Chapter 23: The Ritual
Eleanor placed the jar down on the kitchen counter in front of the others. William picked it up and held it up towards the light inspecting the blood it contained.
“This is more than we expected,” William said as he placed the jar back down. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
“No,” Eleanor said sadly. “Just the opposite.”
Matthew rounded the kitchen island and placed an arm around his sister’s shoulder. She buried his face into his shoulder as the others turned away to give her some privacy.
Ebele entered the room with Victoria. “The preparations are almost complete. We just need everyone to be present and the last of the ingredients now.”
“Here it is,” William said as he pushed the glass jar across the marble counter towards Victoria. She caught it and held it in her hands hugging it to her chest.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was a little nervous,” Victoria muttered as Henry placed his arm around her waist to ease her fears.
“Nerves are normal,” Mary replied. “It took a lot of convincing for me to go through the ritual the first time.”
“Is there a certain way we need to dress or…?” James asked as he gestured towards his street clothes.
“That’ll do,” Ebele replied with a nod.
At that moment, Ebele doubled over in pain. Her breath quickened as she gasped for air, clutching her stomach with her hands. The others rushed to her aid as she groaned at the piercing pain that struck her suddenly.
“The…barrier…” Ebele gasped as Thomas and Henry grabbed her under her arms to keep her from falling over.
“What’s happening?” William asked sternly as he took Ebele around his shoulder, her feet barely scraping the floor.
“We need to get to the mausoleum to start the ritual,” Thomas instructed. “Someone is trying to penetrate the barrier. Ebele can feel them.”
Ebele nodded weakly as she winced with every step she took with William towards the doors leading out to the back porch. The others followed closely behind as they steered themselves towards the cemetery in the back.
The Spanish moss in the trees swayed as they passed by, reaching out to them through the darkness. Rustling came from the bushes off to the side of the trail through the graves.
“Did you hear that?” James asked as he paused, pointing his nose towards the air. The wind blew across the cemetery taking whatever scent it may have possessed with it.
“I thought I heard someone too,” Eleanor answered as she stopped beside James on the trail.
“We don’t have time for this,” Mary said. “We have to hurry. Whoever is trying to break through the barrier may be trying to stop us.”
“Would that be such a bad thing?” Matthew wondered aloud. “Maybe you guys aren’t meant to have a second chance.”
Mary glared over her shoulder at Matthew as Victoria stepped between the two.
“We don’t have time to squabble over petty differences. Once we’re secure in the crypt, we’ll be safe from any outside forces. At least for a bit,” Victoria intervened.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about what’s out here,” Martha said. “It’s what we’re about to conjure that I’m most concerned about.”
Martha’s words sent a shiver down Victoria’s spine as the entourage continued their journey towards the Ashford family mausoleum. Although Victoria and Ebele had spent the day preparing the ritual space with chants and herbs, her confidence in herself to properly conjure and speak to Kalfou had her on edge.
It reminded her of the many tales that involved tricksters. All it took was for one slip up over her words for Kalfou to find a loophole that could be detrimental to not only the Ashfords but to her family as well. She was feeling the pressure more and more as they got closer to their destination.
Ebele had regained her composure as they entered the mausoleum. Although she was trying to remain strong for her family, Victoria could sense the pain that was just behind her eyes. They passed by the wall of memorials and headed through the tunnel into the ancient underground crypt within the hill.
When they entered, white candles lined the floor along the walls near the coffins nestled into the walls. They sat underneath the window in the back and also around the circle by the bodies of the Ashford family.
William helped Ebele over to her place in front of the altar as everyone took their position near their respective bodies. Victoria stood beside Henry in front of his body near the circle and waited for further instructions by Ebele.
“First, we must rid our bodies of the potion that has granted us immortality. We will not be able to re-enter our bodies with the potion still inside of us. Victoria, please come forward. I will need to draw upon your energy,” Ebele instructed.
Victoria stepped over the threshold of cinnabar and entered the circle feeling a sudden wave of coldness. The candle flames flickered around the room as if a rush of air had passed. The others watched as Victoria took Ebele’s hand in hers and stood before the altar beside her.
Ebele drew in a deep breath and bowed her head. “Everyone bow your head and repeat after me.”
Ebele started to chant in Louisiana Creole, a language foreign to Victoria and her family. She repeated the chant after Ebele, not sure of what she was saying but trying to match the chant phonetically. The other voices rose within the tomb as Ebele chanted the words faster, repeating them until they were almost in a trancelike state.
Victoria’s vision started to blur as the chanting continued. Glancing over the bodies around her, she saw slight movement occur from their bodies. The black liquid surged through their veins under their skin around their faces as it lifted from their mouths into the air in front of them. Victoria looked up to see the liquid converging towards the middle of the circle over the cauldron on the altar.
Lowering her eyes quickly, she kept up the pace with the chant as she felt her energy being drained from her by Ebele to keep the ritual going. As it continued, it took all of her strength to keep herself from falling to her knees. She felt faint and wondered if the others were starting to feel the same.
Ebele lifted her head to gaze upon the black liquid as she changed her words from the chant and started speaking in a tongue that could only be described as gibberish. The others lifted their heads, confused by the sudden change in direction.
Ebele collapsed upon the floor as the black liquid fell from the air into the cauldron, splashing over the altar and onto the floor.
“Ebele!” Mary yelled as she tried to reach out for her. Thomas pulled his sister back.
“Don’t! Don’t break the circle,” Thomas shouted as he held tightly to Mary’s hand. The others stayed put as Victoria knelt down beside Ebele, rolling her over.
“Ebele?” Victoria called out to her. “Are you okay?”
Ebele coughed, blood spewing from her mouth. Looking towards her body on the floor beside the others, Victoria saw blood dripping from her mouth on her physical body as well.
“What’s happening?” Victoria rushed to say.
Ebele tried to speak but choked on the blood.
“Turn her body on her side!” Victoria shouted at James who did as he was told to Ebele’s physical body. Blood drained out of her throat onto the dirt floor as Ebele’s spiritual form gasped for air.
“It’s Kalfou…” she managed to say. “He’s angry.”
“But we haven’t started that part of the ritual yet,” Victoria replied.
Ebele took in a deep breath. “Help me up…”
Victoria grabbed her arm and lifted her to her feet, steadying her body. Ebele hobbled towards the altar and picked up the ingredients left to Victoria by Mama Eshe. She poured them from their pouch into the black liquid of the cauldron. Green flames rose from the cauldron shooting straight into the air before dying back down.
Victoria stepped forward and took the body of a dead crow and cut open its chest, ripping out its heart. Handing it to Ebele, she threw it into the contents as well. The cauldron bubbled as smoke started to rise from it.
Taking the jar of blood as the last ingredient she opened the jar, hesitating as she let the jar hover over the cauldron. She eyed Victoria before letting a drop of the crimson liquid drip from the rim of the jar and into the cauldron. Victoria watched as the drop was consumed by the angry potion.
Ebele picked up the cauldron and stepped around the altar before pouring it directly onto the ground in front of everyone. It simmered as it melted into the ground creating a slight indentation within the ground. Ebele backed away as Victoria came around and grabbed her hand trying to give her what little energy she could muster.
Ebele’s eyes rolled into the back of her head, only the whites visible as she began to sing an old song. Her body started to shake violently and spasm as she clutched Victoria’s hand hard. It was an inhuman strength that shocked Victoria.
“What is this? What’s going on?” William asked, a hint of concern tinting his voice.
“Ebele?” Victoria shouted as the flames of the candles went out in a wave as a gust of wind swirled around the room.
The room grew dead silent as they stood there in the dark. The only sound was their breath as a green glow emanated from the liquid on the ground. Victoria gasped as her breath turned to mist within the air as if all the warmth from the room had been sucked out.
A downburst of air sent them flying towards the walls, crashing into coffins as they fell to the ground in a heap around the circle. Victoria regained her bearings to see Ebele the only one standing within the circle as the green light shone brightly from its core.
“What’s happening?” Matthew shouted from the other side of the circle as he knelt down beside Mary’s physical body. “Where are the Ashfords?”
Victoria watched as the door to the crypt opened in front of Ebele. Mama Eshe walked in and stepped across the threshold of the circle.
“Ebele?” Victoria called out.
“It’s time, child,” Ebele said over her shoulder.
As Ebele spoke, a figure formed within the green light as it dimmed to reveal Zane standing at its center. Victoria stepped forward but Henry pulled her away from the edge of the circle before she could cross over.
“It’s a trap! If you cross that threshold, Kalfou will be able to take over your body,” Henry declared as he pointed to the glowing edge.
“Knows what she’s doing. She just needed your energy to do it,” Henry replied, his eyes sad.
Victoria’s eyes grew wide as she understood his words. Ebele had never intended for Victoria to finish what she had started over a century before. She was going to finish it herself.
“But Thomas?” Victoria asked.
Henry lowered his eyes and shook his head as he pulled her close to his chest. Ebele would save Victoria at the expense of Henry’s brother. That part of the plan had never changed.
“Kalfou!” Ebele called, wiping the blood from her mouth with her sleeve. “I call upon you and your power to restore the Ashford family to their rightful physical domains and release them from your service!”
Kalfou laughed, its cold sound echoing throughout the chamber. “And what body have you to offer me?”
“I,” Thomas answered as he stepped over the edge of the circle.
Kalfou turned his pale gray eyes towards Thomas, inspecting him and assessing his offer. Turning his gaze back to Ebele he smiled.
“Mama Eshe?” Kalfou inquired over his shoulder.
“Yes, Kalfou,” she nodded as she began chanting and dancing around the circle. Victoria watched not knowing what had just taken placed.
“You have betrayed your people, Mama Eshe,” Ebele said as she danced by. “You will reap what you have sewn.”
Mama Eshe smiled wickedly, her face distorting in the ethereal light. It didn’t appear human anymore as she continued her chant and twirled wildly about, gyrating to an unknown song.
Victoria almost fell as Henry’s arms suddenly left her body, his warmth disappearing with him. She crouched down and crawled along the wall towards his body on the floor. Creeping up to it she touched his chest, shaking him as she waited for him to breathe.
Gasping for air, his eyes flew open as he turned on his side and coughed, dust rising from the ground as he did so. Victoria watched as the others took their first breath in over one hundred years. Ebele’s body was the only one suffering from awakening.
Victoria and Henry pulled her body away from the circle towards the wall.
“You did it, Ebele…” Victoria said.
“At what cost?” Ebele replied as she coughed up more blood onto her chest. “Go. You need to leave.”
Henry was on his feet watching as Thomas took a step forward towards Kalfou. Kalfou extended his hand towards Thomas who took it in his. As he did so, he fell to his knees and screamed as Kalfou smiled. Zane’s body disintegrated as the green light completely dimmed, the candles reigniting within the chamber.
Mama Eshe dropped to her knees panting as Thomas slowly rose to his feet finally within his true physical form. As she waited, panting on the ground behind Thomas, the others started inching towards the doorway. Thomas held out his arm in the direction of Martha. She lifted off her feet and slammed against the wall, her face turning gray before it shriveled to nothing.
“Move!” William yelled as they clamored towards the door.
“Granny!” Mary cried as Martha’s lifeless body collapsed to the floor, the life completely gone from her. Victoria realized that if they didn’t get out of there, Kalfou was going to massacre them all.
Matthew pulled Mary back as her sobs rang throughout the room. The window in the back shattered as a small object was tossed through, landing in the center of the room. William spotted the grenade as he pushed the others through the tunnel. Yelling, he urged everyone out into the mausoleum as the explosion blasted the old crypt to pieces behind them. Without looking back, William dragged Mary and Matthew out of the mausoleum and tossed them out onto the grass of the cemetery. The others were already outside as the mausoleum collapsed, stone and debris escaping through its door.
Henry was covering Victoria with his body trying to protect her from the blast. He lifted his head from above her and gazed into her eyes as a drop of blood fell onto her lips from a gash on his forehead. Henry lifted his hand to his head and pulled it back in disbelief as he stared at the blood on his fingertips.
Victoria licked her lip, tasting the sweetness of his blood. He tasted like coffee and cedar, a combination that ignited her senses. Henry leaned down to kiss her passionately, savoring the taste of her on his lips as he pulled her up into a tight embrace. When they separated, the others were making their way to their feet, staggering slightly.
Victoria touched his face, as if feeling it for the very first time against her palm. A tear escaped Henry’s eye as he kissed her hand frantically as if for the last time. He stood up slowly and helped Victoria to her feet, maintaining a connection to her the entire way.
“Henry…” Mary sobbed as she stepped forward and hugged her brother, clutching to his dirty shirt as she cried for the loss of their grandmother and for Thomas.
Henry stroked her hair as he held her trying to console her to the best of his ability while also feeling the sting of loss. James and Matthew watched as William glanced towards the broken stone of the mausoleum. Approaching Henry, he place a hand on his shoulder as Henry released Mary.
“I’m truly sorry for your loss,” William said. Henry nodded and grabbed William’s shoulder as a sign of solidarity.
“Thank you. Thank you all,” Henry said, acknowledging the others.
The sound of a gun cocking had everyone turning their heads as they saw two strangers pointing guns in their direction. Victoria’s heart dropped as she noticed the Hunters taking aim.