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“We’ll begin.”

With practice he read words in a language familiar to none of the others. The syllables sounded like curses, threats, savage growls and challenges meant to be wrung from other, less human throats.

And between his words, behind them, around them, a hiss started, a breathy murmur like the approach of a swarm of locusts. The air moved on its own. The candle flames wavered and cowered.

“Now,” said the blond man, and all six pushed their fingers from the edge of the bowl to the blood at the bottom. The reading continued, louder now, as the droning whisper rose and whipped around them, tearing and clutching at their clothing.

And as the blond man’s voice caught and ground on the harsh sounds, something leaped from the bowl.

Candles flew as bodies instinctively pulled back. The room descended instantly into darkness and the voice of the wind filled the space that the candlelight had fled. Men screamed. Something speaking in the wind hissed a laugh. Then the wind died like a window had been closed.

Silence.

The hot wick of a single candle on the floor sputtered and flared to life again and was lifted by a bloody hand. The blond man surveyed the dark place.

Four more men slowly drew themselves up from the floor. The sixth did not; his eyes were rolled back into his head, and blood crept slowly down his cheek from his nose and open mouth.

The survivors stood in a ring around the corpse.

One man found his voice. “Did it... we... did we...”

The candle the blond man held illuminated his smile.

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