Angel in Aspic
by Stewart Wilson
The wind howled. The wind had been howling and the rain throwing itself at the earth for the past week without a pause. For Pete Quire it was just another bloody annoyance, making it next to impossible for him to smoke outside. The cheap windows of his fifth floor office rattled in their frames, the old wood letting in one hell of a draught and threw the first two second-year papers on the "To Mark" pile onto the dirty carpet. Pete lit another cigarette and turned from the old computer, setting the papers atop a pile of their fellows and weighting them down with an old graphic calculator.
The old phone – so old it still had a rotary dial – trilled twice. Finally. Six o'clock and office hours gone. Very few students bothered to come see Pete – the building was so old there was no lift, and five flights of stairs was more than enough to deter most students. Gods alone knew that it did for Pete most days. Add to that the natural obscurity that kept people away from the Department of Cruel and Unusual Mathematics save when they really had to be there and the office hours soon became time for Pete to work on his thesis and to play with new forms of numerological magic. But today's instalment was over, and that meant one thing. Time for this magician to drag himself to the pub.
The rain banging against the window didn't make that an attractive prospect. Even with his heavy coat, it was a good quarter hour to the pub, a time that would lead to him getting well and truly drenched. On the other hand, the pub meant beer and conversation, two things that the day had been sorely lacking so far. He grabbed the coat and made for the stairs. The note stuck to the outside of his office door stopped him. A simple folded piece of paper, it read simply "FinD tHE AnGEl", the letters cut out of old newspaper headlines. Pete shrugged, and stuffed the paper in a pocket. Notes like that had gone out of fashion around the time he was born, it was probably a set-up for some stunt by a society. Perhaps the Overground getting ready for a big show. He didn't care too much, preferring to find a seat in a pub.
The rain was worse than it looked, soaking him in seconds. Few people were venturing out in cars, let alone on foot. The rain caught the neon orange, turning the whole city into a monochrome blur of streetlight and shadow. The pub waited somewhere out there, but in this kind of weather anyone but a twenty-year native could wander for a year and never find it. Fortunately, Pete's luck was in and the inside of the pub was warm from the press of bodies. Unfortunately, none of them were people he recognised, save Tony behind the bar.
"Evening, Tony. Pint, if you'd be so good. Where is everyone?"
"I've no idea. They've all buggered off looking for this angel thing."
"You mean those leaflets?"
"Aye. Surely you got one. One eighty."
"I did. Not had a chance to have a proper look at it. Something important? Here you go."
"Well, Johnny thinks it's something to do with the Shoggoth under the palace."
"He would. He thinks everything's something to do with the Shoggoth under the palace. I remember when he went through a whole bog roll in one day and tried to blame the Shoggoth rather than that vindaloo."
"Fair point. Aaron's up in arms about the connections, and Chris is off trying to find the evidence of sacrifices in the parliament building. The others I don't know directly but I assume most of them are trying to find the angel. If it weren't for the weather I might not be here myself."
"For what it's worth I'm glad for the weather."
"So you're not going to look?"
"I will, but when I've got my head together. And when I've finished my pint."
The letters had each been cut from a different headline, each pasted to the simple note. That was the first clue that it wasn't some promotional thing. They'd just stick the whole thing together once and send people round with photocopies. Add to that a faint scent, dulled by the water vapour hanging in the air, and the way in which it had simply materialised on his door without footsteps on the hard stone stairs outside. There was something about the note, that was for sure.
Something about it was tugging at his curiosity, a minor trick to make him and all the others hare off on a scavenger hunt. Let the others look, Pete decided. He had no need to be running around in the cold and the wet when he could instead stay in the pub. He lit a cigarette and sat back. After a couple of hours drinking and smoking an idea finally hit and he slipped his jacket on.
"Tony, what was the name of that lot took over that commune's place below the used bookshop on the South Bridge?"
"The Lightbringers? Nah, not worth it. They're small scale if anything and just about anyone I know doubts the anything. Another?"
"Nah. I have a feeling they're in on this."
"What makes you say that?"
"It adds up. The whole thing, the correspondences behind the names and the whole thing. It just makes sense, if you look at it like a four-dimensional Knight's Walk."
"Don't even start. Bugger off and get wet."
The Lightbringers were a traditional Christian group, of the tambourines and feeling good stripe. The kind to edit the blood and guts out of the bible before preaching just to be sure, and who lead yearly expeditions to Eastern Europe to build houses for the homeless. On the occult scale they didn't measure up. Maybe they knew something, but they didn't persecute the sane half of the underground. The less sane half was too busy ranting at them for daring to be Christian to count.
They were also all dead, their bodies peacefully arranged in what appeared to be a magic sigil. Not a drop of blood spilled. The front door had been open when Pete had tried it and there was something in the air that told him he'd found what he was looking for.
The door to the back was ajar, a faint light the only sign of anything back there. Pete opened it nervously. Behind the door was an angel. Classical beauty, a golden mane of hair and wings as white as snow. It's skin was pale alabaster, though it's hands were slick with what could only be blood. It was stood as still as a statue, glowing softly and breathing only faintly.
"I found you." Pete's opening words weren't the wittiest or indeed what he would have expected to say in this situation. The School of Zen Surrealism was very strict about only believing in angels when absolutely unnecessary, but this was challenging his natural lack of belief in everything.
"You killed those people."
"I did." The angel remained expressionless, it's skin not creasing when it spoke.
"Why ask a question to which you already know the answer?"
"Why answer a question with a question?"
"I had to. You know this already. How else could you have found me?"
"By tracting the numerological correspondences between the likely newspapers that my note was made out of and the various places in the city that most people don't look. It's easy when you think in n-dimensional magician's squares anyway."
"You did not find the signs?"
"What signs? All I found was a tacky note that went out of fashion thirty years ago asking me to locate a being that I only believe in on three days in any given month. Why should I waste perfectly good time in the pub."
"But without the wizard to have passed the initiations the sigil cannot charge! Heaven will never take me back."
"Heaven won't take you back anyway, shiteyes. Murder's against their rules." Pete sighed, lighting a cigarette. "I don't need to be here. I could be sat in my flat watching the telly and trying not to think about the second year essays I should be marking. You're the one made me curious, made me have to find out. Sorry I didn't dance through your little hoops but I really don't like being a tool."
"Without the sigil..."
"Bollocks to your sigil. I've a friend knows Eddie Grayson, and I know Eddie's always up for the old specimens of occult flora and fauna. He preserves them. You're soon going to be the pride of his collection, the Angel in Aspic, and I'm going to give him a ring right now. I'm not having this."
"What makes you think he will listen?"
"He will. What made you think we were such sheep?"
"It was always human nature to follow wherever you were pointed."
"Maybe so. Bad idea picking on a magician in that case, though. Just be glad I got here before Johnny. He'd think you were just another part of the Shoggoth beneath the palace and would have his pants around his ankles in no time. He's been trying to fuck that thing to death with a sacred union for years, and you would have been just another conquest."
"What world is this in which men do such things?"
"This is the world where an angel can kill twenty Christians and think that the Presence is going to let him back in. I've forgiven a lot of things, but nobody I know forgives a killer."