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10. "To the Devil A Son"
With the likes of Abe Ryne and his pros, Papa Rafe and his Sicilian bandits, Tyrtod von Alptraum and his trained soldiers, and Donar Lancz and his Gestapo-cadre of Hermiones -- as well as Agenor Heliopolis and his band of anarchists -- around Rome this 1938 Full Moon night of the Thirteenth/Fourteenth, it's something of a wonderment that no one but a great beastly bull and Stephen von Blut have been killed thus far in Moloch.
Oh, Mata Avar is in hospital after apparently thinking her throat was on a butcher's block rather her own neck while Hush Mannering, Etzel Sangati, and Djinn the djinn had a narrow escape from von Alp's gunmen but, when it all comes down to dust jackets, we haven't had an on-screen death all book.
All that changes this time up. However, appearances to the contrary, bloody murder turns out not to be the cause of death(s). Before we get to the body count, if there is much of one, we check out a character who has had virtually nothing to do in Moloch thus far.
Oddly enough, especially given this subsection's title, our featured character's Laodice's Cousin Scatterbrain. Except he isn't, -- Lao's cousin, that is. Not strictly speaking.
Aka Apsyrtus Annulis, Medea's son is scatter-brained though. And it's through his eyes that we return to the previous summer on Aegean Trigon in order to discover just how Count Molech acquired the Ring of the Nebuland and his devilish manservant, the Heliodromus of Lazareme.
Along the way we get to know the Etocretan Extremists much more thoroughly than we have previously, encounter Jesse's father, Magister Joseph Mandam, for the first and only time, at least in Moloch, come across the ever-ambitious, ever-calculating Medea of the Ararats again, her half-sister, neck intact, and find out who unearthed the Olympian Tantalus.
Actually, since it was Fisherwoman, unearthed isn't quite the right word -- but un-watered isn't in my dictionary.
The really gruesome stuff is reserved for the Colosseum. The female of the two Silver Arrow Assassins, Sagitta aka Artemis nee Zeross Hyperenor, brings Sean Dre'Ath, what's left of him, into the Nebuland tent set up within the ancient, remarkably still-mostly-standing Roman stadium. Turns out it wasn't her who put him into his misery, however. In fact, she's the reason he's still alive. Alive, that is, unless Count Molech kills him for despoiling his intended, Virginia Mannering, earlier that day.
That's the hobgoblin in the hammock though, isn't it? None of the Manoan Maniacs will kill Sean and Sangati can't, -- not tonight especially. Just not on, you see. Why, one might ask. Because, irony of ironing boards, Vampire Maker and Blood Beast Prime that he undeniably is, Etzel would risk becoming a vamp and thereby definitely lose his fertility if he killed anyone.
When you only become fertile once every hundred moons you've got to subsume any bloodlust you may have for that more socially-acceptable lust, -- Lust Itself. This is of paramount importance when, always assuming your father was fertile but didn't get lucky enough to sire another son before he got himself slaughtered during the Summoning, you're the last male of your kind. (Unkind? Undead kind?)
Won't the ever-obliging Djinn do the dirty deed then? Not on your life, -- or Sean's, for that matter. While the genie's not adverse to a bit of barbecuing, butchering's just not something his sort, devils the lot of them, do. Not to worry though. When Strife came through from the other side in Medea's stead, she returned with the Ophirant's lamia, Neath and Lathe. As Count Molech rather succintly puts it to Agenor Heliopolis:
"Unlike Djinn and myself, blood, lamiae are perfectly capable of killing without recrimination. Hell's Teeth, killing's what they do for a living!"
But that's not really the point, is it? The Moloch wants his blood brother to do it. After all, Argiope's mother died giving her birth as much as Ginny's had, -- which was a pretty strong indication she would suit his purpose equally well. The only reason he'd backed off Bright Face up until then was that she was Agenor's betrothed.
Heliopolis wasn't having any of the counterfeit count's crap of course. Plus, he'd prepared Argiope to withstand any attempt Sangati might make to have his way with her. How? By cladding her, from the top of her swollen head to the tip of her trembling toes, in the Aegis of Athene!
Suddenly the armour was just standing there, -- without Bright Face inside it. Then the face that grinned out of it was that of the genie. It winked all three of its eyes at him. Next to Apsyrtus, Laodice gasped audibly. Argiope materialized on the dais beside the Moloch and his throne. She was between the Gorgons, who were holding onto her by either arm, a look of stark terror etched upon her face; -- as if she was trying to scream but was so shocked she could not get anything out.
What was I saying about a body count? If there is much of one? What else can I say, -- other than you better make sure your calculator's batteries are charged!
11. "Doing the Devil's Duty"
Well, maybe I did exagerrate some. Wasn't much of a body count was there? In fact barely a one bit the proverbial dust, -- and that one was barely alive to start with! Argiope Zeross has been shot in the back though and, last we looked, the Hermiones were just opening up.
There are more to come, -- deaths, that is! -- but first we better backtrack slightly. How did the Hermiones get there? And who shot Bright Face? The answer, as was apparent from the last sentence of the last installment, is much the same in both cases.
Shooting one of your fellow Summoning Children is a hell of a way to start your career as Self-Proclaimed Saviour of Supranormalkind!
It's quite the collection of characters gathering outside the Roman Colosseum this Full Moon Night of the Thirteenth-Fourteenth of January 1938. There's Loxus Abraham Ryne with his professional mercenaries, Raphael D'Angelo with his Sicilian hotshots, Tyrtod von Alptraum with his trained soldiers, and Donar Lancz with his cadre of beautiful, if you fancy Aryans, but gun-happy Hermiones. As well, Agenor Heliopolis and his band of Etocretan Extremists are inside it; inside Shadowland too. At least at first.
One who hasn't been seen before, though he has been mentioned, is a seven year old child who turns out to be Sigurd Lancz, supposedly Donar's son by the Baron's wife, Berchta nee Faust always Volsung. Ah, but is he? We can't be sure, -- how can anyone ever be sure of anything when witches abound and there's also a couple of equally seven year old, albeit apparently unaging, fairy tricksters on the loose?
Not that it matters a hill of bean bags right this minute. Just thought I mention it is all. While I'm at it, if only for future reference, I think I'll mention something else too. Like a couple of other characters we've had occasion to meet, again only in passing, Sigurd, if he is Sigurd, would have been conceived exactly a hundred moons prior this one!
One of them is Hiliarti Schroff, whom Hush Mannering was masquerading as when she first gained admission to the D'Angelo Family Villa this morning. The other is inside the Colosseum, about to start getting shot at. Is the sixth male of Agenor's twelve Olympians. Is Demonites Zeross.
So, bang-bang, who's dead next? Since the story's been up for awhile now, it isn't spoiling the suspense to say, -- no one!
There was an audible shudder akin to the rumbling of an earthquake, a blinding flash. The tent and arena were back only to vanish yet again. More than a dozen men, women, and even a solitary child dropped seemingly out of the air itself and into the pit. Someone nearby fired a pistol or rifle. People began to scream; panic, hysteria, ensued. Guns blazed. It should have been like shooting sharks in a fishbowl, said one of the Hermiones afterwards.
Well, no one isn't quite right either. Then again, at the risk of repeating myself, barely a two bite the proverbial dust this time, -- and there is some question if those two were alive to start with! Endgame for Medea's lamia, right? Let's put it this way, it's endgame for them in terms of 'The Moloch Manoeuvres', that's for sure.
So, how's the total going? The bull, Stephen von Blut, Sean Dre'Ath, Neath and Lathe, -- not bad so far. And we're not even halfway through the chapter yet. Argiope Bright Face is not the only one shot either. Her betrothed isn't bullet-proof, not when he's not wearing the Aegis of Athene. Neither's John Sundown, despite his legendary luck.
As for Jesus Mandam, well, let's just say it's a good thing his Manoan cousins, particularly Megaera nee Kinesis, are not wanton killers. Better thing that no one's paid either of the Silver Arrows for his head. Too bad he didn't have any money on him to pay Sagitta not to crush his hands however!
Now the chapter's halfway over. But what else is there? Plenty, as it happens. The Shootout at the Okay Colosseum was hardly the climactic event everyone anticipated it would be.
Count Molech's still out there, unscathed and horny as ever. So's Djinn, the Celestial Spook, Strife, Cybele St. Synne, and even her father, albeit in spirit only. So are the Society of Saints, not that they've been named such quite yet. They're the real winners though. Have one of the Twin Tantaluses too, that of the Northern Gods. And the Aegis of Athene, -- minus its visor!
(Think they've got the other one as well, that of the Olympian Gods but, as recounted in a previous subsection, Sundown inadvertently spotted it earlier that day being loaded onto a ship. This ship, with more than just the Mithraic Treasury as cargo, is by now well on its way to Crete.)
For Hush and Granny Garuda, Kanin Nauroz, there's time to sort out some loose ends before things get seriously crazy again, -- one of them being Eden Nightingale. For Yehudi Cohen there's time to locate, and take possession of, the crimson-lensed Gorgon Goggles, the Aegis's visor, from the warren of gladitorial ruins beneath the Colosseum.
For Alexandros Kinesis, the Persian Sorcerer's Apprentice -- the sorcerer in this case being the Mithraic Magus, Joseph Mandam, Jesse's presumed father -- Nester Hyperenor, the other Silver Arrow Assassin, and Agenor Heliopolis, blasted leg and all, there's time for them to be rescued by the first two's wives, Roxanne, Agenor's sister, and Sagitta, Argiope's sister. Time also for Artemis to give Sundown a close shave. From the other side of the pit. With a bullet!
As for our titular hero, Etzel Sangati, hey, Argiope Zeross might be in no condition for it any more. Ditto Virginia Mannering, for a different reason, thanks to the recently deceased Sean Dre'Ath. But there may well be other, still virginal, still healthy Summoning Aged girls whose mothers died giving them birth in Rome that night. Considering the way the Witches of Weir mixed up all those newborn babies seventeen years earlier, Ginny and Bright Face are not the only ones whose mothers might have died either.
The various Volsung girls are three, Laodice Atreides is another, so is Anita D'Angelo, and so too is her adopted but identically-aged sister, Thalassa. Not that he realizes it, Sea's also one of the main reasons he no longer possesses the Mithraic Treasury of Aesgard. (He did recognize Fisherwoman, however.) He'll worry about retrieving the Northern Tantalus later, though. Right now, he's pumped full of fertility and intent upon sharing it about generously before daybreak.
Too late to lock up your daughters, Papa Rafe. Wouldn't do any good anyhow. The Heliodromus of Lazareme can take the Blood Beast Prime anywhere the counterfeit count pleases. Djinn's more than happy to oblige too. After all, he is a very accommodaing devil.
By the way, recall the second subsection of Moloch, -- the one entitled: 'Wayfarers in the Weird'? You probably realized then that Sedon St Synne was not the only one of them. Neither was the Celestial Superor the only other one. Have I mentioned Sunrise/Sundown's Shamanitoulin yet?
Out of the clump of cloud, which was hazy but nonetheless visible to anyone who happened to be watching the now deserted street, rose a black crow-like bird. It left nothing in its place and, taking to the air, headed after the Etocretan Extremists.
Let me see, that takes care of Cerebrus, Furie, Diver, Rainbow, OMP (though not explicitly and not by that name), Cheyenne, Airealist, Sea Goddess, and now her, Raven's Head. All that's left is Witchie.
12. "Garuda Garrulous"
As I write this, it's Labour Day Weekend in Vancouver. Which means the kids are going back to school on Tuesday. So, let me ask you this, -- if your teacher asks you to jump off the school roof, no matter how high off the ground, would you?
Oh dear, Sorciere (Solace Sunrise) gets Granny Garuda yapping and, being an old-time teacher, the former Kanin Nauroz, Utopian of Weir, has trouble stopping. It's mostly to do with the crow-creature, Johnny's Guardian Raven, and what it might be.
Granny tentatively identifies it as a Fetishim, a kind of living totem that, while it co-exists with Sundown, is actually an entity apart from him. The implication is that it protects Sorciere's childhood groom. In fact, as the Garuda speculates, it tends to overprotect him. That is to say, one shot's free; you don't get another one. Crows strike back!
All of which solves one of the few remaining mysteries in Moloch, -- who killed Stephen von Blut. And why -- payback for what happened to Sundown and those with him, including the town's Basque inhabitants and his fellows in the International Brigade, the previous April in Guernica y Luno.
Wasn't Sundown, not really. Was his Fetishim, usurping his body. Sorciere admits she had been suspicious of Johnny all along and is actually somewhat relieved that he wasn't in his right mind when he did it. Or went on his blood-laden Vengeance Quest either. She's not too happy that his right mind could be so relatively easily whelmed by a crow-creature, but there you have it.
Another mystery that's solved is the identity of Sorciere's parents. Dad, says Granny, was Shaman Manitoulin (Shamanitoulin), Wayfarer in the Weird, -- the Cheyenne Medicine Man who raised both her and Johnny as well as, going back to the 1870s, none other than Sedon St Synne, the father of Sophia now D'Angelo and, if only possibly, of Cybele St Synne, the person who brought Strife out of Big Shelter.
But it's not just Sorciere's family history Granny gets into, -- the whole history, howsoever abbreviated, of Sedon's Head, Big Shelter, is discussed. As are the fables of Cain, Slayer of Abel.
Back on the action front, specifically in the Roman Pantheon (left), where Count 'Finally Fertile' Molech has been having his way with various Volsungs, Yehudi Cohen recovers from a clout on the Head. Valfreja (who may or may not be just Freya anymore; probably isn't actually) takes the blame for it as Djinn, the Heliodromus of Lazareme, has by now gone elsewhere, taking Finally Fertile with him.
And where exactly is that elsewhere? The pension where the Hyperenors (Silver Arrow Assassins, Nester and wife Artemis nee Zeross) have been staying with Laodice Atreides and the Annulises (Doc Jay, missing Mama Medea, & Lao's Cousin Scatterbrain).
By the time Sangati and Djinn arrive there, the rest of the Minoans (blood brother Agenor Heliopolis, Roxanne Heliopolis now Kinesis, husband Alexandros Kinesis, Megaera nee Kinesis, son Demonites, hubby Angelo, plus his and Artemis' baby sister, Argiope Zeross, Agenor's betrothed) are already having their wounds tended by Jason Annulis.
It's not just Sangati/Molech and Djinn/Heliodromus who show up either. With them is no longer missing Medea of the Ararats, Apsyrtus' mother. Or is it? (Answer'll have to wait until the concluding chapter.)
The Moloch makes it clear he's only taking a breather from his night's sowing-the-seed duty-slash-entertainment, but is in a generous mood. Things have gone very well indeed, -- at least three potential Maker Moms already notched and more to come. (So to speak.) While this news does not excite palpitations of anticipation in Lao nor Bright Face, two other Summoning Children who might yet receive the benefit of his munificence, Sangati makes it quite clear he's not interested in either of them.
What he will do is free up Djinn to transport a select few of them through the Grey to Brindisi, where they can catch the Corfu ferry back to Greece and relative freedom. By the time Raphael D'Angelo, backed by some of his Sicilian ruffians and members of the Roman constabulary, turn up to roust the pension, only Laodice and the three Annulises are left.
When the Sicilians/Romans finally leave, thanks mostly to Mama Medea's protestations of innocence in fluent Italian (a language Papa Rafe can't remember her speaking before, at least not very well), Lao remarks that she doesn't think it's Medea at all. Apsyrtus tends to agree with her. But he's concerns more pressing on his mind, -- in his pants, more like. And Lao isn't convinced Sangati has no designs on her.
Jumping off a school roof would make a lot more sense!
13. "To The Devil His Doom"
This is it. The first final installment of any of the PHANTACEA Web-Serials. And I'm not going to say anything more about it right now. Just read, por favor.
[Autumn 2007 lynx update: Now that the chapters are offline, if you don't yet know how Manoeuvres ended, here's a hint. Here's another one and here's a third one.]
Mostly Written: August 2000
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