Second-Hand Goods chapter 17

    The mundane is so easy to overlook, which is such a shame because that’s where the magic hides. Ordinary doors, ordinary houses and ordinary people so often house extraordinary things, but since so many people live such full and worthwhile lives, they never notice. Most of the time, that was for the best because magical does not equate to goodness or kindness. The lich they were hunting lived in downtown Manhattan, holed up somewhere in an apartment complex near Central Park, according to the information they got from John. The apartment they sought lay deep in the basement, which got Liam’s skepticism up about their information until Sam assured him that made perfect sense. A lich would want more space for his undead servants than even the ritziest New York apartment building could afford, and even the most boring people would start to ask questions about the smell and the constant shuffling and moaning sounds.

      The address they were sent to sat right next to 55 Central Park West, which put it squarely in what Sam had once called the creepy wannabe cult side of Central Park. Not that it stood out in the same way as the more infamous building that stood next to it, at first glance it was just a normal apartment building. The red awning out front and the burly doorman set it apart as ritzier than some, but it was just your average building all the same. The stone façade gave no hint as to its potential occupants and the window decorations that Liam could make out spoke less of occult horrors and more horticultural nightmares. The doorman tried to block their entry, an obstacle that a swift chop to the neck from Sam brought to a quick and crunchy conclusion. When they reached the door, they found it locked from the inside. To enter, they would need a key or they would need to trick some other occupant into buzzing them in. Liam scanned a list of apartments next to the door, looking for clues that would lead him to the best sucker. Sam pushed past him and simply yanked the door off it’s hinges, placed it against a nearby wall and stepped inside.

     Liam examined the door as Sam stepped into the foyer, her boots echoing in the empty room, “Wasn’t this locked?”

    Sam turned around, a slightly puzzled expression on her face, “Well duh, it’s an apartment complex for the rich and insecure, but what was I supposed to do, buzz our target to let us in?”    Liam gave up arguing with Sam. He was never going to win one argument with her and she knew it. Exhaling slowly, he crossed into the apartment building and followed her.

     Sam ignored the elevator and headed for the stairwell. They descended the stairs, which led down three flights. One level was the parking garage, the next was a laundry room and storage rooms for the cleaning staff, the floor below that seemed to be dedicated to the resident’s pets, but at some point, the pets must have taken over. The door was locked shut and the padlock had started to rust. Inside, Liam could make out a pack of feral cats wandering the large room with menace in their eyes. The stairs went down one further flight and then ended in a black stone wall that looked like it had been recently painted over in a dull grey color.

     “Well, we have the right place,” Sam intoned gravely as she pressed a fist into the wall.

     Liam took a few steps back up the stairs, watching her wind herself up, “It’s like he’s taunting you. Not even the worst architect in the world. builds a stairwell to nowhere. Pointless stairwells are incredibly expensive. On top of that, no single color discourages exploration like boring grey.”

     Pulling back her fist, Sam punched the wall as hard as she could. An echo rocked through the wall to the other side and some cracks spread away from her fist, but that was the only reaction she got.

    “Maybe this wall looks boring because it’s really just a boring wall.”

    “Shut up, Liam. I could have sworn I found the switch.” Sam punched the wall a few more times, with the same effect.

    They were about to give up when they heard a voice on the other side of the wall, “Alright, already! I’m coming! I swear to God, when the New York Times finds out what one of their delivery boys did to Master’s wall, you, my little friend, are out of a job.” A section of wall nowhere near where Sam had been punching slid open, “And you had better have the magazine portion you left out of last Sunday’s newspaper or I’ll tan your hide right here!”

    Neither Sam nor Liam, for all their experience, knew what to make of what they found were confronted with. It was a man, or it had been a man, but he was an ashen grey color and his eyes had started to turn yellow. He wore dark black robes with a hood, but over the robes he wore a pink apron with a bright yellow daisy printed in the middle that came down to just below his knees. What hair he had left was white and stringy, and some of that was in the process of coming loose from his skull.

    It took a long time before any one of them could react, “Oh Christ, not again.” The thing moaned to itself, a talent Liam would learn that the creature was very good at.

     “Don’t you dare shut that damned door!” Sam yelled out, holding up a fist.

     “Oh, what’s the point. Now that you know where the door is, you would just knock it down anyways. Come in. Can I get you some refreshments? Tea? Mints? A bath?”

    The last comment caused Sam to creak to a complete halt, “Do you normally offer your guests baths?”

    “Only the exceptionally smelly ones. Come in.”

     The creature stepped back and left the path open for them. Sam led the way in with Liam following close behind. As soon as they were in, the door closed behind them and they found themselves in perfect darkness. That only lasted for a moment, however, before the torches on the side of the wall leapt to life, sending cheery light flickering up and down the stairs. Liam had assumed that the lair of a Lich would be cold and decorated like a tomb, but the stairway down was surprisingly full of life. A railing stuck out from the stairs, which spiraled down ahead of them, and on the inside of that hand rail a series of garden boxes planted with varying types of roses and lilies. Most of them were doing quite poorly from the lack of sunlight, but obvious signs of effort had been put into keep them alive as long as was inhumanly possible. They walked down the stairs for what felt like a small eternity before they reached a simple black door with a golden doorknob right in the center of the door.

     Reaching past them, the creature grabbed the handle and turned it. The whole door simply fell out of its place and hit the ground with a loud crashing sound. The undead attendant smiled apologetically, “You’re not the first, but most get through the wall on their own. I’ve had to repair this door more than a few times.”

    Sam stepped past him into total gloom. The room alone appeared larger than the floorspace of any other floor in the hotel. The length and breadth of the room was impossible to determine, because all Sam could see was bookshelves as far as the eye could see. Leather bound tomes filled the shelves from the bottom to the top, which vanished into the oppressive darkness. The enormous bookcases formed a foreboding entrance into a long hallway. At regular intervals, small oil lamps hovered at roughly five feet from the ground.

    “It’s a maze. Master gets bored easily, so when someone comes to try and kill him, he makes them hunt him down. It’s just his little hobby. Master has plenty of spare time.”

    Liam choked back a laugh and waved Sam on, “Go ahead, this is your playing field.”

    Sam paced back over and shoved a small book into Liam’s chest hard enough to push him back onto the floor, “Hold that until I get back. Don’t lose it. Or “lose it.”

    “What? I would never wait fifteen minutes, assume you were dead and then go sell whatever the hell this is at the nearest pawnshop.”

     “Good boy, because it’s going to explode if I die.” With that, Sam turned and began to scale the nearest bookshelf. Within moments, she was lost to their sight.

    The attendant turned to Liam, a sour smile plastered on his face as he patted Liam’s back, “I can’t tell if she likes you or not.”

    Liam nodded, “Yeah. Me neither.”

    Sam scaled the bookshelf until she reached the top. From here, the bookshelves spread out all around her. A hunter never takes on her opponent head to head unless she has backup. If Jack had come along, she would have felt more comfortable with a frontal assault, but she was more than capable of doing this the hard way. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a small plastic case that had a fishing line and a hook at the end. First step, illuminate the situation by lighting everything on fire at once. Gently, she lowered the hook until it snagged one of the floating lamps. Once she had it secured, she pulled it up and snatched it out of the air. Taking the candle and snagging a book from the shelf, she opened it and gently tugged the candle from the lamp, wedging it into the spine of the book and closing it. In around five minutes, the candle would reach the book. Its pages were yellowed and brittle. They would make nice kindling indeed. When in doubt, light everything on fire.

    Thankfully for Samantha, the Lich was quite loud. Every step he took made a soft rattling noise, which a hunter like Samantha couldn’t possibly miss. So far, so good. Now to just set up as many candles as possible before a fight broke out. The difficulty in killing a Lich lay in their durability. Each Lich possessed an item they had bound their soul too, in order to cheat death. Destroying its body would prove nothing. With any luck, this lich kept its soul box in this room and the fire would light it up. Sam one, Lich dead. Scooting forward around ten paces, Sam started pulling another lamp up. Surely it couldn’t be this easy, and yet here she was about to get the biggest payday of her life. Wait until she told Jack about this one. He would never believe it.


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