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Dr. Railsbach sighed and tried to stuff back his boredom. Once you grow accustomed to the pitiful mewling of lost souls, you are supposed to be able to withstand anything. That's why they have a special school for it. One could get over the pity, but never the crushing sense of the inconsequentiality of it all. Simpering Satan, who cared what happened to any particular homo sapiens, much less the entire lot of them? Railsbach paused, struggling with the fact that the troubled house he was visiting was the only place remaining in the entire sap world where they still performed the dance of the dead. He shook off his quirky moment of sad bemusement; he was impatient to get back to his work on the 21st floor of the obsidian tower adjacent to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and figured he was not entirely responsible for his thoughts. Still, he was an old and experienced player, and he knew he wasn't going to get away from the party without performing at least the obligatory bowing and scraping.
Dr.Railsbach was nearly six feet tall, well-groomed, with healthy pink skin and a full head of snow-white hair. If things were as they appeared, he might have been in his late sixties; and, were it not for a small, foreign glitter in the remote depths of his light blue eyes, he would have the look of a benign pharmacist, a man you could trust to dispense antibiotics or point you to a hot water bottle. But in Railsbach's case, appearances were only skin-deep. He had been spawned nearly six hundred and fifty years before; his body coating cleverly hid a dark gray carapace that was both insect-like and demonic in appearance, and his perfectly modulated voice emanatedfrom a cybernetic voice box designed to produce the impossibly light sounds of human conversation.
Railsbach moved away from the shadow of Sir Albert's house, savoring the heat of the distant sun as if it were brimstone's own nectar. The structure itself, for all its elegant looks, gave him the dry sweats, reeking as it did with the passing smudge of generations of doomed human spirits. He knew he was supposed to enjoy the scent, but he didn't. Just another of his little quirks, a disquieting shibboleth he kept to himself lest it bring him unwanted attention or-Hell help us-remedial action.
Railsbach was well aware of the fact that this wasn't the kind of place where one would expect to find demons of any sort. In the first place, the huge home was located in Southern California near winding Mulholland Drive, on a level pad above the dry sage and stunted oak slopes north of Beverly Hills. Beverly Fricking Hills, for Bub's sake! as the new spawn would say.
Not that Ferngate wasn't unusual, in and of its own right; a looming English Tudor is as out of place on those oxygen-drenched and sun-scorched slopes as a fig leaf on a rock star's crotch. Railsbach bit down on the subject, realizing the extent of his boredom. He wanted to get back to his offices so badly, the sulfur was curling in his brain, back to his wonderful few rooms where the critical experiments of his long and generally not very rewarding career hung in the balance.
Railsbach reluctantly turned away from the broad green lawns and the gardens and made his way back inside, heading toward the festivities and idly glancing as he went at the dark walnut wainscoting, the heavy old cut crystal chandeliers, and the deeply carved Jacobean tables and sideboards.
He returned to the study just as Speth the assassin swung by, a graceful picture of lean menace. Railsbach tried to pretend an absorbing interest in the nearest oil painting, but Speth snagged him neatly, approaching too closely with the translator's dare and handing him a glass frothing with hot, dark liquid.
"Old Albert sure knows how to desecrate a room," Speth sneered.
Railsbach wanted to reply that Speth's own tastes ran more to sap nudes painted in Day-Glo on velvet, but he bit the thought off sharply. Nothing good comes from angering an assassin. Instead, he retreated to a polite stance just out of lash range and spoke politely.
"I think there is some merit in some of these..."
"'Some merit in some of these'," Speth echoed, his voice heavily coated in mockery.
"I think so," Railsbach said, moving on to inspect the next painting, which was of a Renaissance picnic in the roofless ruins of an ancient palace. To his dismay, Speth moved with him. The oversized oils were painted in the manner of Thomas Coventry, English countryside scenes with ant-like peasants diminished by gigantic boils of ancient forest stands and threatened by enormous, mushrooming death-white clouds. Railsbach paused before a notable rendition of a pack of pitiless hounds tearing at something that might have been a fox or a small sap , and another depicting somewhat larger wolfhounds swirling around a bloodied brown bear. These paintings were darker than their original intent, as over the centuries they had become smoke-dried and varnish-cracked. Railsbach moved on to study a faded tapestry featuring a naked, dreaming lady with floating hair and one hand cupped coyly below her abdomen, the ornate stitchwork laudable for the vague sense of peril which oozed from the too-big cabbage roses and the fence of thorns which made up its border.
"I'd love to eviscerate her in Cupid's name," Speth growled, spitting into a nearby potted fern.
"Come on, Kelp," Speth said impatiently, calling Railsbach by his old otherside, or hellside, name as he moved inside range and took his arm, "Let's go plague Felney." They were old flankers, and Speth casually broke the common rules of space and courtesy that his kind had built up over the ages to keep from killing each other. And worse, from Railsbach's point of view, Speth the assassin talked in shorthand. Go, No Go. Hit, Run. Translate, Rollover. Railsbach liked ornate language, disliked the fact that Speth had effortlessly gotten close enough to invade his space and encircle his arm, and most of all hated being called Kelp, which was his ancient spawn name. But as usual he said nothing, and Speth easily led them through the dancers.
Copyright © 2008 John Klawitter.