Technically, it was Entering but not Breaking. Eyre had charmed the
superintendent out of the spare key to apartment 4-G, and with the aid of a bit
of machine oil I was working it slowly into the lock to avoid making any noise.
We were in the fourth-floor corridor of a red brick apartment building on
Parsons Boulevard in Flushing, Queens, a pleasant working-class neighborhood
with plenty of trees and quiet side streets. Someone was cooking a pot roast in
a nearby apartment, and the aroma was reminding me I’d skipped lunch tracking
down this address.
“I’m ready, Nora,” Eyre said. My blue-haired assistant was poised,
crouched at my side, waiting for me to get past the lock. I tried turning the
key. Slowly...slowly...I could feel resistance, but it wasn’t stuck. A
millimeter at a time and— something clacked loudly. Fuck. The deadbolt must
have been spring-loaded.
I turned the doorknob to clear the latch and slammed the door open
with my shoulder. No chain. Eyre darted inside as soon as the gap was wide
enough, and I followed an instant later, backing him up with my gun drawn.
There was a time early in my career when I would have called for some
Commission heavies and a staff sorcerer or two for back-up because come on,
there could be an angry demon in there. And a time more recently when I would
have gone in alone because fuck it. But now it was Eyre and me. With his
slender build and boyish face, my assistant didn’t look like much of a fighter,
but I doubted there was any demon who could beat him one-on-one.
This was a renegade sorcerer’s safe house, a VP from Morgan Stanley
who’d cracked and gone on a murder spree when he was passed over for promotion,
using a demon he’d illicitly summoned for his own private use as an assassin. I
was honestly expecting the flat to be empty, the sorcerer not being so stupid
as to hide out in town with the Commission after him, but it was possible he
was there, and it was possible the demon was there, too. As it happened, both
those things were true.
Eyre put the brakes on and didn’t do anything violent immediately,
so I paused behind him to take in the scene. It was a barebones one-bedroom
flat, a dining room nook by the door, a tiny kitchen off to the left, the
dining area opening into a living room, and a short corridor on the right
leading off to a pair of doors, no doubt the bedroom and bathroom. No furniture
at all, except for some kind of collapsible chrome thing at the back of the
living room and— Oh. That was a severed human head on the floor in front of it.
The chrome thing unfolded itself, revealing itself to be a demon
after all. The creature gave an initial impression of a high-end Ikea coffee
table put together by a demented elder god who’d gotten frustrated with the
instructions and never could find a use for half the hex bolts. The demon must
have been summoned recently, as they hadn’t had any time to adapt their form
from the original jointed assembly of polished metal rods and plates to which
their spirit had been bound. Unlimbered, their effect was something like a
skeletal centaur with metal bones, except that for a head they had a hinged
gripper like a two-fingered hand at the end of a long, segmented, prehensile
neck. Instead of hooves or feet their legs ended in sharpened points that made
them teeter precariously as they rose from the floor, and two longer armlike
limbs of the same sort extended from their shoulders. Though they had some
trouble balancing at first, once up on all fours they were stable, even
“Well,” Eyre said, “this is messed up.”
Despite his awesome martial skills, Eyre was far more deeply
affected by violence and death than me, so I gave him a glance, but he seemed
okay. He was focused on the situation, prepared to defend himself if necessary.
The demon tensed for a moment, reared back as if about to spring,
but then they brought their two arms up, crossed them like a violinist, and ran
one long chrome limb up and down the other while bowing it back and forth. An
unearthly ringing tone played, a little like the sound when you rub your finger
on the edge of a wine glass, not at all unpleasant. As the sound rose and fell,
sliding smoothly up and down the scale, I realized there was something in the
overtones...oh. They were speaking, an ethereal, shimmering voice arising from
around and behind the varying note they were playing on their arms.
“—come to destroy me?”
“Not unless you make it necessary,” I told them. “Did you kill him?”
“No! Not my master. Only his enemies.”
Eyre advanced cautiously, kneeling beside the decapitated head on
the floor. The demon made as if to protect it, but then subsided. They extended
their long gripper limb and placed it beside the head, caressing its cheek
“That’s him,” Eyre said, “I think. Carson. Our subject.”
“If you didn’t kill him,” I asked the demon, “who did?”
“I don’t know!” Throbbing through the overtones of the demon’s
metallic voice, the creature’s agony and sorrow were unmistakable. “I was here,
he was sleeping in the bedroom. He was going to take me with him. He said we
would go to Maru— Maruno— to a place where the Commission could not follow. It
was the morning, time to go, to take the train, he didn’t come out, I waited, I
waited, and then, and then I went in to see, to wake him up. And then...”
The demon collapsed. They just fell to the floor in a heap, looking
once again like a mess of chrome rods haphazardly thrown together, only
stirring a little, making feeble clinking noises to show they were still alive.
Struck down by grief, I guess.
“We’d better check the bedroom.” I nodded at the creature. “What
about the demon?”
I wanted to argue the point—the poor thing had killed two Morgan
Stanley vice presidents and an executive VP to boot—but this wasn’t the time or
the place, so I led Eyre down the hallway to the closed doors.
Amazon https://amzn.to/3H7jHi6Meet the Author:
Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and a technologist. He has published over 25 short stories in such magazines as Nature, the New Haven Review, PodCastle, and Galaxy's Edge. His WWI-era historical fantasy novel Twilight Patrol was just released by Alban Lake. For more of his stories, visit https://laurencebrothers.com/bibliography
, or follow him on twitter: @lbrothers.
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