I pressed in behind the cabinet as a crackling orb of purple flame passed more or less where my head had been. It cast the corridor in a sweep of indigo light, to then explode and char the end wall of the corridor.
That was Malachi’s Globe of Ruin, a signature spell of this particular bunch of necromantic dicks. I didn’t know the exact sect of baalists they were mind: could be Esdraelons; or Esdraelonians; Gilboan Witnesses of the Accursed Mountain; the House of Ashtaroth…
Anyways, while I was ruminating on all cultists great and small I dug out and chucked a chymical bag in return at the corridor wall, just above where he sheltered behind his own cabinet, before ducking back. There was a pffff of impact. The powder, the dust of Morpheus – courtesy of the alchemy of yours truly – would be raining down and onto him. (Good stuff that if you fancy a snooze – like nytol on steroids).
I took a peek to make sure he was down and…
…NOOOPE – I pulled my head back sharpish as another ball of aetheric flame rushed past.
It wasn’t like I wasn’t crapping myself but the old instincts kick in; I’d dealt with these sorts before. Okay, not often alone. But I knew what I was doing and I wasn’t going down to some bog-standard cultic minion. No way, no how, not this Marwood – which is what I’m called by-the-by.
My mind span the options and what I knew of his sort; also – perhaps less usefully – what might happen if they got hold of me.
See there’s various folk up to no good with the applied hokum, self-serving types who’d probably sell their siblings if not their mothers.
Then there’s the actively villainous: ruthless bastards who commit evils mundane and supernatural as a matter of course. On the scale between these and the former it was diminishing odds on – and degrees of – how well you’d come out if they took you alive rather than vice versa.
But these guys… These guys were warped. Indoctrinated, warped and nasty, the last folk at whose ‘mercy’ you’d want to be. Also, they’re very proud of their heritage. And I had a hunch that these were the bunch who traced theirs back to the biblical Witch of Endor.
(Ooop – there came-went another off-colour firey missile.)
Mind the Witch of Endor is not, as might first be imagined, a wiccan of a short, furry race on a sanctuary moon a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. She was, if she ever was at all, an Old Testamental necromancer, a baalob, or at least a medium of serious talent. She probably wasn’t a bad old bird herself, not compared to the bastards who’d appropriated her. Either way they take great exception to anyone mocking their assumed lineage – it’s a really, really bad idea.
‘Oi, Wicket!’ I called out, ‘Isn’t it true that you lot were founded by Yuri Geller?’
Something was screamed in old Canaanite (a variety I couldn’t understand, though I doubted it was a wish for my general well-being). Then came the patter of footsteps along with the image of a raised athame, a ceremonial knife, ready to plunge into muggins here.
It seemed an appropriate moment to lob a chymical bomb straight in his face.
He teetered. He coughed white powder from his mouth.
He dropped down not dead.
I gave myself a moment but his unconscious body wasn’t going to lug itself into one of the empty rooms and out of site, more’s the pity. I was determined to learn a spell for that one of these days.
The address I’d been sent to was a little north of Marylebone. I checked it on arrival, in case I’d got it wrong.
It was one of those old men’s cafes, the kind you get in concentrations of an expat community (and make you muse suspiciously on how the proprietor pays the damn rent on its semi-prime location). Net curtains were drawn, I guessed as much to keep the sun off the old lads as for privacy – though the latter intent was rather undermined by the front door being wide open. There were indeed some ten or so old boys inside, playing cards or dominos and rumbling to one another in an east-European accent which, as it turned out, was Slovakian.
I went in and stood there stupidly. Eyes looked up… and back to the game at hand.
Then I said: ‘Uh, I’m here to speak to… Jozef Kovac?’
I don’t know why I asked it as a question because it wasn’t and wasn’t answered anyway.
There was a snigger in the quiet, a young man amongst the elders. One of the latter glanced to him and his hand of cards came up slightly, defensively, in unconscious acknowledgement of a rebuke of some kind. That was all I got.
But then I noticed a chap, old but younger than the others at his table, nodding to an empty chair. I took it and opened my mouth to address him but he shook his head and looked back to his dominoes as the older boys hadn’t stopped doing since I’d entered.
Was I meant to join in, pick up the unused dominos and take a turn? I figured otherwise. I didn’t know how to play anyway. Dominoes were for lining up and knocking down, not playing some kids game.
(In fact I’d probably have done just that had I been sat with anyone else who showed this little interest in my presence; but I didn’t and wouldn’t so I settled for plan B and sat there like a pillock.)
They muttered to one another in Slovakian, hard to tell whether observation or disparagement and also, in either case, if I was the subject. The final tiles were placed unhurriedly, to be followed by a growled exchange that sounded deadly serious but was broken with the rough laughter of each man in turn.
Whatever respect or awkwardness had held me back evaporated then – I was damn well going to speak…
I didn’t get as far as ‘um’ before the curmudgeonly old fossil to my right spoke in thickly accented English.
‘I know where you from. Is about time someone come.’
Too many indignant reposts were fighting to get out for any one to do so. Instead I said ‘Well I’m not here officially…’
He uttered something in Slovakian and received a muttered reply from across the table which, again, could have been everything or nothing to do with me.
‘Still,’ he said.
‘Okay, look I’m here and if you want to tell me…’
He stood then, hefting himself upright with the aid of an unusual walking stick, engraved in some fashion down its length, its top carved into some kind of axe shape.
‘Show,’ he said, ‘I will show you.’
He exchanged some leisurely Slovak grumbling and I received a nod of goodbye from the younger old geezer. Then we were out, into the sun, strolling southward down the street.
Mr Kovac would be kith, a member of London’s supernormal community. Not a magician though, not a member of the Worshipful Company of that esoteric profession as I was.
‘I tell them many times it is too quiet this place,’ he noted. Then (actually answering a question) said: ‘yes someone came. And they went again. And nothing. Still, it is too quiet.’
I couldn’t comment and didn’t (which was unusual in itself), not on the Company’s response or lack of, neither what they or I were meant to do about a building being ‘too quiet’ – or how it could be for that matter.
But I had a feeling there was something to check here. So that’s what I’d do, check. Check and move on: Job done.
I left Jozef (or whatever his name actually was) and headed along the run of buildings, past a section part-concealed by the branded hoardings of a construction company, to arrive at a grotty looking entranceway.
This place is too quiet, I heard his words again. I found myself thinking that his ears were big – all the better for hearing big perhaps – though in reality were of unremarkable dimensions. This place is too quiet: I picked the lock, got in and spotted why straight-off.
There’d been no outer security of a magical nature but hush-wards were inscribed on the inside, along with others designed to keep watchful eyes away. There were rather a lot of them in fact, inexpert, but the quantity made up for that. They continued inward and, as turned out, throughout, daubed onto plaster and unpeeled sections of wall and ceiling. Still it was an overcompensation – kind of fanatical in fact. Ironically it would have been these, doubtless there to prevent the locals hearing chanting and associated culty stuff, that would had drawn the attention of Mr Kovac.
A stairway led up to a cluster of empty rooms with boarded windows and then to the second floor – which was when the chucking of aetheric and alchemical stuff began. Ironically also and luckily, the wards meant the sounds of our scrap wouldn’t have been heard by any of his pals.
And now I’d got him stashed safely away I could hope he wouldn’t be seen either.
The building’s origins had been lost in myriad reuses: Reuses, extensions, joinings, subdivisions and knock-throughs. An old factory, or maybe a department store. I picked around, checking rooms for indicative contents and to make sure there were no further doors through which someone could get behind me. The corridor T’ed. I turned right.
And another robed figure appeared at its end.
I was slow. He was slower – and I had my sling to hand avec chymical payload to launch down the length of this wider and uncabineted corridor. I swung a rapid figure-8 over my back and released. Even if I’d missed, the back-spray of powder from the wall would have done the job. But it was pretty damn satisfying to get the bastard dead on. Another black-robe blundered into the dust cloud. I was about to decide on what to do about him in case he, unlike his mate, didn’t fancy a doze…
When a bullet hole appeared in the plasterwork to my left around the same time a ‘bang’ sound came from behind. I was already bundling into the open room on my right, thanking whatever heavens were up or out there that cultist number three had been a crap shot. I took very quick stock.
Knock wall: plasterboard. Cupboards – check later.
Moveable surfaces? Table. Plastic notice board. Sorry, plastic notice board with a cleaning rota on it (always a strong indication of malignant evil).
Decide which: Notice board on the technicality of wilful perversity. Don’t question – get on with. I pulled my brushes and alchemical paints from my pocket and scrawled on the most basic and functional blast-ward I could, muttering the imbuing cantrip the moment it was ready.
See I’m not so good with the telemachia – chucking magic missiles et al – but I’m pretty decent at enchanting and I’ve got pretty quick. Still the ward would only take down one of them and it wasn’t like they were going to come running in at the same time.
Of the pair of them I was more concerned about the guy with the gun. Gun in hands of inexperienced cultist beats purple fireballs in the hands of inexperienced cultist. There was no time for more reasoned analysis.
I held the board against the wall that divided this room from the one previous. Then (in case it helped) I called ‘You’ll never take me alive!’ conjured up a bit of impetus into an aetheric shield to press against it, and verbally tripped the blast-ward. Plasterboard erupted into the next room leaving a helpful man-ish sized hole to step through. Powdered plaster churned in a cloud therein and floated down under its own weight and onto me when I stepped through and to the doorway.
‘What did he…’
‘Did he… kill himself?’ I heard them ask.
Well they’d only have heard some kind of detonation in their kitchen.
I’d have been more concerned whether the hobnobs would still be intact.
(Of course it’s well established that dark cultists and malefic sorcerers don’t eat hobnobs. It’s an image thing aside from any deeper metaphysical allergy. They have to have posh selection boxes like what you get from Waitrose – M&S at the very least).
I peeked around, grinned and lobbed a chymical bomb. Both were at the kitchen doorway and it landed between them to mushroom up in their faces; I hoped they heard my words before they went into the land of nod.
‘I’m here to nick yer biscuits and fuck up your rotas.’
After minutes of further lugging I’d stashed all three in a closet-room and went for a quick shufty down from where the gun-toter had come; the corridor turned a corner and ended. I checked behind each door along its run but the abandoned rooms contained nothing of note except a changing room where hung a wardrobe of cultist chic.
I picked through the robes, wondering idly how people got caught up in this shit. Maybe it was how you were brought into the world of the paranormal. Like, you get shown that some crazy shit really can happen. And does happen. And is out there. And it’s while the world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away the fuckers got into your head and…
I figured, from the number of jackets replacing the robes on the hangers, that there were about eight Endorians knocking around, five with the three I’d taken down. But there were some twenty robes overall, so there might be some part-timers on the way after five. Still, that was a while off.
Should I have left there and then, left and called in the cavalry? Maybe. But the only people I could have phoned then, directly or through back-channels, were the Company – the Watch.
And it can be fine, even given you weren’t meant to be somewhere, weren’t meant to be doing something and you’ve got some serious talking your way out to do – just so long as you get someone with half a brain at the end of the phone. Like someone who can recognise that you’re not just some kith hoi-polloi with delusions.
But even then you can be waiting on the back-up. And if the info you give is incomplete or inaccurate it can cause a colossal fuck-up the like of which is only possible amongst people who believe they know better than everyone else, ie. a lot of humans full stop, and one hell of a lot of wizards. So I decided I’d sneak in a little further – get the low-down on whether they were up to anything more than obtaining ‘knowledge from beyond’ for financial gain – then I’d leg it before it got anything like close to five and drop the full weight of the Company on them.
I considered nicking and putting a robe on but right then this wasn’t a scenario where there were a legion of cultists from all over in which, if also robed, you can claim to be Dave from cult-district nine, have a decent guess at the secret under-leg handshake, and then wander off to throw a spanner in their invocatory works. It would also have been restrictive and rather hot.
Besides, I had every intention of not getting spotted from here on in. I stuffed a robe in my kit bag in case I changed my mind and headed back, past the kitchen, and got on with the snooping.
Room after room yielded nothing, no clue as to what was going on, nor cultist mooks on which to layeth the alchemical smackdown. And it took agonising time because I was being careful, quiet, pushing each door slowly open, every time for an anticlimax. But this was how it went sometimes. You just had to stay focused.
Then I felt a warmth in my pocket. I’d placed one of a pair of glyph stones at the building’ entrance, linked by symbol and substance to its twin which was in my pocket. The hush-wards prevented sound carrying more than around ten metres and not at all through the surfaces on which they’d been drawn; that warmth had just told me someone had come through the front door.
I pegged it back.
Peeking round and down the corridor, at least a half-dozen suits were heading left at the junction toward the robing room. Two lingered frustratingly, giving no sign whether they’d head in themselves before their fellows exited.
I’d found nothing like a functioning ritual space thus far and could assume it was further in. Therefore at some point they’d likely be going to it – which meant there’d be a good few empty rooms en route I could duck back into, sneaky-sneaky like, and let them past. I planted two further paired glyph-stones on my way back, and got on with the search, rather less cautiously than before.
The pre-five timeframe was pretty irrelevant now, but I took out my mobile anyway, which could still serve one of two functions beyond time-keeping. For one I could still call the Watch, provided the aether – that’s a kind of catch-all for magical energy – wasn’t sufficiently concentrated or active here to disrupt the signal.
Use number two is when, by lack of signal, you can tell that there is concentrated and active aether around.
This means you can’t call for back-up – also that something seriously sorcerous is going on. In combination this tends to mean one thing and one thing only: that you’re really rather fucking fucked. I’d checked it on arrival. I checked it again right then.
Right then my mobile fuckedometer was telling me that I was really rather fucking fucked…