The Initiate – Snippet 28
“Damn,” said Moreno, looking around the house on Long Island. The place was empty, with big gaps among the clothes in the closets, drawers hanging open, and a pile of wet ashes in the sink where the Count had disposed of some papers and personal effects. “I think we just missed him.”
Sam thought about where their quarry could be. The Count was somewhere inside a circle centered on this house. Right now the circle’s radius was only thirty miles or so, but that radius was expanding at about sixty miles an hour. And already it encompassed at least three airports . . .
“Do you have any way to track him?”
Moreno sighed. “Yeah, we could chase after him, but there’s no need. The Sage already passed sentence on him. I’ve got his blood. No reason to delay — lock the door.”
Sam watched as Moreno gathered materials from around the house: a carving knife from the kitchen, tobacco and sparklers from the Count’s magical workroom, a bottle of rum from the saloon-sized bar in the living room, and a red cashmere scarf left at the bottom of the bedroom closet. He had Sam pull down all the smoke detectors and put them outside, then instructed him to heat up the rum in a saucepan.
Moreno built a little fire using a steel mixing bowl for a brazier, tossing in the tobacco and sparklers. The room filled with smoke that made their eyes water. He took a little sealed bottle from his pocket and began to chant an invocation while Sam added the heated rum to the fire a little at a time. It burned with a nice blue flame.
“By Yirthiel, Lord of Great Strength, and Nergal I send burning death to his heart. By Girra and Nusku I command it. Let the heart which held this blood burn!” Moreno emptied the bottle of the Count’s dried blood into the fire, and for a moment Sam felt the room crowd with hot, hungry spirits, swirling around the smoke. Then they sped away, leaving the two men in a sooty room.
“What happens now?”
“Now we clean up. Subur cops will probably be checking this place out in a little while. No sense in leaving fingerprints. Saves me a lot of trouble.”
“I mean what happens to the Count?”
“He’s dead, or about to be. His heart’s on fire.” Moreno put on a pair of oven mitts and emptied the bowl of ashes and rum down the drain.
Sam was busy with a towel, wiping down handles, doorknobs, and light switches. “The fire spirits have to find him, and he’s probably got protection,” he pointed out.
“Doesn’t matter. Your blood is your life. That’s why everyone has to give a sample.” Moreno cleaned the knife and put it back in the holder with the others.
“No way to avoid it?”
“Not really. Your blood is you. The Sages could wipe out all the other Apkallu in an afternoon if they felt like it.”
Moreno shook his head. “They keep the blood, not me. There are rules. This is why we have rules, and why we have to follow them.”
That night Sam got an anonymous email, consisting of a link to a “weird news” channel on YouTube. He followed the link and picked the most recent video: It showed a man on the Acela train who suddenly burst into flames that afternoon. The video was blurry, but Sam could recognize the Count’s face on the burning figure before he was consumed.
The bottle labeled “William Hunter” — wherever it was right now — held nothing but lamb’s blood, but now Sam was certain that if Moreno ever got any of his real blood he would never be safe.
The next day Sam was just finishing a little morning study at Columbia when his phone buzzed with a message from Lucas. “Meet me now. Riverside Church.” He sighed and walked the six blocks without hurrying.
Lucas was sitting in the rearmost pew on the right, and Sam slid in next to him.
“I told you to get away from there,” said Lucas without preamble.
“I didn’t have time.”
“You wasted too much time, you mean. The correct response would have been to start running as soon as you read my message. Ah, well; never mind. It worked out rather well, in the end. The Count is dead, which eliminates the only serious opposition to Stone taking over the New York Circle. And he makes a perfect scapegoat for Feng’s death.”
“I don’t know if Moreno believes it.”
“Damn him. That’s why I told you to run away. The ideal result would have been for the Count to kill Moreno and thereby discredit himself. Well, perhaps we can still find a way to aim him in the right direction.”
“He wanted to see if anyone would try anything if they thought he was dead.”
“Mm. Are you going to see Moreno today?”
“I think we’re going to talk to Mr. White this afternoon. Nobody seems to like him much.”
“True. Unfortunately I can’t orchestrate an attack on him without a little more time to prepare. Still . . . it would be a shame to waste the moment. Would you mind very much sending me a text before your meeting?”
“Sure.” Sam looked around at the church, then back at Lucas. “Moreno knew how to call up the div that killed Feng.”
“Since we’re both still alive I assume it didn’t reveal anything. Not that it could, of course. I chose it carefully.”
“He didn’t know what it was or what its name was, but he managed to call it up anyway.”
“Yes. It’s dangerous but not especially difficult if you have a physical link. The risk is in not knowing what will come when you call.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Eh?” Lucas looked genuinely puzzled.
“I’m sure I could find something the anzu touched. The one that killed my family. We can find out who sent it!”
Lucas stared at him, then nodded gravely. “We can, yes. But . . . are you ready yet? The anzu are wily beings, with considerable magical knowledge of their own. They are not easy to command. I fear for your safety if you try to summon one, or seek it in the Otherworld.”
“Sure, but you can help me. You know all this stuff — you did the div enchantment. Can you make the anzu talk?”
“I see there is no dissuading you.” Lucas sighed. “Very well. I will help you. But!” He held up a forefinger. “I do insist on one thing: You cannot abandon our larger project. If we can find out who caused the attack on your family, I don’t want you to be satisfied with simply taking revenge on that person alone. That is irrelevant. We still need to maneuver me into a place of power within the Apkallu in order to destroy the entire organization. Agreed?”
“Oh, sure, absolutely. But I want to know who did it — I want to know why.”
“Don’t worry. If my plans work out, I swear to you that you will know exactly who and why. But you must be patient, Samuel.”