To think that it had all started with comic books.
The Son of the Master wanted to go to America as soon as he encountered American comic books, and it was a miracle that such an encounter transpired to begin with. When he was a child in the winter of '39, a sailor came to Moscow on personal business, and he had managed to get a package of American publications past Stalin's censors at customs. He was selling them to people in a tavern and he let the Master's Son have a stack of comic books for ten kopeks. He would only later learn to read them, but even in those pre-English days the pictures spoke worlds. Through five of the leaflets he “read” the adventures of the blue-suited American crusader whose name it took two years to learn. “Superman.”
Even as a child he knew that Superman would be something that the government would not care for. He kept the books hidden; his parents, if nothing else, had taught him it was good to hide these things, if only by example rather than direct instruction. (His father, the Great Writer, would never approve of such trash anyway.) Even at that young age it had been years since his mother, Margarita, had spoken to him. And even then, when they had spoken, it was not in the way that parents and young children normally speak—she spoke to him of how she felt that his father, the Master, was drifting away from her. She scared him once; she referred to him as dying. Specifically, she said the Master was “soon to be dead.” Anxiously, he'd asked her what she meant by that, and she corrected: “Don't worry. I don't mean dead the way you would know it.”
Now it was like he was dead, and because it was merely like it, he supposed that must have been what she meant. This comic books helped him forget about that.
Nine years passed. With his well-worn books in hand, he left a war-torn country behind him. His parents were gone, and all that business his father and mother went through with Professor Woland was just a distant memory. He sailed all the way to California, where he knew he would make his living once and more all. He was young, and handsome, and the Master had left him some money. He had piercing eyes and a smooth black mustache that he felt made him look clever. Being in his early twenties, and he had no trouble admitting to himself that part of his mission here involved finding attractive young women. In 1948 there were many such people, especially in California. After the first two weeks, however, he made the mistake of messing with a lady who was attached in some sense to a hothead named Moriarty. He had the looks of Superman, but not many of the values. Through Moriarty's will the Son of the Master found himself barred from many of the big cities of California. Against the current of many of the young people at the time, he decided then to head East.
Through empty deserts and plains savaged by Dust Bowls, he found himself in Texas. It was a bit of a roundabout way—he had to take time to find sources of money for gas and food and the like in the towns he located. For a solid three weeks he was able to stash himself away in El Paso, which he found ineffably charming. He nearly found himself regular work, too, with a man named Curtin coming up from Mexico to offer a job in gold work. But he had to decline, and move on, and not for any good reason. There was a pull away from El Paso that he had to follow, and he followed it all the way out to Houston. There he found a ship with a Captain named Stone, who took him on what turned out to be a harrowing journey into the Caribbean. Stone was a disturbed man who seemed to have seen Death; he mentioned how his father's name had not been Stone, but Larsen, which the Master's Son couldn't determine the importance of. His desire to get away from Stone, built over the course of three days, led to his dropping off on the next inhabited island. Captain Stone took him to an old haunt of his called San Sebastian.
Upon making his rocky landfall, the Master's Son wandered through the coastal town, which he never learned the name of, desperate for a place to stay. Failing in finding that, he tried a bar, where he was relieved to find that Russian vodka was on the menu. As he drowned his sorrows, a comely woman moved close to him. It didn't take long before she got his attention, and it became clear hurriedly that at least for this night, his looks had netted him a bed to stay in.
“My name is Ellen Rand,” she clarified. “As you might imagine, I'm an American.”
“And as you might imagine, I'm not,” the Master's Son replied.
She laughed, and then rose, taking his hand. They continued to speak as they left the bar—she began to walk him to a nearby automobile.
“What brings you to San Sebastian, Ruskie?” Rand asked. “It's a long way from Stalingrad.”
“So it is. Well. I'm afraid I'm here because of circumstance, and not for pleasure. I don't know what I was doing when I boarded that ship. I should have settled down somewhere and tried to forge a normal life.”
“What's the ship that brought you here?”
“I'm afraid I have no idea. But it was captained by a man named Stone. He had no trouble navigating the docks.”
“Yes, I believe he said his name was William.”
As the city passed around them, and then away from them as they departed its limits, Rand sighed. “Years ago I would have been cold to you, but it has been a long time since Will visited me. I've been pretty lonely.”
“A ravishing woman like you? Unlikely.”
“It's true, though. Will...was my lover.”
“Oh! I-I see. Am I...intruding?”
“No, not at all. Will and I have ended things—they were supposed to end when I married the father of my son Wesley. Will tried to remind me that I was that man's third wife; previously he had married a woman named Girard and one named Holland, and had sons by each of them. Roland and Paul, respectively—I grew to know them as I did my Wesley. It—it's actually Paul's plantation that we're headed out to. It's been my residence for some time now. And it's not far.”
She seemed to cut herself off then, and now they were in the San Sebastian countryside. It made sense to travel to this open land, if it was a plantation they were reading towards, but suddenly the openness didn't help the Master's Son's gnawing sense of isolation and vulnerability. Just as this feeling came upon him, she turned to face him, and said, “And Ruskie? I am sorry.”
They were upon the plantation, whose fields were surrounded by vast walls. He had hardly seen its mass in the dark; and once they were within the gate, it closed behind then. Emerging from the house were a variety of men and women who appeared to be disfigured in mind, body, or both. They held torches to show the way in the dark, and their appearance caught the Son off-guard. “Don't be frightened,” Ellen said. “They won't harm you.”
“What is this? What—”
“I'm sorry to use such a dirty trick. But it's one of the best ways to bring people here. And the Master wants you.”
As if on cue, the hordes of lump, misshapen, tic-ridden folk parted, and an old man walked among them. His hair was short, neat, and slicked-back, and his eyes were old and beguiling. While his hair stayed jet-black his mustache and goatee had silvered with age; there was a deliberation to his movements that time's clumsiness couldn't stop. He wore a dark and simple suit, which had probably seen better days—he and it were victims of the equatorial heat, which was wet and slick even at night.
“Oh no,” the Master's Son breathed. “Oh, please, do not kill me. Even in the USSR, I've heard stories of cults in the South Seas, with snakes and voodoo and zombies. I don't want to be a sacrifice...”
“Rest assured, you will not be,” the old man said, his voice booming. He had an accent from the eastern end of Europe—the Son of the Master wondered if he was Russian, perhaps with a Russian grandfather. “You are our honored guest. We have foreseen that you are vital to the survival of our organization.”
Rand was pushing him out of the car now, and climbing out behind him. No one moved forward to hurt him—the old man merely invited him forward, to approach of his own free will. And indeed, he did so, though perhaps his free will merely reminded him that he was in danger. “What is this organization?” he asked suddenly. “Who are you people? What do you—”
“Please, stop worrying, sir,” the old man urged. “As I have said, you honor us with your presence. As for who I am: my name is Dr. Richard Marlowe. At least, that is the name I have now—previously I was known as George Lorenz, and before that, I had still more names. But you may call me Dr. Marlowe.”
“I see. Um...why have you brought me here, Dr. Marlowe?”
“We scried you. We looked into your past, and we saw who your father was. And we saw the Master's encounter with Professor Woland and his band. You've always wanted to know the secrets behind them, haven't you?”
How had they known that? Unless what he said was true. He knew what scrying was; magical spying, remote viewing, something like that.
“I can tell you already, sir, free of charge,” the familiar accent said. “We are something of a cult, and we are a voodoo cult at that. But voodoo, like any occult practice, is a look into knowledge. Therefore I can tell you that there is reason to conclude that he who was entangled in your parents' long story was a manifestation of the loa Baron Samedi. A very powerful spirit.”
“How do you know this?”
Marlowe grinned. “Baron Samedi is the one we worship here.”
The Son of the Master trembled, but he was still allowed to make his own choices. So it must have been his own choice leading him into the plantation house, as Marlowe spoke to him of the island that housed him and his followers.
“I suspect you know nothing of San Sebastian,” Marlowe said, “which is its later name, of course. The natives were slaves from the southern tip of Africa, from a stretch of coastline called Mora Tau. When they took the island from their white masters, they named it after their homeland, with the name becoming Moa'Tau over the years. Most journals about the customs of the island distort the pronunciation to 'Matul.' The life we live here would not be possible without the natives, and so we call it Moa'Tau. They will not be overly offended if you call it its 'official' name of course. What they do find offensive is the dubbing of Moa'Tau's sister island 'Voodoo Island.' While the voodoo faith is admittedly much stronger there, it is largely a medicinal practice.”
Ellen Rand was walking with the Master's Son, and she took his hand. He found it oddly comforting. They traversed the gloomy halls of the mansion—none of Marlowe's servants followed them indoors, at least not far. But as they passed through Edwardian parlors, they found they were not alone. First they passed two women, dressed in fashion that wouldn't be uncommon on the U.S. mainland. Seated nearby was a hard-faced man, a criminal-looking sort, who was interacting with a skeletal man of grandfatherly demeanor. In a much more eager conversation was a short bearded man in a fine suit, who wore black gloves and puffed on a cigar, and a high-nosed man of some wealth, probably titled. Finally, in the corner, a young man whose hair was going early gently played a piano.
They grinned as they saw him, and that unnerved him. But Rand pulled herself close to him, and in that moment something in him agreed to socialize with these people.
Many of them continued their conversations, and with Ellen's help he made it across the room slowly and naturally, meeting each of them in turn.
The two seated women were Megan Carlton and Veronica Ryan; they explained to him that a pantheistic view had drawn them to voodoo, the belief that spirits existed everywhere, which seemed inoffensive to him. They each were happily married back in Louisiana and were just visiting the order—they both had daughters who were interested in their beliefs. The hard-faced man was named Mocquino, and he had a roguish way with words, even if he seemed hesitant to talk about his own background; his companion was the much-friendlier Dr. van Molder, who spoke of his wealth and his properties in South America, as well as his private research, which involved what he assured was a cultural study of voodoo. He turned out to not be quite as rich as the upturned-nose Cornish squire Clinton Hamilton, whose grandfather Clive was apparently a voodoo researcher of some renown. The short man who he spoke to identified himself as Baron Dominar, and like Mocquino he seemed to dislike discussing himself, though he was gentler—he had an uncommon fast heart rate, which the Son felt through the black glove. He seemed oddly amused that his father had been known by the title “the Master,” but he assumed it was because everyone here seemed to refer to Marlowe by that name. The pianist was named Tom Stewart, and he seemed to be possess a nervous desperation about him. He was not a full member of the cult, just the entertainment they chose to hire. He seemed to be almost a total stranger to the cult's main members—it seemed unlikely that he had borne witness to any of their rites.
Before he realized that hours had passed, they made the unanimous decision, him included, to shuffle into the next room. Here, they wanted to give him a tour of the ritual chamber. What they didn't tell him was that there was a ritual already in progress. Torches blazed, and the room was thick with incense. Several men and women of many races danced around a central altar, where a black man and a white man both stood, and the Son realized that the room must have been soundproofed somehow, the dancing was not devoid of singing, nor of the loud banging of drums. (Somehow, the soundproofing made the house cozy to him—or cozier, for he already found it strangely familiar.) The transition from the calm chatter of the parlor to the noise of the ritual chamber was not jarring for him. Dr. Marlowe patiently explained to him the identities of the two men at the altar. The African was Chaka, also called Papa Chak or Papa Jacques, and he had served as the houngan of Moa'Tau for some time. Ellen Rand had been his assistant and when he had met, Marlowe gained acquaintance of Mrs. Rand consequentially. The white man had been named Nicholas, and he was a worshipper of Rambonan, but he had undergone a baptism on a Pacific island that made him instead a servant of Bl'qy-Bl'qay, and he was given the new name of Tobanga, along with, it was claimed, immortality. Tobanga was the name of a tree-spirit worshipped by the natives of this other island. Years ago, Nicholas had been Marlowe's personal houngan priest.
As time went on, Marlowe's words in the Son's ear lost relevance—not because they weren't interesting but because he was enraptured by what he saw. Marlowe had spoken the correct words when he had asserted that Woland, the bogeyman of his childhood, had been the trickster death spirit Baron Samedi. As the ritual went on, he began to see that there was truth to his words, and truth beyond that truth. He saw Damballa, ordinarily male but now in the form of a beautiful nude woman, who seemed to turn into a giant snake just before he blinked. And yet when he looked at her out of the corner of his eye—as if he could look away from her and the rainbows she brought with her—she looked like Ellen. All the images overlapped. Gorgeous yards of exposed brown skin fused with the image of the twitching, pulsing snake, and it all flooded over the look of her aging but alluring face.
And there had been Samedi. He appeared in a cloud of smoke behind the performance, which seethed and teemed with rich life, even though he was an incarnation of death. He was an African man whose face was painted with a chalk-white skull—he wore an ashen top hat, and a black jacket which he left open so as to expose his chest. Around his neck he found a large cross-shaped pendant. He laughed maniacally as he appeared, and from there on out, the Son had nothing but a hunger for knowledge.
So he stayed with them. He had arrived in early summer, and he learned much in the time between then and late October. Chaka and Tobanga trained him in the ways of the houngan, under the supervision of Dr. Marlowe. From Tobanga he learned knowledge of the astral realms, and he made it no secret that an encounter with Bl'qy-Bl'qay was certain. Chaka taught him still other things. He showed him the paralytic powder, the scrying mirror, the voodoo doll. He taught him that the voodoo the cult practiced was far divorced from the voudun of his ancestors, lacking such deities as Mawu or Legba or Bondye. Rather than being a religion of peace and healing, it was used for revenge and destruction. Perhaps most tellingly, it was a voodoo practiced by whites, a tradition popularized by the lunatic Legendre. And yet, even though it was a bastard faith next to real voodoo, there was still somehow a working system to it.
“There is a dark power which reaches out from the dawn of infinity to where we are in the present,” Chaka told him. “It is indeed a long reach, but the god who is the source of the power we use has tremendous Hands. He is a God of Primal Darkness, and to serve him is a great burden. His pantheon of servants intrudes on the territory of the loa...and that is how we find him in voodoo.”
The Master's Son felt sweat drip down his forehead. They were standing in the hot dark of the ritual chamber, alone. “What is his name?”
“It has been lost to the ages,” the witch-doctor mused, “but the Spanish-speaking populace of Mao'Tau gives him a name by way of the Reach of his Hands. He is called Manos.”
The name sang like music to the Son, and he did not know why.
In between these sessions he and Ellen Rand learned and relearned the arts of love. They granted him the powers of a Superman, but she made him feel like one. Her presence helped him accept the hard truths, such as the fact that in the line of work the cult pursued, they needed to kill. But they had power over death as well, as they could raise their victims as the dreaded zombies. One of these had been in service for many years: he was known in life as Carrefour Kalaga. He was one of the more bearable servants of the Master.
He learned much about the Master in this time. Marlowe told him of the wives he had had; his first had become horribly ill and he had tried to cure her by using glandular extracts of young women to restore her. That had been when he called himself Dr. Lorenz. When she had perished, he remarried, but she, too, became ill and passed away. She had been the one to lead him to voodoo, as he sought to use its power to restore her corpse to life. During these outings he had gained a habit of keeping the young women he needed in death-like trances. Late one night, he made a confession to his new apprentice:
“In some ways these young women I kept became my new wives. I desired to have many wives—there are some elder spirits which smile upon such a thing. I fought to keep my true wives alive, but there were times where I was tempted by the beauties I kept suspended. They, too, were dead, but in a different way. Not dead the way I knew it.”
The Son of the Master had no reply.
Marlowe also insisted on keeping around his gallery of freaks, remnants from his days as Dr. Lorenz. Many of them were weak in the legs, and hobbled around weirdly and slowly through the gloomy halls of the plantation.
And yet it was still alarming to him when one of them was found at the border of the plantation, lying dead with his throat cut. Dr. van Molder, in his collected and kindly way, was the first to express belief that he had been a sacrifice. These members of the inner circle (who no longer included Veronica and Megan, who had gone back to their families) talked amongst each other and for the first time the Son heard mention of “enemies.”
He began to worry, but the Master pulled him aside. In a warm voice, he told him: “We had to depose of certain rivals to establish our power base here. There was a man here, a distant relative of mine named Dr. Paul Renault. He was running a zombie operation that we...absorbed. I recall that Dr. Renault's brother Robert was involved in a French case some years back where he carried out the unique treatments of Dr. Moreau on a gorilla. In any case, Paul Renault had made powerful enemies, both in the schemes of crime and voodoo. One is an Asian voodoo mistress named Queen Mamaloi. The other is a black crime boss named Buonapart Gallia—for those names plus his middle initial he's called Mr. Big. Gallia uses a voodoo cult called the Black Widow to perpetuate an image of fear that facilitates his crime sprees.”
“These are our other rivals, then?” the Son said grimly.
“In a way,” Marlowe replied. “They are enemies of each other. Queen Mamaloi has holdings in Haiti, while Mr. Big is dictator of San Monique. Moa'Tau is between the two islands. Neither of them will waste time eliminating us, for they equate us with their old foe, Renault.”
“And they will dispose of us by sacrificing us.”
“That is correct.”
The Son turned uneasily. Ellen was looking at him. In the ensuing months they had become husband and wife, according to all the customs of their order. In the early light of the dawn he could see the lines on her face, and he recalled that Tobanga had passed onto him his own secret of eternal youth. He wondered if he could confer it upon her. For a flashing moment he had the sense that he had to.
The day passed without incident, but they didn't drop their guard once the sun went down. Their suspicions were well-founded, and all involved knew that. The agents of Queen Mamaloi, the assassins, the Thugs, and the dacoits, worked best at night. Just as their magic was divorced in a sense from voodoo, the killers who came to them with their knives, swords, and garrotes were representatives of orders that were preserved only by the dedicated few whose fathers and mothers had served Queen Mamaloi—the 20th Century marched on and true Thugs and dacoits many decades gone. Nonetheless, these servants of the Queen were fast, and they were dangerous. But there was nothing their blades or poisons could do against the hordes of the living dead. The Master's Son stood on the roof and watching as Carrefour led his brethren against the legions of the voodoo empress, driving them back with ease. Even their guns meant nothing. One of the men caught sight of the Son and fired at him, but the bullets were gone from this world before he reached him. Chaka and Marlowe were behind him, and they laughed mockingly at the fleeing servants.
But as soon as they were gone, Marlowe spoke in a hushed tone: “They'll be back. They are as dedicated to Queen Mamaloi as their forebears were to her father.”
“Her father?” the Master's Son asked.
“Suffice it to call him the Devil Doctor, or the Lord of Strange Deaths,” Chaka said then. “Those are what most white men call him, both deservedly and otherwise. Have some gratitude that it's she and not him on these islands.” He sighed. “I miss the original Queen Mamaloi—she was one of us. A mamaloi is a voodoo priestess but she was Queen of all of them. Once this new Queen Mamaloi took her name she was forced to flee to the U.S. She's contacted us under now and again under a variety of names—Hagar, and Maitresse—but we all know we'll never see her again.”
And he sighed again. “Better days have come and gone.”
The day broke again, and like the vampires of old, the Master's Son slept until nightfall. He dreamed of his father, who cursed at him for forsaking him—for taking on a new Master. But he had never been his Master; he was so far away now, with his long, long novel about Christ and Pilate. He merely wrote of stories, while the Son walked through them. Now the Master was dead the way he knew it—but he did not know how he knew death these days. He in himself was also deserving of the title Lord of Strange Deaths. When he woke, he thought about that title, and he thought of Ellen, whom he spent little time with now but who was still his wife. Joined to him always.
Many days went by, and eventually some of servants of Queen Mamaloi were found dead in the woods. Those who found them weren't interested in how they died—they were just interested in the fact that they were in the area. These finders were able to deduce that the dead assassins had something to do with the large walled-off mansion in the middle of nowhere.
They needed to take care of those walls—fortunately, they had bombs. The Son awoke as the east wall came down, and by the time he was prepared and in his robes, they'd taken down the south wall for good measure. It wasn't blow-guns and knives these assailants brought to the house; they had Tommy guns. Dr. van Molder was on the ground floor when the first barrage blew out the windows. When the Master's Son came upon him, Mocquino was with him, hunched low to the ground, inspecting his wounds. “Damn bastards, whoever they are,” Mocquino whispered. “He'll have trouble walking the rest of his life, and that's after we get our medicine to him.”
“They're Big's men, probably,” the Son replied. “I will call the zombies.”
But Marlowe entered the room, and called for the others to join him. Mocquino took van Molder over his back as they ran. “Our hordes have already been released,” the Master intoned. “But I don't know what they can do against weapons like those.”
“Zombies are immune to bullets,” Mocquino said. “The voodoo keeps them going even if their brains stop working.”
“But nothing can keep moving if it's body is ripped to shreds,” Marlowe said again. “The zombies, however, are not alone.”
Leading the small platoon of machine gun-armed attackers was the man known as Whisper. Like of most of everyone else in Mr. Big's gang he was black, but he differed from his comrades in a way that should have put him at the back off the assault rather than the front; a survivor of New York's tuberculosis-ridden “Lung Block,” he had only half a lung to his name from an infection in childhood. Though he wheezed in a way that betrayed that Big mostly used him for telephone work, he was still capable of running into the field with a gun. He had a good deal of experience now thanks to Big's generous employment. But even Whisper, born William Green and known today as Willie Green Sr. (for indeed he found enough breath for the act of conceiving a child), was surprised by what he was seeing. A black man in a top hat with some sort of white paint on his face was running at them, flanking them on the right, carrying a machete. One of the nearby men, Kojah, turned his rifle on him—he'd already destroyed five of the lurching lumpy-faced men who were staggering towards them. Like the zombies, the bullets did nothing, but this time it was like the bullets ceased to exist before they reached them. The man only cackled eerily at the shots, until he was upon one of the men. Whisper watched as the machete made short work of him; then, it did the same to Kojah. Though he was the foremost man he was not the rightmost. He still had a chance to run, and he took it.
One of the men he passed saw him running, and briefly panicked, stuck between choosing to run and live, or uphold machismo with a rain of gunfire. He chose the latter, and Whisper watched as the metaphorical loss of his head became a literal one. Soon the trees were around him, and he was hidden from that laughing maniac. Under the sounds of the remaining rifles, his soft voice could barely be heard: “Wait till I tell Tee-Hee about this one!”
The cult lived to fight another day. They assessed the casualties; a notable number of zombies, and Dr. van Molder's legs, of course. Baron Dominar had gone missing, but Marlowe dismissed him as being perpetually alien to them anyway. Curiously, the Master seemed positive that the Baron had stolen one of the old grandfather clocks from the house. In any case, the house itself took the most damage—it was over a hundred years old and it was not built to resist machine-guns. It was a matter of one of the walls missing. As was the habit, the Master sought council with the Master's Son, alone. The others were not jealous—they were too scared for that, or too closely attending to van Molder.
“I have a feeling this will be our undoing,” Marlowe said frankly. “I have foreseen how you will save us. Are you prepared to do this for us, and for our gods? Are you prepared to sacrifice yourself, if need be?”
“I am prepared for nothing less,” the Master's Son said. “As thou has decreed, so shall I do.”
Marlowe grinned, then, and turned his mind to preparing the boats.
All the cult knew of the boats. They were, naturally, the escape contingency should this very sort of thing occur. Ellen approached him, and he already knew what she was going to say. But he let her say it anyway.
“We don't have to go through this,” she whispered. “We can leave this all behind, once and for all. If they survive it and come after us, you can use what they taught you, and keep us safe. Isn't that logical?”
“We stay,” he replied.
She, too, had been anticipating his words, but she was still shaken. “You can stay,” she said bitterly then. “I don't have to.”
“Yes, you do.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I am your Master, and you are my wife.”
Never once did it cross him that he was losing himself.
Days passed, and then weeks. A chain of events began to unfold unbeknownst to the cult. Queen Mamaloi had a nephew who lived out on another of the Caribbean islands, a place called Crab Key. A former member of one of China's prominent Tongs, he had come into casual acquaintance with Buonapart Gallia for criminal reasons. As Mr. Big got ready to up the ante against Mamaloi's killing of his men with the strange man in the top hat, he received word from this man that the employer of the top-hatted killer was in fact a third party. It didn't take long for Big to decide that he wanted that man in his employ. He sent Julius back to his aunt, not waving any white flag, but extending a hand of peace.
It was only a few more days, then, before they came down again. Dr. Marlowe had been prepared for an attack, but not on two fronts. Whereas they'd come from the east before, now Big's men came from the west, making short work of the walls as they had before. The Master's Son awoke—once more, he'd been foolish enough to sleep, and he had just started to come up on a horrible dream. He bolted out of bed, and knew that once more Marlowe would have sent the zombies, and Baron Samedi. He was confident in their abilities until he exited the room, and came across the scene of Clinton Hamilton being dragged back by one of Mamaloi's Thugs. A sharp blade was at Hamilton's throat, and without an instant of mercy the knife ran through the thin meat and the English devotee was dead.
He slumped to the ground, but by the time he did so, the Master's Son locked eyes with the Thug. He raised his hands and pressed them together into the voodoo grip; through his eyes his power reached out, and the dagger dropped from his hand. He watched the light in the man's eyes, and slowly, he willed that light to fade. Quietly and peacefully, like sleep, the Thug dropped dead.
But then a garrote looped around his throat—a dacoit was behind him. He strained against it, his mind reeling and unable to prepare his magics. The fiber of the robe dug deep into his neck, leaving red and purple rivers. Then the dacoit froze, and his grip slackened. There was someone behind him now; it was Carrefour the zombie, and he tried to break the dacoit's neck. All the same, the dacoit was dedicated to bringing at least one person down with him, and once he regained control he refused to ease on the garrote.
The Son reached out to the floor, to where the Thug had collapsed on top of Squire Hamilton. The knife was below the dead Thug, but it wasn't trapped; the winds brought it to him. He brought it up and slipped it under the garrote, cutting it swiftly. He was free, but the dacoit reached back to his belt. He took a small marble in his hand, and tossed it down at the floor. By the time the Son regained his bearings, the corridor, Carrefour, and the dacoit were all on fire. With a last jerk Carrefour broke the man's neck, but by then it was too late. His dead nerves kept his standing still, staring blankly, as the flames roared over his body.
The Master's Son waded down to the ground floor even as Big's guns turned the house to ruin. Without regard to his surroundings he sprinted outside, to a side that he hoped would be free of both gunmen and assassins. Ahead of him he saw Mocquino, running, with Chaka slumped to the ground, next to Dr. van Molder—the Son briefly inferred that Mocquino had been aiding the doctor until he had decided to abandon him, and he had left the man behind with the much more ethical witch-doctor. Time and space seemed to blur as gunshots broke the air, and van Molder and Mocquino screamed. He wanted to find Dr. Marlowe, and ensure that he was safe, but he couldn't leave Chaka to save van Molder by himself. Working together, the two of them propped up the injured man, whom they hoped was unconscious rather than dead. Somehow, the Son found his tongue. “Where's Samedi?” he cried.
“Big's men were prepared for him this time, and took him prisoner,” the sorcerer said. “I didn't see where they dragged him off to. He went laughing all the way, however...”
He was explaining that Mamaloi's men had gotten Carrefour, when they reached the treeline, and his strength gave out under him. Chaka could waste no more time, and he chose to take pity on the injured man rather than the spry young one. The Master's Son was left at the base of a tree, in the darkness.
Between the fire on the upper floor and the gunfire on the lower, it wouldn't be long before the old house crashed. He took a moment to watch the process begin, and as he did so a voice came out of the dark to him. “It is good that you are alive, my son.”
Fear didn't take him then. He kept his voice low. “Master?” he asked.
“It is I,” said Dr. Marlowe. “I managed to get Ellen to the boats—I'm sure you're pleased.”
“I am. It is good for a houngan of my stature to have a good wife.”
“But you are not a houngan—at least you are not merely a houngan. My death may be soon, young one, and we must prepare for the final contingency. This is what I called you to San Sebastian for.”
“What must we do, Master?”
“You must become me.”
The Son was taken aback. That wasn't what he expected. He expected death, but not of the sort that Marlowe had just implied. “What...what do you mean?”
“I mean that I must transform your mind into a satellite of mine. Should my body die you would then inherit my consciousness.”
“And if I were to refuse this? If I were to choose to resist you?”
“Then you would betray the oath of fealty you swore to me. In any case, you have no choice in the matter.”
When Marlowe strode out of the darkness, his hands had overlapped into the zombie grip.
“For I am your Master.”
The Master's Son already knew he could move, and reality around himself seemed to fade away. But he resisted. He would not submit to this death.
The two of them entered an astral duel in a place that had no form, where there was no light. But they could feel each other—and the Son felt Marlowe's mind pouring out like liquid tendrils, oozing into his and replacing him with his own substance. Memories came upon him like rain, splashing him unevenly. He saw visions of a broken-down Dr. Lorenz, standing besides his dead wife, on the verge of taking a new name, and beginning his studies of the occult. He saw Lorenz, now Marlowe, moving his hands over a mirror that displayed a stirring image: a ship leaving behind a Russian port into the unknown adventure of the Atlantic. These memories became the Son's, just as he remembered being on the ship. Time had no meaning to these memories: now he was back again, and Marlowe was crossing the threshold between the mortal realm and the world of the loa for the first time. Except he was walking backwards to a stronger power, a deeper darkness. Once again, the Master's Son witnessed Manos, and Manos witnessed him.
There was a weird euphoria in turning into Marlowe. The doctor was whispering in the shadows of the jungle: “Mind to mind...soul, from body to body...life to death...” In their shared mind, they heard the eight-beat pounding of a voodoo drum. But he wouldn't let himself relax. This was his body, his mind, his soul. In the darkness of Manos' gaze, he lashed out and began to turn the tendrils backwards—forcing his own mind and soul into the onrushing current of power coming from Marlowe. The doctor gave a cry of pain, and that was all the Son needed. He was torn away from the astral realm and returned to the base of the tree. Returning to his feet, he bolted, leaving Marlowe stunned as a final roar signaled the end of what had been the home of their order.
He needed to reach the boats, and when he did so he found that Ellen was alone in one of the small vessels. Chaka, Tobanga, and a reeling van Molder called for him to join them, but to no avail. For all he knew they had been fully aware of Marlowe's plans for him, and wanted to trap him so it could be finished. What was more was that they couldn't hear the whispers, or feel the gaze. “Protect your wife,” the voice said. “You will need many wives to serve me...”
He looked at how beautiful she was. He remembered the white-gowned women that Lorenz and Marlowe kept down below. He remembered Marlowe's love for them.
Ellen had no chance to protest as he started the motor and took their boat out onto the starlit waters. She was already falling under his power, which grew by the second, and which would never fail. He gave one last look back at his former comrades, who waved their arms fruitlessly as they faded into the distance. He thought he saw the shape of Marlowe emerge from the trees and join them, but he didn't care if they pursued them or not. He had too much of a lead.
Marlowe watched as his pupil and vanished into the midnight horizon. There was a distant connection between them; very distant, and growing weaker by the second. He could feel traces of his spirit simmering within the son of that now-dead Russian writer. He wondered where those seeds would leave him.
He'd taught the boy well; the battle hadn't gone by without leaving some scars on him, too. He could see the idealism in the young man, which he realized he had taken, and he felt memories of an even younger boy sitting on the floor of a great and lonely house, reading comic book tales of Superman.
It was inspiring, in its own way, Marlowe realized. He would need a new alias after this—and voodoo had shown him its faults at present. In any case he felt some of his old demons leave me as he left behind those marks on the Son's mind. He felt science calling back to him, and so perhaps now he could try at it once more. Perhaps he could work with atomic power, that new wonder, and make his own superman. Or a race of them.
The Master's Son took a pledge on that boat, as he found his way back across the Caribbean to Texas, to step out at last from the shadow of his Masters. He would become the Master himself, and he would embody the spirit of what Marlowe had left him. The doctor had intended to transfer life-force to life-force, and in doing so he also transmitted a God. It was not Marlowe's hands that brought him to Mao'Tau. At least, not merely his.
He found his place of comfort, where it would be proper to keep a wife. Under his tutelage Ellen Rand forgot her name, and began to understand the will of Manos.
Nine years passed.
He found many wives. He found a man to serve him, who hobbled as the servants of his Master had. At the end of the nine years, he and his wives began to sleep. But he desired more wives—more and more, whose lives he could profess ownership of. As he slept, he dreamed, and he wandered the strange realms of Manos. Manos promised him a great many wives, and promised him that he would awake again when nine years more had passed.