Lawrence shook his head. “Again? I don’t know, man. I’m just looking out for your best interests here, you know? I mean, I know you’re up to some weird shit, and I know that you’re not taking this and going to a rave to dance your ass off, or locking yourself in your room and tripping on some Magic Eye book or something. But, you gotta respect psilocybin, man. Take enough of it and it can alter you. Take you to strange places and leave you there.”
Don’t I know it, I thought. “Thanks, I know you’re looking out for me.” We’d come to the point where my lying or dissembling to Lawrence didn’t serve any purpose, and to be honest, it was a relief. I’d never been in the closet, had always been gay and never hid it. But lately, it was as if I’d had a taste of what that was like – to have a secret, to live a double life, to make up some bullshit story about what I did this weekend, out of fear of other people’s judgments.
Lawrence, it turned out, was a man of many talents. One of which was managing to acquire a digital copy of Jeff Faustus’ college application to an Ivy League school – Lawrence wouldn’t tell me which one because “If I get busted, the less you know, the better.”
The Germantown link had given us a promising lead, since Jeff’s application revealed that he’d volunteered at the Germantown Historical Society as a teenager. Given the town’s rich magical history, and Jeff’s access to that history in the Society’s archives, Lucy and I now had a starting point for our next expedition. Which of course would require more mushrooms.
“Lucy and I have another trip to make, and for now, I can’t do it on my own. She says I can eventually, but it takes a lot of energy. And Jeff is a really, really dangerous character. I can’t be worn out when I meet him again. So yeah, the mushrooms are a shortcut, a crutch, and I get what you’re saying – even though I’m burning it off by traveling, it’s not the long term solution.”
Lawrence nodded. “Listen, if there’s anything I can do to help out…”
It made me sad to think that there was, actually. When we finally went to battle with Jeff, it would be more than a little helpful to have someone in the magicking room to watch the back door, so to speak. And I would have counted on Celia for that, but she’d been making herself scarcer and scarcer lately.
I mean, I accepted it. She had found a man, and was probably putting as much of her energy into havin’ hot sexin’ as I was into learning the ropes of my new career. The passion would dim and she’d be back, right? After all, she was my best friend. I just had to give her some space.
And I was pretty sure Lawrence wouldn’t freak out – he’d made eye contact with Lucy, realized she wasn’t really a cat, and had been pretty matter-of-fact about that.
“Thanks. I may need to take you up on that.”
Back home, once again it was time to chew the disgusting dried up mushroom and wash the taste away.
“Lawrence says I shouldn’t be relying on these so much.”
“Lawrence is a smart man. Now watch my tail.”
So, Germantown isn’t really a town anymore. It was absorbed into Philadelphia, and it has that weird vibe of a place that has the quaint central Ye Olde Houses and Churches, and only a block away, there was the rot of abandoned storefronts, dreary boarded-up buildings with peeling paint and graffiti, and fenced-in abandoned lots. It made Ye Olde parts feel all the more preserved in amber, as if we’d traveled in time as well as space.
We landed in front of the Germantown Historical Society, which was closed for the day, just as we’d planned. I was still flinching as I passed through closed windows, bracing for the impact and the slicey-dicey effect of broken glass across my skin.
“So what are we looking for?” I asked Lucy.
“Everything they have on those names, did you memorize them?”
I had. “Johann Zimmerman, Johann Gottfried Sehlee, Christopher Witt, Christopher Lehman.” Owen Davies’ book on Grimoires had only devoted a few pages to Germantown and its magical history, but it had been enough to start with. It was a thin thread to pull between these long-dead occultists and Jeff Faustus, but my instincts told me it was a strong one.
The Historical Society’s website hadn’t been helpful in our search. The only search results that turned up for those names were for photos of what might have been Dr. Christopher Witt’s house. So I wasn’t sure why we were here.
“Nonetheless,” Lucy said, “I have the feeling they may have…things they haven’t cataloged. Use your nose, Sol. What smells funny in here to you?”
“Everything.” The place was full of musty old stuff. Could an astral body sneeze? I felt like I could.
“Well, filter it. What smells sorcerous?”
I wandered around. Found an old door with a padlock. Got down and put my nose to the crack between door and floor. “This does.”
“Go on then,” she said, and I closed my eyes and walked through the door.
It was a basement, dark as night. “How do we turn on the lights?”
“You are the light, dummy.”
“Oh. Right.” I held my hands up, palms out, and spoke the words from the Book of Love. “Soo etha, maia see.” A soft white ambient light filled the room, as if the basement had suddenly acquired a skylight.
I sniffed around some more. There was something, like…old peaches, or a spot where peach schnapps had been spilled. Sure enough, I found a trunk stuffed behind some boxes of brochures.
“Here.” I raised my hands again, ready to speak.
“Wait,” Lucy said. She sniffed the lock for subtle sorcerous traps. “Okay.”
“Kai etha, ma no echa.” The clasp on the trunk sprang open.
This time I definitely sneezed. The trunk was full of old drapes, or so it seemed. Another spell to lift those out of the way, and there it was, an old book. Big, locked, a blank cover. Another spell to lift it onto a table, another to unlock it and flip it open to the title page.
BEING A HISTORIE
EXPERIMENTS AND CONJURATIONS
Performed in the Proscribed Manner
THE LEARNED DOCTOR
J. BLACK, BOOKSELLERS
“Do you think he meant ‘the prescribed manner’?”
“What do you think? The ‘proscribed’ manner would be the forbidden manner, which would actually make sense.”
I waved my “hand” over the book, turning the pages till I got, after innumerable pages of sycophantic acknowledgements of various patrons, to the table of contents.
I sighed as I read it. The usual bits about astrology, divination, magical properties of herbs (mostly wrong), treasure hunting of course, and then I saw the very last entry.
On the Use of Ye Horologium Achaz Hydrographicum.
I don’t know why but I knew. “This,” I said, pointing at the entry. “This is the key.”
“Oh, that,” Lucy said. “That’s just a toy. Don’t you know that story? Don’t glare at me, it’s not polite. Anyway. It all starts with a Bible story, about King Hezikiah of Judah. He was sick and dying, and prayed for a cure. And God sent Isaiah to tell him, okay, you get fifteen more years, and to prove it, God will turn back time. Now go look outside at the sundial your father, King Achaz, put out there. So Hezikiah looked outside, and saw the shadow of the sundial move backwards 10 degrees, or forty minutes. And he knew he’d live.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I interrupted. “Why does God had to prove anything? And why forty minutes exactly?”
“You got me. Listen, the point is, a craftsman named Christopher Schissler created a sundial in 1578 that would ‘turn back time’ and replicate the miracle from the Bible. It’s a brass and gold bowl, inscribed with astrological symbols, and the story of Hezikiah engraved on the bottom. You fill it with water, and you set the string to cast the shadow. Anyway, long story short, because of the way that water bends light, the principles of refraction let you watch time move backwards.”
“So,” I puzzled it out. “Hydrographicum, means writing and water, or writing on water. Achaz, the King. Horologium, horological is time. So Achaz’s water-writing timepiece.”
“Doesn’t sound so magical in English, eh?”
I laughed. “No. But…you said to trust that icky-sticky little feeling, right? And I am totally getting that here. There’s something about the backwards-time aspect that just…”
“Hmm,” Lucy said. “I see what you mean.”
I flipped through the book to the last few pages, startled by what I read there. On every other subject, the author had gone on at length, repeating himself, embroidering the contents with what were basically the buzzwords of old, to garnish and fluff the nonsense he’d written. But not here.
Tho its workings may seeme to be a trick of light and shadowe, the Horologium must be trated with cayre. A man may find that he hath called for his tea, and sipped it all, and then look up to see the mayde with the tray again, swearing upon the LORD that she has not been before. Or a man may see that which has past into shadow for goode reason and should not be seen again by mortal eyes, or worse, that should not be heard by mortal ears.
I looked at Lucy, and she nodded. “That’s it. We need to go look at it, smell it for recent sorcery. It’s in the collection of the American Philosophical Society.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Well, it used to be. You think Jeff might have absconded with it? We’ll have to go see.”
I heaved a sigh. “There’s got to be an easier way.” I went back upstairs, remembering to dismiss the light so as not to frighten some poor librarian on her next foray down there.
I looked at the computer on the research desk. “You can’t…” Lucy said.
I held up a hand. “Let me try.” I closed my eyes.
All things one day change but all stay the same,
Technology comes and old ways are disrupted,
But a book is a book no matter the name,
Kai etha, admin password and let’s boot it up.
The computer whirred to life. Lucy whistled. “I’ll be damned.”
I smiled. “You just gotta think outside the catbox.”
She glared at me. “A magician, you might be. A comedian, you’re not.”
It was painstaking to “type” as I had to point my right index finger at each key to press it, but it worked. Sure enough, a Google News Search found a three-year old news story:
NO LEADS IN ROBBERY AT AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
Renaissance Sundial among precious objects stolen
“Right around the time Jeff started minting money. But how?”
“Depends,” Lucy said darkly, “how far back he looked into the past.”
“He could have seen into a board meeting yesterday, and bought or sold the stock today based on what he knew was coming.”
“Or he could have seen, and heard, far, far into the past.”
“All the way back to Sodom.”
“Yes. In which case, we need to be very, very careful.”
We rested for a few weeks after that. It was hard work, telecommuting across the country, and it gave me time to practice some more white magic from the Books.
“So what language is this,” I asked Lucy. “It’s so…soothing. So beautiful.”
“It’s a form of Assurian.”
“No. Sort of. Assur was the capital of Assyria, until the Babylonians conquered it. In the looting and pillaging, the city was wiped off the map. Assurian was the priestly language, and Assur was also the name of their god, who was a great daemon who fostered the growth of the city. There were many daemons back then who were quite interested in promoting the evolution of humanity, and they all pretty much lived there, in the cradle of civilization as you call it.” She sniffed disdainfully.
“Was a great daemon?”
“He had a twin. An evil twin. You know him as Astaroth.”
“Oh.” I’d seen him, it, in my memories of Solomon King, and in a vision Rob had shown me – a spirit so evil and powerful it took six other daemons to keep him imprisoned, to keep the world safe from his raging desire for destruction.
“Astaroth caused the fall of Assur, when he consumed his brother to take his power. The city was then helpless before the Babylonians.”
Her nose twitched. “And that will be Phoenix,” she said, just as the doorbell rang.
I gasped when I opened the door.
Phoenix smiled wryly. “Yeah, it’s some Benjamin Button shit for sure. I need to sit down.”
Phoenix looked old. Like, eighty plus years old, his once smooth and glowing skin all wrinkled and baggy, his firm musculature stripped down to a bony old carcass. His thick red hair was thin and gray. And he moved like an old man, too, grimacing at his stiff joints as he sat down on the couch.
Lucy rubbed all over his legs, got in his lap, purred to beat the band at the strokes of his daemon fingers – clearly even in this dessicated state, he still had that electric daemon touch.
“Okay,” I said. “The Horologium Achaz Hydrographicum.”
“Ahh,” he smiled. “You’re making progress.”
I fumed. “So that is the secret to Jeff’s power. Why didn’t you just tell me that? Why did I have to go through all this to find…”
He held up a hand to cut me off. “I would have told you if I could. Jeff’s…restrictions on me are powerful. He’s a clever little bastard, that one. He not only drains me, he makes sure it’s well nigh impossible for me to get help in escaping him.”
“Okay. But now that we know, can you tell us anything else?”
“Can I have a glass of water? I’m parched.”
I brought him his water, watching his wrinkly lips quiver as he sipped it. I was enraged, seeing his beauty so diminished. It just…wasn’t right. He was motherfucking daemonkind! For a horrible second I saw Rob this way – weak, robbed. It made me want to kill Jeff Faustus.
“He used the Speech of Sodom on us.”
Phoenix raised an eyebrow, and there was a glimmer of his old self in his rheumy eyes. “And yet, here you are, still alive and in one piece. Impressive. So you unpacked the secrets of The Book.”
“Finally,” Lucy snorted.
“Yes,” I said, ignoring her. “But what I was able to do…all I could do was to get us out of there in one piece. I can’t imagine fighting him and winning. He’s too strong, those words…” I shuddered. “They made me feel…”
“Don’t think about them,” Phoenix said sharply. “Don’t even think about the way you felt. They’re poison to humans.”
“Then how does Jeff use them?”
“They’re poison to humans,” Phoenix repeated.
Right, I remembered – only so much he could say. I thought for a second. “But not to daemons.”
“Ta da,” he smiled.
“So…Jeff has more than just your energy. There’s another daemon involved. One who helped him learn the Speech. Who helped him use it and not die from it.”
My dismay was apparent. “So I have to defeat a man, who’s using the most powerful black magic on the planet, who’s also charged up with all your power, who also has another daemon in reserve?”
“Fuck.” I got up and paced the room. “Can…can we wait until Rob comes back? It’s October, right, so there’s only four weeks left before he comes back out of the ground, and I…”
“If I may,” Lucy said to Phoenix, and he nodded. “Here’s the deal. Number one, as you may have noticed, Phoenix looks like shit. No offense. He’s just been drained. And that means, I think, that we’re looking at one more draining before Daylight Savings Time ends. And…” she looked away. “I don’t know that Phoenix will survive one more.”
“I won’t,” Phoenix said calmly.
“I’m not ready! I may never be ready! You don’t know how it felt, how hard it was not to just kill myself when Jeff was cursing me…”
Phoenix slapped me. I was too astonished to say a word.
The room darkened, the air seemed to leave it, and for a moment Phoenix was Phoenix again, young and beautiful and literally on fire. When he spoke it was like Orson Welles and Darth Vader and Laurence Olivier all rolled into one great, majestic voice.
“YOU ARE SOLOMON KING. YOU ARE MASTER OF DAEMONS. IT. IS. YOUR. DESTINY TO DEFEAT EVIL.”
Then the storm passed, daylight returned, and Phoenix was old again, no, even older, the effort having exhausted him.
Then I felt it, realized what he’d done – how much of his little remaining energy he had transferred into me. I felt…renewed, reborn, yeah. It was like that feeling when you’ve been sick and you finally wake up one morning and you’re not, you’re you again.
I could do this. I had been given the Seal by the Queen of Sheba, and I was more powerful than Jeff Faustus. I had..
“Oh shit!” I shouted.
They looked at me.
I swallowed hard. How had I been so blind? Now all the little Tetris blocks fell into place, the pattern was clear. Celia, her mystery boyfriend, her abrupt change in personality, her separation from me, the loss of my sorcerous assistant…
“I know who the other daemon is.”
This was wrong. Total stalker shit. But what else could I do? Lucy sat in the car with me outside Celia’s house while I waited for her to come home. I had to force this. I had to make her see who, what, she was entangled with.
Her fur prickled and she hissed. I looked up and saw Celia’s car. There was a passenger, the one who Lucy had felt.
I got out of the car and intercepted them. “Celia,” I said.
“Sol…” She seemed dazed, stoned. Blank.
“Hello, Sol,” the man with her said, smiling.
I wasn’t much for blonds, myself, but he had a seriously gorgeous thing going on. He looked like a surfer dude who’d cleaned up good, if a surfer dude could have such pale skin. Definitely the crystal blue eyes of a surfer who’d spent his life gazing out over the waves, the glare bleaching out his irises year after year. Blue eyes that were cutting me like lasers, burning away at my soul.
I mean it. Like, cutting me. I flicked my fingers. Under my breath I whispered, “Assur, Ansar, Kisar, Asdru.”
He flinched, shocked. His eyes went back to normal. He grinned at me as you’d grin at an opponent in a fight before you kicked his ass.
“Sol, this is Phil.”
“Phil Gabeta, nice to meet you, Sol.” Phil extended his hand for me to shake. I didn’t take it, knowing what he could do to me if I let his seductive skin touch mine.
I could hear Lucy’s low growl all the way across the street. So could Phil, who retracted his hand, his eyes narrowing at the discovery that I wasn’t alone.
“I need to talk to you, Celia. Alone.”
She looked at Phil, clearly enslaved by him, a question in her eyes.
“I think you can say what you have to say in front of me, Sol,” Phil answered for her.
“Fine. Celia, Phil here is a daemon. And he…”
“Oh I know that. It’s fine, Sol, he’s helping me learn things….”
“You told me he wasn’t a daemon. You lied to me.”
Confusion replaced the smooth complacent features she’d had just a moment before. The real Celia was in there, I knew, the Celia who’d never lie to me.
“It was for your own good, Sol,” Phil said softly, and Celia nodded enthusiastically.
“He’s using you. He’s got a plan. He’s in league with someone. Someone very bad.”
Now I had Phil’s attention. “So. You’ve been busy, I see.”
“Celia,” I said as calmly as I could. “You have to come with me now.”
I almost had her. Then Phil put his hand on her arm. His touch was like fire, like water, and Celia closed her eyes. God, how well I knew how good that felt. Oh Rob, I miss you, I need you, what have I gotten myself into…
She blinked. “I have to go, Sol.” She turned and walked towards the front door.
When she was out of earshot, Phil dropped his smile. “You have much to answer for, Solomon King.” And then he too walked away.
It was his hate that shocked me. His deep, personal hatred for me in particular. Why? I put my the first two fingers of my left hand on the tattoo on my right forearm, the Seal of Solomon I’d had inked there years ago, no conscious understanding of what I was doing at the time.
“Ga’ap Bileth,” I said, having figured out the anagram. “I command you to stand and deliver.”
Phil froze in his tracks, literally. His feet unmoving, his body turned so he could face me, twisting at an angle not possible for a human. My bones chilled at the look on his face.
“Deliver?” he whispered. “I will deliver. Your days are numbered. You are the last of your line. And I will finally be avenged.”
Then Celia spoke. “Ga’ap. Come to your queen.”
SNAP. I reeled backwards. She’d…overpowered my spell!
Phil – no, Ga’ap – laughed at me. “She’s a fast learner,” he said, winking at me before disappearing inside and slamming the door.
I got in the car, shaking. “Oh my God. Celia! I have to help her!”
Lucy looked at me. “You can only help her one way. Defeat Jeff. Ga’ap is in league with him. Daemons can’t cast spells, Sol. Jeff is the one who’s helping Ga’ap enslave Celia. Defeat Jeff, and Ga’ap’s hold on her can be broken.”
My rage bubbled, boiled. I was ready for battle. “Okay,” I said, gripping the steering wheel. I pounded my fists on it. “Okay. Let’s get this bastard.”