The Secret Garden

Chapter Twenty: "To Die A Good Death"

To Preserve Imperial Jade

Antonio is called in for a late meeting with Clementine and informed that Kim Kei Han’s daughter has apparently been abducted. Kim is, uncharacteristically enough, co-operating with standard police procedure and refusing to deal with any kidnappers. His wife Angela is distraught at this behaviour and has turned to Clementine for help, asking that he lend expertise where her husband would not. Angela has also asked if Clementine can provide help from the Pogrom days, to which Clementine replied that this was dead history, but that he had someone new who might prove a good choice – namely Antonio.

Antonio swiftly recruits Rodney, figuring that anything that could have caused Angela Kim to mention the highly secretive Project Pogrom would be of interest to his curious associate. Rodney seems keen enough and begins amassing data from the internet regarding Kim and his business. Although he finds a nugget or two, he uncovers nothing that leads him to believe that the abduction is necessarily related to any of Kim’s public business dealings.

The two head out to Angela’s country residence in Cheshire to get her first-hand account of events. There they also meet her young “friend” Joaqin Tarrega, who clearly shares Rodney’s taste in recreational pharmaceuticals. Angela reveals that her daughter was abducted by four masked individuals and that her two bodyguards both dropped dead at the scene from massive heart attacks. She is certain that her husband has gotten into something over his head and that he is being a complete coward in failing to pull out all of the stops in rescuing his daughter.

Rodney takes in the vibes in the girl’s room (her name is Jade, incidentally) and, with Benjamin’s advice, brings along Toady, Jade’s favourite cuddly frog. Antonio examines a series of photographs of the girl, focusing on her face and her relationship to the larger world and Joaqin makes a very tasty cup of mushroom tea. Armed with more information, Rodney and Antonio depart for the crime scene, also accompanied by Joaqin, who has been asked to join them as Angela’s man on the scene.

The site of the abduction, Wilmslow Park in northern Cheshire, is easy to find and still bears the artifacts of a police investigation. Following intense scrutiny, both Rodney and Joaqin seem to pick up on some etheric trail that reeks of death and torture. Both feel that this is somehow linked to the strange double heart attacks and attempt to follow it back to its source.

The trail leads back into Manchester and into the slums of Moss Side. Winding their way through the derelict neighbourhoods of Bottletown, the trio comes to the fire-blackened shell of the old Astoria cinema and are certain that their quarry lies within. Of Jade, however, there is still no sight or sound, spiritual or otherwise. Rodney chats to a group of local waifs (Barry, Taz, Kieber and Jay) warming themselves over a burnt dog and learns that some spooky folks with big guns have recently taken up residence in the cinema. Learning that Rodney is a Cheshire-boy, things are about to turn ugly when Rodney whips out a packet of his stronger pills. His safety and reputation are both secured.

Antonio, meanwhile, contacts Eddy the Jaw, Clementine’s factotum, and asks him if he can arrange from some of the Alexandra Park lads to cause a distraction over in Moss Side, with the specific intention of drawing attention away from the Astoria. Teddy obliges and, within fifteen minutes there comes the satisfying sound of a car’s petrol tank going up in a bang. With this as our cue, our heroes enter the ruined cinema.

The entrance to the cinema, however, is guarded. The broken glass that is strewn throughout the foyer leaps to sudden life, lacerating Antonio and Rodney both. The air ripples and a monstrous feline beast bursts through a rent in the fabric of reality itself. It claws and bites Antonio further before repeated fire from automatic weaponry fells it. Rodney reaches into the spirit world to deal a coup de grace to the creature’s umbral form with his blade just as Joaqin notices a woman fleeing further into the cinema in the wake of their battle.

Antonio and Joaqin give chase and Rodney follows umbrally. They come across a quartet of individuals in the main viewing hall. They overhear their discussions and learn that these are the kidnappers. Calling themselves The Freedom Razor, it is clear that they are mages. Led by a swarthy fellow called Ayman Lofti, the others include Virginia Adams, Shelton Bruntee, and sour-faced youth called Theora Hetirck. None seem particularly pleased with the recent turn of events. Theora in particular seems to feel that what they are doing is wrong, but the others appear to outrank her and pay her little heed.

Antonio and Joaquin are soon discovered, and a gun battle breaks out. They fell Virginia and Theora flees. Shelton is incapacitated and Ayman unleashes a willworking that almost kills Antonio. Only Rodney’s umbral intervention in the attack saves Antonio’s life and Joaqin drags him back from the field of battle.

Rodney emerges from the spirit world, suffering internal injuries from the abruptness of the passage but conceals his weakness and confronts Ayman, who reveals that he and his fellows did indeed kidnap the girl, but that she has since given them the slip. He also reveals that the girl is the reincarnation of an ancient mage who had been promised a “Good Death” every lifetime. This Good Death would seem to involve ritually killing his reincarnations before they fully emerge from infancy and are tainted by the corruption that is the world.

Under the cover of this discussion, Shelton comes to his senses and manages to drag Virginia’s body from the hall. Ayman also retreats, leaving his confrontation with Rodney at a seeming stalemate. Our fellows rapidly return to Clementine’s penthouse, where Clementine has a Mr. Blake administer a chemical infusion to both Rodney and Antonio. Immediately they feel the pain of their wounds abate and feel their injuries begin to scab over. For better or worse, they will live to fight another day.

Rodney takes Toady to bed with him that night and allows the missing girl’s toy frog to be his guide in the shifting realms of Dream. He gains a certainty that Jade is safe and that she is also dreaming of her frog. Rodney nurtures this connection and gains a sudden insight into her location – a wharf somewhere along one of Manchester’s old canals. Armed with this knowledge he returns to the waking world and contacts Valerie with his findings.

Valerie uses overlaid maps of Manchester’s canals to attempt to locate the wharf, but to no avail. On Rodney’s suggestions, she then looks for older maps of now-disused canals, as well as any early photographs of the same. And there it is – an aged, faded sepia-tone image of Dewey Locks that Rodney recognizes as the location from his dream. But Dewey Lock now lies under the buildings of Manchester’s Chinatown, its wharves long since abandoned and paved over. The mystery deepens as Valerie detects what appears to be a kind of wormhole in the area – and the game is afoot.

Arriving at the location of the wormhole, the mages find a strange hatchway under a bridge over one the canal. Identifying it as a Shallowing, they pass through and find themselves in Dewey Docks, an fragment of the city’s past tucked away in the edge of the Umbra. Entering, they encounter a strange variety of locals plying their wares, including the enigmatic Madame Cleo Verthank, a fortune teller.

They are overjoyed to discover that Jade has indeed made her way here, and is currently in Madame Cleo’s care. Escaping the Astoria, Jade slipped into the Umbra and found passage on a Sumarie barge to the Docks, where the kindly Cleo recognized her as a child in need. Assessing the mages, she agrees to turn Jade over to them – and so a girl and her frog are swiftly reunited.

Leaving the docks, the mages stop off at the Manchester Royal Infirmary to tend to their injuries. In the lobby, they encounter Ayman Loufti, who has tracked them there. After a tense standoff, Ayman indicates that he has no interest in further bloodshed. Virginia is dead and Theora has fled, abandoning the Freedom Razor. The kidnappers have failed. Before he and Shelton depart, Ayman offers to explain what has happened. The Freedom Razor were hired to give Jade Kim the Good Death by members of the Mao Tu Triad, although Ayman suspects that the Triad is a front for unknown Chinese mages – associates of Jade’s former incarnation. The Freedom Razor is abandoning the problem on the orders of their master – he can afford no more losses – but the mages should be warned that the Mao Tu will doubtless seek revenge for what has happened.

Thanking Ayman, the mages leave the hospital and head back to the Kim residence with Jade. There, they discover the door open and blood spattered throughout the hall. Kim Kei Han’s dead body lies beheaded on the stairs, with Angela similarly slain in the bedroom. Kanji characters written in blood promise vengeance for all who have defied the Mao Tu. The mages search the house, only to discover that the assassin is still on the premises – he is a figure clad in white robes, wielding a glittering katana.

This graceful figure – none other than the legendary Phoenix in Pearl – attacks the mages, but seems surprised that they possess magical powers. In a pitched battle, the mages beat a hasty retreat, racing away with Jade. As they flee, Antonio realizes that Clementine is also in danger – he organized the rescue of Jade, after all. He calls his boss to warn him… only to discover that the Phoenix in Pearl has already reached central Manchester by some arcane method.

Antonio is forced to listen to the sounds of the Phoenix in Pearl slaughtering everyone in Clementine’s office over the phone, and there is nothing he can do to stop it. Driving like a madman, he races into Manchester, knowing that he is already too late. His worst expectations are confirmed when they arrive at Clementine’s office – it is a bloodbath. Clementine himself lies beheaded in his office.

The Phoenix in Pearl has remained on the scene, waiting for the mages to arrive. He tells them that his masters consider the matter settled – the mages are just hired agents like him – and departs. The mages attempt to stop him, but he leaps from the office window to a nearby skyscraper, then seems to vanish into thin air. The mages’ primal senses see him sink into a leyline in the streets below, then the Phoenix in Pearl is gone.

The mages decide to leave Manchester for a spell, catch their breath, lie low, and decide how to proceed. Antonio arranges for a country cottage out near Nantwich, and they head to the countryside. He also makes contact with Jade’s extended family to arrange handing her over. And after about a week in retreat, Antonio receives a package from his father – a letter and a sleek, leather casket. The letter contains the deeds to 51% of Clementine Holdings – Clementine’s son Edgar was unable to handle the business, so Papa diMarciani bought him out. Antonio opens the casket and a golden glow washes over his face. He sits back, letting loose a slow exhalation.

“Santa Maria,” he breathes…



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