“I’ve been thinking about what I could do with a body like yours. All the beauties I could attract.”

Wilfred raised his champagne flute and with a flourish brought it to his young lips. “To me!” he toasted, and took a sip. Champagne had never tasted better, or gone to his head so fast. “To brilliance and ingenuity and having a vigorous body in which to enjoy its fruits and favours!” He took another sip, then slipped down in his chair in rapture. “Ah Moët, what a friend and a comfort you have been to me over these past many years.” He raised his glass again. “To life; to me; to … the next stage in the evolution of mankind!”

He glanced at Simon, who was hunched over the Necromonicon. He was reading intently, his face wolfish as his eyes ran along the lines of text.

“Drink up, Simon.”

At first it looked like Simon wasn’t going to reply. Then, his eyes not leaving the book, he said, “My poor old body doesn’t stomach fizzy wine the way it used to.”

Wilfred smiled smugly. “Find a new one then. All you need is a blood relative or someone emotionally close – a friend or a lover. Surely you have plenty of those types around.”

Simon glanced at him, curling his lip at the sarcasm.

“If we only knew of this spell earlier, we could have created our own livestock,” Wilfred mused. “Hosts – a host of them – lined up in a row waiting for us to choose the tallest and strongest. The best the world has to offer. Each one ours for the taking, until it’s time for the next one. ‘Sustainable resources’ they call it these days.” He sighed theatrically. “Now, I’m sorry to say, it may be too late for you, old man. Too, too late.” He ran his finger up and down the stem of the glass, enjoying this little tease. “You’re welcome to try the calling spell, Simon. You may be lucky; you never know. A shot in the dark is better than a fizzling balloon, don’t you think?”

Simon’s face darkened, which brought another smile to Wilfred’s lips.

“Then again, you prefer to be the Sphinx, if I recall correctly. Slowly decaying to dust, and all your knowledge with you.”

Simon folded his arms on the book. “That reminds me. I’ve been wondering: do you still need your Vicarial now you’re young again?”

Wilfred took another sip of champagne. He cocked his head at the ceiling, intrigued by Simon’s question. “I’m not entirely certain. I gather it depends if I want to extend my years in this body or switch to a new one in a couple of decades. I can’t see why I would need a Vicarial if I wasn’t stealing years.”

“Stealing bodies would be the more efficient path.”

“True.”

“Ronald can be such a burden on my time.”

“Snyder and Gilles come in handy that way. They don’t mind helping out with Sebastian.” He grinned like a proud father. “Not at all.”

“I’d venture to say I’ve gotten a few more years doing it myself. I’m sure it helps if the puppy knows it’s you doing the punishing.” He pushed himself up. “I don’t mind really. It’s like shaving: a necessary evil.”

“I’ll miss Sebastian. He’s become like a brother to me. I won’t know what to do with myself when he’s no longer around.”

“You’ve decided to do away with him then?”

Wilfred rubbed his fingers over his smooth cheeks. He was recalling some of his favourite torments over the years. They say the more you hurt your Vicarial the more years you earn, and he’d been sure to visit Sebastian regularly. The visits by Gilles and Snyder were just icing on the cake.

“You’ll find some new distractions, I’m sure.”

“In this virile body, yes indeed.” He raised his glass and stared at the room through the bubbles. “How’s yours going? What’s his name again?”

“Ronald. Ronnie.” Simon heaved a long sigh. “I’m not sure he’ll last the year, to be honest. It’s such a bother to have to find a new one. The kidnapping, the spell, the taming of the spirit. Such a bother.”

“I can help, if you like. You being so decrepit and everything. Snyder loves that kind of thing.”

Ignoring the insult, Simon turned the page. After a few moments, he said, “I may well take you up on your offer of the calling spell. Why wear glasses when you can have laser surgery? There must be some distant relative out there who’ll respond. He wouldn’t have to be a baby, like yours.”

Wilfred leant forward in delight. “Aha! I knew it! Not so much the Sphinx now?”

“Let’s say your good fortune has inspired me.”

He raised his glass high. “To me! To my inspiration and good fortune!”

Simon was watching him closely. “So tell me how you did it. How did you switch bodies with the boy?”

Twisting in his seat, Wilfred threw a leg over the arm. He wasn’t in the mood to discuss history when there were so many new plans to make – and their present victory to savour. “We’ll discuss that some other time. Tonight is for celebration.”

“No, Wilfred. Tell me. You know me: need to know now.”

“It was a highly elaborate ritual.”

“One you promised to share with me.”

“One minute you don’t want eternal life; the next, you need to know right this moment. You do frustrate me, Simon.”

“I’ve been thinking about what I could do with a body like yours. All the beauties I could attract.”

Wilfred’s face warmed. Lately, he’d been having a recurring daydream about walking into an exclusive men’s club, one that had Moët on tap and the most beautiful young women in the world: mobbing him, desiring him; eager to do any sexy, depraved, painful thing he demanded of them. The fantasy would come to him night and day, distracting him from his long-held plans to open the gate between the dimensions and command a new world order. He wondered whether the distraction was caused by his new body’s rampant hormones or the simple fact that he’d never before in his life been attractive. Now, suddenly, he had the world at his feet. He could have his pick of what this world had to offer. Suddenly he had a choice.

Simon was looking petulant. “Forgive me if the thought of womankind makes me impatient. I’m only human.”

“I suppose you haven’t had much in the way of feminine company lately, looking like that.”

“As with you in your gnome’s body, before you acquired the young Gates boy.”

“Touché,” said Wilfred, tipping his glass.

Simon’s continual staring was making him angry, so he said, “First summon a responsive soul, one who shares your blood.”

“I know that part.”

Now he was really getting on his nerves. “Simon, find yourself a host and then ask. Now raise your glass and drink a toast to our success in retrieving the Necromonicon.”

“I’m really not that thirsty.”

“If you don’t drink, I’ll take it as a personal insult. I don’t like drinking by myself. We’re supposed to be celebrating, not mooning about like two old men.”

“If I drink with you, you’ll tell me about the spell?”

A nerve twitched beneath his eye. “Very well.”

He watched as Simon raised his glass and took a long drink.

“There now, isn’t that better? Now drink up, so I can begin the summoning of Yog-Sothoth.”

“The Messenger, you mean?”

“No. Yog-Sothoth.”

When Simon looked perplexed, he said, “While you were out, I had a little play with my new friend and extracted a short cut from him. No more messy Messenger to get in the way.”

“That’s handy. How?”

Wilfred motioned for him to drink up. Simon tossed back the champagne like someone drinking a shot.

“Excellent. Top up?”

He waved no. “So, Wilfred, tell me about this short cut.”

“All in good time.”

“You keep saying that.”

Wilfred made a gesture with his hand that implied Simon’s words were as meaningless as the air.

“If you won’t tell me about Yog-Sothoth, the least you can do is tell me how to transfer into a more suitable host. I find a subject and then what?”

Wilfred huffed angrily. Simon’s nagging never failed to raise his hackles. “I will ask Gilles to write it down for you. Suffice to say, it’s no simple task to dislodge a boy from his body.”

“No doubt.” Simon returned his attention to the Necromonicon. “But an old man squatting in a young boy’s body is another thing altogether.”

Placing both hands on the page, he began mouthing something.

Wilfred felt the room rock. It wasn’t the champagne; it was something he’d never felt before: a disconnection of reality, like the room was jerking away from him. Meanwhile, Simon went on whispering, oblivious to Wilfred’s discomfort, ignoring his boyish cry when champagne spilt in his lap.

“What –” he sputtered, “are you – doing – Simon?”

Simon glanced up, his face a picture of innocence. “Oh, I forgot to tell you: I already had a little chit-chat with Gilles. And he told me all about the tri-spell. And how I might adapt it, so to speak. To our current situation.”

With a little shrug, he returned to the book and began whispering again.

Now Wilfred was feeling a growing heat in his head, a pressure in his skull like his brain was pushing his eyeballs from their sockets. Thoughts that weren’t his were crowding in on his own: Simon’s whispers; they were inside his head.

“Get out, you fiend!” he cried, leaping to his feet. His glass flew off his lap and smashed on the floor. “Find your own damn body!”

“But this one is so handsome. And so young and convenient.”

Wilfred pressed his palms against his temples, as if to trap his thoughts inside his head. Drawing long breaths, blowing out air through his nose, he strained with all his might to eject the intruder. With desperation on his side, he soon felt himself regaining control of his young brain.

Simon began chanting louder, unfazed by Wilfred’s temporary victory.

Once more, Wilfred felt his mind getting squeezed out of his protégé’s head. He knew Simon’s spell was too strong to resist. Simon had double-crossed him again, and this time he was planning to play the game all the way to the end, to Wilfred’s end. This was no body swap; this was Simon obliterating Wilfred’s thoughts until there was nothing of Wilfred left.

Through gritted teeth, he said, “Do you remember – what I said – would happen – if you crossed me?”

“Oh, Wilfred, it’s a pity your talents have never measured up to the scale of your threats.”

“A greater pity for you – I don’t – need you anymore.”

A look of horror struck Simon. His face went bright red; the whites of his eyes turned black. Howling, he scratched at his clothes, pulling them away from his throat, tearing buttons as he tore his shirt open. Smoke trailed from the corners of his mouth, from his nostrils, from his eyes. Falling to the floor, he scrambled back until he hit the wall.

“Professor Orwell,” said Wilfred, bending over the table, pulling the Necromonicon towards him, “say hello to Varafti, Sultan God of Fire.”

Simon opened his mouth to scream, and out flew a spear of flame. As hoarse yelps coughed from his seared throat, the flame rose into the room like a burning snake, then twisted down and wrapped itself around his body. Suddenly his clothes were alight, then his skin and beard and hair. Rolling around on the floor, he bucked and jerked in agony. The stench of burnt flesh quickly filled the chamber. Finally, with a shudder, his body went limp, a scream gurgled out of his lungs, and then his throat closed up, and all that could be heard in the room was the cackle of fire.

Wilfred, pouring champagne into Simon’s glass, said, “I suppose I owe you an explanation. You see, Varafti agreed to help me summon Yog-Sothoth in return for the soul of a powerful wizard. Fortunately, I convinced him to take you instead.”

As Simon burned from the inside, the ropes of flame squeezed him tighter and tighter until the fire collapsed into itself and only smouldering embers were left on the floor.

Wilfred raised his glass. “Farewell, dear friend. You’ve no idea how helpful you’ve been to me.”

He sank into a chair, took a long sip of champagne, smiled into the air. With Dylan Gates’ body reclaimed, with the Necromonicon in his hands, with Simon out of the way, with Magacanta just around the corner, his plans were back on track. The world was good.

Suddenly he shot forward. “Hell and damnation!” he cried, glaring at the ashes on the floor. “I forgot to ask what you did with my Borellus!”

Read Chapter 49: Going in

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