The New York Magician, страница 5
Sarcophagi, for what I could tell. The thought was chilling, more so than the billions of calories of heat energy stolen into cold water rushing through the chamber. I climbed up on the middle of the seven visible shapes and examined the top. There were strange runes there, carved into the metal, which I couldn't read. At one end, the shape was higher. I caught a glint of reflection there and moved to that end, balancing carefully atop the shape which part of my mind still saw as a giant pipe. There was a portal there, some form of glass or crystal, set in the smooth surface.
I really, really didn't want to look. But I had no choice. The Djinn had charged me with a task, and I'd accepted, although I still wasn't sure why. I lifted the Maglite to the window and shined the small beam through it.
Whatever was within was gray, and green, and filled the sarcophagus, unmoving. Water was rushing past it, bubbles indicating the speed of its passage and that whatever else this was, it was a pipe, still. I twisted the Maglite's end to widen the beam.
An enormous head, perhaps a meter and a half in diameter, looked up at me above a mass of what could only be tentacles. My chest contracted in purely involuntary response, and I'm quite certain I would have screamed had I not been too terrified to move a muscle. I was only released from my terror when there was a flash of color as the shape beneath me opened bright yellow eyes the size of dinner plates.
Irem Zhat al-Imad means 'Irem of the Pillars.' It's an ancient city of myth, lost in the deepest deserts of Araby, inside The Empty Quarter. Some say that 'pillars' in this case don't mean pillars, literally, but are a metaphor for the Old Ones - ancient gods who are singularly unconcerned with the fate of mankind. Being so far above Man in terms of their power, Man is nothing more than a slight pest, or infestation of the world that they are interested in. Some legends say that other gods united to banish them or imprison them so as to make the world a place safe for lesser deities to play in, and, coincidentally, for man as well.
Only one of those Old Ones has anything resembling tentacles. It has various names, but most seemed to center on the Arab word 'Khadulu' or 'abandoner.' It is the most powerful of the beings left physically on our world - one who could open gateways to the Great Old Ones, and in whose power the fate of our world rested.
His name has been corrupted many times. Only one thing was constant, in the various descriptions of him among the various tellers of myths and keepers of lore - Cthulhu didn't care much about Men, among whose number was I.
I awoke at the base of the pipe I'd been kneeling on. My head, right arm and left side ached sharply, indicating that they'd probably taken a hit on my way down. My gun was digging painfully into my ribs. There was a burning feeling on my chest.
I struggled to my feet and looked around. A pool of dim light indicated the Maglite; I collected it (dented but unbroken) and pocketed it again. This surely didn't look like any form of Empty Quarter, but the Djinn had said that didn't matter. "The Rhub al-Qali is as much a place of the mind as of the world, Michel. It exists, or co-exists, with your own. It cannot be found on its own. It can only be found when it overlaps with yours, much as I can only be addressed when I overlap with Mankind."
The image of those enormous eyes filled my head, and I shuddered. The Djinn hadn't told me what I would find, here. He'd hinted there might be 'gods' but for sure hadn't mentioned anything like that. Time to be elsewhere.
Have you ever heard a thunderbolt voice your name? I hadn't either, until right then. I clapped my hands over my ears reflexively, realizing even as I did so that it would make no difference. "Fuck!"
MICHEL, FACE ME.
I looked longingly off towards the staircase. Then I reached a hand inside my jacket, cuffed away the sweat of terror with my other arm, and turned back to climb the pipe. It was easier the second time, knowing what I was about, and although I wanted to be absolutely anywhere else, I found myself looking down at the transparent portion again. There was a soft light behind it now, and the great gray-green face was there, eyes open. They tracked me as I came in view. There was nothing visible that resembled a mouth. If the rest of this fucker was in scale, he was probably around seven meters tall. I was uncomfortably aware, all of a sudden, that his presence in the pipe was possibly entirely voluntary, and hoped like hell that my discovering him didn't change that.
YOU KNOW WHO I AM.
I nodded. "I thought you were in the Pacific, somewhere. If you existed."
NO. I AM IN THE ABYSS.
"You're not in this damn water pipe?"
I AM ALSO IN THE PIPE. YOU HAVE A MESSAGE FOR ME.
I nodded again. "Uh, yes. I was charged to bring this message to you. Do I need to say it?"
IF YOU DO NOT SPEAK THE MESSAGE, YOU HAVE NOT FULFILLED YOUR CHARGE.
I thought furiously. Hopefully, that didn't mean it could kill me after I finished speaking. Hell, be realistic, I told myself - it can kill you anytime it wants. I turned my gaze downwards again. "Very well. I was sent by Azif. He wishes you to know he has not broken allegiance, and he remains in this place where he awaits your call."
YOU HAVE FULFILLED YOUR CHARGE, MICHEL. The great yellow eyes flared into brightness, briefly. I noticed that they had vertical pupils of greenish black, although not quite catlike. GO AND TELL HIM THAT I HEAR AND UNDERSTAND.
I bowed slightly. "I will." Wanting now more than ever to be gone, I turned away from the face and began to kneel in preparation to sliding down off the pipe. Before I could do so, the portal glowed briefly again.
FOR YOUR GRANDMOTHER'S SAKE, the voice tolled in my head, and my chest flared into pain. I cried out, sliding off the pipe. When I reached the ground, I frantically tore my coat open and pulled out the pocket watch, source of the burning. Its leather pouch was blackened around it, but by the time I retrieved it, it was cool again. The face was no longer white, however. Instead, the hands rested on a perfectly clear starscape, twinkling slightly. I brought it to my face and turned it, realizing that I could see past the watch's edge, as if it was a portal to deepest space. I swallowed once and placed it carefully back in the bandolier.
Then I ran like hell.
I made it to a wine bar on Columbus Avenue and was on my fifth drink when a hand fell on my shoulder. I snarled "What!" as I turned to find a woman standing there with her purse held defensively before her, wearing a leather jacket and middling-expensive jewelry.
She withdrew her hand and looked confused. "I'm sorry. Do I know you?"
I looked at her, the anger draining. "No, I don't think so. Sorry." She nodded nervously and drew back, looking around herself in confusion. I watched her leave the bar, trying to hide her frightened gaze up at the street sign, before turning back to the mirror behind the tender and looking into my flame-flickering eyes there.
"You didn't tell me."
"I didn't tell you many things."
"You didn't tell me HE existed, for Christ's sake."
"Would you have gone?"
"No." I sighed and finished my drink. My reflection cocked his head.
"What did he say?"
I looked back. "I want answers first. What the hell was that about? All the legends say his purpose is to bring about the return of the Great Old Ones, and damn any of us who happen to still be around."
"Yes, they say that."
"Then what the hell are you reporting in to him for, if not for that? Doesn't the legend say you were the first masters of Earth, and will be the last?"
The Djinn raised my eyebrows. "Your knowledge is extensive."
"Don't shine me on. I can fucking read." I waved at the bartender for another drink. "And answer the question."
"If you can't, then you don't get an answer either."
"Michel, you took the charge. You swore you would. You know you cannot withhold the information."
I rubbed my face with my han
My reflection cocked his head, eyes flaming brighter. "I would be lying if I said no."
"I knew it. Fuck." I told the Djinn what had happened. His face blazed with excitement and he nodded in the mirror.
"Ah, he was there. Yes. Yes! It will be, then. It will be."
"Whenever you're finished being mysterious, just fuck right off. I agreed to help you because I believe in talking, and that's what you wanted to do. I didn't know you were going to carry out some ancient evil that affects my race, and I don't want any more part of it."
The Djinn leaned forward in the mirror, a disconcerting sight since I hadn't. "Michel, I will go, but let me ask you this question, and please think about it in days to come. What makes you think one such as He, and one such as I, wish you ill? What makes you think, that if we were undertaking something which concerned you so little that your deaths would not be of importance to us, that He would be manifesting inside New York City public works, or that I would be using a human agent to converse with Him?"
Then my hand reached out of its own accord and brushed a man walking behind me on his way to the door. He blinked, then his eyes refocused and he continued on his way, turning his head once to wink at me.
A thousand winding stairs lead down before us
* * *
If you take the East Side IRT - the 6 train - to 116th Street, then get off and walk a couple of blocks, you'll come to a small head shop tucked away between a Mexican restaurant and a neighborhood supermarket. It's fairly unremarkable, except that even in these more gentle times for gentrified Manhattan you really don't find many people as pale-faced as I hanging out in front of it.
I nodded to the four or five kids sitting around on crates there as I went inside. One of them knew my face and nodded back. As I went in, he was muttering to his companions, something, which I assumed and devoutly hoped was the patois equivalent of 'he's cool.'
The interior of the shop was just as it always was. Not so much cluttered as intricately packed in three dimensions with junk - at least, objects that I would label junk, but which were likely treasures to someone, somewhere. The entirety of the airspace that was left was redolent with what I was sure was incredibly high-grade weed, well-aerosolized by the enormous bong that reached from floor to ceiling at the back behind the counter.
There was an older man lounging there with a hookah tube hanging lazily from his mouth while he talked rapidly to a younger woman who was in front of the counter, apparently haggling over some small piece of merchandise. I blinked at him, both because of the smoke and because I'd never seen anybody stoned talk that fast. While I was trying to decide if that meant he wasn't stoned, or if it meant he was just an instinctive haggler to such a degree that the drug didn't touch his flow, he noticed me standing there in the half-light and waved me forward. Without stopping his patter, he lifted up the counter gate and passed me through. I stepped by with a nod of thanks, and he slapped my shoulder as I turned down the narrow staircase that was mostly hidden behind hangings on the back wall.
A deceptively long flight down, I came out into the small vestibule I remembered. The door was closed. I knocked once. A voice came through the solid metal surface. "What?"
"Here to see Alan."
A peephole slid open to reveal a pair of eyes which focused on my face beneath the single bulb, then crinkled in what was likely a grin. "Yah, mon. Stand back, now."
I stepped back up the stairs a pace while the door made chunking noises and then opened outwards, then stepped through. The enormous man guarding it clasped hands with me and pulled me into a hug which nearly broke my spine. "Michel, 'tis you an' all."
"Ow. Damn, Demaine, you're too big to do that." I hugged him back before reclaiming my hand. "Your dad here?"
Demaine turned to secure the door behind me. "Yah mon. Him in back, go right t'rough."
I did that. The back room was much larger, the edges of it set in shadow, with a desk in the very center brightly illuminated by halogen desk lamps at the corner of its ruthlessly empty surface. Behind it sat an older Jamaican man, his eyes bright behind cheap spectacles. As I came in, he rose, his face sliding into shadow as it rose above the lamps. "Ah, France. Is good t' see you uptown." We shook hands and he gestured me to a chair across the desk from him; we both sat.
"Hello, Alan. I hope you're well."
"As well as can be, now. You got needs?"
"I do. First, though, is Demaine all right?"
"Tis good of you t'ask. He is. Nobody come knockin' for him, not since you talk to de rider for us."
"I'm glad. If they haven't spoken to you by now, they likely won't."
"You credit always good here, France, for that work." Teeth flashed white in the darkness. "You one of mine, now, ever an' ever."
"Thanks, Alan. I don't need credit right now, though. I need your help, but it's cash on the desk."
Alan laughed, rubbed his hands together. "Cash always a friend too, France. Always. You tell Alan what you need."
I grinned at him. "First of all, your help." I reached into my bandolier. Alan watched interestedly as I pulled out the stone spearhead and placed it carefully in the middle of the desk. "I got this from a friend. I need to know if you can tell me anything about it."
Alan picked up the spearhead and turned it over in his hands. He touched it to the center of his forehead, then jerked it away with a hiss. "Oh, mon! This hot. Ver' ver' hot, brother. All manner power in here."
I sat back. "I know. I just don't know how to use it."
"Ahhhh." He reached out and stretched one of the lamps up higher, creating a larger pool of light. Holding the spearhead before his left eye, he rotated it carefully, his right eye closed to a slit and his left open as wide as it would go. I could almost see the loupe that he didn't need screwed into his eye socket as he looked at it. "This not from the loa."
"Nope." Alan was familiar with the Jamaican voodoo pantheon; too familiar. He'd been a reasonably successful dealer until he hit upon the notion of asking them for help with his business. Unfortunately for him, one of them had agreed - and the price had been his son. He'd tried everything, bringing all manner of bokkors from Jamaica to intercede for him, but none had managed the trick. I'd met him in the course of his desperate last attempt to trade himself for his son, at a makeshift altar in Central Park. I'd been following the loa he was calling, and it had led me to his crude summoning. When he'd offered the trade, the loa had laughed and said it had no reason to accept.
I'd given it one. It was a bargain I hadn't liked at the time, and still didn't - but it had agreed, and dropped its claim on Demaine. I lost one day a year, usually ending up with massive hangovers and enormous credit card bills, and Alan welcomed me where I would normally have been shunned. The loa made out well on the deal, as a single day of a willing and wealthy horse was apparently worth more than the month a year of a sullen and unwilling slave. So far, it had always been careful not to run me afoul of the law, presumably to avoid ruining its playground. It's a good thing I didn't care about my reputation, though. It had been five years since our bargain, and there were five more years to run.
"Michel, you have tried touch, yah?"
I nodded at him. "Doesn't respond."
"Yah. Thought not enough. Touch not enough. This a weapon, mon. It respond to only one thing."
I slapped myself on the forehead. "Oh, for - of course."
He grinned. "You brave enough, white man?"
I gave him a dirty look, and pulled my Swiss army knife out of my pocket. He put the spearhead back down on the desk. I extended the pen blade and pricked my left thumb, then squeezed a drop of blood onto the surface of the spearhead. There was a crackling WHOOM somewhere behind my forehead, and I felt the power force its way into me. The spearhead quivere
"Think about something, Michel. Think about something that not here."
I frowned, and formed an image of Demaine. The spearhead shuddered and then spun to point at the door. "Ahhhhh." I reached out and plucked it from the air. Power crackled into my finger. "That's ... nice."
"That a serious mojo."
Still holding it, I thought about Baba Yaga. It trembled in my hand, but I held it firmly. I shuddered at a wave of dizziness, and my eyes were drawn inexorably to the wall - the downtown wall. I forced my gaze back to Alan and let my arm rise and point; when I followed it, it was pointing at exactly the same spot. "South."
"Now you know, France."
"Thanks, Alan." I tucked the spearhead into the bandolier and tightened the pocket around it. I sat with my eyes closed for a few minutes, flexing not-muscles, until I could close down the conduit of power that reached from me to the spearhead, and think of objects without the overriding directional cue. Then I opened my eyes.
"You got what you need, France? That don' cost you nothin'."
I laughed. "Not yet, Alan. I need some hardware, too."
Alan laughed again, and reached under the desk. The lights came on around the room's edges, outlining racks along the walls. Weapons, enough to outfit at least a regiment of Marines, were neatly hung around the room. "It Red Tag day always, France, for you. You take what you need."
I dropped a bundle of hundred-dollar bills on the desk, stood up, and shook Alan's hand. He shook his head, but I pushed the bills across to him. "Cash on the desk, Alan. Someday I'll need that credit, maybe. But until I need it, cash on the desk."
He grinned again.
I left the head shop with a twin to my Desert Eagle, a silenced Beretta, ammunition and spare magazines for both, a hideaway Derringer in an ankle holster, an extendable baton, two pairs of handcuffs and a ring of handcuff keys and four stun grenades in a brown paper bag.