34. Madness

“Alright.” I say. “New plan.”

I lift her.

Rain falls between me and the red door to the Temple of Maya.

The buildings to my left and right are brick, but have few windows and only a couple of doors. The doors all hang open, and broken glass makes jagged teeth in the window dark. Ringed along the rooftops hundreds of monkeys pace and watch.

The kundrai tree inside the alley’s mouth lays smashed, its limbs askew. Golden flowers mix with the mud.

A flicker of movement draws my attention to a second-story window of the factory beyond the mouth of the alley. That glass-toothed gap frames the face of Captain Brass, with his knee-length officer’s coat dappled with dust, and a pair of binoculars in his gloved hands. His eyes narrow when I meet his gaze. After a moment’s hesitation, he calls:  “What do you know, Mark? I’ve been watching this door for an hour and nothing’s come or gone. There are a hundred dead soldiers in this street who failed what you’re about to try alone.”

“Wait a while, then follow me.” I call.

“I haven’t enough men,” he replies.

Down the alley, the red door is unmarred, and its red seems to glow with an intensity that fills the alley.

I cannot linger to speak with Brass. He seems a decent sort, capable enough to escape the massacre in Ayutthaya, and clever enough to make his way here.

But he’s playing in the wrong league.

He calls after me, as I walk toward the door: “The power our Heros has lent you is a weapon! Don’t throw it away!”

I look for a weakness in the door. A fine mesh of brilliant blue hovers in the wood, covering any other mark, but it peels back before my eyes like a cobweb before a flame, revealing what I seek. I shift Jenny and take a wide stance, measuring the distance to the door.

“It was never yours,” I say, and drill my hardest kick into the break-point.

The effect is dramatic. Red shards of light and painted splinters explode, spraying the hanging cloth beyond the door and scattering across the stone with a sound like thunder and rain. The door was re-enforced, and a metal frame is left hanging, divested of its wooden façade, but warped and twisted from its housing. It falls slowly open, then off its last hinge with a resounding boom.

The cobweb of power in the alley and street wimples, turns in directions I can’t see, and dissolves.

Brass stares at the fallen door and twists his wedding ring. His frown is a denial. He limps backward and vanishes into shadows.

The toothless doorway beckons. Beyond it hangs that glittering veil and the room of shadows before the lotus room and the fighting pit. In the vivid Van Gogh color of my second sight, I can see the door warden’s glimmering veins as a tangle of fear and aggression, crouched behind the cloth, curling around the black shape of his mace.

A manic grin twists my lips and I stride forward.

“Hey asshole,” I shout. “Hit me with that mace again!”

I feign a step through the hanging veil and he uncoils like a leaping bullfrog. The mace whips up, through the cloth, but his aggression was advertising the movement before I even walked through the door. My feign makes the blow miss me, though it whips the hanging into a dance and tugs at whatever secures it to the ceiling. Before I’ve had a chance to move again he’s already whirling his weapon around, the heavy head looking to make mine lighter.

I duck in time. His hostility is a billowing cloud in the shape of a red bull, its hooked horns make the arching paths of his weapon as he swings and pushes forward. Instead of retreating I look for the weakness in his mace and turn my elbow to meet it, lifting Jenny away from the impact.

The blow jolts my arm, sending a shiver through me like the sweet pleasure of a perfect baseball hit. The mace head explodes like a glass jar full of pennies. Sharp bits of metal spray across my face and legs and cut the arms that hold Jenny.

The Door Warden yells, a panicked, pained shout. A cascade of ugly cracks spread through his hands, but he raises them into a fighting guard anyway.

‘Wren calls me to Maya,’ I say, ‘This one is her blood. Move aside or oppose her.’

He stands behind his guard. I can’t see his face in the shadows behind the veil, but I can see the aura of images and shapes whirling around and through him, and fear is the dominant tone, fear not of me, but of a deep well, bottomless and empty.

‘No further,’ he warns, his voice a pained growl.

“So be it,” I say, and step toward him.

But he steps aside.

He says nothing as I pass, but puts a hand on my arm, leaving a bloody print.

The lotus room is empty, its petal-shaped lounges still, and the fighting pit at its center hollow and vacant. The wicks hanging from the bronze bowl in the ceiling have almost all gone out, and no light seeps in from the rafters. Musk comes thick to my nose, and that stench of death which is part excretion, part blood, and part fresh meat left in a warm place. To my eyes a red mist floats in lazy curls on the empty air.

The only sound is the rustle of wings in the eves, and the trickle of the fountain.

I move toward the waterfall stairs to the outer level, noting the cast-off garments still among the pillows, the empty bullet shells near the door, and the streaked stains where bodies had fallen and since been dragged into the pit where there is no sign of them. As I pass the side of the pit closest to the stairs, a low growl warns me away from a locked gate in the pit’s wall.

At the stair’s top I confront an empty throne, exactly as I remember it, carved and dark beneath an alter that’s either a tree or a starburst of snakes. There is no stringed instrument now, no laughing girl to play it, no Sylvia, and no hoary giant.

I lay Jenny at the feet of the throne and fold her arms across her chest. Her eyes stare, open and caked with blood. I fill my hands at the fountain and wash the blood away. It comes off in clumps and smears, requiring several trips to the fountain and a strip of cloth from some cast-off shirt to do properly. In my pocket I find a damp matchbook, which I roll into a tube and slip between her teeth. When the task is done, I rise and look about me.

Birds rustle their wings in the shadows of the ceiling, but beside them and me there’s no-one here. The righteous fire I carried with me through the door, the surge of anger and purpose fades into the still and smoky air. Besides the scattered pillows and a few spent shells, there’s little sign of the police invasion. It doesn’t look like they made it much past the front door.

“Where have you gone, Sylvia Rubicon?” I ask the empty room. “Where have you all gone?”

Silence answers.

I look down the waterfall stairs to the pit, but nothing and no one moves.

When I turn back toward Jenny, I come face to face with the Dog-man, with his blind eyes and bared teeth.

One Reply to “34. Madness”

  1. Laura Moos says:

    Dear me, Marcus. Do you intend to bargain for Jenny as you were once bargained for? Or do you hope the horror of seeing her sister will shock Sylvia out of her Wren-ness? A bit of both? Or is the chapter title hinting at Heros creeping up on you?

    Only one way to find out.

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