When Jenny realised who I was she gave a sob of relief and stood up, ducked under the cordon and threw her arms round my shouders, holding me tight. The camera around her neck poked me in the chest and I squirmed, trying to push it out of the way.
"Oh God, Jay, it was horrible! Horrible!"
I wriggled out of her grasp and put my hands on her shoulders. "Shh. Take some deep breaths. There. Now tell me?"
She just pointed at the stone circle but didn't speak. I ducked under the tape, not an easy thing for a bloke of six-foot-four, and as soon as I got near the circle I could feel it. There was a barrier, a force-field if you will, that coincided with the placement of the stones. It was weak, not enough to prevent me or anyone else stepping into the circle, but it was definitely there. Stepping through it was like a small creature trying to break the surface tension on still water. When I did so, I tasted the same corrosion in my mouth that I'd experienced in the library.
Inside the circle now, I looked back at Jenny who was watching me anxiously. She seemed somehow distant; an effect of the barrier around the stones.
Physically, there was nothing left here except a dark stain on the ground. Charcoal and ash, from where a small fire had been lit. I knelt to touch the ground, closed my eyes and drew a deep breath, letting the earth speak to me.
In my mind, I heard it; an echo of what had transpired here. Darkness, pain, blood. The flash of a blade. A scream so full of terror it chilled me to the core. A spirit was still here, trapped within the barrier, fighting to escape in the same way a butterfly will beat itself to death against a window. But where it was from or what had caused it, I couldn't tell.
Getting to my feet again, I cast a simple dispel to open up the barrier that had been put around the circle. The dark, corrosive energy dissipated, the terrified spirit sped away to its rest, and my vision of Jenny became clear once more.
"Did you see anything?" she asked as I returned to her side and sat down on the stone beside her.
"Felt something. Pain, and blood. Something died here last night."
Jenny gave a short nod. "I took some pictures before the police took away the evidence." She switched on her digital camera, passing it to me. "I don't think I can publish these."
I scrolled through the pictures one by one. They showed the circle as Jenny had found it; the remnants of the small fire I'd noticed already. More significantly, there was the body of a dead dog laid out inside the circle. It appeared to be a bull terrier or something similar. White, but for its ears that were reddish-brown. It's throat had been slit. Around it were candles: black, white, red, grey. A bundle of brown feathers tied in red cord rested on the floor beside it.
"Jesus." I shook my head in despair at how cruel the human race could be sometimes. But this felt to me much more than a simple act of animal cruelty. Cruel as it was, this was a sacrifice.