The Stone of the Undying

Submitted into Contest #93 in response to: Write your story about two characters tidying up after a party.... view prompt

0 comments

Adventure Fantasy Romance

“What do you mean, it’s my fault? How is this my fault?”

Jean doesn’t answer. Instead she continues picking up plastic cups that line the room and aggressively throwing them in a huge garbage bag.

“How is this not your fault? You told them we have it,” Jean finally says, not stopping to look at me. “They knew we planned on using it. Do you think all those jerks would have turned up here tonight if they weren’t hoping the Ritual would happen?”

“They came because they’re our friends.

“Our friends? Is this what friends do?” She gestures generally around the room. There are bits of a broken end table strewn all around us, the carpet is stained a brownish-red, unfortunately not by wine, and the window to the garden has a man-shaped hole. But that’s not what Jean means.

“Come on,” I say, “they did it as a joke! You don’t have to be such a worrier.” I might as well have told her to calm down.

Jean slams the trash bag filled with cups and empty beer cans to the floor and storms off. And then she storms right back with – oh no, is that the – yes, with the Codex beneath her arm. Crackers, I’m not in the mood for a lesson.

She opens the giant book’s yellow, crinkly pages until she finds the part about the Ritual. My knees soften as I notice a beverage stain on the page. Jean might have forgiven me for losing an irreplaceable, dangerous artifact, but definitely not for harming the Codex in any way.

It’s quiet for a moment, as she stares at me with narrowed eyes, and I await the avalanche of reproach. I’m trying desperately not to smile at her adorable, crinkled-up nose.

“I can’t believe you let this happen,” she finally says, and, somehow, that’s worse.

After another pause, she points her finger at the text and says, “You might have forgotten this part, but I haven’t. And I bet Vince and the others knew about this, too. If life from death is to be stolen, with life’s-blood danger must the Stone of the Undying be obtained.”

“Oh, come on. It’s not like Vince was in mortal danger, stealing the Stone from us.”

“He sure thought he was when he jumped out of my freaking window!”

“Do you think he could actually be so stupid?”

“Well, it’s Vince.”

She has a point.

We spend the next two hours cleaning up the apartment. I mop up several shards of broken glass, hoping there hadn’t been any slow-poisoning gas in the original container, and sweep some dust that looks suspicious. Without telling Jean, I sneak to the ingredients cabinet. Dried toad droppings, Compound of white sand and brick dust, Ashes of a witch. All accounted for, plus a few others.

But just as I close the cabinet door, my eyes drift to the liquids section. Oh no.

“Jean! Jean!” I rush back to the living room. Except for the broken window and the missing end table, it’s been brought back to its original appearance.

Jean’s sunk in the antique red velvet armchair, the Codex cradled lovingly in her arms. As she caresses a page, I don’t know if she’s reading or trying to get that stain out.

“What now?” she says, without lifting her head from the book.

“I need to tell you something, but you have to promise not to get mad.”

Now she’s looking at me.

“I promise nothing.”

That’s fair.

“Well, only that I was just checking the cabinet to make absolutely sure nothing else is missing and, well, something is.”

“Is what?”

“Missing.”

“Don’t even tell me.”

“Yea, it’s the Blue Viper venom. I’m so sorry, Jean, you were right, I was an idiot. Look, I just wanted those guys to like me, ok? I’m sick of always being on the outs, and, for once, I actually had something cool to show them and -”

“Shut up, you blundering buffoon, we don’t have time for your pity party. We have to find them immediately.”

She jumps from the chair and grabs a nearby backpack. She places the Codex inside, along with some essentials that might aid us in retrieving the Stone from Vince: a small vial of Memory Fog, a jewelry box full of Light absorbing marbles, some more items I can’t quite see.

“Tell me again,” she says, once we’re out of the house, “what does Vince know about the Ritual?”

The late autumn air is cold on my face, dissipating any leftover buzz I might have had from the party. Jean looks irresistible in her short, black, faux-leather jacket. Like a miniature, sexy private investigator.

“He definitely knows what it’s used for, and he’s familiar with the Ritual. That’s how the Codex got the stain.” I never should have left him alone with it.

“But this spell is so far above his skill level that I just don’t understand how he’s so confident he can work it. Do you think he’s even aware of the possible negative outcomes?”

“Um, I think it’s fair to say that no, Vincent hasn’t thought about how things could go badly.”

“Because this is really bad, Michael. Not just that he could kill himself. Much, much worse. Can you try calling him again?”

I let the phone ring once, then I hang up.

“His phone’s turned off, we should just head to his place.”

After walking in the dark, deserted city for a while, I pluck up the courage to ask about what’s worrying me.

“Jean?”

“Michael?”

“You’re super good at all this stuff. I mean, I can barely get ingredients to react the way they should, and that’s with the instructions right in front of me. Let alone spells! There’s always a chance I’ll bungle up a spell I’ve done a million times before -”

“Your point?”

“Right. I was just wondering, what else is Blue Viper Venom used for?”

“You mean, except the Ritual of the Undying?”

“Yea, except that.”

“Well, most of the spells that require might. Bringing someone back from the dead involves a lot of might. But so does time manipulation, spells of invincibility, overpowering free will.”

“I bet those are all super hard to pull off, thought, right?”

“It depends, I guess. Some types of magic are easier for certain people. We all have our proclivities.”

“Hah, I think I’m the rare exception. All magic comes hard for me.”

She stops in her tracks and faces me.

“Hey,” she says, “stop selling yourself short. You have more ambition and determination than anyone I’ve ever met. You’ll screw up a potion a hundred times, and still not give up on it. I would have quit a long time ago if it hadn’t been for your encouragement. I owe everything I’ve learned to you.”

I’m starting to have misgivings about this whole thing.

Since I can’t think of anything to say, we continue our journey, and, soon enough, we reach Vince’s apartment building. His windows are dark.

We go up one floor, two, three. With every step, the hard object in my pocket presses against my leg, reminding me that this was a bad idea.

Vince’s flat is next to the stairwell. No sound escapes the massive, black door, free of any number or markings. I knock.

“Is this it? How can you be sure?” Jean asks.

“He told me.”

“What? In what context did Vince tell you ‘My apartment is the unmarked, black door right by the stairs?’”

When I explicitly asked him.

“I don’t know, he just did. Do you hear anything inside?”

I knock again, but there is no answer.

I never would have done this in different circumstances, but, growing desperate, I try the door handle. It’s unlocked.

We creep inside the semi-darkness of the hallway. A faint candle light glows in one of the rooms, but the silence is oppressive. It presses on my eardrums, making my blood flow the only source of sound. It whispers rhythmically, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

As we enter the room, Jean shrieks, and I want to avert my eyes. There’s a circle made of lighted candles, big and small, and, in its center, Vince is lying on his side on the floor, blood pooled around his head. Although I know it is Vince, the man in front of me barely resembles the youth that sprang through my living room window mere hours ago. He’s skinny and frail, his hair is sprinkled gray. His ashen face is sagging.

Jean collects herself quickly and rushes to his side.

“Vince! Vince! What did you do? Is he breathing?”

I join her, though I doubt I can hear anything other than my own heart beating. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“He has a pulse and his chest is rising,” I say, on closer inspection.

Out of Jean’s backpack comes a flask with an unidentified purple powder inside. She blows some it over his face and whispers words I can’t hear.

“Vince! Can you hear me? Tell us what happened as fast as possible. The reinvigorating effects are temporary.”

Vince slowly opens his light blue eyes, clouded by heavier lids than ever, and looks straight at me.

“I’m sorry, Mike. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s ok, just tell us what happened. Did someone hurt you to steal the Venom?”

“What?” Jean makes a face at me.

“Did you try the Undying Ritual, Vince? At what point did it go wrong?” She asks.

Vince doesn’t look at her, and, although his eyes are open, they’re becoming unfocused.

“Mike, I’m sorry, I just – I just wanted to try. Those guys, they don’t really respect me. I wanted to impress them.”

“Is that why you stole the Venom?”

He slowly shakes his head. Jean’s staring at me again, looking annoyed.

“He stole it to try the Ritual, Michael, what’s wrong with you? And he obviously has, and it’s gone wrong. How much did you manage to get through? Were you alone?”

Vince shakes his head again.

“They left,” he says, “when the blood first – first came out of my mouth.” He starts coughing.

“But bringing back the dead is a spirit Ritual, it shouldn’t affect blood -”

“Jean,” I say, “he didn’t perform the Ritual of the Undying.”

“What? How do you know?”

“Vince, what did you do with the Venom?”

He’s still looking at me, but he doesn’t see me anymore.

“In – invincible. I wanted to be invincible.”

He closes his eyes and a tomb-like silence falls over the room.

“Vince, buddy, stay with me,” I say as I hold his aged face between my palms. This can’t be happening.

“There’s no point, the Power Powder wears off in a few minutes.”

“Michael,” Jean says after a beat, “how did you know it wasn’t the Ritual?”

This is all wrong.

“I did something stupid, Jeanie, and I’m really sorry. I wanted to impress you, and Vince agreed to help, but, please, Jeanie, we have to save him.”

Tears are streaming down her beautiful, pale face.

I reach for my phone to call an ambulance once, twice, and change my mind. What would I say? Please help my friend who is withering to nothingness as the result of a spell gone bad? There’s no time to take him to a Magical Authority.

“Please, Jeanie, there must be something we can do.”

She’s digging through her backpack, wiping her face again and again. She won’t meet my eyes.

“Invincibility is a classic action-reaction spell. If it had succeeded, nothing could have harmed Vincent. Since it failed, nothing can restore him.”

Her eyes swimming in tears, she finally looks straight at me, and my heart freezes.

“What did you do, Michael?”

I can’t stop myself from crying.

“I wanted to make this big show of how Vince stole the Stone and eventually we chase after him and I retrieve it. I wanted to be the hero, but he took the Venom, and -” Jean is sobbing so hard now, stroking Vince’s hand, I can’t go on.

“Wait,” she suddenly says. “So, you have it? Is the Stone on you?”

I search my pocket, and my hand comes out clenched around a small, round object. It looks more like glass than stone, and a vaporous substance shines red inside.

“It’s red,” I say, “and warm. Wasn’t it blue before? It was, wasn’t it? And cold.”

Jean looks at Vince.

“It’s sensing the Portal,” she says. “The Portal between worlds is about to open.”

The Stone is glowing warmer in my palm.

“Michael, there’s only one way I can think of to save him.”          

One of the giant candles lighting up the room blows out.

“Of course! The Ritual! Crackers, I’m so dumb I didn’t even consider it.”

“Stop that, you’re not dumb. But, Michael, it’s really hard. And dangerous. As one of us casts the spells, the other has to be the Guide, has to travel to the edge of the living world and drag Vince back from there.”

“Great, I’ll do that. You’re a master spell caster, I trust you.”

“It would mean risking your life. The same way you can pull Vince out, something could pull you in. Or worse, something could push out through the open Door. You don’t have to do this. He made a decision when he stole that vial, and then attempted a spell he wasn’t prepared for. Admittedly, what you did was immature and irresponsible, but this isn’t your fault.”

“I let him near our ingredients cabinet. I let him read the Codex. But regardless whose fault it is, we can’t let him die.”

“Right.”

Jean rearranges the candles around us, extinguishing some and lighting others. An assortment of liquids, powders and crystals come out of her backpack, and she mixes and matches them from memory. She dabs me with some of the substances, some crystals go near Vince’s head. She rubs some on her hands.

“I can’t believe how well you know this stuff. You amaze me.”

I can almost spot a small smile rising at the corner of her lips.

“Now,” she says, “the only reason we have a chance at this is because Vince hasn’t crossed over yet. He’s still alive, even barely. So, our best hope for you to find him before the Portal opens. There’s no way we’re powerful enough to drag him out if he crosses.”

She begins to recite. Her voice is low and strange, in a language I can’t follow. The unknown words rhyme, they lull me to sleep.

I open my eyes and some of the candles have gone out. Jean is still speaking, but her voice is deeper. The darkness gathers around us.

I open my eyes and only one candle remains. Vince is lying motionless in front of me, and a cavernous voice murmurs nearby. In the distance, someone bangs on a door.

Bang, bang, bang.

I open my eyes and it is dark. There are no shadows, no outlines, no stars. The wind does not blow, no clouds roll above me, it is neither warm nor cold. There is no one here.

I open my eyes, and, in the darkness, I hear a sound. I strain to understand.

“Mike,” a voice calls, unfamiliar. “Mike, where am I?”

Bang, bang, bang.

“Who’s there?” I ask.

Darkness incarnate.

“It’s me, Vince.”

I come.

Bang, bang, bang.

“Mike, I’m really scared.”

“Don’t be scared, we’ll be alright. Take my hand.”

Your power is draining. I feast.

Bang, bang, bang.

I feel a warm hand taking mine, and I know I am here to rescue my friend. I’ll hold on to him and swim to the light, where someone awaits us.

I come.

Bang, bang, bang.

With all my strength, I grab Vince’s warm hands and push upwards, out of the night.

We soar for a moment, but then something cold touches my leg. It warps around me, dragging me down, pulling me under. I try to fight, to wriggle free, to shake off the coldness that advances up my body towards my stomach. My heart.

Soon, my body is heavy, my thoughts are thinning. I can barely feel my friend beside me, and all I can think is cold.

Bang, bang, bang.

I come.

“Michael,” I hear someone from far away. “Michael, please, you have to fight. You have to come back. Please.”

Jean.

My body is numb, the only sensation left is holding on to Vince. He’s struggling too.

“Michael, please. I can’t lose you.”

The Stone is still in my pocket, burning hot. From the tips of my fingers, as I close my hand around it, it thaws my arm, then my chest, and my head. I can move my legs again. I can think. We have to make it out of here, back to where Jean is waiting for us. For me.

Bang, bang, bang.

The bagging eases.

I open my eyes, and we are back in the apartment, surrounded by lit candles. Vince is waking up, but I can hardly see him behind the girl who jumps in my arms. My girl. She’s kissing my cheek again and again. Her face is wet with tears, and I want to wipe them all away, all her sorrows and her fears.

“I love you, Jean.”

I kiss her.

“Geez, guys, get a room,” Vince says, running a hand through his hair.

May 14, 2021 21:38

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

0 comments