[Happy Halloween! I expect this to run another 4-5 days
so keep checking back through the start of November!
Please read the instruction post before commenting]
This was a memory, Augustus reminded himself. It was amazing how hard it was to keep that in mind through all this, like dreaming and forcing yourself to be aware that you were in a dream. He wasn’t actively putting something into a real bowl that would actually affect the ritual itself. That was in the past, and he couldn’t change it.
But he could try to figure it out. To understand it better. Whatever he gave then might have been the cause of the laceration of his mind, or of the ritual going wrong. Perhaps not, given that Soren was in a similar situation, but perhaps so.
What could it have been? It was possible that he’d doubled up on purpose, blended his spend with Soren’s … as some sort of challenge? For enjoying the sort of filth that came with certain types of offerings? He’d certainly had his moments of that! He didn’t think of the Beast Beyond as something sexual, though, and his converations so far hadn’t pointed to the younger him having done so either. Vii was offering up his soul or his heart through his blood, and while Augustus thought it might be romantic to mingle their blood, he knew that he too had clearly found his soul expendable, since he’d later sold it to Enmity. But he’d still had it until then. He’d given his heart to Enmity too.
No, it wasn’t likely that he’d matched them. The very fact that it had occurred to him that it might be best not to double up probably indicated that he’d thought the same thing back then.
He’d given up access to his thoughts, perhaps, treating it as if this were an eldritch creature, one of the uncanny spirits. What he remembered of the Beast Beyond was uncanny, certainly, even if it was not from the terrible planar space that the horrors came from. He could have written down memories, thoughts, words, and put them in the bowl, given an offering of his own mind. That seemed potentially likely, given the total gap in this time period he had compared to Soren’s madness and later snatches of memory.
There was no way to be sure what he’d done, he finally decided, unless Soren or he were to later remember it. He couldn’t remember that time, and given how badly the ritual went, it was possible that it didn’t matter, that all the offerings ended up being rejected except for Vii himself.
No, it was better to figure out if there was something he could offer now. Not to the Beast—since that was the past—but in order to inspire the divination to reveal information, allow him to return more. Tears seemed like a good idea, given that goal. He kept being moved to a grief he could barely feel or identify. Perhaps it was time to have the memory help him identify it.
The problem was that he didn’t know how to cry. The last time it had happened was due to the memory of this very moment going wrong, and when he prodded the spot of grief inside himself it mostly turned over in a hot, annoyed pain.
Augustus’s eyes stung and for a moment he thought he was victorious—and then he realized that the wind had shifted and was blowing the smoke of the fire into his face. But that would do, he thought. He could stick his face in there, and he’d cry as a physiological reaction regardless of what his emotions were doing.
Still. That might move the memory along, and he had other things he had to do first, quickly.
He walked a circuit of the setup, the magic circles drawn all over the cave, and bit the inside of his cheek in frustration. He didn’t recognize any of this, not as a whole, and only barely in parts. The lines were solid, at least, and the sigils he did recognize seemed correctly formed. But their combination, and the reasons for their inclusion, were another language to him, one that he’d forgotten how to speak. He’d need memories he didn’t have of his research and his studies to know more.
There were parts he could understand, he soothed himself. There, drawn on the wall, was a door, a clunky sort of summoning inclusion that wasn’t as refined as other summoning methods but tended to guarantee more certain results. The center should be marked with the symbols identifying the planar space that was being opened, but in its place was a slashed, jagged line, marked for no line at all.
It was dangerous, from his adult perspective. A door onto nothing, capable of inviting in anything. And there were very few wards that could act against something completely unknown, since wards also acted by definition; you determined what could be let across a line, and what must be kept out. They’d clearly done their best, or Soren had—it must have been Soren who had set all this up—but the rough generic warding could easily be overpowered by anything with any strength at all, given a few moments’ efforts. Foolish that they were doing this.
Yet he could see why it would have excited him.
He pulled away. “Soren, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure,” Soren said. “Vii, keep an eye out.”
“Eye-eye,” Vii said lightly, joking around.
Augustus took Soren’s sleeve, and dragged him a bit deeper into the cave, just around the bend. “Is this you?” he asked without preamble. If this was a memory version of Soren, and not the diviner Soren, he’d just get confusion.
“It’s me,” Soren said instead, urgently. He took Augustus’s hands and squeezed them. “I’ve largely been letting this body do what it wanted to so I could get some idea of what had been happening, but I’ve done a little investigation on my own.”
Soren’s eyes shifted away from Augustus’s—a guilty conscience, or just checking the cave entrance to watch Vii? Or maybe just someone who didn’t like eye contact, of course; Augustus usually preferred not to himself. “I explored my dorm room and all my belongings. We seem to have been a close-knit group of friends. We obviously had some emotional issues but in a normal sort of way, and we were otherwise fine. I didn’t find anything to indicate that this was deliberately going to go wrong, nothing that jumped out at me as a red flag.”
Augustus wondered if he believed it. “And any other things? Personal stuff?”
“Sure, but it’s personal.”
“I found a confession letter from you to Vii,” he found himself saying. For a moment, he wasn’t sure if it was the memory taking over or his own inherent and contrary desire to stir the pot.
Soren grimaced. “I had a lot of feelings for my friends, okay. But I didn’t… I found nothing to indicate this was an act of jealousy, Augustus. No sign this was a setup. There would be easier ways to do something like that, anyway!”
That was true enough. “… Did you actually jerk off to provide ritual materials with your current self piloting this body?”
“What were you thinking about?”
“Augustus!” Soren was scowling at him fiercely, which was a real shame. Augustus’s heart warmed a little, for just a moment.
“Auggie! Soren!” That was Vii, calling them urgently. “Something’s happening?”
Augustus tightened his hand on Soren’s sleeve. “Grab on to me if I try to run. I don’t know if we can stop it, since last time it was the memory taking over, but try. If it looks like you’re losing yourself to memory I’ll say, uh—” He tried to think of a safeword, failed, and blurted out, “Enmity. I’ll say Enmity. If you hear it, focus up. Remember you’re a grown-ass man with a job, not a kid breaking the laws of known reality.”
“Enmity?” Soren asked. Augustus felt something skitter along the back of his neck, and was relieved.
They ran back, and sure enough, something was happening. Moonlight had fallen over the sigils, and they were glittering and gleaming. Reality felt infected, bulging, like pus under the skin, like botflies. Augustus realized that he hadn’t put anything in the bowl.
Should he let it be? Do it? It was a memory, he reminded himself forcefully again, it didn’t matter—in reality, maybe he’d failed to do it in time. Maybe he’d done it long ago. But no, he’d already decided, he’d use his grief that he barely knew to inspire truth from this divination, and he was running out of time to do that.
Augustus lunged forward, sticking his face into the smoke of the fire, opening his eyes wide. Impossible not to tear up, stinging and miserable; he fell to his knees, bent over the bowl, let his tears fall into it as reality twisted.
His chest ached and abruptly he realized he was crying for real. He was in love, he was in love, he loved Vii and Vii loved him but Vii also loved Soren but Vii didn’t want Soren because Soren was in love with Augustus even if Soren also wanted Vii, and none of them knew how to navigate this emotional mess and they were all so lonely and so broken, they were all so hungry and so sad, and Augustus was sobbing and sobbing, feeling like his heart had broken. Reality tore and split and it began to come through and it was—
—it was so familiar. Snuffling and growling, sounds he heard with a sudden terror, a sudden recognition. He didn’t expect it to be so familiar, he didn’t expect to lose control like this at this sound from his nightmare, the sound that stole his grief from him, the sound that stole any resemblance of a normal life from him, your fault, your fault. He couldn’t keep himself from fleeing, he broke when he saw it, and knew that it was back then that he’d broken. So he ran. He couldn’t control his movement, not even though he remembered again that fuck, no, this was a memory. It was too visceral a memory, and he was living it all over again. So he ran, and he saw his shoe scuff a line on their already-pathetic warding as he scrambled away.
Soren reached for Augustus, but Augustus wasn’t able to control the body enough to reach back. He could scream, though, so he did, he met Soren’s eyes and yelled his safeword, his trigger word, his lover’s name. Soren reached again.
But Augustus couldn’t see something he hadn’t been there for, even in his memory. He ran because he hadn’t been there, because he’d ran at the time.
Hopefully saying the word was enough, hopefully the reminder could keep Soren focusing, hopefully Soren could see what happened back then and have enough of himself around to remember it. If he could process it, he could let Enmity see it too.
Augustus knew how this went; he remembered it from the last divination. He ran wildly until he hit the cave pool, and the cold water brought him to his senses. In the only brave act of his life, he turned and ran back. He found them, but it was too late to save Vii. He let himself be a passenger for this, too emotionally exhausted to try to interact.
Soren must have seen the things he missed. They could talk about it after. He was too far gone to think about that more than distantly. His mind was shattering all over again. It was worse this time. This time, he made eye contact with Vii’s beastly face on the Beast Beyond as he was dragged back through, and saw Vii mouth his name. Augustus. Augustus.
Augustus screamed. He was screaming and couldn’t stop. Vii looked afraid of what was happening to him and where he was going. Augustus’s screaming felt like it went on forever.
And then, suddenly, Augustus was gasping awake, still shuddering, with tears on his face. He was drenched in sweat. He smelled smoke and deliriously wondered if he was back by the fire, but no, there was Emmet in the chair next to the bed, smoking a cigarette and looking—annoyed.
No, not annoyed. Stressed. Maybe worried. Very unfamiliar expressions on a demon prince, even when wearing a human face.
“What’s wrong?” Augustus asked, and heard it come out in a croak. His mouth had never been so dry. Beside him, Soren was also stirring, groaning.
“You’re finally awake,” Emmet said, tersely. “You were asleep a whole day.”
“What?!” Oh that hurt his throat. Yes, he must have been asleep a long time. His entire body was aching. He had to piss like a motherfucker. “How?”
“Your minds were—it was worse this time. Your connection together, maybe. We shouldn’t do it again,” Emmet said. He took a long draw on his cigarette. “Your ward is here.”
“Ward? We had no wards,” Augustus said, not understanding.
“Your—assistant. Yujin. They’re here,” Emmet said, with more emphasis. “You slept a whole day. They did the shit you asked for and then came here to report in. I was kind of busy trying to keep your minds where they belonged, so I was only able to hold them off from coming in here by promising you’d tell them everything when you were awake. So you’d better make up a compelling lie fast.”
[What should Augustus do?
Comment with details.]