The Drawing of Three

Chapter Two - Part 1

The Drawing

Linus approaches the old man, gripping the locket and racking his mind to see if he can recognize the man. Briefly, he tries to assense this man’s powers.

He feels a deep sense of curiosity about this man. As with all powerful astral entities, he feels a has a sense of wonder and curiosity at how this man could wield such power. Deep within him, too, is awakened a deep insecurity, a difficulty understanding why beings such as this would not see the world as he does, and share his goals. That the fire bringer spoke to him, guided him here, allays that fear somewhat, and he is hopeful that what follows will allow him to see deeper into the mysteries of the planes.

Unsure of his surroundings, but eager to blend in and escape from the assuredly coming pursuit, Kelraji smiles, and begins to close the distance. Besides, he felt most comfortable when standing within striking distance of those he did not know. The pistols made him nervous, but the man seemed equally unsure. The third man, the Light, he was unsure of. But he had yet to meet a mage faster with his spells than Kelraji was with his whip. Again, best to have him close. Perhaps the men were not threats, perhaps they were as clueless as him, but he would not, could not, take the chance that they were here for the dagger.

Closer was safer in this situation.

Linus now turns his attention to the two other men, the cowboy and the staff holder, attempting to sense their astral natures.

The gunslinger stands apart still, even as Linus and the Indian man approach the center of the circle. The summoner can tell he is an adept immediately, although his aura gives off an otherworldly energy. Adepts as Linus understands them all draw their powers from some tradition or practice, siphoning mana from the biosphere with their very way of life in the same way Linus might draw such energy through a spell or conjuring circle. They were only partially Awakened, ‘groggies’ in the hermetic’s derogatory parlance, unable to truly shape the forces arcane.

But this strange man did not seem to be drawing his power from the local astral plane. His aura bespoke another source entirely, some time or place removed from their own which funneled through him like a wormhole spewing out matter from an alien star system.

The other man is an adept as well, though his source of power is as familiar as the gunslinger’s is foreign. He radiated the pervasive self-knowledge and benevolence typical of Buddhist adepts, a signature he knew from experience.

Yet where his old companion assensed a certain purity of selflessness, this man’s aura was tainted with a baser emotion, something like greed or nihilism which Linus could not quite make out.

The device hanging from his belt emanated some permutation of the man’s own signature, a sure sign of a focus attuned to its bearer. He could not determine its purpose, but it felt of detachment and latent movement, like a snake coiled to strike.

Kelraji’s smile fades as he walks, assessing the surrounding area, keeping his bike at his side, between himself and the gunslinger, should he need to use it as a shield.

Warily, hands still on the butts of his pistols, Jake steps down the few steps before him into the bottom of the fountain. He approaches the man in the middle, eyeing the two others who had come through the doors. Are they friend or foe? If foe, I don’t think I’ll have the speed to hit them all before they get a chance to fire back. This man in the middle wants to talk; hopefully his words are those of alliance.

His metal-inlaid boots make a hollow clack clack as the leather soles slap against the concrete at the bottom of the fountain. Dregs and dirty patches mark the low points that once bore water. He looks at the other doors: THE LIGHT and THE SHADOW, and wonders at their meaning. Before arriving at the middle of the fountain, he looks back at his own door, to see if it is labeled DEATH like it had been in the subway. He does not like the foreboding nature of that word one bit.

The three men approach the center of the fountain, caution in their steps. The old man standing in the middle merely waits patiently, leaning against his walking stick.

The blond man in the scorched lab coat looks nervously around, unsure of whom to address. Finally, he speaks, looking at the old man.

“I have. . .” he trails off.

“Well. Err. . .” again a false start.

“What I mean to say is: Hello. I am Linus Templeton, but I get a sense that you know that already.”

The elderly fellow nods to him and smiles wearily. “Hello, Linus. My name is Mathus Cain.” He turns to address all those assembled. “Believe it or not, I do not know who any of you are—your names, your abilities, where you come from. I know only that it was my task to draw you here, or rather, to make it possible for you yourselves to be drawn. I created the doors, yes, and the illusions which brought you to your trials.”

The old man turns and looks at the man with the revolvers, his eyes narrowing. “Although by the time I cast your illusion, you had already been set upon your trial. It seems something else is guiding you.”

Mathus shakes his head and continues. “But this is neither here nor there; or perhaps it is, I do not know. Our time, or rather, my time, is very short, so I shall exercise brevity, the poorest of my talents.”

The old man straightens his back and taps his cane once on the steel grating beneath him. “I am a prophet of the Cabal of the One Book. We are a loose alliance of various. . . Awakened individuals, dedicated to the discovery and translation of a single tome, a book of legend and supreme importance. The text goes by many names, none pertinent to the task before you.” He stops to think. “Or perhaps it is, I do not know.”

With this Cain takes a distressed leather satchel from beneath his jacket, and from it removes a single book, bound in thick hide and closed with an impossibly ornate clockwork mechanism running opposite the spine. A metal plate is bolted across its face, bearing a handful of exotic marks which appear to be gouged by a large chisel. “We have found the book, after effort and sacrifice several hundreds of generations long, stretching back to the age of legend two worlds past, if Vontarion can be believed. Like so many things, this is most likely irrelevant. What matters is that successfully reading this book grants power unlimited, in whatever form you desire—the secrets of the universe, the ability to never be found again, or the capacity to traverse the bounds of time and space at will.”

The old man sighs, running his hand along the surface of the book. “But a successful reading is no easy task. There are several variables at play if one wishes to do so, a wish which lies at the heart of all in the Cabal since its inception. I myself have only glimpsed the path, but this much I have seen through the veil: There is only one being known who can read the book, and he resides on a piece of land which exists outside of the five dimensions. The only way to reach this mystic island is to be drawn to it by forces beyond our comprehension. Out of the eight billion sentient beings on earth, we have found only three with the potential for such a drawing.”

He smiles conspiratorially. “You three are the Drawn, chosen by the ley-lines of mana which course through this earth, each with his own chance at finding the phantom land and upon it the book’s true meaning. With all three in the same vessel, you are sure to be drawn to Albionon. You will land there and seek out the island’s keeper, then persuade him to share with you the secrets of translation. In order for the Drawing to succeed, you three must always decide which path the Cabal takes, no matter what. The other members know this, though they will not like it, and may bear reminding: The three must choose.”

His tale complete, Mathus Cain looks up at the sky. The three men with him follow his gaze, and are surprised to see dark clouds forming above the park where only moments ago the night was clear and calm. The first spattering of rain begins to fall, splashing noisily upon their shoulders. Cain’s voice is softer now, as if he is speaking to himself. “I have also seen that I will die tonight, killed by those who would oppose the Cabal’s successful Drawing.” The sky rumbles fiercely, shaking them to their guts.

He stuffs the book back into its satchel and holds it out, yelling now to be heard above the rising wind. “Please, take the book and find the Reader. We have given too much already to turn back now. After my passing, Thomas and Shane will come to take you to the convoy.”

Moving quickly, Kelraji kicks the stand on his bike down, slings the pack off his back, unzips it partially, and moves toward Mathus, intend on securing the book as quickly and surely as possible. As an afterthought, he mutters his justification in well versed but clearly not native English.

“If I am to be The Shadow, as you say, then it is best that our collective valuables remain out of the sight of our enemies as well.”

Linus watches this unfold in rapt attention.

“As the atom asks the proton.” he mutters cryptically. “Three primes in a quantum cipher.”

He pulls a half spent lighter from his and starts flicking the mechanism distractedly.

He yells to the other two of the three: “Gentlemen I think we should be properly introduced but I suspect that this is not the time.”
To Cain, “What must we do do accept the Drawing? I suspect we would be wise to embark immediately!”

Mathus Cain catches his plaid tie as it whips about his face in the wind. “My dear Linus, if I knew the answer to that, I would not have spent my entire adult life searching for you!”

The rain quickly escalates into a proper storm, sending sheets of rain and buffeting wind twisting about the fountain area, soaking all four of the men standing within the circle. Thunder cracks the sky again.

Jake watches his surroundings warily, taking care not to make any assumptions about the way of things. He can feel the presence of magical items all around him, one on the body of the man who calls himself Cain, another in the pocket of the scrawny man named Linus, and still more on the brown man’s person—the rod hanging from his waist certainly bears some sort of enchantment, and two more things within his backpack glow with energy as well. One is clearly the book, but the other Jake does not recognize, though it puts his skin to gooseflesh.

Still more his special sense tells him. Cain and the man in the white coat are casters, this is plain, and the third is an adept of some capacity.

More pressingly, the storm flying all around them is no natural occurrence. It is shot through with dark sorcery, emanating from the clouds above and seeping into the earth beneath the concrete slabs at their feet. The gunslinger turns his eyes skyward, squinting for a glimpse of something unusual, and spots it: two dark shapes tracing rapid concentric circles within the haze, their black forms seeming to generate the rainclouds themselves.

In his peripheral vision he sees also that some of the heavy plates of concrete making up the floor of the fountain have begun to shift and quake slightly.

The old man in the worn duster and wide-brimmed hat pulls his flapping clothing about him, out of the wind. One hand lies always at the massive silver revolvers crossed in holsters at his waist, and he looks up at the sky worriedly. “You are right, magician; now is not the time for introductions. I know not the truth of this Mathus Cain’s words, but I know that the hour of his reckoning has already drawn nigh. Look!” He casts one hand upwards and his jacket buffets about him, the weight of armored plates amounting to nothing in the teeth of the fierce wind.

Shouting above the cacophony, “Can you see? Twin shapes in the clouds. This storm is brought by dread sorcery, and the very water is bewitched!” He draws his cannons from their sheaths and thumbs back the hammers. “It seeps into the ground to surround us. We must move. Come on, all of you!”

Rainwater slides from the brim of his Stetson hat as he grabs Cain by the shoulder, revolver still in hand. He beckons the group West, towards the edge of the fountain, now filling with water and foaming with black magicks.

Linus nods in agreement, and follows the cowboy. Out of place and time though he may be, he seems to have a strong grip on the situation.

Wordlessly, Kelraji nods, tucks the worn tome into his bag with his other goods, and returns to his bike in the torrent.

Climbing over the wall, his slickened shoes falter, and he catches himself on the lip with his hand. Recovering, he simply vaults the low wall of the fountain, seeming equally amused and annoyed by the situation. Recovering the bike, he kicks up the stand, and begins pushing the small transport after the rest of the retreating group.

Kelraji shifts his sight to the astral plane and casts about. Though his vision is partially obscured by the driving rain, he can see that Mathus and Linus both glow with the light of full magicians, though neither are currently astrally perceiving or casting spells. Linus appears to be a capable caster in his own right, but Cain glows with a formidable energy the likes of which Kelraji has seen but rarely.

The mysterious gunslinger is also Awakened, an adept like himself, though there is something decidely off about his signature, as if he were drawing his power from somewhere other than the astral plane as he knew it.

Kelraji also notes, as the gunslinger had pointed out, that the raincloud above them is not entirely mundane, although its exact nature eludes him.

Other than the three upon his person, the monk sees no other magical items in the area.

Kelraji, concerned, rushes on. He could have sworn the cowboy’s weapons were more than simply polished steel and pearl. Perhaps the man was not the threat he had originally seemed. Either way, he knows he has to stay out if sight, figuratively, and hopefully, literally as well. Too convenient as it may be, Kelraji knows well enough when he’s in over his head, and decides to simply follow the men to the West, listening for any inklings or suggestions from his assembled treasures.

Jake clears the lip of the fountain first, dragging the old man roughly behind him. The gunslinger struggles to hold him upright in the driving rain, and the man wheezes with the exertion of staying on his feet.

Linus splashes hastily after them, taking up his accustomed spot directly behind the closest ally wielding a weapon.

Kelraji comes last, wrestling his racing cycle over the edge of the fountain before falling in behind the others.

Rain beats down upon them, unrelenting in its sheer volume. Their clothing clings to their bodies, weighing them down and making every step a chore.

As soon as the party clears the fountain’s ring, two large tufts of rain-darkened cloud separate from the massive thunderhead above them, collecting themselves before swooping down to the earth. They hover inches above the ground in front of them, seeming to be nothing more than large spheres of churning storm. They split open in unison, like blossoming flowers, each revealing a human figure cradled inside the churning mass.

The one to their right is a beautiful black woman, clad only in rags and thick ropes of colorful beaded jewelery. Her figure is sublime. The creature to their left, however, is a wrinkled old woman, stooped and trembling, her deep brown skin crazed and folded from a hundred years of life. She is covered in rings and amulets of shining gold which clatter as she moves.

The hag leans forward from her airy seat, cackling at the top of her voice. “You ’tink you ken git away so easy now, goonslingah? ’Tink de spirits would-ant be able to smell yo whitebread stench out ’ere?” Both women lose themselves to bouts of laughter before the wrinkled old figure can continue. “First you watch us kill ‘de slut, ’den I an’ I take your ’ands for Damballah!”

The beauty extracts another figure from her tempest mount, drawing even greater sounds of pleasure from both witches. It is a young black woman, clad in revealing street clothes of the modern fashion. Her body is bruised and battered in places, and fear is plain on her face.

Kelraji, ever light on his feet, is the first to recover his senses and take action.

Kelraji, having never seen such brazen displays of magic, opts to do the sensible thing, and freeze, waiting for a distraction or equally useful reaction by another as he plots his next move in his head.

The rain-dark cloud beneath the younger witch gathers itself up, as if it were some amorphous predator preparing to pounce, then shoots out toward the gunslinger, forming a bestial maw which attempts to close down upon him.

Jake acts on instinct, leaping headlong directly into the closing jaws before the djinn can engulf him. He bursts free from the cloud unscathed, shoulder rolling through a large puddle to end in a crouch.

The hag and her djinn strafe to the party’s left, rising up 15 feet into the air as they move. The ball of storm cloud twists into a miniature vortex, then launches a piece of itself at Kelraji like a cannonball.

He sidesteps neatly out of the path of the howling bolt of wind, but it twists in the air meet him and manages to clip his shoulder, rending his t-shirt and leaving a bruise beneath his armored vest. [Kelraji takes 1 stun.]

Kelraji lets the momentum of the blow carry him into a fast spin, sending water spraying from his moppish hair. He comes to a halt between Mathus and Linus before squaring his shoulders with the air spirit that had attempted to swallow the gunslinger whole. His left hand forms a symbol with his fingers, and then his right hand is a blur, flashing to the bronze rod at his belt and making a vertical upward slash in one fluid motion.

A single silver line glints in the downpour for one fraction of a second, seeming to bisect the spirit’s form in two. The coruscating sphere turns jet black, then releases a deafening scream, high-pitched and undulating like a dying breeze. It looses the ability to contain itself, falling apart in a flurry of wind and rain.

Floating above them, the hunched old woman cries out in fury, then jabs what appears to be a gnarled stick in Kelraji’s direction. The wand glows with a sickly purple light which leaps to Kelraji’s forehead. Splitting pain courses through him, but he recognizes that it is only a spell, and pushes back against it, resisting it with all his might. The pain subsides, though his temple still throbs. [Kelraji takes 1 stun, for 2 total.]

The lithe beauty, now without a mount, stands on the ground to their right, clutching the battered woman from behind. At the sight of her spirit’s destruction, she shoves her captive roughly to the ground, then flails her arms at the sky, gesticulating madly, an otherworldly noise emanating from her mouth. The pavement in front of her rumbles, then cracks, then splits into huge chunks as decaying arms and bodies push forth from the soil below. Three corpses in rotted 20th-century business attire drag themselves heavily from the earth and begin to shamble towards their chosen meal.

Linus finally manages to gather his courage and bring himself to act. The lighter remains in his soggy grip.

The summoner ponders his options. He thinks, first of the spells he perfected long ago when he was learning the defensive arts: pulling fire from the lands beyond and targeting it against a single enemy’s life force in a flamethrower of considerable power. The hag is horrifying, and plainly within his line of sight.

But his efforts are best spent on banishment.

Linus targets the nearby remaining spirit of air, competing against the will of the hag and sending it back to the distant planes.

He throws up a rune of banishing around the air spirit, struggling to see his work through rain-soaked glasses. The voodoo shaman detects what he is up to and pushes back, shielding her mount from his calculated negation with pure animus.

Linus reacts, nullifying her sloppy defense with strategically-placed dampening glyphs. The djinn explodes outward, then loses all coherency, its grasp on the metaplanes severed.

The hag falls through the rapidly dispersing cloud, clawing uselessly at the air as gravity takes her.

The zombies shamble forth as one. Two make for Mathus, grasping at his suit with fetid claws. He stumbles away from them, gasping with fright, his jacket sleeve tearing free in their clutches.

Jake’s hat flies off his head in the gale, but its leather tong catches it and it hangs down his back, collecting rainwater. Magical senses screaming shrilly at the activity flying all around him, he calms his nerves takes stock of the situation. Zombies have come up from the earth, and he wrinkles his nose at their stench. Looking at the woman in the clutches of the beauty, he recognizes Destiny, his charge from the trial of ka. He wonders how they found her. Faced with danger at all sides, he hopes Mathus can hold his own for a moment, as he saves this slattern of Fate.

Stepping to one side, he levels the barrel of the Old Army with the zombie and the enchantress, forming a line in his mind between the two. Seeing the true path of the bullet, he squeezes gently, and his round leaves its chamber with practiced grace.

The .45 strikes the zombie square in the chest, demolishing its putrid, unarmored ribcage like a hammer to fruit.

The bullet continues on its journey, barely slowed, and tears a meaty chunk from the witch’s abdomen. The force of the blast lifts her from her feet and sends her tumbling head over heels through the air before landing with a wet thud.

Kelraji rushes out to meet the hag as she plummets head-first to the earth, spinning around Linus and Mathus in his haste, right arm in constant motion, swinging the bronze rod about his body in cryptic motions. His allies see more clearly what the strange device is—a wire runs from one end of the handle, silk-thin and a full 6 feet long, weighted at the end with a small metal object. He keeps the weapon dancing around his body as he moves, like a flyfisher preparing to cast.

Kelraji dashes out, picking up speed, then leaps into the air on an intercept course with the falling shaman. He swings his arm down, skimming the weighted tip past her face, then cracks it upward, tracing a line from skull to groin.

The wire passes through the woman unimpeded, seeming to do no damage at all. Kelraji lands easily on his feet as the witch hits the ground in two wet ribbons.

The rain begins to clear immediately, the dark clouds racing away to reveal clear night skies. The two remaining undead stumble and falter, then collapse once more into everlasting sleep.

Blood streams from the two mutilated corpses of the voodoo shamans, shining dully in the fluorescent glow of nearby street lamps.

The woman who had been the shaman’s captive lies where she was thrown down, covered in flecks of zombie and witch, crying softy to herself.

The park is quiet save the low moaning howl of the wind elemental, still trapped some 15 feet above them in Linus’ banishing circle. Even as they watch, its physical form unravels, fading to nothing.

Water drips from their clothing, but it is a typical New York summer night, hot and impossibly muggy, and the soaking brings a welcome chill.

Mathus takes off his ripped jacket and tosses it aside, still shaky from the brief melee. He leans on his cane and catches his breath before speaking. “A formidable Drawing, you three. This strikes echoes into the future—Blood, old enemies, and the magics dark. Blood and more blood.” He sighs. “Collect yourselves. Thomas and Shane will be here shortly.”

Kelraji replaces his vajra and draws his combat knife, going to confirm the kill of the Beauty before he relaxes, unable to calm until he is certain they are no more.

Kelraji approaches the younger shaman’s crumpled form, knife in hand. He kneels and checks her pulse—her flesh is warm, but absent pulse or breath. Her stomach and intestines lie open to the humid air, giving off a powerful stench which rivals the zombies’ foul decay.

Jake holsters his guns and places the single spent round in the brass bag on his hip, where it jingles with the 8 others already there. He thinks for a moment, then draws the Ruger Super Warhawk and replaces the snub-nosed .45s in its six chambers with hollow-pointed rounds from the back of his ammo belt. Always better to have an option. He wishes he had collected more of the exploders from his apartment, but they are not far; he can grab his scattergun when he returns as well. He returns the chromed piece to his waist holster.

He joins Kelraji over the corpse of the Beauty, confirming his kill. He pushes her body over with the steel toe of his boot, checking it for equipment or evidence of her origins.

Satisfied she is dead, he goes over to help Destiny to her feet. “Destiny, are you hurt? Did you know these two summoners? Did Denzel send them? We need to know why they’re after us.”

Linus breathes in a sigh of relief first. Then he looks at the carnage. A look of distate, still not burnt out of him by his recent adventures, works its way into the corners of his mouth. Seeing the spirit of air now departing for the plains, he flicks at his lighter. For a moment he looks down at it, pondering something, then he calmly pockets the small object.

Concentrating, he works himself up to do something he has not done for a long time. Similar though it is to the summoning of a fire spirit, the wet conditions would be dangerous for a fire spirit. Linus would never treat his partners so negligently. With more trouble almost certainly on the way, he concentrates hard and attempts to summon a spirit of water from the planes, channeling it through the abundant water essence all around them.

Nervous as ever, Kelraji leaves Jake to his scavenging, and ignores the chanting and gesticulating mage. Approaching Cain, knife still drawn, he demands,

“Where are we going? Magic and death in public will not go unnoticed for but a moment. Given that your friends were not the first to arrive, I would doubt their arrival at all. It appears we are against enemies who currently know too much. Call your associates, tell them we are found, and arrange us an alternate meeting place. This area is clearly not safe, and I for one will not remain in it.”Mathus gives an indifferent shrug, then glazes over for a moment. Kelraji can tell he is casting some sort of spell. The old man’s eyes lose focus, cast about, then return to reality once more. “My good friends Thomas and Shane are only a block away. When they get here they will take you West, to the Hudson, where the rest of the Cabal and our assembled convoy waits for you. From there you will go to Albionon and begin your search proper. We can move if you so desire, but they will be here in minutes, I assure you.”

Linus stands nearby, only half listening. He traces the unfamiliar summoning rune of the water spirit, doing his best to remember the proper forms. The glyph complete, he infuses it with a portion of his energy, but it sizzles in response, sending a wave of negative feedback which winds him and sets his temples throbbing. It must have been a poor connection along one of the induction channels.

The summoner stands rubbing his head, momentarily worried the summoning may have failed. Then the puddles all around him start to quiver, then run together, spiraling up in a fountain of water. The churning geyser grows two noodly arms and an amorphous head, which addresses him in a gurgling voice. “What ails you, land-thing? I will help, as the tides permit.” [The spirit owes 3 services. Linus takes 2 stun drain damage.]

Unconvinced, and far too open for the likes of Kelraji, he stalks quickly back to his bike, shouldering his backpack, and mounting it.

“I will not stay a moment longer. In five minutes I will meet you at the Holland Tunnel. In 8 minutes, if you are not there, I will go to the Lincoln Tunnel, where I will wait for five additional minutes. If you are not at either location, I will simply disappear, as I have done before. I do not know this Albionon, and I have no real desire to travel in a convoy, or with a cabal.”

Kelraji tightens the straps of his pack, and attempts to start his bike, weary of the inclement weather.

Jake turns the witch over with his toe, carefully appraising her for clues of her past. There is little to learn from the corpse: she is beautiful, even in death, wearing simple woven garments which cover her chest and hips. She wears an incredible amount of jewelery, heavy strings of beads hang from her neck and wrists, and her ears and nose are studded with all manner of baubles. At her waist hangs several miniature figures made of human hair and run through with pins, along with various bulging pouches. Jake looks inside a few to find collections of seeming garbage: rat spines, metal shavings, and another sack filled with a fine white powder.

The gunslinger notices two objects on her person which throb with magical energies—one is a golden earring on the woman’s upper ear, the other a gunmetal bangle on her wrist inlaid with a simple depiction of serpents.

Destiny drags herself to her feet, wiping the gore from her face with a corner of her tattered shirt. “No, I’m okay, thanks. You saved me again, man, though I’m ‘bout tired of gettin’ so fuckin’ messy err’ time. Yea, I know these bitches,” she says, spitting on the shaman’s broken form. “They Denzel’s voodoo witches, ones I was tellin’ you ‘bout. Musta sent them after you killed Peso and Zaquan—they his main muscle, or was, I guess. I lit out the subway while you was clappin’ on ‘em, but these two was waitin’ on me when I come out. Next thing I know I’s gettin’ sucked up, then we here and you goin’ off with your guns again.”

The young woman’s face is a confusion of shock and fear. “What am I ’posed to do now? Should I run for Grand Central again, or can I come wit you?”

Unconvinced, and far too open for the likes of Kelraji, he stalks quickly back to his bike, shouldering his backpack, and mounting it.

“I will not stay a moment longer. In five minutes I will meet you at the Holland Tunnel. In 8 minutes, if you are not there, I will go to the Lincoln Tunnel, where I will wait for five additional minutes. If you are not at either location, I will simply disappear, as I have done before. I do not know this Albionon, and I have no real desire to travel in a convoy, or with a cabal.”

Kelraji tightens the straps of his pack, and attempts to start his bike, weary of the inclement weather.

Cain’s expression shifts to one of impatience. “I urge you to reconsider. The book offers literally anything you desire—an escape from those who chase you, or a way to understand things you do not.” He gives Kelraji a knowing look. “Moreover, the Cabal assembled is a formidable group, and we have hired mercenaries to bolster our numbers. You will be safer with us than on your own.”

The old man looks North, pointing out a pair of headlights pulling in beneath the arch at the head of the park. The outline of a heavy duty pickup truck can just be made out. “Ah, here is Shane, punctual as ever. Listen—if you will shirk your own Drawing, I cannot stop you. Before you go, however, you will return the Book. Many lives were lost to bring it into our possession, and if you are not with the Cabal, you are against us.” There is menace in his eyes as he holds out his hand expectantly.

Sensing that he’s trapped, one way or the other, Kelraji relents.

“I will accompany you, on the condition that I am allowed to ride my own bike until we are gone of the city. I do not wish to be trapped in such a truck should something go wrong on your exit. Moreover, I do not trust mercenaries, who’s only god is money. What if another ‘prays’ harder than your cabal? Clearly you have enemies, and I have enough of mine. Regardless, we must leave now, surely LoneStar is on the way.”

Linus, completely absorbed in his summoning, speaks to his spirit out loud:

“Follow and guard me in the astral plane, my liquid companion, but be prepared to materialize should battle break out. Please, also, forgive my awkward summoning, I will release you as soon as it is safe to do so.”

He turns to Kelraji. “I hope, then, that all of this has been worked out? I don’t expect that you are aware of my recent work in Quantum Turbulence, the theory hasn’t had nearly the attention it deserves. It’s a sign, really, of everything that’s wrong with the modern academy. So easy to be impressed with yourself when you can command the power of the elements. But do they understand the powers at their command? No, of course not….”

he pauses, having lost his train of thought.

Jake Chambers looks down at Destiny, and then back at Mathus Cain. “Young one, if it is your part to join us, he is the one to ask, not I. As for your former employer, I don’t think his reach will extend to where we are going.”

He leaves the witch’s corpse with its cursed items and walks over to the dark-skinned Kelraji, placing a weathered hand on his shoulder. “Friend, I doubt you will heed what I am about to say, but no idle book or whisperings of a dark cabal brings you on this quest. A thing undeniable has placed us in its grasp and bound us by the threads of our very lives. Let’s go. You will have time to think on your part in this journey when it is complete.”

The gunslinger looks around at the assembled sorcerers, Linus in his scorched white labcoat, Kelraji, dark hair dripping with rainwater, Mathus, leaning on his cain, and Destiny, blood dripping from her face. My once-and-future ka-tet. A memory out of time and space beckons him, and he feels almost on the verge of another world. He looks back at the doors, hoping to see a fourth, but they are gone with the wind and rain. Turning his gaze instead to the oncoming vehicles, he places a hand over his father’s initials, burned into the handle of his old pistol. “So are we drawn. Come, our journey awaits.”

Linus looks up at Jake, ponders for a moment, then suddenly is struck by a regained train of thought. His eyes glint and he begins to babble, while following Kelraji and Jake as if his legs were on autopilot while his mind is otherwise engaged:

“Yes right, as I was saying I think this drawing is reflective of an old theory in quantum cryptography, in which entire structures could be a sort of quantum “prime” encrypting a key into another physical universe. Of course the theory was considered mad but I think it should be considered revived after the Awakening clearly revealed that quantum turbulence involves unstable attachments between metaplanar interactions in a sort of punctuated equilibrium model. I’ve scetched out the basic theory in an earlier work in the Journal of Astral Studies and Higher Theoretics…"

As he works himself up, he begins shaking water out of the old lighter and starts flicking it on and off.

As Jake approaches, Kelraji’s hand once more drifts to the vajra clipped to his belt. He looks suspicious, perhaps confused, but not angry.

“We leave now. I do not wish to stay here. Whether I go alone, or with you is up to you, but I am leaving now.”

Kelraji walks away from Jake, pointedly slipping away from the contact, and starts his bike in the inclement weather, though it takes a few tries. He begins to motor slowly to the pick-up, his eyes distant and glazed

Linus, possessing barely enough presence of mind in his tirade, follows Jake and steers clear of Kelraji. He rounds out his tirade with:

“…It will be interesting to see how this drawing proceeds. Let’s make haste to this meeting point!”

Destiny looks to Mathus, who regards her with interest. “What do you want, young lady? Do you wish to go with these men?”

She looks at each of them in turn, then shakes her head. “No, no I don’t think I want that. I just wanna go home. I just wanna be safe again.”

Mathus nods. “And where is home, child?”

“I was ’gon go to my momma crib in Richmond. Figured I be safer in the Confederacy then up here.”

The old man inhales deeply, then taps his cane once on the pavement. A door slides up on front of the woman, painted in gold. She opens it, looks back once at the gunslinger, then passes through.

The door slams shut behind her, then falls over with a crash. A nameplate runs across the top of the door. It reads, “THE FOURTH.”

Linus’ water elemental gurgles back at him. “Yes, feet-haver. The currents abide.” The spirit leaves the physical plane, its temporary body splashing back into a lifeless puddle. The banished air spirit leaves the physical plane as well, with one last sucking noise to mark its passing. No sooner has the air spirit departed then the weather clears completely. Clothing begins to dry at once as the oppressive muggy night air settles in around them.

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Crusher

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