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The Initiate: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, January 8, 2020 05:31 EST



    Hei Feng wasn’t listed in any directories Sam could find, and he suspected that any kind of asking around would draw Feng’s attention. But he did have one clue to follow: MoonCat. Unfortunately, having murdered her dog didn’t leave him in a good position to cultivate her acquaintance. At Sylvia’s class she routinely gave him looks of unbridled hate.

    He didn’t want to use magic to spy on her, so instead he invested a few hundred dollars in a used motorbike, and sat close to the door during the next class session at Post Academy Instruction. He hustled out as soon as Sylvia finished, and went up to the sidewalk to tinker with the bike until MoonCat emerged.

    As usual, the burly man in sunglasses was waiting for her in an armored SUV. When they pulled away from the curb, Sam followed, not making any attempt at stealth. On the Henry Hudson Parkway they turned south and he kept the SUV in sight only long enough to establish that they weren’t taking the George Washington Bridge to Jersey.

    Over the next couple of weeks Sam trailed the SUV as far south as Canal Street. After that he began skipping class from time to time in order to wait in ambush on a rented bicycle at Canal Park, near the parkway exit. When he spotted the armored SUV going past he pedaled after it, his bright spandex tights and pretentious cycling cap making him effectively invisible. Just another middle-aged bicycle bore.

    It took him three tries to tail the SUV all the way to its destination: a fancy building at Howard and Lafayette Streets. That was where MoonCat scrambled out of the car without glancing at the driver, and went inside through the marble lobby.

    Sam didn’t want to barge in after her, so instead he called Ash using his old “Sam Arquero” phone. “Want to go out for a fancy dinner tomorrow?”

    “A fancy dinner?”

    “You know, the kind of joint with cloth napkins and servers who don’t call you ‘babe.'”

    “Cloth napkins, no less! All right. What’s the occasion?”

    “Nothing special. I just heard about a Chinese-Peruvian fusion place and thought I’d try it. I’ll meet you at the corner of Canal and Broadway tomorrow at seven.”

    The restaurant occupied half the ground floor of the building MoonCat had entered. Halfway through the meal Sam excused himself to use the men’s room, but made an embarrassing error and blundered out into the building lobby. He took the opportunity to check out the elevators, and saw that one of them, located around the corner from the rest, had a key-card reader instead of a call button.

    When he got back to their table Ash raised her eyebrows. “I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”

    “Sorry. I got lost and had to ask a security guard for directions.”



    The next morning Sam used a public computer at the Fordham University library to search for tenants of the building where MoonCat had gone. After a couple of hours he had built up a complete list: offices on the lower floors, some apartments on the upper floors, and a complete absence of information about the three-story penthouse on top.

    He had never tried using his Inner Eye with binoculars, but that weekend he positioned himself on the rooftop terrace of the 401 Broadway building nearby and took a look at the penthouse.

    As soon as he got the lenses focused on the building Sam nearly dropped the binoculars. Something was looking back at him. He couldn’t see it, not with his eyes, but the sense of hostile, searching attention was overpowering. Sam dropped down behind the parapet of the terrace and kept his eyes tightly closed until the feeling of being watched went away.

    “O-kay,” he muttered. “Now I know where he is. How do I get in?”

    If Feng’s guardian spirits could spot someone merely looking at his penthouse from three blocks away, there was no way Sam could get away with any breaking and entering. He had to get himself invited.

    “Is it ready?” he asked Lucas during a “chance meeting” in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

    “It is. A very nasty div — a cunning fighter, but I could bind it without using my own name, so it won’t be able to identify me. That’s important. I trapped it in a clay figurine. There’s a time-release spell with a trigger word. Put it into Feng’s home, preferably his bedroom or bathroom, and say the word. When the Sun sets, the div will be released. I have given it Feng’s scent by means of a used napkin, but there is likely to be considerable collateral damage. You don’t want to be anywhere nearby when it gets out.”

    “So I have to do this during the day?”

    “Yes. I’m sure you can manage it.” Lucas handed Sam a claim check. “The Park West Hotel checkroom. It should be a black leather briefcase with a lock. The combination is 4321.”

    Sam retrieved the bag the next afternoon, and tipped the bellman five dollars for bringing it to him. He examined the contents while riding across the Brooklyn Bridge in a cab. Lucas had protected the little clay figure by wrapping it in layers of cotton and plastic wrap. Even by concentrating on it with his inner eye Sam couldn’t sense anything about the figure, except that it was pretty crude looking.

    After that it was simply a matter of finding out some people’s names and making them believe his lies.

    Nine days after Sam picked up the figurine — which happened to be Midsummer Day — the water pressure in the spirit-guarded penthouse died away to nothing. After an angry phone call from Taika Feng, the building manager summoned the regular plumbing contractors to deal with the problem. They brought along their newest employee. “Phil” was a little old to be a plumber’s helper, and everyone kept forgetting to ask about his union papers, but he showed up on time and did good work.

    Sam was almost trembling as he rode the private elevator up to the penthouse with Mitch and Hector. He kept checking his watch — it was already past five. Taika had made the call hours later than he’d expected her to. There was plenty of time, he kept telling himself. Sunset wasn’t for another three hours. He could let Mitch and Hector putter around trying to restore pressure while he found a place to stash the figurine, then have a convenient hunch about the problem — the cutoff valve in the basement, which he had magically commanded the building manager not to check — and be out well before the div got loose.

    “Got someplace to be?” Mitch asked him.

    “I’ve got a date at eight-thirty,” said Sam.

    “Well I’ve got a date with double pay for after hours,” said Mitch. “I can go all night.”

    Sam shrugged. He felt particularly naked because he had dismissed all the protective spirits he had accumulated, just in case anyone in the household decided to use the Inner Eye on him. His nervousness mounted with each floor that blinked past on the display over the controls. Suddenly the whole plan seemed utterly crazy. How was he going to beat a master magician in his place of power? Would Lucas’s magical time bomb even work?

    If there had been a way to reverse the elevator’s motion and go back down to the lobby, Sam would have done it right then.

    “Anyway, you don’t want to be on time for a chick,” said Mitch. “Let ’em wait for you. Isn’t that right, Hector? You’re the pickup master, right?”

    Hector, who had been faithfully married to the same woman since he was seventeen, grinned and nodded. “Works every time.”

    Sam chuckled along with the joke, then closed his eyes and thought of Alice — the touch of her skin, the smell of her hair when she cuddled up with her head on his chest. All gone in agony and terror one summer night. He’d seen the photos from upstairs. The Apkallu had done that. With that thought he felt the welcome surge of anger drive away his fear.

    “‘Sides, wait till you get a look at this place. This dude’s beyond rich. We’re talking Bill Gates territory.”

    As if on cue the elevator door opened to reveal an extremely modest vestibule, with spotless white walls and a plain bamboo floor. But as soon as Sam stepped out of the elevator he was almost overwhelmed by the same sense of powerful attention he had felt when looking through the binoculars. That time it had been like hot sunlight; this was like looking into a furnace.

    Even Mitch and Hector seemed to feel it; they both looked around nervously. The single door in the vestibule opened and a tall woman with blonde hair so fair it might have been white stood regarding them. Sam recognized Taika Feng, MoonCat’s mother.



    He hoped his new look of beard, mustache, nerd glasses, and a shaved head would be enough to keep her from recognizing him.

    She gave the three of them a searching look, which made Sam very glad he wasn’t carrying any spirit outriders. Finally she spoke. “The three of you are welcome in this house today. Please come in.”

    The hostile watching presence vanished as if she had flipped a switch. Sam followed Hector and Mitch as she led the way to the kitchen. “All the water’s off. I don’t know what’s going on.

    I’ve been out all day and the servants were vacuuming. Nobody was using the water at all, and now it doesn’t work.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” said Hector. He didn’t even roll his eyes when she left the room. The kitchen was as big as Sam’s apartment in the Bronx, with stainless steel appliances like a newly opened restaurant.

    They got to work figuring out the problem. Hector turned on the tap; nothing came out. He went under the sink and unscrewed the cold water line. “I got water here, but no pressure.”

    “See, if the pipe was broken someplace it’d be empty,” Mitch explained to the new guy. “The super says the cutoff is open wide and he’s got pressure in the rest of the building, so that means it’s gotta be blocked somehow.” A flicker of uncertainty crossed Mitch’s face, since he was repeating things Sam had told him to believe.

    “I’d better check the other taps,” said Sam, and Mitch nodded.

    The kitchen had a passage which led to the front door, and a set of double doors into the dining room. Sam’s eyes widened as he went through them — the dining room could have been part of some old imperial palace under the Tang Dynasty. A framed painting of a woman with a fox’s tail peeking out from under her robes was definitely watching him as he crossed the room.

    The penthouse had three floors, and Sam quickly established that the lowest level was all social space and the servants’ quarters. He listened carefully and then tiptoed up the stairs to the second level. That was bedrooms for the family, and what looked like some guest rooms. Sam considered stashing the div in the master bedroom, but with Taika at home he was afraid she might find it before Hei Feng returned.

    The third floor was hard to find. The stairs up ended at the second level, and Sam had to open doors along the hallway before he found a cast-iron spiral staircase hidden behind a sliding panel decorated with a glowering Chinese pig-demon face. Sam crept up as silently as he could.

    Jackpot. The third floor had a very well-stocked library, a small gymnasium, and — yes! — a magical workroom, furnished with a cabinet of powdered herbs and minerals, a big bookcase, a wardrobe full of assorted robes and vestments, and a whole set of braziers for burning things. The floor of the workroom was covered in black slate, so that protective circles could be conveniently drawn in chalk.

    He also noted some items which were a bit more disturbing: A steel chair in the corner had leather restraints on the arms, legs, and headrest. A lovely walnut and brass case held a full set of antique surgical instruments. The walls were tiled halfway up for easy cleaning.

    Yes, this would be the right place to leave the clay figure. Sam set it atop the herb cabinet, behind some jars labeled “Rain Water,” “River Water,” and “Sea Water.” Then he took a deep breath, and spoke the command Lucas had written out for him.

    “Ziqpa sharay, zimyi Div.”

    He checked his phone: ninety minutes to sunset. Time to get out. He sent Mitch a text. “Got 2 go now. See u 2morow.” Then he made his way down the spiral stair to the second level. He was just about to slide the panel at the bottom open when he heard Taika Feng’s voice in the hallway beyond.

    “– to that party. It will be full of people of no use to you. Musicians and actors and such.”

    “That’s who I want to see! Quavo will be there!” said a voice Sam recognized as MoonCat’s.

    “And who is that? This week’s flavor.”

    “You don’t even know who he is!”

    “By August you won’t remember him either. You should cultivate people who will have influence. Young men who will inherit corporations, sons of political families, European nobility. Make them love you now and you can draw on them for the rest of your life.”

    “I don’t care! Those people are boring! I want to be with someone who understands me.”

    Taika made an exasperated sound and Sam could hear her footsteps receding down the corridor. He counted to a hundred then eased the sliding panel open wide enough for a quick look.

    MoonCat’s room was just ten feet down the hall, and the door was open. He suspected that was deliberate, so that her mother would be able to hear the music blasting from MoonCat’s computer speakers. Maybe he could slip past . . .

    As he approached the door Sam was startled to hear what sounded like a dog growling. A second later he realized that he wasn’t hearing it with his ears, only inside his head. Just as he had that thought, MoonCat paused the music. Sam froze.

    He recognized that growl. MoonCat’s guardian. The dog he had murdered. No matter what disguise he wore, it would know him.

    “Aiti?” said MoonCat from inside the room, and Sam heard the sound of movement.

    He bolted back for the sliding panel and got it mostly shut behind him before he heard her voice in the hall. “Aiti?”

    The dog growling was louder now, and Sam heard approaching footsteps. He retreated up the iron staircase, staying as silent as possible.

    “Baba?” she said, right outside the sliding panel. Sam froze, holding his breath.

    MoonCat waited another minute in the hallway before Sam heard her footsteps going away, and he finally risked taking a breath.

    Now what? He’d have to wait until she wasn’t in the bedroom between him and the exit. Sam checked his phone again: a little more than an hour until the div’s binding ended.

    He waited on the stairs for time, listening for any sign that MoonCat might leave her room. The music resumed, not as loud as before.

    Just after eight he heard a new voice from the hall: Feng was talking to his daughter.

    “. . . tells me you wish to go to a party in Brooklyn tonight.”

    “It’s not a party, it’s an after party! Only lame people go to parties.”

    “Ah. Forgive me for missing that crucial difference. Who is the host of this after party?”

    “I don’t know. Some girl from Chapin. Quavo’s going to be there!”

    “Don’t bother explaining what that means. Mao, your mother believes you are wasting your time with these people –”

    “She doesn’t know anything!”

    “– but I disagree. You are my only child, and I think you have the potential to be more than a useful marriage to some other Apkal family. If you wish to build up your own sphere of influence, I will let you decide for yourself how to go about it. You may go to this after party –”


    “– on one condition! That you remain sober the whole time. No alcohol, no cannabis, nothing but soft drinks. See the other guests, including this Quango person, with open eyes and a clear brain. Study them. See how they make use of each other and learn to make use of them yourself. Can you do that?”


    “Very well, then. You probably ought to get ready. Anzor can drive you.”

    “It’s an after party, Baba. Nobody’s going to show until three.”

    “They could postpone it a few hours and call it a brunch.

    Enjoy yourself.”

    To Sam’s horror, he could hear Feng’s footsteps coming toward him. He retreated up the stairs to the workroom and looked around desperately for a hiding place. The only thing which could possibly conceal him was the wardrobe, so he ducked inside and pulled the door shut, just as the iron spiral staircase began to ring under Feng’s ascending feet.

    Sam positioned himself so that he could peek through the crack between the wardrobe doors. It didn’t give him a full view of the room, but he could get glimpses of Feng as he moved about — and anything was better than trying to guess what was happening based on sound alone.



    Feng began by ditching his jacket, tie, and shoes, and then spent a good twenty minutes doing tai chi exercises. He followed that by brewing a cup of some kind of herbal tea which smelled of hazelnut and jasmine. Feng sipped the tea as he leafed through a bound notebook, then seriously got to work on a magical ritual.

    He began in the usual way, by banishing hostile presences from the room with scented smoke and sprinkled water. The ordinary ritual wasn’t enough to chase away the bound div, but Sam held his breath for a moment, wondering if Feng would somehow sense the monster hidden in the clay figure atop the wardrobe.

    With that done, Feng began chalking a large summoning circle in the center of the floor, surrounded by seven supporting sigils. Sam couldn’t see what the signs were. What was Feng planning to call up? Whatever it was, Sam guessed that he had done it before. Feng was marking the signs from memory, with only occasional glances at the notebook.

    Sam risked a look at his phone. Ten minutes until sunset, according to the Naval Observatory web site. Feng showed no sign of quitting.

    In desperation, Sam sent Lucas a text message. “Call Feng now urgent.”

    Another couple of minutes dragged by. Feng went to the herb cabinet and began filling a small brazier with crushed poppies and dried mushrooms.

    Sam almost jumped when the phone in Feng’s jacket pocket buzzed. Feng sighed, set down his brazier, and answered it.

    “Yes?” Pause. “This is a surprise. What do you want to talk about?” Pause. “Naturally.” Pause. “I’m busy right now, with something that will probably take all night. What about lunch tomorrow?” Pause. “Why can’t it wait?” Pause. “No, I have to finish this tonight, and I’m not going to postpone this working just because you want to refight old battles. Lunch tomorrow is the best I can do.” Pause — during which Feng grimaced in exasperation and raised a clenched fist. “I will not see you tonight. If you turn up at the front door Taika will turn you away. If it’s a serious problem call Moreno. Now good night.” Feng turned his phone off and tucked it back into his jacket.

    He passed out of Sam’s view for a moment, edging around the sigils he had drawn on the floor, and then suddenly he was right in front of the wardrobe, his body blocking the light coming in through the crack. The doors swung open.

    Feng looked at Sam. Sam looked at Feng, then launched himself out of the wardrobe, trying to brush the other man aside and get to the stairs. But Feng had excellent reflexes, so dodged out of Sam’s way and spun to land a fist on the back of his neck, sending him sprawling on the floor.

    Before he could scramble to his feet Feng was on top of him, a knee planted firmly between Sam’s shoulders and both hands under his chin, pulling his head back until Sam’s vision began to contract.

    “What are you doing here?” Feng asked.

    Before Sam could answer a sharp crack echoed through the room, accompanied by the smell of clay dust. Feng was up in a second, as both he and Sam turned around to see what had made the noise.

    From his reading, Sam had expected the div to be a solid, real-looking thing like the bird monster. It wasn’t. The space in front of the wardrobe was occupied by a churning, incomprehensible something which Sam’s eyes couldn’t make sense of. There were eyes, or at least black pits radiating fury. There were jagged curving shapes which might have been claws. And in the center was an emptiness demanding to be filled. But nothing seemed attached to anything else, and pieces appeared and disappeared constantly.

    Feng shouted a single word before the div reached him. He tried to shield himself with one arm, but the curved claw-shapes lashed out, shredding the flesh and Feng’s shirtsleeve, exposing the bones. Blood spattered in Sam’s eyes.

    Then Sam felt the same impression of watchful anger he recognized from when he had stepped out of the elevator. A snaky, coiling shape of blinding blue glare shot into the room. It was like watching lightning in slow motion — only this lightning had a single shining eye like a pearl.

    The snaky lightning-dragon wrapped itself around the churning black div, and Feng staggered back with scarlet arterial blood spurting from his ravaged arm. He fumbled one-handed with his belt, trying to wrap it around his arm just above the elbow.

    Sam tackled him.

    “Ugamah,” Feng managed to gasp, and suddenly Sam couldn’t breathe. Something was blocking his throat.

    The battling monsters looked bigger now. The div splintered the wardrobe with a stray swing of its claws, and wherever the lightning-dragon brushed the walls the paint began to burn.

    Sam scrambled over to the worktable and splashed himself in the face with the water Feng had used for the banishing ritual. The blockage in his throat eased for a second, long enough for him to suck in a lungful and speak the words to dispel the spirit choking him. He turned, just in time to duck aside as the herb cabinet smashed into the worktable.

    The ceiling was coming down in chunks as the div’s claws sliced great furrows and the dragon’s tail left a burning trail across them. Feng pulled his belt-tourniquet tight and began crawling to the stairs. Sam hurled the wreckage of the worktable at him, but Feng’s protective spirits knocked it aside.

    A sudden flash lit the room, blinding even though Sam wasn’t looking at the source. The div made a sound of pain and fury, almost lost in the instant boom of thunder and the sound of groaning metal. Wind blasted away the smoke and dust of the room, and Sam could see that part of the roof was gone.

    The lightning-dragon soared out through the hole it had made, leaving the room in darkness, lit only by the red evening sky. The div knocked Sam aside, and he felt a rib crack when he landed.

    Then it was atop Feng, the claw shapes slashing and slashing at his ribs and scalp as he curled into a ball for protection.

    And then Sam saw dragon-lightning strike the div, in a massive purple-white discharge. The flash blinded him and the concussion knocked him back, but the thunder was drowned out by the div’s scream as it exploded in a foul-smelling cloud of burning fragments.

    The div was gone, and so was the dragon — or maybe it was dead, or recharging, Sam had no idea. All the wreckage was burning now, and the wind was only fanning the flames. Sam limped over to Feng’s body. He could see the bare bone of his skull where the scalp was torn away, and a great hole through the ribs in his back, but incredibly Feng was still moving. He turned and looked at Sam, and tried to speak. His eyes were wide with fear and desperation.

    Sam’s first impulse was to see if he could drag Feng downstairs, get help for him. Then he stopped himself. He remembered a crayon drawing, and the green eyes of a helpless dog. Sam knelt and put his hands around Feng’s throat and squeezed. He was looking into his eyes as Feng died.

    After that he managed to get down the iron stairs, and found the emergency staircase, and joined all the other people from the building as they flowed down to the street. On the ground he took off his plumber’s work shirt and used it to wipe the blood off, then walked to the subway in his undershirt.



    “Well done,” said Lucas’s voice on Sam’s phone, four hours later. “The news blamed all the damage on lightning. Moreno didn’t have to do anything.”

    “I killed him,” said Sam. “I did it myself, not the thing in the doll.” He was still shaking.

    “Yes, you did. And a good job, too. This was our first step toward destroying the Apkallu forever. With Feng out of the way, leadership in New York will probably pass to Stone — I believe you met him at your initiation? A charming fellow, very fat. He and I have been allies, off and on, and his chief desire is to avoid any situations requiring effort. As Master of your Circle he will be King Log, doing nothing. The perfect man for our purposes.”

    “What happened to his family?”

    “Stone’s? I don’t think he ever –”

    “Feng’s. What happened to MoonCat and her mother? Are they all right?”

    “They very prudently got out as soon as the trouble started. At present they are staying in another property owned by the family, in Greenwich Village. Very comfortable quarters. Don’t concern yourself about them.”

    It was a long time before Sam got to sleep that night, even with the help of four shots of vodka. And when he did sleep, he dreamed of killing a man.

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