|Lord of Sacrifices
"After a brief break, we will have lot number four hundred one. Recently unearthed and painstakingly reassembled after a . . . violent situation in Mozambique, an antiquity that resonates with power: the Antikythera Mechanism.
"Bidding starts in five minutes at one million American dollars. Equivalent sanguinal currencies gladly accepted."
From the back of the dimly lit auction house, Viktor grinned. It seems I've arrived just in time.
He scanned the neat rows of chairs, looking for a vacant seat. To his left he noticed two shaven-headed priests of the Tibetan demon-prince, Pekhar. Potentially dangerous someday, Viktor thought, but they don't have the resources to even be here. They must be sellers of a lot that comes up later.
Directly in front of him was a serpentine aztecal, slowly fanning itself with the feathers on its head-crest. Clearly here as a proxy for someone else. I wonder whom? Next to the aztecal was an immensely fat wendigo taking up two chairs (clearly prospering under the curse, Viktor thought) and a Norse fire-demon (useless in a situation like this).
To the left was an assortment of humans from all walks of life, peppered with the occasional vampire, leech-man, or devilish half-breed. And near the front, an empty seat. Or two actually -- one on either side of . . . is that Neferhe?
The dark-skinned woman sat with regal posture in the front row, her purple robes spilling onto the chairs on either side of her. Spiraling ropes of gold snaked through her raven hair. As Viktor walked across the row to her, he noticed a round clay medallion on her chest, stamped with the image of a single unblinking eye.
"Viktor." The woman gathered her robes about her to make room.
"The Eye of Horus? I always figured it would be made of gold," Viktor said as he sat down.
Neferhe paused, then gently fingered the amulet at her breast. "My father learned that wet clay has certain absorptive qualities that gold does not. I heard that you took out Minerva, Viktor."
Word travels fast. "Sort of. She was working with a shaman named Xihouto, and between them they'd made surprising progress. But they had a rather violent falling out, and I arrived just in time to sweep up the pieces."
"Any . . . valuable pieces?"
"I've got nothing up for auction today, if that's what you mean."
The red curtains parted behind the auctioneer's lectern, and a cadaverous creature in a tuxedo stepped out. In his bony hands were a silver tray, upon which was a bronze box covered with dials spinning with lurches and clicks. Tiny doors on all surfaces of the box opened and closed with a rhythm of their own, revealing whirring gears.
Pinpoints of red winked into life in the cadaver-creature's eye sockets as it intoned: "Lot number four hundred one. The Antikythera Mechanism. Bidding starts at one million."
I could be coy, but I might as well see who's here to play. "One million, Mikaelius."
The cadaver repeated the bid. "One million. Hear I two million?"
Neferhe raised a slim hand. "Two million." Then she turned toward Viktor, smiling. "I didn't realize you were interested in antiquities, Viktor."
Don't you arch that eyebrow at me, lady. "Three million."
"Four," said Neferhe before Mikaelius had a chance to acknowledge Viktor's bid.
She's eager -- or she's making a big show of being eager. Either case: Why? Viktor paused, nodding to Neferhe with a tight smile on his face as Mikaelius intoned, "Four million. Hear I five?"
Then a voice came from the back of the room, utterly flat and devoid of inflection, as if it intentionally carried no meaning beyond its words.
Mikaelius's face had long since lost the ability to show surprise, but his voice quavered slightly as he said, "Eight million, then."
Neferhe turned to Viktor. "Omega?"
"Probably. Perhaps Gilman, but probably Omega." I wonder if she knows about Gilman. If not, it'll give her something else to think about.
Viktor cleared his throat. "As I was saying, Mikaelius, nine million."
"Ten million!" said Neferhe, her voice almost rising to a shout.
She's either forgotten herself completely, or she's really overacting. But I'm in an awkward position. The fact that she wants it makes it more valuable to me, if only to keep it out of her hands.
Viktor and Neferhe both paused for a beat, waiting to hear from the voice in the back of the auction hall. When no voice emerged, Viktor ran his hand through his hair and said, "Eleven million, if you please."
Neferhe paused. "You're getting to be an expensive acquaintance, Viktor. Twelve million, Mikaelius."
This is starting to cost real money. "Thirteen million." Viktor wasn't even looking at the auctioneer anymore. Turned halfway in his seat, he stared Neferhe directly in the eyes, his jaw set and teeth clenched.
Neferhe bowed her head, her eyes closed. "Going once . . . going twice . . . sold at thirteen million. Please make arrangements at the business office before the auction ends."
Viktor rose from his seat. "The Antikythera Mechanism is the only thing here I wanted, Neferhe," he said.
"Of course. You're blind to many things Viktor, but you recognize power for what it is. Perhaps when we meet again, we'll bid for it using . . . other currencies."
"One never knows, Neferhe. Until the end of the world, then?"
"Until the end of the world, Viktor."
Viktor slid down the row to the aisle, making his way up the stairs to the exit. As he did, Neferhe leaned forward from her front-row seat. Mikaelius the auctioneer was lifting the tray and turning to disappear behind the curtain.
Neferhe gripped the amulet at her breast as hard as she could. "Mikaelius, old friend, won't you tell me where Viktor tells you to deliver the Antikythera Mechanism?"
To be continued...
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