July 23, 2010

Even more Secret Secret Societies

Father Nico answered on the second ring. "Hello Harper, what can I do for you?"

"How are you this evening?" It behooved me to be polite..

"Well, as most others.."

"I'd like to speak with you in person...tonight, if you have the time."


I paused, considering. Father Nico would more than likely know what I was talking about without having to spell it all out.."The Five of Coins, and the significance of the Blue Dragon."

"So this is Order business? Not personal?"

Personally important.. but it was Order business, regardless. "Right."

His voice and demeanor changed so suddenly that I didn't even have time to react. The friendly, easy to talk to priest vanished, and what sounded like a completely different priest with Father Nico's voice said the next words.

"You will arrive in two hours. Wear the proper attire, supplicant." And he hung up on me.

I sat there a moment, stunned. I had not known Father Nico for very long, but I'd never heard him give an order. I'd never heard his voice so cold and direct, either. It was like he'd put on a mask once it became 'official business'.

Or perhaps took a mask off. I was acutely reminded of how little I knew about the ancient vampire.

Once his words sunk in and I got past the sudden shift, I became a little perturbed. He'd called me supplicant. I wasn't usually hung up on titles, but I was pretty proud of my advancement in the Coils. I hadn't been able to claim the title of Scholar of the Untamed Hunger for very long, but I was pretty certain Nico knew it.

However, I wasn't going to correct him. I was going there, asking for instruction and information. He was not only centuries older than me, he was also of significant;y higher rank within the Order. He could call me what he wanted, though it didn't mean I had to like it.

Then I spent the next 10 minutes mentally berating myself for giving a shit about titles at all.

After that, I got to work figuring out what the 'proper attire' was. Thankfully, that didn't take long. I remembered reading something about it in the Rites of the Dragon.. I retrieved the old book from its hidey hole, and flipped to the appropriate page.

Apparently, I should wear brown. I dug through my closet. I had a few sets of brown clothing.. but it didn't seem quite appropriate. I had the feeling this was going to be rather ritualistic. I spotted the robes I'd worn at the monastery in Japan near the back. I took them out and laid them on the bed, then sat on the floor and took the remaining time I had left to meditate.. and get into the right frame of mind. I didn't usually have the patience for ritual, and I knew it. Preparing myself would go a long way to help prevent me from making a fucking fool of myself.

When the time came, I left the room and headed out. I didn't pass anyone on the way, so I didn't have to deal with any obnoxious questions.


All the lights in the church were out, save for one candle. Instinctually, I didn't want to approach that candle.. but it seemed rather pointless to skulk in the shadows all night when there was someone waiting to let me inside. It was a young priest, one I'd seen in passing a few times before. He didn't say a word to me as he opened the door and motioned me inside. He took me into a study, removed a few books from a shelf, and the bookcase slid sideways to reveal a dark passage.

I was starting to feel like I was in a spy movie.

He held out the candle to me. I can see in the dark, but I figured the candle was significant somehow, so I took it from him. I stepped inside, and he left.

The first thing I noticed, oddly, was the smell. Incense. Since I wasn't breathing, that was particularly odd, but it seemed to creep up my nose despite a lack on inhalation. It was strong, but not unpleasant. In front of me was a long winding staircase that went down into what I presumed would be a chamber at the bottom.

There was a very faint red glow coming from below me, but the stairs themselves were dark, save for my single candle. I gave the stairs a cursory once over before proceeding down, and noticed more candles adorned the walls, one on each side, spaced a few steps apart. The wicks had never been burned. They looked like they had been placed here just for this occasion. So despite my distaste for open flame, I began lighting them as I walked down the stairs.

I was surprised to find that I could smell them, even through the incense. They weren't made from wax, but from tallow.. rendered fat, though I wasn't quite sure how I knew that.. it seemed significant, but I had no idea how.

I went down the stairs in a criss-cross pattern in order to light all the candles. I noticed that the stairs, while covered with a threadbare carpet, had blue tiles that seemed to form a pattern. The carpet obscured most of it, but I had an idea what it might be.

I could hear nothing but the faint sound of a low fire in the chamber below me.

When I made it to the bottom, I saw the room was small and held two braziers, the thin smoke of incense wafting from them. There was a doorway on the far side of the room. As I approached it, my candle suddenly went out. The room was lit only by the smoldering coals in the braziers, and the glow from the candles lining the staircase that did not reach far beyond the arch I had just entered through.

Father Nicolai's voice echoed through the small chamber.

"Who walks the path?"

"Harper O'Shea," I paused, biting back the urge to give my normal title. "Supplicant."

"When do you walk the path?" I couldn't tell where his voice was coming from. but I knew from my studies the correct answer to the question.

"In the Twilight.."

"What do you seek?"
I hesitated. The question was unexpected. Little did I know, all the others would be as well. So I answered as honestly as I could. "Knowledge."

"Good." The voice came from my left. As I turned, I could see the faint silhouette of Father Nico framed in a small alcove I had not noticed before. I turned to face him, still holding the extinguished candle. My night vision allowed me to see that he wore formal robes, adorned with an azure sash that hung around his neck. There was a stiff formality to his demeanor.. but there was to mine as well, so I couldn't judge.

"You have been tested, both by your sire, and by your actions since your arrival in Chicago. You have sought out mysteries and recovered several items of great power."

He paused, regarding me.

"But tell me, what have you learned of your companions?"

I stopped to consider before answering. "They're generally good people, though their methods tend to fall short of upstanding, the intentions are good. They're loyal, and brave, if also annoying and foolhardy.."

Father Nicolai's eyes narrowed slightly. His body language told me he wasn't happy with my response. "I ask for specifics, and you give me generalities. What have you learned?"

I hesitated. I could go on for hours about most of them, but I just wasn't sure how much detail he really wanted. I was floundering. I had been completely unprepared for this.

"Giovanni is a member of the Santore crime family, and an arrogant ass. He's a Lucifuge, so he is demon blooded, and thinks of everyone around him as a tool for him to use. He might very well be going insane, as it is, he has become obsessed with inventing useful tools using what appears to be mostly fringe science...Nobody is an assassin for the court of Autumn and is rather good at his job. He is a mirrorskin, able to take on anyone's appearance. He's trying desperately to fill the shoes Frost left behind, and is scared shitless about going insane, which is apparently something that plagues many changelings. He's good with stealth, knives, and generally any other sneaky behavior. He's not above killing to advance his agenda, yet also seems to have some compulsion to protect helpless people that perplexes me..Nadi.. I don't know much about. She was a college student, now a mage. She seems particularly adept at Death magic.. but at least a bit knowledgeable about several other forms as well. She is reserved, quiet, and enjoys learning. I have no idea what her motivations may be. As for Ori.. he's a werewolf, a Cahalith Bone Shadow, specifically. He's now a member of the Santore pack, but seems to find more comfort in us, than in them. he seems leery of his own kind, and goes out of his way to avoid them usually, which I find odd for a pack animal. He trusts too easily."

I fell silent. Nicolai's body language did not improve.

"How will you protect them."

"Any way I can." The answer came out before I had a chance to think about it. Nico just stared at me, silently. I inhaled and exhaled slowly, and tried again. I didn't know what he wanted.. specifics? How could I know all the potential threats that might come up?

So I tried something a little more specific, but it still fell short of what Nico was looking for, apparently. "I'd obtain more knowledge concerning their enemies, and focus on exploited their weaknesses, as well as improve myself to make this a viable option.."

Still no signs of approval. I felt like I was blundering through a room of furniture blindfolded, continually banging my shins on the same low coffee table.

"How would you destroy them?"

I was again caught off guard by the question. My mind was racing, trying to figure out what the right answers to his questions were.

"Nobody relies on his job and reputation to give him the identity he needs, since his appearance is so fluid. I would put up surveillance in order to intercept his orders from the Court and cause him to fail his assignments, damaging his reputation. I'd plant cold iron on him, to cause the other changelings to distrust him even more. I'd put him in situations that would force him to enter the hedge on a regular basis, and plant thoughts in his mind to question his sanity. I would take away his reputation, identity, and sanity until he was s useless madman." I was surprised at my own words even as they came out, surprised I'd even thought all those things about someone who I considered an ally, even if he was annoying as fuck.

Nico just stood silently and waited for me to continue.

"Grigori.. I could simply stab him in the back with silver given his propensity to trust us so easily.. but that would just be killing.. not so much destroying.." I paused a moment to think before continuing. "He feels like he has found a place to belong, here. First, I would set up a series of accounts and deals that made it look to the Santore's like he was betraying them, working with their enemies. They would turn into a thorn in his side, if not kill him themselves.. I would sow seeds of doubt about the others.. Nobody could screw with his dreams..."

"You would use the changeling then?" Nico asked.

I nodded. "It would be easy enough to bride Nobody to change his dreams into visions of betrayal and lies.. Nobody enjoys fucking with people, and I should be able to convince him to do it, if he thinks its just to give the wolf a hard time.. I'd make Ori doubt it all, and send him into a depression, taking away everything he's achieved.."

I stopped there for a moment. The next person on the list was Giovanni. I had to think long and hard about that one, and the plan that I came up with was shaky at best.. but it was all I could think of as I stood before Father Nicolai.

"Giovanni's downfall is his pride. It fuels him, and keeps him going. He has to be able to protect those he cares about, and if he can't, it will damage that pride, that fuel. I would begin to take away those he cares about, render him unable to help them in any fashion, destroy his pride, and render him ineffectual." I felt the answer was lacking.. but on the spot, it was, sadly, the best I could come up with.

"As for the mage.." I grimaced. "I honestly don't have any clue."

"So you do not know how you would destroy the mage?" He asked.
I blinked in surprise.

He continued. "Are you willing to learn things that you ought not know?"
I fought down the smirk. "Yes, I look for those things especially."
"Are you willing to be taught by one who does the same?"
I wondered what it was he knew that he shouldn't.. considering his age, probably quite a few things. "Yes."
"Are you willing to forsake your other teacher to learn these things?"
"Yes." I lied before I even thought about it. Inwardly, I cringed.. he'd see through it. It was a mistake to lie to him.. but it had jumped from my mouth before I'd had a chance to stop it. Giovanni was rubbing off on me. I needed to be more careful.

"Do you swear to aid me in any way I see fit in my pursuit of the Great Work, until I, and only I, decide that you have progressed enough to pursue your own version of the Great work?"
I nodded slowly. "I do."

He reached over and threw a fine dust on the smoldering coals beneath the brazier. They flared with white fire. I managed not to flinch.
"Remove your robes." He ordered.

I slipped off the brown robe, folded it and placed it in his out stretched hand. He placed it over the now burning fire, and the cloth began to burn. The smell of burning wool mixed with the incense, which made it less tolerable, rather than more. I felt more comfortable in my street clothes now then I had in the old robes.

Nicolai held out his hand to me, and in it was a dark blue choker, adorned with a simple silver ouroboros. I took it from him.

"Welcome to the Sworn of the Dying Light, Apprentice O'Shea. This will be the indication of your station. You're training will begin tonight. You have.. much to learn. First, you must admit your faults. You seek to discredit, and inconvenience the changeling.. kill the werewolf.. and injure the Lucifuge.. but you failed to explain how to destroy any of them. There was only once that you admitted that you did not know how to accomplish this. You were willing to forsake useful teachers in order to learn other secrets...both of these things are foolish."

I inwardly cursed myself. Meditation hadn't helped, I'd still managed to make a fucking fool of myself. He continued.

"If you are asked again whether you would give up such a thing and you must answer yes, you better be certain that you are lying." He leveled a glare at me that told me he knew exactly how truthful I'd already been.

"I have not taken on an apprentice for a long time, and I do not teach fools."

I nodded, and once against felt like I'd embarrassed myself greatly.

"You will remain here until one hour before sunrise. Breath deeply, and think on these things."

He departed up the stairs and I heard the door slide shut behind him.

I sat down on stone floor and tried not to beat myself up. I'd fucked up.. but I could learn from my failure. Berating myself did me little good.

The incense became more and more over powering. I inhaled deeply and felt the heavy air sting my nose, throat and lungs. It made my head swim and I had to fight to stay conscious. The smell overwhelmed all my other senses, I felt blind, deaf, and mute.

Amidst the incense, I realized that I had had a hard time articulating things that I already knew, and a difficult time admitting what I didn't know. I had much work to do, in that regard. I felt lucky that Nico was willing to take me on at all.

I sat in that room for hours. Eventually, I began to taste copper in the back of my throat as I breathed the smoke. I felt thick tears pool in my ducts then slide slowly down my cheeks. Normal smoke would make any normal persons eyes water, but these vapors were going further than that. I was weeping blood. My insides constricted harshly in hunger, despite my recent feeding.

After what seemed like an eternity, I heard a chime from high above me. The noise shocked me out of my trance, it was the first noise, aside from the smoke, I had heard since Nico left. I swan back up to the surface through the haze of incense. I heard the door above me slide open. It was nearly sunrise.

I staggered to my feet and up the stairs. When I reached the top, and the door shut behind me, I gasped, taking in as much of the clean air as I could to purge my lungs of the infectious incense. The air was abnormally cold. The first breath was pure and clean, the second stung my throat, it was so chill, and the third breath was so frigid it caused me to cough violently, a fine red mist erupting from my throat and freezing instantly.

I was completely famished. The last time I had been this hungry had been in Japan, staying among the Mekhet at the monastery.

But beneath the desperate, clawing, raving hunger, I noticed something. I could feel the vitae in my body.. what little was left.. and it felt different.. thicker.. more substantial. I smiled faintly and quickly made my way back to the car, and drove myself to the shop as the sky began to lighten.

When I walked in, Giovanni was awake, tinkering with something on his work bench. He glanced up briefly and looked me over critically. "What, did you have a date or something?"
I pictures how I must look. Normal street clothes, but the choker was new, I wrecked of potent incense, still had traces of bloody tears on my cheeks, and probably seemed either very embarrassed with myself, or smugly proud.. but probably a combination of both.

I just gave him a small, cryptic smile. "Something like that."
He bent back over his project."Bet you sucked him dry eh?" He paused, and looked up again with a pained expression. "Sorry, my jokes are bad at 6am."
My smile shifted from cryptic to mildly amused. "Only at 6am?"
He grinned at me. "They're worse any other time."
I just shook my head and walked past him to the basement stairs, heading for bed.

"I can certainly agree with that."


  1. You are a very talanted author, and I find myself waiting anxiously every week for more. Thank you for providing an excellent means of passing the time, and please thank the other players who make this one of my favorite stories.

  2. Hey I'm glad you enjoy! I'll pass it along!


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