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One Life For One War

The nature of the ritual is that it will not likely be performed the same way twice, though the option exists.

First, we spill our own blood, the precious life of a strategist, to assure the demon that we know the risk Julian of Old took. The text does not specify from where the blood is to be let; the commentary poses that this step is like the cardinal step, and depends on the strategist. Grandfather took it from his left hand, holding the knife in his right. It was straightforward and rather unpretentious, just as he is. I do not think this will be sufficient for me and my request.

Someone must knowingly consume that blood. We must be humble, and know that we are breaking our own laws by enacting this ritual in the first place. Grandfather fed it to me. He held his hand over a tall glass of milk, its circumference too wide for my fat little hands, and told me to drink. It reminded me of stuffed cabbage, sweet despite itself, dense and confusing. I drank it all without a word. He had me wipe my upper lip afterward with one of his gritty handkerchiefs.

The incantation comes next. This part is scripted. I strongly suspect it is meant to calm the summoner, and is otherwise completely ineffectual. I have had these words memorized since my sixth year. The room was dark when Grandfather said them, and the crickets outside nearly drowned him out. His voice lacked its usual spark that night, as if he had foregone his morning coffee. I grew to hate those crickets.

Next, Grandfather killed the old men who were hogtied and gagged in the corners. He killed the scrawny peasant first, then the monk. I remember that the peasant, in the north corner of the cabin, had been awake throughout, and tried to scream until Grandfather stopped strangling. When I helped move the bodies later, he had nail-prints in his throat, two deep ones from Grandfather's thumbs on either side of the crossed twine over his Adam's-apple. The monk was asleep, and Grandfather used the knife. I do not believe the monk awoke at any point. I suspect he was drugged.

When I read the actual text of the ritual, years later, I understood what Grandfather had meant by these two old men. One was Highland, one was Harmonia. One life for one war, Julian had underlined in his journal. A war to unify, by Grandfather's logic, was two. I, the obedient child, represented the nascent Republic.

I do not mean to call the demon for one war. I will enlist him for as long as I live, for war upon war, in as many countries as I can carry myself to on the heels of my name and reputation. I will erase the debt and the ritual from my line, until someone deems me a menace and I am assassinated. They will not comprehend, the fools, until generations from now. Perhaps they will never comprehend.

I shall conduct the ritual in Harmonia, in a tavern across the street from a tenement, fifteen miles outside of Crystal Valley, amid the third class. I shall cut seams down the backs of my thighs and calves, all the way to my ankles, and walk about my room in the inn until they have sealed and the blood has dried on the floor. I shall gather the stains, scrape my wake off the tiles with my own hands, and store it.

I shall say the words, though they mean nothing.

I shall delude a child into burning down the tenement in the night, from the inside. I shall sit beside the window and listen to the flames, the soaring smoke, the screams, and the marked lack of crickets. I shall buy off the water-bearers so that they will come too late.

In the morning, the mage, his girl, and I shall have coffee. We will consume most of the blood that way. The rest, I shall reserve for Grandfather. I will be with him the evening after all this is done, to greet the demon from my youth, in his obsidian armor. This time, I shall look him in the eyes. I have grown enough to do so.

He does not come on the night of the ritual. Back then, I suspected he would, but once we had rid ourselves of the bodies, Grandfather sent me off to bed. The crickets kept me awake.


All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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