<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->

The Woolworth Building is one of the gems of downtown New York. Bellied up to Broadway, it thrusts its offset tower at the sky with the eagerness of a young poet despite its Gothic age. Renovation work, begun over a year before, draped the lower floors of the structure in protective scaffolding, shielding passers-by from the detritus of stonework overhead.

I took stock of my weapons, standing there in front of the entrance, uncaring of the flow of people in and out of the building. True to New York, none of them glanced at me as I adjusted the Desert Eagle, the grenades and the baton underneath my coat. Satisfied, I marched into the main lobby.

There was a main security desk, which I ignored. I headed for the elevator banks with the assurance of a tenant, and was rewarded by an incurious look. Once there, I found the low-rise bank and got into the first open car. I turned to face out, and the four or five people who had been moving in behind me stopped at my face. I shook my head gravely at them and punched the Door Close button, then pushed for the Basement.

The elevator opened into a high-ceilinged, narrow concrete hallway. It was painted, with doors, but there were clearly no public spaces here - the doors were unmarked, and the hallway just dirty enough to pointedly emphasize its lack of invitation. I strode off to the right, at random, towards a red EXIT sign protruding from the wall.

When I yanked the door underneath it open, I found a stairway. One which seemed awfully familiar, and went both up and down. I started down. One flight later, I reached a sub-basement; the stairs went down one more level and ended. I slid out the door into a poorly-lit hallway; the sussurations of moving air caused the Desert Eagle to slide out into my hand with the grace of an evening song.

I puttered around for perhaps five minutes before opening a final door and finding myself in the workshop once again. My joints ached sympathetically at the sight of the work table, the two lights clipped over it, looming in the middle of the space. Still holding the gun, I moved over to it, ran my off hand over its surface. Definitely the same one.

"You really are most persistent."

I spun at the words to see Shu stepping out from behind a bank of shelving. He had a look of curiousity on his face. There were three or four forms moving behind him, hiding in shadow; he gestured once, holding them back. I retreated to the side of the work table near the door. He stopped on the other side of it, just outside the pool of light from the lamps.

I stroked the table again. "This is pretty solid." It was, too; thick metal sides reached down from the work surface. The piece didn't move when I pushed at it experimentally; it was either mounted to the floor or contained enough mass in its cabintry to anchor it firmly.

Shu waved his arm over it. "That has no bearing on me." He stepped forward into the table, his torso protruding from it, then stepped back. "It cannot protect you from me, even without my servants." A gesture back at the sylphs gathered behind him.

"No, you're right," I said. I lowered the gun, and pushed it into my coat to holster it. Shu looked satisfied. I fumbled with my left hand for a moment under the coat, anchoring the gun, then straightened and looked at him. "But it can protect me from this."

With that, I flipped the stun grenade I'd armed over the table and then fell flat to the floor behind it.

Elder Gods may be damn near omnipotent, but there are rules. They have to know what their power will be doing; they have to use them. The exception is those passive abilities linked to their personification. Malsumis stopped bullets like a tree; Baba Yaga shifted forms, changeable witch. Shu, though...Shu, I was guessing, was indeed a God of the Air. One who hadn't had to seriously deal with a threat to his body in a good long time.

There was a metallic clonk as the grenade's mechanism hit the table or the floor across the table from me. I was just starting to wonder if Shu was going to have time to get back, and my hands had just touched the thong at my chest to maintain a conduit to the Water of Life within, when the grenade went off.

Bang.

It's such a small word, but in this case it applied; my hearing vanished almost immediately, leaving only that initial slap of sound. I felt my head bounce on the floor, and despite my eyes being squeezed shut a wall of light pushed through my eyelids. The table's frame absorbed nearly all the grenade's force, though, directing it away from me and towards Shu and his sylphs.

I forced myself to stand up. I had to blink several times to get my eyes to stay open, and my ears were producing nothing except a faint ringing, stunned to silence. I pressed my chest, harder, and there was a sudden flare of pain as life energy flowed into me from the vial, accelerating my recovery.

Shu was standing perhaps fifteen feet from the table. His form was indistinct, and there was a determined expression on his face. As I watched, pulling myself up from the floor, he gritted his teeth and solidified his edges a little more. I had the Desert Eagle out. I shouted at him, despite being unable to hear myself, "Hey, you think there's any metal dust in the air in here?"

He looked at me, confusion and anger warring, and then I leveled the Desert Eagle and fired it at his head. The first round sang from the gun, and I reached out with my will. There was a faint echo of resonance from a corner of the room, and I grinned as the first bullet dropped to the ground between us, its energy spent in the searching 'cast. Shu stepped towards me as I turned and ran for the echo. I didn't spare him more than a glance; the sylphs were nowhere in sight, likely still struggling to reform after the shockwave of the grenade tore their masses into stray air currents and blasted them violently around the room. There was the smell of cordite.

The fading pulse of force led me to a shelf near the wall. I tore random objects off it until there, at the back, was a familiar strip of leather. I had just time to clumsily hook it around myself, over my coat, before Shu staggered into the aisle. He was firming up, but still his outline wavered slightly, and there was an expression of mostly anger on his face now as he finished regaining control of his form. He spoke, threats or promises, I couldn't tell. I just shook my head and pointed at my ear.

He was perhaps ten feet away when I leveled the Desert Eagle and fired a round at his head. He ignored it. The second bullet left the gun and I stole its energy, feeling the pocket watch in the bandolier pulse; then the third took flight and I poured the energy into its small shape. Azif had touched it; I touched it. No longer lead, pressed instead into samarium-cobalt, the jacketed magnet spun towards Shu and as my 'cast touched it, it flared hard in electromagnetics. Metal dust, swirling in the air from the grenade blast where it had been left after being torn from the crevices, crannies and nooks of the shop's floor and tools, formed a sudden shape in its path. Trailing a net of metal much as an aircraft trails its sonic boom, the bullet passed through Shu's head.

He wasn't ready for that. The fan of metal dust, held there by unnaturally strong force, ripped the airspace of his head apart again. I watched his features disperse into a cloud of tan color, then slowly start to wash back. He stopped and went to his knees, apparently overtaken with the amount of concentration required to cope. I kneeled in front of him, waiting.

As soon as I could see his eyes again, and watched them focus on my face, I nodded and brought up the gun again. He stumbled back and raised a hand, but I fired anyway. Twice. His head and a section of his shoulder atomized.

Then I squatted down and waited some more, reflecting that I'd actually heard the last two shots, which meant my hearing wasn't permanently gone. When Shu had gained back most of his head, I raised the gun to aim again. He finished collecting himelf, eyes burning with fury, but made no move other than to straighten to a standing position. I rose with him, the gun between us. When he was (as far as I could tell) completely solid, I waggled the gun at him. "This can't kill you, but it can make you real damn uncomfortable. Your little buddies still haven't figured out how to get back yet. Care to admit that I can piss in your pool for, oh, I dunno, several hours?"

Hatred. He nodded, fists clenching. I waggled the gun again. "Good. Here's how it's going to be. I'm walking back out of here with my tools." I patted the bandolier. "You're not going to follow me. Neither are your little friends. If I see any of you, I'm going to do what I just did to you, again. With a twist." I pulled a pouch out of my coat pocket, and before Shu could move I threw a handful of dust over him. "That's metal. Really fine powder. For as long as you stay semisolid, it's going to stay embedded in whatever you're using for substance. Only by completely dispersing will you be rid of it."

"Do you think powder will discommode me?"

"Yeah, I do. See, because while you have that stuff in you, and I'm using magnetic bullets-" I fired again. This time, the bullet tore through Shu's forearm and took a huge chunk of substance with it, slamming it into the wall behind him to disperse into gas. Shu screamed, an inarticulate sound, and clenched his other hand to the hole in his arm.

I reloaded while he was occupied. "Hurts, doesn't it? Let me tell you what else, fucker. I had a little talk with some people. Remember my GRANDMOTHER?" I was screaming by the end, the gun in his face. Shu had gone still. He nodded, once, carefully. I drew back. "Good. Then perhaps you'll remember her when she was younger?" He nodded again, still not moving much. "Then remember this, Shu." I walked backwards towards the door. When I reached it, I opened it behind me without looking, and holstered the gun. He stood in the workshop, watching. There was a slight disturbance around him which I gathered to be the sylphs attempting to congeal.

"How long do you think it'd take you to reconstitute if your current self was anchored to individual particles buried in the walls?"

He glared at me. That was the answer I needed. "Well, good."

I flipped the second stun grenade at him and slipped out, closing the door behind me and leaning against the wall. Something hit the door once, a half-hearted impact, and then there was another incredibly loud noise. I sagged, mouth open to reduce the shock, and then walked through the sudden howl of fire alarms to the stairs.

When I left the building and headed uptown towards home, I passed ten or twenty firefighters rushing in past me. They didn't give me a second look. I pictured them flooding the workshop with water and grinned at the thought of Shu washing down that drain in a myriad tiny particles, god of the Air sluiced into the realm of water.

On the way, I stopped three times in front of three different statues. Their outlines were wavering slightly, sylphs holding form around them. In front of each, I pulled the Desert Eagle and leveled it until the wavering subsided. I grinned again, once, at each.

Then I went home.

<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->

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