The Initiate – Snippet 17
Lucas paused while a dozen slender girls wearing caps of green leaves entered bearing golden dishes laden with the appetizers. As one stopped before him to serve him a couple of little puff-pastry cups filled with caviar and sour cream, the hairs on Sam’s arms and the back of his neck stood up as he realized she wasn’t human. The green leaves on her head were growing directly from her skin, which was the smooth silvery-brown of a birch tree’s bark. More sprouted along her arms and on the backs of her extremely long fingers.
“Dryads,” Lucas murmured with a faint chuckle. “I believe Feng recruits them from a grove out on Long Island. The Central Park dryads are far too haughty to serve any mortals, even Apkallu.”
It’s all real, thought Sam. Even when he had managed to summon spirits himself, there was still a part of him which viewed it as an interesting psychological effect. But seeing tree spirits carrying plates and dancing for the amusement of the assembled Apkallu really brought it home to him. A secret world really existed, just out of sight of ordinary people. Now he was part of it.
And of course there was cake and ice cream.
During April and May he resumed his studies — both officially, with Sylvia, and unofficially, with Lucas. The only difference from before the ceremony was that he didn’t have to be quite as paranoid about his meetings with Lucas.
“Now that you’re a sworn initiate, it’s not particularly remarkable that a senior member such as myself should take an interest in your training. I have done it for others before you,” Lucas explained one night while they practiced some formulas to contest another wizard’s control of a spirit. This time they were meeting in a vacant skyscraper condo in New Rochelle.
“What happened to them?”
“Oh, some are still around. Now, this formula is not without risks. You are, in effect, outbidding the other wizard for the loyalty of the spirit, and the cost is real.”
“All the breath in my body — that sounds like I’m letting it kill me.”
“No, the meaning is literal. For just a moment your lungs will empty. Be sure you keep your mouth open, and it’s wise to hyperventilate a bit before you utter the words.”
Sam recited the formula a few times while Lucas checked his pronunciation. “That sounds good. And yes, I’ve built up a little network of protÃ©gÃ©s and allies over the years. I don’t participate overtly in the politics of the society, but unofficially I’ve got quite a power base.”
“So are you under Feng’s authority too?”
“Hardly! He may act like a man of great importance, but he is merely a member of the Circle of the West like myself. That is the level where many ambitious men wind up — they are high enough to have authority over others, but the highest level is closed to them. He will never be the Sage, though he may imagine otherwise. Now, let us see how well you have learned the Pact-Breaker. On your guard!”
Before Sam could say anything, Lucas reached into his pocket and cast a handful of clay dust into the air, then said, “Tule minulle, unen henki! Mihal kaskee sinua!”
The powder coalesced into a smoky human figure with a winged head, which moved toward Sam, crooning softly. Sam felt a wave of intense drowsiness as it approached.
He fought the urge to sleep and repeated the formula Lucas had taught him. A second later he gasped for breath as the spirit hesitated, hovering between the two magicians.
“I could now try to regain control,” said Lucas. “So when you break the pact you should follow it immediately with a binding or banishment of your own.” He dismissed the spirit himself while Sam took some deep breaths, wincing at the lingering pain in his chest.
“At your initiation I pointed out a few people of importance, but some extremely influential Apkallu were not there. There is an aged wizard named Zadith who never leaves his home, and Mr. White, who doesn’t socialize. Thankfully. They are names you should remember.”
“When will I be ready?” asked Sam as they tidied up the condo before leaving.
“Ready for what, is the question. Can you challenge the Seven Sages? No.”
“I want to find out who did it. Who sent the bird demon. You said he’d done it a bunch of times.”
“Well, you could follow the rules — approach Feng and explain the situation, beg his help. He might even agree to assist you, though I would emphasize ‘might’ in his case. You would have your justice . . . and the Apkallu would continue on their merry way, using ordinary people as tools and playthings, heedless of the harm they inflict on the world.”
“It seems like that’s what’s happening anyway!” said Sam, surprising himself a little with how angry he felt. “I study and I practice and I go through all this bullshit but I don’t do anything!”
Lucas finished putting away his materials and papers in a steel briefcase before answering. Finally he looked straight at Sam and his usual half smile was gone. “All right, then. Let’s find out just how serious you are about this project. You say you want to take some action?”
“Then here’s a job for you: kill Hei Feng. He’s the Master of your Circle, so getting rid of him will leave you virtually free of all oversight for a while, until a new Master can be chosen and learn the ropes. There would certainly be justice in it: Feng draws multiple large salaries as a ‘consultant’ for various financial firms while doing nothing. I know for a fact that he sent a demon to murder an auditor who was digging into his affairs, and I suspect he has eliminated at least two others the same way. With a more friendly Master of the Circle here in New York we could even make some inquiries about who is responsible for the anzu attacks.”
Sam remembered a green-eyed dog and didn’t hesitate. “Okay. How do I do it?”
“That’s the trick, isn’t it? Though you are more powerful than a rookie initiate should be, you are not nearly in his league. A suspicious-minded fellow like him has probably accumulated dozens of guardian spirits and demons.”
“Couldn’t I just shoot him?”
“My dear fellow, all of us are virtually immune to firearms.
That hafaza you wear about you may not be able to save you from getting hit by a bus, but it can easily deflect a bullet. Try it, if you doubt me. Even a knife can be nudged enough to turn a deadly wound into a minor cut. Ironically, a wizard is far more vulnerable to an unarmed opponent than one with a gun or a knife. An adept who has trained in bare-handed martial arts can push past a victim’s magical protections.”
“I’m willing to do that.” He had beaten a dog to death, he could do the same to Feng. He ignored the queasy feeling in his stomach.
“You might find it difficult. Feng has been practicing Nanquan Kung Fu for much of his life. Most Apkallu from Hong Kong do. Unless you happen to be a champion yourself, I don’t recommend trying to beat him that way. No, I will provide the weapon. You will be the delivery system. Just get it past his defenses into his home, and make sure no eyes or cameras see you do it. I will manage the rest.”
“I’ll need a month or so to figure a way to get in and out of his place. How big is this weapon you’re thinking of?”
“Quite small. Even the mightiest spirits can be bound into a mustard-seed by the proper incantations. I shall place a demon into some small trinket, then veil its true nature with illusions and misdirection. I’m good at that sort of thing, or so I’m told.”