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PRINCIPES ET POTESTATES ADVERSUS MUNDI RECTORES TENEBRARUM HARUM
SPIRITALIA NEQUITIAE IN CAELESTIBUS”
“…for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places...” -Paul of Tarsus
CHAPTER 1 It began as it always did, with the rattle and thump of helicopter rotors biting the thin Afghani air. Dust bled through the cracks in the airframe, the incessant dust that we all believed was the real reason that every army from Alexander to the Russians had failed to do anything but lose. The damn stuff got everywhere. Our Chinook shuddered as it hit a patch of turbulence over Bagram and our gear, stacked on the floor, bounced into the air. Specialist Ramón Gutierrez said something under his breath (admittedly with the engines running, you could never hear anything above a shout anyways) and kicked one of the rucksacks out from under his feet, then stretched out. Everybody dealt with the stress of our constant operations differently – some, like Gutierrez faked boredom. For all I knew (but doubted), they really were that bored. Others, like the platoon L.T., Lieutenant Jason Schmidt, found calm through their bible. Others fidgeted. Others, like myself, just sat calmly and ran over the details and quietly kept our nerves from showing. It was an uneventful flight. I was one of the first men off, and I could see out the open ramp of the helicopter, past the crew chief and his MG, down and out on the proud and bitter landscape of Afghanistan. I hated it. Most of our missions ended up somewhere out in the rock and dust, with no living thing around for miles, getting shot at by men we rarely saw, or getting blown up by dead animals, or … you get the idea. My sour thoughts must have shown up on my face, because something mostly solid bounced of my helmet and my partner slash spotter, Sergeant James Stevens, yelled at me through the rotor noise to stop being so damn gloomy. I, being the more upright and gentle member of our sniper section, immediately gave him the finger. He laughed. “One of these days, Jimmy, I‟m going to throw something back. Something heavy!” I yelled at him.
“Well, get some practice in and toss me my Snickers bar back!” he shouted back. “Besides, you might be inhumanly good with a rifle, but you sure can‟t throw – I‟ve seen your passes when we let you quarterback!” I flipped him off again and tossed his candy bar back underhand. It hit Staff Sergeant Daly in the stomach, who rolled his eyes at our antics and passed it back to Jim. “You keep this up,” I continued, “I‟m never visiting your place in Oregon!” He waved me off, as if to say, promises, promises. Lieutenant Schmidt tapped me on the shoulder and yelled, “Ten minutes!” I nodded and gave him thumbs up. Ten minutes until the bird would flare to land and our platoon would be on the ground. Game face time. I checked the magazine in my M24, flipped the bolt out and back, loading a round, and thumbed the safety on. I heard the metallic sound of 20 odd M4 bolts being pulled back and snapping forward, carrying rounds into the chambers, and I pulled my M9 from its thigh holster and press-checked it. Everything was ready to go. “Five minutes!” the crew chief yelled, holding up one hand with fingers spread. I focused on the pushing down all my worries and nerves deep down to a place where I wouldn‟t have to worry about them, calming myself. I could feel the chopper start to shift as it prepared to land, and then it snapped right. We started to yell, and I could hear shouting faintly from the cockpit, and then there was a long trail of smoke heading across my field of view – RPG. There was an explosion above my head, and I could see the ground spinning nauseatingly closer. Blackness. * I woke up gasping for breath, in my own bed, in my tiny little apartment near Portland, Oregon, sweat soaking into the thin sheets I hadn‟t managed to rip off the bed from my tossing and turning. There was a pill bottle and half empty glass of water on the nightstand next, scattering the light from my clock across the room. I dumped two of them
into my mouth and chased them down with water. I would have loved something stronger, but Kelly had sworn that she would dump me like a hot potato if I started drinking like a fish again. And right now, she and a lot of sleeping pills were pretty much all that was keeping me on the right side of sane. I lay back and tried to calm myself down and get back to sleep. The clock glared at me, the numbers bent and foggy. 3:12 AM. It was my day off tomorrow and I wanted to enjoy as much sleep as I could before relaxing the rest of it. 4:27 AM. Apparently that wasn‟t going to happen. Dammit. Now, don‟t get me wrong. I am fine with little to no sleep. Ranger School and multiple combat deployments taught me that I can survive without sleep for a long time. But that doesn‟t mean I like it. 4:59 AM. I laid my head back down, closed my eyes, and tried to relax. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. I groaned and pulled my head up to glare blearily at my alarm clock. 5:36. Buzz buzz buzz. That wasn‟t the alarm– crap! I lunged for the night stand and my cell, just as it vibrated its way off and onto the floor. Unfortunately, I was too enthusiastic in reaching for it and ended up following it onto the floor, sprawling in a highly dignified manner with the sheets tangled around my legs. Who had – Kelly. Crappitycrappitycrapcrap. We had talked about going out tonight, and she was going to stop by after she got off work … yup I had slept all through the day. SHIT. I picked up my cell from where it lay on the floor, and look at the screen – wait a second. It showed Krystyna. Not Kelly. What was my girlfriend‟s fraternal twin doing calling me? She hated me. Ok, well, hate is probably too
strong of a word, but Krystyna certainly didn‟t like me or trust me or anything about me. I had a bad feeling about this. * “WHAT?!” I yelled. “What more do you want me to say, Calum?” Krystyna snapped. “I‟ve been calling and scrying for Kelly for almost four hours. I can‟t find her, I can‟t See her, and nobody I know has seen her.” “And the last person you call is her boyfriend?” I spat. “Good, sound thinking there, Kryssy.” It was quiet on the other side for a moment, and when she spoke again, she sound … small, somehow. Tired. Not her usual snide, malignant self. “I‟m sorry. I called you last because I hoped she was with you, that all this worrying was for nothing. She sometimes hides herself from me when she‟s with you – probably doesn‟t want me spying on you and see how sickly sweet you two are.” Her voice turned bitter and caustic with the last bit. I squeezed the bridge of my nose and searched desperately for calm. Center yourself, O‟Neill. Center … oh, the heck with it. “No, Krystyna,” I said, my voice just as sharp and angry as hers, “Kelly isn‟t here. I don‟t where she is. We were going to meet up at her shop after she closed. Obviously that didn‟t happen. Did she say anything to you at all about any plans?” “No – just that she would be meeting you later.” My jaw flexed as I heard the sourness in her tone – but right now there was nothing I could do about that at the moment. There were more pressing things afoot. “Alright. Call the cops. Start up a missing –“ “Calum.” I stopped. “We can‟t go to the cops. This isn‟t a normal disappearance. If it was a mundane, a normal person thing, I could See her in my bowl. “
There was one of those nasty moments when I could feel my stomach begin to drop, like I was falling out of an airplane and my chute wasn‟t opening the way it was supposed to. “This is our side of the street, Calum. Something from the our side took her.” And there was real worry in her voice. Who was I kidding. OF course there was real worry in her voice. For all that Krystyna and I didn‟t get along, Kelly was still her sister, her twin sister. They were closer than anything, except maybe my grandparents, married nearly 60 years. I swore, inventively, and with feeling. I was new to the supernatural scene, and while I was starting to make a reputation as a good and just mediator, I wasn‟t fully in the world, no matter what Kelly and a few others assured me. Just give a good blaster by my side, and I would be good to go – not some wizardly staff and hokey magical stuff. “Pretty much,” she said, after a minute. I rested my forehead decidedly against the nightstand. “Alright. What do we do?” “We?” “Damn skippy,” I growled. “As much as you don‟t like or trust me, Kelly means the world to me, and I am not going to sit around on my thumbs and do nothing. What ever you‟re going to do to find her, I‟m going with you.” Silence, for a minute. Then – “Fine. I‟ll come pick you up in about fifteen minutes. Then we‟re going hunting.” “Roger,” I said as the line went dead. The way this was going, she might actually warm up to me before I died. And then I groaned. Running around a community I didn‟t know well at all or was comfortable in trying to find my missing girlfriend? Thank God it was the weekend.
CHAPTER I was cleaning when I heard the throaty thrum of a motorcycle pull up on the street outside my apartment. Yes, I know, it‟s probably one of the odder things I could be doing, with my stomach twisted up tight in worry and apprehension, but focusing on a small, intricate task has always helped calm my mind, make it work in a more rational, straightforward manner, instead of bouncing across 42 different rabbit-trails of worry, fear, and anxiety. The door opened after a single, perfunctory knock, and Krystina Novak strode in. She was almost the exact opposite of her sister – tall, slender frame, pale blonde hair, chill green eyes – a classic Slavic Ice Princess. To be fair, I might have been reading too much into the whole “ice princess” thing. Then again – “What are you doing?” she asked brusquely as she stepped towards the table in my “dining room”. “Don‟t you think there‟s better things to do than sit hunched over your table … oh.” I punctuated her sentence with the oiled whisper and clack of a slide sliding forward, and set my GLOCK down on the table, next to an AR, a .357, two more GLOCKs, two shotguns (one pump-action, the other an over-under), and a scuffed up bolt-action rifle. “What is all this?” she asked cautiously. “This,” I said, sliding a magazine into the pistol and re-racking the slide, “is a small thing that I like to refer to as „backup‟. I have this small, teeny-tiny suspicion that most, if not all, of the people we are going to interview in regards to your sister are not the nicest folk on the block. Thus, backup.” “You can‟t take a gun with you!” “Why not?” “Because it‟s – it‟s just not done! Nobody uses guns!” “Then I sure as hell am taking a gun,” I returned, flatly. “If nobody uses them they won‟t be expecting it. And,” I added with a grim smirk, “nothing says cease and desist like a truly ridiculous amount of .45 ACP coming in your
direction.” I finished slipping the last magazine into its holder on my belt, slipped on a long dark polo shirt, and a beat-up brown canvas coat over that. It‟s not always wet in Portland in October, but it‟s certainly not warm. In fact, this autumn was odd for the area, from what I‟d heard. No rain to speak of, just cool days and cooler nights. “Where are we going?” Krystyna gave me a look that combined Extreme Doubt with a helping of Sneer. “What?” I asked. “You don‟t look threatening.” I snorted. “You mean big, overly-muscled, macho, and grunting about how MMA fights I‟ve won? Please, Kryssy. Don‟t insult me. I am perfectly able of taking care of myself.” She gave a look, tossed her hair, and said, “Fine. Let‟s go.” “Where?” “To Underhill to visit the Fay.” Huh. “Never been there before. Do I need to wear a heavier coat?” She gave me another withering look, and I shrugged. I turned to turn off the TV I had running for background and saw a reporter standing outside in the street with several police cars outside and a fire truck – the headline at the bottom of the screen said “Possible Kidnapping in SE”. “Krystyna,” I said, as levelly as possible, “hold up a sec.” As the volume came up, we heard the reporter asking an elderly lady who lived in the area what she had heard happen – “I’m not really sure, but about 2 in the afternoon as I was getting some tea ready, I heard the screech of tyres outside on the street, so I got up to see what was going on. But before I could get to the window, there was this woman shouting something – I couldn’t quick make out what it was – and there was this sudden flash and enormous bang, like a bomb had gone off. By the time I looked out the window all I could see was several of the trees on my street burning and a what looked like a car door lying in the middle of the street –“
I turned off the TV and looked at Krystyna. “What do you need to try scrying again?” “A bowl about half full of water.” She said absently, fingering the rosary she had pulled from a pocket. Her lips were moving soundlessly as her fingers slipped over the beads, and only looked at me again after I had said her name three times. “Yes?” she said. “Bowl. Look.” She shook her head and stuffed the rosary down into her jean pocket. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, murmuring what sound suspiciously like Russian – no, it had to be Polish – under her breath, and Looked into the bowl. Nothing happened for a few beats, and then all of a sudden she gasped as if she had been slugged in the stomach, the bowl cracked into several pieces, and she ran for the kitchen sink and puked. Not a good sign. She came back in, haggard and green. “What was that?” I asked. She shook her head, and looked greener. “I can‟t describe it, except it was the most horrible thing I‟ve ever seen. Evil. Gleefully evil. And triumphant. Gloating.” She looked at me, blue eyes fearful. “And I‟m positive that It has Kelly. We have to find her Calum. We have to.” I considered. “Let me grab my effects.” * We pulled up on Krystyna‟s motorcycle outside an older apartment building in Northeast Portland, its cold blue neon sign lighting up the small patch of pavement in front of the place. I looked at it. Very not-impressive. “Faeries live here?” I asked. “Doesn‟t exactly seem like the kind of place they would want to stay.” Krystyna smacked me on the back of the head.
“No, moron, not here. What‟s the most pretentious place in Portland you can think of?” “The Mayor‟s office?” Krystyna glared at me. “Coffeeshops?” I paused. “Wait. Seriously? Faeries live in a coffee shop?” “Not in a coffee shop, Calum,” she said. “Please, don‟t be an idiot. But one of the easiest doors to pass through to Underhill is in a coffee place just up a block or two. You ever been to Coffee Time?” I laughed. “You‟re seriously asking me if I go to coffee shops? Do I look like the kind of person who frequents coffee places and drinks double venti soy latte mocha latte things? I knew I should have worn my skinny jeans and pink cardigan!” “You drink those girly coffee drinks from Dutch Brothers!” “I drink Dutch Brothers because of a friend of mine,” I said flatly. “And I don‟t want to talk about it.” She gave me a sidelong look, and dropped that train of thought. “I … never mind. How much do you know about Underhill?” I thought for a second, dragging up the few things that my mother had told me when she talked about her – our – world. “As far as I can remember,” I said slowly, “there‟s three kinds of Faerie – the Aos Sídhe from old Ireland, the Daoine Sídhe from old Scotland, and the Tylwyth Teg from old Wales. The Aos Sídhe are generally more neutral when it comes to humans, the Daoine Sídhe are either better or worse depending on if they‟re seelie or unseelie, and the Tylwyth Teg are just themselves, whatever they feel like. I did hear that the Tylwyth Teg started the Wild Hunt, but my mother didn‟t say much about that.” A cold wind blew down the street, whisking up leaves from piles along the sidewalk. Krystina looked around nervously. “That bad?” I asked. She pursed her lips together and nodded tightly.
“Ok. Um.” I focused on what I knew about the Fair Folk. “They all prefer euphemisms, like the Fair Folk, to being called faeries. They can‟t stand iron. Time runs differently in their world –“ “Worlds.” Krystyna interjected. “Ok, worlds. They can‟t lie, they take oaths and stuff like that very seriously … that‟s about all I know. What do I need to know?” I was struck by the incongruity of my life – three years ago I had been doing patrols with the Afghan National Army looking for all kinds terrorists in the hellish empty landscape of Afghanistan. Now I was walking down a treelined street in upper-crust Portland, Oregon with my girlfriend‟s twin sister learning about faeries. At least the air wasn‟t thin enough to make me gasp for breath and the weather was actually comfortable. She wrinkled her nose in thought (just like her sister does, I thought with a pang) and said, “First off, they can lie, just like anyone else, but since the culture seems to be so taken with oaths and bargains and the spoken word, they rarely do. And I‟ve heard the ones that have lied have been destroyed. Anything with iron it is poisonous to them immediately, like steels and wrought iron – sort of like coming into contact with extremely radioactive material for us – but other metals like aluminum, brass, or titanium don‟t bother them at all.” She looked at me. “Are you carrying anything on you that‟s made out of steel or iron?” “The slide of my pistol is steel, that‟s it.” She gave me another dubious look. “Then don‟t leave it lying around. We might need to go back at some point, and I don‟t want to be blamed for their equivalent of Chernoble.” I tossed off a very loose salute, and drawled, “Roger that ma‟am.” She stopped and looked at me. Glowered would probably be a better term. Or scowled. Anything negative actually. “Calum, if you‟re not going to take this seriously, I‟m going to leave you behind. You‟re going to be able to help me, and if anything, you‟ll make it worse
and I won‟t be able to find anything out, and I‟ll never be able to find Kelly! This is all your fault!” she practically spat at me. Ok. Clear the air time. “Alright, Krystyna. I get it. You don‟t like me. Probably never will. Right now, that means jack. I have been in more life or death situations than I care to think about, and I will be damned if I let you leave me behind. Yes, I don‟t know a lot about your world, but it‟s my world now too, and that means I have to live in it and deal with its people.” I stepped in closer, lowered my voice, and gave her Sergeant‟s Glare no. 2 – the Intimidator. “And I will go Underhill, or to Jotunnheim, or to Hell itself to bring back Kelly. Because I love her,” Holy crap. Did I just say that? “And I will do anything to see her safe again. Now either help me get her back, or get the hell out of my way.” Now, I‟m not a tall guy, just under six feet tall, and Krystyna was slightly taller in her stylish boots, but I had one thing going for me that she didn‟t – I had stared into the abyss, and I had the scars to prove it. It must have shown my eyes, because Krystyna looked away, and said, “Alright. You‟ve made your point. But follow my lead and don‟t pull any cowboy crap unless you have to.” I nodded once, and said, “You got it, boss.” She rolled her eyes and started walking again. We turned right around the corner on NW 21st and walked into Coffee Time. It‟s an interesting place, one of those places that are endemically Portland in nature and tone. The whole place is painted in warm colors, all based on orange, and there are murals on both side walls. The right hand one was especially interesting, and I went to look at it while Krystyna waited for the barista, in line behind a thin man with thick glasses and a brown checked cardigan. The mural was interesting, and I had to wonder at the idea behind it – Stonehenge superimposed on the Pyramids of Giza. “Calum!” Krystyna waved me over, key in her hand, and I heard her thanking the barista for the key. “So. Is there a magic bathroom door we go through,” I asked as we went down a couple steps into the rear of the coffeehouse, “Or something else?”
“Very definitely something else,” she said, and handed me the key. “Hold this for a minute will you?” she requested. “We need to make sure that we won‟t be seen hopping through a door that doesn‟t exist.” She whispered a short phrase I stared at her for a minute, hoping my brain would translate that into something I could actually, theoretically, make sense of, but alas, that didn‟t happen, I looked the key instead. It was heavy, looked to be made out of something silvery – considering the crowd I was part of now, it probably was real silver – was about the length of my first finger, with a simple shank and bit and a round head. The most interesting thing about it was that it was covered in sinuous carvings, intricate and with detail almost too small to see, but taken all together almost seemed to make the lines crawl over each other – particularly if you stared at them too long. Krystyna plucked it from my hand, and walked over to the wall. She waved her hand quickly over a portion of it and whispered something. I felt the air stir and the plants painted on the wall writhed and grew higher on the wall, twining around each other to create what looked like a doorway. Darkness started to grow through the outline of a door, like an ink splotch soaking through paper. In a few seconds, the, the entire doorway was dark, and I could feel a gentle breeze blowing on my face and smell the soft scent of trees. From a door. That had only existed for a few seconds. What a day.
CHAPTER Walking into a door that normally doesn‟t exist isn‟t something I‟m used to. Yes, my mother was a hedge-witch, I grew up with a brounie doing most of the housework, and I once met a dryad. Well, it was either a dryad or a possessed tree. Still not quite sure which. But walking through a formerly solid wall? Not something I‟d ever checked off my list – so this was a marvelous opportunity to grow personally and now, professionally. Yay? I stepped through. It felt like we were in some sort of cave, or tunnel. The air had that odd, musty, almost dead feel to it, and sound damped itself out instead of carrying. Our footsteps had the flat sound of muffled stone – as if the clicks of Krystyna‟s shoes and the thuds of my boots were just absorbed into the walls. And there were not-echoes – a faint whisper of footsteps trailing half a breath behind our own. Mildly creepifyin‟. A few footsteps later, daylight washed over us, without seeing even a hint of it approaching. I shook my head. This witchy business sure had surprises up its sleeves. Always something unexpected. I made a mental note that I should really start anticipating stuff like this. “So this is Faery,” I said as I turned around, taking a look around at where we had emerged. Behind us was a large group of stones, stacked carefully together. I recognized the general shape from the time my grandparents had taken me to Ireland – a dolmen, an ancient Stone Age grave. Although this raised a question in the back of my mind – if we came out of a dolmen here in Faery, perhaps some or most of the dolmens in our own world were used as doorways between worlds … then why didn‟t they work anymore? “Not really Faery,” Krystyna said, interrupting my train of thought. “Say what now?” “Faery is lost. This is an echo of it, or at least that‟s what the wizards” – a dark look in my direction – “think. Everything the Fair Folk say, when and if
they say anything, lends the impression that at some point in the last thousand years or so, Faery itself simply vanished, stranding Them in this recollection of what Faery used to be. But this, this is simply Underhill. Here, near us, it‟s ruled by a Steward, who waits for the day that the lost High Kings and Queens of Faery return.” “Like Gondor?” “Something like that, but with its own particular quirks. Some more fun than others.” The way she accented the word fun gave me an impression that she‟d had experience with such quirks – and didn‟t enjoy the experience terribly. “Ah – here they come.” From the ring-fort in front of us, I could hear horns blowing, a sweet, wild, brassy challenge, and could make out the main gates opening and a small party coming out on horses, banners flapping in the wind. She turned to me. “The Good Folk are fickle at times, and they are very alien, but they are also tremendously valuable sources of information – they‟re the information brokers of the supernatural world. Not gossips, like some of the Greek folk are, but their information is always reliable – if hard to get.” I looked at her. “Calling them brokers implies that a transaction will take place. What‟s our currency?” Her shoulders slumped. “I don‟t know, Calum. I‟m winging it here, and I hate it.” Her eyes were hollow. “I don‟t know. But there has to be something I can trade for information – I have to help my sister. I have to.” I grabbed her shoulder and gave her a tiny shake. “Krys. Krys.” She met my eyes. “We are going to do whatever is necessary to get your sister back.” I gave her a cocky grin that I didn‟t quite feel. “If nothing else, I‟ll shoot somebody in the face.” She gave a shaky laugh and turned back to face the band of Faeries as they pulled to a stop in front of us, putting on her cold, Polish Model Face – beautiful but remote. I figured it was one of the best ways we had to deal with the Fair Folk, to echo them in their haughty ways, so I tried to as bland and boring as possible. I figured being as unobtrusive as possible would be good, if
I ended up having to shoot someone. Surprise is always good. And could you call a Faery a “someone”? Or was it a “something”? Hmm. The lead rider pulled his horse to a stop in front of us, and I got my first look at one of the Aos Sídhe. As he sat there, leering down at us, I couldn‟t get the idea of a cat out of my mind – all relaxed, fluid grace, a relaxed, condescending way of looking at the world behind half-closed eyes. He was tall, an inch or so taller than me, clean-shaven with long white hair just past his shoulders, and brilliant green eyes – with cat like pupils. Hoo boy. His limbs were long, and his fingers graceful. He wore a green tunic the color of newmown grass, and brown pants. A belt was around his waist, holding a thin, sheathed sword, that looked like rapier or some sort of dueling blade. The rest of the party were similar in style, coloring, dress, and armament. I shifted my weight back slightly and hooked a thumb into my belt. I didn‟t like the way they enclosed us in a circle, watching us with their mysterious cat-pupiled eyes. Made me twitchy. Krystyna, however, didn‟t look fazed. She merely nodded regally and nearly as contemptuously at the Faery and waited. “What are your designs here, mortal?” he demanded imperiously. His voice, for all its melody and lilt, dripped condescension. Krystyna either didn‟t notice, or didn‟t care – her voice was just as sweet and patronizing. “We come seeking guidance from the Steward of the Aos Sídhe regarding a recent matter in our world. I would ask that you give us leave to pass on our errand.” He sneered. It was a fine sneer. “What do mortal matters concern us, little mortal caster? I have no wish for you to be here.” He switched his attention to me. “And who are you? I know you not. Speak your name, and quickly.” I‟d about had it with the pompous little weasel. I gave my best thousandyard glare, and said as calmly as I could, “Mise Calum McNamara. ‘Gus cad is ainm duit, a fhear beag?” There was a rustle of surprise from the other Sídhe.
Aha. Faeries could get red from anger. He leaped off his horse and stalked over to me, rigid in apoplexy. Beside me, Krystyna turned a little paler. Even though she probably didn‟t understand a word I had just said, she got the fact I had just royally pissed off the gatekeeper and our way in. “Little?” he hissed, “You dare call me little, mortal? I, who hold the keys to the Gates of the Steward? I, the –“ I cut him off and switched back to English for Krystyna‟s sake. “Yes, I did. Now shut up.” If he could swell anymore, I think he did. Although he did shut up. “We‟ve come to see the Steward. Not you. And if I remember the laws that the Silver-Handed laid down, if someone comes treating, you‟re to treat them as a guest, for as long as they stay, or a year and a day – an bhfuil é sin ní mar sin?” His eyes slitted, and he gave a curt nod after a moment. Probably a moment of trying to figure out how to refuse us, or how to kill us – or both. Probably both. He spun on his heel, mounted, and gestured for us to get astride behind two other Faeries. In a few moments, we had entered the gates of the ring fort and were led into the main hall in the center. I made a small noise as we entered – of the “wow this is grand” sort. The Hall of the Steward stretched out in front of us for at least close to a hundred yards. It looked like it was made from a kind of pale green marble, with pale streaks. The roof was from a white stone, supported by pillars that formed a sort of passage way to the other end of the hall. Along the walls were brilliant tapestries that told tales of hunts, wars, and epic deeds as best I could tell. Apparently, all who desired to meet the Steward were to proceed down this corridor under the eyes of everyone else who were arrayed along the edges of the hall, between the walls and the rows of pillars. The people there were all tall, graceful folk, mostly dressed in long tunics, breeches and cloaks of various colors. Beautiful too, with fair skin, fair hair, with cat-eyes in a wild riot of colors and delicately tapered ears that brought to mind the flicking ears of a cat watching a mouse. Also in presence were weapons – most prominent of
which were swords, no longer than the length of my arm, and likely shorter, with anthropomorphic hilts, and leaf bladed spears a head or two taller than their wielder. Shields were hung in rows along the walls, with some of the Fair Folk slinging them on their backs, or leaning them against their legs. Apparently the People of the Hills hadn‟t progressed beyond when the Celts had left Switzerland and La Tene behind. Krys and I strode up the hall toward the thrones at the far end. As we got closer, I saw there were three chairs, two larger ones, inlayed gold and inlayed silver, and a smaller one that looked like it was made out of wicker. In the wicker seat was what looked like an elderly Faery – if he had been human I would have pegged him at around a spry 60 or 70. He looked up as we drew near, and considered us. His eyes were clear and green, the color of corn growing in June, and his face was regal and impassive as we drew to a stop several paces away. “What is it you seek, Krystyna Nowaczek and Calum McNamara? Why have you come to us?” We glanced at each other, and Krys spoke. “We come seeking information, my Lord Steward.” His eyes sharpened. “Information?” he purred. “Information about what, word-casters? What could we, the People of the Mounds, have knowledge of that would interest you, the people who order the fires of creation?” Krys took a deep breath. “We come for information about my betrothed, sir,” I said, once again going where angels fear to tread, and butting in before Krys had a chance to say anything. “She was stolen away, and no amount of our art can pierce the veil that has been placed about her.” I silently blessed my mother and the drilling she had done on the correct way to address the Fair Folk – as well as the vast amounts of Austen and Restoration literature she knocked into my head – the syntax and word choice had a way of getting into one‟s head. “We have come to ask a boon of the People of the Mounds, who are known as both wise and generous, to help us find and bring her home again.”
The Steward steepled his fingers together and smiled a closed lip half smile. “We of the Hills have many sources of information, but when information flows out, something must flow back as well to redress the balance. What do you have, young mageling, which could be used to redress this in-equity?” I considered. “What if I could return to you one of the four lost Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann?” I asked. UPDATE: revise above to include denial of service, remove the chalice(?) but add the fact that the Sídhe owe(d) Calums Father a debt and gave Calum power/unlocked his potential – he DOESN‟T WANT THIS – father issues. Exit the dolmen closer to the gate as well.
There was utter silence in the Hall. I could feel the pressure of several hundred inhuman eyes pressing against me, and I knew that if something went wrong – if I was wrong – I wouldn‟t survive for very much longer. Or at least I wouldn‟t want to. The Steward rose from his chair. He was lean, like the rest of them, but tall, imposing, and I was reminded again that the Sídhe were most definitely not human as his regard rested on me, like a naked blade resting against my neck. His voice was soft. “If truly you could deliver such a thing – that would be a debt hard to repay. You had best hope that you are able to deliver on your words, young McNamara – or the fiefs of the Courts of the Sídhe would be … displeased with you.” I gulped slightly. Nothing like a little pressure. I reached carefully into the messenger bag that I had grabbed as I left my apartment and pulled out the small chalice that had been my father‟s many years ago, according to my mother, and that was possibly, just possibly, one of the lost Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann – the rulers of the Fair Folk – as well as being a major point of contention between Kelly and myself. It was common rumor that they had disappeared at the same time the Tuatha Dé had. Some thought that the treasures were taken by the Tuatha, others thought the loss of the treasures led to the sundering of Tír na nÓg from Underhill and our world – I merely hoped I wasn‟t about to die slowly and horribly. The chalice caught the light in the Hall, and reflected it back in myriads of colors, from the jewels set in it, from the knot work carved and overlaid onto the body of the chalice, and from the slightly disturbing etchings of beings running around the base of the bowl. I felt it reverberate, slightly, and just once, in my hand as I held it out to the Steward, and I knew that this was indeed the Cauldron of the Dagda. And it knew that it was home. I held it out to the Steward, who stared at it like a man entranced. “Sir, take back that which is rightfully yours.”
He carefully took it from me and then held it up above his head in both hands and shouted something in a rippling alien language. The hall roared. He turned and placed it reverently on one of the golden throne‟s arms, and turned back to us. “What can the Courts of the Sídhe do for you, Calum McNamara, after you have returned to us that which was deemed lost for ever. We are in your debt. We will give you what help we can now, and if ever you need the aid of the Courts of the Sídhe, we will answer – but thrice only. Use this gift well, Calum McNamara.” He called for a ewer of water, poured it into the chalice, and stared into the water for a moment. He turned to me, his face grave. “What I am able to tell you is this: Your betrothed is alive. That which has her is old, far older than any of us, save perchance our lost kings and queens, and it thirsts for destruction. It is vile.” My stomach sank. For the Good Folk to say that meant that this was bad. Very bad. “We cannot help you in this – our arts are not capable of withstanding this Power. Nor can we tell you where to seek it. “My advice is this, young mage. Do not strive against this Thing, for you will surely fail. But if you must pursue it, find the Coven. They are creatures of blackness, and I believe that there you may find something more helpful.” He held up his hand, as if in benediction. “Slán abhaile, Calum óg.” I bowed my head, and we turned to leave. Crap. Vampires. What did it always have to be vampires? * It was cold and foggy when we stepped outside the coffee-house. The trees twisted their way out of the murk, limbs slipping in and out of view with the curls of mist. It was a despondent, eerie, and generally creepifying time of night to be out. I stared out through the fog, not really seeing the vague shapes of cars, the occasional pedestrian, the mutant spider-forms of the trees lining the street. A raven croaked in the mist.
Krys stepped out next to me and shoved her hands deep into her pockets. “Now what?” she asked. “Now we go find the local coven,” I replied grimly. “You can‟t be serious!” she said. “No-one seeks out the vampires unless they have a death wish or have some weird fetish about blood and leather or are obsessed with glitter!” I looked down the street, watching as a small car of the hybrid sort whirred by and said, “You heard what the Steward said. He said the Coven would be a good place to find information. You know the leeches are some of the darkest kinds in the local community. And you know that whatever you scryed was evil. If nothing else, they‟re wary of some new predator on their turf.” I sighed, and looked at her. “I‟m not going to let a bunch of leeches, no matter how creepy they are, keep me from finding Kelly.” She looked away from me, up the street towards Burnside, and folded her arms. I waited. She looked down, and said quietly, “Alright. But I still think this is stupid.” “If it‟s stupid and it works, then it ain‟t stupid,” I retorted. Of course, sometimes stupid is just gonna be stupid no matter what. * Vampires are predators. Pack hunters, in some ways. I don‟t know what part of Hell spawned them, but the Fallen One must have enjoyed making them up. They‟ll lull you into a sense of safety, of well being, of complacence, and then you‟ll suddenly have four or five of them slurping your blood. I don‟t know how they do it, some sort of glamour, or pheromone, or something, but I knew we didn‟t have much time before our own defenses started wearing down, so I was determined to get in and get as much info out of them as I could as quickly as I could. I stopped in the shadow of the building next door, and as unobtrusively as I could, un-holstered my gun and press-checked to see if there was still a round in the pipe. There was. “What is it, Calum?” Krys asked. I frowned. Maybe…
“Have you ever had dealings with vampires before?” I asked. She shook her head. “All I know is that they have some sort of drug or spell that puts you into a stupor so they can feed on you.” I made a face. “Yeah, something like that. Is there anyway you might be able to set up a blocking or interference sort of spell? Something that might help keep our heads clear long enough for us to get in, get intel, and get out?” It was her turn to frown, with a far-away look in her eyes, like she was mentally combing through the files in her mind of things she could try. She nodded, decisively, and asked, “Do you have a water bottle, or something similar, in your bag?” I did. She took the bottle, uncapped it, and poured no more than a cap‟s worth into her palm. She carefully handed the bottle back to me, took her index finger, and drew a small circle through the water clockwise, whispering something under her breath. She then flicked a few droplets in my face, and in hers, and said, “Bądź!” I felt a tingle flicker across my skin, and then it was gone. I looked at her, and remarked wryly, “I hope you know what you‟re doing.” She sighed, and said, “Me too. But the more pressing question is – do you?” I looked at her, half hidden from the street lights and the neon glow of the bars by the half-alleyway we were in, and felt my face stretch into a bitter half-smile. “Me? Plan? You know I don‟t plan. That‟s one of the reasons you aren‟t fond of me, isn‟t it?” She flipped a dismissive hand at me. “Beyond doing whatever it takes to get Kelly back, I have no plan. All I ask right now is you watch my back,” I continued, “And make sure they don‟t try to create an opportunity for munchies.” The entrance to the local coven is through a underground bar in Portland. Much like the way into Underhill, it is a hidden door. Here, it‟s a door to an erstwhile storage closet. Admittedly, it‟s a storage closet that also has a very stylized “M” scratched above the doorknob that looks
a lot like fangs in a mouth. You had to hand it to the vampires. They certainly knew how to do subtle. We were in luck, however. It was Friday night on Halloween weekend, and every place in the city was packed with revelers in varying stages of costume and inebriation. What with the pinball machines, the music, the screaming in place of talking due to the music, the dim light, and the fact that everyone probably wouldn‟t remember seeing us in the first place, I felt confident just barging in. So we barged in. Well, more like I opened the storage room door, we stepped in, took another step where reality blurred for a second, and then I kicked in a fancy but completely useless second door, gun in hand. Man, that was cathartic. My pistol was up and tracking through the room, the little red dot sweeping across all the people in the room, freezing them where they were as it flickered across them. I love lasers. Slap one on a gun and the instant anyone, mortal or immortal, sees that little red circle of light flickering on their chest they suddenly lose all compunction to do really nasty things. At least until they believe the balance of power is back on their side. It was silent in there with what felt like hundreds of pairs of eyes gleaming back at me from shadows. The room – no, wait, rooms – were lit by dim red lamps scattered randomly throughout, with black lights splashing sudden highlights throughout, picking out the alabaster of something‟s skin, or the phosphorescent gleam of eyes staring at me and Krys. The place was draped in rich fabrics, velvets and brocades and silks, all in deep reds, blacks, and blues, giving the place an air of lush and decadent sensuality. The air was cloying, rich with a dozen illicit smells. I narrowed my eyes. Like it or not, I knew where I stood with the vampires. They were predators, just like me. I let them look at me there for a second, a narrow wolfish figure with plain features and a brown coat and what probably seemed like a really big gun
with a long line of flickering red fire that reached out and caressed various figures as I swept my gaze across the room. Time to be imposing. “Where is the Master of this Coven? I would have words with him!” I roared in my best drill sergeant nasty voice. I was gratified to see several flinch as I dropped my pistol to my side and clicked off the laser. A shadow detached itself from the wall and glided towards me. It resolved into an elderly looking man, gaunt and angular, with the sort of neat and carefully groomed presentation you expect from politicians, James Bond, or billionaire playboys bent on avenging their parents. Or in this case, a vampire. He wasn‟t Orlok – no grotesque spider-like talons, bulging eyes, or bald pate. He was dapper in a slightly dated way, with an aquiline nose and patrician features – like a businessman from the twenties who could trace his family line back several centuries to the merchants of Venice. However, it was his eyes that were the most arresting thing about him. They were dead – iris bleached to bone white with the slight ring surrounding it giving the only definition between it and the whites of his eyes. I couldn‟t tell in the light, but I had this feeling that ring was the color of dried blood. He stopped in front of me and gave a slight, mocking, half-bow. “I am called Lucius. What can the Morningstar Coven do for the esteemed Calum McNamara and Krystyna Nowaczek?” His words felt slippery in my ears. So I glared at him. Unfortunately that didn‟t faze him. Undead bastard. Krys stepped up beside me, platinum hair looking like a sheet of bloody fire in the half-light of the den. That‟s what this reminded me of – an opium den. “We come seeking information about an abducted witch, and we have heard that the Morningstar Coven may be able to assist us. If you or any of yours holds information, we ask that you divulge it – ” Lucius smiled. “And what would you offer the Coven in exchange – the world runs on balance, my dear hedge-witch.” His voice dripped with scorn.
“And I hardly see you as the type which has much in exchange for such a weighty subject, I am afraid we simply will not be able to do business together.” His eyes darkened slightly. “Unless, of course, you are willing to offer something of significance in return … particularly in recompense for the insult you have shown us in assaulting our home.” His voice trailed off as he ran his eyes over Krys, like someone evaluating a cow they‟re buying for beef. There was a stirring in the background behind him as the more active members of the Coven, the vampires, moved themselves closer, like sharks and the scent of blood in the water. Hoo boy. I pulled my left hand up to my stomach and slowly brought up my gun to rest over the top of my left hand. “And if we do not agree to such an exchange?” I mildly asked of Lucius. I was not about to let Kelly‟s sister become a blood-slave to the local leech squad. “Then we must acknowledge that sometimes, regrettable as they are, „accidents‟ do sometimes happen,” he said, just as mildly. One of the vampires to my left, a woman in black and red brocade with sleek brunette hair and lips as red as sin, darted towards Krys with her fangs growing and another, a male in S&M inspired leather lunged at me. Finally. My hands blurred forward and I loosened my knees, dropping into a slight crouch with my arms lock straight in from of me, gun and shoulders forming the points of a long and dangerous pyramid. A red dot flickered into existence on his torso and my Glock thundered once, twice, thrice, the angry thunderclap deafening in the enclosed space and the lightening of the muzzleflash searing the eyes. Some vampires cried out at the sudden actinic light, while two black blotches appeared in the males chest, with a third just at the base of his throat. He relaxed and finished his lunge as a boneless heap on the floor as I traversed and put four more rounds into another leech attempting to latch onto Krys from behind. He stopped, stared at me, and reached back as if to remove my head with a backhand swing, and I put two more rounds into his face. He dropped.
There were a few moments of simple engagement – if close quarters combat can ever be truly called simple. Engage, acquire target, engage, rinse, repeat. Then I had a wonderful moment of sheer panic – my trigger went mushy and there was no bang. Thank God for training – I brought the pistol closer to my body, dropped the empty magazine out, slammed a new one with the hell of my hand, slingshotted the slide forward and put four more rounds into a vampire closing on Krys. In the meantime, she had done some work of her own. Two vampires – I should say vampiric remains – were slumped on the floor, with what looked like holes melted all the way through the torso. There was a headless corpse, a couple that looked like they had been impaled by granite spikes that rose out of the floor, and one trapped in a whirling globe of water. There was movement off to my right again, and I started to swerve to engage when Krys shouted something sibilant in Polish Spalić w świetle! (I really was going to have to ask about that) and the vampire that had been in the act of leaping on me combusted in a blinding flash. The rest of the coven cried out and stopped what they were doing, cowering against the flash of light that had dissolved Krys‟s attacker into floating ashes. “What exactly did you do?” I whispered to Krys, dropping the partially used magazine into my left hand and swapping it for the full one that I held. I dropped the pistol to low ready and dumped the partial mag into a coat pocket. She shrugged. “Just a little combat craft.” “Huh.” I looked around at the carnage. “And the rest of this?” “Improvisation,” she said, breathing heavily. Magic takes it out of you – when you sling around the kind of power that created the universe (the one explanation of what magic is that didn’t sound like complete hokum) there‟s always backlash – a reckoning. There were always stories of people who tried to do too much and died. Usually pretty horribly. The remainders of the coven were dead, well, deader, or scattered to the wind. Except for the one that Krys had locked, spread-eagled, in a big globe of water. I wondered briefly if we could market that to the Gothic crowd – your
very own vampiric snow-globe! Only $14.99 plus shipping and handling! I shook my head. I could go crazy later. The place was quiet, except for our breathing, some slight sizzling sounds from the leech that Krys had fried extra-crispy, and some sloshing from the globe. I edged around pillars, and kicked in doors, while Krystyna waited out in the main room with our guest. I shook my head when I came back. “Its empty – there‟s no-one here. All the thralls, bloodslaves, leeches – gone. Good thing you grabbed one.” I looked at the struggling leech thoughtfully as he slowly rolled upside down. “Can they drown?” I asked. She shook her head. “Calum, they don‟t need to breathe. I do imagine it‟s somewhat uncomfortable, however.” I sighed and said, “Alright, at least uncover his head so we can actually interrogate him.” She brought her hands together, then slowly opened them like a book and the water peeled back from the vampire‟s head like Moses parting the Red Sea. His way of thanking us was to hiss from behind his canines. I crouched down in front of him and calmly remarked, “You sound like either a leaky bicycle tire, or a cat how just found somebody sitting in its favorite chair in the sun.” I met his eyes. “This can go two ways – you tell us what we need to know, you get out of here with nothing wrong with you other than needing a towel. Or you don‟t, and we improvise.” His dead white eyes considered me, and he nodded once, slowly. “I have your word that if I give you what help I can, you will let me go, unharmed?” he asked warily. I nodded. “No need to make this place messier than it already is. You have my word.” “What is it you wish to know, mortals?” he rasped. “A witch – Kelly Nowaczek - was kidnapped. We want to know who did it, and where she is,” I said.
He chortled. “All you desire is to know where a missing hedge witch is? Of all the things you ask of me, and this is it?” I stared at him. “I fail to see what you find amusing.” He smirked. Cheeky bugger. “Unfortunately, I cannot tell you who took the hedge-witch, or why, or where she is. What I am able to tell you is there have been rumors flying around the dark belly of this city – that one of the Old Ones has come here. I do not know why,” he said, stalling my next set of questions, “or where, or even if One is still here, but I do not doubt that would be a reasonable direction to search.” Krys dragged me away for a second and the water rolled over the vampire‟s head again. “Do you have any idea what he‟s talking about?” she hissed. I shook my head. I hated being clueless sometimes. She looked at me, and I saw something that made stomach do a flip. Krystyna was scared. Extremely scared. She looked around, arms crossed tightly in front of her, like she was expecting something to simply leap out and drag her into its lair. “He‟s talking about one of the beings that created his entire race – he‟s talking about the Fallen, Calum.” Oh. Shit.
CHAPTER The Fallen. I‟m sure you‟ve heard of them, or at the very least one of them – Satan. The Devil. Lucifer Morningstar. Ole Scratch. Etc. The Fallen are angels exiled from heaven, the ones who followed Lucifer against God, who
walk this world to and fro, wreaking misery and evil wherever their footsteps land. And apparently also the forefathers of the vampires. Which really explains a lot. I turned back to the Vampiric Snow-Globe™ . Kelly hurriedly pulled back the water from his head, and I leaned in. “What in the name of the Almighty –” he hissed and tried to jerk away from me “- is one of the Fallen doing with a witch? A witch who owns a bagel shop and does interior decorating on the side?” The water rippled by the vampire‟s neck. I think he was trying to shrug. “I do not know,” he said, “perhaps Hades needs a better color scheme?” I didn‟t appreciate that, so I let him know exactly what I thought in exquisite detail until Krys hauled me off. I let her know that I didn‟t appreciate that as well, although I think what mostly came out of my mouth was inarticulate sounds of rage. I also struggled. Or I did until I was suddenly on my hands and knees trying to get my vision back and shaking my head to try and get the ringing out of my ear. Krys was leaning in my face, and her face was a rictus of anger and fear. “Get it together, Calum,” she snapped, “We can‟t afford for you to destroy our only lead! Pull. Yourself. Together!” “Did you just slap me?” She glared at me, her anger a film over the sick horrifying fear that was welling up inside her, and tossed her hair. Who does that? “Yes, and so help me God,” there was a sound of protest and possibly a sizzle, “I will do it again and again, until you get control of yourself!” I shook my head again woozily. She might look like a skinny Polish model, but man, she could hit like a freight train. Wow. “Alright,” I said, “alright. You ask the questions, though.” At least I was still sane enough to use some common sense, so I sat back against an overturned sofa-lounge-chaise thingie and watched as Krys went back to talk to the leech.
I exhaled. What was I doing? I was supposed to be the professional. The killer. The “baby-murder”. The guy who lies down and watches streets out of a tiny hole in a wall until someone tries to blow other people up and puts a fatal hole in them. All I was supposed to feel was recoil, right? And for a while, I did. I was able to put stuff in a box, I was able to be relatively normal when I was on leave, when I was around normal people I could be almost like them. But then Jimmy and I got sent with Schmidt‟s 3rd platoon out to reinforce a small detachment from the 10th Mountain‟s 3rd BCT … and everything went to hell. Sitting there in the underground leech-house, leaning up against a pillar cloaked in velvet, I could still smell the dust of Afghanistan, cordite … blood. Some people think that if you don‟t get PTSD from war, then you‟re a monster. Then they think you‟re about to turn into a monster when you do get it. They all could be right. I don‟t know. All I know is everything changed the day I lost my best friend. And now Kelly, the one bright spot in my life, was gone. The girl who I adored with every fiber of my soul, who was the reason I had quite drinking, the reason the night-terrors only came once or twice a month, instead of every night – who had, quite probably, saved me from utter ruin – was gone. Kidnapped. And the world I had turned my back on for years was the reason she was gone – in danger. Krys sat down in front of me, cross-legged. I looked up – the snow-globe was gone and the vampire was nowhere to be seen. I sighed, and rubbed my face with my hand. “Did you manage to get any information from him?” I asked. She nodded. “And it‟s both better and worse than we thought.” I gave her a Look. She ignored it and expounded. “The good: apparently the Old Ones aren‟t the Fallen. They are simply some sort of being that was twisted by Them when They were kicked out of heaven. The bad news is that the Old Ones are essentially horrors. Things you can‟t explain and that break your mind –” I interrupted. Yes, horrible manners, but I think the situation
called for a more fluid version of Miss Manners. “So essentially the Old Ones are Cthulthu and its cousins.” She gave me a blank look. I sighed and flapped a hand at her to continue. “Anyways … the only other thing he said was that one of these Old Ones is in the city, and it‟s looking for someone. That it‟s hunting for someone. And that It might be the reason behind Kelly‟s abduction.” I rubbed the bridge of nose. “So, basically, Kelly was taken by some sort of utterly alien abomination that‟s searching for someone. There were no clues as to who the Thing wants? Or why?” She shook her head. “Marcus didn‟t know.” “Marcus.” Flatly. “Yes, Marcus.” I sighed again. This was not the time or place to get into some argument about personhood – let alone whether or not leeches were appropriate objects of affection. “Moving on …” “Please.” “… We need to find this „Old One‟. If it is the thing behind Kelly‟s kidnapping, we find it, we find her. So all we have to do is find some really ancient cosmic horror and stop it from terrorizing the city and from killing or destroying some random person.” Not hard at all. I thought for a second. “Wait a sec. If this „Old One‟ is so mind-bendingly horrible, why hasn‟t there been any reports anywhere of eople going spontaneously insane?” Krys shrugged. “I don‟t know. Maybe it has lackeys to do its will for the time being.” “Makes sense,” I said. I hauled myself to my feet, and extended a hand to Krys to help her up. She rose gracefully to her feet on her own. “So we start hunting a cosmic horror.” I looked at Krys carefully. “You ever been hunting before?” I asked. She gave a Look. I think it was basically equal parts You Have
Got To Be Kidding mixed with What Kind Of Idiot Are You. There was possibly something else in there too, but I‟ve never been particularly good at subtle. “I‟ll take that as a no. Rule number one: know your prey. What do we know of the Old Ones other than they‟re monstrous?” She shrugged helplessly. “I don‟t know, Calum. I don‟t exactly make it my point to know everything there is to know about creatures that are fundamentally wrong and drive people insane just by existing. There isn‟t much call for that kind of thing in an emergency room.” “OK,” I said, “Three things. One, point taken. Two, we find someone who does or at least has a better clue than we do at the moment. Three, I‟m really glad you‟ve found sarcasm.” Krys crossed her hands underneath her chin dramatically. “Oh, Calum, I‟m so glad that you‟re here to help me with these things!” “You‟re not getting bonus points.” “Le sigh.” I snorted. Either I was about to die, or Krys was starting to loosen up around me. I shook my head, and asked her as we made our way out, “So, out of everyone in the local community, who do you think would know the most about big brain-breaking nasties?” She was quiet for a moment while we made our way through the Halloween Party 2011, 11:50PM version. Once we were outside and could actually hear ourselves above the “music”, she said, “The only person I could think of, besides the vampires, would be the Man in the White Tower.” “Alright so we go visit the man … wait. What? Is this like some weird Portland version of the damsel in distress locked up in an ivory tower guarded by a big nasty dragon?” I was mildly flummoxed. She shook her head, chuckled and said, “No. He‟s one of those wizards that like to stay up in their perfect little tower and ponder deep things, and invent complicated ideas about why magic works the way it does.” And then she just kind of sagged and leaned against a lamppost.
“Here,” I said, “nibble on this. It‟ll take the edge off,” and held out a Hershey‟s bar. “Also, take some deep breaths. Take a moment.” She took it the candy bar with shaking hands, and asked, between bites, “Is this normal? I‟ve never felt like this before …” I smiled slightly. “Yeah, it‟s common. Adrenaline does funny things. Chocolate helps the ease the edge away. And I hear it does wonders for dementors.” She gave a shaky half smile. We were quiet for a moment, the heavy thump of music pulsing up from the clubs, the sound of traffic slowly going by, a siren across the river. All the sounds of normal human existence. I envied people who didn‟t need to worry or think about things that went bump in the night – whether they were supernatural or not. I sighed. “Where are we supposed to find this dude in his ivory tower?” “White tower.” “Whatever. Where is he?” She shrugged. “I don‟t exactly know. It‟s generally somewhere up in the Sylvan hills. We have to go someplace where I can Scry for it.” “It‟s not a fixed location?” I asked. “Sort of. It‟s always somewhere high up, and it‟s usually been in the Sylvan Hills area, but it‟s not an exact science. And I need to get out of these clothes.” She gestured to herself, embarrassed. Her jacket was splattered with blood and ripped in a few spots, along with her blouse and jeans. I quirked an eyebrow. “Well, I admit it‟s not your usual poised and elegant self, but it‟s got an Amazonian flair to it, particularly considering how you got all of it.” She flapped a hand at me. “The blood is at least mostly your fault, what with all the bodies and heads … exploding.” She swallowed. I grabbed her shoulder and shook it gently. “Krys. Hey, Krys.” I shook it a little harder until she looked up at me, her eyes wide and not quite focused. “Hey!” Her eyes focused on me. “Stop this right now. A lot of horrible stuff just
happened. But we don‟t have time to stop and let it get to us. Kelly needs us, so we need to hold it together until she‟s safe, ok?” She was quiet for a moment, and then whispered, “How?” Crap. I should have thought about this better. I was so used to her being such a royal pain in the arse, haughty, disapproving, and being an ER Nurse for crying out loud, I didn‟t think about what going hot might be for her. I bent down and looked at her. “You focus on Kelly. You focus on your sister, because she needs you to be strong. And when we get her back – then you can deal with this in the best way you can. But right now, you push it down, because that‟s the only way you are going to be able to function.” She sniffed and said, “Ok. But I think you should drive.” Drive a scooter? My life was just a roller-coaster of fun times!
CHAPTER Krystina lived in a nice apartment (or condo or whatever the current thing was) in the waterfront area, off Harbor Way, just north of the Marquam Bridge. In fact it was too nice – it was probably a bit bigger than the place I lived in (not hard), the woodwork was extremely good, the carpets were soft, the tile was real, the appliances were steel and burnished bright – but it felt empty. Almost like a place that was no more than a bed and sometime eating place than an actual home. It probably didn‟t help that there wasn‟t much furniture, what there was look expensive, and very definitely not often used. There was a small wood case on the top of the mantel. Inside was a folded American flag. A small brass plaque read Sgt James T Stevens – from a
Grateful Country. There was a picture next to it – three people, a young man in uniform, with an open, merry face, and two girls, one short with red hair and one taller with pale blonde hair. I sighed. I wandered out onto the small deck, and looked out at the river and downstream to where the trusses of the Hawthorne Bridge were picked out in lights and the neon green of the Bank of America Center flared out against the rest of the city. Somewhere in the middle of all this was a creature out of some sort of horror story hunting some poor defenseless bastard who probably didn‟t even know that such things existed beyond the pages of a book. And how in God‟s name was I supposed to kill this thing? There was a tap on the glass behind me, and I turned to see Krys coming out to join me. She joined me at the rail, looking out over the city. “He talked a lot about you, you know.” I so did not want to have this conversation right now, but I made a noise that could have gone either way. “I was so bitter when he died, you know,” she said, her tone reflective. “I hated you – for living when my brother died, for being the one who came home, this guy who he thought the world of. And then you and Kelly hit it off, and I worried for her. She‟s always been the one who fixes people – who sees the best in people and does her best to help them live up what she sees their potential to be. And that‟s gotten her heart broken so often. And here you were, my dead brother‟s best friend, a man with more demons than he knew what to deal with, and she knew you could be a wonderful man, a great man.” She sighed. “And for me you were always the man who came home instead of Jimmy. The guy who was going to break my sister‟s heart. “And now I have no choice to rely on you, because my sister is out there, somewhere, being held captive by monstrosity that has no name. You still came home without Jimmy, but you‟re not as bad as I thought.” She took a deep breath. “I‟m sorry.” I looked back out over the water. That explained a lot, and I can‟t say as I blamed her. Lord knows I blame myself for that a lot too.
“It‟s ok, Krys,” I said tiredly. “It‟s water under the bridge. Have you tried scrying for the man we‟re looking for?” She nodded. “It‟s a good thing I did, too. He‟s not on the west-side anymore. He‟s out on Rocky Butte, over by 205. And as far as I could tell, he‟s still awake.” I rubbed my hands together. “Alright,” I said, “Let‟s go pay him a visit.” * A scooter ride through the East Side of Portland, on a foggy and chill night in fall, is definitely an experience. I‟m not sure whether it‟s a good experience, or a bad one, but it definitely is one. We drove across the Hawthorne bridge, the orange lights from the Morrison reflecting off the waters on our left and the metal grate of the bridge humming under our tires. Once past Grand, the trees and houses along Stark Street started looming out of the fog as we putted east. Pizza place, coffee shop, nursing home or adult care or whatever they called themselves these days – all were vague shadows in the mist, indistinct copies of the normal, sunlit, world. It certainly didn‟t do anything for my peace of mind, knowing that some eldritch abomination was on the loose in the city, hunting someone for some unknown reason. No. My city. I might not be some kind of massive and dangerous spellcaster or wizardy type, like those Chicago-based books, or the Chosen One, like Potter, but maybe that‟s what the Steward had meant when he whispered in my ear. Bloody Faeries. Never coming out and saying something in plain English. It was enough to drive a man insane. The trees closed in around us, bare and spidery in the gloom, the orange glow of streetlights twisting the world through the fog, and I couldn‟t help but feel a cold knot of foreboding start to tighten in my stomach. We cut north, around the bulk of Mt Tabor, and then turned onto the auto mall of 82nd Avenue. Admittedly, it was very early in the morning (the glow from my watch told me it was about 1:45), but traffic was very light. And it was getting lighter the farther north we were going.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” I muttered to myself. “What?” Krys yelled back at me. “Nothing!” I shouted back. It had to be nothing. Just bad memories coming back up, brought out by the crack of gunfire and the smell of cordite. I swore I could hear the sputtering sizzle of RPG‟s – no. Just the whisper of wind past my ears. I tried to get my heart rate back down and get my focus back. I didn‟t need to start having flashbacks again, particularly not while I‟m sitting exposed on the back of a Vespa. There was a sharp left turn, and we started going up a winding hillside road. The trees got closer, crowding out everything else. For a few moments it was like we were traveling up a tunnel full of grasping arms. And the knot of foreboding in the pit of my stomach was getting tighter and colder. Finally we were up at the top of the hill. We‟d passed a lot of very nice houses on the way up, all packed together for the views. I would have expected them to have a party or two going on, even considering that it was pretty late and only Saturday evening (well, Sunday morning) it was very quiet. The houses were dark and quiet and still. There was no wind, and there were no other cars parked anywhere. At the top of the hill was an elliptical wall, with a set of stairs climbing up the northeast side. It felt like a modern interpretation of an old Celtic fort. In the middle was a square black fence, mostly concealed in bushes and surrounding a small metal tower holding a small Doppler dish. Fog was everywhere, tendrils wrapping around the lights and hiding the city from view. I looked around. I didn‟t see a tower anywhere. Heck, I didn‟t see anything that looked out of the ordinary. “So …” I said. Krys sighed. “You‟re going to have to learn how to see what‟s really there if you want to get more involved in the community,” she said, handing me a small jar of purplish Vaseline.
I bounced it in my hand a couple times, and asked, “What exactly am I supposed to do with this?” “Wipe a little bit on your eyelids.” Oh. Duh. I wiped some on, and screwed the lid back on. When I looked up, the radar tower was gone. In its place was a tall circular tower straight out of Rapunzel‟s fairy tale. It was made out of pale stone, looked like very smooth limestone, or maybe some kind of marble, and nicely fitted together. There was a small door set into the base, a simple, arched, dark wooden door, like something you would expect to find on a Tudor styled house or an old English cottage. The very top spread out, like the Space Needle, and looked like it belonged in a Disney film, with tall, thin, leaded windows, at least one gabel dormer, and a sharply pointed tile roof with a small stone chimney and .. was that a TV antenna? I really hoped he wasn‟t a “Days of Our Lives” kinda guy, otherwise there could be issues. I looked around again. The place was empty. No breeze, no sound except for the faint mist-dampened sounds of the interstate just below us, no people save Krys and myself and whoever was in the tower. I didn‟t like it. The quiet – it was almost too quiet, like the calm right before an IED goes off under your Humvee when all the locals have scattered because they know that something horrible is about to happen. It made me twitchy. Krys walked up to the door and banged three times. The sound didn‟t carry like it should have, it just limped its way out into the air and fell flat on its face. I winced. I couldn‟t pin down a reason why I felt so jumpy, but for a second I could have sworn that I felt something watching me. Then a window banged open, and a peevish voice shouted down, “What?” I couldn‟t really tell what the person the voice belonged to looked like, but he was definitely male, and apparently he didn‟t like visitors. “Two people come seeking knowledge, Rogers! Let us in!” Krys tossed back. “You know the custom!”
There were a few choice words in a language that I didn‟t understand, but I got the gist of them pretty well, and there was a click from the door, like a latch or lock was just freed. Krys grabbed the handle, and gestured me inside. Once again, a door didn‟t do what I expected it to. Although, really, I‟m starting to wonder if I should have any expectations beyond permanent, lowlevel surprise. I walked into a decently lit semi-circular room, probably about thirty feet across at its widest point. There were doors leading out, and a staircase curving around one part of the wall up to a second story. I looked around for a moment, ignoring the foot-tapping individual in the middle of the room, radiating impatience and I finally figured out what was bugging me. Everything I saw could not exactly fit inside the tower – it wasn‟t big enough on the outside. Thankfully, our host was able to bring me out of my mental fugue, by snapping, “You‟re here. What do you want?” He had a trace of an accent, Eastern European I thought. He certainly had that air around him of the generic shady Eastern European “entrepreneur”, with stringy long black hair held back in a pony tail, a large, beaky nose, and to top it off, he was wearing a blue tracksuit. Oh, the hilarity. But I digress. “It‟s good to see you too, John,” Krys said dryly. He snorted. “And who is the man with you, eh? New, hmm, boy toy?” He leered. It was mildly disgusting. Krys mouth twisted. “No, he‟s not involved with me,” she snapped, “beyond trying to find my sister! Now, John, you have information we need, so put up or shut up.” John smirked. “What makes you think I have information about Kelly, hey? I do not associate with the kinds of people who would be in the business of stealing away young and beautiful women.” Something about how he said that last bit made my skin crawl. I really wanted to hit him, but I figured that would negatively impact the development of the situation, so I didn‟t. Yet. “We need what you know about some critters vampires call the Old Ones,” I said.
John choked. There was a certain grim delight in watching the little weasel turn white and be unable to speak. Although come to think of it, why he would end up like that was a very important question. “I can‟t help you,” he said, “I can‟t. You have no idea what you‟re asking about!” I growled, and he looked over at me, like a rabbit that just noticed a wolf sitting in the snow a few feet away. I smiled. I doubt it was a pleasant one. “You will help us. One of them took Kelly. It‟s hunting someone in the city. I am not about to let that happen. Not in my city. I don‟t care what they are, what they‟re like, why they exist – I just want to know how to kill them. Unmake them. And get her back.” John made a noise. After a second, I realized he was laughing, a sad, hopeless, almost hysterical sound. I glanced at Krys, and then back at him. “You want to know how to destroy one of the Old Ones? You can‟t! They are untouchable! They are everlasting! They are creatures beyond your comprehension! They are …” I slapped him, hard enough to spin him off of his feet, and then crouched down in front of him, looking him straight in the eyes. “Nothing is untouchable,” I said quietly. “Nothing is invincible. What do you know that can help us?” He shuddered. “Knowledge is a dreadful thing, young Calum,” he whispered. “Once you have learned something, it will always shadow you, haunt your ways. It is a burden.” I just looked at him. He sighed. “Fine. Fine! I will tell you what I know. But I warn you, knowing these things, they are not for the weak – and it will be a shadow on your life forever.” “It‟s a price I‟m willing to pay.” Apparently, according to Johnny Boy, along with the disclaimer that he wasn‟t sure that anything he said was actually true and completely factual, just as close as investigation over the course of several millennia could get, the Old Ones, or the Elder Ones, or a couple of other similar names, were things from outside of our universe. One school of thought held that they were lesser
Powers that were corrupted and mutilated when Lucifer and the rest of the Fallen were kicked out of Heaven as they fell flaming through the void. Another says they were actually formed by the Fallen, as corrupted, hellish versions of angels – the messengers of Hell. They are beings of power, ruinous and hideous. Those folk unlucky enough to see one in its natural state have been reduced to gibbering madness. All in all, it sounded a bit depressing. “If one of them is truly here, and it seeks someone – he or she is already lost. There is nothing you can do, McNamara. Anything you try to do is doomed to failure.” He at least had the good grace to look ashamed. “I am sorry.” He looked away, and whispered, “zow me ye.” “There‟s nothing we can do?” I asked. “No-one has ever managed to banish them back to Hell, even temporarily? No-one has even given them a metaphysical bloody nose?” John shrugged. “If there is, it has not been recorded. No-one I know has ever heard that, and even if it was attempted – they probably did not survive.” I squashed the anger welling up again. Beating this John person to a pulp likely would make me feel better in the short term, but it would do absolutely nothing for Kelly. Oh, Kelly mo chroí. What has become of you?
CHAPTER John stiffened, a look of sick horror went over his face, and he began to shake. And whimper. Not very manly at all. But then there was something that felt like a cold brush against my skin. My skin crawled with the sensation and hairs stood up on my arm. I‟d felt this before. Something was horribly wrong. Something was outside. “Calum? John? What‟s going on?” Krys asked. Her voice was a little bit higher than usual. She felt it too. “Something followed us,” I said. “Or it was already here, watching John‟s place.” I frowned at him, trying to see if he knew of anything, and he squeaked. Pitifully. Jeezum, this guy was a lite-weight. Like that Miller 64 crap. “Whatever the cause, the results the same. We have a lot of crap incoming. You ready to lay out the hurt?” She blew between her teeth, a tight grimace on her face. “We‟ll see,” she said. “I‟m not sure that there‟s much in the tank at the moment, but I‟ll do my best.” “Fools!” wheezed John. “You cannot fight against one of Them. It is hopeless.”
This guy was starting to be a real downer. “Shut up, Johnny boy,” I hissed. “Ain‟t no such thing as a no-win scenario. Even if there is …” I smiled And then something whipped through one of the windows and shot back out, dragging John with it. It happened so fast that he was gone before the glass stopped tinkling on the floor. “Wow. Ok.” I said. “That puts a crimp in things.” The tower rocked, as if it had been hit been something. Something very large. Plates shattered in another room. I upgraded our situation from “bad” to “really really really bad”. Verging on “ultimate suck”. Thankfully, I had been through Ranger School. Twice. Recycling sucked worse than Afghanistan, most of the time. The tower shuddered again. This going to be fun. Right now, the main thing was to get out of the tower, survive whatever was out there, and get the frell out of Dodge. I dropped to a knee, and un-zipped my bag of goodies. I pulled out something that probably (especially considering the area) would be very distressing to anyone who saw it – a short-barreled shotgun with a jagged flash-hider, pistol grip, and no stock. “Hold this”, I said absently. She took in gingerly. I rooted around a little bit more, pulled a plastic coffee can out, and took back the Mossberg. The tower thumped again, something slammed through the roof, and dug around for a second as I hurriedly loaded shells into the magazine. I jacked the pump, and fed one more round in, then looked up at Krys, who was standing, eyes closed, whispering under her breath. She stopped and opened her eyes. “You ready?” I asked. She nervously tucked a couple strands of hair behind her ear and nodded. “What were you loading into your shotgun – that is a shotgun, right?” I smiled, a grim, quiet, carnivorous smile. “They‟re called Dragon‟s Breath. Basically acts like a giant roman candle slash flamethrower. Whatever‟s out there, I‟m thinking it‟s not used to be attacked like that. If nothing else, it will buy us some time to get someplace slightly more suited for defense.” Another crash, this time from a room on our floor. I clipped the Mossberg onto a nylon strap and slung it over my right shoulder, grabbed my bag, and checked my handgun.
“Calum.” I stopped, looked at Krys. She hesitated. “Thank you.” “Don‟t thank me yet,” I said. “We could still die horribly.” She smiled wryly, nodded at me and raised her hands to what I assumed was a ready position, and I kicked open the door as something tried to smash it‟s way in through the second floor. There was a glimpse of something writhing, like tentacles coated in furlike scales and a color that was fundamentally wrong writhing back in on themselves. Thankfully, it was only a glimpse. What was outside, was, unfortunately, worse. In the light from the sparking lamp-posts, half-veiled by the fog, I could see a thing. I don‟t know how to describe it, other than saying there were tentacles, sharp protrusions, and the pervasive mental stench that come from seeing it. Thankfully, I didn‟t see much – just enough have more night terrors for a long time. But cosmic horror or not, I wasn‟t going to lie down without a fight. I tuned, and shot from the hip. A lance of sparkling fire, like a giant roman candle, blazed out and smashed into the side (I think it was the side) of the creature. There was noise. Although calling it noise was like calling an atomic bomb an explosive. It was more a wave of pressure that pressed on your entire body and seeped through your mind. And then the impossible happened – it got louder – as Krys shouted something in a ringing, silvery voice and the fog swirled around her in a vague cyclone and then congealed into hundreds, if not thousands of little shards of ice. Which she sent shooting directly at the … thing. Heh. Fire and ice. My shotgun bucked twice and two more columns of fire flared out. “GO!” I shouted to Krys, waving a hand towards where she had parked. She glanced back, nodded, and then turned back to the writhing mass and yanked her hand skyward, like she was lifting a weight, and shouted something different. The ground bucked and a spike of rock and earth drove itself into the thing, impaling it to make Vlad Tsepesh proud. There was blast of sound and mental anguish, and she started to run back to the scooter.
But then she stumbled, and a wormlike tentacle snaked out after her and coiled around her ankle. She fell as it drew her back, and she started scrabbling ineffectually at the earth, trying to put up enough resistance so that she wouldn‟t be taken. Time slowed down. I could see the tufts of scabrous fur, and the glistening dead-pale skin of the tentacle where it was wrapped around her ankle, just above her New Balance sneaker. I saw her face, the white showing all around her ice green eyes, strands of cool blonde hair escaping from her ponytail, and her mouth open in a silent scream under the roaring of the creature. I saw her hands, fingers curled into claws, digging into the ground, gouging furrows in the sod. I yelled something then, I don‟t remember what, and charged at her, pump-action click-clacking as fast I could, spraying fire and sparks and heat like a miniature Vesuvius. The shotgun ran dry, and I thrust it behind me on its strap with my left hand while my right snapped up my Glock and started putting rounds into the tentacle-appendage-thing. Clots of something gelatinous and dark sprayed up, and then somehow, it retracted Krys following it. I had shot completely through it. There was another weird brassy pressure wave of agony, and another tentacular thing slapped me in the chest and knocked me on my back. Several feet away. It hurt. But through the ringing in my ears and the horrible crushing sensation of trying to breath with cracked ribs, I heard a voice, the echo of the Steward‟s word in my head. I caught a hint of what he had told me – and I remembered. I rolled over (ow) and pushed myself up onto one knee (ow), and looked at the thing. At the Elder One, Hell‟s messenger and eldritch terror – and I shouted something. I think it was Latin. My voice echoed in the misty night, shrill and clear and defiant, like a bugle call on the prairie or bagpipes over the moors. There was another queer wail from the thing, and it just seemed to dwindle, like it was getting smaller, or getting very far away, at the same time. And then it was gone.
In the sudden silence, I could suddenly hear the normal sounds of Portland, faint as they were through the fog – the rumble traffic, a siren several miles away, even the faint whine of a jet taking off from the airport. And the ragged breathing of me and Krys. She looked at me, eyes wide. “Calum?” she said, cautiously inquisitive. I wheezed. “Yeah?” “How did you do that?” “Damned if I know.” I coughed. OW! A moment, both of us catching our breath – and not exactly succeeding, in my case. “Krys?” “Mmm?” “How the hell do I know Latin?”
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