I went back around to the suitcase, set it on the desk, and opened it up. I’d brought a roll of plastic bags, a grooming kit, a squirt bottle of bleach and one of water – the kind you use to hold ketchup – and a complete change of clothes. Black leather gloves, shoes, socks, an identical blue tie, trousers, shirt and jacket, all rolled. The suit was of a different material than the linen I’d worn in, a heavier wool suit in a similar, but not identical color. I wrapped up the messiest things, the hammer and my jacket and tie, and then stepped around to squirt Yegor’s exposed skin with the bleach. The odor of chlorine burned my nostrils, a clinging, lurid pink smell.
After that, I checked myself for blood, swabbing my face and gloves with dilute bleach, then with alcohol-soaked cotton to get rid of the smell. When I was sure I was clean, I changed everything, packed the dirty clothes into the suitcase along with everything else, and left the way I’d come. The P.A was nowhere to be seen, operating at a paygrade which encouraged her discretion. For Yegor, privacy came with a price.
When I was back outside, I dropped the telescoping handle of the carry-on and pulled it behind me on my way up Wall Street, merging into a thick crowd of suits, teased hair, blue jeans and pork pie hats. The sky was heavily overcast, almost like hurricane clouds by the time I reached the Charging Bull statue on Broadway. As I was walking by, I heard a thick wet splat to my left, and turned to see a dark stain, the size of a bird’s droppings, had spattered across the bull’s head. By the time I reached my ride, it was nearly dark. The streetlights had turned on. I was leery of the sky as I loaded up and got behind the wheel, but as soon as I was in the relative privacy of the car, I relaxed with pleasure so profound that it was practically erotic. I had done magic of the kind I’d only dreamed back in there. I’d pulled energy from somewhere other and channeled it with nothing but a word and my will. There was no ward to rely on, no other magus flinging energy at me that I could turn on its head. I’d called to the Art, and the Art had responded.
“My GOD,” I said aloud. “That felt good.”
There was no one else in the car, but someone replied all the same. The voice was in my own head, hissing in my ears like a chorus of hissing leaves sliding down dry pavement. If I hadn’t been a mage, I’d have checked myself in to the asylum.
“Yegor Gavrilyuk is dead.” Kutkha, my Neshamah, projected an image of himself preening under one shadowy wing. Head cocked, he fixed me with one solid white eye. It burned and spat like the core of a star. “A sore blow to the Organizatsiya. Are you satisfied?”
“I won’t be satisfied until they’re dead.” I pulled my wig off and stuffed it into the suitcase, took out my blue contacts, and pulled my shoes. I’d worn two-inch insoles in them, boosting my height to the princely total of five foot seven. “We’ll get rid of all of this and go to K&S. I’ll take what money we can transport, and burn the rest.”
“Indeed. Though you must beware the corruption that so much money brings. The desire for revenge is eating you alive, my Ruach.You have never been a creature of the light, and the Void will tempt you,”
Like I didn’t already know that. It had been just on four weeks since my brush with death, and I had been feeling… strange. Not terrible, despite the usual trials and tribulations of healing a life-threatening injury, but definitely different. Something had shifted in my mind and body like an iceberg sliding into a slowly moving flow of water. When I looked out across a crowd of people, I felt lean and hungry, wolfish, calculating. I’d been eating a lot. I’d been thinking about money and the ins and outs of power. I’d picked up a copy of The Prince and had left it next to my bed at Strange Kitty, reading Machiavelli in an attempt to understand Sergei better. Kutkha had said not a word about it, until now.
“I’m doing my best.” I got out a packet of wet wipes, and cleaned off the remainder of the subtle makeup I’d used to conceal the true shape of my face. Nothing extravagant: just enough to flesh out my cheeks, add crows feet, and give my skin a rosy look that it typically lacked. It made all the difference on camera. “Are you worried about the Yen?”
“Perhaps. Yen infection is subtle in HuMans.” Kutkha shivered, ruffling his feathers. “I worry because you keep yourself in a state of perpetual, voluntary poverty. After a lifetime spent telling yourself that you do not need anything and anyone, you face desire. Desire needles you to make choices. It is not something that you have trained for.”
“Nonsense. I decide on things every day.”
Kutkha laughed, the soft chortling laughter of crows. “Not decisions, Alexi. Choices. Decisions are passive things made in response to a stimulus, a need. Choices create the stimuli that forces others to decide. You have had very little room for choice in your life.”
I frowned, turning the engine, and paused as a thick spang of liquid bounced off the roof. Then another… and then a scattering of blows on the windshield, multiple dark, clotted red masses oozing down the glass. “What the Hell…?”
Screams of confusion and disgust pealed up from the street around me. I was about to open the door and go outside to look when Kutkha seized control of my body and pulled me back into my seat, an awkward exertion of his will on mine that caused me to lift up and then flop back down on an awkward angle. “No! Don’t go out there!”
Dumbstruck, I watched on in stupefied awe as the rain thundered down and my view of people running and ducking for cover disappeared under a greasy layer of shredded flesh. The air was suddenly bone-chillingly cold, saturated with the smell of raw meat.
Satisfaction faded to shock. I slumped back, rubbing my hand over mouth and jaw. “I… I’ve heard of this sort of thing happening as signs or auguries, but, I mean. this seems even beyond the capability of the TVS. Kutkha, do you…”
I trailed off. Kutkha’s response was the tense silence of an ellipsis.
“It is a harbinger,” Kutkha finally said. His voice was firmer, clearer, less ethereal.
The rain of blood was turning to pinkish water, sweeping blasts of it that streaked through the dark red mess from my windshield. I turned the wipers on and started the car, idling until I could see outside again. The street looked like a slaughterhouse. “A harbinger of… what?”
“Events like this occur when a Cell is under attack,” Kutkha replied. “Your world, and all the worlds in this region are protected by a Parama, the ‘skin’ that surrounds your local neighborhood. Paramae separate layers of reality from one another, like cell walls. They are permeable, allowing Phi to sweep in and out of a galactic region. This spiraling wave of GOD’s plasma gives your Cell dynamism. For reality to bend in such a fashion as this, the Parama must be under stress.”
“Or a tornado swept up a warehouse full of chickens and deposited the remains over New York,” I said. “Things like this aren’t necessarily supernatural.”
“When was the last time you heard of such a thing happening?”
I thought for a moment. “The Black Plague was supposedly presaged by a rain of blood over Germany. So was World War One, in rural England. Arguably, the blood rain actually foretold the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, which killed even more people than the war did. A hundred million, if I remember correctly.”
“One fifth of all HuManity in the world perished in that year alone, killed by a virus which brewed in the trenches of the Great War,” Kutkha said. “So, for all the good it will do us, shall we go and fetch our money, my Ruach?”
I tried to push it down, but the disquieting wrongness that pressed in on me could not be ignored. Power rippled in a wave that passed over me from the moaning sky, discordant and unnatural. It was followed by a boom of thunder so strong that the car vibrated.
“Yes,” I said, quietly. “I suppose that’s all we can do. But we need to get to the bottom of it.”
“We?” My Neshamah chortled. “Do you think yourself so great?”
“What I think is that I can’t kill Sergei if I’m dead.” I slowly pulled out onto the street, and watched another glob of indeterminable meat slide down my windshield. “The only thing I am is pissed off. There’s a wooden stake with Sergei’s name on it, and damned if I’m going to let some virus stop me.”
This is a draft chapter and may not actually make the cut. Tell me what you think in the comments! I’m interested in feedback on the suspense and interest this scenario offers people.