The Guardians of London: Third Echelon CHAPTER THREE [6 Slots Open]

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"Then we'll just ask around," Hadrian said while gesturing to the bustling street. "We may find a few generous souls around here willing to share the information with us."

Bastian understood. They made good time to a small hospital where a kind old arabic man cleaned and dressed Bastian's foot and have him a small cane to lean on while it healed. Bastian gave him two extra gold marks for his trouble and they left with Bastian hobbling with them.
"How long of a journey? Are we traveling my camel? Airplane?" asked Bastian as they left.

"Well we've got some choices - it's up to you. We can go by car, I know where we can get some GPs; we can go by plane - if you can arrange that, the man who has the planes wasn't that receptive to my requests but your authority and crazy shotgun wielders amy convince him; the last option is camels, that's simple: there's loads of the buggers around, you'll have a hard time choosing which dealer to buy from."

"I've always been partial to the ground path. We'll be able to approach in more secrecy, in case the temple isn't receptive to us...and camels can't be that bad, right?"
Bastian didn't know how wrong he was until Hadrian was trying to haggle with some locals over the price of enough camels for them. One of them spit in his face, the rest of them laughed at him.
"Be careful" said one of the young boys tending the animals "They spit."
Bastian grimaced, chagrined.
"The most they'll give is five camels...some of us are going to have to walk..." said Hadrian.
Bastian furrowed his brows..."We'll need lots of supplies too...and fresh water..."
They had along way to go until they were ready to cross over the river and head towards the Temple.

Harper just shook his head, smiling. "You guys can get the camels, I'll get a GP. Much faster, and it can mount a .50."

The Guardians all scattered to look for fresh supplies and water while Hadrian haggled with a man willing to sell his old GP.
"Four hundred pounds!" seemed to be the man's final offer but Hadrian kept trying to haggle him down.
Bastian, however, walked with Reuben to look for places that could sell them an enchanted vial of infinite spring. Rare and valuable, many alchemists made them for the rich who wished to make a caravans into the desert to search for lost treasure. Reuben was following both to keep him company and in case anything else stalked them.
Bastian turned to Reuben, his gold mask glittering. Kin's mask Bastian corrected himself.
"So, Rebuen. How goes your training with Sir Nicolaus?"

"Look friend, I can't sell it to you for that price," the old man said impatiently. "If you don't give me a fair offer, then please leave me be. I have better things to do then being pestered by some fool"
Hadrian's exasperated expression turned into an evil smile. "Oh I do indeed have a fair offer for you..." Before the old man could reply, he found a large blade being pressed against his throat. "Here's my offer, you give me the GP, and I won't cut your head open like a watermelon. Sound fair?"
The old man was shaking, holding the keys to the GP in his hand. Hadrian plucked the keys from his trembling hand and withdrew Body.
"Thank you." Hadrian rustled around in his pocket and dropped a pouch of money containing about 200 pounds.

Harper sighed and holstered his pistol as Hadrian turned back to him: "Maybe give a little warning before you go and scare random people again: might help prevent me from shooting you."

He smiled and walked round the vehicle before clambering into the passenger seat: "You bought it, you drive it."

Pyotr shook his head at Hadrian and muttered to himself as he walked towards one of the camels. "Does that man not think before taking action?" The Russian looked to boy that was tending to that particular camel and spoke up, "Oi, chuvák." The boy looked up at Pyotr with a quizzicle look as he continued, "What is this camel's name?"

"We call him Melwah, because he is always thirsty and always drinking," the boy replied.

"Ah, something we have in common..." the Russian said, chuckling a bit. He rifled through his pockets before handing the boy ten pounds. "Here. This is a fine camel, I shall care for it as such."

"Alf šukr, sayyid," the boy said in Masri, then shook his head at his own forgetfullness. "Thank you, sir," he corrected himself with a sincere smile as he pocketed the coins and headed off to tend to his other duties.

Pyotr removed his pack and rifle, fitted them onto the camel's saddle, then pot his foot through the rung and hopped onto the saddle. After adjusting himself comfortably, he reached forward and patted the camel's neck. "Alright Melwah, let us be on our way."

They met up again where the ferry across the river was stationed. It was a large barge and though it took some careful negotiating, they got the GP onto the boat while some helping hands from the airship finished fitting a .50 cal machine gun onto the roof, riveting the swivel onto the rotating ring. Bastian and Reuben returned from the alchemist with a very pricey vial of infinite water and the others came with bags filled with both fresh and preserved foods.
"Eat the fruit first, or it will go bad and I refuse to un-rot the food." said Jeffrey.
Bastian and the others chuckled and they paid the barge man with a ten pound note. He smiled and Bastian said "Keep the change"

~~~

Once they were left at the opposite side of the river with four camels and an armed vehicle they made their final plans.
"The car will go ahead of us, scouting the terrain with Harper as our guide. The camels can follow behind us and we should hopefully make good time. How many days of travel should we expect?" Bastian asked Harper.

Reuben leaned against the car, only to suddenly jump back up. Its surface conducted far too much heat. He dreaded to imagine the inside.

The mask was in the up position, too hot to keep on unless necessary. Fortunately it provided a sort of visor. The surface glistened in the sun, including the grey gash of a scar created by a whip of ethereal energy so long ago.

He looked at Bastian. "Kin told me to tell you, if we are going through Asyut he can navigate. Apparently the old man knew it like the back of his hand back in the day."

"The old man". An odd title Reuben had begun to ascribe to Kin. It was slightly fitting, seeing Kin now a mentor more than anything. Reuben spoke little of the training. He seemed a humble soul, speaking more with actions rather than words.

Elsewhere...

Somewhere in Central Europe

Silas Grey wandered on horseback, his vision constricted to a dot of sight through a tunnel of darkness. He could feel the sickness crawling over his bones, Malachi had gone silent long ago and leaving his head strangely empty. He could feel the absence as a yearning that tugged him towards the high peaks somewhere in Romania. He avoided people, fearing in his weakened state he would me mistaken for some demon and beheaded before he could defend himself. He climbed the snowy peaks, somehow drawn to one in particular. Something inside him told him what he sought was there, his horse kept the true course even after he had fallen into the darkness within him. A storm of confusion rolled over him and dragged him under the waves of shadow and light. He fought for the surface and when he gained it, the water rose even higher. He heard voices calling his name from above and he sought for them but he was pulled under by a sharp tug from an undertow. But he pulled into himself the last of his willpower and struck for the surface and he came to in a warm bed gasping and sweating.
It was a strange place, he looked at it curious and confused. It was wood paneled walls with stone floors strewn with straw which had leeched some dark colored fluids. In the corner was a man in a brown cloak reading a book intensely. Without looking up he said "It's strange for one with your power to seek us. Usually we seek you."
"I was guided here by an old friend...I wasn't always this way."
"Truly? Fascinating, we shall have to study your humors at a later time. You almost died, you know. Your heart stopped twice, we were sure some dark plague had gotten you before you could reach us but something tugged you back to the living each time."
Malachi... Silas thought, searching himself for him but finding nothing.
"There was another with you, who carried you and led your horse. We didn't catch his name, he's among the elders now. Perhaps he will visit later." said the man, standing. He pulled back the hood, revealing an older gentleman with graying hair and beard.
"Tell me, young man. What is your name?"
"I am Silas Grey. Former geomancer in the Guardians of Light now the ruler of the Illrian Order. I am the Illrian Shadow."
"Truly? I did not know the Illrian Shadow was also a steward. Where is your Illrian daemon?"
"Gone...I can't feel him anymore..."
The old man winked and said "If he shows up, make sure to thank him. He must've been the one who saved you..." then he left, closing the door with a soft click. Silas lay back, attempting to rest but he only fidgeted in the sheets, unable to sleep.

We now return to our original story already in progress

The path to the temple had been quite the arduous journey with much complaining, bickering and terrible I Spy games that all ended in the answer being "sand" and "more sand".

Bastian was in the car that drove ahead along a bumpy stony outcropping above a valley. Harper kept insisting they were on the right track but Bastian felt like they were lost.
It wasn't until the valley opened into a massive cul-de-sac with sharp, steep cliffs around it they peeked over the edge and saw it. It was massive, carved from basalt and surrounded by rusty red stone. The Temple of the Red Moon sat there like a sleeping giant, waiting. They didn't wait long to rush back and tell their exciting news to the tired, hot, angry Guardians on the camels far behind them.

Bandits had kept at bay after a night skirmish with some wandering tribesmen who turned out to be raving shadow beasts in disguise that tried to eat their guts out. After that mishap, they were trying to stick together during the night but they were more and more being forced to camp for the day and move at night, the heat was unbearable.

Pyotr was content riding on camel back in the sweltering heat, keeping himself and Melwah well-hydrated; the camel and the Russian both drinking plenty of water with the occasional swig of vodka. Even the camel got a taste of the good stuff, drinking from a tin cup Pyotr had kept along with the rest of his field gear in his backpack. Looking around at the others, the man noticed the heat was doing quite a number on a couple of them. The night raid wasn't exactly beneficial either, though it offered some excitement for a trip that was becoming somewhat arduous. It was decided that travelling at night would be better and the Russian didn't make any protests even though his sleeping schedule was flipped entirely. After the skirmish, things became a bit of a bore once more, and during travel Pyotr was forced to strike up conversation, quite unsuccessfully, with Melwah.

"We've found it!" cried Bastian as the car approached and stopped. Everyone grouped up while some quick fortunamancy coalesced a cloud and dragged it between them and the sun. In the tiny blot of shadow they began to plot.

"We'll make camp outside the Temple gates and start searching for clues. Everyone should be on their toes, in case there's anyone or anyTHING wandering around in there." explained Bastian before mounting the car again. "Only a little further, we'll drive slow."

~~~

The valley was deep in the shadow of its cliffs which glowered from high above. It was a narrow way that the car could barely fit down, the camels following behind them. They parked in front of the girth of the Temple itself, staring down at them in its basalt glory. It was a massive circular depression in which the temple sat with a hemisphere of smooth gray stone with four gray stone obelisks. They set up camp there, parking the car below and unloading their supplies and putting up their tents, driving spikes into the ancient stone floor. Everyone was on edge, waiting for day to give in to night so that they might sleep. On the move for a night and a day they were tired, except for the russian. He seemed impossible to tire.

Harper had quickly set up his shelter, attaching it onto the rear of the GP and ensuring he could quickly get out and onto the gun if they were attacked. However, he made himself some tea and wandered around their encampment for a bit, seeing if any of the other Guardians fancied a chat.

Pyotr had already begun working on building a fire for the night that would soon be approaching, drinking vodka and softly singing an old war song all the while.

"Po dolinam i po vzgoryam
shla diviziya fpyeryot,
shtobý z boyem vzyat' primorye,
Byeloi Armiyi aplot -
shtobý z boyem vzyat' primorye,
Byeloi Armiyi aplot.

Nalivalisya znamyona,
kumatsh tshom paslednikh ran,
shli likhiye eskadroný
priamurskikh partizan -
shli likhiye eskadroný
priamurskikh partizan.

Etikh lyet nye smolknit slava,
nye pamerknit nikagda:
Partizanskiye otryadi
zanimali garada -
partizanskiye otryadi
zanimali garada..."

Bastian spotted the Necromancer, Lurker, looking around the small area at the floor and pillars.
Bastian walked over and said "Looking for something?"
"No, just admiring the stonework...this is a very old temple, I used to like it here when I was younger." said Lurker, his eyes shining with nostalgia.
Bastian knelt down and brushed some dust away to look at the stonework under his feet, noticing some well carved lines. With a small spell a gust of wind blew the dust from that square away to show the intricate carvings made into the floor and the pillars.
The Temple itself drew his eye and he walked over to it, standing before it. He could see a fair crease where the entrance was but for a small opening far up on the face of it he could see now way to open the doors, he felt along the crease. Too small to wedge and the stone was probably too heavy anyways.
"This stonework is old...very old..." remarked Bastian, running his hand over the smooth stone outline of the great door. "If only we knew how to open it..."
Lurker shouted "Over here!" and Bastian turned and walked over to him. He pointed at the sandstone beneath their feet. There was a huge arc, showing the phases of the moon and numbers 1-10 in roman numerals etched there.
"Look, the full moon lines up with the door and that hole." remarked Lurker, and sure enough it was so.
"Guess they only visited here once a while...I thought Necromancers stayed in their temples."
"No," said Lurker "They are for worship, the protection of relics and for our festival days which I unfortunately cannot tell you about..."
Bastian nodded, "So we wait until nightfall...let's get out of the sun before we bake in this heat."
"Well it's not just any full moon that grants access, look at these pillars....they are stories. We recorded the founding of each Temple outside so those who could not enter could instead marvel at each Temple's history. This temple only opens during the lunar eclipse, or as the pillars put it "when the moon is birthed bloody and anew" we might have to wait many months!"
Bastian furrowed his brow for a few moment and then remembered,
"Does anyone still have that almanac?" he shouted, walking back to the group.

Hadrian was on his back staring at the ceiling when he heard Bastian's call.
"One almanac coming your way!" he replied. He went to the back of the GP and dug through it, before bringing out a damaged book. He ran to Bastian and handed to him. "Here you go."

Bastian flipped through it before finding the right page and then, after trying to remember the current date, discovered what he needed to know.
"There is a total lunar eclipse tonight....but it wont happen again for five years in this spot. So it's either tonight or we go home."
Closing the book he asked "Whose ready to look inside?"
Everyone raised their hand and Bastian smiled "Everyone eat and rest, we'll just have to wait for this eclipse to open up the temple."

Hadrian stared at the etched carvings of the moon on the floor with a furrowed brow. He bit his lip nervously and mumbled something to himself before walking over to the area where Pyotr was setting up a fire. He sat down, a deeply troubled expression on his face.

" I ostanutsya kak f skaskakh,
kak manyashtshiye agni:
Shturmovýe notshi f Spaskakh,
Volotshayevskiye dnyi -
shturmovýe notshi f Spaskakh,
Volotshayevskiye dnyi.

Razgromili atamanov,
razognali voyevod,
i na Tikhom Okeanye
svoi zakontshili pakhot -
i na Tikhom Oke..."

The Russian's voice trailed off as Hadrian approached and sat down before the unlit fire. Pyotr could see how troubled the man was, likely deep in thought, and spoke up as he begun to light the kindling. "Clearly there is something on your mind, possibly something of great importance, possibly not." He paused for a moment to blow on the small embers within the kindling, bringin them to a small flame. "You can go ahead and speak your piece, if there is a piece to be spoken."

Night began to fall swiftly, with an orange sunset vanishing beyond the rim of the horizon. As the night began to fall, Bastian turned to look for the moon's rising.
"Everyone must, before the gates open, close their ears....or prepare to steel themselves." said Lurker, walking past Bastian and up to the fire and sitting down.
"Why?"
asked Bastian, sitting down near him.
"The bell within tolls when the gates open, it wards away the living who might encroach. Its ring is the final toll of life, to hear it is to die and to go to Ou'Rus. Only the strongest can withstand it's tone, I recognized all of you use this to stop your ears."
Lurker held out a small vial of beeswax. "If it can stop the song of a siren, it can stop the ring of the Grey Lady's Bell"

Hadrian bowed his head and sighed, staring down at the stone floor in silence. Eventually, he raised his head and looked at Pyotr. "Do you know what it's like to lose your mind?"

Jeffery grimaced, he'd been sulking for a while and decided at this moment decided to cock his shotgun. "Huh." He looked back at Hadrian, "What's it like to have one?" There was a mild tone of amused curiousity in his voice. The grenades klinked lazily against each other. "I wonder sometimes... If I wasn't a chronomancer. What would I be?" He laughed and plugged his ears with beeswax.

As the red moon began to rise, Lurker's ears twitched. He couldn't hear what he said but his mouth moved to the words "It's starting..."

~~~

The red moon's light came between the pillars and the door, shooting its rays into that tiny aperture into the interior of the temple and the doors began to silently slide open, which Lurker twitched a little. He obviously could hear the ringing of the bell, his eyes glowing a faint green in the dark. He motioned to them to follow him inside and once the doors had grinded apart they walked inside down the empty, dark halls into a massive antechamber where, at the heart of it was a shrine to the Grey Lady like Bastian had never seen. Lurker froze then and turned to face them, eyes wide with horror and then reverence as he bowed low, then kneeled, then lay flat before looking up. As Bastian went to turn around he could see Lurker shouting but could not hear.

Then he saw her...wreathed in soft red light that coiled around her form. She was both beautiful and haunting, every line of her form chiseled to perfection flickering like a white flame in the night. She wore a grey billowing dress that coiled into mist at her feet...but as he looked upon the beauty he could feel someone wrenching at him, trying to turn him away. He could feel his heartbeat now, it was fluttering and began to quiet as she she reached out and mouthed words he could not hear. A ringing filled his ears, his eyes went wide before he felt something jab him in the ear and Lurker screamed "DON'T LOOK AT HER OR YOU'LL DIE!!!"
Bastian turned and collapsed, his breath ragged and his lips blue. He looked at the floor as the mist curled over him...flowing towards the necromancer. Everyone else had averted their eyes. The clanging of the bell had stopped but Bastian's ears still rung. The sense of vertigo was slowly fading.

He could hear Lurker talking to the Grey Maiden herself before Lurker said "She's gone, Sebastian. And thank her you're alright..." Bastian looked up at that strange not-quite-human face and said "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you."

Hadrian was about to answer, but he was interrupted by the temple doors opening and Bastian collapsing on the floor.
He leapt from the campfire, weapons ready and dashed towards the entrance.

Sensing no threat, he turned to Lurker. "What the hell happened?"

"That was the grey maiden." Reuben said, lifting the mask up. He has stopped projecting his vision through it to avoid her gaze. A rather simple yet ingenious solution.
"Its a 'dust to dust' sort of thing. Nobody knows where she came from and all that, she has just been there... Kin told me." He knelt down and was checking Bastians pulse.

"She's a goddess...she guards the pathways of Ou'Rus. The land of dead souls as they pass into their new lives...she also is the keeper of Necromancers and their power. That bell summons her, as all death does. We are her children, sworn to serve our mother as long as our allotment is. Few have gazed upon her beauty and lived, to look upon her is death itself." said Lurker, picking Bastian up and producing a small bell.
"Wake, sleeper. You are not ready to walk those cold paths to Ou'Rus just yet." and Bastian awoke.
"I feel like I was in a dream..." said Bastian, looking around.
"We should find the Chronostone, she told me it had the answers we sought." said Lurker, moving away and leaving Bastian in Hadrian's arms.
"Hey there, big guy." said Bastian winking, Hadrian rolled his eyes.

Pyotr decided agains using beeswax and instead use his fingers to plug his ears, he didn't much like the idea of deafening himself entirely. After the bells were done ringing, his ears has continued to do so for a few moments afterward. After picking himself up from his sitting position, he went for his pack and grabbed a bottle of vodka. Taking a great swig gave him a little relief from the ordeal and he proceeded to collect all his gear and prepare to be on the move, listening to the words of Lurker all the while. Pyotr was in the middle of taking another swig before overhearing Bastian's comment to Hadrian, and nearly sprayed his mouthful of vodka as he tried to contain his laughter. Walking past the two, he raised his bottle to the both of them, giving his congratulations. "Pazdravlyayu, to the happy couple."

Pyotr struck a nerve in Hadrian, causing him to go stiff and his breathing to become hitched.
"Happy couple..." Hadrian repeated Pyotr's words quietly, recalling a distant memory. He hadn't noticed that he dropped Bastian on the cold stone floor.

The chronostone suddenly rose from a circular mechanism in the floor, sliding away and rising up. It was a dull gray-black stone one a gold pedestal. Bastian got up and rubbed his temples a bit before saying "What does that, exactly?"
"We'll have to have the chronomancer explain the imprinting of the past into objects...I know nothing." said Lurker.

Jeffery lit up a cigarette and pulled his left gloves on tighter. "Of all the topics I know about, you choose to have me explain the most con-deluded, screwed up topic I know about. Chronomancy." He summarized his thoughts and turned around to face the group.

"I imagine that everyone of you imagines that time is an unchanging thing. You see what happens and that's reality correct. And it is. For you. When you turn around does time stay the same? Time's a tricky thing to deal with. Everything you know is correct but everything you know is wrong. Everything goes on at once simultaneously. Why don't I have proof? Why doesn't everything happen at once like I say?"
"Because normal humans can't process all of the information at once. You developed a... planetary filter to the excess of information... so to speak. Everyone sees one thing but no one sees the same thing." He was now speaking from the middle of the group. "Now everyone remembers me walking to this point correct? Incorrect. Technically I haven't moved in since I was born. I've chosen an aspect of time that time to leave my imprint." He paused and thought to himself. "Now imprinting is an interesting matter. Everything everywhere is imprinted lightly with its past. There are things however that are completely aware of this and have much... stronger pasts. Two things consistently have strong imprints. Chronomancers and imprinted objects. But I digress, two seconds ago I dropped my cigarette to ground and crushed it with my boot." He dropped the cigarette on the ground and stomped. "Humans... should not be imprinted things, humans are monochronomous; things they do affect a single plane of time. An imprinted object is something that is omnichronomous; they affect every plane of time. A Chronomancer who is killed is killed in all planes of time." He was leaning against Lurker's back now. Suddenly there but always there. "But... like all matters of time. Its all a matter of perspective." His grin was nothing short of that of a complete psychopath. "Everyone understand?"

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