“Oh shit! I’m flying!”
“So to speak,” Lucy said. She was perched on my back, her perfect kitty balance keeping her from falling off as I veered wildly. “Calm down.”
“Am I a bird again?”
She sighed heavily. “Would a bird have a cat on its back?”
“If the cat was eating it, yeah.”
She snorted. “Touché. No, you’re not a bird. You’re just suddenly much better at astral projection. Either that, or you got a much better mushroom this time.”
We sailed over estate after estate, their mansions bigger than most hotels, acres of green grass separating each from the next. Then we zoomed in on one in particular, and for a moment I thought I was dreaming, because I must be in France, right? Because this was the Palace of Versailles beneath me, only it was on the beach.
Nope. I remembered then that Jeff Faustus had purchased seventeen, count ‘em, seventeen estates and torn them all down to build this replica of Louis XIV’s stately pleasure dome, including the fountains, all the gardens, the huge palace itself. It was built to slightly less than scale only because he’d run out of land to conquer – even Jeff couldn’t have the airport relocated.
The lawsuits from the neighbors should have resulted in litigation of Dickensian proportions; rich people are always suing other rich people to prove whose dick is bigger over trivial matters like who owns the six inches of beach on a disputed property line, or whose single tree mars another’s otherwise unbroken view. It should have given Vanity Fair enough material for their “rich people scandal” articles for years.
But instead, the lawsuits had been…settled. Dismissed. Defeated. All in record time. And we’re talking about people with deep pockets here. But then, they didn’t know what I knew – that Jeff had more than financial power to wield.
There was one upside, though, I thought with a smile. Evil right-wing billionaire Brutus Cock, who’d donated millions of dollars to the political campaigns of every anti-gay, anti-science nutjob in the country, had chosen to take on Jeff, had tried to block his building frenzy in the courts, in the press, in zoning committee meetings, and had refused to settle or back down…and had woken up one day a ruined man, his stock price collapsed, his wife filing for divorce, the SEC dragging him out of his house in handcuffs…a house Jeff had then bought at auction and bulldozed to make room for more gardens.
We bypassed the main buildings, where I could see cars being valet-parked like clockwork. Jeff was clearly in residence, hosting a giant party to ring out the summer. It was weird, seeing that many people, and almost none of them on the beach, or in the water. The women were all wearing their glamorous shoes that would have been ruined had they walked out on the sand and actually experienced the whole point of a beachfront home.
We passed all that activity to come down on the grounds of the replica of the Petit Trianon, the “little” mansion that Louis XV had built for his mistress, Madame du Pompadour, but was more famous for being Marie Antoinette’s retreat from the rest of the glittering French court.
“Whoa,” I said, as we passed through the doors without opening them. “Neat.”
“Pay attention,” Lucy said, perched now on my shoulder. “We need to see what’s going on here.”
“Why are we here and not the big house?”
“Can’t you smell it?”
I sniffed the air. It was still weird to me that when I projected, I still had all my senses, even though I didn’t have my body. I smelled the faintest tang of…wood smoke. Roast bird of some kind. Singed feathers…
“Phoenix,” I said. Phoenix had been here, or nearby. We drifted through the house. God, he’d even decorated it in clunky period fashion. What was the point of being rich if you couldn’t be comfortable, I thought.
We passed through the other end of the house, towards what looked like a little quarter-moon of a building. Then I realized that the angle of approach had misled me. There were four small one room “wings” branching off an airy, light filled central salon, whose grand French doors (duh, right, since I’d later find out this was a copy of the “French Pavilion”) opened in all four directions to the outside. It was…gorgeous. More perfect to me than the rest of the overdone piles of stone scattered around the grounds. I could live there, perfectly happy – there was a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, an office, and this central room could be the living room…
In which someone was living. The room was so bright that even from outside, I could see the woman on the red velvet lounge chair in the middle of the room. But when I tried to pass through these doors, I was blocked. Some power prevented me just as firmly as the power that had prevented me from going down to Celia’s basement. Which I never did ask her about…she’d said of course she wasn’t dating a daemon, and yet… But that was for another time.
“Hey!” I said. “I know her. From the magazine.”
It was Doctor Jane Scott, the pediatric cancer researcher who’d started dating Jeff and then suddenly disappeared from public life. She was sleeping on the lounge chair, one arm thrown back in what would have been a glamorous pose if not for the…I don’t know, peculiarity of it. It was as if she was dreaming, some erotic dream, the way her body was arched, but her face had a look of consternation on it, as if what her head felt and what her body felt were very different things.
The scent was stronger here, and I knew this was the spot where Jeff did what he did to Phoenix – where he summoned the daemon and drained his power, leaving Phoenix nothing but smoke and ashes, until he reincarnated back to his full form and majesty, only to be seized and drained again.
I knocked on the window, surprised that I could, but somehow the fact that it was a barrier to me made it “solid” to my astral form. The Doctor writhed on her day bed, frowning the way anyone would whose sleep was interrupted. I banged louder.
Her eyes flew open. She looked right at me, which was a shocker, since I was supposed to be invisible to mortal flesh. I imagine the amount of sorcery she’d been exposed to had given her at least some ability to glimpse the other world. And since I was standing there with a cat on my shoulder, she had to know that I wasn’t “real.”
She sat up, looked around with the instinctive fear of a trapped animal. She walked on wobbly legs to the door.
“Can you open the door, Dr. Scott?” I asked her, hoping that using her name and title would help orient her.
She shook her head. “No,” she said, her voice weak anyway and even dimmer through the glass. “He’ll come if I even try.”
“We’re here to help you.”
She laughed mirthlessly. “You can’t. He’s too strong. Who are you?”
“I’m a sorcerer, too. Only I’m the good witch, so to speak.”
“He has…a power source. Oh God, I’m so tired.” She slumped to the ground, her head resting against the glass doors.
“We know. We work for that power source.” I didn’t like that thought, of being Phoenix’s employee. “Or with him. Or something. Anyway.”
A gust of wind came out of nowhere, a cold breeze that made no sense on such a warm day, even this near the ocean.
“Trouble,” Lucy said. “Time to go.”
“Just a minute.” I got down on my knees to get my mouth close to the doctor’s ear. “You can help us. When the time comes, fight back, fight it with all your might. You’ll know when.”
Then the autumn leaves swept in, a little cyclone of them. Then they stopped moving towards us, and spun in place. And then, there he was.
Jeff Faustus was “handsome,” if you like those toothy, squeaky-clean, news anchor looks. But the look on his face was anything but bland as his dark eyes narrowed.
“Who. The fuck. Are you.”
“Solomon Cohen,” I blurted, shocked. He had pulled my name out of me without my even thinking about it.
“Lucy Fur,” Lucy answered, equally compelled.
That broke the spell, so to speak. I looked up at her. “Lucy Fur? Seriously?”
“Ah,” he said, smiling. “Got it. So there are still some alive from that line, after all. Phoenix didn’t lie.” He brushed a leaf off his lapel. “Well, then.” He raised his hands, held them out as if about to conduct a symphony.
“Eichnath Ba’al-ka, Eichnath dor eacha Astarot.”
The words made me sick to my stomach; it was like instant food poisoning. I bent over and vomited. Somehow I knew the language instantly, even though I’d never heard it before, knew it was old and dark and made to speak nothing but evil.
“Bakkak ner gloy! Ar bakkak pruta!”
A wave of hopelessness crashed over me. It was as if my S.A.D. had come on all at once, at maximum force. I “realized” all the things you think are true when you’re depressed, that there was no point to anything, that Rob was gone forever, that I’d never be a sorcerer. Those certainties that you think are the presence of facts, that are really just the absence of the neurotransmitters that let us love, dream, hope. Jeff was scrubbing them all out of my brain with the awful-sounding words he was growling.
Lucy’s claws dug deep into my flesh. “Fight him! Fight back! The Book of Love!”
I’d forgotten all about it. Forgotten it was even possible to fight. Only the searing pain of her razor-sharp claws in my muscles woke me up.
I was bent over, hands on my knees, but I forced myself to stand up straight, thinking of all those winter mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed, just wanted to…rest. To not get up until spring. But got up anyway, made coffee, got shit done.
My hands had fifty pound kettlebells attached, or so it seemed. So I bent at the knees and put my hips into it, just like doing a kettlebell swing. And used physics to force them up, just like I did at the gym.
Magic, you see, isn’t just about the words. Or even the talent, genetic or otherwise, behind it. Or even the proverbial 10,000 hours of practice to get good at it. Like any accomplishment, it’s about the will you put into it. The drive to succeed, the refusal to fail. The reason behind that drive, the goal of all the pain and suffering…
Rob, I thought, and forced my mind to see him, my gorgeous lover, so tall and handsome, his perfect wide-receiver body, and I forced my skin to feel his big wide-receiver hands on my own body…
“Noor sah,” I crooned in the voice of a lover, “Noor sefah sah. Maia lah jeffah…”
BANG! A shock wave flew out from my core, an LED-bright white light forming a circle around me and Lucy.
Jeff faltered, more out of shock at my power, I knew, than from the impact. Then he spoke again. “Meck ka ni. Meck bar dura. Meck AR ZA!”
And with that, flaming arrows came at me from every direction. The circle I’d created rose up from the ground, transformed into an opaque cylinder in which the arrows impaled themselves.
“We need to get the fuck out of here,” Lucy said. “You have to try a Spell of Combining. ”
“I’ll try.” That was some calculus-level shit. Theoretical, really. I’d idly wondered one day in our training what would happen if I combined a Book of Love spell with a Book of Legions spell, to attack and defend at once. Lucy had advised against it.
But now, only with Jeff on the defensive, at least for a second, could we teleport out of here in one piece.
Almost in one breath, I uttered, “Al brura vanka / Seah fah qua.” I raised a legion of spirit wasps as I made safe a spot on the ground for a portal.
“Meina dar, vanka. Bro-sa! Seah faie la!” Do well, my brothers! Attack! Open the gates!
My defensive line broke open long enough for my army to rush out, thousands of small buzzing darts that pricked and pushed back Jeff’s assault as his flaming arrows tried to worm their way through the opening. So many little objects were too much for them to penetrate, and the arrows collapsed into sparkling dust.
Words came to me out of nowhere, ancestral memory or inspiration, perhaps. “Val eh Mek! Val eh Sodom! Moof et geah!” Conquer the dark ones! Conquer Sodom! Dust and ashes! “Durer ah orda!” Open the portal!
The assault was effective – Jeff could have blocked a single great blow, but a thousand little swarming insects required his full attention. At least long enough for the ground to open up beneath us and for me to gasp as I fell….
…to the floor of the magicking room, gasping for breath. Lucy was breathing hard, too.
“Holy shit,” I said. “That was close.” Then I felt something and looked down at wonderment at a tear in my pants leg, a stinging sensation that…
“Close it!” Lucy howled. “Close the portal!”
I flipped over and slapped my hands down on the ground. “Bel Etha!” And the ground responded with a clang. But not, it appeared, before one of Jeff’s arrows had followed me through and sliced my left calf.
“Ow. Ow FUCKING ow,” I groaned as the full measure of pain sizzled up to my brain.
“It’s a scratch,” Lucy said, all business. “Lay down.”
“Is not!” I shouted. “I’m going to bleed out!”
“You big baby,” she said scornfully. “It’s a cut. You’re lucky that’s all it is.” Then she began to lick it.
I jerked back at the pain of her sandpaper tongue. “Motherfucker! What are you doing!”
She startled me by jumping on my chest, drilling my eyes with her own. “Trust me.”
“Okay. Ow. Ow. Ow,” I repeated with each lick of her sandpapery tongue on the cut. But with each lick, the pain was a little less. Until it was numb. And the blood had stopped running.
“Let’s get that bandaged up. You’ll be fine.”
Upstairs Gary was whining. “Bad day at Black Rock,” he muttered.
I squeezed him. “It’s okay now, boy.” He wagged his tail, even as he cast a look of blame at Lucy, who of course ignored him as she sauntered past.
Sitting on the toilet, wrapping up my leg, I asked her, “What was that, those spells. I never heard those words, ‘Eichnath…’”
“DON’T!” she screamed. “Don’t say it. It’s the Speech of Sodom. A language made for nothing but thinking evil, doing evil.”
“Sodom? As in Sodom and Gomorrah?”
“Yes. A city of pure evil, built on a site…well, there are some places you just shouldn’t build cities. A city wiped clean off the earth, fortunately, with all its awful inhabitants. Though how Jeff knows to speak it…”
“So God did punisheth the Sodomites for buttsexin’ after all?”
“No. Their evil wasn’t buttsexin’. It was butt-raping every good-looking stranger who made the proverbial wrong turn at Albuquerque. And that was just the appetizer.” She shuddered. “I thought the Speech was destroyed when we nuked that place.”
“Well, the ‘good’ daemons. Rob and Phoenix included. That was hard work. Anyway, the point is, they made sure nothing, I mean, nothing, got out of there. The only way Jeff could know it… Hmm. Anyway.” She patted my leg with her paw consolingly. “Let’s get you rested before we take a little trip to Jeff’s home town and see what we find there.”
I nodded. “Right. Germantown. Ancient home of spiritual spookiness and magical dabbling.”
“Indeed.” She stretched. “But right now, I could use a little saucer of whisky, how about you?”