The Initiate – Snippet 22
Moreno drew the Second Sign of Saturn on the tarp in charcoal, put the scarred piece of molding in the center, then set up other items along the edge: a plastic food-storage container with holes punched in the lid, a bone-handled bronze knife, a pouch of tobacco, a bag of dried rowan leaves, and a bundle of black feathers. He handed Sam the tobacco and rowan leaves, then opened the plastic container and took out a very lively black rat.
“Sorry about this, little guy,” said Moreno to the rat. “It’s the wrong month and the wrong day of the week so I need some extra juice.” He looked over at Sam. “I’m going to call it up. Feed in the tobacco while I’m doing the summoning, then dump in the rowan as soon as it appears. Oh, and if I tell you to run, don’t argue. Understand?”
“Got it. Tobacco, then rowan, run away if you tell me.”
The tobacco was some kind of high-end pipe blend, so the room filled with a pleasant raisiny smell as it burned. Moreno began the incantation in what sounded like Sanskrit, and on his third repetition he sliced the rat’s head off with a single stroke of the knife, and squeezed the blood out of the limp body onto the scarred wood in the center of the sigil.
Sam had already seen the div, but he was still shocked when it appeared in the air over the tarp, all eyes and claws and hunger. He dumped the rowan leaves into the brazier as Moreno tossed the rat aside and brandished the bloody knife at the monster. Sam could see the thing straining at Moreno, as if some invisible barrier stood between them, but after a minute it stopped and Sam heard its voice for the first time.
“No eat,” it said, sounding like a whisper in a cave.
“Speak,” Moreno commanded. “Who sent you here?”
“None sent. Bound, then free.”
“Who bound you?”
“What was his name?”
Moreno gave an irritated sigh. “By what name did he bind
“The Lord of Ruin and the child-swallower.”
“What did he look like?”
“Flesh in cloth.”
“Shit,” Moreno muttered, then more loudly, “Be gone from this place, and do not return. Go!” He shook the knife at the div, showering it with the last of the rat’s blood. It lunged at Moreno one final time but vanished before its claws could touch him.
As soon as it disappeared, Moreno dropped to his knees, utterly exhausted. After a moment he spoke, sounding a little shaky. “I think you’d better clean up. I don’t feel so good.”
Sam did a quick but efficient tidying job, dumping the ashes from the brazier and the rat carcass into the plastic container, wiping down the knife, and stowing everything back in Moreno’s suitcase. By the time he was done, Moreno had recovered enough strength to get down to the elevator and walk to his car.
Before pulling out into traffic Moreno took a bottle of pills out of the glove compartment and swallowed a couple of them dry. He looked over at Sam and gave him a wry smile. “Just Tylenol. That thing left me with a bitch of a headache.”
“Did you find out anything?”
“Not really. Whoever did this was smart. I was hoping whoever bound it used his own name, but no luck. There’s no way I can do a lineup of every Apkal in New York for a div to pick out the one who bound it, so that’s a dead end.”
“So,” said Sam, trying not to sound pleased at Moreno’s failure, “What now?”
“Now we go talk to some people.”
Moreno drove west to Eighth Avenue, then turned north, veering onto Broadway at Columbus Circle, and finally hung a left on Seventieth Street. He slid the car neatly into a no-parking zone and led Sam to an older building decorated with fantastic Assyrian winged bull sculptures with bearded men’s faces. A pair of Art Deco sphinxes perched over the doorway.
Some of the carved stone faces were watching them.
After the physical security at Feng’s place, Sam expected another rooftop fortress with a private elevator, but Moreno led the way into a public elevator and pressed the button for one of the middle floors. As soon as the doors closed, he cleared his throat and said, “You may see some weird stuff here. Let me do the talking. Just keep quiet, be polite, and pay attention to everything. Okay?”
The doors opened onto a hallway, nicely decorated and impeccably tidy, but otherwise unremarkable. Moreno knocked on the closest door, and the two of them waited.
A handsome young man opened the door. He was barely out of his teens and wearing no shirt — revealing an amazing physique, like a dancer or a gymnast. “Who’s this?” he asked Moreno, nodding toward Sam.
“New initiate. Goes by Ace. I need to talk to Zadith.”
“The Master’s busy right now. I can tell him you stopped by, maybe set up an appointment.”
“I’d rather talk to him now,” said Moreno.
“That’s not an option.”
“Can we come in?”
“No. You’re not welcome. Now go away.”
Moreno regarded the shirtless young man for a long moment. “If I have to come back here, I’m going to bring something with me. Do you want that? Does your boss want that?”
“There’s no need for that,” said the young man. “He’s just not ready for people to see him right now.”
Moreno said nothing.
“Can I get him cleaned up, at least?”
“Sure. Can we come in?”
The young man sighed and stepped back. “You’re welcome in this house today.”
“Thank you,” said Moreno, and led Sam inside.
As they passed through the door, Sam felt a sudden flash of vertigo. The apartment beyond was huge, extending off in every direction, filling the entire floor. He realized the hallway outside had been an illusion — a very convincing one, too. Even his Inner Eye hadn’t noticed anything amiss.
The young man led them to a big living room, with a wall of windows covered by heavy curtains. The other three walls were bookshelves. Whatever flaws the Apkallu might have, they certainly were a well-read bunch, Sam thought. He remembered an old joke: Knowledge is power, power corrupts, therefore school is evil.
The two of them waited for about ten minutes before the young man returned, now wearing a collarless linen shirt. “The Master will see you now,” he announced.
He led them to an interior room lit by a single dim lamp. The floor was covered by layers of Persian carpets and heaps of silk cushions. In the far corner where the light was weakest, a man wearing silk pajamas and an embroidered skullcap reclined in a kind of nest of silk cushions.
He wore white gloves and stockings, and had a scarf wrapped around his neck, so that the only part of him exposed to view was his face. It was incredibly withered and shrunken; the hairless skin was papery and drawn tight over the bones, and his closed eyes were sunk in hollows. He was brown all over — not the normal color of a dark-skinned person but more like a sheet of paper just about to burn. The teeth in his lipless mouth looked too big.
The young man hurried to the old man’s side and took up a position behind him, partly supporting him. With one hand he took up a jar and used his other to gently rub lotion on the old man’s face on the cheeks and around the mouth.
“Who are you?” the old man whispered.
“Moreno. Initiate of the House. Agaus and Mitum-bearer.”
“He doesn’t have it,” the young man murmured as the old man stirred nervously.
“I come begging your help, Master Zadith,” said Moreno. “Hei Feng is dead. Someone was able to get a beast strong enough to overcome his bailong protector into his house. You were his teacher. Do you know who might have done this?”
“He was disloyal,” whispered the paper-skinned man. “Disobeyed me. Impatient. Made enemies. I warned him.”
“Who were his enemies?”
“The man with you. Who is he?”
“This is Ace, a new initiate.”
“I want to help find out who killed Mr. Feng,” said Sam. Zadith looked at him, though his papery eyelids were still tightly shut.
Moreno made a quick palm-down gesture to Sam. “Who were Feng’s enemies?”
“White. Il Conte. Taika. None of them did it.”
“Wait, Taika? His wife?”
“None of them. Too obvious. Find the least likely.” The old man gestured and his young helper rubbed more lotion onto his mouth.
“That could be anyone.” Moreno sighed, then bowed slightly.
“Thank you, Master Zadith, for speaking to me. I’m grateful for your help.”
Zadith’s young servant led them back to the door. “What about you?” Moreno asked him at the last moment. “You hear anything about Feng?”
The young man shrugged. “I don’t know. Master Zadith makes me forget everything I hear. Next time you come I won’t remember you.” With that, he shut the door behind them.
“He didn’t tell us much,” said Sam as the rode the elevator down.
Moreno chuckled. “Are you kidding? I learned all kinds of interesting stuff. First, it really wasn’t Zadith. I was waiting for him to make a big show about avenging Feng’s death. He didn’t care. Second, he really doesn’t know anything. If he did, he’d have tried to trade for it.”
“Who were those other people he named?”
“White and the Count you’ll see tomorrow. Taika’s Feng’s wife.”
“You think she did it?”
“She’s too smart for that.” The elevator doors opened and the two of them remained silent until they reached Moreno’s car.
“So what’s up with Zadith?” Sam asked once the car doors were shut. “How old is he, really?”
“My guess is that he’s about two hundred. Acts older, but everything he knows about Egyptian history before Napoleon sounds like he got it from a book. His problem is that he’s dead.
Other Apkallu make deals to stay young, stretch their lives out to four or five hundred years. Zadith’s got another plan. He’s done a kind of spirit-binding to keep his spirit attached to his body, and he’s done everything he can to preserve it.”
“Like a mummy.”
“Exactly like a mummy. There’s rumors — you’ll hear them — about old Sages still alive in the Sahara or the mountains around Kermanshah. Living mummies like Zadith. Might be true.”
Sam was only half listening. He had glanced out of the window as the car turned onto Central Park West, and saw a little girl in a sparkly purple dress perched on the low wall around the park. She waved at him.
“Are we done today? You said I’d meet some people tomorrow.”
“Not quite. One name Zadith didn’t mention. We’re having lunch with Miss Elizabeth. Then I’m going to knock off for the day.”