Rocky was awoken by the sweet aroma of coffee. Orion was waving it right under his nose. The raccoon had fallen asleep with the journal of Albert Klosterhiem still open on the reading desk. “Thought you might need a cup.” he said.
“Much obliged Ori.” Rocky replied.
There was scarcely room for living in the tenement Rocky and Orion shared. Rocky’s side, with his bed and few possessions, was relatively clean, but Orion’s was strewn all over with mystical tools and paraphernalia. The futon was covered by no less then three open grimores, and shelves spilled over with other books, scrolls and diagrams tucked between them.
“So what’s in the journal?” Orion asked, making his own cup.
“Well, keeping in mind that infernalists are whackjobs by definition, it took me a while to figure that out. Klosterheim is eloquent, but by the gods he rambles.”
Orion nodded, sipping his coffee. “That’s to be expected. The journals of dark Magicians often become their grimores.”
“Right. Anyway, it seems like pretty standard stuff, a blood sacrifice of four victims to call up an unspeakable entity for riches, fame or power. Anything beyond that’s hard to puzzle out. The part where he starts filling a dozen pages with the name of his patron starts earlier then usual.”
“And the name of that patron?”
Rocky’s tail visibly bristled. “Something like Zlphmg of the Thousand Tongues. Hasn’t the eternal void or whatever heard of vowels?”
“Yes, you are not a truly foul entity if your name has vowels!” Orion laughed.
Rocky smiled. “I suppose. So, tell me what happened last night. You don’t look like you’ve slept much.”
“I haven’t. I ended up doing quite a bit of footwork after we left Klosterheim’s. I stopped by the soda joint and we were almost robbed by a rat with a laser gun.”
“A laser gun? Those human gizmos that burn holes in things?”
“The same.” Orion reached into his coat and pulled out the broken weapon, placing the pieces on the table.
Rocky whistled, and his ears pricked. “That rat’s looking at hard time. The King-Emperor banned possession of human tech a decade ago.”
Orion nodded. “And apparently the human government agreed to the same. Our human friend told me he had been taken from his homeland and sold at auction. It seems there’s some truth to those urban legends.”
Rocky nodded. “And you think there’s a connection between the weapon and Klosterheim’s prisoner?”
“Not directly. Black market ties are tight. It could be that these slavers and gunrunners are getting funding from the same source.”
“You came up with this theory real quick. Couldn’t it be coincidence?”
Orion grinned. “Most Magicians Rocky, don’t believe in coincidence. Wherever that pistol came from, there must be more. And in Kingsport, there’s only one place they could arrive.”
“Bingo. Rest up, tonight we go on a stakeout.”
The mists that night were thick, like grasping fingers. Some said that meant ill fortune, but Rocky paid it little heed as he leapt from roof to roof. Most people think roof hopping is hard. It depends on what you are, and if you have a good teacher. Rocky had learned from squirrels.
Orion was off on his own, doing gods knew what, which was odd, considering that checking out the docks was his idea. Either he was hiding just out of sight, or he had gotten bored and wandered off. Rocky shrugged. In a lot of ways he worked better on his own. There was no magic to make things screwy, just his wits and his revolver.
His target was below. Rocky dropped down soundlessly. The ferret was occupied, and didn’t see him. “It’s been a long time Franky”
Franky whirled. His fur was white, and would have been handsome if it wasn’t overgrown and caked with dirt. If anything it drove home how frightened he was. He had an equally dirty rucksack in his paws and he kept it close. “R-Rocky. Good to see you too.”
“You spend a lot of time down at the docks Franky. You seen anything suspicious? Gun running maybe?”
“I-I wouldn’t know anything about that. Look man I was just…”
“Just what?” Rocky snatched the bag away. “What have we got in here?”
Franky paled under his fur. “There’s nothing in there man I swear. I…Aw man don’t do that!”
Without missing a beat Rocky unzipped the bag and dumped the contents onto the pavement. It was mostly loose change, cheap jewelry…and an unlabeled bottle. Rocky picked it up, popped the cap, and sniffed dramatically.
“Fatty acids. That’s some expensive candy you’ve got Franky.”
“Aw please, man! You know how much that stuff costs?”
“And you by it with someone else’s jewelry I’ll bet. Maybe we should call the constables? Unless you want to tell me what you know?”
“I swear I don’t know a thing!”
Rocky drew his revolver, shoved the barrel right under Franky’s nose.
“All right! All right! There are some guys who come down here every week or so. They have strong boxes. I’ve never seen what’s in ‘em I swear!”
“When’s the next exchange?”
“Saturday night! They always come on Saturday night, after midnight! Oh gods please don’t kill me…” He whined.
Rocky put his gun away. “No, I won’t kill you. But don’t let me ever catch your pick pocketing muzzle around here again.”
“Sure, no problem!” Franky gasped, scrambling to pick up his loot.
From a nearby rooftop, Rocky watched the thief scurry away. “You let him go with the loot.” Orion said as he emerged from the shadows. “I must say though Rocky, you play with your pray like a cat.”
“The loot’s not what we came for. We have a date and time. Now all we can do is wait.”
Orion growled. “I hate waiting.”
Orion was bored. It was the curse of his kind, to always search for novelty, the next great adventure. The idea of sitting on his paws all week didn’t sit well with him at all. So he was now peering into his looking glass, the debris in the apartment pushed aside so he could just barley stand in front of it. In his right paw he held a box of charcoal sticks.
“If the waking world has no more leads, let’s see what the Dream has to offer.”
Carefully Orion took a stick from the box, and began to draw glyphs on the surface of the mirror. Each one had to be exact. One sign out of order, and nothing would happen, or he would be struck by backlash, the energy of the miscast spell poring into him at full force.
Finished, he spoke the name of each rune in the order that he had drawn them, then, he turned round, and stepped backward, through the mirror.
The land dreams. The wonderworkers who were the first Magicians knew this. With skill they could enter the dream of a mountain, a desert, even a great lake. The dreams of the landscape were often incomprehensible, but there were patterns for those with the patience to find them. When the first cities were built they dreamed too, dreams shaped by the people that lived within them.
Orion stood within the dream of his rooms. The walls were now bizarre twilight colors. His books were where he had left them, but they were bound in skin that smelled of lilacs, and written in a script that he could not read. The diagrams on his bookshelf were based on unknown magical theories, and the maps were of places that did not exist. It was night outside, and two moons, one red and one blue, shined their light through the window. Both orbs were frozen in their path across the sky.
Outside there was no fog, but the whistling wind made clear its meaning. Orion was an outsider here. The city was curious. What was this strange new visitor? Orion crossed his arms and closed his eyes, remembering all that had happened in the last few days. With the sound of grinding stone and splintering wood, the block literally split. A whole new alley opened before the Magician, created form nothing. At the end of the passage was a brick wall.
The ibis Orion had glimpsed the other night knelt at the foot of the wall. He was writing on it with a quill, dipped in some kind of red ink. His left wing had been almost completely plucked, and in many places there were small wounds, like pin pricks. He seemed so absorbed in his writing that he noticed nothing else.
Orion watched him scribble away with a morbid fascination, and quickly noticed that the bird was engaged in a Sisyphean task. As the wall was filled with text, the lines would be obliterated one by one, until the wall was blank once again. When his quill broke, the ibis would pluck one of his own feathers and then stab himself in the arm, writing in his own blood, much to Orion’s horror.
If the ibis was here, that meant his mind now belonged to this realm. In the Waking he would be hauled off to the asylum, if he wasn’t there already. Orion shook his head sadly.
“Could there be meaning in this gibberish?” Orion asked himself. At first glance the words were nothing but stream of consciousness rambling, but one of the newer lines caught his eye.
“And the old children shall dance the night away and all flesh will be eaten.”
“’Old children?’” isn’t that an oxymoron?” Orion mused as he left the alley. The passage sealed behind him and with it any insights. The wind had changed. Orion was no longer welcome.
He would never be able to leave in a timely manner.
First came his name, a feral scream of rage, followed by a white hot lightning bolt. Orion dodged just in time. The house behind him was blasted apart, but rebuilt itself just as quickly. Klosterheim stood before him, his paw still smoking from the electricity he had conjured. His muzzle was twisted into a snarl of pure malice.
“You stole something from me.” The Doberman said. “Give it back.”
Orion crossed his arms. “I assume your speaking of Mr. Carter?”
Klosterheim moved faster then Orion could see. Before he knew it the cat was up against the wall. His nemesis now had his throat in a death grip.
“Listen you nip-biter! That naked ape was part of a ritual, a very elaborate and expensive ritual that WOULD have granted me immortality. IF YOU HAD NOT BROKEN INTO MY HOME AND STOLEN MY MATERIALS! The infernalist shrieked.
“Ugh…Cry me a river!”
He threw Orion to the ground. Stars danced in the cat’s eyes. “You dare?! The human would have served a greater purpose then he ever would have in whatever backwater he comes from!”
Orion twitched his wrist in Klosterheim’s general direction. A second later, the dog staggered, as if struck by a right hook. “Mr. Carter was never yours, or anyone’s to begin with.” He replied, getting to his feet. “And I believe he’d strongly object to being called useless.”
Klosterheim’s reply was little more then inarticulate growling. “RRRRRRRRRRRARHH! Insect!”
Orion didn’t even have to dodge, for the buildings came alive, melting and reforming into stone coils, wrapping them selves around Klosterheim. The dog struggled, but in vain. The wind came up again, howling in its urgency. GO, it seemed to say.
Orion didn’t have to be told twice. He glanced back only once, to see his enemy pulled into the ground, whimpering like a pup as he disappeared.
As Orion stepped back through his mirror he smiled. He didn’t have much in the way of answers but he wasn’t bored anymore.