An recovered faster than I did, because the next thing I heard after Wilfred’s horrible scream was,“Let’s go, bitch!” followed by a grunt of pain from the lady in white as An tackled her back into the Vault.
It was still pitch black, and the air was choked with dust from all of the broken plaster. I could hear them scuffling up ahead of me, An’s sneakers squeaking on the marble floor, and the occasional gasp or cry when a blow landed. I was about to race over and give her hand, but a voice inside my head stopped me. It was Wilfred.
“The knife, Oct. You must..” he said weakly. The building spasmed, and more of the ceiling came down, a fist-sized chunk of masonry striking my left shoulder, which sent a shudder of pain through the still healing tattoo on my chest. “PULL IT OUT!” he screamed, “Please! Hurry!”
I immediately dropped to my knees, frantically feeling around in front of me with both hands. I heard a muffled scream from the other room which I hoped wasn’t An’s. At last I found it. The knife was so deeply imbedded in Wilfred that the hilt was flush against the floor. I grabbed it with both hands, and pulled up with all my strength.
I managed to lift it maybe an inch, but then, as if it were on a spring, the knife tore itself from my grip, plunging all the way back down into Wilfred. The whole building thrashed around in pain, and a low moan echoed through the corridor, seemingly coming from the walls themselves. I tried to pull it out again, half-standing, pulling so hard I could feel the muscles straining not just in my arms, but my back and legs as well. But it was no use. It wouldn’t budge. The room started to shake even more fiercely, and I lost my hold and was thrown into a wall. Yeah, right into my sore shoulder.
They were getting thrown around in the other room as well. I heard more shattering glass, and this time a surprised yell that I was sure was An’s. I wanted to run to her, but I knew if Wilfred bit it, we were all likely trapped forever. And not just us. Pretty much the whole organization, all of Enigma, was under this one crumbling roof. I had to get that knife out. Everything, and everyone, depended on it.
Or at least that is how it seemed at the time. How was I supposed to know Wilfred was such a big baby? To be fair, I suppose, it might have been the first time in his entire existence that he had ever felt pain, so I am inclined to cut him some slack. But c’mon. That stupid knife, the Blade of the Jackal, would probably have taken weeks to suck him dry, and would likely have exploded like a greedy tick before it drained even a tenth of him away. Wilfred’s spirit was as immense as he was. But at the time, it seemed like a hell of a lot more than just the tantrum it turned out to be. I thought he was about to pay a visit to the big realtor in the sky, taking the rest of us along for the ride.
So I was pretty desperate, Jean. As desperate as I have ever been, really. Even so, looking back, it was a pretty mad thing to do. Magic, it’s all in the details. A new ritual might take years to perfect. One line off here, a word off there – I was lucky I got it to go at all, really. Well, you may be right, I guess. It was more than luck. But still.
So there I was, in perfect darkness, my back literally against the wall, a wall which seemed like it might collapse any second. An was getting tossed around like a rag doll in the next room by what I thought were probably Wilfred’s death throes. If I could just make that damn thing submit, I remember thinking. And then it came to me. What if I could?
Obedience. A ritual of obedience.
“Andrews, can you get us back over to the knife? I need to concentrate,” I said internally.
“What are you planning, Oct?” she asked. Her suspicion hit me like a wave. She knew me too well; knew I was about to try something crazy. I didn’t answer, though. Just retreated back into my own skull, blocking out everything.
The circle was the anchor point for the whole thing, I was pretty sure. I could wing the chant, and I could probably culminate the symbolic binding with a few strands of my hair. But the circle, I had to nail that if this was going to fly.
Since I was in a dream state, albeit a lucid one, I just had the blank circle appear in front of me on a drafting table. I needed something, anything to base it on. A starting point.
It came to me in a flash, really, that memory. I don’t even know what book I had first seen it in. I remember the grandiose title though -- the Ninth Ritual of Binding. Yeah, who knows what became of versions one through eight. You know how those old texts are. I remember thinking the first time that I read it that it was probably hooey. I hadn’t even bothered committing it to memory, I am sure of that. But here it was in my head, vivid as a photo.
“To bind his heart to yours for eternity”. Yeah, a damn love charm. That’s what I used. But wait it gets better. I erased all of the love god name drops. Eros, Aphrodite, Greek gods invoked with Latin text – nice! Chucked all the little arrow pierced hearts around the edge while I was at it. Changed to center lines to invoke Saturn, not Venus. Saturn, for Léhahiah, the Angel of Fidelity. Redid the inscription in Enochian. Around the border, I placed images of fealty. An unbroken line of vassals submitting to their lords, their hands linked one to another. Under a minute, all told. Has to be some kind of a record, really. I burned the image into my brain, then reawakened in my body.
Now, for the tricky part. “Wilfred,” I called out internally.
There was no response.
“It hurts, Oct, it hurts so bad!” was the reply.
Waa Waa Waa. But at the time, I was frantic.
“Wilfred, I need you to do something. Something that will let me remove the knife.”
“Anything, Oct! Anything!”
“I need you to make this circle in the floor around the knife, Wilfred. This exact pattern. You have to get it exactly right because An has my phone and I won’t be able to look at it.”
“I’ll…, I’ll try, Octavian.”
I envisioned the circle for him. No, my friend, I wasn’t even sure I could share images before I tried it.
“No, Octavian! You will not do this thing! It is madness!” said Andrews internally.
“You have a better idea?” I replied.
But before she could reply, Wilfred said, “It is done, Octavian. Please, get it out of me now!” I looked down, and was surprised to the was now etched into the floor, glowing faintly silver. I didn’t even think to question the ease of his success.
With Andrews yelling at me in the back of my mind, I began the chant, making it up on the spot. Fortunately, Enochian has a lot of words for obedience to higher powers. I blathered on this topic for a bit, my eyes focused on the border mainly, the chain of vassals. When it seemed like the time to wrap it up, I took the strand of hair that I had pulled from my head, and tied it to my ring finger. Then I wrapped the other end around the thin point at the end of the hilt. With the last word spoken, I reached for the hilt.
The hair that bound us vanished in a quick flare, catching fire. A chain made of links of white light appeared coiled around the hilt of the knife. Rapidly it unwound, and I felt it plunge into my chest, wrapping itself around my heart, entwining my spirit. Then, it vanished from sight. It was then that it came to me. Fealty, it’s a two-way street. The pledge goes both ways, Jean. I had bound myself as well.
In my head, Andrew’s silence was palpable. She was seething, I could feel it. But to this day, I am not sure what else I could have done.
As soon as I actually touched the hilt, power flooded through my body. Stolen power, Wilfred’s élan vital. A river of life, flowing out of the blade and flooding my spirit. I am not going to lie, my friend. It felt amazing, better than sex, better than anything. This must be what Laurent experiences when he steals life, I thought. Why he can’t stop.
It was only a few seconds, really. A few seconds that I relished in feeding on a friend, taking his life and adding it to mine. But those few seconds are etched into my mind, Jean. Not just the guilt of it, either. Wilfred’s spirit is vast. It is not a sensation one can forget.
Finally, I came back to myself, and overriding my deep reluctance, removed the knife from Wilfred’s floor. I felt the whole house shudder in relief.
A few seconds later, the lights flickered back on, although the seemed faint and rather shaky. What a ham.
An was revealed in the doorway, blood tricking from a cut on her arm, her face already beginning to bruise around the eyes. She looked otherwise pretty unscathed, but upset.
“Lost her! She must have used that damn veil to vanish when I got thrown into the case. Was kicking her ass, too,” she said.
Then she noticed the knife in my hand. She frowned, and pulled back slightly.
“Uh, you going to put that thing back in its case, Oct?” she asked.
“I don’t think I can, unfortunately. I did a binding ritual to get it out, and well. I think I am stuck with it for a while. Maybe forever,” I said.
An raised her eyebrows.
“Uh, great. Can you at least put it in your pocket or something? That thing really freaks me out. Just radiates hunger, or something.”
Funny, to me it had felt rather content, the way one feels after an exceptionally fine meal. Or a meal after a long fast, perhaps. Without my thinking about it consciously, the shadow blade retracted. I stared at it briefly, then I shoved the hilt into my back pocket.
And that was the scene, my friend, a minute before you joined me, pistol in your hand. What did you say again?
Ah that’s right. “Down on the floor, asshole!” How could I have forgotten your first words to me?