Sleeping Late On Judgement Day (30 page)

BOOK: Sleeping Late On Judgement Day
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Halyna quickly found a gun too, and within seconds the remaining Black Sun guards were running for their lives. I kneeled beside Sam to see if he was okay. He was, but just barely, his chest hitching like he had tuberculosis. I tried to get him onto his feet, but he was fighting me.

“Cut it out, you dumbass,” I explained. “I'm trying to help you!”

He put a hand on my face and, with surprising strength for someone who looked like he'd been run over by a cement truck, shoved my chin around until I was looking back across the hall.

The Nøkken was gone now. The Nightmare Children were fleeing, literally running up the backs of the escaping neo-Nazis. Some of them got tangled up together; a few of the swastikids were stamped into bloody, arm-waving pelts, and some of the neo-Nazis went down under swarms of panicked Nightmares and never got up. But the bugbears hadn't gone anywhere. In fact, they were moving back in on us, as though all of this had been preliminary to the real fun starting.

I didn't have time to worry about it, but in the back of my mind I was also wondering why the museum guards or even the cops hadn't come swarming in after all the ruckus we'd made. Turns out that von Reinmann and his stormtroopers, far less interested in secrecy than I was, had rounded up all the museum workers and tied them up, except for the one poor guard upstairs who'd surprised them. They'd also used some kind of barrage-jamming device to make sure no alarms or phone calls went out. That was when we'd lost communication with Wendell.

“Shit,” I said. “Shit, shit, shit!” Oxana was on her feet, still woozy but looking for a weapon. Halyna and Clarence fired into the advancing jelly-blobs with no huge effect except to scatter bits of them, which promptly started inching back to their mother-blobs. Sam was trying to get up.

“Halyna, throw Oxana your gun,” I shouted. “You find the flamethrower!”

To her credit, she only looked at me like I was crazy for about a second, then turned and flipped the AR-16 to Oxana, who scrambled across the floor under our not-too-effective covering fire, grabbed the clunky ancient weapon, then crawled back to us.

“You've got two bursts left, don't you?” I shouted to Halyna over the intermittent rattle of gunfire. She glanced at the tanks and nodded. She looked terrified but not panicked, which I admired as much as I could at that moment. “Okay, everybody, try to herd those things toward the wall there.” I pointed to an empty spot beside the open doorway to the hidden office, about five feet from where the huge mosaic of Anaita still hung high on the wall, watching the whole thing with what appeared to be divine amusement. I ran to the spot. “Push them along with the first burst when I tell you to!” I yelled. “But save the second burst, Halyna—save it! Now, the rest of you, force them over here where I am!”

I watched as Clarence figured out he could get the bugbears to follow by charging at them, firing, then retreating again. I called to Clarence and the others to change their angle so they'd be driving the jelly-slugs toward me.

“Halyna, now! Light 'em up!”

Fwooooossshhh!
A great billow of greasy flame exploded from the rifle-shaped nozzle. The half-dozen bugbears flinched back and then retreated, moaning in anger and distress so deeply that the few glass cases still unshattered now vibrated and cracked. Some of the nasty blobs were burning like Christmas puddings covered in brandy. I turned and reached as high as I could, then opened a Zipper right in front of the wall, from a couple of feet over my head down to the floor. Then I did a sensible thing and got the hell out of the way.

I knew Halyna couldn't see it, so I shouted again, “Now give them the second burst! Drive them right toward me! Force them all the way to the wall!” I was taking a huge risk, of course, because I had no idea whether or not anything as weird and inhuman as the bugbears could be pushed through a Zipper and into no-Time on the other side, but it was all I could come up with.

The flamethrower belched its last blazing plume, dripping fire and shedding black smoke. Sam understood what I was doing. He came roaring in from the side, holding the God Glove in front of him. I didn't think he could have mustered the force to knock over a child's punching clown at that point, but he made it blaze like a magnesium flare. Caught between Halyna's wall of flame and Sam's bewildering white glow, the jelly-things hunched and slid as quickly as they could toward the Zipper. At the last moment, as the flamethrower ran out of flame, I sprinted toward the herd of Boneless Ones myself, screaming like an idiot and adding to the general chaos. The flabby things began to pile their way into the opening to escape the flames, tumbling into Outside. It must have looked to Halyna and Oxana as though the jelly-monsters were disappearing into thin air.

The flames fell away. The last bugbear, still sizzling and covered with blisters like hubcaps, hesitated in the opening and began to slop back out again. I grabbed at it, trying my best to ignore the feeling of my hands burning, then shoved with all my strength. It teetered there on the edge of nothingness for a moment, then Sam was beside me, and we forced it through. I reached up and closed the Zipper. It held.

“What happen?” Oxana asked. “Where they go?”

“I'll explain later,” I said. “We have to get finished and get out of here.”

“We have to get out of here, period,” said Sam.


No!
Not when we're this close. Use the glove, Sam.” I grabbed his arm. It was shaking badly. “I know you're a mess, and so am I, but I need you to use the glove again. I have to find that horn if it's hidden down there.”

“Are you fucking nuts?” Sam pulled away. “Do you have any idea of the shit that's going to hit the fan in about two minutes? She's going to know someone's using one of her God Gloves.”

“Anaita?” I steered him toward the stairs. He seemed overwhelmed, or I wouldn't have been able to do it, because Sam's a big guy. “Look, even if she knows that you used it and
where
you used it, I've been to her house! She lives miles and miles away—fifteen minutes from here even if she's got a private helicopter. Hurry up, and we'll be out of here in five!” I turned to Clarence. “Keep Oxana and Halyna here—they're both pretty banged up, and Oxana can barely stand. We'll be right back.”

Sam was still arguing as we hit the bottom of the stairs.

“Sam, just use the Glove, please. Tell me if there's anything in here that feels like serious power. Edie Parmenter said it had to be here, and the less we talk, the sooner we'll be done. Come on, man, I never ask you for anything!”

“You are shit and you are a liar,” he said, but he thrust the glowing hand out in front of him. The light was so much dimmer now I could see the actual shape of his fingers inside the sphere of radiance, and the light itself pulsed weakly, like a dying fluorescent bulb.

“Well?” I asked.

“Shut up. You're right, there's something here. I don't know what it is, but it's definitely . . .” He closed his eyes, then moved his hand slowly through the air.

I'd hardly had a chance to look at the room before, but it was a very nice office, which made it even stranger that it was completely secret and hidden. A large desk made of some dark, shiny wood dominated the space, and behind it stood a high-backed chair made of the same dark wood, amply decorated with gold. There were Oriental rugs hanging on the wall and objects of brass and silver, oil lamps, bowls, vases set on shelves in tasteful clumps. The sumptuous carpet beneath our feet was probably worth enough to pay the salaries of the entire museum security staff, including the widow of the dead guard, for twenty lifetimes.

Sam swung around, letting his hand drift sideways, moving it along the walls and up toward the ceilings, sometimes toward the floor. He kept rotating until he faced a rectangular piece of stone on the wall at the opposite end of the office—white marble carved with letters in a script I didn't recognize, something so plain and simple in design that it looked almost like modern art. He hesitated for a moment, then swung past it and continued around the room again. Then he turned back to the marble rectangle.

“That,” he said. “But it's not the horn.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The horn isn't here. What else do you want me to say?”

“What else could Edie have felt? She's
good
, Sam. How can you be sure it's not here?”

“I know because I know. The glove makes me . . . feel things differently. Like hot and cold spots, or air currents, but that's not it.” He shook his head. He looked ten years older than the last time I'd seen him, when he cursed me out at the restaurant. “I think it's a door.”

“Door?”

“Shit, is there an echo in here? Yes, Anaita's door to Kainos.”

“You mean the Third Way?”

“Yes. The only magicky, angel-y thing in this room is that slab on the wall, and it's a Kainos door. If you want to understand better,
you
wear the glove.”

I hadn't thought of this. “Can I?”

“Oh, sure, if you don't mind your hand bursting into flame without the protection I get from being the rightful owner.” His face darkened. “Rightful for now, anyway. Let's get out of here. It's a bum steer, B. The horn's not here.”

I didn't know what to say. After all this, after the blood and the flames and the armies of horror we'd just fought. “I don't believe it. Try again.”

“Don't you get it? We don't have any
time
—!”

“Sam, Bobby!”
It was Clarence from upstairs. “Get up here!” A second later his voice rose in pitch. “Quick!”

“Shit, what now?” I hurried up the stairs with Sam limping behind me. When I got there, Clarence was staring at a spot near where I'd Zippered up the bugbears, and for half a second I thought they'd somehow gnawed their way back out. I should have been so lucky.

What the kid was pointing at, and what Halyna and Oxana were also staring at, faces pale and slack with fear, was the huge mosaic of Anaita that had covered the door to her secret office. The mosaic was sparkling. No, it was sparkling and
moving
. Ripples of animation made the whole thing seem to vibrate, blurring its edges.

“Get out,” I told Clarence. “Hurry. Now.”

“What . . .?” He couldn't look away from the mosaic, so I shoved him in the back. Hard.

“Get the hell out of here now, Harrison! We need you on the outside, because this shit has gone as bad as it gets.” If I could have sent the Amazons away too, I would have, but they were both hobbling, Oxana quite badly, and Clarence never would have made it carrying the two of them.

He opened his mouth to say something, but I shoved him again. He finally got it, although he looked like he didn't want to, and sprinted off across the Asian Hall.

I turned back in time to see the entire flat figure of glass and stone and porcelain tiles step off the wall in one piece and float to the ground. A moment later two porcelain and gemstone lions leaped down beside it.

“Fifteen minutes by helicopter,” said Sam. “Right.”

She was eight feet tall and made of glass and stone. Her eyes glowed like coals. Her flat, crude face smiled. Suddenly a whirlwind seemed to whip through the hall, knocking me sideways, lifting bits of glass and stone and priceless gems from the rubble scattered across the huge room. The glinting vortex whirled past me, its outside edges cutting and scratching my face, and then settled around the living mosaic. The mad wind died as quickly as it had arisen.

She had a shape now. She had three dimensions, and she glowed from within as if constructed from the most beautiful stained glass windows you ever saw. She was still eight feet tall, though, and the lions weren't much smaller. Their gem-encrusted tails lashed.

“Well,” Anaita said in a voice like molten silver. “Doloriel. We meet again.”

“Oh, come
on!
” I muttered. “This is some kind of bad cosmic joke, right?” I mean, after everything we'd been through, we could barely stand, let alone fight a living goddess. This sucked worse than . . . well, than suction itself.

“Perhaps the universe does indeed have a sense of humor, little troublemaker,” said the queen of rotten angels. Her lions moved toward us, making
click, click, click
noises as their sparkling stony claws met the floor. “But I'm afraid this is a joke only I will enjoy.”

thirty-one
ragtag

“W
HY?” I
asked, although I didn't really expect Anaita to tell me. As usual, I was simply trying to find time for my brain to function. It takes a while to get into gear when you've just barely escaped death by jelly monster and then find out you're about to be eaten instead by large cats made of broken glass. I mean, seriously, who else has shit like this happen to them? “Why?” I said again. “What have I ever done to you?”

She looked more human now as the glass and stone and bits of enamel tile began to blend together into something more like the woman I had met in her fortress home, but she was still so clearly far, far beyond me that I couldn't even imagine a way to fight back. She'd just traveled a minimum of several miles in a few seconds by projecting herself into her own goddess-sculpture, complete with matching glass-shard lions. No wonder she'd been able to send Smyler all the way to Hell after me—Anaita must have been burning through reserves of energy like a collapsing sun. But how long could she keep that up without someone in Heaven noticing?

Long enough to take care of a small irritation like Bobby Dollar, apparently. She loomed above me, shining like a fever dream, and she was
terrifying
.

“Why?” Her voice somehow both thundered in my ears and dripped with sweetness. I could hear the childlike tones she favored in Heaven and her deep goddess voice at the same time, as if they spoke in perfectly measured harmony. “That is what your kind always wonders. I have my reasons, but they are not for such as you.” She looked very calm, a half smile tilting one side of her mouth, the Mona Lisa of divine vengeance. “Be assured, though, you have earned what is coming many times over.”

“And what's coming to you?” Sam said, stepping forward. “What have
you
earned, Anaita? Or should I call you Kephas?”

Well, my buddy had finally accepted the truth, just when we were both going to be dissolved into random atoms. That was something, I guess.

“You need call me nothing. You are no longer useful.”

She sounded grave, not triumphant, as though she really would rather have solved the whole thing with a civilized discussion over tea and little sandwiches. I couldn't help wondering, after so many thousands of years of identities taken up and discarded—goddess and angel and the Highest alone knew what else—whether a true Anaita even existed anymore. What happened when an immortal forgot what she'd been? Was that madness?

She raised her hand and the glass cats snarled, a sound like someone cutting stone with an angle grinder. “You are a traitor, Sammariel, and you will be dealt with just as summarily as Doloriel.”

“Traitor? What about the Third Way? What about building Kainos so humankind had a hope of something better after death than more slavery?”

For a moment the cool mask slipped a little, just the tiniest bit, to show the furnaces behind it: Anaita didn't like being called on her own hypocrisy. Her eyes narrowed to jeweled slits. “You know nothing,
angel
. You understand nothing. You have no right to question me.” Sam fell to the ground, holding his head and groaning as though a terrible noise was screeching in his ears. Then she turned toward me.

“Now, Doloriel.” I braced myself, ready to leap toward her, determined to at least bite her a couple of times before I got euthanized like a mangy old stray. I shouldn't have bothered. She lifted a hand, and I couldn't move—could not fucking move an inch, as if I had suddenly been embedded in the clearest, cleanest glass you can imagine. Thank God I'd just taken a deep breath, because I couldn't take another. Only my heart and brain seemed to retain their functions.

“Let him go!” Oxana shouted. “You fat Persian fuck bitch!”

“Really?” said Anaita, looking at me. “This is your army? A pair of mortal Scythian whores and Sammariel the traitor? You truly have scraped the bottom of the barrel to assemble this ragtag, Doloriel.”

Halyna shouted. No, I don't know what it meant, either. “Not afraid of you! We will—!” She didn't finish. Anaita waved a hand without even looking, as if dismissing a bad joke, and both Amazons were flung backward, skidding through the rubble to lay tumbled and silent against the far wall.

I could only stare as Anaita glided toward me, bleeding light in all directions, hand held out as if to bestow a blessing. She was beautiful, inhuman, and so far out of my league that I had been an idiot ever thinking I might have a chance. Instead, the Blue Fairy was simply going to take back Pinocchio's misspent, marionette life.

Caz, I'm sorry
, was all I had time to think.

Her hand touched my forehead, and I
burned
—a cascade of electrical fire from my skull down through my spine, all the way to the ground like a bolt of lightning
.
My muscles all pulled wire-tight in an instant; I could feel them trying to tear loose from the tendons. It was as bad as anything that ever happened to me in Eligor's torture factory. I wriggled helplessly, like a live fish tossed onto on hot coals.

But I didn't die.

Anaita's hand was freezing cold and scalding hot at the same time—but not in a physical way. It was as if she'd reached directly into my soul and meant to yank it out by the roots. The pain was incredible, but as it blazed something came to me, a semi-coherent thought that made its way up past the clamor of my shrieking nerves, my panicked, dying thoughts.

Why is it taking so long?
In some weird way I could sense that pain wasn't the point of what was going on at all, merely a byproduct. Because Anaita wasn't killing me. She was
changing
me.

And this, for no reason I can explain, felt a thousand times more frightening than simple suffering, or even death. I didn't want to be made into some mindless, happy angel, just another placeholder in the divine plan—
anybody's
plan, let alone Anaita's. But I could feel it happening, feel things inside me shifting and becoming almost liquid, my thoughts finding new paths like dammed rivers forcing their way into fresh channels.

I wanted it to stop. I wanted that more than I'd ever wanted anything, except maybe to have Caz back again. I wanted it to
stop.
So I tried to stop it.

I'm telling this now because I'm still trying to make sense of it, but in the moment there was no sense—there was no
time
. What was happening had always been happening. I was lost in a swirling river of color and light and flashes of understanding, all as disconnected as leaves caught up by a powerful current, sloshed together then pulled apart again with no sense or meaning. I could feel Anaita's hand where it burned coldly against my skin, but I could feel more of her than that, as though somehow she was also inside me, rearranging the things that made me what I am—Doloriel, Bobby, the
me
that rides inside and thinks these thoughts and gets the rest of me into trouble time and time again. And as I tried to fight back against Anaita's terrible, intrusive tampering, I experienced other things too, things that were part of me but not part of me. Visions more real than any of my other memories. Sacred pictures. Nightmares and echoes.

Dust swirling, and sky and sun lancing down through it.

Fallen rubble. More dust. Something heavy, pressing me down, trying to stop my heart.

A woman's face, not Anaita's, far more human, smeared in dust and dirt-caked blood, eyes half-closed.

And, distantly, the cry of a child, the hopeless, hitching wail of a child who cannot be comforted.

There's no way to explain this without making it even more confusing, but I felt as though I'd been in a dark room for years, then for just a second someone had finally opened the curtains to let in the fierce, startling, all-revealing light of day. I knew I was feeling
truth
. It was something greater than power, greater than the glory of Heaven itself, and I wanted more of it. It wasn't just bits of unremembered memory, I knew. It was Truth.

But Anaita sensed my resistance and pushed back, and that access to bright reality, a reality I'd never felt before and would always hunger for afterward, suddenly vanished.

With it went hope. For a bare moment I'd thought I had the strength to defy her, to beat back the things she was doing to me, but I had been wrong again. Her anger was as ancient and cold as pack ice, and she handled my soul like it was an ugly, broken toy. My very essence was being squeezed into oblivion. Nothing subtle now, no rearranging, no changing, just the pressure of oblivion, growing greater and greater as she crushed what I was, compacting what felt like the very molecules of my being until darkness began to bleed through everything, light and sound and thought dying. I was gasping for air and getting none, thoughts roaring with blood-red light, then fading into a black as silent as zero.

I could not speak, but I knew enough to call her what she was.

Liar!
I thought.
I know you now!

But I didn't. I had already forgotten. All the bright truth that for an instant had seemed so clear had been sucked away into the vacuum of nothingness.

Nothing.

Then light and noise rushed back in on me, as though I had popped up from beneath an ocean of tar, back into the world. Alive!

Anaita lifted her hand. Her face, beautiful and terrible with living light, was twisted into a grimace of something stronger than surprise: sudden rage made her eyes blaze almost red.

Something had changed. Something black was now throbbing in the middle of Anaita's chest, the swing of a metronome, a needle on Eternity's dial, vibrating, slowing.

An arrow.

I turned my head, which seemed to take years. Halyna stood some twenty feet away, covered in the powdered remains of a fortune's worth of antique statuary, tactical crossbow in hand. Everything was moving so slowly! Oxana limped up beside her lugging one of the AR-16s—those brave women, so brave!—and the flames from the gun's muzzle unfolded like flowers, bloom . . . bloom . . . bloom . . . I saw the bullets stitch their way along the wall as Anaita actually staggered back, again with aching, unhurried gravity, like a building toppling. One step—her other hand came up—then another, and then she bumped against the wall beside the bare panel where her mosaic had been. The moment seemed to hang. The Angel of Moisture extended her arms toward the Amazons, as slowly as paint dripping in the sun, and I couldn't do a thing.

Ten thousand shards of glass leaped away from her, flying across the intervening distance like a horizontal ice storm. They ripped into Halyna, the closer of the two. Oxana dove to the side, but I saw glass tear into her as well, freeing tiny rills of blood that lifted and spread like more flowers blossoming. It seemed to take half a minute before Oxana hit the floor.

Then suddenly everything was moving fast again. The glittering lions snarled and fell back beside their mistress, troubled for only a split-instant in the real world. Released from the power of Anaita's hand, I had stumbled and almost fallen, but I caught at the wall and kept myself upright. For an instant I was confused, because I had been in that spot along the wall, that same spot, only moments earlier, as if time had looped around. But why did that seem so important? Why couldn't I remember?

Anaita yanked the arrow from her chest, dislodging bits of glass and stone, and threw it away. Sam still lay sprawled on the floor, and both Amazons were down. In an instant Anaita would send the lions to finish them off, then turn back to me. I had resisted to my utmost, but it hadn't been enough. And now she was angry.

The thing I needed to remember came to me then. I took a staggering step along the wall, reached up to where I thought, hoped, prayed it would be, and opened the Zipper I had closed only minutes earlier.

As I dove to the floor, angry bugbears spilled out of their prison, exploding back into the real world in great stretching globs of purple black, as if a dam had broken and released a river of animate goo. They flowed down onto the floor and over the nearest stone and glass lion in a second. They flowed over Anaita as well, and for a moment I hoped she too might vanish for good under a heaving blob, but instead I saw light and heat lance out through the pulsating waves of jelly. If there had only been one or two of the creatures it would have been over right then, but all the bugbears were out of the Zipper by now, furious at their imprisonment, and they followed the others in what looked like a feeding frenzy. The translucent glob that had swallowed the Angel of Moisture stretched and bellied out, and I could smell the hideous stench of burning bugbear, but they were old, strong things and they weren't so easily beaten, even by someone as powerful as Anaita.

BOOK: Sleeping Late On Judgement Day
3.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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