“And your son?”
“Practices memory techniques, so when he wakes up, he remembers.”
“He’s a guard. A watchman. When the attack comes from the nightmare-world, he’s supposed to stop it. Somehow. There are all these secrets.”
“He told you?”
“I’m his mother. You think I can’t figure out his secrets?”
“Azrael wants to control the mansion, to control entrance and egress from the dream-world?” He did not wait for an answer but stood and moved to the phone. He drew an electronic instrument out from beneath his cloak and attached it to the wires. He spoke into a microphone jacked into the telephone. “Calling Burbank! I want the last ten numbers dialed into this phone. I am sending the signal through now.”
He made an adjustment to his machine. Then he said, “Also, send all available information concerning this address, number fourteen, rural route AA, Sagadahoc County, Maine—also known as Everness Mansion—into the electronic file in the armored limousine. Out.” He took the jack out. Then he turned toward the door, as if ready to rush away.
Emily stopped him by saying; “They’ll be gone.”
The dark figure turned toward her. She could see no face, for he was silhouetted against the dim red light of dawn painted against the window behind him. But she could see two points of light reflected in his eyes, shining from beneath the brim of his hat.
Maybe he thought he was human. Emily wondered how long this being had been in the dream-world and what that environment might do to a person, how it might mutate him.
“Explain,” the cold voice commanded.
“It’s dawn. The powers of the night retreat. Whatever the Warlock wanted from the house, he’s got it by now, or he’s gone back into the shadows. Night-magic doesn’t work in the daylight. My son told me that. I didn’t believe his stories, but I listened.”
“What does he want in the house?”
“A key. A silver key.”
“What does it open?”
“I don’t know. Something that needs to be kept shut. Peter’s family has been guarding it since forever. I wonder if Peter changed his mind and believes in this stuff now. Do you think he went to the mansion and got involved in the battle? They’d capture him, right? They wouldn’t kill him, would they? He’s a cripple, for God’s sake! They wouldn’t kill him!”
The dark figure did not answer.
Then she said, “Is my son really dead? Really?”
The man in black said, “There are those who count me dead, yet I live. Do not despair. The world is more strange than first it seems, and there are many things hidden. Yet the rules of logic cannot change. If Azrael is a ghost, and is yet a conscious being, able to act and move, this means death is not final.”
Emily said, “If death is not final, then you can’t kill him. The Warlock; you cannot defeat him!”
The voice spoke softly, perhaps with a hint of cool humor: “Ma’am, I was not planning to step out into the open and shoot him in the head.”
“There is no way to fight him. No human power can touch him. You didn’t see his eyes. Staring out from my little boy’s face! I can’t move!
did this! All
has to do is look at you.”
“He will not see me.”
“How can you fight him, then? You can’t!”
“Evil acts toward its own defeat. There is a force in the universe, a selective amnesia that hates magic and tries to hide it from men. A mist. It clouds men’s minds. Every man the Warlock confounds with magic is sent into the mist, and from the mist I recruit my allies: my organization grows larger the farther the Warlock’s power reaches. When the time is right, we forgotten men will come forth from the mists, and strike.”
He held up his black glove once more before her eyes, and the mysterious stone in his ring seemed to pulse and writhe with crimson, rose, and scarlet gleams. “Stare into the burning eye of my fire opal. See into its utmost depth! It is the color of the rising Sun, of approaching day. The numbness that possesses you is an illusion; your limbs are whole and full of vigor! As you wake, you will realize that whatever hypnotic spell you are under has ended with the suddenness of a dream!”
And she did wake up then, yawning and stretching in the middle of the floor.
“Oh, thank you!” she started to say. But then she noticed that no one was in the room with her. She blinked, rubbing her head. “Strange. I could have sworn I was talking to some … but it must have been a dream. Must have been … ?” Because the strange conversation was already becoming vague and shadowy in her memory.
But when she woke up Wil a few moments later, and he told her that he had almost jumped off the side of the reservoir last night, she started to pack.
It was less than fifteen minutes later, they were in the car, speeding down the road. Wil was still arguing.
“But where are we going?” asked Wil. “This is crazy!”
“On vacation,” she snapped. “Anywhere. We’ll decide when we get to the airport.”
“This is so crazy!”
“This is perfectly sensible,” she said. “Something we can’t explain and we can’t fight has tried to kill you once. They—whoever they are—know where the house is. If you can’t explain it, and you can’t fight it, and it’s trying to kill you, you run. You run the hell away. It’s just common sense.”
Wil stared off behind him into the rising Sun. Then he said the last thing she’d have ever expected. “But, if we do this, we’ll never find out what happens …”
Something in the sadness of his tone touched her heart, too. Almost, she felt the impulse to turn around, to join whatever mysterious supernatural struggle was going on between her family and the forces of darkness. Almost.
“Be practical!” she snapped angrily. And she pressed down on the accelerator.
Duress of the Warlock
Peter had been in hospitals before, after he stepped on a land mine in a swamp and lost the use of both his legs. And he had spent months and weeks on his back before, peeing in a tube and drinking from a straw, so this was not so bad.
Of course, he had had the use of his arms back then, so this was worse.
Peter had been in the stockade before, back before his marriage, when he was young and full of beans and stupid and picked a fight with the corporal on guard. God, that had messed up his record for so many years. One-week confinement in stockade; pack drill and two-week CB after that.
But then it had been friendlies who had him, not the enemy, so maybe this was much worse. And this was an enemy from some nightmare-land, mumbo-jumbo hell beyond the edge of sanity, who—thanks to the fact that Peter had lost the fight at the old mansion—were about to fry up the Earth with an apple in its mouth, or something. Good going, Peter.
World about to end. And he was here. There was nothing to do but lie on his back and think about his life.
That land mine had been defective and poorly placed. It had not had enough punch even to blow his foot off, so he was lucky. Shrapnel broke vertebrae in his spine, so he’d never walk again, so maybe he was not so lucky. Got him shipped back home, so maybe that was lucky. His wife dumped him, so maybe unlucky. But she was a cruel bitch, so maybe lucky. Then his son, Galen, went crazy and went into a coma. Unlucky. Galen woke up again. Lucky. But he woke up even crazier. Unlucky.
Then things in Peter’s life started taking a turn for the weird. His son turned out not to be crazy after all, but dead. Sort of. His flesh still walked the Earth, possessed by an evil ghost, a wizard from the Dark Ages named Azrael de Gray.
Galen had never been crazy. His son had been a soldier in a war against the mumbo-jumbo freaks from magic-land, some sort of hell inhabited by shape-changers and rotting corpses and all sorts of shit that’d turn your hair on your balls white. Very unlucky.
So, he was kinda glad his son had been in his right mind all these years, but it would have been easier on the rest of the world if Galen had been hallucinating, and the things he thought were coming had not been real after all.
Galen had died in the line of service. He had died a soldier’s death, died still thinking his old man thought he was nuts. Peter had never gotten a chance to talk to him, never gotten a chance to set things straight.
Because that big Russian fellow, Raven Varovitch, had made a deal with the Devil and killed Galen in order to save the life of his little wife. Wendy was her name. Unlucky for the both of them, because when Peter got out of here, the girl was going to be a widow and the guy was going to be a corpse.
What hurt is that he’d liked the Russian guy from the moment he’d seen him. Nice guy. And what man wouldn’t kill someone for his wife? If you had a wife worth killing someone for. But when Peter got out of here …
When who got out of where? Peter was going nowhere. Because his son had been right and magic had been real and monsters had come up out of the sea and stormed the old mansion. And Peter got caught in the cross fire. Of all places, in that spooky old mansion where he had been born and raised. Azrael de Gray had come up out of the night-world with a squad of men and an army of horrors.
There had been magic weapons hidden in the house all this time, just like his dad had always told him. Wendy found a way to summon the weapons the mansion had been guarding since King Arthur’s time. One of those weapons, the Rod of Mollner, came into Peter’s hands so that he could slay the two giants, Surtvitnir and whatshisname, Argle-bargle. Something like that. But the Rod was cursed. He threw it, and it returned to the hand of the thrower, and the impact paralyzed his arm. The damn thing was meant to be thrown by some Viking god or something, not by a middle-aged, hard-ass jarhead in a wheelchair with two bad legs, whose bright idea was to use a weapon he didn’t know how the hell worked.
And it was really dumb to throw it the second time.
So the black hats won. Azrael de Gray was in control of the mansion, which meant—as far as Peter understood this mumbo jumbo—that he ruled the world.
There was something worse than Azrael coming, something big and bad.
And Peter was down for the count. And never getting up again. Arms and legs out of commission. World about to end. Very, very unlucky.
If Peter had done his job right, if he had only done his job right, Azrael would have been the one flat on his back, paralyzed in all four limbs, and peeing in a tube.
Peter replayed the battle in his head.
There had to be some way for a little mortal man to use that damned god-hammer properly. If only he could have figured it right. If only these nightmares about the beast would stop. If only Raven had used the ring when he’d had the chance.
If only, if only. Crap. Peter wished he could just go crazy all at once and get it over with.
Bergelmir. The other giant had been called Bergelmir.
Peter, from where he lay, could view the bleak, gray metal slab of the door, often left hanging open, and a bit of the drab olive corridor beyond. And why bother to close and lock it? Peter wasn’t going anywhere … and his captors knew it.
He could usually see the guard stationed in the corridor.
It was not the same man every day, but he always had the same expression on his face: dull-eyed, drowsy, harsh.
The guards never spoke nor laughed; they never fidgeted nor smoked, but stood in postures stiff as a Queen’s Own Beefeater at Buckingham Palace. Peter would have admired the military discipline, if it had been military discipline.
Peter might have felt sorry for them, if he had not seen, where their collars were not buttoned tight, a witch-mark of a shape he knew. Whatever enchantment these men were under now, the original vow that had put them in the Warlock’s power had been sworn voluntarily.
Whenever he turned his head (and all he could turn was his head), Peter could see the security camera clinging to the ceiling above the head of his bed. The large-wheeled cart on which his medical equipment was kept was to the right of the bed. Farther right was the small, dusty square, crisscrossed by bars and thick wires, of the tiny window. That window was his only source of happiness. Some days he would lie for hours staring at the dusty square, hoping for a glimpse of clear blue sky. Once, to his great delight, he saw a bird fly by.
The window was his entertainment. If he got bored with the view, he could always turn his head and stare back at the guard or at the medical equipment on the cart.
They didn’t bother to feed him; an intravenous drip led from the cart to his arm, with nutrients to keep him hungry, always hungry, but alive. A catheter led from his diapers to a pump on the cart, to carry his wastes away. For his thirst, they had hung above the headboard one of those little sipping bottles bicyclists sometimes used, with a straw and nipple for him to suck on.
Also on the medical cart was the EEG machine that monitored his brain waves for REM sleep patterns. Peter sometimes entertained himself by banging against his pillow with violent yanks of his head, to see if he could dislodge the little metal tabs taped to his skull.
The only other thing to look at was the drawing chalked on the wall. But the sketch was of a hideous beast, a shaggy, hunched shape with snarling fangs and dripping claws, biting at the chains that bound it. The Beast looked something like a bear, with the arms of a gorilla and the head of a saber-toothed tiger.
Peter saw enough of the creature at night, in his nightmares, when the Beast stepped out from the wall, and prowled around the outside of whatever dungeon or oubliette he was in that night. He had seen more than enough of the beast and did not care to look at it.
No, he’d rather look out the window. Once he had, after all, seen a bird fly by.
The Beast had not always been there. On the first night there had been nine candles surrounding his bed, which, in his nightmare that night, became an encircling wall of fire imprisoning him.
The next day Azrael de Gray had come, tall, imposing, with the cold, dispassionate eyes Peter remembered from the sitting room portrait he’d been afraid of as a child. Azrael wore a large cloak woven with cabalistic signs and zodiacal symbols. When he had drawn out and put on a conical wizard’s cap with stars on it and moons of different phase around the brim, Peter had laughed out loud. The get-up looked like Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Disney’s
Azrael silenced Peter with a curt gesture. The voice in his throat had simply dried up immediately. It was a day before he could talk again.
Then Azrael had drawn the picture of the Beast in chalk upon the wall. Around it he had inscribed circles and triangles, with phrases written in Latin and Arabic script along each border. Azrael had said nothing at the time, except a brief prayer to the angelic intelligence governing the planet Mars. And then he had left.
Peter enjoyed staring out the window. Every now and then he saw a passing cloud. Once he saw a bird.
On the fourth day Peter’s hunger pangs had diminished to a tolerable level, as if his body were forgetting how to crave food.
It was on the seventh day Azrael de Gray came once again, this time to speak with him.
Azrael de Gray was perfectly dressed in a handsome blue pinstripe suit and a dark blue overcoat of the most expensive cut—but the effect was made absurd by the several necklaces of heavy gold chain he wore; the half a dozen diamond studs at his wrists and collar; and the bracelets, rings, and a woman’s belt of gold links.
There were three men in business suits behind him, one carrying a chair. One man looked normal in his poise and expression; one walked with a swaggering, rolling gait, as if he were not used to human feet, and he said, “Stow ’er there, mate!” to the third, who put down the chair. This third man had the glassy stare of hypnosis or enchantment.
Azrael waved them away out of earshot, down the corridor. He took a can of Morton’s salt from beneath his coat and traced a circle all the way around the room, squeezing to walk into the gap between the headboard and the wall. Then he faced the wall and made a gesture—middle and ring finger curled, forefinger and pinky straight—in four directions, murmuring, “Depart! Depart! Depart!” Then he hung his overcoat on a hook on the wall so as to cover the chalked face of the Beast.
Evidently the Wizard wanted privacy. Peter noticed wryly that Azrael did not think to turn off the security camera, however.
“Hope you didn’t get all dolled up on my account,” grunted Peter.
Azrael ran his beringed fingers through the many chains of jewels he wore. “These stones, grown in the womb of Earth to that perfection which mirrors Heaven, are possessed of double virtue, being, here, emblems of wealth; there, as amulets of infused power. Yet I see by your curled lip you disdain my finery as gaudy show; so, too, have my advisors condemned my appearance. You mock me for a peacock; yet I would not be a peahen. This generation of man is more strange and fabulous than any land of Orient or Hyperboria. Why would your people cherish drabness over splendor in garb, wearing denim and dark stuffs, they, whose wealth makes seem Solomon and Croesus unto paupers? Your bounty expands beyond the riches of the immortals who dance upon Mount Cytheron and cloud-dark Olympos, but your dress is soberer than monks at penance. Observe this sleeve seam, stitched with finer hand and more evenly than any fairy seamstress of the court of Finn Finbarra could do! La! Do I dress too much? I wore but rags and scabs in Tirion.”
“You sure as hell talk too much,” said Peter.
Peter said, “It’s getting to you, ain’t it?”
Tiny lines appeared around the edges of Azrael’s eyes.
Peter said, “You’re just dying for someone to talk to. You come back to earth after all those years, and nothing’s the same as you remember. No one here even knows or cares who you are.” Now Peter laughed bitterly. “Yeah, I know what it must feel like. Welcome home, veteran.”
A look of cold majesty darkened Azrael’s features. He stood abruptly, his hand lightly resting on the chair back, as if strongly urged to leave, strongly impelled to stay. He turned toward the door. Then, as if drawn against his will, he turned again toward Peter.
“I have come to plead with you,” he said in a hushed tone, his eyes aglow with strange emotion.
“I must have the Silver Key again, to bar the Gates of Everness; for dreams escape into the daylit world, now, before mankind has been made ready and equipped to conquer them.”
“Ain’t working out the way you planned, is it?”
Azrael said nothing. His face grew cold and haughty.
Peter said, “The planetarium in the attic—if it still works and ain’t burnt—that’d tell you right where she was if she was on Earth. So she’s in the dream-land. But you—ain’t so easy to get around now, is it? How many gateways closed when so many paintings and tapestries went up in smoke? Or maybe the dream-colts don’t have to come anymore when you call? Well, well. Who the hell’s fault could that be?”
Azrael gripped the chair back with his fist and his knuckles whitened, but his grim face showed no change of expression.
Peter said, “Sure, I’ll help you, seeing as how you’re family and all. Mind if I call you ‘Dad’ while my dad is laid up?”
Azrael pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes.
Peter said, “And you made me so comfy here. You know I’m hungry all the time and my muscles are rotting? You know how much having this tube up my ass hurts?”
“Where were you, sir, when I was in Tirion?” answered Azrael, lowering.
“Where were you when I was young and hated my father for being a liar, when the only thing I wanted to do was meet the wizards he was always talking about?”
Azrael’s dark eyes took on a sardonic glitter. “Forgive me, I was detained.”
“And why the hell should I forgive you anything?” uttered Peter, a note of anger trembling in his low voice.
Azrael’s face grew stern again, like a stone door closing. “Everness can be healed with the Silver Key and this world defended from the hordes of dream. Defended and more.”
Peter squinted. “Out with it. What more?”