Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Initiate: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, January 1, 2020 06:35 EST



    A few people in the crowd introduced themselves, but Sam was still so horror-struck by what he had done that the names and faces passed right out of his memory. He did wind up at the bar, and was handed a weird kind of eggnog concoction, like runny Cream of Wheat mixed with yogurt, strong wine, and honey. What he wanted was a shot of vodka, but he took a sip just to be polite.

    “Drink up,” said a familiar voice behind Sam. “I don’t know what name test Feng devised for you, but you look as if you could use something sustaining.” It was Lucas, looking amused. For the first time since he had turned up on Sam’s doorstep, he wasn’t wearing dark glasses, sporting instead a pair of black Buddy Holly horn-rims.

    “Is this — is this kykeon?” Sam asked, remembering something he’d read about in an account of the Eleusinian mysteries.

    “The original recipe, handed down for two hundred generations. I expect the wine is fruitier and the cheese less rank than when it was first mixed in bowls on the slopes above Shanidar. I’m called Lucas, by the way. Congratulations.” He extended a hand for Sam to shake.

    To his left Sam noticed Isabella perched on a bar stool, two empty cups of kykeon in front of her, chatting energetically with an elegant-looking older woman.

    Isabella saw Sam and waved. “You did it! I wasn’t a bit scared. Mr. Feng is really mean. Nobody’s ever going to boss me around with magic again.” She sounded cheerful, but Sam’s parental ear could detect the note in her voice of a child very near tears. He wondered what Feng might have ordered her to do, and then forced himself to stop thinking about it.

    He finished his kykeon and switched to Bloody Marys. Thankfully this wasn’t the kind of bar that tried to stuff a whole salad into the glass, though the bartender did put a slice of pickled lotus root into the drink instead of celery, as a nod to the neighborhood.

    MoonCat was with her mother — Feng had gone back to complete Shimon’s initiation. He noticed she was wearing a new bracelet, a sturdy bronze chain, and dangling from it was a dog tag shaped like a stylized bone. She sensed him looking and shot him a glare of pure hatred.

    Shimon finished about fifteen minutes after Sam did, stumbling through the same pair of doors looking pale and disoriented. His parents took charge of him and made sure he drank his kykeon. He was still finishing when Feng called for everyone’s attention from the little stage at the end of the room.

    “Now that we are all one blood, sworn and acknowledged, it is time for the secrets to be told. Tonight we are honored to have our grand Master Roger, the Sage of the West, to reveal that which is allowed.”

    The extremely handsome young man who had opened the door for Sam stepped up to the stage and thanked Hei Feng, then began to speak. His voice was clear, but his accent was odd, neither quite English nor familiar American. He almost sounded like a West Virginia mountaineer Sam had known in the Air Force, and Sam remembered the man bragging that the Appalachian accent was the way the earliest English settlers of America had sounded.

    The young-looking man with the old-fashioned voice told of Pramathas, the thief of fire and knowledge. Then he spoke of the son of Pramathas, Atra-Hasis, he who was wise, who survived a great flood and became immortal. On the slopes of Mount Qardu, as the waters receded, Atra-Hasis struck a bargain — Roger didn’t say who he made the bargain with, which made the hair on Sam’s neck prickle. Atra-Hasis could not pass along the gift of immortality to his sons, but he was allowed to choose a boon for each of them.

    Atra-Hasis gave his eldest son the gift of kingship, and sent him forth to people the land and rule it. His second son received the gift of priesthood, and went forth to build temples and honor the gods. But to his youngest son Atra-Hasis transmitted a secret legacy: instead of eternal life he could guarantee eternal death.

    His youngest son, and all who came after him who were wise in the secret knowledge, could ensure that his soul would truly die and vanish.

    “That is the inward sense of the oaths ye have sworn and the blood ye have given,” said Roger, who sounded more and more archaic as he went on. “As the flesh of the body dies, so shall the ghost within. None shall raise ye up, and none shall pass judgement upon ye. That is the bargain of the Apkallu.”

    Sam wasn’t sure how literally to take any of this. His father had been a Catholic who never went to Mass, his mother had bounced around among various Protestant churches with occasional forays into New Age “spirituality.” Was there such a thing as a soul? Did he have one? Did it survive after death? He didn’t know and he wasn’t sure who he would trust enough to ask.

    When Roger finished, the party resumed, although Moreno did make a point of stopping to see each of the newly minted Apkal to explain the bylaws in plain language.

    “It boils down to two main rules. First, keep the secret. That means not doing showy stuff in public, and it also means helping to cover up when the subs see something they shouldn’t.”


    “Subur. Men of clay. Ordinary people. The second rule is that any harm to an Apkal must be avenged — I only get involved when someone can’t do it himself. Themself. Whatever. If you have a dispute with another member, it gets resolved by the Master of your Circle. In your case that would be Mr. Feng.”

    “Do you work for him?”

    “No. I’m kind of a special case. I answer to the Seven Sages directly. They’re the top level. Very old, very wise, very powerful. You saw one of them tonight — Roger. He’s the Sage of the West, which means America.”

    “What are the others?”

    “There’s the Sage of the Mountain, who controls the Apkallu in the Middle East and is kind of the senior position; the Sage of the Nile, who has Africa; the Sage of Thessaly, who runs the Circles in Europe; the Sage of the Ganges, who runs the Circles in India and South Asia; the Sage of the Kingdom, who has East Asia; and the Sage of the South, who has South America. They’ve moved around over the years — the North America one used to be in France, and there was one in Rome who got moved to Brazil.”

    “No wizards in Antarctica?”

    Moreno grimaced. “I wish there weren’t. That place is nothing but a headache for guys like me. Never mind.” He moved off to brief Shimon, leaving Sam to put away a couple more Bloody Marys before Feng invited them all to join the feast.

    The meal was served at a great ring-shaped table with a big bronze oil lamp burning in the center. A gap in the table allowed waiters to serve the guests from the inside of the ring.

    Hei Feng was the ostensible host, and placed Roger on his right hand and MoonCat on his left. Shimon and Isabella sat between Sam and the Sage. By some legerdemain with the place cards, Lucas wound up next to Sam, and helpfully provided the new member with information about who the others around the table were.

    “The lovely lady with the pale hair next to Miss MoonCat is her mother, Taika Feng. A user of magic at least the equal of her husband and possibly greater. The very well-preserved woman next to her is called Miss Elizabeth; very influential in the Circle of the West.”

    Sam sipped his Bloody Mary, trying to pay attention to Lucas’s lecture while seeming not to. Lucas himself did a great impression of a bore enchanted by the sound of his own voice. Method acting, Sam decided.

    “Three seats to my right you may notice a gentleman wearing a great many gold chains around his neck. He is known as the Count, or Il Conte by those who are either pedantic or pretentious. Very influential. Beyond him is Mr. Stone, who I believe you have already met. Directly across from you there is a woman with glasses and unruly hair. That is Dr. Greene, down from Boston. Aside from Roger she is the most powerful magician on this continent. The dreadlocked man sitting two places to the right of her is known as Shetani. He is a close associate of Charles White, a very powerful member who doesn’t socialize.”



    Lucas paused while a dozen slender girls wearing caps of green leaves entered bearing golden dishes laden with the appetizers. As one stopped before him to serve him a couple of little puff-pastry cups filled with caviar and sour cream, the hairs on Sam’s arms and the back of his neck stood up as he realized she wasn’t human. The green leaves on her head were growing directly from her skin, which was the smooth silvery-brown of a birch tree’s bark. More sprouted along her arms and on the backs of her extremely long fingers.

    “Dryads,” Lucas murmured with a faint chuckle. “I believe Feng recruits them from a grove out on Long Island. The Central Park dryads are far too haughty to serve any mortals, even Apkallu.”

    It’s all real, thought Sam. Even when he had managed to summon spirits himself, there was still a part of him which viewed it as an interesting psychological effect. But seeing tree spirits carrying plates and dancing for the amusement of the assembled Apkallu really brought it home to him. A secret world really existed, just out of sight of ordinary people. Now he was part of it.

    And of course there was cake and ice cream.



    During April and May he resumed his studies — both officially, with Sylvia, and unofficially, with Lucas. The only difference from before the ceremony was that he didn’t have to be quite as paranoid about his meetings with Lucas.

    “Now that you’re a sworn initiate, it’s not particularly remarkable that a senior member such as myself should take an interest in your training. I have done it for others before you,” Lucas explained one night while they practiced some formulas to contest another wizard’s control of a spirit. This time they were meeting in a vacant skyscraper condo in New Rochelle.

    “What happened to them?”

    “Oh, some are still around. Now, this formula is not without risks. You are, in effect, outbidding the other wizard for the loyalty of the spirit, and the cost is real.”

    “All the breath in my body — that sounds like I’m letting it kill me.”

    “No, the meaning is literal. For just a moment your lungs will empty. Be sure you keep your mouth open, and it’s wise to hyperventilate a bit before you utter the words.”

    Sam recited the formula a few times while Lucas checked his pronunciation. “That sounds good. And yes, I’ve built up a little network of protégés and allies over the years. I don’t participate overtly in the politics of the society, but unofficially I’ve got quite a power base.”

    “So are you under Feng’s authority too?”

    “Hardly! He may act like a man of great importance, but he is merely a member of the Circle of the West like myself. That is the level where many ambitious men wind up — they are high enough to have authority over others, but the highest level is closed to them. He will never be the Sage, though he may imagine otherwise. Now, let us see how well you have learned the Pact-Breaker. On your guard!”

    Before Sam could say anything, Lucas reached into his pocket and cast a handful of clay dust into the air, then said, “Tule minulle, unen henki! Mihal kaskee sinua!”

    The powder coalesced into a smoky human figure with a winged head, which moved toward Sam, crooning softly. Sam felt a wave of intense drowsiness as it approached.

    He fought the urge to sleep and repeated the formula Lucas had taught him. A second later he gasped for breath as the spirit hesitated, hovering between the two magicians.

    “I could now try to regain control,” said Lucas. “So when you break the pact you should follow it immediately with a binding or banishment of your own.” He dismissed the spirit himself while Sam took some deep breaths, wincing at the lingering pain in his chest.

    “At your initiation I pointed out a few people of importance, but some extremely influential Apkallu were not there. There is an aged wizard named Zadith who never leaves his home, and Mr. White, who doesn’t socialize. Thankfully. They are names you should remember.”

    “When will I be ready?” asked Sam as they tidied up the condo before leaving.

    “Ready for what, is the question. Can you challenge the Seven Sages? No.”

    “I want to find out who did it. Who sent the bird demon. You said he’d done it a bunch of times.”

    “Well, you could follow the rules — approach Feng and explain the situation, beg his help. He might even agree to assist you, though I would emphasize ‘might’ in his case. You would have your justice . . . and the Apkallu would continue on their merry way, using ordinary people as tools and playthings, heedless of the harm they inflict on the world.”

    “It seems like that’s what’s happening anyway!” said Sam, surprising himself a little with how angry he felt. “I study and I practice and I go through all this bullshit but I don’t do anything!”

    Lucas finished putting away his materials and papers in a steel briefcase before answering. Finally he looked straight at Sam and his usual half smile was gone. “All right, then. Let’s find out just how serious you are about this project. You say you want to take some action?”


    “Then here’s a job for you: kill Hei Feng. He’s the Master of your Circle, so getting rid of him will leave you virtually free of all oversight for a while, until a new Master can be chosen and learn the ropes. There would certainly be justice in it: Feng draws multiple large salaries as a ‘consultant’ for various financial firms while doing nothing. I know for a fact that he sent a demon to murder an auditor who was digging into his affairs, and I suspect he has eliminated at least two others the same way. With a more friendly Master of the Circle here in New York we could even make some inquiries about who is responsible for the anzu attacks.”

    Sam remembered a green-eyed dog and didn’t hesitate. “Okay. How do I do it?”

    “That’s the trick, isn’t it? Though you are more powerful than a rookie initiate should be, you are not nearly in his league. A suspicious-minded fellow like him has probably accumulated dozens of guardian spirits and demons.”

    “Couldn’t I just shoot him?”

    “My dear fellow, all of us are virtually immune to firearms.

    That hafaza you wear about you may not be able to save you from getting hit by a bus, but it can easily deflect a bullet. Try it, if you doubt me. Even a knife can be nudged enough to turn a deadly wound into a minor cut. Ironically, a wizard is far more vulnerable to an unarmed opponent than one with a gun or a knife. An adept who has trained in bare-handed martial arts can push past a victim’s magical protections.”

    “I’m willing to do that.” He had beaten a dog to death, he could do the same to Feng. He ignored the queasy feeling in his stomach.

    “You might find it difficult. Feng has been practicing Nanquan Kung Fu for much of his life. Most Apkallu from Hong Kong do. Unless you happen to be a champion yourself, I don’t recommend trying to beat him that way. No, I will provide the weapon. You will be the delivery system. Just get it past his defenses into his home, and make sure no eyes or cameras see you do it. I will manage the rest.”

    “I’ll need a month or so to figure a way to get in and out of his place. How big is this weapon you’re thinking of?”

    “Quite small. Even the mightiest spirits can be bound into a mustard-seed by the proper incantations. I shall place a demon into some small trinket, then veil its true nature with illusions and misdirection. I’m good at that sort of thing, or so I’m told.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image