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From my preteen days until just a couple of years ago, I would regularly visit the Avalon Cemetery, often multiple times a week. It was right across the street from my childhood home on Hemlock Court, and later just down the street from my apartment on Equinox Avenue.

I've always been enamoured with the macabre beauty and serenity of cemeteries, a love that eventually led to my discovery of a secret graveyard that had been bewitched by a 19th-century occultist with the ridiculous name of Artaxerxes Crow. I call that graveyard home now, but Avalon Cemetery will always hold a special place in my heart though. It’s partially because of that love that I finally decided to investigate an old mystery there I had always wondered about.

“What do you mean my cemetery was the first one you’ve ever been in?” I chuckled at Charlotte as I drove us under the wide, gothic stone gates of Avalon.

I met Charlotte a couple of months ago when her innate clairvoyance led her to my hidden cemetery in Harrowick Woods. Since then, my girlfriend and I have taken her on as an initiate, and the three of us are now a classical Neapolitan triad of a blonde, brunette, and redheaded Witch.

“I’ve never really known someone who died,” she shrugged, staring out her window with an uneasy expression on her face. “Why else would anyone go to a cemetery? Other than you, I mean. You really used to play here as a kid?”

“Absolutely. It’s beautiful, don’t you think?” I asked, perhaps a bit more defensively than I should have.

The Avalon Cemetery is in the southwestern corner of town, bordered by the Avalon River. It’s over a hundred acres in size with tens of thousands of gravestones, along with plenty of more majestic monuments and mausoleums, including the one we that we had come to visit; the Barrow of Avalon.

It was a burial mound the size of a small hill, with five tall gravestones around its crown and a marbled stone in its center. Ever since Seneca Chamberlin made Pendragon Hill his private residence, the local pagans have used the Barrow of Avalon as our default ceremonial megalith.

Adding to the Barrow's mystique was a single bronze door dug into its base. It was padlocked shut, and to my knowledge, no one had ever broken in. Rumours abounded about what horrors might lie inside, and this was the day I was going to find out.

I parked as close to the Barrow as I could, where Genevieve, my girlfriend, was already waiting for us. As there was no one else in sight at the time, she and I hugged and kissed with a passion that was arguably inappropriate for the setting.

“Wow, you two are kind of hot. You should start an OnlyFans,” Charlotte teased as she shut my car’s doors for me.

“No, don’t get her started. She has a very complex attitude towards pornography,” I warned.

“Hey Lottie; wonderful to see you again,” Genevieve beamed at her. She held her arms out for a hug, and Charlotte accepted. “I know we don’t know each other that well yet and I only just had my first shot last week, but are you alright with kissing?”

“Ah, sure; just not like what you did with her,” she consented. Genevieve gave her a kiss on each cheek and a light one on the lips, hugging her one final time before letting her go.

“Sorry about that. Before the pandemic, hugging and kissing was her standard greeting for pretty girls. It’s been rough on her,” I said with a playful crinkle of my nose.

“So, this is what you were talking about?” she asked, gesturing vaguely to the Barrow. “You really think that Morgana King is buried inside here?”

“That’s what Xerxes says in his journal,” I nodded.

I had discovered quite a bit of old lore from the journal that Artaxerxes Crow had taken to his grave with him, including the ultimate fate of our town founders. Even though Sombermorey was settled sometime in the mid-to-late 18th century, our official history only really begins in the mid-19th after we were incorporated. Early records were destroyed and rewritten by a mayor and town council who wanted to conceal our occult origins.

“A journal which I’m inclined to take with several grains of salt,” Genevieve remarked. “Xerxes writes Morgana like a typical patriarchal fairy tale about the dangers of women and power.”

Morgana King and her twin brother Arthur were our town founders, which is why there are so many references to Arthurian Legend in our naming conventions. Like Crow, the King twins were members of the Ophion Occult Order, and Morgana in particular was a Witch with a small coven.

"No argument here, but I’ve also spoken with the Green Man about Morgana, and he confirmed what happened between her and Euphemia," I reminded her.

Euphemia was one of the Witches in Morgana’s coven, the one who summoned the Green Man to protect Harrowick Woods in the first place. Our folklore usually remembers her by her legal name of Elanor Flanagan, but Xerxes claimed in his journal that she went by Euphemia among her occult circle.

She and Morgana had a very tenuous relationship. Though Euphemia greatly admired Morgana as a powerful woman, she felt that she didn’t use that power to benefit other women enough. Eventually, Euphemia and possibly some other members of the coven rejected Morgana, sending her into a supernatural rage. Xerxes was deliberately vague about exactly what happened, but eventually, the Ophion Occult Order came in and killed Morgana and her brother, who had remained loyal to her.

“For now, all that matters is that Xerxes confirmed that the King Twins were buried here,” I insisted.

I noticed Charlotte swallowing nervously, and saw that she was starring up at the Barrow with a palpable sense of dread. The graves on top made it look like it was wearing a sharply spiked crown, and the half-buried old door at the bottom resembled a circular, moaning mouth.

In spite of her obvious reluctance, Charlotte was the first of us to venture in for a closer look.

“The plaque here says that this is maintained by a generous donation from… and then nothing,” she reported.

“That’s because the Crow family maintained this monument, and their names were all erased from this plane when the last of them was sacrificed to Persephone,” I told her. “It also means that I, as Elam Crow’s heir, have the key to get in.”

Smiling, I took Elam's keyring out of my pocket and jangled them for a few seconds for effect.

“So, does that mean Elam’s been here before?” she asked, searching the door for any possible cracks that she could peep through.

"Unfortunately, no. He had never been here when he was alive, and there are some kind of occult wards keeping him out now," I replied. "Eve and I tried astral projecting ourselves inside as well, and we couldn’t do that either. Xerxes clearly didn’t want anyone getting in here that wasn’t supposed to, dead or alive. That could just be because he thought Arthur and Morgana deserved to rest in peace, but based on everything I know about Artaxerxes, I find that very unlikely.”

“I’m thinking that whatever it is, if he hid it here instead of in Harrowick Cemetery, it must be because he didn’t want Persephone or her wisps getting it either,” Genevieve suggested. “It could be something big, and dangerous, and maybe something that’s best left alone.”

"I don't think Artaxerxes intended for it to be lost forever though, otherwise he wouldn't have passed the key on to his descendants," I countered. "Elam said that his father went in here multiple times and came out unscathed, so it should be safe to just take a peek. And what if it's something dangerous that needs some sort of regular upkeep to stay contained in there, or something that we could just use to help people? Then it would be irresponsible of us to neglect it."

Genevieve folded her arms and nodded reluctantly with a heavy sigh.

“Okay, but remembered that you’re the god-defying, necromancing, monster-fighting Witch. I’m the pot-smoking, lesbian, yoga-instructor Witch,” she smiled.

“I think we’re both a little bit of each, babe,” I said, squeezing her hand and giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Please; like you could teach a yoga class,” she teased. Playfully booping her on the nose, I headed over to the Barrow to do what I had gone there to do. Charlotte immediately backed out of the way and huddled behind Genevieve, as if she was afraid that the vengeful spirit of Morgana King would come flying out the second I opened the door.

It took a few tries, since even Elam hadn’t known what specific key was for the Barrow. Once I found it, though, the padlock opened without issue, in spite of its age. Pulling off its chains, I gently tugged the door open to reveal the tomb within. A shaft from the setting sun behind us illuminated a column of floating dust motes and two marble sarcophagi.

“There’s a salt ring on the ground. Take care not to break it,” I warned as I stepped into the Barrow. I held up the dollar-store LED lantern I had brought with me and began examining the crypt. “This doesn’t look like it’s been abandoned for centuries. A few years at most, since Elam’s father died.”

“Samantha, this ring is made from Chthonic Salt,” Genevieve said uneasily as she bent down to examine it. I spun my head around sharply and saw that what I had first assumed to be black salt was in fact a dark midnight blue.

“What’s Chthonic Salt?” Charlotte whispered, tentatively poking her head into the Barrow.

“Witches Salt made with the ashes of someone who was ritualistically burned alive in order to imbue it with certain Underworld effects,” Genevieve replied. “It’s Black Magic, and explains why we weren’t able to project ourselves in here. There’s a shallow gutter here meant to keep it in place.”

“There’s a spell circle on the roof, and I think it’s using the five bodies above us and the two down here as its focal points,” I said, shining the light up towards the ceiling. “It looks like it was drawn in blood, and there’s no way that’s over two hundred years old. The Crow family was definitely maintaining this place.”

Genevieve and even Charlotte joined me in studying the complex web of sigils the hung over our heads.

“It feels cold, but, not like cold cold, more like… emptiness,” Charlotte remarked, shivering slightly from the dreadful emanations she was picking up from the circle.

“What you’re feeling is a vortex in the astral plane of low-frequency vibrations; dark magic,” Genevieve told her. “Potent symbols like human bodies and these sigils make powerful impressions in the astral plane. The dark energy is circulating through the bodies above, down through these bodies here and into the salt before rising back up. I don’t think Xerxes did this to keep spirits out; I think he was trying to keep something in. Samantha, don’t open the sarcophagi. We can’t risk breaking the spell.”

“I won’t; don’t worry,” I assured her as I looked around the inside of the Barrow. “I agree that the spell was meant as a prison but… I’m not sensing any spirits in here. Are you?”

“No, nothing,” she shook her head.

“Do you think whatever it was already got out?” Charlotte asked in an anxious whisper. “You said that no one’s been looking after this place since Elam’s dad died.”

“I don’t know. The spell is still intact, so I don’t think it’s that simple,” I mused. I lowered my light and turned my attention towards the sarcophagi, in the hopes that they might reveal some answers. I wasn’t going to risk opening them, but they didn’t look like they were part of the spell circle themselves. The lids of each were carved with a body under a burial shroud, a man and a woman. The man held a sword to his chest and the woman held a staff. The sides were decorated with a conglomeration of human faces, though it was possible they were meant to be theatre masks since none of them held eyes in their sockets or teeth in their mouths. All of their facial orifices were empty, twisted into horrified and contorted grimaces.

I placed my hand on Arthur’s tomb to see if I could sense anything odd about it, and when that didn’t work, I laid my ear over his heart. Genevieve did the same for Morgana’s tomb.

“Anything?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she shook her head. “We can’t know for sure without opening them up, of course, but I don’t think their souls are still anchored to their bodies like Xerxes’ was.”

“Agreed. Even with the marble lids in the way, we would still be able to sense something this close,” I said. I picked up the lantern again and shone it around to see if there was anything else in there that we might have missed.

“Ah, what’s that?” Charlotte asked, nodding towards the floor. In between the two tombs was a large spell circle, with three smaller circles around its edge. Each circle had been carved into the ground and filled with white salt that had a slight pinkish-purple tinge to it.

“That’s Empyrean Salt, basically the opposite of Chthonic Salt,” Genevieve said. “Made with the ashes of something blessed that had been ritualistically and, most importantly, willingly sacrificed. This looks like an Evocation circle, one that requires three practitioners to work. I think Morgana made this, not Xerxes. She, Euphemia, and a third Witch we don’t know about yet likely stood here and communed with some ancient Old One, bargaining with it and extracting its knowledge. Maybe Crow, Crowley, and Chamberlin used it after her death. That would explain why the Crow family maintained this Barrow for so long.”

I nodded in agreement, but didn’t speak because I was too intent on studying the Evocation circle.

“You want to try it, don’t you?” Genevieve asked.

Again, I nodded.

"I don't know exactly what this is supposed to summon, but the protections are solid," I said. "They're even stronger than the ones I used when I summoned Persephone, and those held up. And this place has clearly been used before without failing, so I think it's safe enough to risk it."

“It takes three Witches, though,” Genevieve said, turning towards Charlotte. “How do you feel about that, Lottie? You’ve never done anything like this before, and we don’t want to pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do. I know that summoning an Old One is a pretty daunting proposition, and if you don’t feel ready for that we completely understand.”

“Completely,” I added, so that she would know that Genevieve and I were both on the same page. Charlotte bit her lip apprehensively as she thought it over.

“Well, Samantha’s already saved me from an Underworld demon once. I’m sure she could do it again if she had to. I’m in,” she nodded. We both smiled proudly at her, and I tossed Elam’s keyring to Genevieve.

“Lock the door from the inside. We don’t want anyone walking in on us and disturbing the ritual,” I told her. I had brought my Witches’ satchel with me, which is just a bag I use to carry standard ritual supplies in. I double-checked a few things in my Book of Shadows, performed a brief cleansing ritual first, and then set up three candles along the boundaries of the inner circle and the outer circles.

“It’s ready. We each stand in one of the outer circles and hold hands,” I said. “Lottie, no matter what happens, don’t let go of us and don’t leave your circle. The spirit might be scary – maybe intentionally, maybe not – but it can’t hurt us. Do you understand?”

“I do,” she nodded, taking her place in the circle and stretching out her arms. Each of us grabbed the others’ hands, and when we did both the Chthonic and Empyrean Salt began to glow slightly, at least to our clairvoyant senses.

“This ritual doesn’t require a specific incantation to trigger it, so I’m going to start with the most basic evocation spell I know,” I said. “Lottie, we’re all going to chant Audi Divus, Exaudi Divus, Veni Divus, Depraesentiarum. It’s dog Latin for ‘Hear me spirit, answer me spirit, come spirit, here and now’. We say it together three times. Remember that spells are just a way of focusing and directing your consciousness and to help get you into the right mindset. The exact words and pronunciation don’t matter as much as your intent and what the words mean to you. Do you understand?”

Audi Divus, Exaudi Divus, Veni Divus, Depraesentiarum. Got it,” Lottie nodded.

“All right. On three then,” I said. “One. Two. Three.”

Audi Divus, Exaudi Divus, Veni Divus, Depraesentiarum.

Audi Divus, Exaudi Divus, Veni Divus, Depraesentiarum.

Audi Divus, Exaudi Divus, Veni Divus, Depraesentiarum!”

As soon as we finished, the candles were all snuffed out at once, the LED lantern died, and, as we would later discover, our phone batteries were all completely drained. The only light came from the glow of the salt, and I was now certain that that was purely astral in nature. The extinction of light was not meant to scare us, but rather to draw our focus to our clairvoyance. Lottie didn't seem to understand that, as she was unable to suppress a whimper. To her credit, though, she didn't break the circle.

After several seconds of darkness, the spirit began to manifest within the inner circle. It took the form of a robed humanoid with no discernible legs to speak of. The substance of its body flowed about like an oddly viscous fluid that was unaffected by the Earth’s gravity. It was the same midnight blue as the Chthonic Salt, and the entirety of its form was covered in a chaotic tiling of human faces. Their gaping mouths, skeletal nostrils, and cavernous eye sockets held nothing by a Stygian blue light, a shade which can only be perceived by mundane vision under specific circumstances.

It towered over us, higher than the limited space within the Barrow should have allowed for. It had a long neck and a disproportionately large head with three mouths, three noses, and three eyes. Each eye was set halfway in between a nose and a mouth to give the impression of three complete, jack-o-lantern-like faces. Above each eye stood a tall, wavering spike, so that the spirit looked like it was wearing a lofty crown. Its fingers were too long and too many, and they writhed about bonelessly in a way better suited to tentacles than manual digits.

Each face on its head was pointed towards one of us, and the one that was looking down at me broke out into a wide, menacing smile.

“Well, this is a surprise,” it said, all of its myriad of faces speaking in unison, each in their own echoey voice. “It’s been centuries since a woman summoned me here. I take it the line of Artaxerxes Crow is no more then? Serves him right.”

“It is. The last of that line, Elam Crow, has bound himself to me as a spirit familiar and bequeathed to me what material possessions he had left, including the key to this Barrow,” I informed it. “I am the rightful owner of this Barrow now, and I and my coven summoned you here. Tell us your name, spirit.”

"I was first summoned to this place by the Witch King, and she named me the Witch-King," it replied. "She found the wordplay amusing, though her fellow Witches despised the title. Not more than they despised me, but still.”

“Morgana King first summoned you here? What for?” I asked it.

“For knowledge, at first. She didn’t dare to unleash me unincumbered upon your plane. She was too afraid of what I might do,” it replied. “But then, she was enraged to the point that no longer mattered, and she set me free to do her bidding. She offered me the entire settlement of Sombermorey as a sacrifice, and I accepted readily. The Ophion Occult Order put a stop to that before I was able to finish my task, but I was able to add many new faces to my collection thanks to Morgana.”

All of its countless faces grinned in unison then, and at once the three of us realized that they were not mere decoration.

“All of your faces used to belong to people? People you killed, who were sacrificed to you? People whose souls you absorbed into yourself?" I asked, horrified by the prospect of such a torturous afterlife. The thing just nodded, all of its mouths still grinning widely.

“Melted together in a sort of hive mind, so that I have the full psychic potential of dozens of souls at my command,” it explained as it slowly reached out its hand and swept it over us. It was trying to scare us into breaking the circle, but none of us budged. “Tell me, does that interest you? In exchange for a sacrifice, there is much that I could do in return.”

“No. We don’t sacrifice people, or make bargains with malevolent spirits,” I said resolutely, only for it to shrug in indifference.

“Morgana said much the same, at first,” it claimed. I winced slightly at the implication that this spirit regarded me as being no better than Morgana King, but I pressed on.

“Do you… know what became of Morgana?” I asked curiously.

“I do,” it answered eagerly, eyes and smiles growing wider and glowing just a little bit brighter. “She and her brother were the first sacrifices that Artaxerxes ever made to me. He thought it was a fitting punishment for their attempt to destroy the town they had founded.”

“She’s… inside you? Somewhere?”

“She is, and she did not like having to do the bidding of Crow and his friends one bit. But she made my bindings too secure, so there wasn’t anything she could do about it,” it replied. “I won’t lie; almost every part of me that isn’t her or her brother is glad to see her trapped by her own spellwork. I may still be a prisoner, but at least I now have some semblance of justice.”

“You said that after Morgana, you served Artaxerxes Crow and later his descendants. Did you help him cheat Persephone?" I asked. The Witch-King looked somewhat taken aback by my question.

“What do you mean?” it asked cautiously.

“I mean that Artaxerxes agreed to sacrifice himself to Persephone by his 70th Halloween, but he tricked her into accepting someone else and kept his soul anchored to his own immaculate corpse that he hid in the very cemetery he had hallowed in Persephone’s name,” I said matter-of-factly. “What do you know of how he did that?”

It focused its gaze intently on me, trying to read my mind for how I had known that. Seeing no reason to deny it that knowledge, I let it have it freely.

“You?” it asked in disbelief.

"Me. I'm the Hedge Witch of Harrowick Cemetery now, and I traded Xerxes over to Persephone in exchange for her releasing my friend and all of Xerxes' other descendants," I assured it. "I ask you again; did you aid him in cheating Persephone?”

Its countenance grew considerably more subdued, and it remained silent as it contemplated what to say next.

“It’s obvious the answer is yes. Persephone doesn’t like being made a fool of. If she knew that you helped Xerxes in tricking her, she’d tear you apart soul by soul,” I grinned. “If that’s a fate you’d like to avoid, then you will do as I command you, sacrifice or no.”

Every one of its mouths howled in rage as a ring of spectral blue fire ignited over the Chthonic Salt.

“You dare threaten me, you miserable wretch!” it wailed, its interior light now burning with a murderous ferocity. “I should bring this entire tomb down upon your head right now for your insolence!”

A deep yet inaudible vibration began to radiate out from the creature. I could feel it in my stomach and in my bones, and hear it as the two sarcophagi beside us began to rattle. The walls around us began to quake, dust and dirt shaking loose and raining down on us, and the structure’s collapse seemed imminent.

Lottie wanted to run, I could tell, even though the flames would have rendered any attempt at escape futile. I squeezed her hand, and Genevieve did the same, and in the end, her trust in us won out over her fear.

I stoically stood my ground as the Witch-King lividly glowered down at me, trying to see if it could bully its new summoner into submission.

“If you could have destroyed this place by brute force, you would have done so a long time ago,” I said simply. The King scowled as it blasted me with its screeching assault for a few seconds more, before finally admitting defeat. The room fell silent, the spectral flames were snuffed out, and the King slumped down in concession.

“What would you have me do?” it asked miserably.

“Nothing yet, but know that at a time of my own choosing I may return, and if you refuse me then I will surrender you to the Queen of the Underworld for your crimes against her,” I replied. “If you understand, then you are dismissed.”

“I understand, Witch. But as you are no doubt aware, coercing a spirit can be very dangerous,” it warned me with a multitude of sinister smiles. “You’d best be sure that whatever task you have for me is worth the risk of incurring my wrath, should your threat ever lose its teeth, or if my bindings here ever fail. There's a lot of mischief I could get up to before the Order bound me again, I'm certain. Against you, and your little –"

“Begone!” I ordered. And with that command, it was banished back to the Astral Plane, and everything in the Barrow returned to normal.

Charlotte fainted immediately, and after futilely fumbling with our dead phones for a few seconds I relit one of the candles and we were able to get her out into the fresh air. She was pretty shaken when she first woke up, but otherwise, she was fine. It wasn’t the first spirit she had encountered, but it was still a pretty nasty one, and I feel a little guilty about exposing her to it just to satisfy my curiosity. We couldn’t have done it without her though, and it was definitely worth it to learn what was inside the Barrow, and that it’s under control for now.

I’m thinking I might upgrade the security a bit, though. If another trio of occultists, especially one less scrupulous than ourselves, were to find their way inside, then the Witch-King of Avalon could prove to be a very serious problem.

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