Tales of London #14
Jenna was awakened by somebody shaking her shoulder.
'What?' she asked in a blurry voice.
'Miss Carvelli, I am terribly sorry, but it's half past five. I need to close the office for today.'
It was Mr Jones. Still in the office, then. After hours, no less. Sure, she was sleeping, but still.
She sat up and brushed her hair out of her face.
Jenna got up and stretched, causing her backbone to crunch. She frowned.
'It’s quite all right,' Mr Jones said.
The girl looked around. Everyone was long gone, even Kahn. It was dark outside the window, which reminded her that she wanted to go to check out that cemetery before sunset. But then she passed out sometimes before noon, of course. And now she’s gonna be late for her meeting with Montgomery.
'Quick heads up, boss, about our werewolf case... I think it's actually a ghoul case. I will head out and take a look tonight.’
'There is not enough money in this world to make me go out to a ghoul-infected cemetery after dark…' he murmured, wrapping his ugly cardigan tighter around himself.
'Maybe you should give me a raise then,' Jenna grinned while putting on her jacket.
'Now, now, don't be silly, my child,' he shook his head amused. 'Ready? Let's go.'
Jenna stepped out and stopped at the small, dark landing. She snapped with her fingers and a couple of flickering sparks appeared to light up the stairs. They looked like fireflies.
'How do I get to Angel from here?' she asked as Mr Jones closed the door.
'You got to either catch the bus 274 or the Northern Line. I recommend the Tube, there are usually traffic jams at this hour everywhere.'
So Jenna chose the Tube, which she regretted very, very quickly as she stood there, with a stranger standing on her feet, someone else's elbow poking her ribs and something hard pushed to her butt. She only hoped that this last one was a handle of an umbrella or something like that.
Fortunately, her torture didn't last more than ten minutes. It took another five to get from the platform to the gates, thanks to the huge and slow crowd. Jenna decided, for at least the hundredth time, that she will buy a car soon. Or a motorcycle. She could totally see herself on a motorcycle. Maybe Marcus would give her some advice about which one to get.
Despite all that, she was only five minutes late. When she opened the door, she looked over the fireplace, but the sofa and the big armchairs were empty. Robert was sitting in one of the boots on the opposite side. He leaned above the table like he was writing something. Jenna waved at Luther, who nodded back. As she walked closer to Robert she realised that he wasn't writing, but drawing.
'I didn't know that you can draw,' she said. Robert looked up so suddenly that someone might have thought she got caught him doing something nasty. The small sketchbook disappeared into his pocket in a heartbeat. Jenna saw a woman's face with a lot of curly hair, but only for a glimpse.
'I…' he was obviously struggling to find the words, which was something Jenna never saw before. 'It's just a hobby. Helps to kill some time.'
Jenna sat down across the table and looked curiously at Robert.
'Can I see it? Are you any good?' she asked.
'No, and probably no. Are you hungry?' Robert was on his feet already, turning towards the bar. Luther was staring at them, like someone who is watching a car accident and cannot look away.
Jenna just realised that she was, in fact, hungry. She slept through lunchtime, after all.
As Robert went away, she looked after him. She was a little surprised: she would never take him as an artist. Also, the drawing looked suspiciously like her, and that made Jenna smile.
Robert returned with a huge burger, a lot of fries and two coffees; a latte for himself and a big mug of black for Jenna. The girl grabbed the burger and took a bite, but pushed the plate with the fries towards Robert, who took a piece and dipped it in the ketchup. The burger was delicious, with a thick beef patty, bacon and fresh vegetables.
'You remembered how I drink my coffee,' she noted, looking at him in the eyes.
'I am a teacher. My job is to remember things,' he said casually.
'Sure, sure,' Jenna nodded, but she had to hide a grin. 'What's with the smart casual, by the way?' she asked, checking out Robert's outfit.
He wore simple blue jeans and a knitted jumper over a white shirt. For him, it was the equivalent of wearing shorts and some sports jerseys. He didn't even have his fancy cane with him.
'Yeah, that… You see, I was hoping that I could convince you to take me with you tonight. I have never seen a demon hunting in progress before and I'm quite curious.'
Jenna tilted her head and swallowed the bite.
'It could be dangerous.'
'Dangerous for the two of us?' Robert asked smugly, raising his eyebrow. That was a fair point, Jenna had to give him that much.
'Well… But it's just some ghouls, not real demons. Most likely. They are scary and dangerous but not particularly interesting. Still want to come?'
'Certainly,' Robert nodded. 'But let's talk about our police business first. I have some news, and none of them are...'
Jenna's phone beeped. She apologised and then got it out. The text was from "Mahda": You didn't called. I will be in the bar we met yesterday if you wanna hung out. Or movie tomorrow? You can come to my place. Xoxo'
'Shit…' Jenna groaned. She quickly answered:
"working tonight sorry maybe next time" because that seemed easier than putting an end to it right there.
'Is something wrong?' Robert asked, and Jenna didn't know why but lied something about an innocent friendly meeting she forgot.
'So what is it about that statue?' she asked, mostly to stir the conversation away from the text.
Robert took out his phone and opened up its gallery. There were pictures of the statue. In one of the photos, there was a ruler for scale, so Jenna could see that the statue was about fifteen centimetres. It was a woman figure with a huge butt, thick tights, a big round belly and enormous breasts. Her face was covered with braided hair as if she didn't have one, or the artist didn't think it was important. Talking about preferences, Jenna thought. A woman needs to have big boobs and be able to bear a child, but why should they talk, right? It was amazing how little changed since the Stone Age or whenever this thing was made.
'So, as the old lady said in the Museum, the statue is magical. Actively magical, at that, after all those years. There are carvings on it, and they are most likely Runes, or more precisely foregoers of the Runes we know today.'
Robert took a sip of his coffee, while he put on the next picture about the Runes he was talking about.
'So it is a fertility charm after all?' Jenna asked. Robert looked at her surprised; he didn't think that the girl was paying attention at the Museum.
'If it was, people visiting the British Museum would sneak off to dark corners to have sex constantly,' he said.
'I did that!' Jenna said ardently. 'But only one time. We didn't touch anything. On display, you understand.'
Robert shook his head, closed his eyes and took a very deep breath.
'Why would you do that?' he asked in a tired voice.
'It was a really boring date,' she shrugged. 'So I mixed it up a little. Do you think it was because of this statue?'
'Do you?' Robert asked back.
'Nah, probably not,' sighed Jenna.
'Just out of curiosity, what are you doing on a good date?'
'Oh, you have no idea…' she grinned.
'As much as I'd love to hear stories about your sexual adventures, I think we should move on. So, we established that it is not a fertility charm or totem. That leads us to the real question: what is it then?'
Jenna took a bite of her burger and waited. Robert woke up the screen of his phone again and showed the picture with the ancient Runes to Jenna.
'What do you think?' he asked.
Jenna looked at them. Some of them were familiar, some weren't, but it reminded her of something.
'That's weird. Kinda looks like a demon trap, you have the Runes for Denial and Movement there, and that one looks like it could be Power… But I don't get those Runes there. Is that supposed to be the Human?'
'I believe it is,' Robert nodded. 'But let me tell you a story I heard yesterday from my old college pal. He is an anthropologist now. You might have heard the story already, actually.'
'I have very few anthropologist friends, Professor,' said Jenna putting a piece of fries into her mouth.
'What? No, it's a folktale. He just told me what people in his field think about it. So did you ever hear that tale with the old god who got himself imprisoned in a tree?'
'Wasn't that Merlin? Old geezer was too horny so the pretty young girl put him into wood, which is kinda ironic since you know, he had a wood too...'
'My friend believes this particular story inspired a lot of others that came later, including the one you just killed me forever about Merlin. But let me start over,' Robert gestured. 'So once there was a god. We are talking about ancient times, about 25 thousand years ago. Stone Age. And this god, who is, by any means, not equal to the Christian God…'
'Man, this bedtime story sucks,' Jenna said. 'Why don't you start with something exciting, like a car chase? Did they really have cars with big stone wheels like in that cartoon?'
Robert took another deep, deep breath, and massaged his temples for a couple of seconds. Jenna had a great time messing with him, but she felt like they should eventually get to somewhere.
'Okay, I will shut up. Coffee started to work, sorry. Continue, please,' she said.
'So,' said Robert just a little louder than he had to, 'according to the tale, there was a god, who got so greedy and evil that all the shamans and magical folks decided that they have to get rid of him.'
'I will get to that. By the way, I just figured it out! You are a shaman! The dog is your spirit animal.'
'Not bad. Very imaginary. But wrong.'
'One day…’ he murmured. ‘Anyway. According to the tale, a thousand plus one shamans got together, and they fought with the god for three days. Half of them died, but they won. A young shaman somehow outsmarted the god. Made him tire himself out or turn into a bug or something, there are different versions. But here is the catch: the god was so powerful that even when they defeated him, they couldn't kill him. And that was a big problem because as long as he was alive, he was dangerous. The shamans had to figure out how to stop someone forever without killing him.'
Jenna looked at the statue with the demon trap-like Runes on Robert's phone.
'I don't like where this is going, Montgomery.'
'I know. So in the tale, they made a sculpture out of magical wood and the last drop of the summer rain, and the blood of a good man, so that kind of fairy tale nonsense. And they locked the evil god into it, then lived happily ever after. Except for the god of course who was left to rot in a magical prison until the end of times.'
'That is one fucked up fairy tale,' Jenna shook her head. 'But cannot be true.'
'Why is that?' asked Robert.
'Well for starters, there are no such things as gods,' she pointed out. Robert nodded.
'Not that we know of, that is correct. But what if we switch the evil god to a particularly powerful sorcerer?'
'A sorcerer that can hold himself against a thousand others for three days? C'mon, Montgomery.'
'It is a tale, Jenna. A thousand shamans were probably just a little more than what your average caveman could count. I don't think there were more than a hundred magic users around in the whole continent and some of them were elves. As far as we know they didn't interfere with human wars, ever. Not even back there.'
Jenna started to tap on her lips with her index finger. She finished her burger while Robert was talking, but she could have used a whiskey right about then.
'So you are saying it’s possible that there was a really strong neanderthal sorcerer who had a little trouble with a handful of other sorcerers and they all made it into folklore?'
'Not neanderthals, early homo sapiens.'
'So not the point,' Jenna rolled her eyes.
'Right. Sorry. So what I am saying is that there is a very old tale about a sorcerer who was so powerful that he somehow managed to make himself immortal. I don't think it was only physical, mind you. Even if he was really hard to kill, and let's say so strong that he could break any Signum-like spells, and defend himself with magic, the human body still has its limits. I believe he had a way to stay in this world, or more likely to stay intact and conscious for enough time to occupy another body if needed. As the tale says, it wasn't possible to kill him, but it doesn’t mean his body couldn’t be destroyed. So they locked his spirit, soul, or whatever we have, up.'
'Weirdly, it makes sense,' Jenna knocked with her finger on Robert's phone. 'If that Rune is Human, and that one is Door, they could mean together something like "keeping soul and body apart". But it would also imply that they simply tore him out of his body, which is kinda dark, even for me. Not only that but the sheer power you’d need to do it…’
‘It’s insane. The power level of an atomic bomb or higher, yes. But there is a theory, widely accepted in arcane-archaeologist circles, that states that since the fae left this world, magic is getting weaker and weaker. So maybe back in the day a few dozen sorcerers together could have pulled it off.’
Jenna tried to imagine that kind of absolute power, but she couldn’t.
‘So you believe that the so-called "god" is indeed in that statue?' she asked.
Robert turned over the picture to the next one. It was some cave painting, and Jenna had to pick up the phone to properly see it. There was a faceless mass of people opposite another silhouette. That one was obviously a woman. They were throwing things at each other, rocks or maybe arrows. But Jenna would have bet on spells.
'So the god was, in fact, a goddess,' she said.
'Apparently. I suppose the story changed sometime around the middle ages when people couldn't deal with the idea of a woman being more powerful than men. Check out the next picture.'
'Charming,' said Jenna while she flicked the screen. This photo showed a painting of something that looked like the statue, and the woman figure from the previous picture was inside it. Next to it stood a lonely man, something brown dripping from his outstretched arm. Blood, certainly.
'All these paintings were on the wall of the cave they found the statue in. According to the report, there were several magical and non-magical traps around it,' Robert explained.
'And the guys who found it went and took the statue anyway. Very… Unique decision,' Jenna said, sipping the last drops of her coffee.
'In their defence, it is very rare that something that looks so spectacularly suspicious is really cursed. Just think about the pyramids.'
'Somehow I don't feel better,' she shook her head. 'So your best guess is that this Priest fella stole a super cavegirl from the Museum,' Jenna summed up. 'I know dudes are desperate nowadays but there are so much easier ways to get a girlfriend.'
Robert laughed so hard that the few other guests in the pub looked and stared at them for a couple of seconds.
‘Certainly a possibility, but perhaps he had other reasons,’ he grinned.
'Don't forget that he is a mercenary. Attila Kovach or whoever else is his employer clearly has plans for the statuette. If it is Kovach, he will most likely sic the Goddess on the city, as he did with that huge thunderstorm last year. He is… I think he is insane and likes chaos for no particular reason, but even more so if he can profit from it.'
Jenna put her chin on her palm again and tapped on her lips.
'If he does… How bad that would be?'
'We don't know if there really is someone in that statue and even if there is, we don't know who. But let's be negative, we are British after all. The worst-case scenario is that there is an ancient and very powerful sorceress inside, who probably knows the real names of the Runes, therefore she can speak the Old Talk. Which makes her, if not omnipotent, but certainly much more mighty than any other living sorcerer. She also spent the last circa twenty-five thousand years in a bloody doll, so I assume she is pissed like hell.'
'So it's bad,' Jenna sighed. 'How do you open something like that, by the way?'
'That’s the question, actually,' Robert replied. 'How would you open it? It's a demon trap after all. Your area of expertise.'
'You don't open a demon trap,' she explained. 'Demons cannot be killed, as they don’t have a body. So the only way to stop them is to trap them.'
'That's only a theory,' pointed out Robert.
'They manipulate the world the same way as ghosts and they are proven to be intelligent. There are a lot of reports of demons killing people who were suspected to be murderers but leaving everybody else around unharmed. Plus they don't use magic. And dead things can't use magic, right? Same with revenants. They are already dead, likely murdered which made them insane. And since they are dead, you can’t kill them again. So you trap them.'
Robert raised both of his hands as a sign of surrender.
'Okay, fine. Considering what you just said, is the Goddess a revenant?'
Jenna shook her head.
'It depends. A revenant goes slowly crazy as time goes by, and if not trapped, will cease to exist in a decade or so, by which time it forgets everything remotely human and becomes an extremely violent force of nature. This might have happened to this Goddess, too, only the statue might have protected her from fading away. Maybe she will disappear the second the seals are broken, maybe she will occupy another body if she is indeed capable of doing that. Maybe she is gone already. There is no telling what would happen.’
Robert nodded and pushed the plate with the last two pieces of fries towards Jenna, She took one and pushed back the plate. Robert ate the last piece.
'Let's say she does that,' he said slowly, in thought. 'She possesses a new body. Would she be the same, power-wise?'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, you know how we don't know why certain sorcerers can manipulate much more energy than others. The Goddess would need a body to use magic, right? Now if the amount of magic one can handle is genetic, like, let’s say, eye colours…'
'You got me there. But she speaks the Old Talk, right? So even in a magically weak body, she would be a badass.'
'Yeah, probably. Makes sense,' Robert nodded. 'So how could she get out, after all? Is there a way to open a demon trap?'
The girl leaned back on the bench and stretched. She caught Robert's appreciative look and smiled.
'As I explained, you don’t usually open a demon trap, because, well, why the hell would you? But I guess it’s possible. You can build an off switch in when you make the spell.'
'That's what I was thinking too. Look at this spell here,' he brought back the second picture and zoomed on a couple of Runes. 'That is something you would close a trap with, right?' The girl nodded and Robert continued excitedly.
'Now check out the surface. It's darker than elsewhere at this one spell, and there is a Rune that does not fit in. I will tell you what I am thinking and then you will tell me if it is possible.' He took a deep breath. 'I think that brown stain is blood, from the man who closed down the spell. In the painting he is cutting himself, right? And if that strange Rune there is supposed to be the Connection, that would mean you need his blood to open the trap. Does that make sense at all to you?'
'Are you enjoying this, Montgomery?' Jenna asked smiling.
'I… Well, maybe. I mean, if you put the whole freaky Goddess part aside, the spells are remarkable. The fact itself that they are still working is mind-blowing. And if there really is an ancient sorceress in that statue, however crazy or dangerous, well… Nobody ever saw something quite like that. In a way, it's amazing.'
'Okay, I admit it, it is pretty cool,' Jenna said. 'But that isn't going to change the fact that if you are right, and I think you are, the Priest is out there right now and looking for… For what? A descendant? Is that even possible? Would their blood be good enough?'
'Hopefully, we won't have to find that out,' Robert said. ‘There is not much else we can do until either the Commissioner or my brother finds the Priest.’
'And with that cue, we should go', Jenna stood up. She was restless, the image of the ancient sorceress was so disturbing she wanted a distraction right away. 'There is a bunch of human flesh-eating, terrifying monsters waiting for us and they will not tear themselves apart...'
She grinned as she saw Montgomery's face going pale.
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