It was almost time now. The obstructions were being cleared.
He had waited so long for this, in the service of He Who Glides And Floats. They had constructed the ritual, again and again following the patterns, as the instructions had always been given. The wait had been long. But Wong had been a useful disciple. On that long walk south, fleeing from the Japanese, he had already shown his promise, had not shied away from his duties. There were so many that would not do well at the age of eighteen or twenty-eight, where Wong had been a natural. He had taught him well.
They had taught him well, those men in Vladivostok. Ways to kill silently, ways to move. And more. They had been the ones, the ones who kept He Who Glides And Floats close to them, had brought him down with them from the wastes of the north, when the ancient, failing dynasties had always feared the southern seas, not realising that in these days, He would be able to survive in the cold ice, just as well as below the desert in the hidden holes the Mesopotamians had told him about. He Who Glided And Floated would sleep, and then awake to provide his reward to them all.
He was sure his reward would be great. He alone would rise to ascendancy here. That night, only a few days ago, Wong had quibbled with him, suggested they were equals. Equals? When he was the clearly superior one. Wong was nothing but a tool, something he used to create, to paint the patterns across the country, but he thought he was something more. Wong was an old man now, had aged. He did not have access to the powers of the water. Fool. If he had known, if he had realised he was sat in the centre of She Who Crawls And Chitters, perhaps he would have tried to delay things, to betray the great plan.
There was no more need for him. He had finished Wong with the gun, a homage to their days in Shanghai, before they had truly realised their joint purpose. He’d thought to throw him to the water, but there was no need for that. If the She who was in the water could have gobbled down Wong, would she have remembered what he had done, had said? There was no need to risk that. Fire would sterilise.
Then he had stolen back from that accursed village, made his way back to the centre of the web, to baffle those childlike Europeans with tricks he’d practised for half a century, then leave them, the fools, open mouthed and gasping at a petty miracle while he sat back in the centre of all things, waiting for the final piece to be brought back to him.
That had been the only grit of sand in his oyster. The man had arrived as he had expected, pregnant with objects for him. He had sensed him as soon as the plane had arrived, He Who Floats And Crawls had sent a twitch up his spine, alerting him that he should be ready. And yet, even as he had flexed, as he had peered out from each of those who had drunk of the bright water, he had not been able to see him, had felt that nagging discontent, that somebody in London was not doing as the plan ordained.
So much had been done. The preparations had taken years, those tiny scrapes of holy mud from the statues the British had stolen. Innumerable artifacts, spread across the word so untidily, taking so long to find, to reassemble, to bring back here. The Margaret had been of great use in her time, of course, but her time had passed. There was no more need for old women. Young flesh was what they had wanted back in England, and that was what he had sent them, the prime flesh, tender, drilled, filled with the bright water, each one stepping off the boat and going to work back in the young country that thought it was so old.
He would miss that, in some obscure way, he thought. The constant stream of young women that were poisoning the British, those ridiculous people who thought they were so old when they had been merely grubbing in the mud and dirt for all those centuries, looking at his people as backward … that was a revenge. But not revenge enough. He had to remind himself sometimes, this was the truth of it all, this was what he was working for, waiting for.
And yet … and yet, even as he sat there on the steps of the basement, the warm brine lapping at his feet, as he flexed those external muscles across the city, he could not feel the one he was calling for. Amusing though it had been to watch his panicked dance around the streets, he had wanted to call him back. Instead, confused images in the dark, flickers of light, and then the feeling that that one was being put beyond him, somewhere he could not reach.
He had tried again. Other routes, feeling out to all those others who had ever drunk the water he had polluted, that which He Who Glides And Floats now embodied.
He had reached to others, told them what to do, shouted until they could not defy his instructions any more. He had even begun to speak through them, an amusing trick he had not ever known he could try. Yet it had brought him no closer to the one he was calling for, the one with the last piece. He flexed again, one last time, trying to drag him down to He Who Glides And Floats, away from the upper, dry reaches, down to the waiting waters. Where was that one that he was calling for?