Alessa stood on the threshold of the living room and surveyed Inés' movements as she finished the last preparations for the ritual: she had cleaned the room of furniture and rolled the mats up to show the dark polished wood of the floor, on the center of which she had drawn three large concentric rings with white chalk and three smaller circles at their side. There were candles everywhere, and their sweet scent filled the room, she could almost feel their warmth.
Alessa looked apprehensively at Inés as the time for the ritual became close. She’d explained the entire process to her, but she was still afraid. Taking Primal form implied a level of connection with her demon side that she had never achieved before, thus far she had never been introduced to its mysteries. She bit her lip and shifted on her feet as she watched Inés light the last candles. She could see that her cousin was nervous too, but determined; she too knew the dangers of the ritual.
“Do you understand, then?” Inés asked for the fifth time, startling her.
“Sí, Inés,” Alessa answered.
“Bien. Bien.” The demoness sounded distracted. She brushed her hair back from her face and tied it with an elastic band, before breathing in and smiling at her. "Is Ellis still outside?" she asked.
"Sí," Alessa confirmed. The man had volunteered to make guard outside the room, so nobody would interrupt the ritual, and he would be close when it ended. She felt reassured from his being there too.
Inés nodded. “Step inside the big circles, then,” she said, walking to occupy the smaller ones. “Careful not to disturb the markings. No clothes,” she added.
Biting her lower lip, Alessa took off Tash's oversized robe and, stark naked, she stepped over the white lines and settled in a lotus position in the middle of the circles. She took a deep breath and flexed her hands to relieve part of the tension as she moved her head in circles and exhaled, then she looked at her cousin and nodded. She was ready.
"Bueno, prima, this is it," Inés said, rotating her own head and smiling shakily. "Change into your demon form, please," she added, changing as well, and Alessa watched with interest how her cousin closed her eyes and gradually submerged into a deep trance.
A shimmering in the air surrounding the darker form of her cousin startled Alessa. She squinted slightly, thinking her eyes were playing tricks on her, but the flickering around Inés grew more distinct. It was like the waves one saw over the pavement on the hottest days.
Alessa reached out her hand, but she couldn't feel any heat. Slowly the shimmering around Inés grew to fill a larger space, and another form superposed her cousin's. Inés' brown fur darkened into her grandfather's black but greying one and her size grew. She could still see Inés though. It was like magic, she thought, amazed. But yet, she knew it wasn’t. Her grandfather had come to help her.
She hadn't seen him for more than twenty years, since he had decided to let her believe him dead. She knew she should be angry at him for such deceit, but at the moment all she could feel was the warmth of her love for him tingling through her limbs.
"Hola abuelo," she whispered, tears coming to her eyes. The huge darkness over Inés nodded its head and she could fathom a smile on its demonic mouth, but it was enough. Alessa knew that he shared her feelings.
Then the dark flickering reduced its size and settled into Inés' form again, and her cousin opened her eyes and it was as if her grandfather had never been there. Yet Alessa knew he was inside the demoness now, seeing through her eyes and talking through her mouth.
Her cousin/grandfather spoke then, the voice sounding like Inés' but the words bearing the solemnity of Shongu's.
"The Verbatis defend themselves in a way unlike any other. By reaching our Primal forms, we either fight outside or inside threats. That's how we heal and defend ourselves under extreme circumstances.”
"Every Verbati is part of a great pattern, and any pattern can be attained by shifting. We heal by becoming one with the injured pattern, and then shapeshifting to transform the pattern so that the injury is made whole.
"We became the singer and the song, the dancer and the music. Matter and energy.
"There's a foreign entity inside you now. I can feel it, its blackness… it's tainting you, clouding your judgement and feelings; your music. It's feeding off you."
There was a small pause and he/she went on. "But in merging with you, it has doomed itself. It has become a part of you; it became you and thus, prone to be affected by you as well.
"This entity has disrupted your demon's innate tendency for pattern stability. This trait is the underlying source of both our strength and fragility. We shapeshift to attain stability. Our body has an inbuilt sense of self preservation, and will start making changes to itself whenever it senses an incompatibility with its inside or its environment. That is our Primal form, that changing.
"Taking your Primal form will get you to attain your stability again. But it has risks. It requires a certain preparation and linking with your inner self that may not be achieved. To perform the Primal ritual for the first time another Verbati should be granted sufficient access to your mind, to guide you through. This is the only way a Verbati can do the ritual.
"I ask you now; do you grant us permission to join you?"
"I do," Alessa answered, almost choking in the words. She had known all her grandfather said, but she also knew what he hadn't said. Healing in this way could be fatal if the demon was suffering instability, as the base pattern could shift in unpredictable ways and cause even greater problems. She knew the risks, but there was no other way. She was infected and needed to get rid of the sickness.
Inés/Shongu nodded and started to chant softly. The words sounded rough and harsh, but they had a certain rhythm that made Alessa's blood pump in tune with them. The cadence of the chanting grew in intensity and the demoness felt as if every hair on her body stood erect, and tingled with the added inner energy; then suddenly Alessa felt the distinct presence of other being/beings inside of her.
She opened her eyes and stretched her arms; they felt heavier and larger. Her cinnamon fur darkening as earlier, when Shongu had come to occupy Inés' body.
*It's all right, you are not alone.* Inés/Shongu's voice startled her as it came from inside her mind. *Close your eyes and just feel it. The music.*
*The music?* Alessa frowned, and instantly felt her frown disappear; she was not alone.
*Yes, the music. Feel it. Every being has a tune of its own, and their tunes overlay in a universal cadence. Every individual pattern is a series of notes in the great symphony.*
Alessa stilled, and she forced herself to hear, but it was impossible. She couldn’t work out the music. She started to shake her head, when the slightly annoyed inner voice added, *Not with your ears, Alessa! Listen with your soul! You are part of the music, listen to your heart.*
As she focused she could hear the rhythmical thumping of her own heart, *tum, tum, tum,* and it became louder and louder, setting the base to her own rhythm. Alessa smiled in triumph and she could sense the approving nod from Inés/Shongu. *Your blood,* came the command and Alessa started listening the riotous sound of her blood running through her veins. It was exhilarating, the sprinting sound. *Your breathing.* Alessa strived to integrate the sounds of her breathing to the organizing sounds of her own pattern. Soon the pulse of energy coursing her was simplified and enhanced in the form of music, affecting her mind and body at many levels.
The sound of a voice chanting reached her ears and she took a few seconds to realize that it was she who was singing and she faltered. *Don’t stop!* came the reprisal, *You are toning, this is good.* Alessa knew what that was, toning was the conscious elongation of a sound using your voice. She was singing her music!
*Now listen to us,* Inés/Shongu said, and Alessa started listening to their toning. There were subtle differences; she had her own rhythm but Inés' music attuned to hers and they sang in a chorus now. Alessa felt more complete; she allowed the tones to emerge without trying to control them and she experienced a cleansing feeling, of body and soul. She wanted to laugh from the exhilaration of it.
Suddenly it was there, the discordant tone, the mismatched pace. Alessa frowned, and she opened her eyes. *Don’t stop!* Inés/Shongu commanded, *That's Hyde's singing. You have to overcome it, make the music whole again.*
*But, how?* Alessa asked, suddenly terrified. She could feel the darkness in the virus' music, the evilness. It corrupted hers, it ruined it, made it soiled and inharmonious. *You have to vibrate to your own rhythm, make your body dance,* came the cryptic response. *Shift!*
And she responded with an ease that surprised her. She shifted; she followed her music and shifted in accordance, trying to outmatch the discordant tones of the virus. She let herself get lost in the music and she felt overjoyed in the power of her kind. But to an outside observer the sight would have been terrifying as she morphed, shifted into anything and everything she'd ever been; slowly at first and then so rapidly that one form couldn’t be discerned from the other.
Alessa could feel the virus resisting, singing its own darker music and trying to overcome hers, but her resolve strengthened and her shifting reinforced to win over the entity. As her DNA codes changed ever so swiftly, the virus found itself losing foot and gradually dying. She elated when she felt her melody slowly overcome the dissonant tones of Hyde; and she reinforced her toning and morphing, following the downing cadences of the virus without mercy. She gave herself free rein to pursue and destroy the final remnants of the darker entity.
As she became unstable, losing her pattern; Inés/Shongu's toning grew in volume, and their presence in Alessa's mind strengthened their grip on her conscience, slowly braking her shifting. The demoness fought to be free again; she wanted nothing but the elation of pure shifting, but Inés/Shongu's hold on her was too strong and they gradually stopped her.
However, Alessa's music gradually lowered too, as she sank into herself, exhausted after her spurt of energy. Her music became lethargic, downed, asleep. She receded into herself, blocking out outside influences. Her form stopped changing, slowly losing its boundaries and subsiding into an amoeba-like blob in the middle of the circles, only the white chalk lines preventing her from spreading on the floor like a pool of water.
Inés/Shongu's music changed again; it became seducing, cajoling, bullying. It sank into Alessa's pattern, searching for that spark of conscience that would make her come back. Appealing to her sense of self preservation, Inés/Shongu demanded and pleaded, commanded and coaxed, trying to get a response from the demoness.
But Alessa didn’t want to respond. What little conscience still was, it felt safe, protected and at peace. She had never felt so at peace before, she didn’t want to come back. So she just let Inés/Shongu's toning wash through her, let their music get through and lose itself. She didn’t want to hear, but that bothersome tune kept following her, its tones getting harder and more imposing by the minute. Then she started to see as well, flashes of her life came through the fog that enveloped her awareness: her father, her family, Morris; Chance, Cole, her friends, Ellis…
Alessa's blob started to twitch, rippling like a pond hit by stones, and her mind started to respond too. She moaned, pleaded and begged to be left alone, to just enjoy her peace. But the images were unrelenting, showing her joys and sorrows, her life; and the music was merciless, pounding into her, making her own rhythm accelerate to match it. Slowly, as her music sped up, she started to regain her form too, losing her amorphousness and becoming definite again.
Some time later, a very exhausted Inés stood up and staggered to where her cousin lay in a foetal position in the middle of the white circles. She covered Alessa with a blanket and walked to the door.
"You can come in now," she told Ellis.