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“Envy!” Ivy screamed joyously at the sight of her younger sister walking into her office at Thorne Tech’s research laboratory. She raced over to her and embraced her wholeheartedly, kissing her cheeks multiple times. “Are you alright? I heard about what happened in the Reliquary. God, I regret not bringing you out here with me when I took over the Harrowick Chapter. Look what almost happened! The Grand Adderman had no right to send you in unprepared like that! You could have ended up as –”

“Ivy!” Envy scolded her in a hushed voice, her eyes gesturing behind her to the imposing form of Doctor Erich Thorne who had escorted her in. Envy would never dare to speak ill of the Grand Adderman in front of another member of the Ophion Occult Order, even after he had so casually sent her into their perilous Reliquary.

“Darling, you can trust Erich. He’s practically my husband,” Ivy assured her, gesturing to Erich to close the office door to ensure they could speak freely. “Erich, darling, you remember my sister Envy, don’t you? You met once or twice when we were dating the first time, I’m sure.”

“Yes, of course, I remember Envy," Erich smiled. “And Envy, I completely share your sister’s disdain for what the Grand Adderman put you through. You don’t have to hold your tongue around me.”

“You may regret saying that, Luv. She’s working under me directly now, and she’s going to be staying with us now for as long as she likes,” Ivy said matter-of-factly. “Envy, darling, do keep in mind though that this is Erich’s lab and it’s full of dangerous and sensitive materials, so please be careful, courteous, and defer to Erich’s instructions whenever appropriate.”

“Of course. I’m terribly sorry, Doctor Thorne. I don’t mean to be an imposition,” Envy apologized quickly. “I won’t be in your way any more than Ivy needs me, and I don’t need to stay with you if it’s too much bother. Money’s no issue. I can stay at a hotel until I find somewhere.”

“Out of the question. The only decent hotels in town are owned by Chamberlin, and we don’t trust Chamberlin,” Erich replied dismissively. “The Grand Adderman might not have cared about your safety, but we do, and right now we’re all at risk of being attacked by Emrys. The safest place in town for you is our house. We’ve made sure of that.”

“Your house isn’t connected to the Cuniculi, then?” Envy asked.

“No, and neither is this lab. We’ve been using the nexus under Pendragon Hill as our main entry point,” Erich replied. “We’re not entirely certain what the limitations to Emrys’ abilities are at the moment, but he doesn’t seem to be able to teleport at will. There’s definitely a cost to him teleporting, and he seems to only be able to do so at times or places that meet certain conditions. That’s why he’s sticking to the Cuniculi so much; they provide him with very convenient access to us.”

“But he hasn’t attacked Pendragon Hill yet?” Envy asked.

“No. I’m sure he suspects we’ve set a trap there for him,” Ivy admitted, although seemingly without much concern. “He won’t risk walking in there, at least not without a suitably tempting bait.”

“What did you have in mind?” Envy asked eagerly, eyes widening at the prospect of finally seeing some progress.

“Emrys wants two things; to break his chains, and to take revenge on those who chained him,” Ivy stated. “We can offer him one thing that will do both of those.”

She let the unspoken implication hang in the air for a minute, to see if Envy would follow her logic.

“You mean… the Grand Adderman?” Envy murmured, terrified of the barely audible treasonous utterance that managed to escape her lips.

“You could have died because of him, Envy,” Ivy reminded her, outrage flashing across her eyes as she fought to keep her composure. “And as far as we’re concerned, this whole mess with Emrys is as much the Grand Adderman’s fault as it is Chamberlin’s. Emrys is likely waiting until his chains are broken and he’s at full power before he tries to attack the Grand Adderman, but if we manage to subdue the Grand Adderman first and offer him up to Emrys as a sacrifice, he’ll have his revenge and the power he needs to break his chains at the same time.”

“But then he’ll be free! There’ll be nothing we can do to stop him!” Envy objected.

“Envy, you’ve been working for over a year to find some way to stop Emrys; you know there isn’t one,” Erich claimed. “He’ll break his chains sooner or later, and when that happens, what matters most is who he regards as his enemies.”

“Chamberlin’s convinced he’ll take revenge on the whole Order, but I’m not sure he’s quite that petty,” Ivy said. “I think that if we offer him The Grand Adderman, and maybe let him take off a few specific individuals who have wronged him over the centuries, he’d be willing to let bygones be bygones.”

“So then, the Spell Circle you said you made, it was never meant for Emrys, then, was it?” Envy asked. Ivy simply shook her head. “So that’s the plan, then? If you can’t beat him, join him? Do you have the slightest idea what he might do once he’s free?”

“Kill the Darling Twins, for one. So, he can’t be all bad,” Ivy mused.

“You’re talking about betraying our Order! If anyone finds out we were even talking about this, we’re… we’re fucked!” Envy insisted, eyes wide and nearly bulging out of her head.

“Envy, most people obey The Grand Adderman out of fear, not respect,” Erich claimed. “He’s a tyrant. He’s ruled practically unopposed for centuries. If we succeed in getting rid of him, I doubt we’ll have to worry about many people avenging his loss.”  

“He’s ruled for centuries for a very good reason; he’s one of the most powerful occultists and alchemists who’s ever lived!” Envy reminded him. “You know what he’s become. He’s a wraith! His body’s half corporeal, half astral. He’s a vassal of Ophion itself! How could we possibly incapacitate him, let alone for long enough to hand him over to Emrys?”

“Well, that’s where taking a scientific approach to the paranormal has come in rather handy,” Ivy beamed with a wide grin. “Erich, Luv; tell her your idea.”    

“We happen to have some Blue Moon Silver chains, good enough to bind and burn more pedestrian unholy creatures,” Erich explained. “I believe that if I melt it down and tweak the balance of the base elements, I can reform it into a metamaterial that will amplify its intrinsic properties. I’ll have something that even The Grand Adderman can’t break. The more he tries, the more his dark energies will strengthen the alchemical bonds of the alloy, and before long they will have drained him to the point that he won’t even have the strength to resist.

“I don't deny that getting the chains on him will be challenging. It will require careful subterfuge and many contingencies in case something goes wrong, but I think it's worth the risk."

“We both do,” Ivy added. “What about you, Envy? Do you want to help Erich and I deliver the Grand Adderman over to Emrys, and solve two problems at once?”

Envy was dumbstruck at first. She didn’t disagree that the Grand Adderman was a cruel tyrant, but had never actually entertained the possibility that he might ever not be their ruler. The prospect of incurring his wrath, or even just the wrath of those under his thrall, was terrifying to her.

Nonetheless, she couldn’t deny that her sister and Doctor Thorne had a point. She had been researching ways to defeat Emrys for over a year, and had found none. His victory seemed inevitable, but his victory did not have to also mean her failure. Emrys’ desire for freedom from his chains was understandable, even justifiable. He was perhaps not an unreasonable being, or at the very least not less reasonable than the Grand Adderman.

It was a dangerous choice, one far too dangerous for her to ever make on her own. But Ivy’s mind was already settled on the matter, and if there was one thing that Envy had been certain of since childhood, it was that she could trust her big sister Ivy.

“What is it you want me to do?” she whispered timidly, shirking downwards as she braced for their response.

***

“You said that you and Erich didn’t trust Chamberlin, but shouldn’t he be more upset with the Grand Adderman for demoting him than at you for replacing him?” Envy asked as she and Ivy drove through the streets of Sombermorey, towards Chamberlin’s manor atop Pendragon Hill.

“He should, yes, but he’d have a far easier time getting revenge on me,” Ivy replied. “He’s not in on this plot, by the way. No one else is, yet. Only speak of it to me and Erich, and only when we’re at our house or in our private offices or vehicles. When we’re at Chamberlin’s in particular, assume we’re being recorded at all times.”

“But Chamberlin’s not there?” Envy asked.

“No, he’s been living at his lakeside villa since the incident,” Ivy replied. “The only people who go there now are some servants for routine upkeep, but they’re not scheduled to be there today. It should just be you and I.”

“So, all I need to do is modify the Spell Circle you’ve made to make it look plausible that it’s meant to bind Emrys and requires the Grand Adderman to power it, without actually comprising its ability to bind the Grand Adderman?” Envy asked.

“Yes, and I realize that’s more difficult than it sounds,” Ivy said sympathetically. “But you’ve been researching Emrys for over a year, and you’ve been an acolyte at Adderwood Manor for several years, so I’m confident you can do it. Just remember that it doesn’t have to bind him for long; just long enough for us to get the chains on him.”

 Envy nodded pensively as she turned her gaze out the window as they began to ascend the terrace to the top of Pendragon Hill.

“So, this is where it happened, eh?” she asked in soft reverence.

"Mm-hmm. Chamberlin decided to use the Blue Blood Moon on Halloween 2020 to summon Emrys in the hopes of impressing a prospective member,” Ivy replied. “Nailed the summoning, botched the containment wards. I’m amazed the mansion is still standing after the fight Emrys and the Darlings got into.”

They pulled into the vacant motor court at the crest of the hill, the three-story mansion literally casting a shadow upon them in the late afternoon sun. Despite its decadent size and opulent red and gold siding, its steeply pitched roofs and encompassing coniferous trees gave it a palpably rustic and reclusive atmosphere. Though the grounds were still rigorously maintained, that did nothing to dispel the sense of forlornness that permeated the property. There was no sign of any other human presence aside for Ivy and Envy. All was silent aside from the squawking of some exotic birds in the backyard aviary.

As they stepped out of Ivy’s purple Tesla, Envy gazed up in uneasy reverence at what was still officially the headquarters for the Harrowick Chapter of the Ophion Occult Order.

“So, Morgana King and her coven were using this Hill for rituals before Seneca claimed it as his own, right?” she asked.

“That’s right, and the aboriginals before her. It’s got a long history,” Ivy replied as she led her sister up the stairs and to the front door. “That’s another reason why I don’t want to live here. Too many ghosts, both figurative and literal.”

When they had reached the front door, Ivy placed her thumb over a biometric scanner, tapped a keychain fop with an RFID chip in it to a reader, looked straight into the security camera for a retina and facial recognition scan, and then entered her passcode into the keypad. When all of that was done, she slid her key into the deadbolt, only for her expression to turn sour when she tried to turn it.

“What’s wrong?” Envy asked.

“The manual deadbolt wasn’t locked,” she murmured.

“Oh. Well, it does seem a bit superfluous, doesn’t it? Maybe the last person in just forgot or didn’t bother,” Envy suggested. “The wards and security system are both active, aren’t they? How could there be an intruder?”

Ivy pondered the situation for a moment before very cautiously pushing the door open.

“Hello? Is there anyone in here?” she shouted, her voice echoing through the empty mansion. “Seneca! Are you in here?”

When there was no response, she took a tentative step into the spacious and gilded foyer, her eyes meticulously scanning the room for any sign of something amiss. When she spied nothing out of the ordinary, she went to the main control panel for the security system and checked the entry log. Finding nothing unexpected there either, she started reviewing surveillance footage.

“Ivy,” Envy huffed impatiently, arms folded across her chest.

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry. I’m being paranoid,” Ivy conceded, exiting the security program and forcing herself away from the panel. “This way. The passage to the ritual chamber is in the wine cellar, behind a cask of Amontillado.”

A cask of Amontillado? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival?” Envy quipped with a wry smile. “It’s a good thing I’m not paranoid, or I’d think you were trying to bury me alive.”

They passed through the kitchen and down into the expansive wine cellar, where at the far end sat a large barrel of prominently labelled Amontillado, branded with the head of a jester and as wide as a man was tall. With one hand Ivy rolled the empty barrel aside to reveal a hidden doorway of rusted iron bars. She inserted a key with a triple Ouroboros logo for a head and unlocked the gate, its hinges emitting an ungodly screeching sound as she pushed it open.

“Watch your step. There are no lights on these stairs,” Ivy cautioned as she pulled out a powerful LED flashlight from her pocket.

In addition to the poor light, the heavy stone steps of the spiral staircase were rough and uneven, making the short trek into the ritual chamber a perilous one. The staircase was narrow enough that it was only possible to descend it single file, so if a large procession was making their way down, one misplaced step by someone bringing up the rear could send them all for a tumble.   

The stair ended at a large balcony that presumably overlooked the ritual chamber, but given the lack of lighting, that was only an educated guess on Envy’s part. Ivy walked over to a shrine carved in the likeness of a serpent, a single unused candle held upright in its gaping maw. Striking a match, she lit the candle, causing the serpent's eyes to flicker as well. Hovering, spectral flames were suddenly summoned into existence around dozens of braziers and a gothic-looking chandelier that hung from the ceiling, bathing the entire chamber in flickering, sepia light.

The light revealed that in addition to the balcony there was a circular mezzanine overlooking the chamber. Beneath that, the perimeter of the chamber was encircled with multiple spellwork doors that guarded entry into the Crypto Chthonic Cuniculi, tunnels that wound along under Sombermorey before quickly phasing out of mundane reality altogether. At the moment, however, the floor was of far greater importance. It was a circular pit of glittering, silver sand dazzling in the spectral light, perfect for drawing and redrawing large spell circles. A plethora of flat, sigil-marked river stones were piled around the perimeter, ready for use as well.

“That’s Sigil Sand, not Witch’s Salt?" Envy asked as she appraised the setup. While the crystalline form of salt resonated psionic energies, Sigil Sand allowed it to be absorbed and stored for later use.  

“Literal tonnes of it, and it’s fully saturated with all the strange energies that flow through this nexus,” Ivy assured her. “Used to be a megalith on the top of the hill until Chamberlin had Crow convert it to Sigil Sand and then hauled it down here. You tap into it, channel it properly, and we should be able to do what we need to do.”

“If we can get the Sand below full saturation before we initiate the ritual, we can use it to drain some of his power. Might make things a bit easier,” Envy suggested. She began heading for the balcony stairs so she could inspect the Sand up close to determine how best to use it, when a flash of movement on her periphery froze her in her tracks. “What was that?”

"Don't panic. It could be nothing," Ivy claimed while striking a defensive posture and reaching for a ceremonial sabre that had been laid out on the shrine’s altar. “This is a Cuniculi nexus, so if the doors aren’t closed properly a lot of strange creatures can wander in.”

“Ivy, look at the Sand. That’s not the Spell Circle you showed me,” Envy said, nodding towards the sandpit beneath them. Ivy saw that her sister spoke the truth, and that the sand pit had been raked smooth and redrawn since her last visit. “Someone else has been down here, and I think they might still be down here.”

“Dammit. That means Erich’s company’s been hacked. The only way someone could have edited the security log and video feed is with admin clearance,” Ivy cursed. “Right, whoever you are, show yourself now! You are trespassing on private property, I’m armed, and I will not hesitate to use lethal force if necessary! Surrender, and no harm will come to you!”

Ivy’s voice echoed in the large chamber for a moment before quickly dying down to dead silence. She was just about to march down the stairs when a new voice rang out from the dark.

“Throw down the keys to the Cuniculi doors, and I won’t activate the Spell Circle!” it shouted back in response.

Envy and Ivy remained still upon the stairway, exchanging nervous glances. The voice belonged to a young woman around their age, and the accent was vaguely American, but it was otherwise unrecognizable. It sounded like it had come from the other side of the chamber, but there was no one there.

“Who are you? I demand that you identify and reveal yourself immediately!” Ivy commanded, peering over the railing to see if she could see where the intruder was hiding.    

“Ivy, there!” Envy shouted, pointing across the chamber. What they had before overlooked as a mere shadow stepped forward, revealing itself to be a woman clad in dark robes. She was pale with dark choppy hair and heavy dark eyeliner that blurred the line between makeup and warpaint, but what drew the sisters’ attention the most was a thin wisp of inky black miasma that lazily whirled around her like a pet snake.

“You! You’re the corpse Emrys stole from the Darling Twins!" Ivy accused, pointing the sabre at her, warning her to come no closer. “I knew he wouldn’t come himself, but I should have figured he wouldn’t be beneath sending a minion into a death trap.”

The woman sneered, both at the insult and the impotent threat of the sabre.

“I’m the person he rescued from those abominations, and you’re the ones who have walked into my trap,” she corrected her. She pointed her finger towards the Spell Circle she had drawn, the miasma coalescing there in anticipation of being discharged. “The keys. Now!”

“Envy, what does that Spell Circle do?” Ivy whispered. Envy stammered as her eyes analyzed the Spell Circle as rapidly as she could.

“It, it… it doesn’t matter! If the Sigil Sand discharges any of its psionic energy, it will absorb Emrys’ miasma and become contaminated! That could compromise it to the point of rendering it useless if we’re not able to purify it!” Envy replied frantically. “Give her the keys! The Sand’s more important!

Ivy’s eyes shot back towards the intruder, her strategic mind rapidly assessing the situation as the seconds ticked by.

"Which is exactly why she'll contaminate it even if we do give her the keys," she deduced. The intruder had already compromised her security system, stood seconds away from contaminating her Sigil Sand, and would only continue to wreak havoc on her plans if she let her run free with her set of Cuniculi keys. She had to be neutralized, even if it cost Ivy the use of the Sand.

In a shocking burst of speed, Ivy leapt over the railing and charged towards the intruder with the intent of impaling her on her sabre.

“Ivy, don’t!” Envy screamed.

The intruder flinched slightly at the brazen attack, and for an instant, Ivy dared to hope that it would buy her the time she needed to end her.

But when she was mere meters away from her target, the intruder fired the miasma into the Sigil Sand, triggering the Spell Circle she had drawn.

The was a massive updraft of wind, sending Ivy tumbling backwards and falling on her back. The vortex of wind forced open the Cuniculi doors one by one, leaving them at the mercy of whoever and whatever might be lingering in the tunnels at the moment.

When the last door was blown open, the vortex spiralled upwards and snuffed out the spectral lights, leaving them in total darkness.

Ivy felt the intruder tackle her as she grabbed for the keys on her belt. Realizing the sabre had been knocked from her grasp, she instead kicked and punched blindly into the dark.

“Ivy!” Envy screamed, her terrified voice taking on a tone of childlike pleading. She was, after all, stranded in the dark with a monster, and likely more on the way. What else could she do but cry out for her big sister?

In that moment, Ivy’s duty to her sister won out over everything else. She threw the keys away from her as hard as she could, and to her relief, she heard the intruder scamper after them and then race off down one of the Cuniculi tunnels.

Pulling out her flashlight, Ivy ran up the stairs and grabbed her sister.

“Envy, come on. We’re getting out of here!” she instructed firmly.

“B-b-but, b-b-but, but the doors!” she stammered.

“It’s too risky for us to close them right now. I’ll send someone better equipped to do damage control later. Right now, we need to get to safety!” Ivy ordered.

Envy nodded, allowing her sister to take her by the hand and lead her up the spiral staircase.  As they neared the top, the eerie sounds of nameless cryptoids skulking out of the tunnels began to rise from the darkened chamber below.

“Straight to the kitchen! Go!” Ivy ordered as they reached the wine cellar. The instant they were back into the main house, she slammed the cellar door behind them. “Lumi, lockdown the cellar! Initiate full Cuniculi breach protocols!”

“Cuniculi Breach Protocols Activated,” the proprietary AI chimed in a standard cheery monotone. The sound of a security shutter clamping shut on the opposite side of the door sent its wooden frame shuddering.

“We should get out of here, and lock the whole mansion down as an additional precaution!” Envy exclaimed, eagerly eyeing the foyer as she plotted the last leg of their escape. Ivy hesitated for a moment as she considered whether there was anything in the house that was worth the risk of grabbing first, but decided against it.

"Alright, let's go," she said as she led her sister back towards the main entrance. "I do regret not going to the trouble of installing a security shutter on the anterior cellar door, as well. Seneca will not be happy if some feral cryptoid demolishes his precious wine collection.”    



Written by The Vesper's Bell
Content is available under CC BY-SA
 

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