Rune hoped the demon chose his body to navigate the earth. Perhaps the young man wouldn’t be able to see what would come after this, but at least, with a strong vessel, Rakmser would have another reason to be grateful for his sacrifice.

As the chanting around him grew in volume, the flutter of his heart intensified, but not in the way Rune expected. Darkness slithered through his being, but urgency cut through the anticipation. A warning.

“Something’s wrong,” he told the priestess to his left, but the chanting was too loud. With a shake of his head, Rune took a deep breath. He wasn’t getting cold feet. Maybe Rakmser was the nervous one, it not having been awakened for several centuries. Rune would pay for his ignorance if that wasn’t the case; Rakmser wasn’t to be insulted, or it’d make your every breath torture.

Then there was the scream. It wasn’t frightful, or angry, or pained. Another warning.

Rune thought it was in his head, but the chanting stopped. The priestesses looked at each other, then at Rune, as though he’d been the cause of it.

He shook his head and repeated, “I think something’s wrong.”

The conclave murmured amongst themselves as they felt the demon’s essence dwindle to nothing, leaving behind a hollow feeling in their being. The priestesses tried to settle everyone down with a whistle and waving their arms, but it didn’t do any good.

A loud boom made the large stone doors tremble. Several people screamed and scattered from the entrance of the underground temple.

Rune shook his head, his heart picking up speed. There was only one way out of this crypt, and it was through whoever was breaking in.

The younger priestess seemed to realize this too because she grabbed her sister and, as though communicating with a glance, they simultaneously turned to the doors and began chanting again, a different verse this time.

The doors glowed crimson as their spell worked overtime to keep it shut, but something white-blue sliced through the middle, tearing the veil of magic and prying the doors open inch by inch.

Rune tried to join in the chanting, encouraged by Rakmser’s new manic rage flowing through him as natural as magic. He hadn’t completely abandoned him after all.

As though aware of his role in the interrupted ritual, the white-blue light whipped across the room directly at him, swiping at his stomach. Breath knocked out of him, he flew several feet backward and crashed against the wall before he crumbled to the ground.

The room was full of screams and people running over each other, some grabbing their partners and trying to escape in one piece.

Everyone was running away from the exit, and Rune wanted to scream at them all to stop and fight.

Before he could draw in enough breath, silver canisters clattered into the room. Steam rose up from small openings on their metallic surfaces, and people stared in  puzzlement. Strangers uniformed in black, gray, and blue filtered in, chanting in a language most of them hadn’t heard before. The mist began to glow, brightening into a blinding glare.

The priestess sisters backed away from the bright lights and turned to find Rune still huddled behind the altar. They ran to him and each grabbed an arm, dragged him across the floor, and shoved him under the altar. A throbbing on his side told him he’d either bruised or cracked a rib or two, and he clinged to adrenaline to keep him on his one-track mind.

“You should be safe here,” one of them said.

“Don’t move,” said the other.

Rune nodded. 

The priestesses let the red mantle drop. It glowed, but weakly, and he whispered under his breath in a prayer. The glow strengthened.

“If you will not come quietly, we’ll have to use force,” a strong voice commanded, amplified by the megaphone in the man’s hand. One of the priestesses let out a battle cry and ran towards the leader. A sharp horrendous noise tore through the temple, deafening in the enclosed space. The priestess dropped before anyone saw the hand cannon emerge from the man’s holster. The spell around the table wavered again and faded to nothing.

“I hope you know I truly am sorry for what’s about to happen,” the man said as he lowered the smoking firearm in his right hand, “but we cannot allow any more demons to walk this earth. It is our duty to stop it.”

“You can shove that right back up your ass, then!” the other priestess cried out. Another thunderclap shook the temple, and another body hit the dusty stone floor.

Rune shut his eyes. Magic, no matter how dark or light, couldn’t protect against most weapons . . . But it could mimic them.

The young man reached for something on the table. Having memorized the placing of each item, it only took a moment of stretching, straining and grunting, to wrap his fingertips around the familiar rough handle of the knife.

Chanting under his breath the verse the priestesses and the others had forgotten, he began carving on his skin. Not deep enough to kill him, just deep enough to draw the blood needed. The symbols were a little crooked, but he retraced them as he went over the verses for each line.

The new wounds glowed and he felt Rakmser return all at once, the demon’s reluctance wavering little by little. But he needed to be on the altar to complete the ritual.

“This is not the death I signed up for,” Rune said with a sharp sigh. “But it’ll have to do.”

He crawled out from under the table and climbed onto it. Shouting at the top of his lungs, he conjured up another spell and waved his uninjured arm over the army of light.

The soldier-like men and women groaned as their skin reddened and bubbled up. Most dropped their guns as their skins burst into flames, but a few held fast and repositioned their aim in the direction of the maimed sacrifice. Without waiting for a command or objection, they fired at Rune.

The bullets barely hurt as they punctured his flesh. He chuckled as he fell to his knees, his clothes saturated with blood. Rune continued his chant and the pool of blood slithered away from his feet to form a circle around him.

“Stop, STOP! What are you—That’s the sacrifice, you idiots!”

The gunshots stopped, but too late.

“. . . I become . . .”

The words halted there, Rune’s mouth not able to move anymore. His arm pulsated, but nothing happened. No door opened. No new power resonated through him.

No! he wanted to shout. He needed to say the last word—his name, Rakmser—to finish the spell, but the life quickly drained out of him, and the magic in his arm dissipated to nothing.

Another failure, Rakmser whispered in his mind. Its disappointment broke the sacrifice’s soul as the demon retreated from the gates of the netherworld. Rune’s heart stopped, and the room around him faded to nothing.