“It stinks down here.”

“Good,” the Cleric replied. The Cleric continued in a volume louder than a whisper, but not quite normal speech.

“This is an unsanctioned casting. We need privacy. The smell will keep people away while we do our work.”

The Acolyte continued to prepare the ritual.  The vagrant was laying on the bare concrete floor in a stupor, his breaths slow and shallow. It was dark. The work area was weakly illuminated by a small battery powered electric lantern. A little light from the streetlights and buildings above filtered down through ventilation grates, but the Cleric and Acolyte positioned themselves so that there was no direct line of sight between themselves and the city above.

The Acolyte dipped his thumb into a chalice of wet ashes and dabbed a design onto the vagrant’s forehead.  He then reached into the backpack he had brough with him and extracted a small silk pouch.  He took a generous pinch of course grain salt from the pouch and sprinkled it over the vagrant’s body.

“Was this guy right or left-handed?” The Acolyte asked.

The Cleric looked over the unconscious body and noticed the burns on the fingers of the left hand from handling a meth pipe.

“Right-handed, so tie off the left arm.”

The Acolyte rolled up the vagrant’s sleeve to the bicep. He took a broken bungie cord and fashioned a tourniquet around the left arm, just above the elbow. He then took a syringe, removed the safety cap from the needle, and pushed the needle into the vein in the vagrant’s left arm.  He laid the vagrant’s arm down beside his body letting the syringe dangle awkwardly from where it was embedded in the skin.

The Cleric stood watching, chanting quietly to himself.

“There, that’s it,” said the Acolyte as he stood up.  The cramping muscles in his back beginning to relax after having been bent over for too long.

The Cleric looked at the body and examined the symbols in ash on its forehead.

“You did well. Your skills are progressing.”

“Thank you,” the Acolyte said.  After a long pause, he continued “Can I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Why are we doing this?”

“You understand the purpose of ritual,” The Cleric said.

“Yes, of course, I do,” the Acolyte said, a little shortly.

“Then tell me, what is the root of all magic,” the Cleric said, taking on a professorial tone.

The root of all magic is the divine,” the Acolyte said flatly.

“The exact words of the text.  But do you understand it? Do you believe it?”

The Acolyte stifled a laugh.

“Do you?” The Cleric’s tone took on a level of seriousness.

The Acolyte took a deep breath and began to recite.

“In the beginning there was nothing, then God created the heavens and the earth. He created the land, the seas, and the sky, and all the plants and animals that lived within.  On the sixth day, he created man in his own image.  Imbuing man with a spark of the divine. The essence of magic is the ability to create from nothing. The root of magic is the divine. To cast magic is to harness the spark of the divine that exists within each and every person.”

“That is a close enough paraphrasing,” the Cleric said.  “And what is the principal law of magic?”

The Acolyte took another deep breath and continued.

“All magic has a cost. Man is not divine.  We cannot create something from nothing. We can only harvest the spark of the divine and put it to our own use. The cost of magic is human life itself.”

The Cleric nodded in agreement. “The cost of magic is human life. So, if we want to cast magic…”

“We must take life,” the Acolyte finished the Cleric’s sentence. “But I understand all that. Why are we doing this.” The Acolyte gestured broadly with both arms at their surroundings.

“Why this guy,” he said, tapping the unconscious vagrant with toe of his boot. “Why in this stinking sewer, and why are we making it look like an overdose?”

The Cleric looked the Acolyte directly in the eyes.  He had a deathly serious expression on his face.

“This is an unsanctioned casting.”

“I know, but why?” The Acolyte asked.

“The use of magic to extend life, to cheat death, is strictly forbidden,” The Cleric said.

“Why?” The Acolyte stressed the word. “The ability to create life seems to be the ultimate use of magic. It is the greatest act of the Devine.”

The Cleric’s voice took on an air of gravitas. “Death is the great equalizer. All living things must die. The disruption that would come from an immortal caste is too great. It would expose the existence of magic to the world. It would create chaos.”

“But we have done healing castings before. Those were sanctioned.”

The Cleric continued. “Healing does not create life.  We can cure disease, repair injury, stave off a premature death.  But for every person, their life must naturally come to an end.  To extend life past that is forbidden.”

“You agreed to do this unsanctioned casting.” The Acolyte sounded accusatory.

The Cleric nodded.  The Acolyte started to glower, the look on his face communicating his displeasure.

“You want to know why I agreed to this despite it being forbidden?” The Cleric sounded more matter-of-fact than defensive.”


“Our client is a billionaire. He’s miserable, greedy old bastard. He’s terrified of dying and he’s willing to pay a lot of money to keep living atop his little business empire of avarice.” The Cleric said.

“So we’re doing this for money?”

“Were not just doing it for money.  We’re doing it for a shitload of money.” The Cleric said.

The Acolyte’s face broke, he tired again not to laugh.

“Don’t get cold feet on me now.” The Cleric said. “I made you my Acolyte because I trust you. You’ve harvested the spark before. We’ve taken other lives together. This is no different. You know the cost of magic.”

“Those were criminals, convicts. Their sacrifices were sanctioned.” The Acolyte retorted.

“Look at him,” The Cleric said, pointing at the vagrant. “He’s a homeless drug addict who lives in an alley. What value does he bring to society? What positive contribution? He was most likely going to die like this anyway. When we are done and we’ve cleaned up, all that will be left is a dead vagrant in a sewer with a needle in his arm. We take his life a little before he did it to himself, some rich prick gets a few more years, and we get millions of dollars. That is the power that we control. Buy doing it like this, down here, to him, it should go completely unnoticed.”

The Acolyte pondered this for a moment.  He drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and said, “Fine.”

The Acolyte and Cleric took their positions on either side of the vagrant’s body. The Cleric took the chalice of wet ash and held it above the vagrant’s head.  The two men began to chant in a language older than the universe itself.

The vagrant began to twitch and then shake like he was suffering from a grand mal seizure.  His eyes opened and a flickering light emanated from them. The ashes in the chalice began to glow a dull orange like the cooling coals of a dying campfire.  The glow of the ashes increased, turning from dull orange to bright orange, to yellow, to white, and finally to catch fire the instant the light in the vagrant’s eyes went out. The Cleric dropped a small sliver of paper on which the desired casting was written into the fire.  The paper curled and shriveled as it burned. When the paper had been completely consumed, the fire in the chalice went out, leavening nothing but a thin whisp of smoke.

“Done,” said the Cleric.

The Acolyte bent down and pushed the plunger of the syringe forcing the remaining drugs into the vagrant’s blood stream.  He took the vagrant’s still hand and used it to wipe the ash from vagrant’s forehead. The Cleric and the Acolyte finished arranging the body and packed away their things.

“The rats and bugs will start on the body as soon as we leave. Even if the police wanted to do an investigation on a dead vagrant found with a needle in his arm, there won’t be anything to find that could alert the Guardians that there was an unsanctioned casting.” The Cleric said.

“You say that like you’ve done this before.” The Acolyte responded.

“What makes you think I haven’t,” the Cleric said with sly grin. “There are many people who would pay a king’s ransom for the benefit of a casting and a city like this has more than enough disposable homeless that nobody will miss.”

The Acolyte stared at the Cleric and furrowed his brow. The two men picked up their bags and headed out of the sewer and though an empty alley in the dark of the small hours of the morning.

The Cleric stopped and turned to the Acolyte.  “I will make sure you get your share. Once you see just how lucrative this sort of work can be, you’ll feel a lot better.”

The two men continued to walk on into the night.

The thoughts of what he could do with the money began to fill the Accolyte’s imagination.  But at the back of his mind, the Acolyte couldn’t shake a niggling feeling. All magic has a cost. That cost was borne entirely by the vagrant and that seemed too low for such a forbidden casting.

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By J. Kb

8 thoughts on “Unsanctioned”
  1. O-kayyyy….
    It doesn’t take very much tinfoil to suspect that, effective or not, this sort of thing is actually going on in slums all over the world.
    And of course there’s research into life extension for the Important People through human (especially embryonic human) sacrifice.

  2. T’would indeed be a disgraceful shame if a slight mistake by the acolyte resulted in an unintentional transference of more than just the life force of the vagrant. How strange it would be to see Soros or Cuckerberg suddenly exhibiting subtle characteristics of the recently deceased. Like a nervous tic, or compulsive panhandling etc.

    1. Likewise. Coincidentally I’m reading the “Down These Mean Streets” anthology at the moment. Recommended.

    1. By secular law.
      The “Deeds of Paksenarrion” series has cults practicing human sacrifice, but if it comes to the attention of authorities, well, armies were raised and sent on the evidence.

  3. This line: “more than enough disposable homeless that nobody will miss.

    pierces me to the marrow. You must be a bard, because you’re speaking truth, not beauty. (and doing so, it always got me in trouble with the lesbians in my church. . . )

Only one rule: Don't be a dick.

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