A hair divides what is false and true.
“Since you are late, you can stop and bring me what’s left of my broken servant.” The telepathic message was imperious, haughty and downright pissing me off.
To hell with good impressions.
“Look lady, er fellow, whatever you are, I am not your manservant. I won’t be stopping to pick you up some ice cream, getting your laundry or picking up your servant on my way to an audience with you. Do we have an understanding?”
The telepathic connection was suddenly gone. “Gentlemen, I’ve just had a conversation with the Night Train. It reminded me we’re officially late.”
I started back toward the train station when I noticed Manny and Albrecht just standing there. I looked in the direction they were staring. Then I could hear this electrical sound like a transformer trying to pass a current. I noticed EMTs grabbed their patients and started running back toward their vehicles.
Police drew their pistols and headed toward the ruins of the church while sparks started jumping and popping around what was left of the storm elemental.
Manny had lifted his eyepatch and slowly walked toward me. “You might want to take a look at that. I don’t think we’re done.”
A quick handsign and I was Looking at what appeared to be a matrix trying to restructure itself. The elemental appeared to have a self-repair capacity. Great.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t mind stopping to pick up my servant?” The telepathic tingle returned and a hint of smugness found its way along the link.
Then I got it. “This thing is yours?”
“He can be taught.”
“Okay, how do we turn it off before more people get hurt.”
“Say nice things to it.” The link grew quiet again.
Pinching between my eyes, I approached the cops. “I need you guys to get back. I’ve got this. I flashed my government ID and they tried not to look too eager to leave the scene. Most all but ran back to their squad cars and put some distance between them and the reforming elemental.
Manny reloaded his shotgun and came up behind me at the ready. “Just say the word.”
“Hello. Can you hear me?” I held out my hand and the lightning discharges began creeping toward it.
“Engram, is that wise?”
“I have it on good authority, it wants to hear nice words, not acts of violence. Manny, put your gun away and bring your friendly voice. Albrecht do you have any animal husbandry in your immortal repertoire of skills?”
“I knew something about animals, but since I have become Gifted, they have little to do with my kind.”
“Well, guess what? You get to be our ambassador.”
“Are you certain you might not be a better ambassador? You are, after all, a user of magic.”
“As I have tried to explain in the past, magic is just another technology where the rules are not known to most people. If you knew the rules, and weren’t already Gifted, you could use magic. It’s just like using a hammer.”
Manny added, “a hammer that tried to kill you when you turned your back on it.”
“Details, my boy, mere details.”
Albrecht studied the elemental. It seemed to be trying to pull itself together. There was something about the static discharges which told me it wasn’t doing well. “Stand back, both of you. Three of us might appear to be threatening. I will approach it alone.” The vampire waved us back and moved slowly toward the downed creature.
He murmured something soft in a language unfamiliar to me. Perhaps his native language. I didn’t know that much about him or his family other than the fact he was one of the possible heirs to his father’s financial empire. I questioned, to no one in particular, how one came into one’s inheritance when your father was immortal and wouldn’t experience True Death unless something bad were to happen to him.
The elemental’s sparking reduced as we moved back and the stink of ozone was lessened. Albrecht was almost standing next to the creature and knelt down close to it. The electrical discharges had almost ceased and a small wind vortex was beginning to form. Dust and debris could be seen being pulled into the creature and disappearing. The elemental seemed to be feeding on the debris as a form of fuel. Perhaps all elementals in addition to being composed of an element, fed on the destruction caused as a means of maintaining themselves. It made sense since they were not native to our world, being here might require a great amount of energy to maintain them.
“Engram. There is a metal device at the center of the wind vortex. It does not appear to be something I would expect to find in a church.”
“Don’t touch it. Let me take a look.” I slid up slowly and Looked. The object was a shaped like a barbell weight, with the two hand shaped ends wrapped around small glass orbs. One of the orbs was broken and a smoke was slowly escaping. In the center of the barbell shape was a third round sphere of black metal or glass. I can’t say I had never seen anything quite like this but Second World items vary so widely, it was hard to say anyone could recognize every single object. If I had my phone, I could have taken a picture and sent it to Home Office and someone might have been able to figure out what it was. As it was, I would have to just take a guess.
“I think this is the focus which was used to bring the elemental here. The two orbs are filled with an incense, representing air. The framework is an object which offers the creature structure. The black stone in the center is the binding focus. By damaging one of the orbs, possibly with the grenade launcher or the lightning strike, we have made it difficult for the creature to reform. But we didn’t kill it. And it is possible it might reform with less control if we leave it here.”
Manny slung his shotgun and sat down a bit of a distance away. “I’m not touching that thing. Anything that tried to kill me a half an hour ago won’t see me at my humanitarian best. You two better draw straws.”
It made sense for me to carry it, having the most experience with magic. “Okay little fellow, we’re going to be taking you home.” I reached out to grab the focus at the center. It was about the size of a loaf of bread. I tried to reach through the vortex of wind and found quite a bit of resistance, a surprising amount, in fact. But the resistance was nothing compared to what I experienced while trying to pick the focus up. It was heavy, easily fifty pounds, but I wasn’t surprised by that fact. What did surprise me was the electrical jolt it gave me when I tried to move it. This was the equivalent of touching a taser.
The unpleasant equivalent.
After ten seconds, I decided to put it back down as gently as I could without throwing it across the parking lot. After I finished cursing I nursed my tingling hand and said, “Okay, I won’t be carrying it. Albrecht, your turn.”
Amused by my expression while I tried to hold on to the focus, the vampire reached out and tensed himself for the shock. The shock that didn’t happen. He whispered something to it and began stroking it like a metal kitten. The electrical patterns and wind vortex steadied and formed around him.
“Okay, you carry it. Whatever. Let’s go.”
“Does that mean you’ll be picking up some ice cream on your way here? My favorite is pistachio.” The telepathic jibe was followed by silence.
On the way to the train station, we past a convenience store and grabbed a pint of pistachio ice cream. At this point, it couldn’t hurt and I did owe the Train for telling us how to deal with the storm elemental.
“If you can talk telepathically, why am I coming to meet with you? For that matter, if you could talk telepathically, why haven’t you explained what you wanted to whoever took your part? While were at it, can you connect the others so I don’t have to tell them what you said?”
“These two are your companions for the journey?” the question seemed a bit odd but I let it go.
“Yes, for the duration, we three are a Company.”
“You mean, you four. I think the elemental likes your friend. I can share information with all of you.”
Albrecht’s mind came into the link and I perceived it as a cold, reptilian intelligence, all anger, all hunger, patient and cunning. Manny was the opposite, a bright, hot and eager mind, absorbing information, analysing everything around it; these two were polar opposites in a way that was frightening. It was only the geas holding Albrecht back from ripping Manny apart. And it was only Manny’s love for me, keeping him from emptying a shotgun filled with specialized rounds whose contents included holy water, silver nitrate and sharpened silver splinters into Albrecht and tearing him into vampire salsa. Even if the rounds didn’t kill him directly, it would make him vulnerable enough for Manny’s silver edged sword to dice him into manageable pieces.
And as usual, I was stuck somewhere between two extremes, living up to my name again.
As we descended the steps into the train station, the normal awe of Grand Central Station fell back against the mental energies as we approached the Night Train. The closer we got to it, the less the real world seemed to matter to us. I felt as if I was trapped in a surrealists painting with the world melting around me, becoming incoherent and unknowable.
As we approached the train, it continued its explanation from earlier. “I could have communicated telepathically but only with people who have been aboard the train before or know someone who has. Hence the reason you were summoned. To fully explain though, you will need to take a trip with me to understand why it is important for me to get the part back.”
“You can still travel without the part?” I was still trying to grasp the nature of the problem.
The Night Train’s response had the psychic equivalent of a chuckle. “Of course. There isn’t anything being done while I am on Earth that would be significant to me. The part they stole is necessary for humans to travel with me. Without it, I simply am unable to carry people to their new destinations.”
“Excuse me, you need this part for humans to travel with you? What happens to people who travel with you without this part?” Manny, ever practical took the words right out of my head.
“Without it, people can become lost to the forces of Chaos which comprise my being. They can be spontaneously turned into other objects, lose vital organs or even their skeletons. It is unpredictable.”
Albrecht who, up until this point, had been bonding with his new electrical friend, looked up and commented as if nothing said up to this point mattered, “If you had planned to kill us, you would not have bothered to tell us what it took to bring this beast back to you. So you must have a means to protect us. Stop playing with us and tell us what you really want.”
“Are all the Gifted as unpleasant as this one?”
Before Manny could evince his opinion, I thought it would be better if I answered. “No, not all of them are as angry or ill-mannered as Albrecht here, but he has extenuating circumstances. His older brothers have been trying to kill him for at least a century.” I only learned this recently when I was reviewing reports about New York’s Red Watch and its convoluted politics. His brothers were unpleasant members of a new faction, similar to the one that tried to kill their collective sire all those years ago. This probably explains why Albrecht had been hiding with Father Nosceti.
“I wouldn’t have called it hiding, Engram.”
“Sorry. Thinking out loud. No offense meant.”
“None taken. Inaccurate as your thinking may have been.”
“We’re here bearing storm elementals and ice cream. You haven’t told us how you plan to carry us without turning us into a pudding or surrealistic art.”
The platform where the train waited for us, was shrouded in a low-lying fog, the stuff you see in horror movies and ninth grade proms. Very theatrical and over the top. The train was of a design I had never seen before, something strange, made of a bronze metal. I suspected its appearance was part of the surrealistic aura surrounding the train and I was certain it would change again before too long. Ghostly shapes moved around it, looking busy and efficient. They stayed far away from us.
The sections of the train near us were not lit and appeared to be passenger cars. There were fewer lights at the platform levels. Grand Central without people was already an eerie thing, the lights and the fog only added to the creep factor. Our pet elemental’s energies charged up and began whipping the low-lying fog around his vampire warder. Sparks shot out with the creature making a popping sound like a terrier barking.
Suddenly the doors opened, a blast of air came out and three or four shadows stepped onto the platform.
The shadows approached us, silently, their intent unknown. The psychic link apparently broken, I could no longer sense anyone’s thoughts. The Train was no longer in our heads.
Albrecht’s right hand dropped down and his vampiric claws grew long and shiny. I knew he could carve his way through a brick wall with those. Manny’s guns effortlessly appeared in his hands, safeties clicking off his custom-made Sigs. I hadn’t received a tingle from my curse marks but I couldn’t take any chances.
I charged my cane and readied the lightning spear. Its blue illumination seemed pale and weak in this magical darkness.
As its light pierced the darkness, we saw four more storm elementals headed right for us, their energies contained in humanoid forms.
They raised hands crackling with energy.
I dropped the bag with the pistachio ice cream.
Motus Vita © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved