Evil TriumphantMichael A. Stackpole
Michael A. Stackpole
Book I High Risk Behavior
Book II Incubation Period
Book III Inflammation Contagion
Book IV Immune Response
High Risk Behavior
Awakening to the sensation of talons being dragged along the inside of your skull is not a pleasant experience. It is made less so when you realize it heralds the impending arrival of a Dark Lord. Most people live in the unconscious twilight of ignorance concerning the Dark Lords. Those who do not, those who have experienced the rude sort of awakening I and my companions had, normally ran screaming from the sources of their discomfort.
My two companions and I waited for the Dark Lord in a dark and cold dimension that smelled of a charnel house. The thick fog took on a pinkish hue when it came close to us, and by that time we could taste the coppery favor of blood it carried. Things flittered through the black skydome above us, sending curling swirls down through the mist. The crack-snap of their wings marked their approach and departure, but they never drew close enough to attack us.
I turned to the man standing next to me. In the dimensions outside Earth he appeared as nothing more than the silhouette of a slender man with a goatee. “Was this meeting place his choice or yours?”
Crowley shrugged and glanced at the open bolt of the Mac-10 held in his right hand. A gold ring glinted on the fourth finger of that hand, providing the only color in his outline. “Mine. It is tantalizingly close to Pygmalion’s home dimension and has certain properties that should annoy Fiddleback.”
I raised an eyebrow. “But he is our ally now.”
My second companion shook his head vehemently. “You, of all people, Coyote, should know that the Dark Lords ally at their own whim, for their own purposes. Think to trust him, and you paint a target on yourself.”
I nodded to the Yidam and well understood the hint of bitterness in his voice. His whole life and being had been changed by the Dark Lords. Unlike Crowley and me, the Yidam had started life on another planet. He had come to Earth with his wife on the crew of a what most people would call a UFO. When Fiddleback managed to exert power over the crew, the Yidam lost his wife, placed his daughter in stasis, then took up refuge in a Tibetan monastery where he was shielded from Fiddleback’s influence.
At one time, I have been told, the Yidam had been known by the name Vikram and had looked remarkably human. Three decades in the monastery had changed him. The same prayers and chants that protected him from Fiddleback psychomorphed him into the Yidam, a four-armed Buddhist guardian spirit, standing over 10 feet tall, with thick tusks jutting up from his lower jaw and four arms stacked one pair above the other. Even his daughter barely recognized him when they met again.
“I have no intention of trusting Fiddleback, but we have all agreed we need his power to defeat Pygmalion.” Pygmalion was another Dark Lord, a former protégé of Fiddleback’s, who had managed to take away with him the heir to the throne of Japan, Ryuhito. The current emperor, Ryuhito’s grandfather, feared the warping and use the power inherent in his family’s god-blood. “The only way to defeat a Dark Lord is to set another Dark Lord upon him.”
Crowley’s face tightened, suggesting a shadow-hidden smile. Try as I might, I could sense no emotions from him, and I knew that he kept his emotions on short enough a leash that I could not even trust the smile. “You have to remember, Coyote, that once we use Fiddleback to vanquish Pygmalion, we will have Fiddleback to contend with again.”
I nodded as a shiver went down my spine. In the back of my head I heard a buzzing, like that of a million flies covering a corpse. When I realized I was hearing the sound as if my consciousness were trapped within the dead body, I knew the Dark Lord was playing games with me. On my left, the Yidam winced, and I knew he had been similarly bedeviled by Fiddleback.
As if a yellow-green submarine surfacing silently in a black ocean, the Dark Lord known as Fiddleback pushed into the dimension Crowley had found. Fiddleback’s eight arms and legs moved slowly, as if the fabric of this reality were an invisible webbing trapping him. His ellipsoid head reared back and his mandibles worked as if trying to slice through to reach us.
I sensed his frustration rising, then it spiked sharply and exploded outward with palpable force. It shuddered through me and knocked me down, then the hot wind drawn after it burned the fog away. A tear flood gushed from my eyes and ran down my cheeks. I slowly stood and wiped my face dry on my sleeve.
The Yidam had been similarly affected by Fiddleback’s rage, but Crowley had withstood it somehow. Again I got nothing from him, though his relaxed posture suggested smug satisfaction. He looked up at the huge creature towering above all of us, then nodded once. “I don’t think we need formal introductions.”
“Yo, it iz not nezezzary.” The familiar voice I had heard in my head too many times before resolved itself out of the fly-buzzing. “Theze two are creaturez of my creation.”
“You arrogate yourself, monster,” the Yidam hotly shot back at Fiddleback.
Crowley held up his left hand. “Mind speech is not necessary. This proto-dimension and its sister are sound permeable. The barrier between us prevents any impulsive action from taking place.”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
Crowley leveled the Mac-10 at Fiddleback and stroked the trigger. I heard a trio of explosions and saw cartridges arc out of the gun in the glare of the muzzle-flash. The bullets themselves flew out about 20 meters, then stopped in mid-air. They did not flatten or ricochet away, but just stopped as if they had burrowed into an invisible medium that slowed and trapped them.
“In addition to sound, these dimensions allow the passage of sentient creatures, within limitations.” He inclined his head toward Fiddleback. “He is limited.”
“Only in this plaze, man-thing.” The Dark Lord’s head labored to tilt back down, then all eight of its eyes focused on Crowley. “You have chozen well and cautiouzly. I rezpect thiz, and will call you by Crowley inztead of your true name az your reward.”
Crowley turned toward me, and his silhouette shrugged. “He likes to think he knows everything.” The shadow man looked back at the Dark Lord. “I would say you know me as well as you knew Pygmalion, Fiddleback.”
Anger rose in the Dark Lord and radiated off him like heat from Arizona desert. “It iz Pygmalion we are to deztroy. Remember thiz, for our failure will be the death of your preziouz world.” His anger cooled. “There iz only one way to accomplizh this end. You will get me to hiz ztronghold.”
I frowned. “You can travel through the dimensions. You should be able to find that place yourself. You do not need us.”
The Yidam shook his head. “He doe
s need us, Coyote, for the entropic nature of reality is against him. There are, within the dimensions, barriers to power, energy and matter. To circumvent those barriers, he needs agents among the populations of certain dimensions.”
Crowley nodded in agreement. “Just as he needed people to create the maglev train circuit in Phoenix and turn it into a dimensional gateway, he needs us to enable him to get to Pygmalion’s home dimension.”
“That iz prezizely what you will build for me.” Fiddleback raised his two foremost arms and they telescoped out to their full length. “You will uze the planz for the dimenzional gateway that Nero Loring onze created for me.”
A thudding pain began in the top of my brain. “That is impossible. That circuit is over 23 miles long. It has a diameter of over five miles. The whole thing took more than 20 years to build. Unless I missed something, I do not think we have 20 years to play at this.” The image of a fully grown and exceedingly effective warrior created by Pygmalion out of a 5-year-old boy came to me. “Pygmalion escaped with Ryuhito two days ago — he could already be on his way back. There must be another way.”
“There iz none, Coyote.” Fiddleback’s limbs shrank back down. “You have zome time, for dealing with Ryuhito’z power will not be zimple. If it were, I zhould have had him long ago.”
“Fine, give us two weeks, or two years, it doesn’t matter. What you ask is impossible.”
Crowley reached over and grabbed my right shoulder. “I think we can do the job, and far faster than you imagine. Remember, the emperor of Japan has pledged whatever resources we need to aid us. Lorica Industries is not without both technical expertise and resources of its own.”
“I know that, Crowley.” My hands tightened involuntarily into fists. “Can’t you see it? We are being asked to create a highly technological device in a place that will be, at best, hostile territory. The labor needed to clear the land and lay out the circuit is incredible. Not only do we have to secure the area, but we have to supply fuel, spare parts and personnel to drive the machines we will need to do the work. It would have been easier for Kennedy to remodel the Kremlin during the Cuban Missile Crisis than it will be for us to do what he wants us to do.”
“Does my pet have another zolution?”
The Dark Lord’s use of the word pet draped the emotional equivalent of white sheets soaked in ice-water over me, chilling and weighing me down. “You were the one who created me, Fiddleback. Did you not mean me to be the assassin that killed your enemies? Am I not your hunter?”
“Yez, that you were.” The arachnoid Titan tried put a beneficent expression on its features as it looked down at me. “But that waz before Ryuhito.”
Crowley nodded. “Just having Ryuhito in the vicinity means Pygmalion would likely be able to find you and destroy you before you could kill him.”
“Great. That means he can also detect our work against him. How will we find an area where we are to work?”
The shadow man took a step back. “Concentrate on me, Coyote. What can you get?”
I did as he instructed me. Using the skills in which I had long been trained, I pushed away conscious thought and let my mind drift out like a net floating on the ocean. Behind me, I caught the Yidam, easily recognizing him from countless clues I had learned to detect while in Tibet. To my left, I felt Fiddleback as a hard-edged crystal pulsating with dark colors and darker emotions. He scintillated in a most hideous and yet seductive way.
He was power incarnate.
Crowley, on the other hand, did not exist. As if he were no more substantial than the shadow he wore, my mind-net swept past him without noticing him. I could see him, and I knew if I reached my hand out I could feel him, but he was blind to the senses that enabled me to feel and discover so much within the dimensions.
“I cannot feel you.”
“Neither will Pygmalion. I can pinpoint him and detect blind spots in his defenses.” Crowley pointed beyond me at the Yidam. “He can likewise shield himself and will be able to scout as well.”
“Okay, I accept that we can find him and remain, for a time, undetected. We still need supplies and labor.”
“Skilled labor we’ll have to supply.” Crowley jerked his head toward Fiddleback. “It seems to me that he can supply much of the heavy labor we will need. The Plutonians, given direction, will be most able labor.”
I recalled all too clearly the huge denizens of a proto-dimension called Plutonia. The size of elephants, these chocolate-brown animals resembled ants in structure and social organization. They exhibited an ability to spin a fairly strong web and communicated largely through scents. Crowley had pointed out that the Russian author, Vladimir Obrutcev, in his 1924 book Plutonia, had not ascribed enough intelligence to Plutonia’s residents, but I still doubted our ability to use them as labor.
“How will we give them that direction, Crowley? I don’t see you arming yourself with a bottle of perfume to act as their foreman.”
“I will accomplizh that, my pet.”
With Fiddleback’s words there came a ripple through the dimension that even seemed to affect Crowley. A piercing shriek lanced into my brain, then fragmented into a billion separate voices, each one screaming in mortal agony. Pain exploded in my head and pulsing pressure pounded at my forehead as if my brain struggled for freedom.
Looking up, I saw the flesh on Fiddleback’s forehead begin to bubble. Blisters formed and burst in rapid succession, spraying fluid down the long face. Layer after layer of skin boiled away, opening a raw, red wound in Fiddleback’s green-yellow face. A dark, viscous fluid filled the hole, but before it could pour in black rivulets down to Fiddleback’s mandibles, its surface thickened into a clear membrane.
The hellcoal light in Fiddleback’s eyes flickered for a moment, then died altogether. When it reappeared, I had the feeling it was diminished. It still burned with malevolence and hatred, but not quite as hot as it had before. At the same time, I saw a pale shape materialize beyond the membrane.
That shape struggled for a moment, then exploded out. In the time it had taken for the shape to form, the membrane had gone from a placental consistency to that of a brittle lense. When the shape burst free, the membrane scabbed off and the fluid flowed out like an amoeboid thing trying to restrain the shape.
Ivory and pointy, the shape unfolded itself as it sailed free of Fiddleback’s head. It fell to the ground between two of the Dark Lord’s legs and its own limbs collapsed beneath it. The afterbirth splashed down, coating it and threatening to drown it. Struggling against that flood, the creature reached out with its limbs and thrust itself up from the ground. As its head rose and its thorax took a more upright position, it looked to be a miniature of Fiddleback sculpted from ivory.
The creature moved forward through the invisible barrier separating us from the Dark Lord. At first I took it for nothing but an automaton that moved by Fiddleback’s will alone, but the creature slowed in its transit. It stopped at where the bullets hung in the air and, cranking its head left and right, examined them. I saw intelligence in its eyes and sensed the impatience of its master.
“Thiz is Vetha. Her eyez are my eyez. What zhe knowz, I know.” Fiddleback, the hole in his forehead crusting over, reached down as if he meant to caress her, but his forelimb could not reach her. “Az you require that which I may contribute, zhe will communicate it with me.”
Fiddleback’s form began to waver as he withdrew from the dimension across from us. “Do not even think of betraying me, my pet. I created you. I can deztroy you. Zukzzeed, and I will grant you dominion ouer all you zave for me.” Before I could reply, Fiddleback vanished, and I could sense him no more.
Crowley turned toward me. “Something?”
“Nothing.” Looking around, I shook my head. I stood alone in a place that smelled like a slaughterhouse with a man made of shadow, a Buddhist godling and an ivory creature born of a monster that wished nothing short of universal conquest in his name. With them I was supposed to marshal an effort that woul
d locate an enemy and build a modern technological device in a relative heartbeat, while maintaining secrecy and operational surprise for an attack against that enemy.
I smiled. “You know our chances of doing what we have to do are between slim and none, don’t you?”
Crowley nodded. “So?”
“So,” I laughed aloud, “let’s see what kind of betting action we can get on slim and start working.”
Crowley led the four of us back through the proto-dimensions to Earth. He made our destination the facility in Tokyo that had been given to us by the emperor. Arrigo El-Leichter had created the Galactic Brotherhood Institute on Kimpunshima, an artificial island in Tokyo harbor where the majority of foreign nationals lived in Japan. He had been one of Fiddleback’s minions and had even contributed to the training I had been given as I grew up at GBI. Yet, despite my having spent virtually all of my life in that one place, it did not seem at all like home.
I realized, as we stepped through into the office El-Leichter had once claimed as his own, that the lifetime I had spent in GBI, being forged into a weapon for Fiddleback to use against Pygmalion, was a past lifetime. Not literally, of course, because I had not really died between then and now, but in a cognitive sense, that life had ended. When Coyote, my predecessor in the Coyote identity, had arranged for my capture and a chemically induced amnesia, he had destroyed the person Fiddleback had created.
Coyote had also rebuilt me, but he did so in his image. He groomed me to be his heir and managed to show me why his legacy, his legend, had to be continued. He put a face on the evil malaise that worked to grind humanity down to nothing, and he showed me how to fight it. He showed me that I had to fight it.
The office in which we appeared had all the expensive appointments one would expect in the domain of a successful executive. The thick, plush ivory carpeting matched Vetha’s flesh-tone so perfectly she seemed for a second to be a piece of sculpture somehow grown up out of it. The Yidam’s jet-black skin and golden talons likewise were appropriate, as the wall-to-ceiling bookcases behind him were made of ebony, and the glass doors were fixed with gold hinges and latches.