The War Beneath, Deirdre's Basement Excerpt

From The War Beneath, Chapter One

Deirdre winced at the slug of kleren and pulled the bottle from her lips. She swallowed, turned in a circle, candle first, muttered the ritual words, spun another circle. She didn’t usually drink, but the ritual required it. She took another draught of kleren and knelt to the floor. With the candle flame, she lit the curled tobacco leaves in the offering bowl. In the overgrowth of her backyard, a red rooster sprawled its wings wide, throat open, beak pointed south.

She dug into the reservoir of her will and formed the spell again. A simple cantrip, an activation of part of a larger whole. She finished the whispered prayer at the offering bowl and put her hands on the glyphs carved into the cement basement floor. She braced herself for the force of the magic. Hydroponics burbled and hissed. Warm mist coiled around her.

The glyphs lit up amber-gold and hot under her palms. A singed ozone stench wafted the air. The cantrip jolted through her, electric heat gnawing her bones. More sweat slicked her back and forehead, frizzed her hair. Her tank top suctioned to her flesh. She shuddered. The air hummed.

Deirdre had been born a witch. Mysticism resonated in her blood.

Although that didn’t make magic easy, it made it easier. For someone born without the natural aptitude, a ritual like this might take days. For her, it only took nine hours. Nine long, sweat-soaked, repetitive hours, during either the Full or New moon, using simple cantrips and complicated spellcraft to ensure a strong harvest of her esoteric flora.

The glyphs pulsed golden light. Pulse, flicker, pulse.

The synchronicity had started after the third hour. Birds flocked to the tree line and watched her house in sunset. Small animals scritched and roved around the overgrowth of her squat’s backyard. None of them touched the rooster’s corpse. Now the bottle of kleren sat half-empty, the candle burnt low, and the offering bowl glowed with embers. She leaned back from the ebb and flow of the sigils’ glimmer and clasped her hands. Prayer, they called it in some circles. The truth was more complicated. Words and meaning, context and history, all arranged in rhythm, in certain order. Magic took many forms.

She prayed that the pulsing light would stabilize.

Otherwise, another hour…

The light faded and grew, faded and grew. She muttered the last words of the last spell in the ritual, craned forward again, and pressed her palms to the symbols carved in the floor. She reached into herself for will, for energy, for intent. She focused her existence into a flare, a bright burn.

The spell kicked through her again and she groaned with exertion.

The glyphs lit up brilliant bright—not just the two she touched, but the whole twenty carved into the basement floor. For a few seconds, the basement erupted into blinding gold. The air crackled. Burnt ozone filled her nostrils. She spasmed in the intensity of it all, braced on her knees, back arching.

She blacked out.

She awoke again not long after. The whole room bristled with mysticism. Her skin prickled into gooseflesh and all the hair on her arms stood on end. She knew the spell had worked because she’d gone through the ritual hundreds of times. She knew the signs. The shivering dreamer fruit ready to bloom, the unfurled leaves from the lotus plant, the rising bloom of sirentouch.

She wiped sweat from her brow and put on the finishing touches. While the ritual ensured the growth of climate-disparate and esoteric flora, specific plants required specific rituals. Her pockets hung heavy with small plastic baggies. From one, she fingered loose a lock of her own hair, honey-coated. Digging a small hole in the wisp-bulb’s planter, she dropped the hair inside. Pale stalks of prehensile root reached out, wrapped up her offering, and pulled it out of sight.

She patted the planter back down and tended to the other plants in order. Sirentouch needed its leaves stroked every week, or it would shrivel and die. Dreamroot needed whispered stories told over its roots. Deirdre knew every intricacy, every detail. She’d been an apothecary for fourteen years, after all.

The work done, she clambered upstairs to her den, toward her slouched, second-hand couch and her library of books. Toward a night of petting her cat, drinking tea, and reading something a little mindless. Something relaxing. Something to take the edge off of a day spent attuning her sixth sense, of a day spent engaged in ritual magic.

A detective story, maybe.