Fictober, Prompt 8 – “This is it, isn’t it?”
Warnings: threatened murder/blood sacrifice, implied violent death (nothing graphic).
It was difficult to explain how I knew.
We were about a third of the way into the next field, walking in on the side that had been harvested already, the corn still standing tall to the left, dry with both the lack of rain and summer’s passing, rustling in the breeze. I stopped dead between one step and the next.
It was startling, to just know suddenly, like he said I would.
“Ah,” he said, sounding pleased.
I thought of the gun trained at my back – the only reason I had come this far at all – and swallowed. “This is it, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Much closer than I had hoped.” Acres of fields stretched out behind us, and then stretched on for acres and acres yet ahead, burnished in the last streaks of dying daylight from the west. To the east, a silvery glow behind the distant tree line threatened the moon’s rising.
Doubt and despair overwhelmed me. I had known, just like he said. Did that mean— Was his plan the right one after all? Should I- Should I let him sacrifice me?
Everything in me rebelled against the thought. I had only his word that this would supposedly fix things.
Only his word that the things that had been going wrong were outside of human control to begin with. The gun pointed at me suggested that there were other possible reasons though. A strange sensation, a slow pulsing that I could now feel in my feet, even through my shoes, surged a little higher at the thought of defiance.
I thought fast. With me standing right here, a bullet in the back would probably accomplish his purpose, but he seemed like the type to draw things out if given the chance. He appreciated the ceremony of it, he had said. So, if I didn’t give him a reason to shoot me immediately, I could buy myself a little time.
Even though it was probably too late already, I had to try.
I swallowed and let my shoulders slump. “I guess you were telling the truth after all,” I said, letting my voice waver. “Will this— Will it really fix things?”
“It will,” he promised smoothly. “I will make it swift and as painless as possible, when we come to the moment. It is your blood that is needed, not your pain.”
I turned, and he gave me an equally smooth smile that was meant to be reassuring. It did not accomplish its goal, but I lowered my eyes, hesitated, then nodded.
“You’ve always been a sensible woman,” he said then, and gestured to the gun. “Will this be necessary?”
“No,” I whispered, and made no move to bolt or interfere as he cautiously lowered it and then slipped it back into one of the large pockets of his coat. I wasn’t actually sure that I could move outside of a very small circle right now – turning had been an effort, and I hadn’t really been able to lift my feet, just scuff them over the dusty ground.
“Now, for this to work properly and actually make things better, you will need to hold the power when it starts to rise into you,” he told me, and unslung the backpack he had carried, kneeling to unpack various items intended for the ritual. “It may be a bit strange feeling, but just let it do as it is going to do. Do not attempt to do anything with it, or it will consume you.”
I couldn’t stop myself from blinking in surprise, but fortunately he was still looking down at his things. This was the first thing I had heard about potentially being able to use this power myself.
“I won’t,” I promised, voice still low and timid. “That’s…bad, I assume. Using it when you don’t know how.”
“Indeed,” he said, rising and coming forward cautiously to begin placing things in a circle around me. I stood passively, letting my shoulders stay slumped, trying to keep my expression dull and defeated. “This power in particular is wild and unpredictable, which is why the ritual is needed. It can be held in a passive vessel without risk, however.”
“Okay.” I wondered how long I could keep him talking without risking my cover. Probably not much more, so I lapsed back into silence. If he volunteered more information…
He didn’t, focused now on setting up his ritual: salt, darker earth than the dry dust around us, candles. A long knife with an ornate handle.
The power, assuming that’s what the strange pulsing was, was up to my waist now. Desperately, I wracked my mind for options, but found none. Maybe I could get a weapon away from him?
He drew sigils in a wider ring, in a strange looking liquid that I was only about eighty percent sure wasn’t blood.
I had no real plan, and the power was pulsing under my arms now, rising swiftly. It felt like there was a lot of it. Could I trust anything that he had told me about it? Would it consume me if I tried to- to use it to lash out at him? To destroy his weapons or supplies? What did “consume” mean in this case, anyway? Would I burn up?
Would that really be worse than letting him go through with this, when he was almost certainly lying about both his motives and the results?
I shifted just slightly, sighing to cover it as the easing of slight discomfort from standing so long…but I could barely move. Panic hit me hard. It wasn’t just my feet anymore. All the way up to my shoulders, my whole body felt heavy and slow.
There was no way I would be able to try and grab a weapon, or even to block his blow. I could move, but it was like moving underwater, or through syrup. He would see it coming long before I could accomplish anything.
As the power lapped up my neck, I thought I could almost feel intent behind it…as if it came from something, and not just…from somewhere.
It reached my head…and then I was sure.
There weren’t…words, exactly. But there was awareness. Something big, and overwhelming, and…dark.
But it was aware…and interested.
Help me, I asked silently, as he stepped through the small remaining gap that was left in the outermost circle now ringing me. He knelt, back to me, to close that circle, then backed up carefully to do the next, and the next.
A question pulsed through the power filling me. What would I give it in return?
He came through and started to close the last circle, still kneeling in front of me, still confident that I had given up and was no threat.
Take all of me, I told it.
When I came to, the sun was gone, and the moon had risen. Blood stained the earth at my feet, strangely dark beneath my spotless shoes.
There was no sign of him anywhere. The circles had all burned away, even the candles, not even any wax left to mark their places. The knife and backpack were gone too.
“Wow,” I whispered, and realized that I could move freely again, no longer weighed down. Cautiously, I stepped forward, and found that I could.
A pulse not quite in sync with my heartbeat still rose and fell under my skin.
“Thank you,” I whispered. I made no effort to push it out or get rid of it. Apart from not knowing how to do such a thing, it didn’t…feel bad. Strange, but not bad.
It probably wasn’t a good thing, really, if it was the kind of power that someone like him had been trying to harness. But, he had also said that it was wild, and unpredictable.
Whether or not I would be able to live with it, I didn’t know.
But at least I was alive to make the attempt.
Settling that acceptance into my heart and letting the power feel it, I set off back across the fields, heading for the road.