Hephaestus – Trismegistus, Part 5
I reflected that I had experienced worse that day than to lie on a couch, my head resting in Becca’s lap.
The events that had led up to that situation had thrilled me less. As I had advanced stealthily down the hallway, approaching both my people and the demon-mummy, Becca herself had inadvertently blinded me. Since I had adjusted my eyes to see in virtually absolute darkness, her ordinary flashlight had sufficed to cripple me. My eyes had blazed with agony from the impact of that ordinary, tame shaft of battery-powered, incandescent light. I suspected that my sight would return before long, but for the time being, I could only wait.
I continued to shield my eyes as a cloud of apologies surrounded me and hands steered me gently into a room. I truly did not know what they looked like, but I doubted that they could pass for anything mortal. For concealment and to ease the burning once I lowered my hands, I kept my eyes firmly shut.
“How many people are here,” I asked Becca, “besides us?”
“Six,” she replied calmly. “Everyone in the building, I think, or almost.”
Good, I thought. I’d hoped to take her mind off of me by steering her focus toward everyone else. “I saw Audrey, the receptionist, earlier,” I said, “up on the top sub-level. She should be fine.”
“That’s good,” Becca answered. “I’d wondered about her. But what about you?”
“Give me a few minutes,” I assured her, “and I’ll be fine.”
In fact, my eyes did feel better already. The burning sensation had begun to subside, and I grew more convinced by the moment that no ill effects would remain.
“I hope you’re right,” Becca said. The worry had returned to her voice; she had no reason to share my confidence that I was only disabled in the short term.
“So, you’ve had light to see by,” I stated rather than asked. In the last few minutes, nothing had been more obvious. While I healed, though, I wanted to distract Becca from worrying about me.
“The one flashlight,” she responded simply, “one cigarette lighter, and people’s phones, of course. We’re trying to save the batteries on those because we have no way to charge them.”
“I’ll be able to start the power back up,” I told her, “as soon as I can take out our one remaining intruder. The other two are dead already.” In fact, I felt less confident about that third demon-mummy than I chose to sound. I had lost my weapon; I would have to tackle it with my bare hands, relying on divine strength and speed. Well, those are not bad advantages to have, are they?
Becca gave a short bark of laughter. “This morning, my biggest concern was my divorce. Then my workplace gets invaded by…creatures…and we have to hide from them in the dark. Working here has been many things, but it’s never been boring, I have to tell you.”
I cleared my head of intriguing thoughts that Becca’s mention of her recent divorce had triggered. This was what I had intended. I needed her and the others to concentrate on their own worries, and leave the central problems to me.
As my eyes continued to feel better, I encouraged Becca to speak of the others, to share their fears and worries. Fortunately, none of those included any serious problems. Most had already called home, telling their families simply that they would be working late. As always, their confidence that I would solve the problem had shone through in their actions. I wondered for a moment if any of the other gods experienced such satisfaction in this day and age. Not to be worshipped, but to live as a simple leader among a team of bright, driven mortals. What could be better?
I told my people what I could, describing the demon-mummies without sharing all that I knew about them. I also spoke of a friend and ally working with us, but withheld the great age of our acquaintance. Having covered the essentials of our plight, I knew that they would not need to hear more. They knew enough, yet not too much, for me to keep them safe.
Presently, the pain in my eyes ceased and on an impulse, I snapped them wide open. Much to my relief, I saw what I had hoped and expected to see: the ceiling above me. The lighting was dim but adequate, suggestive of the aforementioned single flashlight.
I sat up from Becca’s lap, not without a tinge of regret. Nonetheless, I gave a smile intended to reassure, and rose to my feet. “I’m all right.”
Becca likewise stood, the relief plain on her face. Behind her, the other five who had remained silent moved forward. Almost in unison, they began to chatter in relief and gratitude.
I raised a hand for silence and got it. “Would it be possible,” I asked, “for me to borrow that flashlight?”
Someone activated the light on a cellphone, and then switched off the flashlight and handed it to Becca. Without a word, she extended the light to me, the gesture both an offer and an appeal.
I accepted the flashlight, thanked Becca, and told everyone, “Hopefully, I can clear this up quickly. Stay put, all of you, and keep quiet.” Then, as the expected wave of protestations began, I quickly strode to the door and exited the room.
I made as little noise as possible, closing the door behind me and turning on the flashlight. Obviously, the noise that the others and I had made recently would have alerted the demon. It would be lying in wait nearby; I sensed its presence already. A moment of concentration sufficed to pinpoint its location: one door down, across the hall.
As quietly as I could, I advanced slowly to the closed door. Inspecting it closely, I found just what I had expected. Like the rest of this building, constructed to my specifications, the metallic door and the frame looked as solid and sturdy as a tank. Not even I could simply ram a shoulder against the door and hope to smash it down.
In keeping with my former role as the blacksmith of the gods, I do have an inherent ability to heat metal in my sight. In seconds, for example, I could reduce the door’s hinges to yellow-hot liquid pooling on the floor. Then shoving the door aside and dashing in would cost me little effort. That would hardly be inconspicuous, however, so I would lose any element of surprise left to me. Much more quickly than that, I could simply yank the door open and run in.
After a moment of consideration, I chose exactly that as my plan. I grasped the door handle and began to turn it as slowly and nearly silently as possible. A second later, my hand met unstoppable resistance and the knob no longer turned. The door was locked!
I abandoned stealth as a lost cause. Concentrating on the latch and the bolt, I heated them to a glow. Dull red, then brighter red, through orange into brilliant yellow—finally, the molten steel dripped down from the knob. I crashed into the door with all of my strength, and it easily gave way. It fell into the room with a thundering crash and I rushed in behind it, advancing into the room.
I had an instant to register the scene before me, illuminated by the flashlight. Hermes Trismegistus lay on his back on a conference table, eyes closed. A mummy hovered over him. One of the creature’s linen-swathed hands rested on Tris’ head; the other it held high, index finger pointed at me. The demon stared in my direction, seeming to direct enormous energy at me through concentration.
Magic, I had just enough time to realize. Magic learned from Tris.
Then myriads of brilliant points of light filled my vision. The dazzling motes circled this way and that, orbiting in a hundred distinct directions. An overpowering wave of vertigo hit me and I tumbled to the floor, unable even to break my fall. Not a dozen feet from my enemy, I could not so much as stand to face it.