“Syag le-khokhmah shtikah”
The words scrawled upon the transom, raining white dust upon the floor.
“Syag le-khokhmah shtikah”
Identical words scrawled down the astragal on the left, the white dust collecting at its base.
“Syag le-khokhmah shtikah”
The process duplicated a third and final time down the astragal to the right.
Gilead Coine exhaled a captive breath and regarded the three leavings of chalkdust. He knelt and placed his left index finger into the dust, tracing a trail from left to right to complete the incantation, connecting one astragal to the other with the chalkdust remains. He closes his eyes and centered himself. The door was sealed.
“Syag le-khokhmah shtikah.” The old ones would say.
“Silence is a fence around wisdom.” He knew this was not their meaning, but when he created the spell of protection their teachings had echoed in his mind.
“I am the wisdom,” he thought. “And I need protecting. So, let silence be my fence.”
His breathing calm, he rose, shrugged off his sweat-laden frockcoat, and ran his long pale fingers through his short, greased black hair, waving off the sweaty residue that came with it to pitter-patter across the floor behind him.
Walking slowly towards the old cupboard against the wall he grabbed the two handles and swung the doors open wide. Within was a prodigious jumble of trinkets, pouches, and stoppered bottles full of strange multicolored powders. His eyes scanned the shelves and stopped at the second from the bottom. He leaned in and grabbed a small bowl reminiscent of a Tiffany lampshade only this was an interconnected latticework of the same yellow citrine crystal, over and over.
A short three-legged pedestal to hold it lay as if forgotten at the back of the shelf. He grabbed that too and silently walked to the center of the room. The carpet on the floor had a circular pattern. At its heart was a black spot about a foot in diameter. Surrounding that was a second zone of thin red, a stripe about three inches wide. Beyond that was a thick zone of white twice the width of the inner circle. He placed the pedestal upon the black spot, placed the citrine bowl within the pedestal, and moved beyond the area of the rug.
He had only been in America for a month and a half. He had seen so many wonderful things! But, he had also seen the cost of those things. While there was no denying that this was a safer place than where he last hung his hat, this land was haunted by different spirits and he did not know their names.
When Henry Hudson first came here the land was home to the Lenape. Their spirits protected the land and provided for the people. That was a long time ago. There was no evidence of them now. New York City in 1935 was so far removed from what it had once been. Upon its birth, its only intention was to devour everything that had come before it. And so it had, both good and bad.
He walked with purpose to the gramophone, setting atop a table in the corner of its room, its dark black lacquered horn reached toward the sky. Beneath was a stack of shellac records, but none that you could find in any shop. He had used this protection spell many times but its reliance on him not speaking created a very big obstacle to his success.
So, he embraced the present. He thumbed through the stack, each one a pre-recorded version of his voice speaking all manner of incantations. It had taken him a decade to reason out how to properly imbue the recording with his power. But, he had, and now he could maintain the integrity of his fence and do what needed to be done. A most exploitable loophole.
He pulled the proper disc from its sheath and placed it upon the turntable. He placed the needle down gently and the crackling reproduction of his voice echoed through the room, drawn into the circular pattern on the rug. As the sound of his voice droned on the black spot at the center of the room seemed to sink into the floorboards, creating an impossible vortex that should have consumed the apartment below. The tiny pedestal with its citrine bowl sank into its center and the once thin red line had been stretched to reach down into the depths of that black spot, holding on to the anchoring white circle which appeared for all the world to be hanging onto this material plane as if the very existence of the universe depended on it.
The words now echoed from the horn of the gramophone and the gaping pit upon the floor. The words called out and all at once, there it was. The Mirrorline.
The first time he had seen it he had thought it was a dream. He had crossed it in his youth so long ago when the sand would cake between his toes and the cords would wear his shoulders raw. The only shade to be found was in the shadow of the great pyramid and the only rest to be had was when he collapsed from weariness.
The Mirrorline is the veil between our world and what lies beyond. A reflection point of all that is wrought by men turned to its most evil of purposes. Most mortals can not perceive the Mirrorline. Most mortals would go mad if they did. To see the evil men do, played out in this harshest of realities, would shrivel most men’s souls.
In ancient times, when the mystics stumbled across the Mirrorline it became their proof of hell. It fueled the rise of the geocentric model paired with the music of the spheres, and the idea that deep below the earth was some blasted hellscape where demons would rend your soul until the end of days. Indeed, it was that, but it was a hell of our own devising and it was not so much a location as it was the dark underside of that great pattern into which our spirits are woven.
There was a deep “THOOM” and the record jumped, then began again but stuck in the same groove, repeating the words over and over again, their meaning lost to the percussive wrath of the churning pit funneling deeper into the citrine bowl.
A cascading shaft of light burst forth from that bowl and bathed the room in its warm glow. Within that shaft screamed a shimmering silver-shrouded shadow, struggling to emerge. Grasping vines of angry red had entangled the shimmering shadow, and swarms of malevolent insects raged around it, stinging and biting.
“Take my hand!” The man screamed, reaching from the white into the plummeting red. At the sound of his voice, his protection fell and the chalkdust which had served as his barrier against evil was sucked down into the churning maelstrom. The silver-clad shadow reached up towards him and as their hands met its silver light shone bright, as its hand was pulled from the red into the white no power of evil could cross.
With the figure now safe, he ran to the gramophone and pulled the needle from the record. The echoes stopped and the gaping hole in the floor simply filled itself in and returned to the ordinary area rug which had lain there before.
A crushing blow came from the other side of the door, shattering the frame with a sharp series of cracks. The man rose, running once more to the cupboard and drawing out a golden cord at the end of which was a short but vicious-looking golden dagger. He placed himself between the door and the silver-clad shadow, taking a grip on the cord and swirling the dagger at its end with dangerous intent and the skill to see it done.
What burst through the door could not be conceived. Most closely it resembled a tree but in the form of a man. In its gaping, vine-choked maw was a struggling bat, its shrieks echoing through the hollow of its body, trying desperately to escape. A swarm of buzzing flies hung like a cloud around it and its arms were vast verdant tendrils of jagged barbs and thorns.
The man set himself grimly and flung his golden dagger into the face of the monster, piercing the wailing bat within its prison and yanking it out through the clinging vines. The evil thing staggered back and the man advanced. But the shadow stepped between them, its silver shroud coming alive.
For just a moment, the man was blinded but he could feel the light envelope him. When he recovered, it was as if he had spent an afternoon outside in the snow. His eyes would not see anything except the faintest of images as they worked to compensate for the bright winter-white glare.
“What are you called?” The shadow asked. But, it was no shadow, it was a man or something with the face of a man. It was not speaking English, Hebrew, or Egyptian, but Latin. It held out its hand.
“What was that?” Gilead demanded.
“It is called Metantu.” The figure explained. “It is an ancient evil, awakened by your questings. What are you called?” He asked again.
“Gilead,” He stammered, taking the offered hand and grasping it cautiously. “Gilead Coine. How did you cross the Mirrorline?” He asked warily, hoping his own grasp of the language was up to the task.
“The Mirrorline?” He spoke, then nodded. The figure's dark-skinned face and lean, powerful form stood opposite to his lithe and wiry frame. His shimmering silver raiment, contrasting with his own dark monochrome suit, only added to his majesty. “Fitting, I suppose.”
“What are you?” Gilead asked.
“I am Darius.” He replied. “I am of the Genii.”
“You are an angel?” Gilead asked incredulously.
“The Christians say so, but I would not,” Darius replied. “I am a protector and guide, an aspect, nothing more.”
“Who’s? Where is your alterum dimidium? Do they need help?” Gilead asked.
“You are my alterum dimidium, Gilead Coine. You are my other half.” Darius explained.