.
When she could speak, Katya said, “So, about your single god theory …”
“Oh, shut up,” he said wearily.
If he thought she was going to let him forget about this, he was crazy.