Nightfall did not come soon enough, but a day spent in meditation, even in a rundown fleabag like the Branding Iron, was a day well spent, particularly considering what the night was to bring.
The stars were vibrant pinholes in the black curtain overhead, a tapestry where stories were written by the very gods themselves.
Landon Connors left the battered old GMC on the deserted back hills road and set off on foot, across the cold, desolate frontier of the South Dakota plains. Magic was his guide. Instinct his sense of direction. And prescient was his state of mind.
Coyotes kept their distance, sensing the detective’s temperament. His aura was a beacon of conflicting emotions, and as he crested the low hill to overlook the ruins of a ramshackle farmhouse, those emotions aligned into a singular purpose.
He sat down then, atop that rise, and crossed his legs, painfully. His palms faced the sky, at rest on his knees, middle finger and thumbs touching while the rest fanned out, creating a magical circuit between himself and the cosmos.
A distant howl split the night, but Connors didn’t hear it. Not really. There was another sound more extant, something ancient, primordial, pre-human. It slithered in the dark, between this world and another, here, but not here.
It coursed along, hungry, circling widdershins about the farmhouse ruin, waiting a sacrifice that was being prepared by a blight on the earth. Connors sensed their presence too, could see them in their black robes with his wizard’s eye.
In the quiet of this desert, there was no place to hide.
The detective opened his eyes then and rose gingerly from the dirt and scrub grass. He lit a cigarette, gripped his skull cane tightly, and set off for his confrontation with the black hearts in the godforsaken hovel.
A tingling sensation wove its way through his body, his fingertips nearly sparking with pent up energies. For a brief second he questioned the wisdom of doing this alone, bereft of assistance from his fellow Outriders or any number of allies he’d cultivated in his years of magical congress.
But no, he thought, this was for him alone.
The single story ranch was little more than a shell. No glass remained in the battered window frames, though tattered curtains remained, shielding much of the candlelight that illuminated the proceedings inside.
Connors could hear them now, the mumblings of madmen in demonic discourse.
But it was one voice that stood apart, the voice of his father, and the detective steeled himself as he was set come face to face with the man who had raised him, had taught him the Craft, and then betrayed him in the worst way.
But it was another voice that captured his attention then, as he prepared to enter the derelict steading. It came from behind him, soft and delicate, carried on the cruel Dakota wind.
He turned to see her standing there, dressed in a white robe stained wetly with fresh blood, a gory athame in her left hand.
“Elizabeth?” Connors said, stepping toward his former paramour.
She held her ground, her eyes locked on his, a sinister smile on her lips, one both cruel and telling. There was murder etched on her face, like a mask wove by angry gods.
“I am Elizabeth Crane no more,” she hissed, raising the knife slowly. “I’ve been rechristened.”
Connors raised his left hand, bringing his middle two fingers together with his thumb. A subtle current of magical energy was spawned by a thought.
“What should I call you then?” the detective asked, but the answer did not come straight away. Distracted, he failed to notice the dark shape that came up behind him, no did he react swiftly enough as a long blade slid through his back and appear out his stomach.
He coughed up blood as he dropped to his knees in shock.
“Welcome to the Inception, my son,” Ashton Connors said, wiping his bloody sword clean on his offspring’s coat. “I see you’ve already met our Creideamh.”
“Creideamh?” Connors coughed. “Faith? I’m afraid… I’ve little of it.”
“Funny, boy,” the father said, kneeling down beside him. “I was just thinking how you’re about to receive all the faith you can stand.”
to be continued