August kneeled on the floor, his pallid chest and back covered with whorls and symbols that Minerva painted on him with ketchup from the hotel’s kitchen. She glanced back and forth at the computer screen, transcribing the image that Tobias had sent from America. As Minerva smeared a wide line of ketchup under the helix of August’s ear, August jerked away, repulsed by the sensation.
“Do you have to put it there?” he asked, feeling cranky and sounding irritable.
“Yes. You don’t want to end up like the monk Hoichi, do you?” responded Minerva pleasantly. When he saw her smile, August couldn’t help but feel that she was enjoying torturing him.
“No. I’d like to keep my ears, thank you. Then again, this isn’t quite the same.” August concentrated on the rising moon that was looming in the window, ignoring the sensation of Minerva’s delicate touches along the nape of his neck. He was glad that Tobias was awake to receive their call, and that he proposed a solution so swiftly. Now, August was hoping that the solution would work.
“It is similar enough. The symbols will provide the same protective properties, coupled with a strong, repulsive force that will push the Hex imp away,” explained Minerva. “When the imp is driven off, you will be invisible to it. Unable to fulfill its purpose, the Hex imp will run off. If we follow it, the beastie should lead us right to the person that set it on you.”
“And if it doesn’t work?” asked August meekly.
“Then you will smell like tomatoes. It seems like a worthwhile risk.” A ketchup bottle burped up the last of its contents, and the ritual was complete. August clasped his hands together, then separated them, bending his fingers into the Karana Mudra. He could feel the imp’s tail tighten like an anaconda around his neck. Soon, he found himself struggling for breath. He could hear Minerva’s reassurances, but they seemed to be receding into the blackness that was overtaking him.
“Keep your focus!” He could hear Minerva shouting from very far away. “Breathe in!” she said, and the breath alluded him. His head began to pound, and he felt panic rising in his blood. He fought the urge to stand, using every ounce of his will to remain kneeling.
Suddenly, his breath poured into his lungs. The imp had finally been driven off by the ritual.
“Keep still. It is nearly over,” said Minerva. “It is visible; keep still.” August did what he was told, happy to breathe freely. “It is going for the door,” said Minerva excitedly, “Let’s go.”
Just before sunrise, August and Minerva left the hotel. August, wearing a shirt over his ketchup stained skin stalked ahead of Minerva, following the rat-like scurrying of the Hex Imp. On an ornate bridge spanning the Seine, August and Minerva watched as the diminutive creature crawled towards a tent that was standing under the next bridge.
“They have enough bridges, don’t you think?” mused August, feeling exhilarated just to be alive and on the offensive. “Enough bridges and enough water and enough imps. Twice! Twice I nearly suffocated. If we go to any opera houses, I’ll need to keep my hand level with my neck.”
“I don’t know if you need to worry about a Punjab lasso in the shadows just now,” said Minerva, “It is going to be a bright, sunny day, and I don’t see a deformed genius in sight.”
The flap of the tent opened, and the imp scuttled inside. Moments later, August could see the girl clearly when she left the tent, walking determinedly towards the Champs de Mars and hotel where he and Minerva were staying. He wondered what the Hex Imp told her; he knew the imp wouldn’t be able to communicate what the ritual was, as they were incapable of speech. With purposeful strides, she walked along the level, wide street, and August wondered if she was going to try to finish what she started.
“We’ll need to stay a good distance away,” warned Minerva. “We don’t want to arouse any suspicion. Besides, if something happened, we don’t have many courses of action. We’re respected back home, but we have no jurisdiction here at all.”
“Maybe we should find someone that does?” offered August as he walked, trying to seem as casual as a man could with ketchup painstakingly painted on his face.
“The police don’t work with the paranormal at all, aside from keeping the most dangerous elements hidden. It wouldn’t do their tourist trade any good if they let the public know that they have the largest population of witches and third largest population of vampires in the world.” As Minerva spoke, August felt the puzzle pieces fall into place. While they were chasing the Hex Imp and shadowing the witch, they left their hotel room empty. In their rush, they didn’t notice that they left their room’s door ajar. Realizing that the Vampire Folio was protected only by a few illusions, a ward or two, and a safe door, August quickened his pace. He hadn’t told anyone except Minerva and Tobias that he had brought the folio to Paris with him. That’s when he remembered the third person who knew the Vampire Folio was in Paris: Sigrid Koenig.