They had left the environs of the Islands as the wind had picked up, and did their best to keep their clothes dry as they went through the park along the Sound until they came to a road leading inland. Unlike the main Interstate or the main roads going further north and west of them, these were older roads that led to the Gotham City Cemetary which also had small business concerns dotting them for everything from lumber to crushed stone to nurseries for plants. In the deep night they needed no additional light beyond what the clouded moon gave them and the distant lights of the airport. The dead would not complain about the noise of aircraft or the service trucks for them, and this back entrance to the cemetary was used more for maintenance rather than the main entrance to the west which served as a ceremonial entrance properly decked out with shrubs, flagpoles and a large carved stone with the name of the place chiseled into it.
Some enterprising gangs and even a syndicate had tried to set up night shop for drug distribution in amongst the dead, but were soon dissuaded when members went missing and some reported that the there were restless dead amongst the population in the cemetary. To those of the People this was a natural affair and they knew what this meant, which wasn't something most surface dwellers understood. Maria had taken the lead here as she was the one most used to helping the deceased into their watery shadowed crevice, and while the dead of the People might have aquatic problems, they were not the problems of the surface dwelling corpses. Still she had done such work and services and negotiated those problems for their remains, and that meant she had to know how to find the ones to negotiate with.
"Let me rest here," she said pointing to a tree on a low hill, "as this is an older part of the cemetary and I can pick up the trail if it exists."
John nodded and let his slim pack down and took out a thin blanket and laid it out.
"Keep watch to the south, Shlasuar," Maria said as she sat down on the blanket and folded her legs under her, "we want no intruders from the surface or our world here this night."
"Yes, Priest, I shall watch," he said as he walked around the tree and to a higher part of the hill to look towards the glow of Gotham City and to the lights of planes coming down as they moved towards the airport.
"I will need you to support me, John. I shall be doing the hafh'drn lw'nafh ph'athg wgha'n'ch'shagg."
"Understood, Priest. I shall walk with you here and support you."
Pressing her lips together she smiled and then rolled her eyes back as she closed them. Slowly her head slumped down.
She had become skilled at this traverse as the kadishtu lw'nafh ooboshu was the best way to garner knowledge from ch'shagg realms. This ooboshu was one with a purpose and put her in those places that led to Kadath and realms even less known, which were frequented by those who must feed on the dead to remain in ch'shagg. There were towns and cities amidst these realms and paths, but they all took place in the desert of the dreaming dead's dreams. Here the Shaggoth roamed freely and, while few in number, were the equal in power to their Shoggoth cousins. But these were not creatures she wanted to find in this journey but a particular kind that would allow her to find that power connection amongst the n'gha f'tahgn. In ch'shogg her fingers slid into soil and she tasted it, and in ch'shagg she felt the affinity and oriented on it. She started walking in ch'shagg and in ch'shogg her somnabulant body was helped by John so that it, too, could move about. Others would need to use devices, artifacts, idols or even spells to do this, but she had no need of such things after being a Priest for so long and the ch'shagg ooboshu was something she could easily do. Now that she knew that there was affinity between realms, she had to find fresher evidence of it in both. Walking she came to a path and knelt down to slip her fingers into it and lick and taste the dust of dead dreams from the dreaming dead, and found bare color that she wanted.
John steadied her body after draping the blanket around her shoulders as she slowly walked down the hill and into the cemetary, proper. He knew this was always a perilous endeavor as Shaggoth could and did slip between realms in such places, and if your presence was not wanted by one then your life was forfeit. She stopped again to kneel and put her fingers into the soil and taste the dirt.
In ch'shagg Maria looked at the path which must form over ages from individuals going over it and pressing the dust of dead dreams into something harder and firmer. There was no true overlay of dreaming on waking, and often one could be in the same waking place and end up in totally different parts of dreaming if they were of a normal sort of being. When dealing with those that were not in that normal situation, out in the regular crossroads, that meant you had other affinity and would tend to be in the same territory if not the exact same spot. Standing upright and looking around she also thought about the type of being she was looking for and about what its frequency would be from ch'shagg to ch'shogg. Looking far up she knew that the floating dreamlands and dream houses would be of no use to her since they wandered independently and had rare tether to the ground, and while one could move easily to such places and spaces if they were inviting, they did not serve as landmarks on the drear plains.
Turning slowly around from where she had come to look towards the darkening region in the south then along the path she saw something odd: a smooth outcrop. Those were rare, the places where no dreams took place of the sort that would leave a trace, and only the finest of dust would settle before being swept off by some new, dying dream nearby. Stepping off the path she walked towards it and again knelt in both lands to taste the soil and sand, to find the color of that which she desired to find. Many moved through here, it was true, but only one had that same visionary feel in both lands. Her steps became confident as she knew a transition place would mean that one was skilled in moving to an exacting place in ch'shagg that could always be found and the closer she moved to the barren substrate of ch'shagg, the stronger the light became.
Maria stopped over the grave of Samuel Atkinson, now five years passed and knelt on the ground. In ch'shagg she found a patch just to the north of the outcrop that was the strongest light she had tasted and it dimmed just barely around that spot.
"lllorhai" she whispered in ch'shagg and ch'shogg, with her hands pushing into the soil of the grave and easily slipping beneath the surface through the disturbed volume beneath it.
Seeing her pressing her arms in, John slipped his hands around her waist as she slid further into the ground trying to grasp at something.
Before her, where she stood, a presence appeared, looking like a male human and even wearing attire appropriate to one in the way of a white shirt with gray suit coat and pants, black socks and brown wingtip shoes.
"What are you doing?" he said as he materialized before her, his gaunt face, sallow eyes and shark tooth grin of forever showing that this was not, truly, human. His kind had some distant relationship to humans, somewhere, in the labs of one of the Great Race ages ago, but they were not at all similar in anything beyond gross shape. Thinning straight grey hair and the depth of wrinkles in his face bespoke of age, and yet he was surely no more than merely decades old.
"I require your services, ghoul," Maria said, "a simple matter of tracing one in the cemetary you inhabit who has affinity to a place near here."
He was of a height with Maria, but as he reared his head back he appeared at least an inch or two taller and his spare lips pulled back to reveal move of the shark teeth that allowed him to scrape decayed flesh from bone.
"And why should I, changeling? You have nothing to offer me."
Patiently Maria smiled.
"I could not summon you without your ch'shogg body at hand. A feeding there can last you weeks and months for dreaming, this I know, but the moment that your body expires you translate beyond living and dreams, both."
"Bah! You cannot threaten me, changeling. You cannot be awake and asleep together, so you may have my body but I can transition back faster and remove you as a threat and stash your corpse for future meals. I rarely get to taste your kind, and it is a delicious meat, indeed," he said with a fat tongue licking over his teeth.
"I am not alone, ghoul. A companion of mine is with me and he has, by now, secured you with that material known as duct tape and has utilized his combat skills to rig a simple noose of piano wire around your throat. Even your tough skin will not stop that, now, will it?"
Opening his eyes wider the ghoul shivered.
"You wouldn't dare..." he whispered.
"Really? You are a brave one of your kind to risk being so close to that which is beneath the nearby city. Other things also dare or know no better, but your kind and my kind, we know that such beings are not to be strayed upon."
The ghoul attempted a sneer and narrowed its eyes.
"I'm not alone there, in the cemetary, you know. Those things the deceased leave do not care for me, and leave me alone, but an ancient dhole lays dreaming near the surface. To have that city, it must lay quiescent and undisturbed, so even the phantasms and sendings of that of the city do not intrude upon the cemetary."
"It will not rescue you, ghoul, nor save your life from my companion. Dead surface dwellers wish nothing to do with us. And we only seek a simple finding that only you can do because it is connected..." Maria looked to the north and east, "... I think up there."
Turning the ghoul craned its head back to look far up and up to a mountain looming over the valley in the distance. Turning he shook his head.
"You do not know what it is you ask..." he whispered softly, "... no one goes up there... and lives..."
Maria pressed her lips together and looked sternly at the ghoul.
"One has and that one n'gha f'tagn in your cemetary. I cannot find the exact one because of the nature of it. But you who are used to all three realms should be able to find that one, with simple feel of affinity. And as Priest of my people, I can even find one of our sacrificial dead to leave in your spaces so that you can taste that meat which you find so satisfying."
Squinting the ghoul looked at Maria.
"You drive a harder bargain than Droom-Avista, Priest. I dislike any idea of dealing with anyting at the Precipice of Forever, but your word is your promise, First to be Eaten. I accept."
"Good, when we are both in ch'shogg please excuse the unbinding as I know duct tape can be quite painful when removed."
"It can't be as bad as barbed wire," he said fading slowly.
Maria would soon follow and fade from the single scale that protruded into the depths of the desert of the dead dreams, giving no indication that it was a small one near the tail of something larger and more feared by those who knew what it was and wanted nothing to do with it. Even the Great Old Ones did not whisper of it for fear that doing so would bring about something that none wanted and all feared.
Guthrie had sat on the hood of his car as night fell and looked out over Gotham City, letting the wind feel through the man made caverns and valleys, trying to sort out just what it was that was hiding those things of power that were in the city. Yet, for all the shifting of the winds, the movement of it amongst buildings, roads, alleyways, docks, ships and every other edifice, he could not pin down just where they were. That placement confusion, an obfuscation of locations and places to those who had the knowledge of making, affinity and power, was not easily done. Looking around him at the stone wall he also realized that the obfuscation was even at this elevation above the city. Sliding from the hood of the car he went back to the stone wall and knelt beside it, running his fingers over the rough hewn stones and then carefully moving as he crouched until he found a larger stone that must, surely, have been here before the wall was built. Indeed the stone was large enough and only faced on the side he was on, but it held power and affinity to something that wasn't native to the rock. Touching the rock he closed his eyes for a moment.
"R'luh phlegeth'stell'bsna," he whispered.
Slowly he opened his eyes and stood up, letting his fingers slip from the rock and then stepped over the wall, placed his feet into the slope and felt around until he found a piece of rock that was rounded but had a flat face where it was chipped out of a larger rock. It easily fit in the palm of his hand and slipped quickly into a pocket of his coat. Standing up and clambering over the wall he had a smile on his face as he walked over to the Maserati Bora.
He heard something in the distance, like a whine and screech of souls being tormented.
His eyes widened as he ran back to the wall and saw something moving on the railroad tracks that paralleled the Gotham River. It was hard to see just what it was as the trees of the hill obscured it, but it looked blacker than surrounding night and the few lights near the tracks barely gave it a form. That was a low form crouched on the rails with red eyes looking out on the rails as it roared through the night. Soon it was out of sight to the east and he barely caught a glimpse of it as it crossed the distant rail bridge and then disappeared into South Gotham Island.
"What in the world was that?" he asked the now still night air.
The Wind then crept through the trees again, whistling through them and Guthrie shook his head stepping away from the wall and back to his vehicle. Once inside and started he thought for a moment before pulling the car around to head downhill into Gotham City.
"Apparently there is something going on with South Gotham to gain such attention as that. It is a good a place as any to start..."
In the deep night the Bora sped up and ran out on the downhill side of hill, reappearing out from under the trees minutes later as the STOP sign was ignored. He hadn't noticed the other vehicle sitting further down the road, and the resulting speeding ticket left him in a foul mood. Neither of the County Sheriff's officers wanted to talk about the apparition that went along the rails although they did have perfect RADAR coverage of the tracks for that part of the road. Guthrie could not believe that he was the only one that saw it.
The officers didn't bother to enlighten him that it was useless to report apparitions on unused railroad tracks that had no speed signature and that left a stench of sulfur behind them. They had seen it on the roads, as well, and had the same result and any attempts to chase that apparition proved fruitless as it could seemingly disappear into thin air. The Ghost Trains of Gotham were a fact of life to those who lived there and their only benefit was to give those that lived in and around Gotham City a great respect for empty train tracks, unused for decades but still, somehow, alive.
"Do you have a scent of it yet, Ghoul?" Maria asked.
He had stopped to get on all fours and paw at the ground, using his oversized hand and the claws extended from his fingers to lift up some of the dirt by the main road that went into the cemetary. They had looped around an outer road to an area normally used for modern burials, but neither he nor Maria had any sense of what they wanted having passed that way. Now at the intersection he hoped to get a sense of passage and some infusion of such a power to create n'gha f'taghn in a human. He had settled down to consume the corpse of Samuel Atkinson and his wife Bethany who had both died in a car accident and had been buried without embalming fluid. While the flavor of the flesh tainted with such fluids was distasteful, it was still nourishing, and he preferred to dine without that flavor whenever possible which meant a foray once or twice a year amongst the humans to find out just who was buried recently so he could ascertain what chemistry, if any, was involved. Certain religious sects disdained the use of such things, and he was very glad that some few of those existed in and around Gotham City.
After uncoiling his tongue to lick at the soil, he stood up again, his tattered and decayed leather clothing hanging from his spare form that humans would see as distorted with some crippling disease. His head was more to a triangular form than humans, and his neck, though evidently having wiry muscles, was thin. Enlarged joints allowed him great leverage and power, but the rest of his form was wizened and under the tattered leather clothes was a thick leather skin. Of nose he had none and of teeth he had many, and his ears were pinned back against his head with only wisps of hair falling from his scalp and down his back. He was taller than any of the three with him, and the removal of duct tape hadn't even been painful as his skin resisted being pulled up with it quite well. Shoes were a loss for his oversized feet and the long talons from his feet were used to dig into soil and push his body forward. With effort he could find boots, trim his claws, take a shower, drink, to him at least, inordinant amounts of water for a few days and almost pass as generally human if he had a wide brimmed hat on. A late night foray into the Gotham City Central Library allowed him to slip unnoticed to the reference section's outer reaches to find who had died and been buried the previous year and to get some sense of which part of the cemetary they were in. Hunting around trying to get scents and flavors of the dead was often a time consuming task without such prior information and only the finding of affinity could mean a much shorter one with a greater long-term reward.
Clacking his teeth together and licking over them he had a toothy grin as he looked at the other three. Overhead a flutter of wings and a screech in the night could be heard.
Slasuar looked up seeing the small creature hunting after the last of the insects that had survived this long into fall, trying to get a last meal in before it flew to its winter home in the caves of the hills.
John also looked up and nodded.
"As long as it isn't old Three Eye, we are safe," he said, and Slasuar looked to him and nodded.
"There is the texture of power that has passed by here that wasn't here last year. It is recent, Changeling."
Maria nodded as she knelt down near to where the Ghoul had opened a hole in the surface and slid a finger over it, and tasted it herself.
"Just... if it were stronger I might be able to tell," she said.
Blinking his large eyes, the Ghoul nodded.
"You do not live here. I do. Now that I have its texture and color, we can follow it. The far eastern side, I think. Come, we shall go through the older tombs and mausoleums and be there directly. The glow from the airport will get brighter and make what has happened easier to spot, as well, as sulfur lamps are a great help in discerning freshly turned ground."
"Lead on, then," John said as he stepped closer to Maria as she stood up.
Turning the Ghoul led them between gravesites that got older as they went, until they went into an area of mausoleums, almost all dating from early in the century if not the prior century, and the age of the ground they rested on spoke in ways that none could hear but all could feel. The small rise for the mausoleums then gave way to a gentle slope and gravesites started to thin out as the lights from the airport runway approach began to predominate. The inner circle road could be seen intermittantly in the wave effect of lights beckoning roaring jets to their destination. Crossing that road the Ghoul knelt to taste the ground and pointed south of east and crossed a connector road as he led the way to mostly open land with barely any graves at all. Only as they approached the curving outer road did more graves appear and wending their way amongst them his eyes looked for the tell-tale signs that pointed to recent disturbance. Crossing the outer road the Ghoul stopped and narrowed his eyes to look at the graves.
"There, nearly in the corner, a recent grave."
The others could not discern any difference between that site and the others around it as the grounds keepers had done an excellent job in re-sodding the ground and had put a transparent sheet over it for a few days to allow moisture to gather before removing it. That late in the season it was all they could do until spring, and it was enough to fool anyone but a Ghoul. Coming to the small gravestone the Ghoul knelt to peer at it.
"This is the one, I'm sure," he said caressing the stone as it stood up at the head of the grave, "the texture is from ch'shagg. Dreaming this one is."
Maria knelt and slid fingers into the soil and tasted it then nodded and gestured Slashuar to come and do the same. He was surprised that it had the same feel as in the tunnel under the City and with eyes closed he saw a color unlike any that could pierce the depths or even be seen on the surface world.
"Any hint of that confusing affinity, Slashuar?" John asked.
"No. None. And this is strong and yet has... yes... the texture of ch'shagg, too."
The Ghoul looked at the young Changeling and cocked his head.
"Another affinity with this one? In the City? Yes?"
Nodding the youngster looked at the Ghoul.
"A confusing one, light but with currents going this way and that. I've never felt anything like it before."
"So long as that one isn't here, then I am not worried. Such a strong affinity and power will gain notice by Others, but it must be very weak and not to be worried about if it is not here."
John walked to the other side of the headstone from the Ghoul and read its inscription.
1961 - 1984
Rest In Peace
He shrugged and looked at Maria.
Maria looked from him to the Ghoul.
"This is the one."
Nodding the Ghoul examined the ground and then looked at her.
"You are kept to your word, Priest," he said.
"Of course, on pain of death and banishment to eternal agony."
He looked from her to the ground, concentrated for a moment and then plunged into the ground, and ripples spread across the grass from where he had disappeared from sight. All three of them stepped away from the power of the Ghoul as none wanted to be pulled down by dirt turned to a strange liquid. The Ghoul had no problems with breathing as pockets of air bubbled to him and he quickly shifted the intensity of the liquifaction away from the coffin so it would sink no further. Coffins, even those with modern seals, were no match for the strength of a Ghoul underground, and only those made of sealed stone would prove any difficulty to his kind. In a moment he had pried the coffin open, slid out the body within it and slid up to the grass, above. As he broke through he let the ground solidify slowly under him and stepped up and out of the ground with only a tear in the grass showing where he had gone in and come out. After laying out the body of Lisa Choi he smoothed the grass into place so that none would suspect he had been there.
"Is she... intact?" Slasuar asked.
The Ghoul shrugged as he looked at the body of the woman and then at Slasuar.
"No autopsy, no stitches, no embalming fluid. She is whole. And you are correct, Priest, she is n'gha f'taghn. I can sense that affinity in her. She is also alive, but in some form of estivation, I think. There is no decay in her body, no clotting, and even a hint that fluids are still in motion in her blood vessels. She may only be breathing a few breaths a day, the heart beating perhaps as much as once or twice an hour. Easily missed by those not knowing what to look for."
"Nothing can do that to a surface dweller," John said, "at least nothing we know."
"Or, perhaps, were meant to know, eh, Changeling?"
Maria knelt next to body, pressing her hand to Lisa's forehead and closed her eyes for a moment.
The world dropped out from under her.
She was at the Precipice of Forever and falling from its edge towards the desert so very far below.
A figure was there, curled up and crouched next to the mountain, but she couldn't see its form and soon there was falling and screaming as she saw the sky above.
The gurgling and soft liquid warmth came from the body of the Ghoul, which John had decapitated with a piece of wire used as a saw.
"It's agreement was with you, not me," he said looking at Maria, "I'll take its body to the sea so the eels may feast and then meet you at the cave in the hills to decide just what to do next. For this," he said looking at Lisa, "was not what I expected in this journey."
Slasuar looked from John to Maria, his eyes wide at the sudden violence.
"Help me carry her, Slasuar," Maria said looking at him, "we have nothing to fear from the loss of a Ghoul. And learn that if you make a pact with others, make it with all of them or you will end as the Ghoul has ended."
Grinning Slasuar nodded and moved to help Maria get Lisa's body in a fireman's carry over her shoulder.
John just tucked the Ghoul's head under his left arm and dragged the body by its leather clothing south towards the sea.
The wind gusts tried to buffet the vehicle, but it was too low slung for that and designed to be as close as 10 miles from a nuclear surface blast in the 3 megaton range and not be lifted if it was nose on to the wavefront of the blast. Anything less than that had difficulties in giving something other than the feeling of a light push to the vehicle and with its rail guides down it would keep to the tracks. Using the defunct subway system was his preferred mode of travel, and while he could stay underground the entire time until he got to the area he wanted to patrol, he decided to go out the South Tunnel and use the minimal surface switchyard and get on to the old train tracks that would swing past Rock Oil and then past the deserted industrial sites to the north of Gotham. That meant a surface traverse and once he had sped out of the tunnel he slowed and switched to IR and shifted from the lean diesel mix to one with a higher sulfur content in the small special effects fuel cell from the forward part of the vehicle. With fog gathering and being blown along the Gotham River channels he knew that the vehicle would be shrouded in up to its tires and then be followed by a sulfur rich smoke as it went. He knew that such forays would be reported as Ghost Trains, but having seen one of those Trains when it manifested itself, he realized that by giving the appearance of them that those spirits would not bother him. Whatever their origin or manifestation, they more than tolerated the spread of their observance and they had not once bothered him on any track in or near Gotham City.
Both IR and RADAR picked up the police vehicle and he downshifted to give a whining roar to the vehicle as it approached them and then upshifted to moaning rumble that taxed the engine but put torque out and the vehicle smoothed in its ride. The first hint to the officers in the car would be that sound, then a glance to their rearview mirror which would be just in time to see the facets of the vehicle dully from light reflected from North Gotham Island buildings and in a silhouette against the mist. He knew their RADAR would not even register his vehicle, and by the time they realized that he had come his lights would be out and he would disappear into the swirl of mist left behind him. After that it was back to the lean, low sulfur fuel he preferred and gunning down the length of the abandoned tracks to the old siding yard, and then crossing tracks there to go on a path to North Gotham Island. The old roundhouse for the old rail system had long since been converted into part of an amusement park south of the Marina, but he didn't need that as an old storage warehouse near where the tracks came onto the Island had an entrance to a lower parking area and, from there, the northern run of the old subway. Things happened quickly and anyone who was out would see his vehicle turn from the tracks, speed at a building and then, with a grinding and sudden snapping it would disappear into the warehouse's down ramp the doors opened only long enough and wide enough for the vehicle to pass. Effectively it disappeared from sight and even 30 feet from the entrance it would be hard to tell that it had opened at all.
Once in the northern tunnel he slowed when he came to a subway switch-off to the northern subway maintenance and storage yards, and there left the vehicle so he could go to the surface for a rooftop patrol. Cold and windy did not bode well for seeing much, but crime didn't sleep and was most active at night, and so was he. One could learn much just by watching and not interfering with crime at its lowest levels and after the major takedowns he now had to see which organizations and families still had a pulse, and what actors would see opportunity in their fall and try to fill their shoes. Most of the bats had sought refuge for the winter, but this bat did not need that.
It was nearing noon and Selina had already been up to stretch and exercise which required paying attention to her sore leg. Although the swelling was going down, the bruises were deepening and she felt as if she had been stretched out and snapped back together and everything was not coming into place just right. For her a light brunch of eggs and toast, plus feeding Chelsea and Conrad, as well as cleaning their litter box had started an uneventful morning. She had decided that for a venture to a museum or any other public place meant showing some leg with dark hose to hide the bruises. That demanded heels and a decent dress, plus a fur coat and purse with the minimal elements she felt were needed not just to address make-up but any impromptu forays on the less legal side of things. Just an hour with a bandage on would have to do for the ankle, and after that she opened her apartment doors to the larger office area beyond and walked down the hallway with Chelsea running on ahead and then looking at the different directions of the intersection to decide exactly which was the best direction for the day. Selina knelt down and patted Chelsea's head.
"I'll be out most of the day," she said softly as Chelsea pressed her head up, "so you might want to think about that."
Standing up, Selina blew the fur from her hand and then put on a pair of leather gloves as she walked towards the entry room to her offices. Coming through she saw Maurice sitting on the side of Amy's desk and Amy talking with him about something that was did not involve horses, gambling or even a required slap on the face.
"... just a light blow last night, though it put out power in parts of Vermont. Won't be so lucky next time, I bet," Maurice was saying.
"Probably not," Amy said turning from her typewriter to look as Selina entered. "Oh, there you are! I thought you would put off your adventure until later today."
"Oh, it will probably come to nothing," Selina said, "I mean how serious can someone be about meeting you and only giving you a place, not a time or even a day? Still Nevvy knows good people, even when they are a bit eccentric."
Maurice slid from the edge of the desk and walked to the hat stand to get his jacket and hat. He had decided on a gray outfit with black wingtips and white shirt, and only a green tie to off-set the drabness of his overall appearance. Selina shook her head as she looked at him and then turned to Amy.
"Anything come in while I was away?" she asked.
"No, nothing new. Wanted to remind you that your mother is coming in on Monday to celebrate Thanksgiving with you."
Selina hugged herself for a moment and shook her head.
"It must be traumatic memory loss... when did I agree to that?"
Amy turned to the calendar and flipped up pages until she got to January.
"January 20th. She phoned to remind you about it on..." Amy let a few months drop down, "May 3rd, which was just right before you left in a hurry. Remember that?" Amy said looking back at Selina.
"Ahhh... didn't I ask you to... ummmm..." Selina was at a loss looking from Amy to Maurice who just shrugged.
"You had those rocks you wanted to get out of town, you know?" he said with a shrug.
Selina closed her eyes remembering the trials and tribulations of the post-Bancroft Estate fall out where a few million in precious jewelry turned up missing from a bank vault in Cleveland. It was, after all, just Cleveland. Better to be on the safe side and lie low, however, and while the broken down jewelry didn't bring more than a dime on the dollar, there were lots of dollars involved. Pressing her lips together, Selina turned to Amy.
"Have any other arrangements been made? She certainly can't stay here."
Amy nodded, letting the pages of the calendar fall down again, and looked at the box for next Monday.
"The Shelton," she said turning to look back at Selina, "down in the Marina District. Nice little place, a bit old but full service, if a bit pushy."
"Are we talking about my mother or the hotel?" Selina asked with a blank stare.
"Both if I remember right," Maurice said, "there ought to be a few good shouting matches with the staff there about just which way the comforter is supposed to go on the bed, it being square and all."
"I totally forgot..." she said looking from Maurice to Amy.
"It's right there on the calendar and on your desk calendar, Selina," Amy said pushing her blue rimmed glasses up her nose, "and you can't get out of seeing her at least once a year. At least not and still be on speaking terms. Or at least you would be quiet, I'm quite sure she would keep right on talking..."
Maurice nodded, as he looked at Amy.
"Yeah, she's been that way for years now. Right after your father died she got, ah, fixated on family. Luckily you got an older brother who already has a family and delivered grandkids, Selina. She'll still be nudging and winking you on that, though, I'm sure."
"This is pure torture," Selina said, "and I'm not going to stand here getting reminded about my mother and her last visit..." she said turning towards the door.
Amy leaned forward over her desk and put her elbows on it and her fingers together above the desktop blotter, and put her chin on them.
"Maybe you'll take my advice this time, Selina. She really needs it, you know?"
Selina stopped with her hand on the door handle and looked back at Amy.
"I will not subject anyone to her, at least not without fair warning and Nevis told me he will do many things but go out with me and my mother is not one of them. Not after that restaurant escapade a few years back, at least. And, besides, while I can get some good looking arm muscle, there is no one who would stay for more than a few minutes having to chat nice with my mother."
"It's your funeral, Selina," Amy said winking at Maurice.
"I'm a family man! And I don't wanna get a divorce or nothin, either. And since it's Turkey Day I'll have my own hands full with the in-laws and kids and such. Count me out."
Sighing, Selina opened the door.
"I already did, Maurice, don't worry. Good help is hard to find. And until I do your job is safe."
She strode out the door leaving Maurice trying to figure out what to say and catch up to her, and could only manage the second.
As the door shut behind them Chelsea walked in to see what the fuss was about and looked up at Amy. She returned the look and shook her head.
"Don't look at me, she's your owner. I'm only the hired help."
The hired help took a burlap ball with catnip wrapped on the inside and threw it into the room, and Chelsea watched it soar over her head and then ran off after it since this was sometimes as good as it got on a slow day.
She could have been mistaken for a ballet dancer, if it wasn't for her height and somewhat wide hips which would never do for ballet. Or she could have been a gymnast as a girl and continued on professionally with that, today, if the muscles that were hidden by her long tan and black dress did not hide their strength and bulk. Underdeveloped she was not, but she was not, exactly a figure that would be expected to show off clothes or show off without them for that matter, as she had a dignity and easy air of aloofness that made such a concept impossible to reconcile. In high heels, as she was, she strutted, but not the strut of pheremones but that of lithe purpose in action which allowed her long legs to turn her dress into a flowing piece of prowling night. Her pale complexion was one that eschewed beach and tans, apparently, and her large sunglasses meant that it was hard to discern much about her face beyond her somewhat petite nose and lips.
She was walking through the rotunda of the Gotham Historical Museum located on the south side of the south hills of South Gotham Island near the old Exposition Site which was also run by the Museum. While not as large or grand as the Gotham Central Library rotunda, this building purposefully constructed for the Expo was given proportions to make it seem like it stretched up far higher, while simple construction visual cues deceived the eye to impart lofty heights that were not there. She walked across the rotunda to the main desk and signage post that pointed to the various parts of the museum available on its three levels and two annex buildings. She had on a black fur coat over her tan and black dress with the undulating stripes, and opened the buttons of the coat as she looked at the sign. Fluidly she then turned to her left to walk to the Gotham Expo Hall that housed all the late 19th century displays that didn't need one of the larger annex buildings, like the steam driven pump that had been one of the first deployed for Gotham's Water Works.
She headed towards the stairs following the signs for NOTABLE FIGURES, and she smiled slyly as she did have a figure of note and knew it. During these daylight hours there were not many here, as Fridays had few school excursions and the rare tour groups tended to come in the morning. The tapping of her shoes on the marble stairs echoed around the rotunda in a very precise tap,tap,tap as she went smoothly up the stairs. At the top of the stairs she turned to the left and went to the EXPLORERS ROOM where there were arrangements of items and trophies sent from the far corners of the Earth to Gotham City. Here there were stuffed Bison and Rhino, along with serpents and fish of various sorts mounted and under glass. The books, spectacles, and various personal effects of explorers coming from Gotham City each had their own case to display their items and history. She walked amongst these heading to the latest piece that had been put in just a few days previously, one dedicated to a man she didn't know of nor care much about who had traveled to Western China and Central Asia.
The case that held items from him seemed to be not one of the usual display cases but something more from that era. Looking into the case the woman confirmed that it had modern security glass and modern alarms to go with the modern lighting inside of it. As she ran her fingers over the wood she felt that it was warm and looking at it she saw some sort of eyecatching wavering in the finish of it. Arching an eyebrow she lifted her dark sunglasses to peer into the case at the newest items, one of which had been supplied by the Thomas and Martha Wayne Foundation, which was described as a tooth embedded in amber from the Central Asia region. A reproduction of two pages from Chester Rhinold's diaries talked a bit about the item, in a somewhat disjointed fashion. Pursing her lips together her eyes danced to the other item, a gold ring of a primitive style also mentioned in the diary. While the first item was in a box made of local fir, the second was on a simple velvet post that tilted the ring slightly to show some of the inscription on the inner surface.
She became aware of the presence of someone standing next to her and said, "Maurice?" in a soft voice as she straightened up.
The man next to her tipped his hat with his right hand, as he had a moderate sized box under his left arm.
"Good day, Miss," the man said.
She sized up the man, who was old but not elderly, wearing a relatively non-descript suit that was definitely not tailor made, but still of decent fabric. With his walking stick now transferred back to his right hand, she looked at the man who was looking at her.
"Are you the man who contacted me?"
"Yes. I needed someone of some skills and who is willing to take on an unusual job. It was fortuitous that I met a nice man who could provide me with a contact who could then contact someone who could contact you."
She slid her sunglasses back down over her eyes.
"And who the hell are you, anyways?"
He smiled and nodded to the case which had a card under the glass that read 'Donated by Dr. Gotham's Curiosity Shop'.
"I am Dr. Gotham."
"No names in this business," she whispered, "so what is it you need me to get?"
Dr. Gotham raised his eyebrows and looked at the display and then back to the woman.
"There is an item of the Rhinold Estate that should be there but was stolen. I believe that the one who received it, or otherwise came into posession of it, is the now missing proprietor of a club. There is affinity between that and the need to get the item back to be put with the other artifacts."
The woman pressed her lips together and gave a curt nod.
"What is it?" she asked very softly.
"A Faberge necklace, spider motif."
She straightend up and shook her head.
"I don't do spiders," she said.
"Ah, yes. I thought the place where it is housed might interest you."
"It is the Golden Tiger Club."
Her lips twitched in a smile.
"I see..." she said nodding.
"I want only the one item."
"That will cost you, big time."
"I am, of course, prepared to pay. Cash, gold, silver, platinum, jewels..."
Her smile widened.
"...or an artifact that has been in my shop for some time, brought in by an Egyptologist and explorer," he said patting the box he held.
Her head shifted to look at the ordinary cardboard box.
"Really?" she said in a softly dismissive manner.
"Yes," he put the box on the display cabinet, "you see the item is rare and I think might be of interest to you."
"What is it?" she asked, "A scepter, maybe?"
"Nothing of the sort," he said lifting the tape up and opening the box. She stepped forward and looked down into it.
"Yes, very few of these sarcophogi were made like this. And while there are thousands of mummies of this sort, very few of those are treated like this."
He shifted the plastic bag over the box within a box to show the gems, gold and other items that adorned the sarcophagus. Her nostrils flared as the smell of the ancient wood wafted up to her.
"Its... beautiful..." she said very softly.
He nodded and slowly pulled the plastic back down over the item.
"I heard that you had an interest in cats..."
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
"I got your letter..."
"Of course," Dr. Gotham said.
"... and I have it..."
She pulled the letter from her coat and opened it.
"I have questions about what you want me to do."
He raised an eyebrow then gave a slight nod.
"Walk with me and we can talk," he said gesturing to the exit to the hallway just a bit further down the room.
As they walked she looked at the letter he had sent and then at him.
"The Golden Tiger Club is owned by Li Sun," she said softly.
"Part owner, yes. Cathy Li was the other, and she is now running the establishment after his demise."
Selina licked her lips, and slid the letter back into the envelope.
"I saw a picture in the paper of you where he died," she said as they turned into the main hall and Dr. Gotham indicated to the room across the way, which had a sign which said: PRECOLONIAL GOTHAM.
They walked together at a slow yet measured pace with the tap,tap,tap of her shoes punctuated by the tap of his walking stick.
"Yes, I was there. I did not know the man and held no malice towards him, as such."
"How did he die?"
A life-size diorama of Native Americans in Gotham walking in a swampy area with overhanging willow trees and then tall grass beyond them was a place where Dr. Gotham paused.
"Miss his demise was terrible and horrific, as was what he was becoming at the last."
"What? How do you mean?"
He looked at the diorama and nodded.
"That man there," he said gesturing with the walking stick, "was a shaman for the tribe. They are looking out to sea and you can see the distant sails coming closer to the Islands. Within a decade colonists and settlers would outnumber the natives. The shaman would become known as Gothamagylnyth, servant of Gotham, for that is what he was although that was a name given to him by the settlers who founded Gotham, not the tribe."
Selina looked from Dr. Gotham to the diorama and had a puzzled expression on her face.
"I see..." she said, then turning to look at him, "... but what has that to do with Li Sun?"
Dr. Gotham raised his eyebrows and nodded for them to continue walking.
"When those first explorers arrived from Europe, Britain and Holland by and large, they found much here that was different from what they knew and some things the same. It wasn't just ostracized Christians that sought refuge in the New World, although some of those that had come here far pre-dated the Dutch and English. Here is when ice covered the region, yet an old warm spring which we call the Gotham River kept part of a channel ice free for much of the many ice ages. The islands were pressed down and raised up, so what was once swamp and marsh land slowly dried out and Gotham became larger. It is home to many things, and yet it has also been protected from much for long, long periods of time. Yet, for those times when it is dry land, it gathers the living here. To keep chaos at bay it requires servants because not all things can be known by a place, now, can it?"
They passed dioramas going further back in time moving into the PREHISTORIC GOTHAM room showing how Gotham City had once been underwater and in a desert, until they walked to the furthest back period of time when only primitive life forms existed in the sea.
"And there are some ancient things that Man is truly not meant to know in fullness, Miss. Li Sun, whatever his morals and ethics in his standard affairs, became attracted to something ancient and far more powerful than himself, and the price was his life. When the world was young, as we see here, the plans for ages were already being cast and set. Yet to all things there is a balance, and if the threat of what took Li Sun is dire, its amelioration is also at hand in a piece so well crafted that even the craftsman did not know what it was he was making. I did not realize that there was more than one force behind events and that if one used cardinal directions and their crosses to come to 8, then something else of 8 could also use those directions of the loom of fate to bring in other things. Of course there are other forces at work, as well, and I fear that the new directions are already at work, now. To bring order to this, to end and take down this loom, one object must be brought back as it was taken: by theft."
"I... don't understand," Selina said, "can't you just report it to the police if it was stolen?"
He smiiled and gestured with his walking stick to the main hallway.
"Early industrial Gotham?" he asked nodding his head towards the far doorway to the annex building to the west.
She nodded and they walked together, passing a couple with two children in tow. The presence of cameras and the wide-eyed excitement of the youngsters pointed to these being tourists, not locals. Dr. Gotham tipped his hat as they passed, having to shift his walking stick adroitly from hand to hand, and Selina merely smiled. As the voices from the family grew just a bit distant, Dr. Gotham spoke up in a soft voice.
"Please do understand, Miss, that if the police found the item through normal procedures, then that would be satisfactory. As I did not come by the information of its location through normal procedures, that invalidates me telling them or you, or anyone else I tell this information to. Going with information not gained by normal means and trying to set things aright would just tangle things worse than they are. The White Tiger of the West finally came to understand this, as well, and abides by my peculiarities in this matter.."
"Who? A White Tiger?" Selina asked, intrigued by all things feline.
"Yes, that is the cardinal direction and its representative, although the actual person, himself, is no tiger in any form. Events have gone on with the frame turning into a loom, and some of the same actors and directions are in this rewoven arrangement. Some actors from the prior events died..."
"Li Sun?" she whispered as they approached the doors to the EXPO EXHIBIT HALL. The hall was three stories high, and walkways for visitors went along the mid-level so that the larger machines could be seen closer to the level that operators were at during their operations.
"Yes, he was cast into affairs, the Green Celestial Dragon of the East. The chain of events started... ahhh... well centuries ago, it is safe to say, moving into the environs of Gotham in the late 19th century and brought in fullness in the early 1930's when the actual frame started to be laid down. Chance had threatened the design and a stop to one order of things was performed, but chance re-entered to loosen those holds and events then unfolded with undesired consequences by all involved. When one is from Chaos, even with a high degree of order, then Chaos has its say. Yet to do things of any nature in our realm, certain forms of order cannot be avoided and one of those is the theft of items where power and affinity are involved. Because the Faberge Necklace was lawfully purchased by my shop, it gained affinity to it. Such items, taken like that, can be returned by only a few means and not have power entanglements due to crossed affinity. One means is by normal, temporal human law means, and while often slow it is honest, known and a function all its own that uncrosses tangled power and restores affinity. The other means to achieve those ends is by the means it was originally taken which, while not legal, is a part of the order of things. That is the way theft and counter-theft work, although you may not be aware of it as I would say that the vast majority of items you have known have no real affinity or power to them, merely value."
"This doesn't sound... normal. Almost like a form of magic," she said giving him a glance.
"No, it isn't magic, Miss. Merely crafting and utilization of resources with knowledge of how they have come to be. Even relatively poorly crafted items, made with the proper resources, can be quite useful, although their material value is limited. On the other hand there have been and are superb craftsman that just use the materials they prefer and have no knowledge of where they actually arise and what they represent, but create such stunning work the actual essence of those materials can be created into something quite useful and valuable as well."
Selina scowled and shook her head.
"Well, I don't believe in that stuff... this is just a job, though, right?"
She stopped next to display for a Westinghouse generator that went from the floor to the ceiling of the building.
He stopped and turned to look at her.
"Yes it is and that is the point. As this is a matter of Order so you must be informed that there is the possibility of others seeking any of the items associated with Rhinold. And while you may not believe in what I tell you, I would expect that you do have at least a representation of Bast that you own, yes?"
Her face went blank and she gave a slow nod.
"Of course Bast would be with the White Tiger in this affair, so your affinity cannot avail you of her perspective. These powers from Egypt are not of the same scale as Others that have interest in these items. Neither Isis nor Osiris will be of help, either. If you are in need of help then only P'tah, the Opener of the Way, is of a type of power that would fit for this endeavor."
"P'tah? Who? I don't understand..." she said softly, now thoroughly confused by what Dr. Gotham was saying.
"It is my hope that you will be able to do this without seeking help, of course. Retrieve the Spider so that it may neutralize the other two items and the Loom created by Chaos will be broken by the Arrow of Order. I could only react when this situation first started, now it is time to that I must act. You have my downpayment with the letter and it will guide you to me so that a new Order can be made."
Selina pressed her lips together and shifted them left to right as she looked at the box.
"I've never seen anything like that..."
"It is authentic, Miss, with documentation as well."
Selina was torn as the object that Dr. Gotham held was, to her knowledge, unique and thus priceless. No one would search for it, no authorities would inquire about it and, with the proper receipt, its coming from a time prior to the modern laws could be established. How this Dr. Gotham had come into such an item was something she had no clue about, but that he was willing to freely invest time and give her something of monetary value just to seal a note was something beyond what she normally ran across. No backroom deals, no shadowing of individuals, no threats or intimidation from him. Just a deal that looked incredibly easy to her, although she recoginized that the Golden Tiger Club had individuals on its staff who could make mincemeat of her, they would have to know she was there, first.
"It's hard to decide... I... there is much you aren't telling me, isn't there?"
"Only to keep things brief, Miss."
She blinked and nodded.
"Understood. You've mentioned the White Tiger of the West as a man. Who is he?"
"Ah, yes. His identity is shrouded but he is known to most as the Bat or Batman. He and the Phoenix of the South survived the encounter with East and North. Now the arisen Phoenix is transformed in her life and that leaves three places that Chaos will fill and soon, I think."
"Not as early as tomorrow, certainly. Not as late as next year with some confidence, although Chaos can bide its time to wait for the right set of things to come into place."
"You actually believe that stuff you're talking about, right?"
"Miss, I do not require belief when the facts are arrayed in front of me. Belief is for dabblers and charlatans."
She chuckled and extended her hand.
"OK. I'll get that necklace for you. Hopefully by the end of the week."
He took off his glove and shook her hand.
"Thank you, Miss. I will see if I have anything else that is better placed with you when this is finished. That is part of my life, finding the right things for the right people."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Thanks. I'll handle my end, don't worry about it."
"Never, Miss," with his hand he tipped his hat and bowed to her, "I bid you good day."
Dr. Gotham turned towards the side of the exhibit away from the display and went down a set of stairs there.
Selina shook her head.
"Now where the hell did Maurice get to?"