Read Book 1 - The Man With the Golden Torc Online

Authors: Simon R. Green

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Book 1 - The Man With the Golden Torc

BOOK: Book 1 - The Man With the Golden Torc
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The Man with the Golden Torc

By: Simon R. Green

Book 1 of The Secret Histories

Chapter 1
Everything but a Bunch of Grapes

It started out as just another everyday mission. A certain Very
Important Politician, whose face and name you’d recognise, had come, very
secretly, to Harley Street in London. Home to some of the most expert, and
certainly some of the most expensive, specialised medical care in the whole of
the civilised world. This politician, let’s call him Mr. President, and no not
the one you’re thinking of, had himself booked into the Hospice of Saint
Baphomet under an assumed name after contracting a supernatural venereal disease
during a goodwill tour of Thailand. He was stupid enough to slip his handlers’
leash and go looking for a little fun in the backstreet bars of Bangkok, and
unlucky enough to end up getting it on with an agent of darkness masquerading as
a ladything. As a result of which, Mr. President was now very heavily pregnant
with something the very opposite of a love child. I had been ordered to
terminate this unnatural pregnancy with extreme prejudice. The offspring was not
to be born, or if born, not allowed to run loose in the material world.

I’d been supplied with a gun, and I was expected to use it.

(How did we find out about this? My family knows everything.
That’s its job. And when you’ve been fighting the good fight for as many
centuries as we have, you can’t help but accumulate an extensive network of
sources and informers.)

I strolled casually down Harley Street, hiding in plain sight.
No one looked twice at me; no one ever does. I’ve been trained to blend in, to
be just another face in the crowd. I was wearing a nicely anonymous three-piece
suit, expensive enough to fit in but not stylish enough to draw attention. I
strode down Harley Street like I had every right to be there, so everyone else
just assumed I did. It’s all about attitude, really. You can fit in anywhere
with the right attitude. It helps that I have the kind of face that always
reminds you of someone else: average, pleasant, nothing to jog your memory
afterwards. An agent’s face.

It’s all in the training. You too could learn to look like
nobody in particular, if you wanted to.

It was the lazy end of a summer afternoon in London. Pleasantly
warm under a pale blue sky, with just a hint of breeze. Traffic roared by in the
background, but the street itself was relatively calm and quiet. There were
taxis, squat black London cabs, dropping people off and picking them up, men and
women of all nationalities carefully minding their own business. And a large
percentage who weren’t men or women or anything like it. You’d be surprised how
many monsters walk plainly in open sight every day, hidden from mere mortal gaze
by only the flimsiest of illusions. But I’m a Drood, and I wear the golden torc
around my throat, so I can use the Sight to see everything, for as long as I can
stand it.

An elf lord was getting out of a taxi just a few feet away,
looking tall and regal in his glowing robes. He had pointed ears, all-black
eyes, and a look on his face of utter contempt for all humankind. He paid off
the taxi driver with a large denomination note, waving away the change with
aristocratic disdain. The driver had better bank that note quickly, before it
touched cold iron and turned back into a leaf or something. Elves live to screw
over humanity; it’s all they’ve got left.

Up and down the street, ghosts walked in and out of walls that
weren’t there when they were alive, trapped in their repetition like insects in
amber. Just echoes in time. Demons rode unsuspected on people’s backs, their
spurred heels dug deep into shoulder and back muscles, whispering into their
mount’s ears. You could always tell which mounts were listening; their demons
were fat and bloated. One man had the beginnings of a halo. He was escorting a
friend with stigmata. It’s moments like that which give you hope. An alien with
gray skin and big black eyes appeared out of nowhere, clutching a London A-Z in
a three-fingered hand. Harley Street’s reputation stretches farther than you’d
think.

None of them paid me any attention. I told you; I’ve been
trained.

There are times when I wonder if it might not be nice to live a
normal life, with only normal worries and responsibilities, and not have to know
all the things I know. Not to have to see all the darkness in the world. To be
one of the sheep, and not the shepherd. But, on the other hand, I get to know
what’s really going on and who the real bad guys are, and I get to kick their
nasty arses on a regular basis. Which makes up for a lot.

Harley Street is still mostly a long row of Georgian terraces
with expensively bland anonymous facades. There are hardly any names on display;
either you know where you’re going, or you don’t belong there. The heavy,
secretly reinforced doors only open to buzzers when you know the right words to
say, you can’t see in through any of the windows, and many of these venerable
establishments are guarded and protected in ways you don’t even want to think
about.

Those were the ones that interested me.

I studied the Hospice of Saint Baphomet from a safe distance
while apparently listening to my mobile phone. Wonderful things; the perfect
excuse for just standing around with a blank look on your face. There wasn’t any
point in even approaching the hospice’s front door. I could See layer upon layer
of seriously hard-core defences set in place. The kind that don’t even leave a
body to identify. Imagine oversized magical man-traps with really big teeth and
a built-in mean streak. The sort of defences you’d expect around a hospital that
specialised in weird and awful diseases; the kind you really don’t want the rest
of the world to know about.

So I decided to break into the building next door to Saint
Baphomet’s, a smaller and even more specialised practice, Dr. Dee & Sons & Sons.
They dealt strictly with exorcisms; very strictly, by all accounts. (Their
motto: We Get the Hell Out.) Their defences were just as strong but more
concerned with keeping things in, than keeping people out, on the perfectly
logical grounds that only a madman would want to get in. Most people had to be
dragged in, kicking and screaming all the way. But then, I’m not most people. I
put away my mobile phone and glanced up and down the street, but as always
everyone else was far too caught up in their own important business to spare any
interest for a nobody like me. So I just slipped into the deserted narrow
alleyway beside Dr. Dee’s and activated my living armour.

Most of the time it lies dormant as a golden circlet around my
throat. A torc, in the old language. Invisible to anyone who’s not a member of
the Drood family or at the very least a seventh son of a seventh son. (There
don’t seem to be many of those around anymore. I blame family planning.) I
subvocalised my activating Words, and the living metal in the torc spread out to
cover my whole body, embracing me in a moment from head to toe. It’s a warm,
refreshing feeling, like pulling on an old familiar coat. As the golden mask
covered my head and face, I could see even more clearly, including all the
things that are normally hidden from even gifted humans like me. I felt
stronger, sharper, more alive, like waking from a pleasant doze into full
alertness. I felt like I could take on the whole damned world and make it cry
like a baby.

The armour is the secret weapon of the Drood family. It makes
our work possible. The armour is given to each of us right after we’re born,
bonded forever to our nervous systems and our souls, and while we wear the
armour we’re untouchable, protected from every form of attack, scientific or
magical. It also makes us incredibly strong, amazingly fast, and utterly
undetectable. Most of the time.

With the armour on I look like a living statue, golden and
glorious, with no joints or moving parts and not a weak spot anywhere in its
whole smooth, gleaming surface. There aren’t even any eye or breathing holes in
the golden mask that covers my face. I don’t need them. While I wear it, the
armour is me. It’s a second skin, insulating me from a dangerous world.

Looking through the mask, I could now clearly see the huge demon
dog guarding the back door to Dr. Dee’s. Night dark, big as a bus, and bulging
with muscles, it sprawled across the cobbled square, glaring suspiciously about
it with a flat brutal face and flaring hellfire eyes. It was gnawing lazily on a
human thighbone that still had some meat left on it. More bones lay scattered
before the dog, broken open to get at the marrow. I had a fleeting but very real
temptation to grab one of the bones, throw it, and shout Fetch! just to see what
would happen. But I rose above it. I am, after all, a professional.

I walked right up to the demon dog, and it couldn’t see or hear
or smell me. Which was just as well, really. I wasn’t looking for a fight. Not
with anything that big and infernally nasty, anyway. I eased past the dog,
careful not to touch it. The armour does have its limitations. I studied the
locked back door. Very old, very intricate, very secure. Piece of cake. I
reached through my golden side with my golden hand, easy as plunging my hand
into water, and took out the Hand of Glory I’d been sent by the family Armourer,
just for this mission. The Hand of Glory is a human hand cut off a hanged man
right after he’s died, and then treated in certain unpleasant ways so that the
fingers become candles. Light these candles, in the right way and with the right
Words, and the Hand of Glory can open any lock, reveal any secret. The family
makes these awful things out of the bodies of our fallen enemies. We do other
things with the bodies too, really quite appalling things. Just another reason
not to get us mad at you.

I lit the candles and subvocalised the Words, and the demon dog
raised its blunt head and sniffed suspiciously at the still air. I froze, and
the dog slowly lowered its brutal head again. The lock had already opened
itself, so I pushed the door gently inwards. The dog didn’t even look around. I
eased inside and pulled the door softly shut behind me. It locked itself again,
and I relaxed a little. I could probably take a demon dog, with my armour, but I
didn’t feel like testing that probably unless I absolutely had to. Demon dogs
are trained to go for the soul.

I tucked the Hand of Glory away and studied my new surroundings.
Dr. Dee’s was dark and gloomy, and the bare stone walls of the hallway ran with
damp and other fluids. There were rusted iron grilles in the bare stone floor,
to carry them away. I headed forward, and it was like walking into a
slaughterhouse of the soul. This was a place where bad things happened on a
regular basis. A place where really bad things happening was just business as
usual.

I moved silently down the long stone hallway, reached the blunt
corner at the end, and emerged into a cavernous hall filled with row upon row of
boxlike cages, each just big enough to hold one man, or woman, or child. The
bars of the cages were solid silver, as were the heavy shackles that held their
prisoners secure. The only light came from a great iron brazier at the far end
of the hall, glowing bloodred in the gloom around the long-handled instruments
of instruction that the brazier was heating. I moved steadily down the narrow
central aisle between the two rows of cages, carefully not looking to the left
or to the right. There were no innocents here. These were the possessed, Hell’s
playthings, brought here to be freed of their burden. One way or another.

Most of them couldn’t see me, so they didn’t bother to put on an
act. But one dark hulking figure raised its mutilated head and stared right at
me with eyes that glowed as golden as my armour. It spoke to me, and I shuddered
at the sound. Its voice was like an angel with syphilis, like a rose with a
cancer, like a bride with teeth in her vagina. It promised me things, wonderful
awful things, if only I would set it free. I kept on walking. It laughed softly
in the darkness behind me, like a small child.

Following the layout I’d memorised earlier, I moved on up a
floor into the residential part of the building, where recovering patients were
coaxed back to sanity. Everywhere I looked I could see ghost images of hidden
defence systems, ready to spring into action at just the hint of an intruder.
Only my armour prevented Dr. Dee’s security from setting off any number of
alarms and retributions. There were cameras everywhere, of course, including
infrared, and they were tied into the holy-water sprinkler system, but my armour
redefines the word stealth. No one sees me unless I want them to.

Soon enough I came to the wall connecting Dr. Dee’s to Saint
Baphomet’s, and all I had to do was take out the portable door the Armourer had
sent me and slap it against the wall. It spread quickly out to form a perfectly
normal-looking door complete with brass handle. I opened it, stepped through
into the next building, and then peeled the door off the wall. It shrank quickly
back into a small rubbery ball of something far too complicated for me to
understand, and I put it back in my pocket. My family has the best toys. All I
had to do then was follow the layout of Saint Baphomet’s I’d memorised to take
me straight to Mr. President’s room.

BOOK: Book 1 - The Man With the Golden Torc
4.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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