Orion slept the rest of the day, and most of the night. It was midnight when he got out of bed.
As usual he paid a visit to the soda shop. Smedley was sharing a table with Hemingway and Dunwin. When they saw him they waved him over. Orion noticed that Smedley was wearing a blouse and riding breeks instead of a dress. That meant that she had “been about” as they say in the magic business. All three of them were panting heavily, and their fur was frazzled.
“Had a rough night I take it?” the cat asked as he sat down.
“We just got back from a sting.” Smedley replied. “I think you’ll want to hear what happened.
Orion smiled. “Then by all means do tell.”
The trio had been investigating rumors of infernalist activity up the beach, near an ancient circle of cairn stones. They couldn’t afford not to check it out. Among the lose society of Magicians, one of the first laws was “censor thyself.” Magicians who wanted to live cleaned up their messes.
Hemingway sat in a lotus pose behind a sand bank, utterly still. The sea otters mind was elsewhere, quite literally in fact as he scouted out of body. Smed and Dunwin watched over him, to make sure no harm came to his body.
As Hemingway moved invisibly among the stones, he found a squirrel with wide eyes and a shit eating grin, bent over a corpse. It was human, and female, tied to the alter stone in the center of the circle. She had been decapitated.
“Og Glutrgra, Eater of Stars!” The squirrel cried to the sky as he hoisted the poor girls severed head up high, “Accept this wretch’s life as an offering to your terrible might!”
Hemingway gagged and covered his mouth with a paw by reflex. That nutcase would pay.
Back in their hiding place, Hemingway stirred. “What did you see Hem?” Dunwin asked. “You look positively spooked.
Hemingway got up, pulled on his coat. “A virgin sacrifice and a squirrel that looked halfway to going Howler. What’s more, the offering was human, just like Orion’s case.”
“How powerful did he look?” Smedley asked.
“Strictly small time. It shouldn’t be too hard to take him out.”
“It goes without saying we can’t let him run around killing people.” Dunwin put in. “Maybe there’s a connection between this one and the man Orion rescued.
Hemingway nodded. “I’m betting on it. Let’s move fast. He’ll leave when he doesn’t get a response from his god.”
Dunwin wasted no time, pulling several items from the belt pouch he always wore. Setting these aside, he grabbed a nearby stick and, as best as he could with a time limit, scratched alchemical symbols in the sand. This done, he took the first vial.
“Sand shall be thy body.” He intoned. “Enlivened with mine own blood, and strengthened by the bark of the world tree, rise and serve.” The mole emptied the contents of the two vials, containing blood and ash shavings respectively into his runic circle.
The sand within the boundaries of the circle began to rise up, shifting and coalescing into a roughly humanoid shape. The homunculus bowed before its master.
“Your enemy stands within the stones.” Dunwin said, pointing to the cairn. “Smash him to a pulp.”
Without a word the magical construct lumbered off to fulfill its master’s command.
Smed looked incredulous. “Is that monster of yours really going to stop him?”
“Of course not, but Homunculi are extraordinarily stupid. It won’t know when to quit, and being made of sand means that it can take plenty of damage, plenty enough for us to come up from behind and whack the blighter.”
Hemingway smiled. “Shrewd.”
Dunwin only smiled back. “Let’s go. As you said, times a wasting.”
In the end the squirrel had been a pushover. The fire he conjured only served to briefly turn the sand monster to glass (and make it angry). A duplication illusion from Hemingway was all it took to confuse the infernalist long enough for Smedley to clubber him with telekinetic force.
“We found this among his possessions.” Smedly said, placing some paperwork on the table. It was a ticket of bonding, the kind used to certify ownership of slaves. Most of it was legal boilerplate, but the final page caught Orion’s eye. It was stamped with the crest of the auction sponsor. It was a stylized unicorn head.
“This is the crest of House Galador.” he said. “A very well respected Mythic line. They have scions here in Kingsport.”
Hemingway sipped his shake. “Well-respected my tail! The noble families with the best reputation always have the most dirty laundry. You’ve heard the rumors I’m sure.”
“Of course. The wild parties, the ties to the Decadanti, murdered siblings and other unwholesome things. I suppose we can add slave trading to that list?”
“Not without more digging.” Dunwin said with a chuckle.
“Then dig we shall.”