December 28, 2009

Father Nico and the Keys- And the Beginning of the Prank war.

When we arrived at the church we pulled up into the back parking lot. There were two priests sitting on the back steps smoking. One looked up at us and nodded. "Father Nicolas sent for you?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
"Good.. he is right inside, first door on the left."

It was the same small living quarters that they'd left the chest in originally. Father Nico was inside standing next to a small table. He was not wearing any of his vestments, instead a simple button down shirt, sleeves rolled up past his elbows, and collar slightly damp with sweat. Once again I was struck with how amazingly human he looked. It was sometimes difficult to remember he was kindred.

Ori felt the same way, apparently, because he leaned over to Gio and muttered, "Are we sure he's a vampire?"
"Yup." Gio bared his teeth and pointed to his own canines. "His are pointy."
Father Nico smiled at Ori, large enough that his own pronounced canines showed. "I am a vampire, yes." He motioned to the chairs. "Please, have a seat." He joined us, and when he stepped away from the table we could see what he had been working on. "I managed to open the chest. This was inside." There was a wooden box sitting on the table, padlocked with 4 silver locks, evenly spaced across the box.

Father Nico looked at us all in turn. "We need keys."
I looked at the box and frowned thoughtfully. "Any idea where they might be?"
"Is there anything written on the locks?" Gio asked before the priest could answer my question.
"Indeed there is." He reached for the first of the four locks, his hand pausing as if hitting an invisible wall, before moving through it and picking up the lock. There was a small inscription in what looked like Greek carved into the metal. Giovanni got as close as he could without pain (which was pretty close now that it was out of the larger chest. From what I could tell the aura only extended about a foot from the wooden box now.) He read each lock aloud.

"Hammer of GOD Almighty,
must be a force of faith
less the evil of the world
blot out the light of salvation"

I rested my chin in my hand and considered the riddle. "The Hammer of God? Any idea what that may be referring to Father?"
Father Nico turned away from the chest and returned to his seat. "The Hammer of God was another name for Charles Magnus." I raised a brow in question. "You know him as Charlemagne. Another possible significance is the Latin word for Hammer.. which is Malleus."

Gio nodded. "Mallet.. or hammer.. we know of a Malleus.. though its followed by 'Maleficarum'."
"'All roads lead to Rome.'" I muttered to myself.
"What is interesting is the grammar. Usually these words are used to denote something used by the Devil, against God. However, the way this is written would suggest a weapon of or for God. Unfortunately, there is no other option if we want to open it. All other theories were tried and failed. I am sorry I only gave you more questions, instead of answers." Father Nico explained.
I smirked to myself. I think we were used to that at this point.

"You know...never mind..stupid question." Ori said.
Father Nico looked at him with curiosity and kindness. "No, please continue."
Ori looked at all of us then reluctantly continued. "If it's locked with four locks, don't you think that means its something we probably shouldn't get involved with? Something that should STAY in the box?"
Gio, Nobody and myself all gave a short bark of sarcastic laughter. Nadi looked mildly amused.
Ori heaved a sigh and gestured to us. "See? They laugh at me."
Gio smirked at him. "Should we get involved with it? More than likely not. Are we going to be involved with it regardless of what we do one way or the other? Almost definitely."
I nodded agreement. "That's usually how it works."
"It was in a secret room in Yousef's shop..that already involves us. The guy who had been alive for eons probably thought it was important." Gio added.
Ori was about to ask another question, probably about Yousef.. it slips my mind at times how little he knows about what we've been dealing with. Father Nico responded to Gio before Ori could speak.
"Yousef was indeed a intuitive man, however, he was more of a collector. One must do something to pass all that time. He did not have the benefit of sleep..." The word 'sleep' was said with greater significance than one would usually give to it. He was talking about torpor. The others looked slightly perplexed about that statement, but no one questioned him on it.
"Why don't we just bust it open?" Ori asked.

Nico walked to the corner and picked up a sledge hammer and handed it to Ori. Ori took it with a sheepish look. "You guys probably already tried that huh.."
Father Nico gestured to the box. "Please, go ahead."
Ori looked at all of us. "I'm probably going to regret this aren't I."
I just smirked at him and crossed my arms, waiting.
"Well, here goes!" Ori hefted the sledge hammer up and brought it down on the wooden box with an impressive amount of force. Instead of the loud bang that would usually occur at impact, there was just a soft sizzle. Ori blinked in surprise when he was left holding nothing but a long wooden handle, the end of it smoking and charred. There was a fine dust on the table that surrounded the box on all sides.
Father Nico took the handle from Ori and tossed it in the trash. He spoke while he retrieved a dust buster from a cabinet and started vacuuming up the powered metal. "Yes, Father Peter was very surprised too. Needless to say, we did attempt to smash it open, and were equally unsuccessful."

He put the hand help vacuum away and sat back down. "Again, I apologize that I can't give you any more concrete answers. I will do more research, but unfortunately I am cloistered here and cannot leave, by choice. I do not want others to know who I am or that I am here."

I gave him a look of mild confusion. "It explains why I've never heard of you..Why stay here?" I asked.
He raised a brow at me. "Certainly you can appreciate the value of staying hidden." He said. I nodded slowly. Everyone else vocalized some form of, "Priest? What priest?" to indicate they'd keep their mouths shut.


He paused a moment and looked at each of us in turn, regarding us individually for the briefest of moments. He nodded to Ori. "Did you know that your name is the same as one of our saints?"
Ori blinked as the shift in conversation caught him off guard. "No, no I didn't."
Father Nico stood and began to scan one of the shelves of books. "Yes. He had many prophecies, which were often proven to be true by the situations at hand. Here we are." He pulled a thin folio from the shelf and handed it to Ori who began to skim the pages. "This..uh..wow..the symbolism and imagery.. yeah, this is actually going to be extremely helpful.. how did you know I was looking for something like this?"
Father Nico maintained a look of mild surprise. "I was merely commenting on the similarity in the names, is all."
"Well thanks, I appreciate it." Ori promptly lost interest in everything else in the room and continued to read the folio.

Nico turned to Nadi, who had been ceaselessly scanning the books on the shelves since we entered the room. "I see you are enjoying the collection. Is there anything specific you want to see?"
She just shrugged. "Not really. I enjoy books."
"So books for knowledge sake then?" He inquired.
She nodded.
"If you would like, you may remove one of the books for study. However, since many of the books are very old and rather valuable, I would need collateral before you took anything with you. If you can bring me another book that I could study, then I would be more than willing to let you take a book from here."

I watched the exchange, perplexed. I didn't much believe in coincidence anymore.

"May I come read the books here?" Nadi asked.
"Certainly. We are an open church."
Nadi nodded. "When can I come?"
"Anytime, though if you come during the day you will need to get permission from one of the other parishes..."
"Who should I call?"
Nico waved to another priest that was just outside the door. The priest handed him one of the church's business cards and he handed it to Nadi.
She tucked it into a pocket. "Do I need to call before I get here?"
Nico nodded. "It would certainly be polite, but is not completely necessary."
"Thank you."
"Certainly."
Nadi frowned slightly. "Why help us?"
Father Nico gave a small smile. "It is part of my job, after all. You also brought me this chest, something that is very significant to our church, when you did not have to do so. I greatly appreciate that."

He then looked at me. "May I have a moment of your time in private?"
"Of course." Worked for me, I was going to request that anyway.
Gio stood. "Well if there is nothing else... I have to go." He nodded to Father Nico and walked out, Ori jumped up and followed after him, thanking Nico again for the folio. I tossed my keys to Becca. "Take the car, I'll meet up with you later."
She nodded and made her way to the door. "Sure boss." Everyone else departed and I was left alone in the room with the priest and the mysteriousness box. To be honest, he was much more curious to me at this point than the box was.

"So.. I can see that you have many teachers. Though as avid a learner as you are, it seems that at times you are... floundering."

Its getting increasingly tiresome whenever someone I barely know somehow knows secrets I try to keep hidden. "How do you know that?"

"You are learning the dark art." It wasn't a question.. but it also was not an accusation. Merely an observation. I nodded, there seemed to be little sense in denying it with Father Nico. "Just recently, yes."
"That is a slippery slope you are treading down. Things like that.. leave their mark on you. The perceptive can pick up on those marks." He said.

"That tattoo on your arm.." He gestured to it with one hand.

I lifted my arm and turned it towards him. I had an Oroborus on the inside of my wrist, a piece Giuseppe had done.

"I take it that was done post Embrace, yes?" Nico asked.
I nodded.
"You are aware enough to undergo the Chrysalis and change yourself, and it seems like you have done so several times. I can see that you are ambitious.. but that ambition seems unfocused. What are you trying to learn? And why?" The questions had a similar ring to them as the ones Giuseppe used to ask me. As though the questions were mostly for my benefit, rather to satisfy his own curiosity. I looked at him for a moment before answering, briefly wondering why he seemed so interested.

"I want to be able to control the Beast, mostly."
He raised a brow. "Then studying Cruac may not be a very helpful endeavor."
I smiled slightly and shrugged. "I don't want to subsume it. I want to control it. It can be a useful tool, and I want to learn to use it. I know the beast is dangerous, that's why I want mastery over it."
"Dangerous to who?" He asked.
"Those around me.. and myself."
He nodded. "Yes.. it is. You know... Rowan used to be very beautiful."
I blinked in surprise. Not the comment I was really expecting. "Oh?"
He nodded. "Her current appearance is not an effect of the Embrace.."
"Then what happened?"
He shrugged. "I can't say for sure, but I believe the art that she practices so well has left its mark on her in a much more pronounced and obvious way. now.. what is it that you want from me?"

I didn't even have to pause to think about it. "What were the symbols on your vestments?"
"Warnings to other Dragons."
I frowned slightly. "But I saw symbols that looked like Coils.. but they weren't Coils I had ever seen before."
He nodded. "Yes, and hopefully you will never have to see them again."
I frowned. Not really the answer I was hoping for.
Father Nico leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "You didn't tell me why you are doing what you are doing. I understand you want to be able to control the beast, but even that must have some sort of motivation."

I was slightly surprised to find the answers to his questions coming so easily. I used to struggle so much when Giuseppe would play these question games with me.
"I don't want to become a monster." Or at least, not an indiscriminate killer.
"I see. An understandable enough goal..if you would like, I will teach you skills to help in your goal."
I nodded. "I would greatly appreciate that. May I ask you a few questions?"
"Of course."
"I am very grateful, and I hope this doesn't sound like I am not.. but why are you so eager to help us?"
His expression turned quizzical and he leaned back in his seat. "Why do you think I am eager?"
My frown was thoughtful. "Maybe not eager.. but willing."
"Willing and eager are two very different things. I am willing to help because I think you will very much need it." He paused as though he were searching for the right way to explain himself. When he continued he looked very serious. "We form covenants for a reason, Harper. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances you are forced to detach yourself from those who you might otherwise associate, and hide yourself away, for which you have my condolences, by the way." I couldn't keep my face from twisting in suppressed anger when he alluded to my confrontation with Maxwell. That betrayal still stung. Acutely. He continued. "Your companions, like minded as they may be, will never fully understand you." I carefully kept my expression neutral. "But then, you will never fully understand them either. It is a difficult and complicated situation to be in. However, there is a lot you can learn from solitude as well."

I considered that for a few moments, sitting in silence and mulling it over in my head. It was something I usually tried not to think about. The anger at Maxwell's KOS order came to the forefront so easily because I used that anger as a way to avoid confronting the other things it made me feel, the more difficult things. I knew this, I wasn't fooling myself... but I still did it. And the others.. Well, I'd never felt like anyone understood me in life. In death, I'd found people who finally did. But Giuseppe and Mona were off doing their own things right now. That was really why I'd been irritated with Giovanni for not telling me he'd seen Giuseppe. It bothered me more than I cared to admit that I didn't know the next time I would see them. But I couldn't complain. I knew they were doing what they had to do. Which just left me to do what I had to do. I just hadn't realized until Nico started asking me about it just how isolated I'd been feeling. It's jarring to think that I couldn't even go to the Order for help here in the city without fear that one of them might turn me over to Maxwell.

But really, there was little reason to whine about it. What good would it do? As far as I knew there wasn't a damn thing I could do to rectify the situation and get the KOS order removed. Not even my track record of saving the city was enough to protect me. The only other recourse I could think of was to convince Maxwell I didn't have Malkavia... and I had no clue how to do that as of yet.

Nico was watching my face as I considered all these things. When I finally looked back up at him, he said, "Is there anything else I can answer for you?"
I nodded and asked the other question I'd been thinking about since the moment I met him. "How is it that you appear so human?"

He stood and walked over to one of the bookcases and pulled something out. He spoke with his back to me. "Practice I suppose..." When He turned back around he had an etching in his hand. He held it out to me. "I am very old Harper.." When I looked at the etching I recognized his face. The etching was dated 914 A.D. Holy fuck. He wasn't kidding. "I have had a very long time to garner enemies..a very long time to study, and come to understand the difference between us and humans."

I set the etching aside and regarded him silently, letting him continue. "Do you know what the main difference between us is?" I just tilted my head and watched him, saying nothing. "It is not death... it is the soul." My face betrayed my skepticism, but he didn't seem to notice (or at least didn't indicated that he did.) "Human's have a soul.. we have.. an echo of a soul.. a reflection of the soul that we used to have in life. That is what allows the beast to enter and at times control our actions. I have learned how to improve that reflection, polish it to be more than just a shadow, to be more clear and crisp." He settled back into the chair. "Think of it as a mirror. Your reflection can be made more defined, more detailed for a short period of time if you wish it.. but it was still a reflection. I have learned how to make that effect last. That is why I appear more human than most of our brethren..."

He locked eyes with me and his voice became heavier, like he was trying to weigh it down with the immense importance and significance of the concepts he was conveying to me. I leaned forward almost involuntarily to catch every word. "Because I have come to learn that, although we are creatures of blood, more so than that, we are creatures of flesh. We are made of the same flesh and bone as mortals. We came from the same source, mortal and kindred alike. Ultimately, we are all nothing but dust... Think on this."

He stood, and I followed. He walked me to the door. I thanked him again and left.

I stood for a moment in the frigid night air, lingering briefly on the steps that led up to the back door of the church. I didn't really want to leave. I wanted to sit with Father Nico for hours and discuss what he had told me... delve deeper into his head.. What he had said about dust still rang in my ears, and resonated with another part of me. I had spent only a handful of minutes with him and he'd manage to given me a metric shit ton of things to consider in that short amount of time. Mostly I thought about my soul.

I have never been particularly religious. I was baptized Irish Catholic when I was a baby, but my family was never very devout. It was more a thing you did because that's what people did, rather than any real type of faith. I believe in there is a god..how could I not? Fuck, I TASTED one... I shook hands with Adam's third son, and was threatened by his second. But nevertheless, talk of the soul always made me skeptical. I wondered about what Nico had said..that kindred only had the shadow of a soul. That metaphysical bullshit can get really convoluted and confusing really quickly. I much preferred to focus on the tangible side of life. However, the two were invariably linked together. I couldn't just ignore one of them. Well, I could.. but it would be fucking stupid of me to do.

Did it bother me that I might not have a soul? Should it? I wasn't sure on either note. I felt different once I was embraced.. the beast.. the gnawing hunger.. a change in emotions.. things that felt so necessary in life no longer held the same meaning. Sex, for example. Was it still pleasurable? Sure. Especially if there was feeding involved. But the desire for blood was so much more intense.. it was the drug that dulled every other sensation in comparison. I idly wondered if I would be able to control my beast enough during sex now to resist the urge to feed during it. Probably not something I should test until I was further along in my Coil training.

I reigned my wandering thoughts back in and stepped off into the night. I stayed in the shadows, huddling in my coat.. mostly for the sake of hiding my pasty Irish ass.. but to an innocent onlooker it probably looked like I was cold.. and pulled the hat down further, shielding my face. I took the long way to get back to the tunnels. I tried not to use the same entrance and exit too often, just in case, but I'd take a closer one tonight. I wanted to be above ground for awhile. Besides, it had started to snow, and I'd always liked snow. As I walked, I threw shadows around myself. If I was about to exit a shadowy area, I'd extend them out to provide more cover. I'd have to hunt again soon.. but I needed the practice.. and the safety.


I came back around to the idea of kindred souls. I wondered. If kindred only had a reflection of a soul, then what was it you drank when committing diablerie? I kept tossing it around in my head. We are nothing but dust... I knew that the flesh was mutable.. I paused in a dark alcove to examine my tattoo. It was the only physical change I had made to my flesh since the Embrace. I wondered what else I could change. If I am only dust..then there is no reason I can't change my body.

Seems like I now had new things to meditate on...

****

I was still deep in thought when I got back to the base. I was planning on heading straight to my room and starting my meditation, but as I walked by Gio's lab I heard, BAM! CRASH! "FUCK!"
I frowned and poked my head in. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"SCIENCE!" Gio yelled.
I rolled my eyes and walked into the room, eyes quickly taking in his workbench.
His work bench that was covered in parts from an electronic device.
An electronic device that happened to be my little black box.
I closed my eyes and counted to 5. It didn't help. I spoke in soft, measured tones, cold as ice. "What the fuck are you doing, Giovanni."

He spoke without looking up. "I told you already. You need to listen more. For some reason I can't get enough power into this," he held up the only piece of the box still intact, it looked like a large square battery and connections come out one end. "to make it do what I want it too."
1....2.....3...
"Why the fuck are you experimenting with my shit."
"Next time you should put it where the cripple can't get to it. Like where I'd need a ladder."
I spoke through clenched teeth. "I wasn't aware that I needed to hide my possessions from you as though you were FUCKING FOUR!"

A voice came from my left. Ori had walked into the lab, I hadn't noticed him because of the tunnel vision. "Well hey, there's a spirit in that battery..that's how it wor..." His words died in his throat because as he started speaking I turned my head slowly and stared at him. It was not a nice stare. It was a pretty fucking pissed off im-going-to-rip-out-your-vocal-chords kind of stare. I wasn't pissed at Ori, but if he wanted to inject himself in the middle of this dispute I was more than okay with letting him take stray fire. "I..uh..heh..ookay.. I'm gonna go...uh.. in the other room.." He took a few steps slowly backwards, then turned and walked quickly out of the room. I turned back to Gio, the glare turned down a little (but barely). What Ori had said really had made me curious.. I wanted to know what made it tick too.. but the asshole could at least ask permission first.

Gio looked up at me and rolled his eyes. "It's not like you were using it."
I grit my teeth again. "Yes, actually. I was."
"Oh.. well hey.. I'm ninety percent sure I can put it back together when I'm done. I'm also ninety percent sure I can make it work better."
I leaned in over the table and got up in his face, inches away. Talking low because if I spoke any louder I might just take a swing at him. "That's good. Because I'm ninety-NINE percent fucking sure that if you don't, I'm going to cause you amazingly vast amounts of pain and suffering." I pushed off the table, which scooted a few inches into Gio's stomach, enough to make him grunt from the small impact, and stalked out of the lab. Just as I got to my door I heard him mutter, "Oh but you already do." just as I slammed the door shut hard enough to rattle the frame.

It took me awhile to cool off before I could actually start my meditation. Goddamned Italian sonofabitch.

2 comments:

  1. Props to you. Over the last few days, I've been reading the archive, and I have to say, it's all very awesome. Looking forward to much more.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brotherhood of BetrayalJanuary 6, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    Hey, thanks! I appreciate that. I try to update at minimum once a week since we play weekly. Hope you continue to enjoy!

    ReplyDelete

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