Sabledrake Magazine

August, 2003

 

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Feature Articles

     Preview of Naughy & Dice

     A Candle for Imbolc

     Possession: Nine Tenths

     Shadow Flight

     Summer Fading

     CTF2187: The Lion's Maw

     The Ways of Magic, Pt. II & III

     Grim Discovery

 

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     What's Your Fantasy

     Vecna's Eye

     Off the Shelf

     The Play's the Thing

 

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Possession: Nine Tenths

(An excerpt from the novel, Tomorrow’s Memories)

Copyright © 2003 by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

 

 

Cloaked windows turned their blank gazes toward the alley as a steady rain moistened the dust and grime on the cobbles outside, making them glisten with an oily sheen. In the murky back room of The Happy Irishman, tucked away on Dublin's Fenian Street, an arsenal was being readied for another move against Oppression, this time at one of the so-called peace conferences the British and the IRA insisted on holding every so often, as a token effort to pacify the masses.

There were crates of AK-47 rifles stacked where Connelly usually kept kegs of beer, and open boxes of bullets waited on the massive and scarred oak table to be loaded into their magazines. Next to the rifles were white sacks of Swiss black powder and a keg of nails, screws, and broken glass destined to become the innards of future pipe bombs. Another crate was full to the top with half-pound blocks of C-4, its putty-like consistency and explosive capacity making it so useful to the Cause.

The atmosphere was charged with anticipation bred of unwavering conviction and decades of perceived oppression. Ideas flew about the room until they drifted down in some semblance of a plan, a plan anchored in ruthless hearts that had grown indifferent towards those innocents who would unexpectedly pay dear in the name of revolution. A malevolent force drifted in the rafters, its presence felt if not recognized in the heavy, humid air. It waited avidly for the moment that was ideal.

There was no need to provoke the self-righteous fervor and burning hatred wafting about the room, buoyed upon the pall of nicotine and whiskey vapors that thickened the air. The negative emotions already fed upon themselves, thriving far better than could be hoped. But alone, they weren't enough. It would take a catalyst to play this out according to the Power’s plans, and the components were already in place. Tangled in the mélange of scents were matchstick sulfur, stall sweat, and an ozone tang drifting in from the outside through gaps in the rafters. The ambiance was ambrosia, promising terror and loathing and the infinite potential for destruction and pain. It also spoke of success…though not, perhaps, in the expected sense.

The gathered men railed and cursed at English oppression and the hypocrisy of the Church. Fanatical in their need to rebel against any and all, they even railed against the IRA, Sinn Fein, and half a dozen other factions, certain in their hubris that all society needed was their own vaunted wisdom and guidance, whether wanted or not. Such was the arrogance of splinter groups everywhere, seeing themselves as the refined essence of the Cause and all who came before as failures at maintaining the purity of their ideals.

Caught up in the heated debate, eyes feverish with zeal, one man absently lit a fresh cigarette and flicked the match across the room as he argued for an attack louder than anyone else gathered there that night. As he continued his animated argument, the still-glowing match sailed in the direction of the weapons and explosives. Fortunately, it fell short. With a curse the leader, standing to the side as he silently observed the uproar to this point, reached over and smacked the man in the back of the head. As he moved, he momentarily bared the tattoo wrapped around his wrist and down the back of his hand-an intricate knotwork pattern of a viper poised to strike. A wisp of satisfaction flavored the air; the leader would be the perfect vessel.

"We'd all o' us care to live long enough to carry this out, Michael, would we na? Pick it up an' watch where ye toss 'em from now on, an’ for crissake, put that cigarette out. There’s loose powder all over the place." With eyes like burnished coal and hair to match, the leader was more than intimidating as he caught the fanatic's eye, more because his strongly molded features betrayed no emotion, than due to his build, which was wiry and of only medium height. But with that cold, hard glint in his eye and the firm confidence to his stance, he seemed much bigger.

With a calculation of its own the malevolent Power surged forward as Michael's gaze faltered. This one must not back down; so easily manipulated, he was integral to the plan. The fear and cowardice must be drowned out and the fury fed. No other in the cell was so well suited for the purpose at hand. Evil seeped through the charged atmosphere of the room, wafting swiftly over the seated man until his gaze grew contemptuous and he eased back in his chair to take the measure of the adversary before him, lingering on the pistol in McDubh's pocket before allowing his gaze to travel back up to lock fiercely with the leader's eyes in determined challenge. Leaning back and propping one foot overtop of the other, he made it quite obvious he wasn't at anyone's beck and call before insolently speaking around his cigarette, keeping his hands free and deceptively at rest on his thighs. "Come now, McDubh, 'tis already gone cold, why would I pick it up for nothin'?"

"If I choose to make an example o' ye, who are ye to say no?" The words were deceptively soft, yet they filled the back room like a diamondback's rattle. " 'Tis a dangerous lack o' forethought ye have. A careless match...a reckless, unsanctioned hit...'tis all the same." With a subtle tilt of his head, John McDubh signaled two cell members nearby. "I do'na take it kindly when my orders are ignored...but maybe ye were'na ignorin' them, then? Were ye? Perhaps 'tis only ye did'na understand? I think I better make myself more clear."

Fear and fury flared to life in Michael's eyes, fed from within and without, as the two men who had closed in to either side of him quickly moved to haul him to his feet. "I do'na know what yer talkin' about! What the hell are ye doin'?" Not a small man, he struggled against their grip with considerable strength, but did not stand a chance as together they were more than his match.

"Do ye think I do'na know 'twas ye behind that hit on the RUC up in Belfast last week? An' right before the peace conference, at that?" The room suddenly fell silent, broken only by the rumbling thunder outside. None of the others had known of this. They had cursed The Murphy himself for their failing luck...until now. The hovering malevolence in the room encouraged the growing wrath. Pinned by so many glowering gazes, Michael redoubled his efforts to get free, but his captors had him wedged firmly between their massive brawn. "What do ye think o' yer timin' now? Already ye've made it twice as hard for us to move against the so-called peace conference. Ye should be kissin' my feet in thanks that all I ask ye to do is pick up a bit o' match." McDubh's black eyes glinted dangerously as his men restrained the troublemaker.

With a surge bordering on glee, the dark force oozed down further into the room, malice dripping like condensation from the rafters, eager to enflame the rebellious glare in Michael's eyes.

Outside, the steady rain became a torrent and the humidity in the air grew even thicker, but not as thick as the tension. The rumble of distant thunder went unnoticed by all.

"Kissin' yer feet? I'd sooner spit on them than kiss them!" and he did so. "Ye're weak as milk toast an' too slow to take a perfect chance when 'tis offered up to ye. 'Tis a man o' action I am, an' yer only sore I've made ye look the coward ye are. Ireland will never be free an it must depend on John McDubh. Ye canna even take me on fair-ye need yer buddies here to give ye a hand."

As Michael raged on, exhaling contempt with every spat word, McDubh merely stood his ground, hands fisted at his sides, shoulders relaxed, eyes hooded. They stood frozen in a tableau eerily limned by green-tinged flashes of lightning slipping through the smallest gaps in the window coverings.

"Are ye sure that's how ye want to be takin’ this, then?" the leader's tone was all the more threatening for its evenness. "Come now, Michael, use a bit o' sense. What do ye gain by fightin' me? Tommy an' Owen would only have given ye a bit o' hurt to remind ye o' yer place. A slow, painful death is what ye can look forward to if ye make me see to ye myself."

"So sure o' yerself, John McDubh, are ye na?" Michael snarled back, his lips still clamped on the cigarette that had led to the confrontation. Straining against the grip of the men holding him, he fell against the table as, responding to a silent signal from their leader, they suddenly released their hold.

He recovered quickly and lunged for his target. Gracefully evading Michael's attack, McDubh snapped a kick at the man's face. He shifted easily around the room, a moving target, providing more opportunity for the bungler to wear himself out. Invigorated by the violence charging the air, the unnoticed Power fed even more anger into the room, nurturing Michael's rage.

A nasty smile danced across his face, half sneer and half maniacal grin, and the cigarette bobbed precariously. "Who says there are no snakes in Ireland?"

"Ach, Mikey, 'tis a snake I'd rather be an' na a worm." The comeback dripped with scorn. A murmur traveled through the group of uneasy witnesses. Seeing the perfect opportunity, the Power reached right into the heart of Michael, drawing out the primal ferocity of Man, suppressing every instinct but for domination.

Unable to stand against the overwhelming impulses flooding his veins, riding on a wave of adrenaline, Michael became the very reflection of the Viking berserker from whom his line had in rape been spawned. Poised to lunge, eyes wild and muscles bunched, something more than just his stance had the observers backing as far from him as they could.

It was an air of satisfaction in the room that would have puzzled the cell members had their attention not been locked upon the conflict taking place before them. Unnoticed above their heads the shadows deepened and writhed like a nest of vipers. Their attention was locked on Michael as he cast away his cigarette and with a bellow barreled into McDubh with his fist driving hard into the man's gut. Shock stole precious seconds and McDubh hesitated a moment too long. Torn between the need to guard himself and the horrible certainty of where the burning cinders would land, McDubh did not evade or defend; instead he fell back onto the edge of the table beneath Michael's rain of blows. He lost sight of the cigarette as table and fighters alike were knocked to the ground, sending the boxes of bullets flying right along with the fists.

With an aim that could not have been better had it been consciously attempted, the cigarette went tip over tail into the stockpiled explosives as the rebel dove for his leader. Horror crept into everyone's eyes as they saw the lit cigarette leaving Michael's hand. For a moment, utter silence filled the air and the rest of the Cell were powerless to intervene, watching in certain dismay as their death tumbled toward an open bag of Swiss black powder. The silence ended with a prophetic boom as a crash of thunder rattled the building.

Mingled with the cacophony of panicked screams was the repeated peals gathering force overhead and the green-tinged lightning continued to slash across the sky. Either foolhardy or brave, the moment they realized their reprieve, select members of the resistance scrambled forward, rushing to snatch away the flame. Others dove for the doors and windows, stumbling over the two men still fighting on the floor, until in horrific parody of the explosive thunder, the powder ignited and drew all but a fortunate few down into a fiery nightmare.

It was as if the night were a black velvet sheet drawn over Dublin...a corner of the sheet was burning. The very air was afire. The demonic roar of the blaze mingled with both the echoes of continuing explosions and the screams of the unsuspecting to create a powerful mimicry of Hell.

In the midst of the chaos the malevolent Power uncoiled completely, rearing up in triumph. Now was the moment; this was the apex of decades of calculated manipulation. Fed on the anguish and horror of those scurrying below, the dark, hovering force that had once been known-and feared-as Dubh, dove into the heart of the inferno to claim McDubh, his fittingly named prize.

Down through the boiling smoke and the consuming flames, slithering through the superheated air, the displaced godling hovered above the burning men. With a tendril of power, he reached out to caress the tortured nerves of his chosen tool. His victim shrieked in agony, drawing the fiery air even deeper into his lungs, only to spasm in worse torment, his body attempting to arch off the ground as much as the dead weight of his adversary would allow. Scorched inside and out he longed for the mercy of death, only to have an insidious voice whisper directly in his mind.

"No, I think not. There shall be no comforting release, neither death nor oblivion will be allowed you, unless I deem it so."

The tendrils of power again slid across the charred surface of what used to be recognizable as John McDubh, firing off every angry, enflamed nerve ending.

"Oh yessss...such sweet suffering...you will do well."

Weaving a spell ancient, powerful, and perfected by millennium of practice, Dubh dipped beneath the surface of the man's thoughts, settling comfortably within the pain-drenched crevices of his mind. Drawing in the awesome energy of agony to achieve possession was a matter of but a thought. It took even less effort to cloak the body in a seeming, hiding its true and hideous condition.

There were none to witness as John McDubh climbed up from beneath the remains of both Michael and the shattered oak table and strolled calmly out of the inferno, to all appearances completely unharmed. Working his way through the choking debris left in the trail of the explosion, the one who wore McDubh like a mask caught sight of his reflection in a tenacious sliver of mirror, warped but still hanging, on the far side of the bar. Taking in the seeming, and knowing what lie beneath it, the Power smiled a particularly nasty smile, thinking, “It’s true what they say…Appearances can most certainly be deceiving.”

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