Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Initiate: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Friday, December 20, 2019 18:15 EST



    By the time he got back to his apartment he had calmed down a little, but he still felt odd. Unclean, almost. The thought of spending time alone was intolerable. He remembered that Ash’s card was still in his coat pocket. Calling her was a terrible idea on so many levels. He was putting his cover identity in danger, and she probably wasn’t interested in him anyway.

    “Ash? This is Sam,” he said when she answered. “Still want to buy me dinner? I’m free tonight.”

    He heard her chuckle. “Okay,” she said. “I’m at my office, on Thirty-Eighth and Eighth. Want to meet up at six? I’ll take you someplace good.”

    He took extra time getting there, following some of Lucas’s precautions to shed any supernatural watchers. She came out of the building five minutes before six. They wound up at a little Italian place right by the Lincoln Tunnel exit. It was kitschy and old-fashioned, with un-ironic red-checkered tablecloths and old travel posters of Rome and Venice, but the food was good and so was the wine.

    He managed to steer the conversation away from himself. They talked about their high school, people they’d known, and what had become of them. She told him a little more about herself.

    “I was married for a year,” she said. “After six months we both knew it was a mistake. Both of us were pretending to be other people, and when we stopped pretending, there wasn’t any reason to stay together.”

    “No kids?”

    “No . . .”

    Her expression made him change the subject quickly. “So: Have I been in any buildings you designed?” he asked.

    “Not unless you’ve been living in an old tobacco barn in North Carolina, or running a start-up from a converted airport in L.A.”

    “Sounds pretty cool. What are you working on now?”

    “Well . . . we haven’t got the contract yet, and there’s all kinds of NDAs, but it’s a neat project. There’s a big old textile factory complex in western Massachusetts, and a casino looking for a site. If the developer can put it together, we’ll be designing the whole thing. It’ll be about half new construction, half rehab. We’re going for full LEED certification, reduced wastewater . . . sorry, am I drifting into archibabble?”

    “I think I understand enough.”

    They didn’t leave until nearly eight, when the restaurant began filling up and the waiter began stopping at their table every five minutes or so to ask if they wanted anything else. She paid, as promised, and they walked up Ninth Avenue before cutting over to Columbus Circle. At the subway station they lingered a little awkwardly.

    “I’d like to do this again,” she said.

    “Me too. You busy Saturday? We could get lunch.”

    “That would be great,” she said, but neither of them moved.

    On pure impulse, before he had time to think about it, Sam leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss. “See you Saturday, then!”

    She smiled, he smiled, and then he almost skipped down the stairs to the subway.

    On the platform he was lost in a mix of plans for the weekend and memories of how her skin had felt under his hands back in high school, until he heard the echo of a familiar giggle over the noise of ventilators and approaching trains. All of a sudden Sam was alert and on guard, raising his left hand to ready the ring he had hand forged himself, and making mental contact with the spirit of blindness bound into the iron.

    “Is she nice?” asked Isabella, worming her way between two women who seemed oblivious to her presence. She planted herself in front of Sam and grinned up at him. “She’s pretty.”

    He noticed that Isabella looked considerably cleaner than he had ever seen her. Even her hair had been combed. “It’s not nice to spy on people,” he said.

    Isabella shrugged. “Nobody can ever spy on me. My friends keep any sneaky spirits away. You need to do that, too.”

    Sam made a mental note to do just that, as soon as possible. Tuesday would be a good day for it. “Maybe so. But I’d appreciate it very much if your friends wouldn’t hang around me when I’m with my friend.”

    She shrugged again. “I’m going to the museum now,” she said.

    “The museum’s closed — and anyway, it’s past nine o’clock and below freezing outside. You don’t even have a coat.”

    “I don’t care. There’s a cihuateteo in the museum and I think I can catch her.”

    “A chihuahua? A little dog?”

    Isabella laughed at him again. “No, a cihuateteo. A Mexican dead lady with claw feet and a snake skirt. She’s inside a statue.

    I’ve seen her once or twice and tonight I’m going to make her tell me her name.”

    “What for?”

    She looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled and shook her head. “It’s a secret.”

    The D train came screeching into the station just then and the two of them got on board. Sam noticed that everyone on the platform veered away from Isabella and himself, boarding different cars, so when the train began to move again they were alone except for a man asleep on the handicap seats.

    “How do you know so much about” — he dropped his voice to a whisper, which made Isabella giggle — “magic? Did Sylvia teach you all these things?”

    Isabella frowned at that. “No, she’s dumb. She won’t teach me anything and she keeps telling me not to do things. The only reason I go to her dumb class is so I can get initiated, and then I’ll be able to do what I want without old Sylvia and Mr. Moreno being all nosy.”

    “Then how did you learn so much?”

    “I told you before — my friends tell me things. They know everything and they don’t try to keep it all secret. I like them a lot better than I like Sylvia.” She glared up at Sam. “You’re not going to try to stop me, are you?”

    “I’ll make you a deal, Isabella. I won’t mention anything about your dead Aztec lady if you don’t tell anyone about my friend you saw me with earlier. And no spying on her, either. Deal?”

    “Deal.” She spit on her palm and they shook hands, and as they did so Sam felt the attention of unseen presences around them stronger than ever. He didn’t want to find out what would happen if he tried to break his word.



    He met with Lucas one more time before his initiation. This time he took a train to Tarrytown, crossed the Tappan Zee to Nyack at slack tide, detoured through a couple of churches, and finally climbed up Hook Mountain to where Lucas was waiting at the edge of a bluff with a view of Sing Sing prison across the river. “Why can’t we just talk in a” — he puffed a couple of times — “fucking Starbucks or something?” asked Sam. “It’s freezing up here.”

    “You know why. Nobody must know that you and I have ever met. Did you try the workings?”

    “Yes. Controlling people’s minds is creepy as hell.”

    Lucas shrugged. “It has its uses. You have some more guardians about you, too. That’s wise.”

    “Do they really do any good?”

    “Oh, yes. If nothing else, they would slow down any sorcerous attack against you, giving you time to react.”

    “Who’s going to be attacking me? I thought the whole point of the Apkallu was to keep the peace among magicians.”

    Lucas chuckled. “We have police to keep the peace among ordinary people, but the stores do a brisk trade in handguns, pepper spray, and burglar alarms. Let me remind you: The Apkallu, especially the oldest and most powerful members, are not bound by any sense of morality. The organization enforces order by superior force, not by shining example.”

    He walked Sam through a ritual to improve his perceptions of the spirit world. “It has various names — mostly some variation of ‘Opening the Inner Eye.’ If you perform it every morning when you wake, your senses become more attuned to the invisible commonwealth around us.”

    They practiced it a couple of times, but Sam noticed that Mr. Lucas wasn’t giving the working his full attention.

    “Something the matter?”

    “Eh? Oh — well, yes.” Lucas licked his lips and then took a deep breath, facing Sam squarely. “I will be present at your initiation,” he said.

    It took Sam a second to realize what he meant. “You’re one of them? But you said –”

    “I was rather hoping you had already deduced it yourself,” said Lucas a little peevishly. “The Apkallu do not allow rogue users of magic to exist. And as I said, I foolishly allowed them to gain power over me. Yes, I am a member; an initiate of the Circle of the Lodge, in fact. When I was younger and full of righteous outrage about some of the things the Apkallu have done, I thought I would simply rise through the ranks and then deal out justice. But since then I have learned that is impossible.

    At each new rank there are oaths and confessions. I am bound like Gulliver.”

    “Then why are we even doing this?”

    “You are not bound! And if we manage things properly, I can aid you without breaking any oaths I have made. As long as you guard your blood and your name, you can fight them where I cannot.”



    Sam turned his back on Lucas and walked to the edge of the bluff. Six inches in front of his toes was a sheer drop down to jagged basalt boulders. One step forward and all this would be over. The wind fluttered his coat around him.

    Finally he turned around. “Okay,” he said. “I get it. You have to keep secrets to survive. Fine. But I’m not going to be your little sockpuppet. We have to trust each other.”

    “I agree. Will you trust me, Samuel?”

    “I guess I have to. But no more secrets.”

    “Naturally. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s go over the Inner Eye working once more. It has many uses.”

    When they were done with Sam’s magic lesson the two of them adjourned to an all-night diner in Nyack to warm up with an early breakfast. While they waited for their food, Lucas explained the inner workings of the Apkallu, much more than Sylvia was allowed to tell.

    “Let me outline the power structure — both in theory and reality.” Lucas dipped a finger into his coffee, then drew a circle on the tabletop. Inside it he made seven dots with his fingertip.

    “Here we have the Seven Sages, also known as the Aganu or Circle of the Lamp. Another translation might be the Illuminated Ones. ”

    He glanced over at Sam and raised his eyebrows. “Nowadays each of them has responsibility for a continent-sized region.”

    “Moreno told me about them. So does the Sage of the West actually rule America?”

    “More accurate to say he rules its rulers. The Sages seldom involve themselves directly in mundane politics. What they can do is to keep rein on the ones who do manipulate kings and presidents, the next layer of the onion.”

    He dipped his finger in the coffee again, and drew seven smaller circles touching the central one. To make them fit he had to elongate them, so it wound up looking more like a child’s picture of a flower.

    “Now, this is where the important things happen. These seven circles are known collectively as the Agé, the Circles of the House.

    Or if you prefer, the Lodge.” When Sam still didn’t react, Lucas shook his head a little sadly. “Each is led by a Sage. In theory each Circle of the House should consist of exactly thirteen members, but in practice they sometimes have considerably more. At present the Circle of the West has nineteen members, including myself and Hei Feng.”

    “And these are the guys who rule the world.”

    “Yes. Initiates of the House are the ones who control corporations, governments, media organizations, criminal gangs, et cetera. Of course, the Sage has the blood of all the initiates of his Circle. That is the great power of the Sages: they rule the rulers.”

    “So what do you rule?”

    “I have been at pains for many years to present myself as a harmless scholar of the history of our order, so my mundane influence is limited to a few academic institutions here and in Europe.” He glanced at Sam again, this time with a grin. “Of course, those universities have enormous endowments, giving me significant power in financial markets, their graduates fill all the upper echelons of government and business on five continents, and their faculties have tremendous influence on the culture. I seldom flex my muscles, but they are there.”

    Lucas made a number of smaller circles on the edge of one petal of his flower. “As above, so below. These represent the Aka, the Circles of the Gate, which constitute the outermost layer of our organization. There are thirteen in the West, scattered about North America. Each is led by a member of the Circle of the West.”

    “It’s a cell structure,” said Sam. “Revolutionary groups and terrorists use it, too. Compartmentalized.”

    “No doubt — although it’s important to note that the Apkallu have no real sense of what you would call security. Members often know people in different Circles. We keep the structure of nested circles out of tradition, not necessity.”

    “Where does Moreno fit in?”

    “He is an initiate of the Lodge, part of the Circle of the West like myself, and leads no Circle of his own. He answers only to the Sage of the West — although in practice anyone can call upon him.”

    “And you? Do you have a territory?”

    “No, as I said, I am a harmless scholar. Having regional Circles is actually something of a relic, from the days before rapid travel and instant communications. Nowadays nearly all the major players live between Boston and Washington, no matter what their ostensible territory is.”

    For the next hour Lucas described the members of the Circle of the West and their various quarrels, grudges, and alliances. As far as Sam could tell, it boiled down to four main factions, who intrigued against one another for the favor of their leader, the Sage of the West. They were not political parties or regional blocs, just personal alliances bolstered by family ties.

    Hei Feng, the Master of New York — the man who had threatened Sam at Sylvia’s school — led the most powerful faction, which included three other members of the Circle of the West. In addition to their considerable magical clout, they also dominated the financial and media industries.

    A rival alliance led by a man called “the Count” commanded organized crime and a great many politicians, especially in the big cities. Their mundane power made up for a relative lack of magical muscle.

    The third faction was a mirror image of the Count’s group: a trio of older wizards — one named Zadith, a woman called Senora Mondragon, and a man known as Mr. White. Their mundane influence was limited, but their magical power nearly rivaled that of the Sage himself.

    The weakest of the major factions was an alliance of old Apkallu families, comprising five of the Circle of the West’s members. According to Lucas, their magical power rested on an extensive collection of inherited lore and their mundane influence consisted chiefly of the nearly extinct network of “Social Register” families. Their main advantage was that Roger, the Sage himself, had family connections to most of them, and had made it known that he would not appreciate any predatory attacks against them by other Apkallu.

    Lucas himself and Moreno were unaffiliated, and the remaining two members of the Circle of the West lived out in the hinterlands, deliberately avoiding the center of power. One was in California, the other in a mountain village south of Mexico City.

    Sam considered the situation. “It looks like the easiest ones to take down would be that last bunch — the old-line crew.”

    Lucas sighed, more in sorrow than irritation. “You are thinking like an engineer, not an intriguer. Because they are weakest they should be left to the last. It is the most powerful factions we should target, especially since we can exploit their hostility toward one another. But that is all for the future. For now, you need to learn and train and make yourself capable of moving against them.”

    Sam made it back to his apartment by dawn, slept a couple of hours, and then ran two errands. His first stop was a few blocks from Times Square, at a custom theatrical makeup and costume workshop, where he tested an item he had ordered. It wasn’t quite perfect, and he spent an hour consulting with the owner about how to fix it.

    His second stop was at a law office not far away, picked at random. The attorney was a young man named Kim who specialized in estate planning. Sam shook hands with him, sat down in the comfortable chair facing Mr. Kim’s desk, and tried not to feel like a damned fool. “I know this sounds like something out of a spy movie, but I want to — to protect myself against somebody. I want to leave a letter with you, and if you don’t hear from me once a month I want you to send it to somebody. Can you do that?”

    He had expected a skeptical reaction, but Mr. Kim’s face positively lit up. “Sure!” he said. “That sounds awesome!”

    Mr. Kim turned out to be a great fan of spy fiction, and the two of them worked out an arrangement worthy of Ian Fleming: Sam would send Kim a postcard every month bearing a code phrase. They went back and forth a few times about what that should be.

    “You can’t use the same one every time,” said Mr. Kim. “Someone might read it.”

    “But how can I use a different phrase without coming here to tell you what it is?”

    “How about a line from a book? Each month you send the next line.”

    “All right.” Sam considered using the Bible, or Macbeth, but rejected them as being too obvious. “Let’s go with . . . Moby Dick,” he said. “There’s tons of copies available, it’s public domain so we can look it up on line, and we’ll both be dead of old age before we run out of text.”

    “Moby Dick it is,” said Kim.

    Samuel handed Mr. Kim a manila envelope, carefully sealed. Inside it was another envelope, addressed to Sylvia with a “Forever” stamp as postage. Inside that one was a smaller envelope bearing the instruction “GET THIS TO MORENO.” And inside all of it was a handwritten note:

    The man who calls himself Lucas is a traitor to the Apkallu.

    It never hurt to have a little insurance, just in case.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image