I leant against the edge of the ship, watching the gull that landed a few feet away. Our eyes met, sea spray numbing my face and nose full of the stench of raw fish and salt. I glanced mournfully
at the device cupped loosely in my hands. Normally I would avoid technology like the plague, especially anything that would distract my attention, because normally I would be driving. Strangely,
having music pumped into your ears is not a good way to go when riding a motorbike down a motorway. Especially when being chased by invisible demon vultures.
(Side note: if you ever go to the police raging about invisible demon vultures on the motorway, they will lock you up. That poor old guy looked in the wrong mirror.)
I watched the gull as it hopped closer, remaining motionless until it was almost close enough to touch.
‘Boo,’ I think I said, my own voice drowned out by music amplified to stupid volumes in my ears so I could hear it over the roar of the big boat’s engine. The gull squawked indignantly and flew away, leaving me to my chuckling. I lit a cigarette, sighing as I did. I was running out, and (funnily enough) most whaling ships don’t sell Marlboro onboard. The sun was setting as I took a drag, and I checked my watch. Five to six. I would have to start soon.
My music cut out a split second before someone touched my shoulder, and I sighed. There was never any peace to be had on this bloody ship.
‘Enjoying yourself?’ a woman asked, and I turned.
‘Ellen. You’re a sight for sore eyes.’ She eyed my cigarette distastefully.
‘Those things’ll kill you one day,’ she said, taking it from my mouth and flicking it into the sea. I snorted.
‘If I have the luxury to die from my smoking habit,’ I said, taking another and striking a match, ‘I’ll be lucky. Considering the work I do.’ I offered her the pack. ‘Want one?’ I asked, lighting mine.
‘Constantine wannabe,’ she sighed, before taking one and letting me light it. I tossed the match to follow my last cigarette to oblivion. ‘So what did you want?’
‘I was coming to ask if you’re ready to start,’ she said. ‘Sunset’s soon.’
‘What was your first clue?’ I nodded out to where the sky was stained orange and red. ‘Don’t start telling me how to perform a summoning ritual, else I’ll start telling you how to fire a spear gun, and then start expounding on the morality of whaling. Neither of us want that.’
‘But you were all too eager to come,’ she mocked. I scowled.
‘Only because Ethan agreed to double my fee.’ A smirk lifted my face. ‘And you were here, dollface.’ She punched my shoulder, but I like to think it was in a friendly way. ‘Why does a whaling trip need all this protection, anyway?’ Ellen shrugged.
‘You’d best get ready,’ she said, glancing out meaningfully. I snorted.
‘You know, the best way to prepare is tantrically…’ Ellen hit me again.
‘In your dreams,’ she said, walking off. I smiled, and went to get my reindeer hides.
‘Hvala,’ I murmured, kneeling in my chalked circle. In front of me was a whalebone; to my left, a glass of seawater; to my right, a lit candle; and behind me the feather of a seagull. Oh, and I was
naked except for my underwear and a heavy reindeer hide. Sometimes? Magic sucks. ‘Hvala. Hvala. Vil eg stefna ther. Býd thér, ad koma fram.’ Icelandic. It sounded harsh, even to me, and I could
barely hear myself, not to mention probably being horribly inaccurate. I write all my incantations from Google Translate, since it’s quicker than learning the language properly. I’ll never know how
the freelance magician operated without it. Nevertheless, each word left a thrumming tension in the air, and my hair was standing on end. I hoped that wasn’t only the cold. This spell wasn’t the
kind of thing you wanted to do more than once. Letting out a long, controlled breath through chattering teeth, I touched the glass of water to my left. ‘Vatn,’ I said, moving my hand to the feather
behind me, still in place despite the freezing wind. ‘Vindur.’ I lit a match, touching it to the candle on my right, and whispered ‘Eldur,’ before picking up the bone and lifting it to the sky.
‘Hvalur!’ I shouted. ‘Koma fram!’ Then, because I was really cold and the ritual demanded it, I threw the whalebone into the water. The humming tension in the air vanished after it, and I
sagged, exhausted. The only light came from the guttering flame from my candle, and as I dressed, I slowly realised that the glow was slightly brighter than it should have been. I turned, and it
winked out, plunging me into darkness.
‘If there’s an evil chuckle now…’ I muttered, and then something thudded onto the deck of the ship. And another. And another. The moon came out from behind a cloud, too bright to be completely natural, and illuminated the fish writhing on the metal. ‘Balls,’ I hissed, and ran.
‘Ethan!’ I yelled, heaving open the door to his room. He looked up from cleaning his Magnum, frowning. ‘Rain of fish,’ I explained, and bolted for Ellen’s room. I heard a heavier thud,
echoing through the ship, and I realised that maybe I should have taken the moral high ground and stayed at home. Ellen was already heading down the corridor when I rounded
the corner, and she glanced at me before gesturing back into her room. I looked in, saw the obsidian talismans I had given her a few months ago stained white, and grimaced.
‘What is it?’ she asked, loading her shotgun. Say what you will about monster hunters, they do use the biggest guns; Ethan’s Dirty Harry .44, Ellen’s 20-gauge sawn-off… I was going to have to get a Glock or something. Magic’s great and all, but the crawling nasties almost never give me the chance to draw a magic circle and recite my incantations. This is why I have all my assorted knick-knacks. ‘And is my gun big enough?’ I shot her a glance.
‘Is that a euphemism?’ I asked. ‘Your gun could kill a whale on its own.’ She laughed, and pumped a shell into the chamber. ‘Just don’t pull the trigger too close to me, alright love?’ I lit a cigarette and took my necklace off. ‘I need my ears where they are.’
‘That’s not the only thing you need where it is,’ Ellen purred, walking past me. I froze, eye twitching.
‘I thought I was meant to make the inappropriate comments,’ I muttered, looking after her. Ethan put his hand on my shoulder.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said, cocking his revolver. ‘She’s been screwing with guys like you since she started.’
‘Easy for you to say,’ I sighed. ‘Come on. Let’s go batter ourselves some fish.’
We emerged onto the deck and Ethan immediately knocked me to the side as something gold, gleaming, and sharp slammed into the wall. I looked around at the trident.
‘Aquaman?’ I asked, raising an eyebrow. Ethan gestured with his revolver, shaking his head mutely. I turned, and watched the attackers as they came, an onrushing wave of dark figures leaping out of the water. ‘No,’ I whispered, as some started to climb onto the deck. As they did, their tails slid away like the water they emerged from, revealing human legs. All of them were naked.
Oh, and all of them were better looking than me. I mean, come on. I know I’m not exactly sculpted, but I’m not bad looking, even if I do say so myself. And every single person climbing onto the deck looked like a model.
‘Mermaids?’ I asked incredulously. ‘We’re being boarded by freaking mermaids?’
‘I didn’t even think they were real,’ Ethan whispered behind me. He was having trouble coming to grips with this, too.
‘Sorry to interrupt you ladies,’ Ellen said, drawing our attention to her. She raised her shotgun at one approaching figure, pulled the trigger, and great gods above it was loud. I winced, falling away and covering my ears. Ellen said something else, probably a one-liner, but my hearing was having trouble recovering. Especially as Ethan took that as a hint to start shooting with his goddamn hand-cannon.
‘Screw you!’ I screamed, scampering towards my (hopefully intact) circle. Neither of them heard me, intent as they were on the systematic slaughter of the entire cast of a goddamn Disney film.
I was within sight of my circle when a hand emerged from the darkness and wrapped around my neck, twisting me to face the woman holding me. Like I said, they all looked like models, so maybe my
gaze lingered a tiny bit longer than it should have on her bare chest.
‘You like, mortal man?’ she hissed, choking me. Hey, I could hear again! I fumbled in my pocket, found a match, and, focusing my will, struck it on the cuff of my thick leather jacket. The flame hissed into life, and after an apologetic second of sputtering weakly, it exploded in an eruption of fire that gave me instant sunburn and deep-fried the mermaid trying to choke me. I dropped, vision blurring, heart pounding audibly. A bone-deep ache filled me. As cool as that flashy evocation had been, doing something like that outside of a ritual circle is stupid without the proper preparation. If I had waited to lose any more oxygen, it probably would have killed me. After a few minutes, I managed to clamber to my knees, and then to my feet. Leaning heavily against a handy wall, I spared the charred corpse a glance.
‘I’ve seen better.’
By the time I traversed the twenty feet to my circle, I was utterly exhausted, and black spots were swimming in my vision. I collapsed to my knees in the circle, hardly able to keep my eyes
‘Elcric siht etarcesnoc,’ I mumbled after a second of thought. My Latin escaped me; when in doubt, speak backwards. Works every time. I felt my magic filling the air, and took a deep breath. I already felt stronger, but that didn’t change the fact that I had forced reality to change and now it was taking its toll. I knelt on the deck, panting, staring blankly at the sigils written there, for an endless stretch of time. My necklace was gone; I had probably dropped it between the initial trident and conjuring that fire. Too late to go and get it now, though. That would violate the sanctity of my circle, and leave me vulnerable to-
Something gold and blue shattered in the air.
-stuff like that. Nothing magical could cross the boundary of a properly consecrated circle, at least not the way I do them. Some people I know add clauses in the binding symbols that make them totally impenetrable, or provide epic backlash if someone breaks it, but stuff like that drains energy too much. Magic is itself something that the universe tries to correct, so making a circle impenetrable to magic doesn’t take a lot of energy; it’s giving the universe an escape clause. Doesn’t work on Fae, which is why I always tend to keep some cold iron with me.
People were screaming. I missed my necklace. I had enlisted a bona fide Cretan Màgissa to help me enchant it; it was the single most powerful tool I had.
‘Sorry to interrupt,’ Ethan gasped, and I looked up numbly. He’d dropped his Magnum somewhere, and didn’t look great; he was smeared with blood (some of it his own) and clutched one shoulder. In his free hand was a cleaver.
‘I didn’t think you had a cleaver,’ I said. He looked down.
‘I borrowed it,’ he managed. ‘Care to render aid?’ I looked up and saw Ellen (also smeared in blood and grimacing from injury) staggering towards us, pursued by what was doing a passable impression of an angry mob. Only with more tridents, and a couple of harpoons.
‘There’s nothing I can do,’ I realised aloud. Ethan snorted.
‘The great Victor Kane, defenceless? I doubt it.’ He was right. I wasn’t, strictly speaking, unable to act. It would be more accurate to say that there was nothing I could do alone.
‘You won’t like it,’ I warned.
‘I never do.’
‘We’ll both regret it.’
‘Do I look like a man who has never felt regret?’ Our eyes met.
‘Damn you, Ethan Valentine,’ I sighed, and closed my eyes.
‘Speed? Please?’ he said. I waved him silent, systematically blocking out all sound, and all sensation except the glowing sigil I formed in my mind’s eye.
‘Angel of the Fallen Lord, I command thee. Angel, Fallen from Grace, I summon thee. Enepsigos.’ I took a breath, and swallowed. ‘Enepsigos. Thrice I call, and done. Enepsigos, I bid thee come forth.’
A deep, aching vacuum emerged in my mind, and as the fiery lines faded, a chuckle resounded. It was the eventual silence that made me open my eyes, and the noxious stench of sulphur that made
me cough. A woman stood in front of me, smile etched onto her porcelain features, blood staining her white robes. Ellen ran straight past her, dropped into a smooth roll, and span around to watch
her from behind me.
‘What can I do for you?’ Enepsigos purred. I swallowed, and raised a trembling hand to point at the mermaids, frozen, expressions switching between fear and confusion. The Fallen are seriously heavyweight in the supernatural world, and my summoning just forced them to reassess me as a very serious threat.
‘They’re trying to kill us,’ I said. She smiled. ‘I object. Strenuously.’ I really wasn’t expecting the summoning to work that fast; normally the Fallen are much better at dramatic timing, or they turn up when you’re on the brink of death. I was almost at a loss. Enepsigos nodded, taking away my heroic vibe completely, and turned.
‘Victor,’ Ethan whispered. ‘Did you really just-?’
‘Sh.’ I waved him quiet. ‘Let me think of a way out of this that won’t get us killed.’
‘Come now, mortal things,’ she called out to the mermaids. They started to back away, self-preservation kicking in, triggering the flight response. ‘Let us play.’
The screaming was dreadful. I didn’t know if I had done the right thing, and by the way I saw Ethan tensing by my side I knew he wasn’t either. I couldn’t see Ellen. I didn’t want to. I just
wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. Eventually, Enepsigos strolled around the corner, allowing a black and moist object to fall from her hand and land on the deck with a fleshy thud. I vomited a
little into my mouth.
‘I believe this is yours, my magician,’ she said, holding something out to me. I recognised my necklace, and struggled to my feet. It wasn’t easy, but Enepsigos’ expression and pose did not change in the slightest. I looked at her carefully, and then sighed.
‘I apologise for my shoddy summoning, Enepsigos,’ I said, reaching out. As soon as my arm crossed the boundary of the circle, Enepsigos, latched onto it with a vice-like grip, baring four-inch canines-
And then recoiled as the Enochian script tattooed into my flesh by a Tibetan adept exploded into harsh white light beneath my sleeves.
‘What is that?’ she screeched, stepping away. I bared my teeth in a fierce grin.
‘Sorry, sweetness. I’ve been dealing with your ilk for years.’ Only six months, actually, but she didn’t need to know that. I rolled my shoulders and bent down to pick up my necklace. As I straightened, I let out an internal sigh of relief that Enepsigos was still staying back. Cool though the tattoos may be, they’re very flashy and not especially effective in prolonged exposure. ‘In nomine Dei, profanum apage.’ Enepsigos screeched, starting towards me.
‘You are in my debt, mortal!’
‘Sorry, babe, you’re going to have to call my agent. Now lleh ot og!’ Again, speaking backwards almost always works. ‘Angel of the Fallen Lord, who hath Fallen from the Father’s Grace, I command thee; begone from my sight and trouble me no more. By my name, the name of Victory, and in the name of YHVH, I command thee: Go back to where you came from!’ OK. Maybe I get a little dramatic with my exorcisms. Is that a crime?
As the howling desert wind died down, I turned to Ethan and Ellen, who were regarding me with a mixture of awe and horror. And you know what? I’ll take that. Finally, because my magic is
ninety percent bravado, I lit my last cigarette.
‘Is it just me,’ I began, ‘or do you guys owe me a little bit of an explanation?’ Ethan opened his mouth to say something, but I held up one hand, and he shut up. That’s nice. Normally they don’t, and I have to wait for them to finish. It wouldn’t be long before Hell sent something to eat me. Probably a giant sea monster. We needed to get to land, so I could go into hiding, and that meant we needed to convince what was left of the crew to get the ship moving. ‘Later. For now? Let’s just get out of here.’
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