Chapter Fifty

Black Tom condensed himself down into the first chamber at the top of the Silent Tower. Winston Watt may have channeled himself across miles through the medium of earth, but he still had to climb a dozen flights of stairs before he’d reach the King’s Chambers, so non-corporeal Tom beat him to the top by a handy margin. He couldn’t tell where the Archon Lyssa had gotten to, either, even though he’d sensed this place as a destination in her mind as well, right before she winked out of existence.

What really surprised him was finding Hannah up here, well ahead of anybody else. She was standing at the door between the rooms and staring through. Lia hadn’t sent her; Tom was certain he would’ve picked up on such a memory had it existed anywhere inside either of their heads. The only sign of Dexter Graves in evidence was a deflated mound of clothing and bones that lay on the floor at the lady’s feet.

Did that mean Graves had gone over already? Made a deal with el Rey? Not yet, Tom thought, although Hannah seemed to believe they might be negotiating when he touched her mind.

She wasn’t focused on Graves at the moment, however. She was instead remembering the Crouchers Lia had taught her how to feed. Recalling the shock of wonder that accompanied the experience.

Tom could guess at what she was about to do next and he dreaded seeing the results, although he also knew that Hannah couldn’t really help herself. He understood the fascination she felt as she stood there at the boundary between the worlds. His Lia had always been possessed of that same sort of curious nature.

Hannah put her hand through the doorway to the inner office. The air seemed to ripple around it, as if she’d touched a plane of glassy-still, vertically-suspended water. But her hand went through, and on the other side it looked to be just fine. The flesh stayed on her fingers. It was hard to say that anything unusual had happened at all.

She put her face through next. Panic spiked Tom in the chest and he leapt toward her instinctually, even though he knew he’d have no chance of pulling her back if going over was her intention. He was no more substantial than a breeze.

Hannah wasn’t yet that bold, however. She stayed right there on the threshold but opened her eyes, like a child dunking her head to look around underwater. She gasped in surprise at what she saw.

Tom touched her thoughts and shared the vision with her. The second chamber was not an office anymore but rather the old inner sanctum of the Temple of Mictlantecuhtli, as Tom had known it back in its Hole in the Sky days. The carved altar stone crouched where the desk had been, and a rough doorway in the wall beyond it had replaced the illusion of panoramic windows. The impression of modernity the King liked to affect was gone: a projection visible from the first room only.

Hannah pulled her head back across the threshold. She looked all right, as far as Tom could see. He could further tell, from both her expression and her thoughts, that the fancy, well-lit office with the desk was once again what she saw on the doorway’s far side. One image replaced the other as soon as her eyes crossed the dividing line. It was like seeing two television channels switched back and forth.

“Huh,” she said.

Then she bent over and retrieved Graves’ lighter from his bone pile, digging it out from the inner pocket of his ratty, crumpled raincoat. She clutched it to her heart as she straightened up and faced the doorway. She took a single deliberate step inside, setting one foot onto the inner chamber’s stone floor and then planting the second right down beside it. Tom cringed, expecting to see her flesh slide away from her bones like so much loose sand, the way his friend Ramon’s had done so many years ago.

Hannah’s skin didn’t do that, though, and after a few seconds she opened her eyes again. She seemed unchanged, to both her own and to Tom’s very great relief.

Behind her, back in the realworld, shred-faced Winston Watt burst into the outer office, banging the bloodstained door off the wall. His black sweatshirt and jeans looked beige with embedded dirt.

Hannah whirled around at the percussive sound of his entrance.

Watt saw Graves’ cigarette lighter in her hand. He pulled a gun from inside his soil-caked sweatshirt and marched right into Mictlan without undergoing any more metamorphosis when he stepped through the portal than Hannah had a moment before. Tom was indistinct enough to go undetected by both of them.

Hannah put her hands up, clutching the lighter in the left one, when the desiccated gunman shoved his weapon into her face.

“I thought only a bonafide dirtwitch or whatever he called it is supposed to be able to walk through that door,” she said to him, shying back as far as she could without letting her ass come into contact with the grisly altar.

Winston ripped off the remainder of his Xavier mask, sunglasses and all, revealing the bare and eyeless skull beneath it. “Here’s my dirty little secret,” he said over Hannah’s involuntary shriek. “Now what, pray tell, is yours?”

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