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We walked down the narrow staircase to another steel door. This one was equipped with a servo-driven spring-loaded bar. Some security person upstairs had to acknowledge our presence through a camera and microphone interaction, and it was their action that powered back the bar.
“This is it,” she said. The door opened.
We were looking into a large room, thirty yards square, with a big structural pillar in the middle that no doubt concealed a skyscraper girder. There was an outer ledge at our level surrounding a carpeted pit full of workstations, little desks with laptops staffed by demons. The whole pit area was fenced off with a cordon like the velvet lines they use for queues in movie theaters, except that each of the brass poles supported a prominent pentacle, and the purple cordon ropes were worked with intricate runes in silvery thread.
A dozen demons were variously standing, sitting, or perching at their workstations in the central pit. Originally summoned into inanimate bodies made out of clay, metal, plastic, or whatever, some of the demons had altered their forms over time. Not to the point of looking like proper living beings, though, not even semi-human ones like Barbatos. These things were halfway between piles of trash and people.
The nearest demon glanced our way as Sakashvili opened the door. Its body had originally been a life-sized artist’s mannequin, a wooden object with articulated joints allowing the model to be posed as an anatomical drawing reference. But the demon had been altering its body. Flesh mixed with wood, now. The original mannequin structure was still visible, but a clumsy face had formed where a blank had once been; it was more like a sketch of a face than a real thing. I didn’t know if it used the hollow pits of its eyes to see or not, but a moment after the thing inclined its head upward towards us, it flinched violently and hunched back down over its laptop. Around the room other monstrosities behaved similarly, pretending they were entirely focused on their computer screens, deliberately not paying us any attention at all.
It might have been a pathetic scene, these hapless slaves crafted into shambling semblances of humanity and forced into servitude by a rich, evil corporation, but I knew from long experience that infernals just weren’t deserving of that kind of consideration. It wasn’t just being inhuman. Their fundamentally unnatural existence in our world was creepy, sure, but it was their pervasive malice that really made me hate them. Low level infernals were stupid; apart from their magical talents, they were just thugs. The higher-ups were villains and fiends. So maybe they weren’t properly demons at all, not fallen angels or rebels against some divinity, just monsters from some alien plane of existence, but the name fit.
“This is the only way in? What’re those?” I gestured at several doors around the sides of the room.
“Conference room,” she said, “summoning chamber, workshop for demon material assembly, and analyst quarters. No other exits.”
“I’m going to have to talk to them,” I said. “I assume they’re all under your control.”
“Yes, but…” Sakashvili seemed unhappy with the idea of my going down there.
“Listen,” I said, “you’ve got these things warded up the ass, and the physical security would make Tom Cruise cry. Power outage or no power outage. It’s obvious what happened here. Right? You do see it’s obvious to me, don’t you?”
Sakashvili stared at me for a moment. I wasn’t sure what was going on behind her eyes.
“I…I think you’re going way beyond your purview, Ms. Simeon. This has nothing to do with finding Barbatos.”
I took a step closer to her, and she flinched away from me.
“You’re wrong,” I said. “I shouldn’t even have to explain this, it’s so obvious. Someone must have helped your demon get out of here. If it wasn’t you, it was someone else high-level at Goldman Sachs who works with infernals. Some or all of these demons must have been here when Barbatos escaped, or was taken, or whatever happened to him. I assume your internal security people are all over this already, and you were just hoping I wouldn’t follow up on it for the Commission. But that’s not how it’s going to be. Because my reputation is at stake here if I ignore it.”
I left unsaid that finding out who the insider was would end their career and maybe their life, knowing the kind of control the Commission’s member firms liked to exert over magic in the city. That was obvious, too.
“Okay,” Sakashvili said after another pause, “so be it. I’m going to have to clear this with security. Hang on. Got to give them some passphrases.”
She stepped to the side, far enough to have some privacy from me, and started muttering into her phone. After a minute she put the phone away and returned to where I was waiting.
“I can give you fifteen minutes,” Sakashvili said. Then she walked to the top of the steps leading down into the work area, just behind the cordon.
“Listen up, people,” she called out, and all the various monstrosities working their laptops looked up, as if they hadn’t known she’d been there all this time.
“I invoke your bindings. Code Shemhamphorash. By Anaphexeton and in the name of Abrac Abeor I adjure you. Speak truthfully to my servant Nora Simeon and answer her questions. In the name of the Primemeuton. Selah.” Then she muttered to me, “Sorry about that servant thing, you know how it goes.”
I nodded to her. “May I?”
She unlinked the cordon rope barring access to the three steps down into the demons’ work area. It probably formed some kind of magical ward. “Be my guest.”
I have to admit I paused at the top of the stairs. I hated having to be anywhere near infernals, but I’d talked myself into being allowed down there. And the longer I waited, the more likely they’d think I was weak. You didn’t want to show weakness to demons, even when they were bound to serve you. So down I went. Into the pit.