Journey to the Center of Your Mind
Pietro dashed from alley to street to alley, avoiding the puddles of water and lamplight. He kept his tricorn hat pulled low over his eyes and the tails of his coat flapped and snapped as he darted from one shadow to another.
Pietro was accustomed to the role of the nocturnal hunter, but tonight he he couldn’t shake the feeling he was the one being hunted. He had seen several cloaked shadows and figures that seemed to appear around every corner he turned. He would turn down an alley and one would appear at the other end. He would climb the jutting stones of a nearby wall and a hooded head would peer down from the roof. He began to eschew his normal grace in favor of panic driven sprints down wide thoroughfares, anywhere at least a handful of people were still out and about. At this hour they were mostly drunks, whores, and stickup artists, no different than his old friends from the circus and they seemed to keep the shadows at bay.
At least, for a bit they did. The shadows seemed to be getting bolder in their pursuit. There were now two behind him following in a slow, steady gait. And now there were two more ahead. Another slipped out from an alcove and another from the opposite side of the street. Pietro ran toward a shop and began to scale the timber frame. Two more hooded men began descending from the roof. Pietro dropped to the ground and was grabbed by the collar. He slipped out of his coat and sped toward a narrow street, but he was cut off by a grim man with dead eyes who grabbed Pietro by the arms. Pietro recognized the Fleet Street demon.
“Ay,” yelled a woman in a gravely voice as she stomped toward the demon, shaking her finger. “Leave the boy alone, he’s just a kid.”
One of the robed men shot a tentacle out of his robe’s sleeve and wrapped it around the woman’s neck, squeezing until it snapped. He retracted his slimy limb and the woman fell like a marionette.
“Where’s me dagger, boy?” the demon growled.
Pietro glared back.
“Cat got your tongue, does it?”
Pietro was silent.
“Well, I know a guy who’ll get it out of you,” the demon said and struck Pietro unconscious. The robed men stuffed him into a sack and jogged off.
Cletus and Abby were reading by the waning light of a cluster of stumpy candles, when a gust tore through and blew out the fire.
“It’s bad enough Bart lets his son run around the city in the middle of the night,” Abby said storming to the window, “But that kid never closes the window when he leaves.”
She closed the window.
“Lock it,” Cletus grumbled. “Let him use the door like everyone else.”
They stared at each other and shook their heads.
“We’re not getting anywhere, are we?” asked Abby.
“No, we’re getting somewhere, but we’re not getting there fast enough.”
“How do we know it’s the right somewhere?”
“We don’t. But it’s the best we can do with what we have. Composing spells is very advanced work. And banishing an Old God. I’ve banished some powerful things in my time, but an Old God…I’ve banished demons and summoned elementals, I’ve even hunted vampires for a spell…”
“You never talk about that. You didn’t even write about it in the book.”
“Not much to tell, really. It was a side job for some extra gold. I’ll tell you something though, vampires make for good eating.”
Abby face contorted and she stuck her tongue out in what seemed like a reflex, “Really?”
“No. Not really. I just wanted to see you make that face. You look just like your mother when you do that. I used to like making her make that face.” Cletus smiled to himself, his eyes focused on the middle space in front of him.
“I don’t remember her. I was still a baby when it happened.”
“Anytime you want to see your mother, just look into a still pond on a clear day.”
They sat in still silence.
“We had better get back to work,” Cletus’ voice rang like a bell pealing through the silence.
Pietro was strapped to a chair in a torch lit, stone hewn chamber. Father Victor stood in front of him with his arms folded and his hand to his chin, squinting and regarding him like a puzzle. A gilled man stood beside him and looked at him with nervous expectation.
“Maybe the child’s a mute?” Victor offered and continued his examination. “Child, are you a mute? Nod your head ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
Pietro was unmoved.
“Answer the Father, you obstinate whelp,” the gilled man barked.
“Matthew,” Victor said to the gilled monk, “Let me handle this. Good word though, ‘obstinate’. I feel like I lead a fairly literate cult.”
“I used to teach university before I pledged my undying loyalty to Master Dargon,” Matthew replied.
“Dagon,” Victor said as he turned back to Pietro. “Are you deaf as well, child? That may sound like sarcasm, but I’m asking in earnest. If you are, in fact, hard of hearing, continue staring at me.”
Pietro was unimpressed.
“Poor wretched, deaf, mute urchin,” Victor shook his head. “Now I feel bad. I don’t often feel empathy for my sacrifices, but this one’s getting to me.” He raised his voice and spoke to Pietro with exaggerated pronunciation, “You’re very lucky. That means you’re blessed by the great lord Dagon himself.”
“Is it ‘Dagon’?” Matthew asked.
“You sure it wasn’t ‘Dargon’ for a little bit in the beginning?”
“No. It’s been ‘Dagon’ since the universe erupted out of nothingness leaving a trail of somethingness behind it.”
“What is it Matthew? You’ve gone pale, again.”
“I have to rethink some things,” he said as he wobbled out of the room, dazed.
Father Victor crouched down to Pietro’s eye level and patted him on the head, “I know this all seems scary, but as soon as we get the dagger back, you’ll be giving your life for a lovely cause.”
“Father Victor, Father Victor!” A man whose skin appeared to be a patchwork of cockleshells shouted as he burst into the chamber. Pietro turned his head to see the source of the commotion.
“You little scoundrel,” Victor said through a laugh, snapped his fingers and pointed in Pietro’s face. He then looked to the man and sighed, “What is it, Hugh?”
“The Augur’s kestrels have located the dagger in an Inn by the river,” Hugh replied.
“That stuff works?”
“Would you like me to dispatch some of my men to get it back?”
“Brother Gehjetztnachause, I would have been more impressed if you had walked in here with the dagger. You know where it is, go get it. Why do you need me to sign off on that? Am I going to say ‘no’? You need to learn to start taking some initiative, Hugh. You have great potential.”
“Now, get my dagger back.”
“These four hawks have been sitting on the fence outside since dawn,” Abby said looking out the window, “Augury?”
“Likely,” Cletus replied, “Looking for the book and dagger.”
“I’d say ‘found’.”
“Indeed, we should prepare for trouble.”
A knock came at the door of their room.
“Professor Wensleydale? Abigayle?” Bart’s voice said from the other side.
Abby opened the door and Bart was standing hunched, rubbing his hands.
“Have you seen Pietro, this morning?” asked Bart.
“No, but I figured he was still out looting London,” Abby replied.
“It’s almost noon and it’s not like him to be out past his bedtime.”
“Hey,” Ray yelled from below the window, “We got a break in the case.”
When Cletus, Abby, and Bart came down to join Ray, they were being stared down by four kestrels and fifteen Dagonites, Hugh in the lead.
“Give us the dagger,” Hugh said, lowering his hood.
“Oof,” Abby whispered to Cletus, “What ocean-themed physical features did you get when you joined your aquatic death cult? I’m covered in cockles, mum.”
“Shh,” Cletus whispered through a snicker.
“We’ll talk about it. First, who are you?” Ray said to Hugh.
“Are you that fallen angel people keep jawing about?” Hugh replied.
“That’s a misleading way of putting it.”
“Please, just give us the dagger and we’ll piss off.”
“You have my boy, don’t you?” Bart began to charge, but Ray restrained him.
“Just talking, just talking,” Ray said to Bart, then turned to Hugh, “For now.”
“Is that supposed to imply we’re going to have it out?” Hugh stepped forward. “Look, mate, you’re out numbered and most of these blokes have weird fish parts for hands like claws and tentacles.”
“Fish don’t have claws or tentacles.”
“You know what I’m getting at. Now, hand over the dagger and I can go home, sit in the dark and brood and you don’t suffer a humiliating defeat. Sound good?”
“Answer this man’s question first.”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
Bart lunged at Hugh and sent him sliding on his back toward his men.
“Go on then. Get the bleeding dagger,” he shouted from the ground.
The Dagonites descended on Ray and Bart. Claws snapped and tentacles failed. Hugh rose to his feet and homed in on Ray, striking him with a cockle encrusted fist. Ray swiped with his talons, but they glanced off Hugh’s shelled hide.
“It does have it benefits,” Hugh grinned taking another swing.
Abby launched arcs of fire at Hugh as Cletus’ vials exploded around his feet. Hugh looked at them askance.
“Covered in cockles, mate,” he said as he approached them. He grabbed Abby and knocked her to the ground. “Would you like to die for Dagon, sweetie? A fire witch like you would make for a grand sacrifice.”
As Hugh raised his fist, Abby put up her hand and an ultraviolet tear grew in the space between them. Out of the tear came a pair of enormous fists clenched tight and appearing like hammers. The fists further ripped the hole in space and out emerged a wiry bent over figure that was the absence of light, a malevolent shape of raging darkness. It raised its fist and bent down to meet Hugh’s eyes.
“Hugh?” the darkness crackled with a hollow hiss. “Is that you, you worthless little shit?”
“Pa?” Hugh whimpered.
“You wound up just like I thought you would. Out of work and covered in cockles. Your dear old mum would be stricken dead with grief if you hadn’t already struck her dead with grief.”
Hugh fell backward, rolled over and covered his head.
Bart, who had fended off the other cultists by using one of their own as a bludgeoning weapon, stood dumbstruck by the baleful apparition.
“Padre, Figlio e Spirito Santo,” he mumbled, blessing himself.
“When did you start doing that?” Ray yelped. “That’s dangerous technology for someone who doesn’t know how to control it.”
“It’s something Granddad and I were working on last night.”
“Do you know how to banish that thing?”
“We didn’t get that far,” Abby explained. “I didn’t mean to do that, it was a reflex.”
“You reflexively summon demons?”
“My granddaughter is a quick learner,” replied Cletus.
“That thing is a demon?” Bart gasped. “You summon demons?”
“A demon is a corporealized subconscious construct.” Ray explained.
“Is it evil?”
“That’s relative,” Ray said. “It’s evil to him, it’s his demon. It’s nothing to us nor we to it. It’s barely paying us any attention. Demons are only as good or evil as the construct they’re manifested from.”
“You sound like the fortune teller back in the circus,” Bart said as walked over to Hugh. He flipped him on his back and held the wave the dagger in his face, “You want the dagger, I want my boy. Take us to him, or you’ll be the next sacrifice for Dagon.”
“Where you gonna stick that, mate?” Hugh smirked.
“Your eyes look pretty soft,” Bart stuck the tip of the blade a whisper from Hugh’s eye.
“Bugger it,” Hugh sighed. “Let’s go. Let’s go see the Father.”