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

Waking the second time was worse. On the plus side, I didn't expect to be somewhere nicer, so my expectations weren't disappointed. On the debit side, all my prior aches were still there, now with extra joint pain added. From what I could tell, my knees, elbows and wrists were swollen enormously. I hoped that didn't mean permanent damage.

I appeared to be in yet another dark place. It wasn't the same as the first one, however, because the air was heavier and cooler. I managed, after the first few attempts, to roll over onto my back. There wasn't any dust on the floor. Dirt, sure, but with the thicker and more oily consistency that indicates true urban grime.

Of paramount importance, though, was that there was a slight angle in the floor which led to a low point in one corner. In that corner there was a drain - a metal plate set into the floor with holes punched through it. It was maybe six inches across - no chance I was going out the thing. I couldn't see well enough to see a faucet, but dragging my feet across the walls near the drain produced no such thing. If it was a shower, I was out of luck; there was no way I could stand, much less stretch above my head.

The drain, though. The drain had possibilities.

At the back of my head was a glimmer of an idea. I couldn't quite get the shape of it, though, so I continued exploring. The room was entirely bare save for the metal shape of what must be the door, set flush with the hinges on the other side. I wondered at that for a moment; it indicated some forethought in using this as a cell, or it meant that the door didn't lead to a generally populated place, like, say, a corridor. Neither was encouraging, but there wasn't much I could do about it.

The drain appeared to be clear. I could press my fingertips against the holes in the metal plate; the pads went some millimeters into the holes with no resistance. Laying my ear to the drain, however - that was what pulled the faint form out of my subconscious. I could hear water flowing. Very, very faintly, but regularly. Not dripping, no; the hissing rill of water in motion in a confined space.

If there was water flowing beneath me, open enough to hear and constant, the odds were very good that I was in a basement. That, coupled with the stair bottom I'd seen, upped the chances further. I couldn't swear to it, of course, but honestly, I didn't have a lot of choices.

The problem was what I was going to have to do. Luckily I was already in fairly constant pain, and I didn't give myself a chance to think about it. I moved my head to my left forearm, in the fleshy part near the elbow, and chewed as hard as I could. The pain was merely a descant to the ache already there, and the fluid-swollen flesh gave way fairly easily. I gagged at the familiar iron tang of blood, then, after making sure it was running down my arm, I pressed the arm to the drain, held it there.

Luckily I had warmed the plate somewhat in my explorations, so it didn't cool my arm enough to impede the blood flow. I listened as carefully as I could, but couldn't tell if my blood was dripping down through the plate. All I could do was hold my forearm there, massaging my bicep, and wait.

I think I started singing something. Something stupid, pop from the radios I moved among as a Manhattan denizen without ever touching them. Moving around Manhattan is to live in a reverse panopticon of sound; leaving a cab with a song blaring in it, you will pass (some moments later) a person lying on the park lawn with their radio playing the same song. The advent of personal electronics hasn't done away with this, merely jumbled the signal - for now you will hear a smaller number of tunes more frequently, but not in synch. Each person's radio will be at a different place in the song, and those few times you move from one sound field to the next and hear the song move 'with' you, you stop and wonder - are both of those people listening to the radio? Or are they merely listening to recordings which, by the wonder of statistics, are this time in sync?

Even I have to admit that my musings aren't entirely rational.

I could feel the blood slowing in its drool down my forearm. I considered reopening the wound, but decided that for what I had in mind, the actual amount was probably irrelevant. Either it would work, or it wouldn't, and thinking about it in reasonable ways by wondering about how much blood I was spilling into the waterways of Manhattan was foolish.

I hoped to hell I was in Manhattan.

After a time, I think I slept, there in the dark.

* * *

I'm not sure what woke me. When I blinked, trying to clear my eyes of the film that had gummed them shut, I wasn't aware of anything different. It was still dark. My arm had stuck slightly to the drain, and I pulled it free. Ignoring the ongoing aches, I blinked again and looked around. It was still dark, but I think my eyes had adapted better, I could see a very, very faint outline around the door where light from outside was making its way through.

Something else was different, though. It took me a few minutes to figure it out, but I finally placed my head to the drain again. The water had stopped flowing. Or, at least, I couldn't hear it anymore. Instead, there was a steady, rhythmic noise; a gentle swish, swish, swish in its place. I couldn't think of anything that would cause a running storm sewer or drain to pulse its flow, and anyway, this wasn't loud enough. I was about to roll back over when I heard the whistling.

It was very faint. What of it was coming up through the drain fluttered in and out of audibility, a bad cellular reproduction of a whistle, but it was definitely there. I turned my head and stuck my other ear to the drain, and it seemed slightly louder. Waiting, I listened to the swishing noises increase in volume, and the whistle move up into audibility. I knew the tune, as well, and due to the amount of time I spent in bars it only took a few moments of listening before I was mouthing words:

Oh gray and bleak, by shore and creek, the rugged rocks abound,
But sweet and green the grass between, as grows on Irish ground,
So friendship fond, all wealth beyond, and love that lives alway,
Bless each poor home beside your foam, my dear old Galway Bay.

I rolled my head over and held my face over the drain. "Kevin?" I tried to shout as well as whisper for safety's sake. What came out was more of a harsh and strangled hiss. "Kevin? Is that you?"

The swishing sound stopped, as did the whistling. A voice came faintly. "Michel?"

"Yes!" I struggled to my knees, still huddled over the drain, wishing I could rip the damn plate off. "Yes, I'm here!"

"Ah, Michel me boy, what have ye got yerself into now?"

"Look, I'll tell you all about it later, but can you get me out of here?" I lost control at the end, voice rising above sibilants into a yell. I froze, but nothing happened. Apparently nobody could hear, or if they did, nobody was surprised at my shouts.

"Stay where y'are, me boy. Be there in a few minutes."

"I'm not going anywhere, man." I sat back against the wall, weak with relief.

Three minutes later, I became aware that the floor was shaking slightly. I looked around, then listened, and heard a rumble. Realizing only then what Kevin's likely means of intervention was, I scuttled away from the drain into the opposite corner and huddled there, arms over my head as best I was able.

There was a sharp BLANG as the drainplate flew up from the floor, and a shower of sparks as it ricocheted from the concrete ceiling. I wasn't paying attention to that, though, because the geyser of water that had thrown it was rapidly eating its way outwards from the drain hole. I screamed in unfeigned terror and ducked under my arms again, but not before I saw the ceiling crumble under the onslaught and the jet of darkness smash through into an unknown space above.

There wasn't nearly as much water raining back down into the room as there should have been, though, and I peeked out from under my arms as the noise began to die down. The waterjet had fallen away to a mere welling out from the hole, now a yard or more wide, and water was finally sloshing around my legs as the room began to fill. The ceiling showed a hole into darkness, and there was rubble around the corner. As I watched, a light began to glow from underneath the fountain in the corner, and then blinked, three times, regularly.

I didn't wait for the sylphs to come investigate. I threw myself over to the fountain, took three deep breaths, and forced my body down into the hole.

It was unbelievably cold.

Opening my eyes as soon as I'd dropped below the floor level and the current had stopped, I saw a green glow - and off to one side, a light. I swam feebly for it, the cold numbing my limbs which provided some relief from the pain. As I reached what appeared to be a wall with a hole broken through it, an arm shot through the hole, grabbed my shirt, and yanked me through and up.

I found myself chest-deep, standing next to what had to be Kevin, despite the plastic mask over his eyes; he was still in his neck-high waders. I grinned crazily at him. "You got my message."

He pulled the faceshield up. "Oh, aye, boy, me boss did. Taste of blood is everpresent, but not that blood."

"Let me guess. He knew Nana too."


"Color me unsurprised. Listen, Kevin, no offense, but I'm hurt and I'm freezing, and if it's okay with you I'm going to just pass out again."

Kevin slapped my face, hard. I blinked. "Ow! Fuck."

"Hold it together for a few minutes, lad, or we're not gettin' out. Here." He shoved what looked like a coverall at me, and I saw that it was a twin to his waders. He helped me stuff my body into them despite the shakes that began almost immediately. Once I was wearing them properly, I was still soaked inside them, but the waders were acting as a wetsuit, trapping my body heat. I could feel the shivers slowly fading. Kevin forced a flask against my face, and I reflexively swallowed what had to be Irish whiskey, gagging once.

Then he looked into my eyes, and apparently satisfied, nodded. "Okay, boy. Hold tight." And with that, he waved his hand twice in a complex pattern before grabbing hold of me in a bear hug. The water we were standing in was suddenly in motion, sweeping us off our feet and along. The light, I could see now, was coming from Kevin's helmet, and it showed a crazily speeding view of concrete and stone, muck and algae as it rushed past us. The water we were floating in appeared to be completely stationary, but at the tunnel walls, there was a rumbling of hydrodynamics and friction. Every time we began to float towards the wall, we would hit a rippling turbulence that pushed us back into the center of the tunnel.

"Hell of a way to travel, Kevin." I had to shout to make myself heard.

"Beats walkin'!" he howled back. There was a massive grin on his face.

And after a few minutes, there was an opening up; we slowed, and with little fanfare tumbled out a broken-off grating into cold deep water. A few yards off I could see a red light glowing; Kevin struck out for it with powerful strokes, towing me with little difficulty. When we reached it, I could see it was his Zodiac, with an LED lantern affixed to the prow. Climbing in, he reached back and pulled me into the boat with little apparent effort, then fiddled with the engine until the familiar basso howl came forth. Seating himself in the chair, he spun the boat and we vanished into the night, sheltered by the mists above the waters.

I passed out again. With just enough warning to be peeved about it.

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

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