It was nice to relax for once. Harry could lounge around most of the day, play with the children, spar with the men, cook with the women, or whatever else he fancied. He had even arranged for a lovely lunch picnic date with Luna. He also made sure the three of them spent a few hours every day shooting at the range, becoming proficient using the Desert Eagles in either hand. He had grand plans for those weapons when they were done. He leaned back in his deck chair as he opened 'Wands, Staves, Stones, and the uses of Other Magical Foci', the second book in his Merlin series.

Types of Magical Foci

There are generally four types of magical focus: precision, concentration, power and channel. Each has benefits and disadvantages and can be used in different ways.

Precision foci are used for precise control over spells. They can be used to create repeatable formulas for magic that can be duplicated by anyone with enough knowledge and power. The most common form of precision focus is a wand. Wands are made with a shell inscribed with runic formulas that draw out the user's magic in a controlled flow, infusing it into a core created of a magic-permeable substance. Other examples of precision foci are divination bowls and orbs which are made similarly to wands, but in a different form and for a specific purpose. There have been no successful attempts to make a general purpose precision focus other than the standard wand.

Concentration foci are used to cast spells rapidly and powerfully with minimal expenditure of energy. Using a concentration focus is little different than using magic without a focus other than making the process easier. The most common form of concentration focus is a gem or stone which can be mounted onto another object such as a ring or a weapon, which must create a connection to the user by use of runes or a magically permeable substance.

Power foci are used to increase range and power of spells. They are made similarly to precision foci but are combined with concentration or channeling foci to create objects such as staves. They are the weapon of choice for battle mages.

Channeling foci use large structures such as standing stones to focus natural and ambient magic from external sources that would damage the human body. They are used to access the power of the earth, moon, sun, stars, nature, elements, or ley lines. They are traditionally used in ritual magic and constructing permanent wards.

"How are you doing today?" Giovanni asked, interrupted Harry's reading.

"Very good, the rest has done wonders for me. It is good to be somewhere where I can feel safe and normal, even if it's only for a little while," Harry admitted.

"Well, I was wondering if you would like to do a little sightseeing while you are here. I have time off this afternoon and access to the magical portion of the Necropolis of Pantalica. It is not exactly the most pleasant history, but it is a fascinating look at the tools of one of the most feared dark lords ever to be seen in Sicily."

The Zabini family estate was hidden in the orchards between Floridia and Syracuse. Unfortunately, the road they would be taking approached from the opposite side of Pantalica Nature Preservation Area which doubled the length of their trip. First, they traveled to Ferla before taking Regional Road Eleven into Pantalica.

Forty minutes into the trip, they pulled to the side of the dangerously narrow road at a rather sharp curve where road turned right around rather abruptly after passing between rocks that completely obstructed their scenic view. From here, they climbed a stile over a wire fence and walked the across the side of the mountain to see the square tombs cut into the stone cliff face.

"This," Giovanni said, "is what the muggles see. These holes are ancient tombs where the bodies of the dead were placed. They considered this to be sacred ground. It was said, long before any muggle history of the area, that the dead left here would sometimes return to to be glimpsed by their families one more time before passing on.

"The muggles just think of these tombs as tombs and that one body was placed in each. This is not true. You see, muggles used to travel from all across Sicily in order to put the bodies in one of the tombs in the hopes of a last chance of saying goodbye. When more arrived, more tombs would appear for them to use. When fewer were here, the tombs disappeared. There are five areas around this mountain plateau where they would appear."
"I'm guessing wizards were behind this," Sirius guessed.

"Not quite. It was actually a witch. But, I'll explain more at our next stop."

The car turned off Route Eleven and onto a gravel drive. The road forked, one way headed towards a building, and the other towards nothing that Harry could see until they arrived there. It was the remains of the foundation of an ancient stone building.

"Now this is where the true magic happens," Giovanni said, climbing out of the car along with his three guests. Harry, Luna and Sirius followed. "Welcome," he said, stomping a foot on the ground. A grinding noise followed as some of the stones of the floor began to descend into the ground, forming the beginning of a flight of stairs. "I present you with Circe's Gateway to the Underworld."

"Impressive showmanship," Sirius said.

"I do try," Giovanni said with a confident grin. "Circe was a famous witch, known by muggles as a minor goddess of great beauty that tricked men. She is known to wizards as an accomplished necromancer, a master of transfiguration, the creator of the draught of transmogrification, and one of the few who acquired a form of limited immortality."

"A form of immortality?" Harry queried.

"She lived several hundred years and was considered a minor god by the mortals, though her form of immortality is not one I would choose myself. She was a genius at necromancy and potions. She turned herself into a lich, then kept her body lifelike and in good condition with an extensive potion regimen. Very high maintenance."

Giovanni led them down the stairs and into a twisted passage with natural stone walls. It really did not look all that impressive. It opened up into a cavern with no distinguishing features other then five other evenly spaced tunnels and an altar large enough to lay a human body on.

The altar was made of black volcanic rock. It was eight feet long and four feet wide. The top was inset in two levels so that a body would lay flat upon it. Around the edges were carvings of some sort of plant as well as snakes coiled around each other to make a three cord rope. At the head of the altar was some sort of carving.

Harry approached the altar. He could feel the dark magic radiating from it like nothing he had ever experienced before. He dared not touch it.

"This place is kind of creepy," Sirius stated.

"This is the resurrection chamber," Giovanni explained, "That altar was where the corpses were put before a ritual was used to revive them as undead slaves. We haven't figured out how it works yet. The other tunnels lead to the crypts where the bodies would be collected from after they were deposited. Circe actually lived in the building that was built above here but it has not survived the ages."

"Harry, what does this say?" Luna pointed to the carvings at the head.

"It is supposed to say something?" Harry asked, looking closed. The squiggly shapes resolved themselves into words after a moment of concentration. §I am the breath of the soul.§ Harry read.

"Without the hissy-speak please," Sirius requested.

"Sorry," Harry said. He still wasn't used to consciously switching between English and parseltongue. "I am the breath of the soul." There was a rumbling and a grinding sound.

"This is new," Giovanni stated, glancing around nervously and drawing his wand.

The body portion of the altar began to shift, sliding over the head depression. At the foot, a piece of stone the size of the head depression began to rise. As it rose above the level of the rest of the altar, it split down the middle. The two halves tilted and raised until they were standing vertically, revealing a book that was open below. The feeling of dread rose exponentially as the book was revealed. Apparently the altar had been muting its power.

Harry stepped back, repulsed by the dark feeling of the book. Unlike the parselscript, he could not read the writing of the book when he could bare to look at its leathery pages. Luna, however, seemed to have no such troubles.

Luna walked over and quickly flipped to the front page. "This is the Book of the Names of the Dead, the Necronomicon created by Circe. Its pages are formed of living flesh flayed from the backs of one thousand men. There are one thousand pages, one for each of the thousand souls this Necronomicon can contain.

"This page contains my own soul, the soul of Circe. It is my will that holds the souls that have been gathered. Should my soul be released, the nine-hundred-ninety-nine dead contained within this volume shall rise again and bring death to all they encounter. I leave this sealed here in the hopes that one day, someone with more strength than I shall complete my life's work that almost consumed me.

"The true master of death must have a spirit stronger than I. I took spirits into a book, but one day there shall be one who will take my Necronomicon and absorb the souls within their own. They must have an open mind, able to see what others cannot for one cannot read this book if they cannot see the spiritual plane. They must also bear a strong heart, for I could not look inwards and accept my truth. One's self is the one thing a seer of the other realms cannot see with clarity.

"I leave you with but one clue of the Aria of Souls, the first of seven lines which are the keys to accessing the full powers of the Necronomicon, 'I am the breath of the soul'."

Light burst forth from Luna and a cyclone of wind engulfed her. She screamed in a way that reverberated throughout the cavern. It was a sound that caused all who would hear it to shudder at its inhuman qualities.

"Luna!" Harry clutched his ears to block out the unearthly sound that Luna was making. He struggled to approach her, despite the wild magic being expelled from her position. She seemed to be glowing, light pouring forth from her eyes and mouth. "Luna!" The light faded slowly as Luna went limp. Harry pushed forward as the winds dissipated, Catching the unconscious Luna before she could fall to the floor. "Luna! Are you alright?"

"What the hell was that?" Sirius demanded.

"Whatever it was had something to do with the book. It's gone," Giovanni replied.

Harry ran his hand across Luna's brow. She was sweating, but her skin felt as cold as death. "I don't care about the book. We need to get her to a healer!"