The Krytting Hour
Chanting in an alien tongue, Lilith set stone bowls filled with herbs at the cardinal points of her conjuring pit and sprinkled glowing dust from her fingertips. The sparks descended into the bowls, erupting into flames that sent tendrils of aromatic smoke streaming toward the ceiling. Moving from bowl to bowl, Lilith chanted the same incantation and wove symbols in the air. Then, after lighting the last batch, she returned to her cushion before the pit. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands before her, the strange words still tumbling from her lips in a stream of whispers. Lilith knelt like this for an interval and then raised her hands and face to the ceiling as outside the last hint of the sun sank below the western horizon.
“Arise and come forth, lord of Hell!” she cried. “The portal between the worlds is open. I bid you enter.”
Twilight fell across the land, carrying with it an ominous stillness unlike the ordinary calm that attends the setting sun. The wind dropped off and animals huddled in their hiding places, sensing the evil that haunted the forest. In Needwood Village people went about their late day chores, harvesting garden vegetables for supper and trimming back weeds before the last bit of light gave out.
Meanwhile, up in Alistair’s attic room, Savvy had just finished cleaning. She put the spell book back on its shelf and looked around. The salt she had swept up and disposed of, along with the melted wax from the candles. Only oily traces of the circle remained on the floorboards.
She moved to the window to glance out at the darkening street and noted that a curious mist had begun to rise. Its tendrils coursed along the paving stones, seeping into yards and around trees. Savvy scratched her head at the sight and called her feline companion to the window.
“There’s a strange fog forming outside, LeBits, and that’s rather unusual for this time of year,” she said. “If it were October, I’d say it was nothing, but it’s only late August, and shortly before my birthday.”
“Prrrr, I see what you mean, Savvy. Look how dense it is too.”
Savvy quickly decided to investigate.
“There’s something about this that just doesn’t sit well with me,” she concluded. “Come on, LeBits. Let’s go outside.”
The cat jumped down from the sill and followed Savvy out of the attic room. She pulled the door closed behind her and reached into her pocket for her luminous crystal. Drawing it out, she lit the stone and descended the stairs to the street. By now townspeople had also noticed the unusual fog and come outside to gawk. Constance McCad, however, was not among them. She had returned to her store in confusion after the enchantment that Savvy cast on her wore off.
Savvy and LeBits peered down the street as the mist thickened and swirled. It filled all of Main Street and had begun seeping into alleyways and through the gravestones of the town cemetery. Stepping from the sidewalk, Savvy strode to the alley that she and Alistair took to her house. After turning by the old shed, however, the ground suddenly began to quake. Savvy lurched to a nearby tree and held on tightly as the rumble grew stronger. Smoke billowed up from the center of Main Street and a great cracking sound filled the air. The paving stones shook and wobbled before all at once the street ruptured upward and tore in half, leaving a gaping hole in the earth from which pulsed an eerie red light.
A terrible stench filled the air and Savvy’s hand flew to her nose.
“Ugh, that stink! What the heck is happening?” she cried.
The silhouettes of tiny humanoids flitted through the smoke of the fiery pit, darkening into malevolent shapes with glowing red eyes and sharply pointed ears as they surmounted the crater. The imps looked about and began clambering from the pit, their skin the color of pea soup and ragged loin cloths tied about their two-foot high frames. The skin on their bodies hung in ghastly wrinkles and long noses dangled from their faces above devilish mouths filled with jagged, rotting teeth. In their hands they carried lengths of rope and chain, as well as short spears and whips with flails of sharp iron spikes on their tips. Only a handful of the imps climbed from the pit at first, but more and more of them rapidly followed until they swarmed the street like a plague of locusts. A woman in her yard screamed at the sight and dogs barked at the diabolic figures, which showed no fear of man or beast.
Several of the grotesque imps surrounded a man near McCad’s Store. A whip lashed around the man’s throat and he fell to his knees, succumbing quickly thereafter to stabbing spears and blows from flailing chains. Rampaging gangs of the small monsters invaded houses, smashing windows and caving in doors to get at the people inside. A gaggle of five imps dragged a struggling woman across her porch and down the front steps by her hair. Her heels thumped against the wood and she screamed until a length of rope tightened around her neck and a dozen imps hauling the rope hanged her from the limb of a tree in her front yard.
A fire broke out in the dead woman’s house behind them and that of her neighbor as well. The inhabitant of the burning home blasted an imp out of his kitchen window with a shotgun. The sickly green figure lay still on the grass for a moment before rising once again to its feet and setting off with a wicked cackle to the house next door.
Savvy stood frozen in her tracks throughout all of this, utterly horrified by the crimes that she beheld. The imps flew around her town in a devilish frenzy. Thus far they had not seen Savvy huddled against the tree, but at length one of them spied her hiding there. It leered repulsively at her and called her presence to the attention of its fellows. It was then that LeBits, frantic with alarm, sank his claws into Savvy’s ankle.
“Savvy, snap out of it and do something!” he cried.
The clawing woke Savvy from her stupor and her hands rose from her side.
“Diablo repellere!” she yelled, sending a burst of magic hurtling toward the encroaching imps.
The blast threw a dozen of the vile things high into the air and back toward the broken rim of the crater. Yet in casting the spell Savvy had drawn attention to herself and now more imps made for her. Again Savvy struck out at them, sending another cluster of the revolting figures soaring backward. She repeated the command over and over, but the imps around her only grew in number. They hemmed Savvy in against the shed like a wall of putrid green flesh, their red eyes glowing viciously as they brandished their spears and whips. Aware of Savvy’s power, the imps closed in cautiously, but as their number grew so did their confidence. A solitary girl and her cat opposed them. They were legion.
Meanwhile, beyond the wall of hellions, and far from Savvy’s ability to assist, the imps dragged more screaming Needwooders into the fiery pit. Fury and desperation grew in Savvy’s heart. Her repulsing commands were not strong enough to stop the imps from their rampage and now they had cornered her. She needed a weapon with more power. She needed the glowstone.
Raising the crystal in her hand, Savvy cried “lumino diablo!” and sent a beam of white light brighter than the sun toward the crawling wall of devils around her. The beam struck several of the imps simultaneously, searing them into masses of goo that bubbled and hissed with a disgusting reek. Savvy’s stomach turned, but she held back the bile and focused on the beam. Whenever it touched the flesh of an imp the creature exploded in a repulsive burst of slime.
Now the imps drew back, howls of anger and frustration rising from their throats. Savvy noted her advantage and pressed it into the street, slaying dozens of the awful creatures at a time.
“Stay close to me, LeBits!” she cried, but the Felim needed no prompting. He huddled beside her leg, his eyes wide with fear.
Savvy did not know how many of the fiends she had destroyed, but it was not enough. Still more of them rushed at her, clambering from the pit in inexhaustible waves. Savvy fought on as best she could until an imp that had climbed atop the shed on the corner of the alley leapt onto her back. Staggering forward under the blow, Savvy fell to one knee on the paving stones. Somehow she climbed back to her feet, however, and spinning to dislodge the creature she had nearly throw it off when its sank its putrid teeth into her shoulder. Savvy howled in pain from the bite and her searing beam of light flickered out as the glowstone fell from her hand.
At last, Savvy flung the imp from her and stooped to search the street for the fallen gem. Yet she could not see in the shadowy mist and her hands felt naught but empty stone. Now the imps sensed Savvy’s helplessness and they closed in on her, a collective growl of demonic laughter gurgling horribly from their throats. Savvy muttered a prayer and prepared herself for the end when a massive burst of light erupted on the street beside her.
“BEGONE FOUL THINGS!” cried Lady Fiona, appearing after she had been summoned by LeBits.
Fiona’s eyes glowed white and with her palms outstretched above her head, she sent a glowing sphere of light toward the legion of hateful creatures. The light slammed into the imps, carrying them off of their feet. Small bodies hurtled through the air, smashing into trees and stone walls amid the lurid orange glare of a dozen flaming houses.
“Savilla, come to me!” called Fiona, beckoning Savvy to her side.
Savvy staggered to her aunt and slumped by her feet with the cat.
“You’re injured!” said Fiona.
“Yes, but not too badly, I think,” replied Savvy. “We need to get rid of these things for good.”
“Agreed! Savilla, can you maintain the light?”
“I think so.”
“Good, then do it now!”
Savvy climbed to her feet and summoned the energy to keep up the light shield, but the sphere flickered as she spoke the incantation and it collapsed in toward them.
“I can’t hold it out as far as you can,” Savvy cried, the blood from her wound streaming down her shirt.
“Don’t concern yourself with that. Just keep us protected,” said Fiona.
Savvy nodded and focused on creating a wall around them about ten feet in diameter. Imps brandishing weapons gathered just beyond the shield, their faces twisted in hateful expressions of rage.
As Savvy held the hellish host at bay, Fiona began chanting a spell that Savvy recognized, the one she used to summon a tempest. Fiona’s arms swayed and twisted as she stirred the air into a cyclone. Her hair flew wildly and the noxious mist began to spin around them. Faster and faster it spun, gathering speed until the imps flew from their feet. Fiona’s eyes glowed white and then blue as she bellowed the last words of the incantation.
“Howling, crying, to and fro, winds of earth come to blow! Send the mist and demons back to the pit of death and black!”
The final syllable left Fiona’s lips, sending the roaring wind upward in an unearthly shriek. The vortex sucked the reeking mist and every imp in sight into a swirling cone that Fiona directed toward the crater in the center of the street. Drawn in by the tempest, the house fires sputtered out and the smoke followed the imps back to Hell with a vast whooshing sound.
Finally, the last imp had tumbled into the hole and Fiona dispersed the cyclone. The cone of wind spiraled toward the pit and disappeared into it, leaving only the pulsing red light and a hint of sulphur in its wake. The street fell silent and Savvy allowed the light shield to flicker out. Fiona’s eyes assumed their normal color and she caught Savvy in her arms as the girl swooned off of her feet.
“Oh, Savilla, when I saw what was happening I thought you lost. Why did you not summon me?” asked Fiona.
“I’m sorry,” Savvy mumbled. “The attack took me by surprise. It happened so quickly that it was all I could do to defend myself. Thank goodness LeBits called you.”
“Are you able to stand?” asked Fiona.
“I can try,” Savvy nodded.
“Good, let’s give it a go, then, shall we?”
Fiona took Savvy under the arms and pulled her up. Savvy wobbled there for a moment but stayed on her feet. Then Fiona stooped to pick up the cat.
“You did well, little Felim. I am proud of you,” she said.
“Prrrr, thank you, my lady,” chirped LeBits. “I thought we were done for, until you arrived.”
Returning her attention to Savvy, Fiona asked for her crystal. Savvy searched the ground, but in the gloom she could not find the glowstone.
“It fell from my hand,” she said. “LeBits, can you see it?”
Fiona placed the cat on the pavement to let him search. Meanwhile, the stunned people of Needwood had begun emerging from their houses to stare at Savvy and her aunt. Terror clouded their faces and they approached with great caution.
Fiona saw this and sought to reassure them.
“People of Needwood, you need not fear me!” she cried. “I am Lady Fiona of Needwood Forest. My sister Lilith set this evil set upon you. It is she who seeks to harm you, not I. I am here to protect you and my niece, Savilla.”
These words set people whispering. Fingers pointed and Savvy heard her name spoken. An uncomfortable pause filled the air. Then the crowd erupted into cheers. Needwooders moved closer and sought to touch the strange woman who had delivered them from the fury of the imps. Savvy laughed at the people’s reaction, but Fiona frowned because being around so many humans made her uncomfortable.
Beyond the crowd, LeBits sniffed the dark street for the crystal that Savvy had lost. He found it lying in a stand of weeds alongside the shed from which the imp had jumped onto Savvy’s back. Pushing the glowstone with his nose, he rolled it toward the milling crowd when he felt a jarring rumble under his feet. Shafts of red and orange light shot from the pit and the fur stood up on the back of LeBits’s neck. He retreated toward Lady Fiona, but the crowd kept him from approaching her, so LeBits called for the Sirachim to see through his eyes.
Distracted by the people of Needwood, Fiona did not at first hear LeBits’s call, but soon it roared in her head and she gazed up at the pit. A terrible black hand with long fingers and talon-like claws appeared on the rubble at the crater’s rim. Then a second hand emerged, followed by the leering face of the Krytten. Fiona’s eyes went wide with alarm.
“You must all flee!” she screamed at the crowd, but only those closest to her heard what Fiona had said.
“What’s that?” asked a townsman.
“I said you must run away as fast as you can! For behold, death draws near!”
Fiona pointed at Samael, who had by now emerged fully from the pit. He stood snarling on the rim of the crater, his green eyes scanning the crowd of milling humans.
“ALL OF YOUR SOULS WILL BE MINE!” he screeched.
For a moment, the people gaped in astonishment at the horrifying demon. Then they ran off shrieking in all directions.
“LeBits, come to me!” commanded Fiona, her connection with the cat still intact, “and bring the glowstone.”
LeBits rolled the crystal toward Fiona, but a panicked man kicked it away.
“LeBits, hurry!” cried Fiona.
The Felim chased down the stone as Samael stalked from the rubble. Gazing about for his first victim, the demon crouched before leaping powerfully through the air at a fleeing townsman. He landed in front of the man and lashed out with his claws, sending the man’s head flying from his shoulders.
Samael licked the gore from his fingers and turned to Lady Fiona with a bloodstained grin on his face.
“Sirachim! Your soul has been promised to me,” he called. “Now I will have it!”
Fiona braced herself to close with the Krytten. “You have been promised something that is not my sister’s to give, lord of Hell. If you would have my soul then you must come and take it.”
“Sssss, as you wish,” rumbled Samael.
The demon lurched toward Fiona, who thrust out her palms.
“Diablo repellere!” she cried, sending a bolt that struck the Krytten square in the chest. The blow sent Samael hurtling back, but it did no real damage. Samael felt the fur where Fiona’s bolt had struck him.
“You will need to do better than that to stop me!” he growled, resuming his advance.
“LeBits, where is the crystal?” cried Fiona.
Savvy spotted LeBits on the far side of the street.
There he is!” she shouted, and staggering across the pavers she made for the cat.
Her move caught Samael’s attention and his eyes went wide. “Ahhh, the girl with the red hair! Perhaps I will taste her sweet blood first, sssss.”
Changing his path, the demon thundered toward Savvy. Fiona saw this and struck him again with a blast of magic. This blow knocked Samael off of his feet, giving Savvy a moment to scramble to the cat.
“LeBits, where is the crystal?” Savvy asked.
“Its here, right here!” said LeBits, pointing to the stone in the gutter.
Savvy’s fingers closed around the gem and she lifted it as the Krytten loomed above her.
“Lumino Samael!” she shouted, sending the beam of white light at the demon’s chest.
“Agh, it burns!” Samael screamed, convulsing in pain when the light struck him.
Savvy kept the beam hot on the demon while Fiona ran to her.
“Savilla, the crystal will not hold him forever,” said the Sirachim. “There is only one thing for us to do. You must summon Michael.”
“I’ll do it, Lady Fiona, but I can’t call Michael and use the crystal at the same time.”
“Then give me the glowstone and call our protector!” commanded Fiona.
Savvy handed the crystal to Fiona and the beam flickered out as the gem passed hands. Samael panted at them with narrowed eyes, his stinking fur smoldering from the white heat.
“Sssss, that little light cannot stop me!” he snarled. “I shall gladly torment you in the Malebolge this night.”
He started toward them again, but came to a halt as Fiona sent a beam from the glowstone at him.
“Argh!” the demon cried, grimacing in pain.
“Hurry, Savilla! I cannot hold him for long!” shouted Fiona.
Savvy grasped the Talisman of the Four Winds and struggled to remember the phrase that Fiona had taught her. Her head reeled from loss of blood, however, and she collapsed onto her hands and knees. Fiona’s beam played on Samael’s breast, sending smoke and the foul stink of burning fur into the air, yet still he stepped forward.
“Savilla, what’s wrong? Speak the invocation!” called Fiona.
Savvy shook her head. “I can’t remember it! My thoughts aren’t clear.”
Fiona looked down at Savvy to see that the girl’s face had gone pale. Blood covered Savvy’s shirt to her trousers and what remained of her strength was fading fast.
Desperately gathering all of her power, Fiona intensified the glowstone’s beam of light and added the repelling command at the same time.
A pulse leapt from the crystal, striking Samael off of his feet. He flew backward to the crater, landing with a loud crash atop the rubble. Then the beam of light went out and Fiona staggered to Savvy. Falling to her knees, she grasped Savvy’s hands, which remained clasped around the amulet.
“Savilla, speak the invocation with me,” Fiona panted.
“I’ll try,” nodded Savvy and together they spoke the words.
“Lord Michael of the Eastern Wind, heed the call of the Sirachim. Come to me by Elohim’s light and protect me with thy divine might.”
The last word passed from Savvy’s lips as the Krytten climbed once again to its feet. After shaking its head clear, it rushed at them, but a golden-white glow behind Savvy and Fiona brought it to skidding a stop.
“NO! It cannot be you!” Samael cried.
Savvy and Fiona turned to find the most beautiful being they had ever seen hovering in the air. White wings stretched out behind the Seraphim’s back, flapping in what appeared to be more than air, for neither Fiona nor Savvy felt a breeze upon their faces. A golden breastplate covered Michael’s torso above a white tunic that fell to his thighs. His eyes, containing no pupils, glowed light blue, and his skin radiated a silky hue that sparkled in the gloom. Lastly, in his right hand, he carried a long sword along which golden flames cracked and sparked.
“I have heard your call, Sirachim, and honor our eternal pledge,” said Michael in a warm voice.
“We thank you, Michael, defender of the weak,” replied Fiona. “We are beset upon by a demon and humbly request your help.”
Michael raised his eyes to behold the Krytten, which shuddered palpably with rage.
“I see you there, Samael, foul lord of the Malebolge,” said Michael, pointing his sword. “Why do you terrorize my beloved Sirachim?”
“Sssss, I seek souls, as you well know, you revolting ingrate. Begone! These two are mine.”
Undeterred by the demon’s ire, Michael flew to earth between the Krytten and the kneeling women.
“Their souls are not yours to take, unwholesome one. Remove yourself back to the rank depths of Hades and leave them in peace!”
“Sssss,” hissed the Krytten before spitting a shocking stream of obscenities at the archangel.
Then it leapt.
Michael raised his sword as Samael came out of the darkness, and meeting the demon in mid-air, he clove it from collarbone to midriff. Samael’s eyes swelled wide and he shrieked before blowing apart in a clap of thunder. The stench of sulphur hung in the air for a moment, but then it too faded, taking with it the throbbing hole in the earth, which folded inward upon itself and disappeared. Only Michael, Fiona, Savvy, and LeBits remained in the deserted street.
Savvy and Fiona climbed to their feet as Michael came to them.
“You are injured,” he said to Savvy. “Bear a touch of my hand and you will be healed.”
Fiona held Savvy upright as Michael laid his hand upon her shoulder. The touch sent a wave of warmth through Savvy’s body.
“It is done,” he said, removing his fingers.
Reaching to feel her shoulder, Savvy found that her wound had closed with no scar left behind.
“Thank you, Lord Michael. I am forever in your debt,” she said.
“It is nothing, young Sirachim,” smiled the Seraph. “Take this as a token of the eternal bond between our kind.”
Holding out his hand, Michael proffered the final piece of the amulet that hung around Savvy’s neck. She lifted the piece of royal blue stone set in gold from his palm and felt a tingle shiver through her as she slipped it into the talisman’s empty slot.
“I will always cherish this,” she assured Michael.
“The amulet is complete,” he intoned. “Be well, young Sirachim. We shall meet again, I think.”
Michael offered Savvy one last smile and then vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
Savvy and Fiona stood in the quiet street sniffing the scent of frankincense that lingered in the air after the archangel had gone. They felt the eyes of Needwooders upon them, but after all of the terrible things the people had witnessed that night, no one came forth. Fiona handed Savvy her glowstone and asked her to ignite it. Savvy gave the command and saw Fiona swaying unsteadily on her feet. Reaching out to Fiona, Savvy pulled her upright.
“My lady, are you unwell?” she asked.
“I am weakened,” said Fiona. “The effort it took to drive back the Krytten sapped nearly all of my strength. I will need time to recover.”
“Would you like to come home with me and rest?” asked Savvy. “My father knows of you. We could care for you there.”
“No, Savilla, I will return to my cottage. I can shelter there and perhaps brew a potion to speed my recovery.”
“But how will you travel in your condition?”
“I can get home. I have just enough strength to make it there safely.”
“As you wish, my lady. I’ll return to you in six days, as promised.”
“That’s fine, Savilla. You did well tonight,” grinned Fiona, her face pale in the glowstone’s light.
Then she snapped her fingers and disappeared in a flash, leaving Savvy and LeBits alone in the deserted street.