It was the shrieking that was the truly annoying bit of it.
Researching sigils and summoning circles, picking out appropriate sacrificial targets and stalking them, kidnapping, and the actual sacrificial bit, that was all easy. No, it was the shrieking that really got on one’s nerves. The babbling and screaming, the tears, not just from the lamb but from any other rats that tried to come and “rescue” it.
“Let her go, let her go, let her go,” the man kept begging, continuing to throw himself uselessly against the bondage that strapped him tightly to the pillar at the other end of the summoning circle, two brothers on either side of him to keep careful watch that he wouldn’t escape before the ceremony ended. It was a damn shame he couldn’t be gagged during the ceremony. “Please, I beg of you, please!”
The girl wouldn’t stop screaming either, even through the cloth stuffed between her teeth. She screamed and struggled, digging her heels into the earth as one of the brothers dragged her forward by her bound hands, a pair of sisters pushing at her back to stop her from truly bracing herself.
He rapped his fingers against his arm, arms folded tightly as he watched them fight with her to the altar in the center of the circle. It had been painstakingly carved into the stone, each of the proper sigils and runes, the pathways to lead the demonic magic once her blood had been spilled. Hand-sculpted pillars sat at the proper orientation all around the outside of the circle, including the one that the man was tied to — he made a poor excuse for a vessel, but better to use the father than to waste one of the brethren. Willing every brother and sister may be, but they were fewer in number than they would all like — and Roget himself didn’t quite align himself with the same willing enthusiasm of his fellows at the idea of becoming a demon’s vessel.
Either way, it didn’t seem prudent to waste perfectly good followers, not when so much energy had been put into educating them, and besides, the father would need to be disposed of anyway — at least, that was how Roget justified the decision of the High Priest. It would have been the decision he would have made as well, had he been in charge. And very soon, he was sure, he would be, so it was good to start thinking like he was.
“Brother Roget? We’re nearly ready to begin.”
Roget turned to the sister beside him who had spoken, her cowl pulled over her face. He nodded sharply, and pulled his own hood over his face. The girl kept on screaming . He could hard wait until her throat was slit.
The brethren who struggled with the sacrifice finally managed to chain her kicking limbs down to each corner of the altar, and backed away, moving to the outside of the circle. Roget took his own place in circle, between two of the pillars. The High Priest then emerged from the complex.
He stalked to the edge of the circle, perhaps examining it, though it was impossible to tell with the hood over his eyes. Like the others, he was clad in the black and silver robes with the heavy hood. However, atop it he wore a finely woven chainmail tunic of fine, platinum steel. Holy steel, stolen from less demonic orders — meant to protect him when he stepped into the circle and called upon the demon. The blessed steel would deflect the demon’s eyes, and cause it to seek out the only other living body in the circle — the vessel.
At least, that was the theory of it. Roget had not yet seen a summoning himself. He hadn’t rated high enough to be present at the previous summonings, the ones of smaller demons, held for only a brief moment before being released, in preparation for this — the main event.
For this was the day they would call down the demon of war and ashes, the bringer of the apocalypse...and render him in service to the brethren.
The High Priest stepped over the circle’s edge, and made his way to the altar. The girl was still struggling and shrieking — they were less screams than they were swears , Roget was realizing. She was attempting to cuss. It would have been amusing, if he weren’t so annoyed.
The girl wrenched her body back and forth as much as it would go in her chains; her pathetic father was now crying so hard that his pleas were incoherent. She kept trying to shout to him, perhaps, wrenching her body towards his bound form. When the High Priest approached, her head snapped to his instead.
At the very least, there was something to be said for her spirit. Despite the tear tracks down her grimy face, her mussed, matted hair falling from its pigtails, there was still fight in her teary eyes, a sparking anger as the High Priest approached and loomed over her. She threw herself upwards again, as though believing she could break the iron that held her with her own strength.
The High Priest ignored her muffled yells and her writhing form. He looked instead towards the brethren gathered on the outside of the circle.
“Brethren,” he intoned, his voice deep and rumbling. “All of our efforts have led to this day.”
No one spoke, no one responded, but the tension was so thick one might slice it with the ceremonial blade that the High Priest now lifted above his head.
“From the blood of the one whose voice reaches across the many realms, we shall call upon the bringer of endings and strife. With the strength of our souls, we shall bind him, and bring the great beast to our command.”
No one responded to this either, and Roget sighed internally. The grandstanding was all well and good, he would do the same, but it felt so sour coming from a leader that was not himself. No matter. Once this ritual was over, he would have his chance.
The High Priest turned his knife to the lamb. The fight fled her eyes at the sight of it, and she began to struggle still harder, tears rolling from her eyes. Her father began to scream anew.
The High Priest grabbed the girl by the mouth, pinning her head down and back, baring her throat. Roget put his hands together, along with the rest of those who encircled the summoning circle, and began to chant in tandem with the prayers.
“May the Lord Demon Zarc accept this offering, and come among us!” the High Priest cried.
Before the girl had the chance to let out one more pitiful muffled scream, the knife was in her throat. Blood gushed from the wound, staining the altar beneath her and splattering to the floor, staining her white garments a brilliant crimson even in the darkness.
The father screamed.
The air turned to static, and it took all of Roget’s concentration to continue mumbling the prayers as the air grew thick and difficult to breathe. It was pitch black save for a few measly torches about the circle, and yet...there was something coming down from the sky. A thick black smoke, curling down from somewhere, or nowhere, towards the girl’s body that slowly began to stop twitching. The father kept screaming. The High Priest stepped back, blade stained with blood as the smoke started to fill the circle, curling around almost inquisitively. It poked briefly at the High Priest before turning away from his holy armor.
Like an amorphous black snake, the smoke slithered and curled around the circle, following the curve of the sigils, coiling around the altar. It nosed its way towards the screaming, sobbing man sagging against his bonds.
The smoke moved towards the man’s mouth, beginning to feed slowly into it, thin at first, but then thicker, until it seemed to grow black and solid. The demon was here, Roget realized with a start — and it was entering the vessel. This was actually working.
That was the last thought he had before one of the pillars shattered.
Two of the brethren stopped chanting, screaming as they dove out of the way of the flying shards of debris. Another pillar on the opposite side shattered as well, breaking the chants. The High Priest whirled towards the debris, cloak sliding back to see his eyes widening with shock. This...wasn’t part of it. This wasn’t part of the ritual.
The debris started to swirl around the circle like a whirlwind. More of the brethren had to duck, stop chanting to avoid being battered or impaled. The circle cracked as though an earthquake had suddenly shook the earth beneath them. The altar shattered, dropping its dead weight to the ground.
The smoke began to roil and billow. It swirled and then worked up into a massive tornado, bulging and flaring at the edges of the circle. It expanded until it filled the whole of the circle, joining the maelstrom of rocks and torn branches that began to rend through the air. It didn’t seem to be able to escape the circle, as though it pushed against some invisible glass containing it — but in places, it began to bulge and bubble past the edge of the circle, like it was starting to boil. The air was hot and sparking and Roget could hardly breathe for the taste of the overwhelming power that stained the air. Was this — was this the demon? Was this power the demon?
The deadly whirlwind of stones picked up — the trees around the stone courtyard groaned, the forest outside the complex rumbling as though some gigantic monster were crashing through the trees. Birds and bats exploded from the trees, shrieking. A herd of deer burst from the woods, fleeing from something no one could see, avoiding the circle as they bolted for the safety of the mountains behind the complex.
A tree exploded from the ground and joined the whirlwind, another was ripped out by the roots, one of them toppled and crushed a fleeing brother. A flash of sudden lightning roared from the clear night sky, thunder rumbling and shaking the ground. Roget hit the ground, head spinning as stones and trees and leaves swirled ever faster over head.
The High Priest could only stare with shock, unable to move, as a tree flung itself directly into him, crushing him to the ground.
The world screamed and shook. The ground cracked, the remaining pillars shattered, and the a blazing heat consumed the air for a moment, threatening to set everything on fire —
When Roget came to, his ears rang so loud he did not at first notice the deafening silence.
He had ended up on his back, half covered in debris — but, remarkably, he seemed to be mostly uninjured. He coughed dust from his lungs as he sat up, sending stones scattering from his body. He pressed a hand to his mouth as he tried to breathe.
“Brother Roget? Is that you?”
Roget didn’t recognize the brother who came scrambling over the debris towards him, but he accepted the hand to his feet, legs shaking.
“What happened?” he said.
The brother shook his head, cowl thrown back and face paled.
“All of the calculations should have been correct,” he said. “We checked and double-checked...it seems the demon may have been stronger than we anticipated.”
“The High Priest?”
The brother shook his head. Roget didn’t bother looking mournful.
This had been a disaster — however, he knew an opportunity when he saw one.
“How many survived?”
“Not many, but we’re still searching,” the brother said.
Roget scanned the circle, and frowned at the wreckage. It was hardly recognizable anymore. Trees and debris littered the ground, cracks and juts of stone disfigured the earth.
The vessel and the dead sacrifice remained, however, the girl’s body draped over a tree, and the man still bound to the last, unshattered pillar, unconscious or dead, impossible to tell.
“Do you have any idea what caused this to happen?”
The brother shook his head again.
“We’re still forming theories, trying to...double check the calculations. There may have been a sigil wrong...it may not have been enough blood...the circle may not have been large enough to contain the demon....she may not have been the correct sacrifice after all.”
Roget snorted. Too many mistakes and cut corners. Too rushed, too hurried to get to the main event, not willing enough to take all the time necessary, to be patient. This was why he should have been in charge in the first place.
“Gather up the others you can,” he said. “We will abandon this place and find another.”
He was pleased that the brother bowed without questioning his authority.
“What of the sacrifice and the vessel?” he asked.
Roget waved a hand.
“Leave them. They’re no longer of use to us. We will have to start fresh. If we play our cards right, it will be of more benefit to us to leave the bodies than to try to hide them.”
The brother nodded, and quickly hurried off to find the rest of the brethren.
Roget turned his eyes to the wrecked summoning circle, the torn holes in the forest. Such power , he couldn’t help but think. If that had just been the moment of summoning...
A slow smile spread over his face.
Perhaps tonight hadn’t been such a disaster after all.