Nico's card

One side had the band's name on it in blackletter, adorned with curliques and flourishes.  The other side had Nico's name, a contact number, the web-site address I'd found on my initial search for him, and a logo of some kind: a variant caduceus where the heads of the snakes had been replaced with the heads of chickens.  I shivered, I'd seen that logo used elsewhere as a seal or signature of some kind.  I had a good idea where I'd find it again, and I was just about to go upstairs to my library when someone knocked on the front-door.  I paused, wondering if I expected visitors and coming up blank, and then the knock came again, a little quieter than before.  I slipped the chain on the door and opened it, peering through the gap that the chain allowed.  Outside, looking almost as scared as I felt, was a girl about DeeDee's age.

"Are you DeeDee's uncle?" she said, chewing something determinedly and staring at the ground.

"Yes.  You are?"

"Jenn, DeeDee's friend.  Look, my mum said that DeeDee's mum said you were finding out what happened, right, and I just thought you ought to know it was that guitar what did it."  She stared harder at the ground.

"The midnight blue one?"

"Yeah, she only barely touched it and then she fell over and couldn't talk properly."  Her mouth worked a moment or two longer, and then, "That's just what I thought you should know.  That's all."  She turned and ran, disappearing from sight along the road before I could react.  I closed the door and carried on upstairs, all of sudden worried about the logo and the guitar and what it all meant.

My library is a tiny little box room that has walls lined with bookcases and just enough room for a chair and a small electric heater.  There are shelves of books above the window as well, and all of the shelves are tight with books.  I sighed softly and pulled a book out from a shelf above the window.  Opening it to the back page, I slipped a slim key out of a little plastic envelope glued there, and unlocked the glass doors on the middle bookcase.  They only protect two shelves, but the glass is toughened to deter all but serious burglars.  Out of the little cabinet the doors created I took a couple of ancient volumes, and carefully laid them down on the chair.  As I did so, a third book that had been sticking to one of the others fell out and landed on the floor.  I picked it up and my fingertips tingled; it was the text that the man in the cell in the Ilmatu city had given me.  I put it back on the shelf and tried to ignore the screams at the edges of my thoughts.

I found the logo quickly in older of the two books, the one with wooden boards.  It was one of many symbols associated with the Black Pharaoh; this one seemed to have been used infrequently until the fifteenth century and then it had fallen out of use altogether.  It could just be a coincidence.  As could the strange lyrics the band were going to sing, a band-name redolent of trouble and a guitar that caused comas, if Jenn was to be believed.  A guitar that had turned up along with Nico.  I put the books back away, locking the cabinet and returning the key to its hiding place, but couldn't shake the feeling that I was going to have to go to the gig again tonight:  Lady Cthulhu's last night playing here.

"Take it, take it with you.  It can't help me now."  The man in the cell had thrust it at me after shouting GO! like a madman.  I took it, a thin book with a title in Finnish that I translated as The Binding of Spirits.  "Now go, please, just go."

We ran on again at that point, and though I can't remember the twists and turns we took, I finally found a staircase that spiralled tightly round a stone column and emerged at the top in fresh air again.  The sleds were just visible in the distance, and were just as we left them.  I took one and left the rest, hoping that Raininen and the others would escape as well, and drove it as fast as I could back to Ilvo, not stopping to sleep, grateful that this far north there was virtually no darkness.

In Ilvo I read the text, not understanding the words but comprehending the intent, and when the Ilmatu opened the door to the hotel room Guldtronen and I were staying in, a strange radiance surrounding her and the desk-clerk's eyes embedded in her hands, I opened the book and began to read.  She screamed at the words, and kept screaming as I read; even when something around her twisted in a way my brain refused to follow and she went a very long way away while barely moving at all I could still hear her screaming.  When I said the last syllable, my mouth suddenly as dry as the desert, and closed the book there was a echoing slam like the closing of a tomb, and still the screaming continued.  But the Ilmatu was no longer standing the doorway, and Guldtronen had collapsed on the floor.

The screaming was louder again now, as it always was when I was near the book.  I left my library and brewed up coffee, expecting that this evening would be as long as yesterday's.

The End

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