Friday, June 29, 2007

Samuel's War, Part 3.

Without the blanket of TV noise to hide my head in, I couldn’t tune out of Samuel’s report and conversation. Norman becomes decidedly Stepford whenever he visits, and embarks on continental recipes that won’t be done until he’s gone again. Angela simply hides upstairs.

When I was stuck in Whitby I needed Samuel to save me. Not that he could have, but until now I thought he would have. I imagined him bursting down into the cellar and cutting chunks out of the blonde; putting the fear into Sebastian. I knew he was out there somewhere. I was never worried about him. When he was here, through all the Arthur Enright stuff, he belonged with us, and when he took off after the pretend Enright, he did that for me. It has happened before, that Samuel has been dragged under by his adventures; Norman told me as much, to explain why we’d not heard from him, and to reassure himself that he was safe. But there was something in the story of Samuel’s exploits during the war that gave away the truth of things.

With the help of Joseph de Sande, Samuel had crossed the channel into occupied France, and joined the small, sponsored cult of two magicians and their dozen followers. They were not the only ones to answer the invitation: three other magicians with Celtic links had made their way, through disguise or bribery, to the gathering in Brittany. Their aim was to raise and unleash a demon powerful enough to push back the Nazis and claim Northern France as a separate, undefeated, Celtic state. Not all had come to support these efforts though – the two Bretons argued furiously with an Irish magician, O’Ceallaigh, who urged them not to provoke powers they couldn’t hope to control. After a day and night, O’Ceallaigh returned to Ireland as invisibly as he’d arrived, and the Bretons were more resolute than ever. Unfortunately for Samuel, the confrontation had put them on edge, and the followers doubled their guard in case O’Ceallaigh returned or the local garrison were tipped off.

Amongst the others gathered was the leader of the Scottish band that Samuel had disrupted. He’d come alone, and spent a fortune to reach them, hoping no doubt to recover the power that Samuel had denied him. Although panicked to find the Scot waiting in France, my father had already altered Samuel’s appearance and voice, so that he passed for de Sande’s assistant without comment or suspicion.

In the week that followed, Samuel failed to find an opportunity to get close enough to the Bretons. They were gathering the last of their resources, and training de Sande, the Scot and their last guest, in the spells of summoning and binding that they would need to perform – synchronized as one voice, and in one language. De Sande had helped Samuel to reach the gathering, but wasn’t a fighter, and though he disagreed with the cult’s plans, he found himself drawn into them, so that Samuel might find the chance to strike. The Bretons were never alone, guarded by men with rifles and revolvers, even up to the point of the ritual, in a temple-cave near Quimperle.

It was like nothing Samuel had seen before. In Scotland, the cult had managed to summon a creature that was half bird/half monkey, small enough to carry like a book: he had crushed the thing’s skull with one blow. In the Breton caves, the ritual lasted for two days, with de Sande pretending to contribute, but deliberately garbling his words. Despite this, a pool of water across the floor of the cave became lit from within, and then opened up into a portal to another dimension. The demon that rose out of the water stood sixteen foot high, stooped by the roof of the cave, with five arms and sharks teeth. It was furious, but stood bound to the pool, as smaller hands and faces tried to break its surface. It was now that Samuel had to take his chance: the magicians were all exhausted but intently focused on holding the demon to their will; the gunmen were terrified and backed away, their eyes fixed on the giant creature and the demons writhing beneath it. Before they’d even noticed him, Samuel had run one of the Bretons through with his sword. Shots were fired, first at Samuel, but then at the demon who had stepped free of the portal, then at the horde that followed in its wake. Samuel charged the demon himself, but his blows, like the bullets, were like an oar cutting the ocean. Swatted back against the rocks, Samuel overpowered one of the cult’s guards who was firing wildly. He pulled de Sande to his feet and dragged him out of the caves. No one else came out alive, and the giant demon itself never escaped. It was, as the Breton magicians had planned, too big to go beyond the chamber it had been summoned to, with half a mile of rock between it and freedom. It was the smaller demons they needed to contain, and while Samuel shot or stabbed those that followed his route out, there were other ways – smaller, harder ways – out of those caves.

When it had gone quiet, Samuel and de Sande went back in. They found the scene of a massacre in the vaulted cave. The guards had all been torn to pieces, the magicians had sealed the pool again, but not before many of the creatures had escaped. De Sande learned what happened from the surviving Breton, who had lured the giant back into the portal, before sealing it with his own body: he remained fused to the pool. He looked at Samuel with dismay.

Some of the demons were harder to follow than others. Some did not go far – intoxicated by the simplest experiences of their new senses. Some were hungry, and left a trail of bite marks and horror stories. Others were discovered by german soldiers and handed over to their commanding officers. And others were smart, and stayed hidden. Leaving the frail de Sande to return to England, Samuel began the task of tracking each one down, acquiring the enhancements and skills he had until last year.

“So you see how he lives.” Explained Norman. “How often do I hear you complain you haven’t had time to check your emails? At the speed he’s living life, when does he get a chance to stop? You can’t just pick up the phone and start talking y’know. You have to pick your words first.”

But I’ve been thinking over this story since Norman first told it to me in February, and while he was thrilled by it, there were issues, like how he abandoned his friend to find his own way home, that I’ve now been forced to raise with Samuel: the continued power cuts have left my thoughts nowhere else to dwell.


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