University First Assignment

The Curious Case of the Scandinavian Ballet Dancer

Mr Declan Robinson listened carefully as his companions spoke in awe, yet also fear, of the situation that it fell upon them to resolve. These were dire times and his learned fellows pondered late into the evening, poring over dusty old tomes, seeking a reasonable solution to prevent calamity.

He was the most recent gentleman to join the ‘Council’ having been selected by an anonymous letter, which curiously arrived on his desk one morning, hand written with a wax seal, a fleur-de-lis within a pentagram, which he chose to research before opening…

A naturally curious gentleman, Mr Robinson was a young American scholar who travelled with his mother to England at an early age and was educated at Oxford. His accent was all but lost with the proud Queens English he developed during his years at University. He chose to remain at the University’s Library following his graduation, where he researched ancient languages, signs, symbols, arcane alphabets and esoteric history, which fascinated this young man.

Therefore when this letter arrived, the seal turning out to be a regal crest from a French Nobel Household ‘Rutan’ which was reported to have been wiped out in the French revolution, Declan’s curiosity was instantly ignited. The letter itself consisted of a series of instructions, leading to a secluded location in London.

That was three months ago and those directions resulted in the discovery of a room, the tall ceiling was elegantly fashioned with alabaster reliefs, pillars circled the walls, high columns which held bookcases of solid old English oak between them. Heavy books adorned the shelves from various authors, upon many subjects. This was the library of ‘Et Consilium eiusdem duodecim’ and the room where he was now seated, nursing a brandy and listening to his companions.

Within those three months he was hired as a translator and as such was granted access to many an ancient document. Though only segments, at first, another man, Doctor Vincent Croft, grey and bearded, confined to a wicker wheel chair, took every other page and watched over the younger man’s progress, looking down his beak like nose.  He was not in attendance that night and there was no indication regarding the cause of his absence.

Mr Robinson may have been the most recent to join the ‘Council’ yet he was not the youngest. His eyes flickered over to the silent Gypsy looking girl, whose green eyes instantly flashed up to meet his gaze. A fierce stare he felt could bore into his very soul if he kept eye contact too long.

Declan once pondered upon the notion that this collection of mature, well-educated gentlemen were Freemasons, though the inclusion of this young woman, simply known as Julieta, had ruined that notion and Declan was still mystified by the ‘Et Consilium eiusdem duodecim’.

Julieta tilted her head slightly to one side, yet her expression remained cold, the movement made him realise that he had been staring at her and he swiftly glanced away, blinking rapidly a little flustered by his own discourtesy.

Apart from the immaculately uniformed maid who was always fluttering through the library like a hummingbird, gathering glasses and replenishing beverages, Julieta was the only woman he had observed at the estate, she hardly ever spoke and always seated herself in the window chair, away from the main bustle of conversations, always watching with those incredible green eyes.

Declan was gazing once again. He recalled stumbling across Doctor Croft and Julieta engaged in a vicious yet low toned argument, she ranted in Spanish, so swiftly, her words rolling off her tongue as she argued with passion against the old man, who just as rapidly responded in a firm tone.

They both fell silent when they had noticed Mr Robinson cross the hallway, Spanish was not one of Declan’s strong languages and the theme of the conflict escaped him.

At that point he was posed a question and was drawn back into the conversation and away from his silent pondering.

***

Petra Rutan dances the lead role in the ballet ‘Giselle’ at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Originally from Scandinavia, it is said that she left her home country at an early age, following a family tragedy, moving to France where she took up the art of ballet and changed her name to Perette, or Petra for stage.

Her performance is immaculately exquisite and she receives a standing ovation from the audience and several generous bouquets. Exhausted yet exhilarated Petra carefully arranges the flowers within her dressing room once she has changed from her costume, when a card tumbles free from a collection of perfect blood red roses onto her lap.

A smile graced her fine features as she recognized the handwriting of a persistent admirer, one Professor Demetris Tagtgren. A mature gentleman, greying, who walks with a cane, yet charming and sophisticated perhaps too aged to be a suitor, though that would not cease his relentless adoration. The card was an invite to dine at the London Strand, that very evening, a table had been booked and the invitation indicated that he would remain waiting for her. Petra shook her head and smiled at her own reflection, applying a pale blush, slipping into heels too uncomfortable but fashionable, she wrapped a mink stole around her shoulders and left for a short stroll to The Strand and her waiting loyal Professor.

As Professor of Antiquities at the London Natural History Museum, Demetris Tagtgren spared no expense on their lavish late supper; they exchanged polite conversation over the fine meal, with a hint of flirting. Only at the end of the evening as Petra stood to leave did the Professor startle his beloved dancer with a gift.

Petra took her seat once more, startled and curious as she opened the carefully wrapped package to behold a delicate tiara, so finely crafted from an unusual black metal, adorned with semi-precious stones and ancient coral, carved and set into a unique alien design.  Astounded and in total admiration, Petra rewarded her besotted Professor with a feather like kiss upon his grizzled features, promising to wear the treasure at her next performance.

***

It was late, after the meal the Professor walked Petra to The Savoy Hotel and bid her goodnight, however, instead of heading home the Professor went to his study at the museum. With a heavy heart he seated himself at the solid old desk and poured himself a large brandy from a hip flask he kept in the top drawer, he downed the strong spirit in a single gulp and slumped, his head in his hands his mind poring over with guilt and consequences to his actions…

“Is it done?” A voice cut through his racing thoughts, the professor turned, but saw only the glimpse of a shadow in the darkness. Reluctantly he nodded.

“Good…” it hissed or laughed, he could not tell which it was to be sure, only that the sound sent a chill through his very soul, there was no turning back now.

Silently the Professor cursed the day he had set that one free from its Arabic tomb, yet they were bound together now, their fates intertwined. It watched, he knew, as he poured another brandy and opened a file. He turned up the flame on the gas lamp and started with the translation, the silent shadow watching over his shoulder in eager anticipation, its acrid breath fouling the air in the study.

***

The Professor was not the only one who suffered from mental turmoil and lack of sleep that night, Declan had finished the translation from the latest document he was researching and the facts it revealed had shook him to his very core.

First thing the following morning he gathered up all his papers and headed directly to the estate, insisting upon an audience with Doctor Croft. The Doctor looked up at the unkempt image of his young companion, his hair dishevelled and unshaven, evidence of little sleep and urgency.

“What is it my good man?” The Doctor asked, guiding Declan to a chair and ordering a strong coffee from the maid.

“The translation…” Declan stuttered, unable to verbalise his disturbing findings.

Slowly The Doctor nodded “It is true.” He spoke softly, yet the ease of his tone did little to soothe Declan’s rattled nerves.

“How can this be?” He asked.

“My good man, did you not stop to consider the fables in which you have spent so many long hours researching were more than humble Folklore? That our ancestors lived alongside supernatural beings, creatures of nightmares that in this day and age are dismissed fairy tales?”

Declan blinked as he mused over the Doctors question, he took the coffee from the maid in trembling hands. “But I assumed…”

“Never assume anything in this profession Mr Robinson.” Doctor Croft smiled warmly. “I understand this was discussed in my absence yesterday?”

“Yes Sir, though I was under the impression that was a theological debate?” Declan frowned, recalling the stern mannerisms in which the topic was discussed. This was no hypothetical deliberation, their plan was an actual solution of this otherworldly event occurring. He sipped at the coffee, pleasantly surprised to find it had been laced with brandy to ease his nerves, looking up to thank the thoughtful maid, she had gone again, fluttering along the corridor humming a little tune to herself.

“What form of twisted mind would seek to unleash such horror?” Declan finally asked, the reality of the situation and their responsibility slowly sunk in.

“We have a few suspects, the Germans have been meddling with occult curiosities for some time, mark my words, we shall have to keep an eye on that Nation over the next few years, there are some troubling stirrings. However I think in this case our main antagonist is closer to home and I suspect he is little more than a puppet himself, manipulated by higher powers.”

“Higher powers?”

“Demons my good man, Demons.”

***

The following day Petra is bubbling with glee and displaying her treasure to her fellow dancers.

However it is only when she is in the privacy of her own dressing room does she adorn the tiara in her rich dark curls. An instant change befalls the talented dancer, a dizzy sensation disturbs her vision and she reluctantly removes her gift. Forced to lie down to recover, her companions will notice her absence at the rehearsal. Petra herself is plagued with vivid dreams during her unnatural induced slumber.

Shadow holding shadow

Creeping tongues and stares of horror

Words never spoken

Secrets sealed in fear

Pointed towers

Crowned with signs of death

A night wraps the altar

Spectators made of stone

“Thirty minutes Miss Rutan!” The call to performance startled her from the bizarre visions, disorientated by the missing time and haunting images Petra splashed cool water upon her face refresh herself before changing into her costume.

***

The young woman uncurled, like some soft Siamese cat and silently set up a small round table.  Declan was sceptical about the decision of the ‘Council’ to hold a Séance that evening to seek answers, all ten members were present that evening for the sitting. Naturally he had read about such events, yet never witnessed one first hand; he was even more startled when Julieta selected him to be one of the sitters with her. She chose three of the men to join her, Declan, Doctor Vincent Croft and the young cockney Daniel Randall who appeared just as astounded as Declan; they stepped forwards and took their place with Julieta.

As the rest of the distinguished gentleman from the ‘Council’ took seats around the room at a respectful distance the gas lamps were lowered and the curtains drawn. A still silence fell over the room as Julieta instructed the three companions seated with her to place their hands flat on the table, finger tips lightly touching.

After a very long twenty minutes absolutely nothing had happened! Her companions surrounding the table were starting to get restless.

“I do not understand?” She spoke out loud, yet her words were not directed to any one in particular. Never before had her guide failed her so.

“Something is ‘blocking’ him, I can feel it. It’s like a brick wall and I can hear him calling to me, but he cannot get through…” Sweat beaded on her worried brow, her concern creeping into her tone of voice.

“This is poppy-cock!” Daniel huffed, his patience wearing through finally he removed his hands away from the circle on the table…

…it was then that ‘it’ broke through… A sudden chilling wind shot through the room, tossing Julieta’s raven hair wildly about her face.

The words that flew from her mouth were totally alien to their ears, sounds and pitch more than any familiar language. Julieta rose slightly from her chair as though swept up by the wind and noise.

“For heaven’s sake man!” Vincent shouted at the stunned Daniel. “Put your hands back into place!” Daniel hesitated… But finally obeyed.

There was a moment of almost unbearable noise that screeched and echoed around the room, before almost silence abruptly returned to the room.  Each of the four stared at each other in disbelief and not a little panic at what had just occurred.

Then Julieta spoke, her voice distorted by the spirit guide which communicated through her:

When the Mirror Shatters

Then all Hope is Lost

A Fallen God – A Mortals Fight

A Lover’s Loss – A Demons Flight

All Fates are Intertwined

Old Enemies – New Friends

Will Fight Again – To What End

Life from Death

The Sacrifice to a Lost Cause

Snare the Dancing Temptress

The missing Piece of the Puzzle

Holds the Key

To an Uncertain Future

Beware Ignorant People

Beware Demons take Flight

Darkness will Fall upon Thee

When the Mirror Shatters

Leaving Eternal Plight

Declan was pale, visibly shaken following the séance. “How can this be? His question pierced the silence, drawing the attention of his companions, who eagerly awaited an explanation.

***

With no time to ponder over the peculiar visualization, Petra prepared herself for the show; swiftly the images left her mind as she focused on her footwork, pouring her heart and soul into the role of ‘Giselle’ a cruelly betrayed peasant girl, who returns from the grave. The Professor watched from his box in total adoration, yet he was not the only one who observed this performance with intense expectation.

The dark host awaited in the wings.  The unique tiara complimented her delicate costume and caught the limelight glistening with an innate shimmer, however it became tighter as she danced increasing pressure on her brow, Petra became dizzy and disorientated she swooned and collapsed onto the boards.

An audible gasp issued forth from the audience as the performance was halted; a stage hand called for a doctor and a very pale frail Petra was carried from the stage.  Professor Demetris Tagtgren stood yet found himself frozen to the spot, by his own fear or supernatural forces he could not tell, only that he watched helpless as his delicate dancer was removed from sight.

“What have I done?!”

Eventually he fought back his fear and found the courage to move, he lied his way back stage on the pretence of being a medical doctor to get to his precious Petra. Frantically arguing with staff, though his mind was plagued by the dreadful scene he witnessed, his beloved stumbling and collapsing mid-performance, that wretched tiara shimmering like a morbid token of his betrayal.

Finally he persuaded staff to allow him to the stricken woman, however, as the dressing room door swung open unaided, a cold spear of reality struck him hard – the dressing room was empty – Petra was gone and this was entirely his fault.

***

Declan fumbled with his briefcase pulling papers free from their neat order.

“The Poem! That rhyme!” He exclaimed as he detangled his journal from the ‘Evening Standard’ discarding the newspaper to one side as he searched through this notes – Finally finding the translation he had been working on – an exact replica to the words issued forth from the spirit world.

“My dear boy!” Doctor Croft read through Declan’s detailed notes, there was no discrepancies, the translation and the psychic message were perfectly identical and furthermore, there was no way for Julieta to have read his journal, his briefcase had been within his sight all day.

“The passage is taken from the Arabic scrolls I had been working on last night.” Declan explained, referring to the documents which had caused him to call upon Doctor Croft that very morning in such a state of distress.

Daniel casually picked up the newspaper as they spoke, the conversation causing ripples of speculation amongst the gentlemen who huddled in to bear witness to any more revelations. Julieta sat back sipping her water, exhausted yet intrigued by the turn of events.

“There is more!” Declan continued, pausing to nod briefly to thank the maid, who had presented him with a welcome brandy. “A banishment!”

The ‘Council’ erupted into a mass debate…

“Could it be free?”

“How? It would need aid, it cannot just break forth.”

“We need to find it.”

“And do what?”

“The banishment.”

“The banishment needs to be performed by a medium.”

“Poppycock that is just heresy.”

“Where would we find it?”

“This is no evidence.”

“We need to find it before it can complete the ritual!”

The deliberation continued amongst the men, raised voices and speculation.

Julieta regarded Daniel who appeared absorbed in the newspaper.

“You have nothing to input? That is unlike you.” She smiled against the rim of her glass.

“Just puzzled over a name I reckon I ought to know.”

She listened to him, even as the rest continued their urgent discussion.

Daniel handed her the paper to display an advertisement for the ballet Giselle at The Royal Opera House.

“Petra Rutan.” He indicated to the illustration of the French dancer, “Where have I heard the name ‘Rutan before?” Daniel mused; Julieta shook her head, unfamiliar with the name.

“Rutan?” Declan turned his attention to Daniel, who nodded in affirmation.

“What a coincidence.” Declan chuckled “Rutan, why that is the very same name which was on my invitation to join the ‘Council’.”

His companions fell silent, each looking from one to the other with total confusion.

Finally Doctor Croft placed a firm hand upon Declan’s shoulder.

“My dear Mr Robinson, we sent you no invitation.”

***

The Professor knew exactly where to go, for he had foolishly shown the access way through to a closed wing of the museum, where the former tomb of the dark entity was stored in an unfinished Arabic display. He was trembling with anxiety so badly that he could barely get his keys from his pocket – though it was a redundant act – the lock savagely broken and the door swung slowly open upon its own accord.

A resounding hissing laughter filled him with dread, yet somehow he forced himself to move forth towards the unfinished display area and the awaiting fiend.

“Where is she?” He demanded, with as much gusto as he could summon.

“You’re too late Professor!” It slithered towards him – stealing the light – forever encased in shadows. Demetris looked around the display frantically seeking any sign of the demure Petra, spying nought but a torn strip from her costume, the professor lunged forwards towards the entity – anger replacing his fear – yet he was forced to his knees by the overwhelming evil emanating from the otherworldly creature.

“Soon Professor, your failure will be absolute!” It hissed, venom dripping with every word.

It tore away a soiled dust sheet from a heavy ornate mirror, the glass dark, the frame created from the same alien metal as the tiara – the tiara which was now merged into the frame, crowning the arching apex of the demonic design – the two items appearing melted into each other.

The Professor groaned in despair as the reality of the situation tipped the fragile scales of sanity in his mind towards madness.

“You know the incantation Professor; you personally desired to wield the power that I can bestow upon you!” It seethed with pure evil, its words perfectly true. “You were a fool to fall in love with The Dancing Temptress, there needs to be a beacon. I need to be whole again!” it roared.

***

Declan sat down and sipped his brandy. “If you did not send me an invitation, why was I so easily accepted into the ‘Council’?” He asked.

“There was a letter, indication to expect you and that you were highly recommended by…” Doctor Croft halted mid-sentence to seek out the letter and Declan once again shuffled through the paperwork in his briefcase.

Finally both documents were placed side by side.

One invitation – One recommendation.

Same handwriting – Same wax seal.

Same signature – Same crest.

Same name – Rutan!

“Well this is a conundrum.”  Daniel mused.

“Maybe it would help if we understood the context of the rhyme?” Julieta asked.

Declan nodded, “Around ten to twelve thousand years ago, the Mahabharata Ramayana and other sacred texts recorded a terrible war between Rama and…”

“The short version please!” Daniel sighed; this really was no time for a history lesson.

“Oh… Oh of cause…” Declan thought quickly to explain the whole story as simply as possible. “An ancient Indian demon was trapped by an ancient Arabic magician. This creature’s physical form was trapped and bound magically in a sarcophagus, then its spirit, or essence as it were, was banished into limbo.” He paused pondering over recent events and discussions the ‘Council’ engaged in the previous evening.

Julieta tilted her head to one side, waiting for Declan to continue, yet it was Doctor Croft who picked up the thread. “I believe this sarcophagus has been discovered and is destined for display in the London Natural History Museum.”

There were gasps and mumbles of concern amongst the gentlemen…

He continued “My research has lead me to believe that it has broken free with some foolish aid, which is why I have had Declan engaged in the Arabic translation for the banishment, without its ‘spirit’ it is weak, if both parts were unified, then it could unleash devastation equal to events recorded in the Mahabharata Ramayana.”

The ‘Council’ fell silent as the enormousness of the situation dawned upon them; the hypothetical theological debates they had discussed were suddenly a very real course of action the supernatural was encroaching upon the mundane with possible catastrophe.

“There is but one part of the translation which continues to perplex me.” Declan admitted, “It is said this demonic spirit may be unleashed from limbo to reunite with its physical being upon a ‘Black Moon’ … I’m aware that the new moon may also be referred to as a dark moon, yet the translation is clearly Black, not Dark.” He sighed and shook his head.

Julieta scoffed, causing her fellows to turn to regard her.

“A ‘Black Moon’ gentlemen, is when there are two dark moons within one calendar month, the second dark moon, is referred to as a ‘Black Moon’… and that is tonight!”

***

“I refuse! I no longer care for power nor will I aid you!” The Professor mustered up some frail courage in the face of extreme horror.

“Free me!” It bellowed, shaking the walls, causing dust to fall from fresh cracks in the tall ceiling. “Free me and I will save your precious Petra.” It promised.

Demetris turned to face the dark mirror, catching his own reflection in the black glass, eyes wild, corrupted by the degenerate force. He fancied that he could see a light snow falling within the surface, a pale hand reaching out with hope.  The illusion caused him to chuckle, as he felt his own sanity slipping away, to free the beast from the void was madness! “You will free Petra?” He heard himself say, hardly believing that the words came from his very lips.

“Yes….” It whispered, stepping up behind the Professor. “I need her only as a beacon in the dark and then she will be free.” It lied. “To be with you.”

***

She spent a while trying to remember events up to this point and all she could focus on were the voices in the darkness… Indeed they were still there, whispering around in her. If she concentrated Petra found that she could hone in on one single voice at a time.

And there was something more disturbing… But she dare not focus on that…

It was then she slowly realised that she had no corporeal form, she was simply thought.  A wisp of smoke drifting in void, unable to comprehend the situation, she found herself trying to tell herself it was nought more than another vivid dream. If she had a form it would have shivered, but as it was she closed her non-existent eyes and shed invisible tears.

***

The Professor felt detached from reality as he started to utter the ancient arcane incantation that would unite the fiend with its banished spirit – making it whole again – darkness fell across the room as the evocation stirred up entities within the ether. Petra’s life force shone like a bright silver beacon to the corrupt forces locked in limbo the words awoke them and the light of a pure soul guided them, yet the chant could only summon one, they only needed one to free them all…

It awoke; it felt the presence of its physical form beyond the glass illuminated by the frightened woman in a ruined costume. Shaking away fragments of a bored slumber it slithered forth, the sea of maundering evil parted, creating a path for this one, as it approached the ritual reached its crescendo.

***

With Declan, Julieta and Daniel being the youngest members of the ‘Council’ they sprinted ahead towards the Museum upon arrival it was Daniel and his questionable skills with locks which allowed them to gain entrance. Julieta near fainted as she crossed the threshold the immense energy unleashed by the demonic entity clouded her psychic mind and darkness threatened to overwhelm her thoughts. Declan swiftly caught the swooning woman and held her to her feet which she regained control of herself, focusing her abilities to guide the two men towards the Arabic display.

As the Professor threw his head back pitch rising as the bizarre language spilled forth from his lips with surprising ease. Tears of pure fear ran down his face as the wretched spawn at his back giggled manically.

Declan instantly knew the words, but froze in fear, astounded by the sight before him.  Julieta clung to his arm and Daniel issued forth a colourful profanity.

“You have to stop him!” Julieta shook Declan’s arm, but Declan found his mind had gone blank.

That was when the demon turned to confront the intruders, it sneered at the three companions. “Fools!” It jeered, “You’re too late!” its laughter was enough to chill the soul.

The Professor blinked, startled by the arrival of the strangers, he stuttered over his words and fell silent.

“No! Finish the incantation! You cannot cease now!”

More cracks fractured the ceiling as the floor trembled from the dreadful outcry.

“Finish!” Dust fell around them, “Finish or the darling Petra remains trapped!”

Declan started to recite the words of the banishment, he could not risk everything for the sake of one soul, it was dreadfully regrettable, but there was no choice.

With a resigned nod the broken professor joined in with Declan, giving strength to the charm of exile. Both men chanted the ancient words in unison, diluting the creatures’ energy, sealing the mirror and preventing the foul union.

The mirror frame and the crowning tiara rejected themselves from one another, the frame ejecting the tiara from their former bond; it fell with a light tinkle as the final words completed the ritual. Silence fell, dust fell and the dark entity had fled.

The Professor collapsed gibbering, cackling… “Let the screams in your head be the last thing you hear.” Daniel said, as he hoisted the insane man to his feet…

Julieta picked up the tiara and looked into the mirror with deep regret.

***

Several days later on a sunny afternoon Doctor Croft was seated by the French windows of the library. “Blanche?” He called over to the silent maid. She blinked startled by his use of her actual name and curiously approached the elderly man. He handed her a silken swathed gift, confused she carefully unwrapped the material to reveal the ancient tiara.

“We will find your sister.” He promised.

***

“Blimey!” One workman exclaimed to the other. “This’s bloody heavy!”

“’ere watch yer tongue.” His companion scolded as the two men hoisted the cumbersome relic up the final flight of stairs to a store room on the top floor at the ‘Et Consilium eiusdem duodecim’ estate.

Left in silence the artefact stood alone encased in thick sheets and a wooden case, yet the jarring movement had caused a single crack across the corner of the black glass, the mirror split and a small shard fell free from the frame… Fluttering leather like wings pressed hard against the damaged surface; however it was frail pale fingers that breached the gap frantically seeking freedom…

A.M. Harrison

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