by Stewart Wilson
Jack awoke with a start in his shabby bedroom. He'd been an idiot to rent a place in London and then visit the Metropolis from it, the connection had flared so brightly in the infinite city that the Archon barely had to look for him.
It felt like a dream. It always did, that was one of the human mind's safeguards. But Jack knew that it wasn't. He had gone through the whole thing, three months of having his body twisted at the Archon's whim, nothing but a meat-puppet for the thing. He hadn't been through worse in this world, but he knew that he had been through worse on other Earths. And for all that the creature had done to him, the clockworks would do worse to Anna.
Fuck. Anna. She'd gone in to save him and was now just a puppet for humanity's jailers. She'd sacrificed herself for him. Jack hoped he wouldn't disappoint.
Rain banged on the window, the start of another storm. Electrolum signs in the kebab shop window across the way smeared as water flowed down the glass, along with the streetlight outside the window they were the only illumination in the room. The room's bulb had been dead for the past few days, and the cheap wallpaper was cast in a dull orange glow. Jack grabbed his coat and hat and made for the street.
Water soaked Jack in seconds through his coat, a traditional English downpour. He didn't need much, not now he knew what the whole deal was with Metropolis. It was all just timing, the same as ever. Wait for the right moment, the apex of history, and throw a spanner in the works to stop control winning another world.
Manui's place was a new flat in a posh part of town. Jack took the tube rather than a taxi, and knocked on the back door. Behind him, a patch of wasteland where an old row of houses had been demolished. Nobody had started building there yet, but it was only a matter of time. Inside, the flat was very stylish, dripping money. Jack remembered when the old occultist slept in an old car. Obviously some of his clients had made good.
"Jack. Long time no see, old son." Money hadn't changed Manui's manner, or his deep-lined an unshaven face.
"Yeah, it's been a while. Looks like things have turned out all right for you."
"The Gods watch over a bastard, you know? One minute I'm reading a guy's cards for a laugh, the next he's given me half of the cash he won on a particularly high stakes card game."
"Fuck my arse. Why didn't I hear about that?"
"He was fucked up on five kinds of drugs at the time, including some that came out of Thatcher's old demonology program. He was torn apart by some kind of creature two days later."
"Yeah. I didn't even have time to set something on him to give me the rest."
"They say a lot of things about you, Manui. But let nobody ever say you were a kind sod."
"Gods I hope not. Anyway. You didn't come to see me just to play catch-up. What's going on?"
"I'm going to need some supplies."
"I want to kick a Sephirot in the nuts."
"You're fucking crazy."
"I'm as sane as ever. Don't ask me to explain. There's a group of mad bastards going to give the Black Madonna enough power to give her dominion over the Earth."
"Oh good. I thought you'd gone stark raving bonkers."
"Fuck off and sell me something."
"Fair enough. What do you think you need?"
"Some of Thatcher's demon-dust, to start with. A couple of pages of the Crown and the Greater Key without the psychic resonance that my copy has picked up. And anything you have on explosive magic. Oh, and as many charged nine-millimetre rounds as you've got."
"It'll cost you."
"Here. Bank account details for every penny I have. I won't be coming back."
"You're serious about this shit."
"It's magic, Manui. I always am."
"Give me a few to get it all together. Kettle's just through there, you can make us both a cup of tea."
By the time Jack left it was gone midnight. The paperwork was stuffed in an old duffel bag, the bullets already loaded into his pistols. Tonight, there would be violence.
He didn't expect to hear Anna's voice.
"Jack. Jack, is that you?"
He looked over. There she was, shining in some weird light. As perfect as the day they'd met. Shining, like a beacon. he as drawn to her, slipping through the chain fence. She called him again.
Something's wrong. That thought prickled the back of Jack's mind, but he couldn't place what. He was just so glad to see Anna again. His magician come back to him from the Never-ending City. How, why, none of it mattered.
Blood oozed onto the rubble as Anna's skin split. Her shoulders warped, four extra arms bursting through the prison of stolen flesh. The Archon that had been Jack's jailer stretched, throwing the remains of Anna's bloody skin to the ground.
You will spend an eternity in Binah's citadel. Your screams will be music to my mistress.
The words arrived in his brain without passing through the intervening space. This was it. This Archon was going to drag him back to the Metropolis and everything would come crashing down. The Sephirot would be undone, the world would be enslaved to the Black Madonna, imposing her wisdom on humanity. The black-iron talons of the creature sliced the air in front of Jack's face. He pulled both guns and fired four times, bullets slicing through muscle and smoked glass to shatter the thing's body.
Jack ran, not wanting to see if it followed. Onto the tube and back to his flat to pick up the last of his supplies. Learning from his earlier mistake, he didn't stay. The tube again, pick a random stop and find the nearest abandoned building. There.
The remains of Thatcher's mystic program were easy to prepare. Blood and saliva triggered the magic deep within them, the beasts throwing off enough psychic static that other earthbound servitors couldn't locate him. A heptagram in blood, another mystic circle, and finally something he'd picked up while looking over the explosive magic. With all that done, Jack closed his eyes, and awakened.
The city was the same as before. A nightmare of non-euclidean streets, impossible towers that once housed humanity now reduced to ruin, at best home to Archons and Razorbirds. Binah's temple stood out against the unfamiliar sky, taller than any other building that Jack could see. He stepped forwards, ready for the clockworks and the other creatures that would come for any human that found their way into the Infinite City.
Each bullet tore through one of the nightmare beings, leaving a trail of slumped forms on the ground between his entry point and the Citadel of the Black Madonna. From within, the sounds of family and community, hymns and other songs that people traditionally gathered to. The doors opened as Jack approached, an inviting old woman beckoning him in. The heptagram from the fresh Crown shielded him from the illusions of Metropolis, and he saw the maggots crawling over the food arranged on tables behind her. He went to her anyway, wondering why she looked like his grandmother. His grandmother was long dead, maybe that was why.
He stepped through the doors and waited for them to seal shut behind him.
"Binah, the Black Madonna. She who is understanding and who knows best for all." A statement. He had to be sure.
"I am, but for a returning King I will not require such formality Come, eat."
"Before I do, there is one thing I must do."
"What is that? Your thoughts are blank to me."
Jack dropped the bag. One stick of dynamite rolled from the open top, covered in sigils to ensure it's potency.
"Kyrie eleison, Binah. You finally tried to fly too high with the world in your arms. Malkuth says 'Hi', and 'fuck you'." His finger squeezed the detonator, and the world turned white.