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American Witch Doctor

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Night 1: Night


The place was pleasantly lit with a warm glow. The room embraced him and his presence like a guest. Theo wanted to burn the place down, or maybe just break the windows.

He wanted to vomit. His body felt clammy and cold, as if he had been doused from head to toe in artic water and then tossed into a vat of gelatin. This was how all Magician homes felt like, one big abomination. There was the uneasy energy in the air; this was a place where spirits had died. He didn’t see corpses– Spirits didn’t leave corpses– but the left the impression of forced nothingness lingering in their places of death. It was their only tombstone, and all other Orthodox sorcerers tended to avoid those areas. Way too impressionable.

The front parlor had a beautiful modernist balance to it. Jet-set with extravagant oriental furniture set carefully in the room, but the most noteworthy were the golden records and albums all over the walls. There were shelves cluttered with old cassettes, CDs and records with the same stench of coppery magic that filled the brick of the outside. Tokens of his obsession, the driving force for the brand of Mr. Darling’s specialized area of Metaphysics. The pretentious ass. Theo knocked over an expensive Chinese vase out of spite.

Theo haunted the halls like a phantom. He waited and listened, and used silence as the herald of his arrival. The boundaries were down, Theo didn’t need much to hunt now only the intent. So, he flipped the mental switch.

Feelings were relative in all honesty, but in accurately describing his abilities Theo was always at a loss. He could feel the cold chill radiating from his undisclosed target, the apple of his thieving eye. Theo senses were honed for two things in particular: An insurmountable detecting stolen things and a precognitive detection of magical things worth stealing. He judged his current client wanted that. Either way, he’d have it. It was an extrasensory skill that he couldn’t completely explain without shrugging his shoulders and going “I-uh-know, it’s magic bro just sit there and be amazed”. You couldn’t answer why fish swam upstream, just shut up and fish when it gets there.

The home only had a finite amount of floors on it, going up at least four floor before ending. It was just find, his senses were directing him towards the basement. The closer he came the slight chill began to warm. What started off as a winter’s touch became a tickle of spring sunlight. That spring tickle became a dryer, harsher heat as he approached Darling’s Workshop, the magical equivalent of his laboratory.

Hidden behind a drastically underwhelming level of glamor and protection that was the magical equivalent of a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign was a woefully pathetic wooden door. “Pfht, Austeres. A bunch of one-trick ponies if you ask me.” This magic wasn’t like the ones protecting the house. No, that one was probably outsourced to some poor unfortunate Orthodox—likely Mexican—who actually knew what the hell they were doing. This shabby piece of work had the aura and psychic resonance of the sap Baron Darling.

Theo quickly lifted his left hand before realizing his error, and then switched to his right. With a string of three words he invested the spirits of the household itself into his act—even with how exhausted, weak and frightened as they had become since Darling moved in, they had worth– and casually knocked.

The protections shattered like glass and left no remains of it ever once existing. Theo’s method was a little showy, and cost him a hefty bit of power to do, but it got the job done. Theo almost fell to his knees from the sudden exhaustion. It took some time before he was able to storm the threshold.

Plenty of supposedly powerful tools there, an impressive bookcase that had roughly six hundred different Grimoires—most of them stolen probably. If Theo shared Darling’s knack for crippling overspecialization in rhythms and oscillation he would’ve took everything in that room. None of which Theo had or what he was looking for. Theo took another minute to rummage through Darling’s goodies before he caught a familiar whiff of copper and gunpowder.

Theo sneezed at Aiden. “Jeez man, I thought the mystical protection kept you out.”

“You left the door open.”

“So what kept you so long then? I could’ve used your help finding this thing. My sense isn’t strong enough.” Theo said while toying with a wooden pan flute.

“Not all of us can disappear around street corners and in potholes Theo. I always have a hard time getting your psychic resonance to appear to you. It’s always static with you unless you’re trying to find me.” Aidan whined.

Theo shrugged his shoulders. “Huh, I wonder why that is.” He lied, casually fingering the flyeswitch made of stray strands of Aiden’s hairs tied around his wrist as a crafts bracelet. Bits of Aiden’s soul even clung to it still. “Regardless and Irregardless –“

“That’s not a word Theo” Aidan interrupted him.

Theo scoffed at him. “Interrupt me again, and the next thing on my list to steal is going to be your tongue.” Aiden was smart, he took the hint. “So why’d it take you half a damn century to get up here besides your lack of, you know, functioning legs and body mass?”

Theo just asked to keep Aidan talking while he did the actually important job of looking. He made comments about Theo’s speed with leaping, but it went ignored; Theo’s highest recorded traveling between corners, through potholes, and other dark and ominous locals was maybe a block. It was a hard thing to do, and it exhausted power all the same. Not Victor though, Victor could probably leap an entire city if he had the Thief as his patron, but unfortunately Victor had the Wrath as his primordial spirit. All blood and destruction with that entity, but nothing for stealth. Sucks to suck.

Aidan lifted an eyebrow and hovered beside a creeping Theo. “So have you found what we sent you here for?”

“If I had, I would’ve blown a hole in the side of this place and skipped my way to freedom land. No, I haven’t. I’m going to have to do something really drastic to find it. He hid whatever they want us to take too well…And what do you want me to take from here again?” Theo asked finally.

“…Just find it and use a divination of some sort to bolster your detection. Oh, and try not to let it touch you. Please.” Aidan dissolved into thin air. Theo rolled his eyes loftily.

The lone sorcerer reached into his satchel and rummaged around until he found a small glass vial filled with a luminescent mist. Using a hunting knife, Theo etched out a thaumaturgic circle onto the ground– esoteric works really, some Haitian Veve patterns mixed with some rudimentary Egyptian hieroglyphics and Azande tribal symbolism. It was intricate work. As complex as it was elegant. It was also a replication of the same circle he used two weeks prior to bind a Pathway spirit.

“You really have a knack for inscription and glyphs.” Victor would said when he taught Theo how to do at the start of the boy’s lessons in essential thaumaturgy—which at the time, Theo had nicknamed “How to Train a Spirit”. What should’ve been a compliment to develop Theo’s self-esteem however was immediately undercut that compliment with a “Let’s hope that isn’t your only talent though.”

Now that the more “scientific” side of the work was done, he moved to the artistic flare. Theo stepped onto the circle and held the vial by his lips, his eyes began to glow molten orange as he whispered “By the fifth moon a deal was marked with blood, your spirit contracted to reveal hidden passages and winding ways and bound by the sacrifice of power and payment in wandering, Ajay Adhere!

Theo sucked in the swirling smoke of the vial and then spat it back out as a cloud of dust like an aerosol spritz. It spiraled in the air, eddying and kalediscoping until the particles began to spark and pop. The glow melted into a single glowing butterfly of cosmic fire. A taka, a spiritual spell given shape.

The boy cusped it tenderly in his right hand, letting its fiery wings tickle his fingertips. He felt bubbly just looking at it. Contained within a single blazing wing was the absoluteness of the here and now rather than the expanded complexities of the future. He stood at the top of the mountain of gratification peering down at the dredges of repression. Jeez, he loved doing magic. Orthodoxy, the power of nature was always alive within it.

Theo watched it with a scrutinous eye. It bobbed in the air and buffered before dashing around the Workshop. He kept his eyes on it as it went—a taka forged from a Pathway Spirit tended to leave its conjurer when it was too idle to pay attention. Until then, he listened around.

The wooden spirits in the walls were asleep, a trait most Magicians had about their homes. His duty as an Orthodox—as a successor to the mystics, shamans, soothsayers, and spiritual healers told him to wake them up, to free them from the chains of the Magicians, but his mystical thirst and survival instinct called him to continue searching. Survival over duty gets you places.

He found what he was looking for…sort of. It was in the man’s hidden workshop– Magicians always had a hidden workshop. Obscured behind a bookcase like a giant cliché, was a gigantic room of chrome and metal, much more expensive than anything in the first workshop. Digital recording equipment was everywhere with shining steel records, brass instruments, and guitars like a multimillion dollar recording studio. Most of these instruments had been leaking magic. It smelled like bag of pennies in there. This Baron Darling had power, with spells and charms ready to be set off at a moment’s notice.

Theo’s butterfly divined it easily, not the path behind the bookcase, the power that went into both spells. His taka was so efficient, it even detected the magic traps down the path. Luckily, most Magicians sucked at the subtlety, control, and ideology required to construct an impenetrable defense or he could’ve been splattered on the floor.

Why didn’t Darling have an Orthodox do these internal defenses? It’s abnormal that he would pay so much for an Orthodox to do all of that craft outside, but leave the inside so flakey? He asked himself. Maybe, Darling didn’t trust an Orthodox to do this task. Maybe whatever it is they want me to steal, is that important. Whatever it was, Theo didn’t need to do much, he tackled the situation the same way any Witch Doctor might: by following the root of their culture.

Witch Doctors were famously known for curing illnesses and protecting against malicious magics by contracting, channeling, and communing with the spirits, like the chosen people they were. They dissolved bad magic inflictions with the casual spread of powerful medicines. They could do the same to some half-assed bit of stealth magic.

Theo grabbed a handful of dispelling powders and distilled it from one hand to the other like an hourglass while whispering in a sing-song voice. Spirits chattered aggressively, and Theo reached out with a mental hand and ruined the metaphysical cob webs of the spell. And like a web, the residue of the magic was clinging to him, his aura, and his very spirit.

“Fuck,” he whispered. Something like that was a problem. Hopefully no one ran a diagnostic magic on him before he could clean it off. If he was lucky, his same Stealth magic he kept under his sleeve would be useful in hiding.

Victor was in his head again as Theo stormed down the hallway, “Stealth magic requires one to erase self-consciousness, to extinguish one’s self in the moment you wish to remain cloaked.” He had said. “I’m sure someone like you wouldn’t find it hard to do that Theo. You currently don’t amount to much.”

Theo grabbed a knob with one hand and gripped hold of a rattler from his satchel— his favorite tool of every sharp blade, powdered medicine and spiritually bound doodads–with the other in case he needed some spare ammo and pulled the door open. His snarled a bombardment juju and the rattler exploded with colliding orange sparks and snapping electrical bolts. A Kenyan battle hex for fending off malicious entities, it should do well against whatever was being protected behind that door. That thing, that had the feel of a hot comb on flesh.

Because for all intents and purposes, even with his rivalry and distaste with the Magicians, he knew all sorcerers protected something for a reason. And the black guy wasn’t dying first in this movie. Nope.

Theo almost opened the door before his taka exploded blood red before bursting out of existence and Theo swore out loud. “Fuck! Containment Glyphs.” Turns out the bastard did keep one Orthodox crafted tool, an entire wooden door. He grunted and in a moment later he gave a powerful pull back and swung the rattler just as squid tentacles made of ectoplasmic matter squirmed at him. His hit made contact and the tentacle exploded into ectoplasm on the floor.

“Where did Darling even find a Sea Spirit in Columbus?!”

Two more shot out at him and tried to wind around him. With his other hand, Theo drew a simple hunting knife from the satchel and violently swung them both down. An explosion of light blew apart the tentacle on his left and the knife sunk into the tentacle again forcing it to retract.

A sizzling rose from the door as slimy flesh crawled across the wooden door with suckers and eyes popping from its wet surface. The spirit bound to the door was regenerating with a vengeance, more tentacles had been sprouting from its source.

“Fuck that!” Victor once said there was only two ways to deal with a situation: Violent or clever. Theo could do both. Theo hefted the rattler and then effortlessly launched it. The tool smashed a substantial dent into its frame and crushed the Sea spirits’ recent repairs.

While his eyes were squeezed shut, Theo lifted his palm and hissed an aria of sorts in a sing-song voice. The vernacular and speech wasn’t unlike steam rising from a kettle. It had all the phrasing of rapidly releasing air.

He rolled his sleeves up and brought the blade to his forearm and cut until blood was drawn—amateurs went for their palms. Correction, idiots went for their palms. Do you understand how many nerves are there?

“By the blood and the pain, with force of Theo of the Munroes you are dismissed!” he pushed out with his power and sacrifice. The Spirit shook violently but stabilized just as quickly. Not enough. God, this would be easier if he knew its title or name. But he didn’t have that exactly.

“Sea Spirit,” he named it as he made another cut. “By the blood and the pain, with the force of Theo of the Munroes you’re dismissed!”

He pushed again, and this time he had more force behind him, Theo added more of his already waning power to this order. Most sorcerers liked to take up monikers because they believed names had powers. They are all right, but almost everything had power so they were really just being pretentious; unless you’re a spirit.

There was no flash of light, the Spirit merely left, being satiated both by the Orthodoxes’ power and sacrifice made when it was bound to the door and the power Theo gave it to leave. The Glyph was well made and efficient, but the thing powering wasn’t loyal to her—Spirits tended to only favor those with a powerful ancestral tether to the environment and sadly America was only about 200 years old and still had a history of disassociation.

Theo violently kicked down the door—because petty, that’s why– and saw, surprisingly, a thin, short brown body with a cloudy, curly afro and orange overalls. His eyes were tiny auburn marbles set in the white of his eyes like a star. This kid sat on a mattress with a book in his hands, a spiritual butterfly resting on an overall button, and a colliding cloud of mystical power from the Thief himself. When it was just a hot comb it was a little only annoying, but now his sense was now more of shoving his face onto a hot stove.

Theo had to shut it off.

The room was set up with elaborate ritual and care. Magic had been soaked into the walls, floors, bed, blankets—hell, those overalls on him were saturated in it.

The boy looked up to Theo and then at the rattler in the door. His eyes widened at the surprise. Not in fear, but in joy.

“Hi.” he said finally.

Theo hesitated for a second that felt like the span of a century. He cleared his throat, lifted the rattler and sent the spirit within it back to sleep. It reminded Theo he only had two more charges left.

“Um, hi.” Theo returned.

The boy got off the cot and tucked the book in his front pocket. “I’m Odie.” he tilted his head to the side. “Are you a Wizard?”

Theo shrugged his shoulders with a bit of discrepency. “I wouldn’t say wizard…but, I guess yeah.”

“Guess? What do you prefer to be called?” Odie asked.

Theo almost said Witch Doctor, but the fact he now had a clean slate to avoid being called that blatant misnomer and practical slur was tantalizing.

“Ng’aka” Theo said finally.

“Sounds like a bad hiccup.” Odie retorted. God kids were horrible.

Theo sighed outloud. “A Witch Doctor, Orthodox Mage.”

Odie smiled white and wide. He went about organizing himself with his small, careless hands. “Oh. Orthodox. Cool, that works too. We can begin.”

“Begin what?”

“Well, you’re the seventh wizard I’ve seen and I guess you’ll do so,” he said with the slight hesitation that said he didn’t really know if this was a good idea. “It’s time for the Games–” Theo scowled in confusion. “–The Drumme of Medicines.”

*****

The magic in the room was stale, like day old bread. This kid Odie was not, in fact he was far too vibrant and energetic for Theo’s liking. He would’ve preferred stale after meeting him, it was like having a conversation with a Sugar cookie.

Odie’s small legs kept up with Theo as he charged out the building, retracing his steps as quickly and carefully as possible. The kid asked a lot of questions: Who was he? What did he do? Was he powerful? What did he want his wish to be.

“Can you not?” Theo grumbled as he stepped onto the first floor, his boots scuffing the hardwood floors.

“Can I not what? I’m just trying to get to know you.” Odie said, Theo had him by the wrist, careful not to touch him on the skin, while practically dragging him across the floor. “If anyone has to ‘not’ someone it’s you: You’re hurting me you giant!”

Odie yanked his arm out of Theo’s hold. “Sorry Onion, I’m not the giant one. You’re just roughly the size of a troll doll.”

“My name is Odie! And I don’t even know what a troll doll even is.”

“You kids these days are so uncultured.” Theo scoffed.

The front door hung on its hinges, and together they stormed through the front. Theo’s eyes danced across the horizon, observing the shadows of the night. A salamander spirit waddled across the side of a building. Look like there’s going to be a fire today, Theo observed. Maybe I can use that to hide Aidan’s body.

Theo snatched off his Flyeswitch and got to work.

“Aidan, if you don’t get your preppy dressing ass out here now! You had me steal a child?! Do I look like I watch Disney Channel and sit at play-parks as a leisure activity to you?” he shouted to the heavens.

Odie watched the slumped forms of the guards. A better older person would’ve adverted his eyes. “You were busy out here.” Odie said non-chalantly.

“Well,” Theo stepped over the ginger. “I’m a workaholic, what can I say?”

“Who’s Aidan? Is he your boyfriend?”

Theo scoffed. “He wishes he could pull me.”

They turned onto an expectantly empty street with nothing but opportunity ahead of them and were swiftly halted by a stoutly man with grey hair trimmed neatly in a military cut and a cream colored business suit topped with a brown waistcoat. In front of him was a hovering, rapidly flapping book with a yellow dust jacket decorated with crawling vines and a cover marked with a pearl: a Grimoire wielded by an enforcer of the Columbus Guild’s laws and decrees, a Justice.

“Odie, get down now!” Theo roared as the Justice whispered a simple phrase as bronze razor sharpened shurikens flew towards him. Theo drew a powder ball and crushed it in his hand before blowing the dusty remains in front of him. The dust clashed with the projectiles and a wild wind effortlessly tossed them aside into brick and mortar. Theo stumbled to a knee before pulling himself back up.

“A little lethal for a man whose job is to apprehend Mayburn! Wanna’ turn that shit down a bit?” Theo spat, though he knew Mayburn wasn’t listening. They never listened.

Justice Mayburn leafed through his book with one hand while the other was sprawled towards Theo in preparation with building magic rising out the palm. “You’re weaker than ever boy.” he observed. “You must be really low on power. That makes my job easier. Theodore Munroe you’re under arrest by grand authority of the Columbus Guild for crimes against the community. Stand down or be forcefully detained.”


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