December 4, 2009

Rowan and the Priest

I met with Rowan in the same room as before. I was nervous, but not because what I was about to do was forbidden, but because I was about to give lessons to a kindred ages older and more powerful than me. It was intimidating to say the least. But I did the best I could. I tried to avoid telling her things she already knew, but I'm sure it happened. However, she didn't ever stop or patronize me. If anything, she seemed completely eager. She already had a rather sophisticated grasp on blood, but her ways were a bit different than what Giuseppe had taught me about the Coils. Changing the blood, instead of just using it. After a few minutes, I started to get into a rhythm, so to speak. I stopped pausing to see if she would scoff at my words, and just kept going, becoming more confident in my teaching. She had, after all, asked me to teach her.

I never really considered myself a great teacher.. but this was something I understood pretty well (at least at the level I was explaining it to her), and once I got over my nerves, I swung the other way, and began to feel empowered. I was teaching one of the most frighteningly powerful vampires in the city... something new. Something about change. It was something I could definitely get used to.

When I had finished the lesson, she pulled a dagger from the depths of the rags she wore. She moved faster than I could track, grabbing my right hand pulling it out to the middle of the table and slamming the dagger through the back of my hand, pinning me to the wood. I bit back a sharp cry of pain. It came out as a strained groan from behind clenched teeth. She still had one hand on my wrist.
"Cruac.. is not about blood." She tightened her hold on my wrist and dragged my hand up the blade until it hit the hilt. I winced but managed not to cry out. "It is about pain.. the pain in the blood.. pain that you can use..." and on the last word she jerked my hand up again, ripping the dagger out of the table with my right hand. She yanked the dagger out  and let go. I cradled my hand to my chest. I watched as blood welled up from the wound and pooled in my cupped hand. I had not willed it there.

She spent the next three hours explaining the basis of Cruac to me. The basis in blood, pain..and motherhood, oddly enough. I was surprised to find how much sense it made to me. She began teaching me my first ritual, and it came rather naturally. Maybe it was the training I had done with Mona and Giuseppe, or my own self reflection.. or the fact that Rowan was a shockingly amazing teacher...but wounding myself and letting that bloody pain fall into that basin of water didn't seem weird, or hokey.. but just like another way to use the blood to my advantage. But this was not commanding the blood, as I did on a nightly basis. This wasn't mastery over it, it was more like asking something from it. Requesting that it show me things I couldn't normally see. I had had strange dreams, and heard strange voices ever since my embrace. I never knew if it was a product of Vampirism, being Mehket, or proof that I was slowly losing grasp of reality. Whichever it might have been, coaxing the power of blood to show me images in a basin of water didn't seem strange at all. The first time the tendrils of vitae began forming something that looked like an image I felt a thrill of excitement, urging it to show me its secrets. When Rowan left me, I was amazed at how much I'd learned in one evening.

Not only would my knowledge of this blood sorcery increase with Rowan, but learning about these relationships with the blood that I could have, and teaching Rowan of the Coil of Blood was certainly going to make my own pursuit of the Coils easier. It was different, but that's precisely what I needed to advance my studies.

I had become so involved with the lessons that I nearly forgot what Giovanni had asked me to give Rowan. She was about to leave when I remembered.
"I have something for you.. something Gio asked me to give you." I produced the mail receipt we'd gotten from Martindale. She gave me a questioning look as she took it from me.
"I don't know how much about Louie's death you've uncovered yet, but you should know that he was dealing with a rogue Santore pit boss. We received photos of their clandestine meetings in the mail and Gio informed his family."

Her face began to could over, I hurriedly added, "However, I wanted to give that to you to show that we didn't receive the photos until after Louie was already dead. Gio wanted you to know that the Santore's didn't kill Louie.. they didn't even know about it until after his death."

I watched her intently. She looked at the receipt and seemed to consider the situation for a moment before nodding and slipping it into her rags.

"This will be...sufficient." She said with that creepy rough voice. "I will return one week hence for further lessons." And she left. I let myself relax. From her reaction, though, she was almost looking for an excuse to not get involved with Santore business. Both sides seemed to avoid each other.

I remained in the room for awhile after, both to calm my nerves and to meditate more on her lessons. The ritual she had taught me was one of prophecy. It was weird to think about. I wondered what types of things it would show me. I didn't believe that my fate, or anyone elses, was anything more than the sum of our decisions. I chose my own path. I wondered if this would make me doubt that belief. I turned that thought over in my mind for awhile. I came to the conclusion that only time would tell, and the clock might as well start now.

I retrieved a fresh bowl of water and put it on the table in front of me. I pulled out a knife and set it next to the bowl and took several deep breaths (unnecessary, but it was still a useful focusing tool). When my mind was clear of all other thoughts, I felt myself take up the knife and drag it down my forearm, the skin parting like a hungry maw. The pain ran down my nerves like fire but I took it and forced it into the blood that spilled down my arm and into the bowl. I willed the blood to carry with it power, and pain.. a sacrifice of both.. and it left my arm cold and numb. I felt the beast stirring, like it was answering to the call of the primitive ritual of blood sacrifice. It uncurled and began pacing inside my skull, my soul, and it shared my mind with me as I opened my eyes and watched hungrily as the blood swirled together with the water in the bowl.

It danced and swirled, moving with the power I'd instilled into it. After a few moments, it coalesced into an image.. a bulls head that threw its horns left and right as if agitated. It repeated this motion several times before peering straight up at me and snorting steam from its nostrils, which came out as a haze of blood that filled the bowl. When it cleared, the image was gone.

I sat back slowly from the basin, picking up a damp towel and began thoughtfully cleaning my arm, the wound slowly knitting itself closed. I considered the vision. I couldn't discern right away how it was prophetic.. but I also didn't expect this sort of thing be clear cut in any sense of the term. I turned it over in my mind a long time before I finally stood and returned to my room for the day.


For once, no one was standing outside my door when I woke up. Everyone was busy with their own shit, Gio in the lab, Nadi pouring over her book, Nobody working out (on the ceiling, no less), and Becca was watching TV. I pulled up a stool next to Gio's work bench in the lab.

He spoke without looking up from whatever the fuck he was tinkering with. It just looked like a mass of gears to me. "So we got some information about the golem from a rabbi mage.. but it wasn't really anything more than Jewish legend. But I think we should go back and take a look at the guy again. And we need to go back to the Eastern Orthodox Church tonight to find out more about the chest. Do you know any vampires that live there?"
I thought about it for a minute and shook my head. "At the church? No. But I'm hardly an expert on every kindred in the city. Give me a few minutes, and I'll be ready to go."

I stood and walked into the living area where Nobody was doing stomach crunches.
"Hey, did you get the box back?"
Nobody responded between breaths. "Yeah," breath. "it's on the table." breath. "Next time," breath. "Do it yourself." breath.
I rolled my eyes and retrieved the box. I set it to play its recorded data. Nadi came over to watch, as did Giovanni. We watched as I walked into the frame and took out a couple rats. "Ew." Nadi said, but she lacked any sort of disgusted expression in her face or voice. Giovanni smirked at me. "At least that means less of us."
I raised a brow. "Pardon?"
"Less feeding on us.."
I frowned at him. "I wouldn't feed on you guys anyway."
Gio threw his hands in the air, exasperated. "Grow a sense of humor!"
"Tell better jokes." I retorted.

His sour expression and lack of comeback was pretty damn satisfying.

Unfortunately there was nothing on the box, except near the end, when Joseph walked into the frame, looked straight up at the camera, waved, and kept walking.
"You think he'd the one following you?" Gio asked.
I shrugged as the recording ended. "Maybe, but I doubt it."
Gio picked up the box and started examining it with an odd look on his face. He was muttering to himself about figuring out how it worked. I took it from him and put it back in my room. When I came back out he was in his lab jotting down notes, still muttering to himself, sometimes giggling like a mad scientist in training. It was kinda unnerving.

"Lets go, Gio." I said from the doorway. He nodded and limped over, still muttering to himself. As we all headed out (except Nadi, she was too immersed in her book) he looked at me and said, "Remind me. Camera.. backwards."
I gave him a mildly perplexed look. "Sure.."


I don't care how involved into supernatural shit I get, there is one fact that has yet to be disproved. Churches are fucking creepy at night. It was true of our home base in New Orleans, it was true of the Eastern Orthodox church we arrived at that night. But then, I've never been especially religious, so maybe I was biased.

The door were unlocked and we were greeted by three young men in their twenties, one of which was wearing the robes of a priest. Or so I assumed. They all had robes, but his were a bit more ornate than the other two. I'm not all that familiar with Eastern orthodox church hierarchy. All three, however, were human.

"May I help you?" The priest spoke with a voice that suggested he honestly wanted to give us aid, of any kind.

Gio pulled the Polaroid of the chest out of his coat pocket and held it up for the priest. "We came here earlier today asking for information on this thing and were told to come back after sunset. Presumably, to talk to someone who wasn't available during the day."

The priest nodded. "I am Father Nicolas, you may call me Nico. It is a pleasure to meet you."

When he introduced himself he also smiled slightly, revealing the tips of his elongated canines. I blinked in surprise. It was purposeful gesture, I was sure.. because a vampire doesn't get so good as to masquerade as completely human and accidentally flash fangs to ruin it all. And that was the surprise. He really did look completely human. He smelled completely human, hell, I could hear his heart beating if I concentrated. A few beads of sweat were even collecting on his forehead as we stood under one of the heating vents that warmed the church. Hell, his aura was even human! It wasn't pale and faded, but colorful and vibrant. But once I caught sight of the teeth, I noticed other signs. The intricate stitching in his robes wasn't just ornate for the sake of ornate. There were symbols stitched throughout. He was a member of the Order. The symbols woven into his robes depicted knowledge of Coils.. a few of which I had never even heard of. I thought I knew of all the Order in the city, at least those worth mentioning. Judging on how many Coils he apparently had knowledge of, and his unique ability to appear human even down to the aura, he was definitely worth mentioning.

This was definitely someone I needed to get to know better. I was looking him up and down, staring really, as he talked with Gio. If it bothered him, he made no indication of it. Gio was introducing each of us as I examined the priest.

The other two priests introduced themselves briefly as well, no fangs on those two. Father Nico motioned us further back into the church, away from the doorway, and into an office. The two other priests departed.

He took the photo from Gio and examined it a moment. "It certainly looks as though it is from the Byzantine Era, the carvings are religious in nature, but why is it of interest to you?"
I spoke up, still sizing him up. I was completely intrigued, and not the least bit trusting. But then, when was I ever? "Neither he or I could get within 5 feet of it."
Father Nico regarded me with mild surprise. "What do you mean?"
I shrugged. "It was like there was an invisible wall. The others," I gestured to Nobody and Becca. "could approach it, even touch it, but we couldn't."
"And it hurt." Gio interjected.
I shrugged again and added, "It just stopped me, it wasn't painful."

The Father's brow knit together in a perplexed and curious. "Did it feel anything like this?" He raised a hand, palm forward in front of him, and I suddenly felt a familiar pressure. I tried to reach forward, and just couldn't. Gio grimaced and grunted from the strain, obviously in pain, but refusing to cry out. "Yeah, that's exactly what it felt like." Gio said through clenched teeth. I nodded in agreement. Gio breathed a sigh of relief as Nico lowered his hand.
"So what was that? And why would the chest be able to do that to us?" I questioned.

Father Nico looked at the photo again. "It is called Eupraxia. It could be that what is contained within the chest is a relic of similar power... that said, it would probably be wise not to open the chest."
I ignored the looks I got from the others.
"So its an object? Not a body? Could you open it?" Nobody asked.
"You all should be aware that relics can be in the form of remains. But I cannot give you any more definitive answers without examining the chest for myself. And if it kept your friends away, it would most likely do the same to me." He looked directly at me. "As it usually is with our Order, I would like the opportunity to study the chest, if possible." Well I didn't know him but he was certainly aware of me. I wondered just how aware. I don't usually suspect priests of possible homicidal tendencies, but stranger things have happened.

He looked from one of us to the next. "Where did you find it?"
I regarded him through slightly narrowed eyes. Giovanni decided to be more forthcoming.
"A secret room belonging to one of the oldest men to ever live."
Father Nico nodded and handed the photo back to Gio. "I would advise against interacting with the chest. It is impossible to tell what may be inside. i apologize that I cannot provide you with any more information. Please, let me know if you need anything else."

Father Nico handed Gio a card with a phone number on it, which he slipped into his pocket. Father Nico turned to me and watched my face for a moment, eyes searching. He pulled a small glass bottle from a shelf. When he pulled out the stopper I could smell that it was olive oil. He wet two fingers in the oil, began saying a soft prayer, reached out to me, slowly (probably so I wouldn't pull away) and touched the fingers to my forehead. My skin tingled with subtle power. I raised a brow at him as he pulled away and he said, simply, "A blessing to aid you." I nodded my thanks. I hoped that he really would turn out to be an ally, and not an enemy. I could use more allies right now.

I stayed pretty quiet as we left the church. I wanted to talk to Father Nico alone, but I figured it would be better to simply wait until the others weren't around to do so. I was insanely curious as to how he managed to appear so human, and what those mystery Coils were. I knew that there were some Coils which helped a kindred appear more human, but I didn't know that it could be so drastic. I absently touched my fingertips to my forehead and they came back slick with the olive oil. I flashed back on Loki smearing his blood across my forehead, using his Cruac to destroy my defenses. But Nico's 'blessing' had felt completely different. I rubbed the oil between my fingers and smiled slightly. Maybe Nico really would be an ally.

Gio was driving, and when I finally pulled myself up out of my thoughts I noticed we were pulling up in front of the shop. "What are we doing here?"
"I got an idea from the rabbi about how to deal with that clay statue." Gio responded, then got out of the car. We all followed him up the fire escape and into the secret room.

Gio pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and looked from it to the Hebrew character on the statues head. I looked over his shoulder. The two symbols were only had slight differences. I frowned. "Let me guess, that's the Hebrew character for life."
Gio nodded and pulled out a pocket knife. "Yup."
I took a step back from both him and the statue. "And you are going to wake this thing up, aren't you?"
He nodded again. "Yup."
I inhaled and exhaled slowly and unsheathed one of my knives. There was no sense arguing with him, so I didn't try for once.

"Hold on." Nobody said as he took the paper from Gio, tore off a blank corner, jotted down the character on the statues forehead, and stuck a throwing knife through it. "Just in case." and he took a few steps back and tucked the knife away into his coat. We both nodded at Gio to continue. Becca stood behind all of us, looking slightly nervous.

Gio carefully changed the symbol and stepped back. For a moment, nothing happened, then slowly we watched as the clay began to harden, then crack, then flake away. It revealed a tall man, one who would probably fit into the clothing in the crate. It took no longer than a minute, and the man was standing in front of us, bare ass naked. When he opened his eyes, he immediately focused in on each of us in turn, and when he got to me and the naked knife in my hand, he charged me.

I tried to slip out of his way, but he he caught me before I could. I remember a blunt force trauma to the chest before I blacked out.

I woke up no more than 10 minutes later. I sat up with a grimace. I felt broken ribs. Becca offered a hand and I grasped it and pulled myself to my feet, bones screaming in protest even as the blood started knitting the ribs back together. The man was gone. I looked between them all and crossed my arms. "Good to know I'm the only one who got steamrolled.. where the fuck did he go?" I said, sourly.

Gio shrugged and handed me my knife. I took it and slipped it back into its sheath. It occurred to me that I had been the only one with a weapon out when he had woken up. That was probably what provoked the attack. I guess I couldn't really blame him.

"He had us take his photo for the passport, I gave him a burn phone with my number in it, and he left. I think we just woke up another Promethean. He also said his name was Peter." Gio explained.

I frowned. "We really need to stop doing that you know. That's a total of three Prometheans I had some hand in waking up."
Gio smirked at me. "Stop? Oh fuck no."
I just rolled my eyes at him.

"At least Bright won't get him now." Nobody added. I had to agree with him for once. That was a bonus. I'd hate for anyone to be under the SCPs microscope.

We all turned, almost in unison, to the chest.

"So what do we do with it?" Becca asked.

"We don't have a lot of options really. We can't take it back to Maury's because of what it does to vampires. We can't have Ned pick it up for the same reason, and we don't really have any other safe locations to store it at currently." I replied.
Gio nodded. "This was our safe location."

We all stood there thinking for a few minutes until Gio broke the silence. "We have to take it to the church."

I looked at him incredulously. "And give it to a vampire that we met, what.. an hour ago? That sounds like a FANTASTIC idea."

He raised an eyebrow at me. "Do you have any better ideas?"

Damn him.. of course I didn't. I never did. But fuck.. I hated turning over items and information to people we knew nothing about. Hell, I hated doing it to people we DID know. I looked at the chest sullenly. "Fine. But we'll need to take two cars."

Gio and Becca went to retrieve my car. She and Nobody loaded the chest into the trunk (what with the armor and all, it was the better choice) and they rode to the church in my car, Gio and I followed in his. He dialed Father Nico's number as we went.

"Father Nico, it's Giovanni Santore. Sorry to bother you again so soon. But we decided to bring the chest to you. We don't have anywhere to keep it that's secure, and you may be able to figure out more about it than we can."
I could hear his voice on the other end. "I see. I appreciate your generosity. May I speak with your friend for a moment?"
Gio handed me the phone.
"Yes?" I tried not to sound crabby. I actually managed to pull it off this time.. mostly.
"You are not comfortable with this idea." Father Nico said. It was a statement, not a question.
"Not really, no." No sense lying to the man.
"Would it ease your mind if I said I would keep you informed of any discoveries I make concerning the chest? I don't intend to keep you from it."
This was one of those very rare moments that made me wonder if I was overly cynical about people. A VERY rare moment. "I would appreciate that. I'm eager to know more about it."
"As am I. Please, when you arrive, come around the back of the church."
"We'll be there soon."
"Thank you again, Miss O'Shea."

Have I mentioned that I desperately wanted for this guy to be on my side?

We arrived at the church and Father Nico was waiting with the two other priests. He motioned them to the trunk, and they lifted the heavy gold chest out and took it inside the building. "Put it in the empty quarters downstairs." Nico called after them. Watching how they interacted, I could tell they weren't ghouls. Just human. The relationship between Nico and the other clergy of the church seemed completely stemmed from a shared faith. It made me think better of him.

We followed him inside. He went into the small room and took off his outer robes. He rolled up the sleeves of the shirt he wore underneath and began pushing against the invisible barrier with his hands. I watched as he started to sweat, still marveling at the depth at which his body could mimic life. He looked up at us after a moment.

"This will take time. But rest assured, I will call you if I discover anything."

I nodded to him and we turned to leave. I glanced back one more time as we walked out and I saw him pushing again, but this time his hands actually moved forward a few inches. Fuck, it was more than we'd been able to do. We left the chest in his care, and though I was still annoyed about it, I could live with it. Maybe it would make him more willing to train me in those mystery Coils later on..

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