The Initiate – Snippet 03

They sat in silence for a moment, and then Lucas spoke again. “Your choice is simple, Mr. Arquero: You can believe me or you can decide that you hallucinated that creature. Now, that is an entirely reasonable thing to conclude. After all, if you were attacked by a rabid bear and seriously injured, it stands to reason your memory of the incident might be faulty.”

That was the explanation he’d believed. But . . . even if it was a hallucination, somehow Lucas had known about it. Was he a mind reader? If Sam could believe in telepathy, why not in magic?

“Show me,” he said. “Prove it. Show me some magic, right here.”

“Oh, very well.” Lucas took out the ring Sam had chosen earlier. “Here, watch.” He held it in the palm of his hand and spoke. “Prejem Ka, Prejem Willis Wayne Dean.”

Above his outstretched hand a face appeared — it wasn’t misty or transparent like a ghost special effect in a movie. It was there, looking just as real and solid as Mr. Lucas’s, only with no neck. The face was that of a man, bald and stubbly, with an expression of all-consuming anger and hate. He bared his teeth at Sam, then opened his mouth wide and screamed. It was utterly terrifying, and went on, rising in volume, without pause for breath. Sam cowered, curled into a ball and rolled off the couch onto the floor. He covered his ears but the howl was more than just sound. It was inside his head, drowning out his thoughts. He wanted to run, to hide, to crawl into a hole, to die — anything to get away from that horrible scream.

When the sound cut off suddenly Sam didn’t uncurl for a few seconds. Then he got to his feet, wincing when he put weight on his left arm. Before saying anything he went back to the kitchen and put a shot of vodka into his glass of V-8 juice and drank the whole thing down.

Mr. Lucas was still sitting in the armchair when Sam returned to the living room. He tucked the ring away in his pocket again and looked rather smug.

“That was Willis W. Dean, hanged by the State of Ohio in 1937 for the murder of two men, suspected in four other killings. I keep him bound in the ring.”

“What in the world for?”

“Oh, there are plenty of uses for a ghost, especially that of a hanged man. Very rich in symbolism.” Sam thought that the matter-of-fact way Lucas said it was almost as creepy as the ghost itself. “Well?”

Sam took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay, I believe you,” he said.

“Good. Now, let me help you avenge your family. Let me tell you how you can destroy the Apkallu and bring them to justice. Are you willing?”

“Yes,” said Sam, surprising himself a little at how quickly and firmly he said it.

“You can’t attack them directly. They’re too powerful, too old and clever for that. The Roman Senate tried and failed, and so did Stalin. It’s like trying to fight smoke. And they can defend themselves very effectively.”

“Then how?”

“You can only destroy them from within. You must work your way into the organization and bring it all down. Break the links of loyalty and protection connecting them. Set them at each other’s throats.”

“How the hell can I do that? Like you said, they don’t exactly advertise on TV, and I’m no magician.”

“You can become one,” Lucas said quietly.

It must have been five minutes before Sam said anything. He wanted to say “Yes! Teach me!” He also wanted to tell this bland-looking old man to get the hell out of his house. What he finally asked was “Was that what the business with the rings was all about?”

Lucas beamed. “Very good! Yes, I wanted to see how sensitive you are. You sensed the presence of the late Mr. Dean in the ring. Only someone with the gift could do that.”

“I can learn to do stuff like that? Talk to spirits and ride on a broomstick?”

“You can. If you have the gift, everything else is mostly a matter of study and practice. I don’t mean to say it is easy: You will have to learn several new languages, devote a great deal of time to exercises and disciplines, and do some things which will disgust you. But if you do it, you can avenge your wife and son.”

“So you want me to learn magic and then somehow find these Apkallu?”

“They will probably find you, but yes.”

“Okay, how come you haven’t done it yourself? You obviously know some pretty big-league magic.”

His smug look faded. For the first time since he knocked on Sam’s door Mr. Lucas looked unhappy. “They know me. I revealed myself to them too soon, before I developed a healthy degree of paranoia. The Apkallu know my name, and they have my blood. That gives them power over me. I can’t act against them.”

“Isn’t that what you’re doing right now?”

He looked smug again. “I figured out a few loopholes. You are one. Most Apkallu are initiated in adolescence; they make their vows before they know the full truth. You will come to it as an adult, with forewarning. I can help you circumvent the methods the order will use to control you.”

“Okay,” said Sam.

“You will need a new name, for two reasons. First, if anyone connects Samuel Arquero, aspiring magician, to Samuel Arquero, victim of an anzu attack, then your life would be measured in minutes. Second, names give power. No magician ever uses his real name. You must become a new person. Leave your old life behind.”

“Just like that?” He’d have to leave his job, his nightly drinking in the dark living room, his . . . Sam realized as he spoke that he didn’t really have much of a life any more.

Lucas actually looked irritated. “Yes, just like that. Are you serious about this, or am I wasting my time here? I am offering you the chance to destroy the people who killed your family, and you’re quibbling over the inconvenience involved?”

“Sorry. This is just a lot to absorb all at once.” Sam glanced at the clock display on his phone. “I mean, you’ve only been here an hour.”

“Yes. Having your entire understanding of the Universe turned inside-out can be a bit wrenching. With me it was a bit more gradual. I apologize for my impatience.” He looked around the room again, at the photos on the mantelpiece and on the back of the piano. Most of them were of Alice’s relatives.

“What do you know about your family?” Mr. Lucas asked him. “I mean your parents and ancestors. As I said, the gift is hereditary.”

“Not much, really. I was adopted from an orphanage in Colombia. Pop was from there, and when my mom found out she couldn’t have any children of her own they went down there and got me. That’s literally all I know, and it’s ten years too late to ask either one of them.”

Mr. Lucas looked pleased. “You’re doubly protected, then. Family are a weakness.” He finished his Bloody Mary and set down the glass. “I think you should make some coffee. We have many things to plan.”