© Quinn L. McKenna
Early morning misty rain brought ground fog, heat and a miserable start to the day altogether. Aaron Magee studied the old, abandoned tower at the edge of his grandparent’s property. It had called to him as far back as he could recall. Every year he spent here before and after his parents died, he was told it was an evil thing and he was to stay away from it. But he was now twenty-six and owner of the property where his grandparents had made their home for sixty years. The tower still called to him and he decided it was time to find out why.
Armed with nothing more than a tall walking stick he’d found in his grandfather’s study, he headed across the moor. Aaron could spend his days doing as he wanted. His career had soared with the his latest bestseller and he was more than comfortable. At an easy six foot and one hundred-eighty pounds, he strode with a purpose. Who knew? Maybe this would be a great setting for his next murder. An old abandoned tower on the moors of Ireland, a body laid out on a sacrificial altar in the center of a sacred circle and left for the wild beasts. His mind worked as well as his legs, he thought as he laughed to himself.
He stopped at the edge of the land surrounding the tower and stared at it. It spires up from the ground a good one hundred and fifty feet. The grey stones were wrapped in vines and overgrowth and ground fog boiled at the base like steam from a kettle on the boil.
Aaron could see no entrance from where he stood and the air around the tower seemed to shimmer in the early morning rain. Soft weather, the Irish called it. “Nothing soft about this,” he thought as water dripped from the ends of his chestnut-colored hair and the bill of his ‘gimme cap’. Steel grey eyes narrowed as he slowly walked around the base of the tower. Nothing. No door, no entrance that he could discern. He stepped closer to study the stones that had been used to create the standing monument and felt a tiny tremor against the hand holding the walking stick. Nothing more than a stick, he thought as he frowned again.
He circled the tower once more. On his second pass, he found the book. He hadn’t noticed it before and bent to pick it up. It wasn’t dirty nor did it appear to have been sitting out in any kind of weather. Carefully, he tried to open it and found it bound closed tight as a drum. Aaron turned the book over and tried again. Again, it refused to open. Perhaps it was affected by weather after all.
The book looked old. Bound in leather with metal coils holding the binding and a gold clasp as its closure. Strange symbols appeared to be branded into the leather, and faded gold gilded the edges of the pages. The word “Draíochta” slanted across the front of the book in faded red lettering. Aaron had heard that word a lot while growing up. It was spoken in hushed tones and soft whispers between his parents and grandparents, then after his parents had died in a car crash, between his grandparents. He recalled the word seemed to invoke fear from all of them, but especially from his grandparents after his parents deaths. He’d asked several times over his youth what the word meant and had roused the ire of both adults. Aaron was told the word was not to be bandied about without care. That it was an evil thing and never to be used openly. But they never told him what it meant and now anyone who could have told him was gone. Out of reach for him to ask.
The sun managed to work its way out of the clouds and he knew there would be a rainbow, for there was still morning mist in the air.Wasn’t this a strange start to the day? A rainbow for luck, a door-less tower and an old book that refused to open for him. Well, this would be enough props to begin his next mystery, wouldn’t it? He tucked the book under his arm and started back for home.
He turned to take one more look at the tower and the sun burst from behind a cloud, lighting a set of blocks at its base. Aaron canted his head and pondered. Why hadn’t he noticed this spot before? Did it need the sun’s rays to light them? Symbols appeared in a neat arc as if defining a doorway no one could physically see. Well, now. Wasn’t this curiouser and curiouser? He smiled as he backtracked and neared the odd symbols, noting to himself that they were the same symbols that were branded into the leather cover of his book.
Aaron reached to touch the first of the glowing symbols and was surprised at the growling sound of stone against stone. Though he saw nothing move, he felt certain something had. He looked down at the book cover, then touched the second glowing symbol on the stone wall. Another rumbling, seeming to come from behind the stones. Aaron followed through with each symbol and when he touched the last one, he was shocked and surprised to find himself suddenly inside the abandoned tower. He didn’t remember moving. Not physically.
Turning to glance at the wall behind him, Aaron drew a breath and stared. Nothing there. No door, no symbols. Nothing. Now that he was in, how was he to get out? He glanced down at the book in his hand to discover it was unlatched. The pages now turned easily for him. “Okay, Aaron. Take a breath and think this through. You got in, you certainly can get out. The book had apparently gotten out, so you should be able to do so as well.”
The inside of the tower was dimly lit and damp. He could vaguely make out shapes and curves and wished now that he had light of some kind. Aaron found himself craving the cigarettes he’d given up years ago. “Well, hell!” He spoke aloud in the dankness of the blasted place. “I need a light so I can see and not fall over something.” Torches on the walls flared to life and he gasped in sheer shock of the event.
In the flicker of the torches, the inside of the tower seemed quite a bit larger than the outside. Aaron convinced himself it was a trick of the light and moved toward the steps that wound around the inside wall. “I should go up. I need to see.” He took the first step, resting his hand on the wall for support, as it was an open stairway on the one side and the steps were beginning to crumble from age. He didn’t notice the symbol his hand had touched, nor any of the others that lined the stairs as he climbed. Around and around, up and up he went, paying no heed to the fog that followed him, growing thicker with each symbol his hand touched. Something felt off, felt very wrong. Aaron was lost to the climb, lost to the modern world as he got closer to the top of the tower. He reached a small landing and paused.
Something brushed against his hand and he jerked it free from the wall, only to come back to himself and stare at the thick mist that surrounded him. He couldn’t see the way he’d come, and was leery of climbing any higher. “I shouldn’t have come. I should be home and working. I’ve no time for this today.” For the second time, something touched his hand from inside the heavy fog. He jumped as the touch startled him and found himself on the edge of the landing. As his foot began to slip, and he began to pitch off the landing, he could only think no one would find his body for years. He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see the floor rushing up to meet him.
He felt a warm breath on his face and his closed eyes snapped open. He found himself outside the tower and on his back in the grass. The book still in his hands, but the symbols on the tower were gone. Staring into his face was a large and very beautiful black horse. Aaron wasn’t much of an animal person, so he scrambled back like a crab to escape the horse’s stare. ~Human. Come. Let me take you home. I’ll see that you get there safely. You need to be away from this tower. There is nothing for you here.~
Aaron shook his head in shock and disbelief. “Oh, no you don’t. I know about you. My grandmother used to scare me into being good by telling my she’d have the Water Horses come get me. And I can’t believe I’m talking to a mythological demon. I’m dead, right? I died and this is how my brain is accepting it. Because I did something I was told never to do, so I’m facing the Water Horse tale of my childhood.” He choked out a laugh and sat on the damp ground.
The horse snorted and it sounded to Aaron like a laugh. ~We have always been here, Human. But when you began to forget, we faded into the nether. We have been waiting for you, Aaron Magee. You have freed us so we may again roam these lands.~ Aaron gaped and shook his head again.
“Waiting for me? To do what? I own this land now. I’m thinking of having that old tower destroyed. It’s an eyesore and no one remembers why it’s here anymore.”
The horse stomped his foot very close to Aaron’s hand. ~Don’t be foolish, Human. This tower is our home. You can’t destroy it without consequence. You carry your grandfather’s staff, yet you doubt our existence? You grew up hearing the tales. You know of us.~
Aaron chuckled and shook his head. “It’s a stick to walk with. And I was told the tales when I was young to keep me in line. That’s all it was. My grandparents were rather fanciful. I suppose next you’ll be telling me about the pookah, faeries, gnomes, the Merry Makers, incubus, succubus and other demons.”
The horse stared down at the man long enough to make Aaron uncomfortable. ~Walk with me, Human. I will walk you to the edge of the tower property without harm. Your grandparents were part of why we remained here within the tower. And why the tower appeared abandoned all these years. They kept us here, locked away from the world and letting the memory of us fade from the humans so they no longer fear us. Now you have finally come. You have released us upon the world again.~
Aaron stared at the demon horse. He must have hit his head when he fell. Fell? Hadn’t he fallen from a level far up inside the old tower? Was he dead then and this was his personal hell? “You’re telling me that my grandparents knew about you and trapped you in that old tower to hold you away from the humans? To keep you from wreaking your own personal havoc on the world? That they were some kind of wizards who had the power to hold you bound to one area?”
The water horse shook his head with a snort that sounded almost like a burst of laughter. ~Not wizards, young Magee. Witches. It took more than just the two of them, but they were the last. You have freed us. Your magick runs true, though you’re apparently unaware of it. Your grandfather kept records, that book you hold will help you understand. Here is the end of where I can wander. Free the others, give us our abilities back so we can live again. Have a care, young Magee. You will see me again, I can assure you.~
Aaron must have stepped over some invisible line then, because when he turned back, he saw nothing but an open field and the tower, standing alone against the horizon. He frowned at the scene and turned back toward the house. Demons, indeed. He’d go root about in his grandfather’s study and sit down with the book in his hand and try to read, though he had other things he needed to do. There must be something he was to figure out on his own. He couldn’t imagine anything the Water Horse said had even the hint of truth about it. He’d grown up here, spent his youth here under the watchful eye of his grandparents. He would have known if something was strange, wouldn’t he? He’d never thought about the stories he’d heard when he was young and impressionable. He never thought there was any truth to them. But apparently he’d been wrong. There had to be answers and he determined to find them.
He climbed the steps and entered the blissful coolness of the old stone farmhouse. He paused just inside the door and listened. There was no sound within, but the house seemed to pulse with power he’d never noticed before. When he crossed the floor of the entry, the old wall mirror caught his attention and he paused with a start. Staring back at him was his Grandfather. Aaron lifted his hand to touch the glass and inside of a wink, the image was his own. What was happening here?
Aaron slipped into the study and sat in his grandfather’s chair behind the huge oak desk. He placed the old book to the side and began by opening drawers and doors. He wasn’t sure what it was he was looking for, but he was certain he would know when he found it. He shuffled papers and old news clippings, pushed pens and pencils out of his way, glanced at folder titles, then stopped with a huge sigh. He kicked back in the old chair and looked around the study. He lifted the glass orb that his grandfather had used as a paperweight and was amazed to find it warm to the touch.
What was this now? He lifted it to the reading lamp and turned on the light. The crystal ball warmed more while the inside shimmered as colors bled one into the other. Aaron watched as the shapes came to life inside the ball. Faeries stood outside a home discussing taking the child within and leaving a changeling in its place. Aaron nearly dropped the crystal when he realized he wasn’t watching a movie, but something that was happening now. “NO!” His shout echoed through the quiet house and the ball vibrated in his hand. The three fae lifted their heads, as if they heard him, then disappeared from the vision inside the crystal.
He stood, the ball still in his hand and headed for the front door, throwing it open and stepping into the afternoon heat and sun. To do what? Go where? To stop the unbelievable from happening? He frowned into the daylight. Faeries, changelings, water horses. What next? Aaron’s legs felt like water as he slowly lowered himself to sit on the stoop of the porch. His gaze turned in the direction of the old tower. The answers were in this house and that tower and he determined to find out what this all meant.
He rose on steadier legs and returned to the study, gazing about the room in bewilderment. “Okay, Grandda. What does all this mean and what am I to do about it? Where do I look first?” He turned to a wall of books and studied the titles. Just books. There was nothing sinister in their titles and were books he’d read when he was a teenager. He began a systematic search of the books on the shelves. Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing he hadn’t read before, seen before, touched before. What was his grandparents hiding here? What was it he was supposed to find? He wandered the room aimlessly until he stopped in front of the small fireplace. He stared at it as he thought back to when he was a boy and a young man growing up in this house, spending time in here with his grandfather, listening to his stories.
He blinked as his mind finally registered what it hadn’t over all those years. The fireplace was far too clean. Aaron knew the fireplaces were used in the rest of the house. His memories brought the smell, the tang of peat as the fires burned low to keep the rooms warm against the winter winds. But this room had always been warm and welcoming, even on the coldest of days. Yet the fireplace was clean enough to eat from. He squatted down and took a closer look at the bricks and tiles, stood to study the hearth, the mantel. Everything was as he remembered it and wasn’t that interesting? Things had changed in the house over the years; all but here, in the study and the fireplace. It must mean something. There’s something he wasn’t seeing. Aaron frowned at the mantel. The candelabra in the middle of the marble slab, crystals and other gemstones spread out around it. Carefully, he reached to touch the brass of the candle holder and startled himself when it turned slightly.
His grandmother’s voice filled his head. “Turn it, Aaron. Take up the challenge your grandfather and I couldn’t complete. Keep the demons at bay in that tower.” Aaron shuddered when he heard the voice he hadn’t heard in several years. Ice crawled up his spine as he spun slowly to face the room, expecting to see his wise and elderly
grandmother standing behind him. No one was there and Aaron shuddered again.
“Stop it! Whoever you are, whatever you are, stop it!” Hearing her voice had frightened him more than seeing his grandfather in the upstairs mirror. He’s been told he looked like the man, so it could have been a trick of light or just his mental state from finding himself inside, then outside the old tower. But that voice. So clear in his head. He would have taken money on turning to see her.
Once his heart stopped galloping around his chest like a mad race horse, he turned back to the mantel and with shaking hands, pushed the candelabra, making it turn until it stopped. The fireplace slid back and to the side, opening to stairs that led down and down under the house. He made his way down the steps carefully, switching a light switch as he began his descent. Aaron found himself in a room that seemed to encompass the whole of the house. It was dry and filled with books and markings, crystals, swords, staffs and other things of magick. Aaron frowned as he turned a slow circle to take it all in. There were runes on the floor, a circle drawn in white, a pentagram in the center, candle wax where candles had guttered themselves out during some sort of rite.
The circle seemed to be burned into the flat stone of the floor, worn there by many feet over the years or perhaps centuries that people had met here and danced the dance of magick. He could almost see the footsteps and began to unconsciously follow them around the pentacle. He didn’t know the words, never learned words, but he could feel the draw of the circles energy. He moved away from the circle as he came to the west point and went to the cabinet he saw there in the corner.
Aaron found maps and more papers and books on magick. He made a study of the room and its books. Books on ritual and magick, both light and dark. His fingers trembled as he trailed them along the book spines as he read titles and was barely able to control the urge to just pick one and begin reading. What had been hidden from him all his life? What manner of things happened in this room while he slept innocently in his upstairs room? Everything in his young life took on a new meaning as he remembered back to things his grandparents had said to him, taught him, things he shrugged off as ramblings of the old; for like every teenager, he felt his grandparents were old and on the verge of senility. He paused in front of a shelf of books and papers, canting his head slightly as he tried to read the fading ink.
He was about to walk away when a notebook caught his eye because his name was on the cover. He picked it up and went to sit in the only chair in the room. He didn’t realize the chair was in the exact north of the circle. He just sat there because it seemed to have light enough to read by and carefully opened the book.
Dearest Aaron: I know you’re reading this because you’ve found the room.
Your grandfather and I will apologize to you for not making you listen when
we tried to tell you of your background. When we had the chance to tell you,
it was far too late. You had already decided that we were just old senile people
who you stayed with and how could we blame you when we sheltered you so
much when you were little? This notebook holds secrets you will need to have
to continue where we can no longer. Read, Aaron and learn. You must keep
yourself safe and protect what you can. There are names in this book that will
be able to help you. Be safe, Aaron. Take care.
Aaron stared at the notebook, unsure if he wanted to read more. Why had they kept things from him if it was so important? Why lie to him all those years? What horrific information is in that notebook that made two people he loved dearly lie to him to protect him? He opened the book and began to read. For the next several hours, he read the words that had been written down for him. He wasn’t sure what he felt. Anger? Hurt? Pleasure? Excitement? His grandparents, the people he trusted completely since he was just a child, had lied to him about his own heritage, his own background. Now he’d apparently inadvertently opened some sort of gate, the creatures of legend are now roaming the lands around the old tower, and it was now up to him to put the myths and legends back inside that place and keep them there. How was he supposed to manage that? It’s not like he could live the day backwards and take it all back.
Aaron found himself wishing he hadn’t gone to that blasted tower. Everything he ever believed was now defunct. he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to deal with that, but he knew he had to do something to keep those demons that had been trapped within that old abandoned tower. For days, weeks, he read and studied and gleaned information from the books and papers in the basement of the house. He learned symbols, runes, words that were familiar to him in odd ways. Things that he read and learned tugged on the corners of his mind like he should know this somehow.
Standing from the chair in the kitchen where he had migrated from the basement for no other reason than he wanted the familiar and he was hungry, Aaron made his way out the door and walked toward the tower. He looked different from a month ago when this began. He had the shadow of a beard, his hair was slightly longer and he walked with his grandfather’s staff with a purpose that had nothing to do with walking across the moors.
Aaron reached the tower and stopped when he thought he was close to the place where the runes had appeared when he was first here. The sunlight, he’d learned, made them visible for a short time to anyone who looked, but would only open if pressed in the correct order and they would need the book for that. When the sun hit the stones, he quickly pressed the rune symbols and once again found himself in the inside. He climbed the stairs, careful to not touch the walls and careful where he placed his feet. He wasn’t about to try another fall just to see if he landed in the same place again. At the top of the tower, he found the door and, though it was sealed by magick, he demanded it open for him, using the words in the Old Tongue as the book had instructed.
The door opened silently and he stepped into the “Seomra de Draíochta” (Room of Magick). Here he knew he would find the tools he would need to perform the spell that would ensnare the demons yet again. He drew a breath of the stale air and shuddered it out again slowly. He studied the room as he stood in the middle of it, turning to take it all in. The small indoor garden in the north, the sword in the east, the tall pillar candle in the south and the water fountain in the west. The altar in the center of the pentacle painted on the floor. Everything looked as though it was tended to daily, kept clean and alive and growing by unseen hands. He thought about his grandmother and her gardens and wondered if she didn’t have a hand in keeping things in this room pristine.
His breath caught in his throat as he neared the altar. What if he made a mistake? What if he said the wrong words because he wasn’t sure of the pronunciation of the Old Tongue? He would just have to get better if that happened. His mind was working overtime as he placed the book in the center of the altar and lifted the box of matches to strike flame to the candles waiting there. “What do we do if you fail, Aaron? Phone up ‘Witches-R-Us’? You have no idea what you’re doing, admit it. This is beyond your capabilities.” He really had to stop thinking and get this done.
He could hear the cacophony of noise coming from the demons that were suddenly surrounding the tower. They had enjoyed their freedom long enough, he knew. Things were happening in the village that were unexplained and frightening and he was determined to stop them from happening again.
Turning to face the North, he raised the staff and did the summoning he had committed to memory. He felt a slight tremor beneath his feet and he smiled, walking to the east and summoned the spirit of air and heard the howl of the wind as it whipped around the tower. He repeated the summoning in each corner, then returned to the altar in the center of his circle. He looked down at the pages of the book and grimmly used the Spell of Breaking. He knew he would have to repeat it three times. He walked the circle widdershins twice as he repeated the spell he’d found in an old book as the wind howled, the rain pounded on the tower roof and fire blazed in the hearth. Then once more around as he summoned the Gatekeeper to help him ensnare the demons, trap them within the power of the circle and the strength of the tower. “Anail Nathroc!” The walls of the tower trembled. “Uthas Bethude!” The winds grew louder, the earth shook. “Dochiel Diende!” Light flashed from the hearth so bright, it was blinding. The Gatekeeper appeared and it was suddenly and terrifyingly silent. They stared at one another, Aaron and thge Gatekeeper. “What will you, Magician?” Aaron wanted, more than anything, to bolt and run, but he stood tall and proud and firm. “Bind these demons here. Stay them with your power.”
The Gatekeeper chuckled, sending a chill down Aaron’s spine. “I will do as you ask, mortal. For a price. Return the magick book and I will once again bind them to this place.” Aaron gestured to the altar. He had expected as much. Though he wasn’t about to let the Book of Magicks remain here for the Gatekeeper and his minions to pillage at their leisure.
“Everything has a price, Gatekeeper. I have taken my Grandfather’s place. You will deal with me from now on.”
The Gatekeeper nodded and smiled wickedly. “That too may change, Magee the younger. That as yet remains unseen. The way is open for you to leave the tower if you will.”
Aaron knew he had to close the circle before he left and did so, much to the dismay of the Gatekeeper. Once the spirit was released, he couldn’t stay. Aaron took the book from the altar with a smirk. “I won’t be coming back here, Gatekeeper. And I’m thinking of changing the runes here for safety’s sake.” Aaron spun and faced the wall in the north and clutching his grandfather’s staff, stepped from the tower to his house. He would keep the tower closed to his best ability and keep the village safe by doing so.
He glanced back over his shoulder and nodded. “We will meet again, someday.” Aaron knew this wasn’t the end of things. He now understood the battle that raged her on the mythical planes between the mortal witches and the evil demons. He would help where he could, but right now he needed to eat and then locate others from his grandparents coven. They would have to know he was here and things will continue on as they always had. At least for now.
Edit from @Josey - "Just formatted it to make it easier to read due to how the forum formats things. I changed nothing. :)"