Mage: The Gun Quarter
Three - The Little Angel
Eric and his Nan slowly walked down the streets of Birmingham, back to her small flat found just outside the Gun Quarter. The streets were particularly quiet, which was unusual, even on a Sunday morning.
Eric held his Nan’s arm, gently walking her down the block.
“I think we should’ve just stayed in today. I don’t have a good feeling being out like this,” Eric said, “Rory told me trouble was coming.”
Nan clucked her tongue and tsk tsk’d Eric softly.
“The Good Lord sees to our troubles and lifts our spirits,” she said.
Her unwavering commitment to her Church meant she and Eric were regulars, usually seated somewhere near the front of the room. Today, the number of parishioners had fallen, but Nan didn’t mind, and she told Eric as much.
“Do you think we missed Church when the Germans were bombing Birmingham?” She crowed, thrusting her finger up into the air and waggling it at the sky.
She waved her hand, as if to survey the neighbourhood. “Thousands of bombs. Fire and smoke. That was true danger… now people are afraid of a little blue graffiti?” She pointed at a row of flats, each with blue symbols painted on the doors.
Eric held his tongue and shoved his bluish-tinged right hand into his pocket.
“Keep calm!” She declared.
“And carry on,” He finished her sentence.
She said that a lot.
As they continued their journey down the street they happened upon a small shop selling knick knacks, pottery, doodads and gewgaws. Nan paused to stare through the front window and sighed wistfully.
Eric noticed the shop had lights on and a sign in the window said ‘Open.’ Nan noticed too. He let out a small sigh. Nan smacked his arm gently and pooh poohed his sigh.
“Come along, Eric.”
A small bell tinkled as the shop door opened. After wandering about for less than a minute, Eric regarded most of the objects in the shop with casual disregard. Most of it was absolute junk. The shopkeeper was a little, old lady with white hair. The corners of her eyes crinkled up as she smiled to greet her two, new customers.
“Hello, good morning, how may I help you?” Her voice was thin and gentle.
“We’re just browsing, thank you,” Nan said.
The shopkeeper returned to her seat behind the cash register and opened a dog-eared book. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and took a sip from a cup of tea.
Nan doddered from shelf to shelf, case to case, admiring all the little porcelain angels and puppies. A kitten with a blue bow and giant eyes beckoned to her, its little lips were painted bright red. She picked up the statue and turned it over in her hands, examining the markings on the bottom. Nan always checked to see who the manufacturer was.
Eric didn’t remember what company she preferred, but she always took a look for the manufacturer’s sticker. She set the kitten back on the shelf and noticed something else, a sleeping angel.
“Oh, you’re just the cutest,” Nan cooed at the statue.
Its eyes were closed and it was set on a cloud, lying on its stomach, cheek resting on its hands. It was adorably cherubic, with chubby cheeks and a blonde cowlick. A diaper sagged, revealing angelic buttcrack.
Nan scooped it up and carried it with care to the shopkeeper. Eric breathed a sigh of relief. She’d made a decision relatively quickly.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” the shopkeeper smiled.
“Just something serendipitously,” Nan’s eyes twinkled.
“Oh! How lovely. I think the kewpies are just so precious,” the shopkeeper said.
She punched a few buttons on the register and the price appeared on an electronic screen in green, rectangular numbers; three pounds and twenty-five pence. Nan pulled a coin purse from within her bag and unclasped the latch. She plucked out a few coins, out one by one, setting each in the shopkeeper’s open palm.
The shopkeeper wrapped the angel in tissue paper and set it within a shoebox filled with brown packing paper. Then, she set the lid on top of the shoebox and tied a thin string around the box, forming a bow on top.
Nan picked up the box, turned to Eric and smiled, “Okay, let’s go home.”
Nicholas Black stood in an alley, smoking placidly. A sardonic smirk crept at the edges of his lips. The creature before him wore a long, black, trench coat, a floppy winter cap and big mitts. It cowered in the shadows of the alley, trying to hide its face from view. Something shiny and wet fell from its sleeve onto the ground with a moist plop.
It chittered in pain. Nicholas exhaled a long drag of smoke that coalesced around the creature.
“I’m disappointed in you, Tim,” Nick said.
Tim squeaked and chittered some more. Rory Cooper stood behind Nick a fair distance, but he could see and hear everything happening. He didn’t understand what Tim was saying but he tightened his grip on his war hammer, just in case.
Tim tried to wave away Nick’s cigarette smoke. Rory peered closer, examining the features of Tim’s face. He looked like a cross between a man and a squid, with tentacles instead of a beard, and shiny, yellow eyes with distorted black pupils, glimmering in the night. His flesh was mottled and appeared to ripple and change colour between white, brown, black and back again. Blubbery, soft flesh sloughed from his body, blistering and curling wherever Nick’s cigarette smoke touched it, as if on fire.
Nick exhaled sharply and the smoke dissipated. Tim’s face began to twist and contort, reshaping into a familiar, more human-like visage. His scalp appeared to be bald and patchy, and his newly-formed cheeks were burnt and bruised. His beardy tentacles quickly transformed into a human mouth and teeth and his eyes transformed into regular human orbs.
“Jesus, Black, alright, alright, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know,” Tim sputtered in English.
“One of your kind is making a move on the human realm,” Nicholas said.
Tim’s newly-formed human eyes filled with terror.
“Shhh, shhh, don’t say his name,” Tim protested. Tim’s flesh continued to heal slowly.
Rory recognized this kind of magic; Nick had violently interrupted Tim’s protective glamour spell, exposing him for what he truly was, not a man, but a strange, bipedal squid monster.
“So you know he’s here, and what he’s capable of,” Nick shook his head in disapproval.
“C’mon man, we’re distant cousins at best. It’s not like I keep tabs on his comings and goings. He’s … he’s a dick,” Tim shivered as he spoke.
“A harbinger of the end of the world? Calling him a dick is pretty generous,” Nick said.
“Sounds more like a massive cunt,” Rory grunted.
Tim eyed Rory warily, noting the menacing war hammer in Rory’s hands. He turned and eyed Nicholas up and down. “What do you care? I can smell the nephandi on you. Dicks like you are trying to end the world all the time.”
Nick ignored the insult. He leaned into Tim and dared to let another puff of smoke waft across Tim’s face. The tendrils of smoke charred Tim’s nose and cheeks, creating black streaks in his flesh.
“Tell us where he is,” Nick’s tone was filled with menace.
“I don’t know! We’re not masters of disguise for nothing,” Tim squawked.
“How do we find him?” Nick said.
“I don’t know,” Tim said.
Rory hefted his hammer into both hands and took two steps forward. His boots crunched in the concrete, bits of gravel and rock grinding underneath the thick, rubber soles. Tim cowered at Rory’s approach.
“I swear I don’t know! He’s using some next-level shit to stay hidden. Got himself some followers making sacrifices to generate some real mojo. He can appear as anyone or anything at any time.”
“Any weaknesses?” Nick cocked his head at an angle.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tim protested.
“Werewolves and silver, vampires and sunlight, slugs and salt, you catch my drift – what’s the best way to put him down?” Nick said.
“Your friend already has the right idea,” Tim nodded at Rory’s hammer. “Extreme violence does just fine.”
“Don’t jerk me around, Tim,” Nick said.
“I’m not! I don’t know what you want from me. He can warp reality around him. You might think you’re lighting him on fire and actually be throwing flower petals. Friends will appear as your worst nightmares. His very presence inspires madness.”
Nick stepped back from Tim and flicked his cigarette onto the ground.
“The child,” Rory grunted.
Nick glanced at Rory and nodded his head in agreement.
“We found a spell book. It said he would take possession of an innocent,” Nick said, coolly.
“Well, yeah … the summoning process is exhausting. He’d need to feed on a number of souls just to recover his strength,” Tim said.
“How many? How long would it take?” Nick said.
Tim scoffed. “It’s not like we sit around the kitchen table discussing eating souls.”
Rory took another step forward. “Sounds like he doesn’t have much to tell us. How about I kill him now?” The hammer seemed to glow, thirsty for a kill.
Tim threw up his hands in front of his face and cowered. Ever the good cop, Nick shook his head and held up his hand to stay Rory’s wrath.
“No … we might need to talk to him later,” Nick said.
“You don’t need to worry about me. I’m getting out of town tonight. Already bought my ticket,” Tim pulled a rumpled bus ticket from his coat pocket.
He started to scuttle away, putting some distance between himself and Rory. “You should get gone too; enjoy your last few weeks on Earth by getting to the other side of the planet before it’s all gone in a cloud of fire and ash.”