Downside 04 Sacrificial Magic

By: Stacia Kane



Had the roof over her head not been a broken mess, shredded insulation and pieces of tile dangling like the rotting innards of the living thing it had once been, she wouldn’t be getting hit on the head with cold droplets of water at odd, annoying intervals.

That would have made her happier. Or at least not quite as unhappy. Nothing could have made her happy at that moment, when she was about to wander down a dark hall where a ghost lurked and hopefully manage to freeze it before it sliced off her head or stabbed her or whatever the hell else it planned to do. The odds of a ghost in this corpse of a building not having a weapon were—well, hell, there were no odds at all. Only the dumbest ghost on the planet wouldn’t have found some sort of weapon in this ramshackle palace of destruction, where her boots sloshed through a good two inches of foul water, broken glass, metal shards, pulped books, and who the fuck knew what else.

“Think it’s in there, Chess?” Riley Martin, a brand-new Debunker, pointed toward the mouth of the hallway ahead. In there the ceiling had apparently maintained its integrity; the hall was only shadows, a dark tunnel straight to the grave. Or rather the Crematorium, and the City of Eternity. None of which really sounded like a fun way to end her evening.

But neither did leaving the ghost here to kill other people, or telling the Church she’d decided to fuck off to the bar instead of doing her job. “Probably. No, don’t turn your light on yet. Try not to if you can help it. Let’s go stand right inside until our eyes adjust, okay?”

Riley nodded. Chess followed him, neither of them bothering to keep their movements quiet. If they could somehow attract the spirit, draw it out, that would be easier and safer. The last thing either of them wanted to do was to walk into some kind of ambush.

Fucking Lamaru. Fucking Arthur Maguinness-Beldarel shithead. If they hadn’t played their stupid power games and set a bunch of ghosts free the month before, she wouldn’t be out here doing something that technically wasn’t her job but that every Church employee capable of doing it had to do at least one night a week when they weren’t otherwise engaged or on a case.

Which Chess wasn’t. Damn it.

They stopped in the shadows; the almost imperceptible breeze hadn’t penetrated there at all, so the horrible ammoniac stench, full of mold and worse, assaulted her nose the second they entered the hall. Her eyes stung.

But more than that, a warm tingling sensation began crawling up her arms and across her chest as her magical tattoos reacted to the presence of a spirit. A ghost was definitely nearby. She looked at Riley. “Are you feeling it?”

“I— I don’t know. My skin feels kind of funny.” What little of his face she could make out didn’t look happy.

“You get used to it.”

A flash of light down the hall, so fast she only saw it out of the corner of her eye. But it had definitely been light, and it had definitely been the bluish light of a ghost.

Riley’s breath caught. This was the time that, if she was a normal sort of person, she’d be able to say something reassuring and at the same time cool, the kind of thing that would make Riley feel brave but not patronized. And then they’d both sort of smile and head off down the hall to Banish that ghost.

But she was not that kind of person, and the last thing she had any idea how to do was reassure Riley and make him feel good about himself. Cliche was probably about the best she could do.

“You’ll be fine,” was the one she gave him, and to her surprise it seemed to work. “Come on.”

Every step they took, every slow step through the soup of bacteria and rot sucking at her boots brought them closer to that faint death-glow. She’d mixed some graveyard dirt and asafetida earlier, stuck it in a bag in her pocket; now she reached inside and grabbed a small handful. Ready.

They moved a few steps in silence broken only by the occasional plonk of water dripping from the ceiling behind them. Something rattled. Chess spun around to look but saw nothing.

Ghosts weren’t the only things that might hang out in abandoned buildings at night. They weren’t in Downside, no, but they weren’t exactly in the nicest area, either. This building, which had once housed offices of some kind and a warehouse, stood just a few streets into Cross Town, a whole city block of condemned cement with a ten-foot chain-link fence around it.

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