The Deathless Hand
by Danielle L. Parker
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
14: Headquarters of Levkin International,
Moscow International Business Center
Koschay the Deathless drove his troika through the night sky. Three silver stags plunged in the traces. Sizzling St. Elmo’s fire outlined flashing white legs and the icy glitter of antlers. Koschay gripped the reins in one sinewy hand; Kladenets shimmered in the other. Now the magic weapon was a curved killing scimitar; now a reaping hook; now the deadly dull black of a Russian AK-12. When it became a flail its whirling metal chains whined with eagerness.
Koschay’s black hair streamed straight back in the wind. His eyes glowed as blue as the eerie corpusant haloing his flying sled.
In the penthouse suite, Levkin’s secretary hung up the phone. He adjusted his tie. He adjusted his glasses. He looked at his shoes as if judging their polish. It was a full five minutes before he could bring himself to approach the pair now deep in intense conversation. “Mr. Levkin, sir. If I might have a moment with you privately—”
“Now is not a good time, Samsa.” Levkin’s voice was quiet. But the secretary flinched. He retreated across the room, fidgeting and biting his lip as he stared with dread at the phone.
Far below, water flooded the newly poured cement. Men shouted. Engines roared as men struggled to move vehicles and equipment to safety. Inside, the receptionist screamed. The revolving glass doors rotated as water surged like a tidal bore into the marble lobby. The receptionist scrambled on top of her glass counter. A flash from a shorting electrical circuit illuminated a room plunged into darkness.
The foreman pulled out his cell phone once more. A laborer ran up wild-eyed. “It’s pouring into the basements now! What’ll we do, Igor?”
The foreman paused before he punched the connection. “Run,” he said. “Like hell.”
Babble erupted as the lights in the penthouse party extinguished. An uneasy hush followed the eclipse of light. Levkin stood. In darkness illuminated now by only stars, his hair gleamed like silver. The dim starlight caught a momentary red glint in his eye.
“Samsa. What has happened?”
The secretary stirred uneasily. “Sir, I tried to tell you. I—”
“Samsa.” Levkin’s voice was still perfectly controlled. But his secretary swallowed hard. “Flooding, Mr. Levkin. Must have hit the electrical room. The power’s out.”
Outside, a fast-moving blue glow dived from the clouds. The blur approached the floor-to-ceiling glass windows rapidly. Levkin turned to face it. When he put down his goblet, his fingers were tipped with claws.
“How tiresome. A party crasher.” But Levkin’s voice was subtly distorted. Fangs gleamed in a mouth stretching into a new shape. His Armani suit burst and shredded. Fur emerged from the rents. As the giant wolf shook off the last remnants of its humanity, swan wings erupted from its back. One huge angelic wing was feathered white; the other, black. A silver bell suspended from a richly ornamented collar about the wolf’s neck rang with the sweet sound of madness.
The guard grabbed Grigory Arshavin by his collar and shoved him behind a sofa. He crouched beside the scientist. Frightened guests scattered, knocking over furniture and glasses in the darkness. Wen Hongqi sidled toward the bar, where he grasped an unopened bottle by its neck before he crouched behind his impromptu barrier.
The secretary backed until his shoulders hit the wall. He held out his hands in a feeble gesture of self-protection. “What’ll we do?” he whispered. “What’ll we do, Boris?”
“Only one thing you can do when you see Mr. Levkin in this mood,” the guard said. “Stay here if you want. But only if you want to die. I’m getting out.” He began to crawl toward the exit, feeling his way among overturned objects, dragging the stunned scientist behind him.
The monstrous beast crouched. Its wings beat. Its howl was nothing human. But a word still shaped that howl. “Kooooschaaaay!”
The fast-moving blur filled the window for one terrifying instant. Giant silver stags, antlers aimed, the stern face of the man holding the scything hook high, flashed like dream images. The troika struck glass with the force of a bomb. The two forces grappled as the tower trembled. The energy was too great to contain in ordinary dimensions. Space and time became, briefly, other.
Blue-shadowed snow gleamed under drifting white ice fog. For both Viking and Russian, the spirit world is cold. All cold rivers and winter snows come from that place those ancient warriors called Mist Home.
The magic bell at the wolf’s throat spoke in a chill, chiming voice. “My ancient enemy,” it said, as the wolf sought to tear out the heart of its opponent. “Is this battle not as the embrace of lovers? Why else do you strive with me?”
The wolf snapped a wrist with its razor-sharp fangs and leapt like a salmon to evade the sweep of the scything hook. “You cannot kill me, and I cannot kill you. But ah! I have forgotten. You have no heart. You cannot love.”
“Perverse prince, your life is twice bought every year.” The cruel mouth in Koschay’s brow clashed its jagged teeth. The wolf leapt high, and the teeth caught only the tip of its paw. Its vast swan wings carried it across a chasm running with glacial melt.
Koschay sprang after. The magic weapon in his hand became a mighty axe. He smashed its steely head deep into the ice, and ascended the cliff after the swan-winged wolf. “Every year you pay my sister the Woman of Fire for tincture of her blue roses to keep your youth, and every year for three days you pay Heaven to keep your life. For Vaslev Bryachislavich, Prince of Polotsk and of Kiev, burned a church and perverted his faith, and so the curse of Heaven fell on him.”
The wolf glared down from the pinnacle. At Koschay’s words it had swelled to twice its size. Its ruff stood up, and blood dripped from its maddened eyes. The silver bell jangled wildly before it could form words again.
“You are cruel to remind me of my curse! My time of penance is too near. For three days I must be as a saint or an angel on high for goodness. But I promise you, Koschay, when Good Friday is once more past, I will be wickeder than ever the rest of the year. And one day I will find your hidden heart, Koschay, and eat it!”
“Perhaps that day will come.” Koschay raised his magic weapon. Kladenets became a deadly black AK-12. “Until then, I protect Mother Russia from treachery.”
“Die!” rang the silver bell. Its tinkling malevolence drowned in the angry whine of bullets. The wolf fled on beating swan wings into the mists. Koschay lowered his weapon. Blood dripped from his savaged wrist and soaked his gashed chest. He stood alone.
16: Kruzkha Restaurant, Old Arbat District, Moscow
Gagarin threaded his way through the lunch-time crowd. The man he sought sat by himself. Gagarin drew back a chair opposite him.
“Colonel-General Shebalin professes to be satisfied,” Gagarin said. “The Chinese man returned to Beijing without the secrets he wished to gain. He has learned his lesson.”
Gagarin unfolded a newspaper. The photograph of a ruined and fire-blackened skyscraper stood over the headline Levkin Headquarters Destroyed by Fire and Bizarre Flash Flood. “But did you really need to do this? Do you know Grigory Arshavin fell headlong into wet cement when the tower broke apart? We’ll probably never recover his body.”
Koschay looked up. His face was dispassionate. “I protect Mother Russia,” he said.
17: Levkin’s dacha, outside St. Petersburg
Levkin stroked the head of the wolf-bitch at his feet. “There will be other times,” he whispered to her. “Nights when you and I will run under the moon and feast on hearts.”
She whined and licked his bandaged fingers.
Levkin lifted the lacquered music box beside him. He opened the lid and listened. Beneath its tinkling notes, a man screamed in torment.
“Enjoy eternity, Grigory Ivanovich,” Levkin said, and closed the lid.
Copyright © 2014 by Danielle L. Parker
Author’s note: This story, with others, is due to appear in an anthology published by Pulp Empire, at Metahuman Press.