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The Muse

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The Sea's Blessing

The Muse

Leandra J. Piper

Copyright 2012 by Leandra J. Piper

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used without the express written permission of the author or publisher for any purposes, except brief quotations in critical articles or reviews.

The artist surveyed his handiwork, spread out on the floor before him. The circle, the triangle, the hexagram, the pentagram, scribed as precisely as he could manage, all the weird foreign words practically swimming before his eyes. He twisted the silver ring on his finger, then set the dented brass lamp on the floor on the table as he thumbed through the badly-photocopied pages of the grimoire, trying to figure out where he was supposed to put it.

He couldn't find it. Antony swore under his breath, then set it on the ground inside the triangle. That had to be right. The ring, he twisted on his finger, making sure he could get it off when it came time to hold it up. It slid freely enough, though he wondered if that was because of the thin layer of sweat.

The other requisites he had close on hand, assuming everything he had counted. The sword he'd got from the knife store in the mall would be good enough, he figured. He wasn't sure what counted as a sceptre in this day and age, though, and had left it out, and he felt silly wearing the pointed mitre on top of the other, closer-fitting cap the text called for as well.

He'd poured a few perfume samples on top of the charcoal that filled an old coffee can, then set it all alight. The smell was horrible, but maybe they'd just had different standards for things like that in the olden days.

Antony tugged the long white robe in place, straightening the leather belt that was holding it. There was no way to find lion-skin anywhere so he hoped cow or pig or whatever animal had gone to that belt was good enough. He had to make do with what he could get.

But he was stalling now and he knew it. He flipped a few pages ahead to the conjurations, then flattened out the booklet, setting it where he could see it from within the circle. His eyes darted over the archaic phrasings a time or two, as if that would somehow instill a confidence in him that he did not feel yet. Antony wet his lips, then moved to stand inside the circle.

He pulled the ring off his finger, gripping it tightly as he awkwardly held the sword high with his other hand. Spreading his arms, he called out, "I do invocate and conjure thee, oh spirit--" he faltered already, the name of the spirit he sought fleeing his mind. Antony pushed forward all the same, not supplying a name at all. "And being with power armed from the supreme majesty, I do strongly command thee, by Bera... Berla... Beralanensis..."

Despair ran through him as he mangled one word, then another. But the air had grown chill around him, and a ringing in his ears pressed him to continue, dimly reciting the ritual phrases. A palpable sense of pressure collected around him, and his tongue felt like lead as he stumbled through the myriad names of God, but he persevered. He had to stop to flip the page, then squinted at one of the names. He remembered his movies well enough at least to pronounce 'Tetragrammaton Iehovah' with a J, which was more guidance on pronunciation than he had on most of the names in the invocation.

The home stretch now. The pressure in the air intensified as he came closer to the end, then finally finished with, "And... and persist thou therein until the end, and according unto mine interest, visibly and af-affably speaking unto me in a voice clear and intelligible without any ambiguity." Antony wet his lips after that.The text said to repeat the invocation as often as he pleased but he didn't think he could make it through a second time. And the heaviness in the air had yet to lift. Was it his imagination, or was something happening? Had his summoning worked?

A curl of smoke right in his face made him cough violently. It lingered around his face, making it hard to see. The ring! He remembered it just as the smoke threatened to choke him, growing thicker by the second. Sword-arm wavering in the air as he awkwardly lifted his left hand, he squinted through the silver ring he was clutching.

For all that he'd gone to all this trouble, for all the weirdness of the heaviness as he spoke, the smoke in the air, he didn't really believe until he looked through the ring. Not even the way his eye was half-shut in order to peer through it would account for how much clearer his sight became. He could see the smoke, billowing up from the centre of the triangle, to be sure, but now it seemed clear as pure air.

And, of course, if that hadn't convinced him, the shadows that were coalescing into a human shape in the smoke would have. Laughter rang through the air, dark and feminine, sudden enough to startle him into dropping both sword and ring. Antony started to bend for the ring so he could see, then blinked when he realized the smoke was gone entirely. In its place, a woman stood in the centre of the triangle. The texts had called all the spirits 'he', so that was surprise enough, but she was enough to take Antony's breath away.

She seemed a creature of purest shadow, her rippling hair like an ink-stain over her shoulders. She was garbed in a dress that seemed to hold all the night sky within, clinging to her achingly feminine form and swirling with the hints of stars contained within. But if her dress was the night, then her face was the moon, alabaster and smooth, her features delicate. The night's chill did not touch her eyes, however; they might have been shaped, sized as any human's but the colour was emerald fire, smoldering with a heat that was shudderingly wrong for such a cold shade.

In contrast, the red of her lips, her nails was such a mundane thing. Red as blood, red as death, red as life, but not so far from what could be seen in the makeup aisle. Antony shook his head a few times, squeezing his eyes shut, before looking back to her. There was something he had to say now. She was waiting for it, too, by the faint curve to her lips.

The words escaped him. Antony reached for the book again, but never quite took his eyes away from the spirit. The longer he looked, the more normal she seemed, almost human. But as he flipped through the pages, he saw her out of the corner of his eye and shuddered. No, there was nothing human there, even in that face. It was perfect, more perfect than Hollywood makeup, than Photoshop wizardry could ever make. That was a face that had discarded all notion of flaw and was utter proof to the notion that beauty, that humanity came from flaw.

Antony shuddered, and turned his attention entirely to finding the correct passage. Holding the book in front of his face, he straightened, trying to speak clearly, "Behold thy confusion if thou refusest to be obedient! Behold the pentacle of Solomon which I have brought here before thy presence!"

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The Muse