Mage: The Gun Quarter
Two - Dark Omens
It took Eric almost three hours, on foot, marking each of his friends’ doors with blue paint. The truth was, in this neighbourhood, the markings weren’t even that unusual and they certainly didn’t stand out compared to the rest of the graffiti.
Eric figured if he got caught by the police, he could just chalk it up to some youthful hijinks.
Finally, he arrived at his grandma’s flat. She didn’t live too far from where he’d actually started. He’d unintentionally done a loop around the neighbourhood, which proved efficient, causing him to be quite pleased with himself.
His grandma lived less than two blocks away from the dumpy flat he and the boys were at earlier in the day. He pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked the knob and deadbolt. Then he paused, stopping himself from opening the door.
“Oh, right,” He muttered to himself. Eric set the housekey in his mouth and held it between his lips like a cigarette.
He dipped his fingers into the leather pouch Rory gave him and used his index and middle finger to scoop out some paste, smearing Rory’s symbol on the door. Eric wiped the excess material off on his pants and tied the string tightly around the top of the bag.
He opened the door, stepped inside and closed it behind him making sure to lock the deadbolt, the knob, the sliding latch and the chain. He knew if he didn’t get every lock there would be Hell to pay from his Nan.
Nan is nothing if not cautious, he thought to himself. Eric still lived with her occasionally, helped pick up groceries, took her to church on Sundays, and ran general errands. The smell of her flat was comforting and familiar; the air was a little musty, a blend of tissue boxes and dry biscuits.
He looked up at the wall and saw a picture of himself from primary school – young Eric had round, little cheeks and was wore a navy-blue, knit cardigan, his school’s uniform. The big ears, wide, toothless-grin and wild, fly-away hair reminded him of who he used to be, an incorrigible, rambunctious child.
Beside that photo was one of him and his grandma, sitting side by side for a family portrait. It was she who raised him up, for as long as he could remember. Eric didn’t know his father, and the only memories of his mum were from blurry, black and white photos of her primary school pictures. Mum’s picture on the wall was a yellowed, solitary photo from secondary school, hanging beside the picture of him and Nan.
After all this time, Nan still holds out hope, the thought whispered at the edges of Eric’s mind, but he brushed it away quickly.
“Nan?” he called out.
He neglected to take off his boots, stomping across the hardwood floor into the living room. There, he saw his grandma sitting in front of the television watching Coronation Street.
She pressed her index finger to her lips. “Shhhh Eric, Corry’s on.”
She sat in her favoured, old recliner. It had a faded, green plaid pattern with bits of yellow and brown. She was short and he could only see the top of her head. Her white hair was put up in rollers and wrapped in a bandana resembling white cheesecloth.
Eric sat down on the loveseat beside her chair and looked to her eyes. She appeared wizened and wrinkled; her skin carried the lines of many years of life. She clucked her dentures at the television, expressing displeasure with one of the characters. As she rocked in her seat, her frame appeared shrunken and frail. Eric noted her clothes all appeared to be a little oversized and baggy these days. All of her was old, but her eyes were the opposite of ancient, and remained bright and blue and alert as ever.
Seeing her inspired a sense of duty in him.
“Nan, I’m gunna sleep ‘ere tonight, okay?” Eric said.
She didn’t take her eyes off the telly. “Just take your boots off, I don’t want them on the furniture,” she said.
“Oh … oops,” He untied his laces and shuffled his Doc Martins from his tired, aching feet. He tossed them toward the front door and they landed with a loud thud.
Then, he gathered the throw pillows from both ends of the loveseat and stacked them three-high. He curled up in the fetal position and lay his head down on the pillows. It’d been a long day, and since his Nan was safe, he felt he was overdue for a nap.
“You’re too late,” a papery rasp filled the air, like sandpaper being ripped through one’s ears and nose.
Art Valentine plunged Excalibur into a withered, desiccated ghoul. The ghoul began to writhe and hiss in pain. The sword burned the ghoul with righteous energies, causing the impaled, dry tissue to peel and smoke. The ghoul collapsed, releasing its grip on the blade, falling limply on the floor. It looked like little more than a rotted corpse wrapped in rags.
“What once was dead, and then undead, is now … dead,” Art said, “Justice.”
The blade glowed with righteous brilliance, illuminating the space around Art as if it were a lantern. He looked around the room, examining the corpses, candles and painted sigils.
“I think we’re in the right place,” He declared.
Art Valentine, Rory Cooper and Nicholas Black found themselves in the library of an abandoned elementary school. The floorboards were rotted and most of the room was in shambles. A pentagram was painted in blood in the middle. The star had sigils painted at every point, framing a grisly, diabolical scene.
Rory slung his Warhammer over his back and shrugged. “I was expecting more of a fight.” He looked at a pile of five dead bodies, arranged in various poses around the summoning circle.
Art and Rory had only needed to dispatch two undead ghouls prior to getting into the library. The other corpses were not the result of Rory’s penchant for violence.
“I think they were used to fuel the summoning ritual,” Art said, ruefully. He’d experienced many fights against the dark arts in his time.
“Have you ever seen anything like this before?” Rory turned to Nicholas Black and waved his hand over the whole scene.
Nicholas let his sunglasses slide down the bridge of his nose and he made eye contact with Rory. He lit the cigarette dangling between his lips and inhaled.
“A mess like this?” Nick exhaled through his nose, letting the smoke swirl into lazy whorls from his nostrils. He shrugged noncommittally. “Summoning circles all look the same after a while.”
Art placed his sword back in its scabbard and walked around the circle slowly, examining one of the corpses. His armour rattled softly as he walked, clinking in the darkness. Dressing up like a medieval knight did have its impractical moments.
Black candles lined the circle that surrounded the pentagram. They were extinguished and melted to little nubs. A brass brazier was filled with ash and bits of charred wood. Rory dipped a finger into the ash.
“It’s cold,” He observed. He wiped his finger off on his pants.
Art peered at a giant, yellowed tome sitting on a plinth. It was cracked open to a particular page, and a long ribbon was draped down the middle of the book, marking its place. He rubbed his chin and let out a low sigh.
“This book may offer some insight, but I don’t recognize some of these characters,” Art said.
Nicholas joined Art’s side and looked down at the book. He scanned the writings and ran his fingers down the page, rubbing the ancient, yellowed paper with gentle reverence. Suddenly, he jolted upright, startled by something.
Nick began to narrate the text, “… his vessel will be innocent and pure and his enemies will not know him, and will not see him or find him…” Nick looked up at Rory and Art. “It’s a book of prophesies.”
“We were too late to stop it from being summoned? … Fuck,” Rory groused.
Art put his hands on his hips. “What else does it say? Does it say anything about how to kill it?”
Nick shrugged once more. “Some of this is clearly written in Pandaemonium, but the rest …” He flipped through a few pages, “It’s just gibberish. These words don’t mean anything and some of these symbols don’t even make sense.”
“We should get Sarah to take a look,” Rory said, “We’ve got to alert the others and let them know it’s loose. No one’s safe now.”