Deep in the recess of his own psyche the lone man sat, watching time and space go by.
He took a deep breath.
"Tomorrow morning..... Tomorrow morning may be the most important day of your life." He thought aloud, looking at a picture of Rueben Chantal.
He stood up and walked about the remnant of his mind and his old life. Walking into a small cottage in in Geneva, he looked about the quaint furnishings. Life had been more simple here.
In the kitchen he saw a younger, stronger man. At his side a beautiful woman. The stood in front of a sink, one washing the dishes, the other drying. Sometimes they chatted vigorously about this and that, sometimes they were pensively silent. Sometimes the air was clear, sometimes animosity hung in it. They werent perfect, fights came along from time to time. But they couldnt separate the two.
As he walked towards the bedroom. The young man sat on the edge of the bed. His hands were semi-folded, and played with the gold wedding band on his finger. The woman walked in.
"Kassandra.. I.." His voice trailed a it before she cut him off.
"No, dont worry Nicholaus...."
She sat down next to him. He hand slid into his. The diamond ring was still there.
"Im still here if you are." She said.
He squeezed her hand gently. A silent "yes".
"Are we ready for this?" He gently placed a hand on her stomach.
"I guess we have some time to find out." She was ever the calm voice of reason. She placed a hand on his. Only inches away, inside her, a small heart was beating for the first time...
And he had abandoned them. Left them. Ultimately his own arrogance led him to a series of actions which left them alone. They mourned his death as tragedy, but the only tragedy was his own conquest of self preservation. It was his promise to protect them, but his own selfish nature was known only to him. He had always said that "Tomorrow he would quit. Tomorrow was the last experiment."
And now he looked in the mirror of the house. Starring into an old face, filled with regret....
"Tomorrow..... Tomorrow may be the biggest day of your life... are you ready for it?"
Harper wandered up to his room on the ground floor. He got to the door and straight away checked the hair was still on the door, unbroken, stuck to the bottom edge. He scraped it off and unlocked the door before entering and making sure it was secure. He quickly checked the rooms for any sign of disturbance before taking off his coat and shoes. Finally he grabbed a broom and swept the slightly bloody glass into a pile in the corner, to deal with another time.
With evetything done, Harper quietly took his automatic, placed it on his bedroom table and allowed himself to fall asleep.
THE NEXT MORNING
It was a typical foggy morning, where the sky was hidden behind a great curtain of grey. Bastian awoke early, many things on his mind. He was a respected part of the community, which meant people were more likely to speak to him over any other Guardians. Bastian decided to take advantage of that, and the first place to look would be the scene of the most recent crime. It was logical to start there, and look for patterns or clues which matched with anything found at previous crime scenes.
He went through a mental catalogue, memorized from days ago when Master Janus had briefed him on his assignment, his old Master who had only so long ago put him up for attainment of his badge.
Puncture wound left of the heart, severing the main artery
Under magical investigation, puncture wound glows green
Moulder's clay shows 6 to 6 1/2 inch blade consistent with a short dagger
Dagger's width is 4 centimeters
Matching wound in victim's chest near the right hip
Under the tongue, a gold coin is discovered
Coin has nine pointed sunburst with skull shape
Coin is 100% pure gold
Each victim shows no sign of struggle or pain
Victims are slain with no explicit order or time period
Victims have to no connection to each other
Bastian looked at the soft leather bag where the mask sat. He had one appointment due first.
Bastian repeated his mantra in his mind as he walked; "In the unhallow darkness, these blades shall light our way" His mind was swirling as he approached the mental hospital. It had a wrought iron gate and vines draped on its north face. It was built of an old, converted mansion whose previous owned had dedicate it to public service. Now it served to house the insane and the mentally ill. Inside he asked to see patient Reuben Chantal and passed his gold enamel badge across, the hourglass and sword on the face and o the back the scales of sun and moon, with his full name etched. The nurse nodded and said "The Doctor will be with you shortly."
It was not a long wait. An older gentleman with thinning hair and salt and pepper stubble showed him down the long wood and stone hallways, his pristine lab coat catching the early morning sunlight and seeming to glow. "Patient 0098522 is right here, I'll wait just outside."
Bastian allowed the doctor to knock on the door, saying "It's Doctor Dauntless, Reuben. You have a visitor." then the doctor slid the door open after unlocking it and Bastian stepped in.
Reuben was a shell of a man, dirty and ragged, but he could see he still held a sense of honor. He was in an old army uniform, stained and faded in places. It looked like it had been washed a hundred times, but nothing could wash away the memories they had been beholden to. "Reuben," started Bastian, the man looked up at him with sad and empty eyes "I am Sebastian Wyre of the Guardians of Light. I'm here because a friend wished to meet with you and to treat with you."
"Treat...with me?" said Reuben, his voice hoarse.
"Yes, he has something to offer you. I don't want to alarm you, but I'm going to take him out now. May I show you my friend?"
Reuben Chantal looked at him querulously but waved his hand to proceed. Bastian opened the soft leather case and showed him the mask. Reuben touched it gently, saying "What is it?"
"An old man who wants a second chance, you are that second chance. He may have been around the block more than a few times....but so have you."
"Aye, I've been round the bend long'r than I can recall. Where's your friend?"
"He's inside, don't worry. He won't hurt you."
Then Reuben put the mask up to his face, tentatively...
Joseph awoke characteristically early and readied himself for the day in his usual fashion. He just finished eating before trying to decide what he would do before he was called on...
(am now off for bed, so I won't post for like 10 hours...)
The morning came and streams of light appeared from the shutters as Seth woke up. Slightly blinding him when he picked himself up, he got into his regular routine of sorts; once finished he grabbed his belongings and left the room.
Breaker had bid farewell to Faustus and took a nap, afterwards she fed. When the sun rose, Breaker had tailed Bastion to the mental hospital for the lack of something better to do.
She was now perched on top of one of the gate posts like a cat, soaking up the grayness of the morning. Her boney wings flexing, waiting for Bastion to leave.
Faustus arose groggily from his nightmare ridden slumber in a chorus of grunts and curses. He haphazardly cast his sweat soaked sheets aside and lifted himself slowly onto the ice cold, stone floor. He stretched his skeletal frame with exaggeration, cracks echoing through the darkness of his dorm, before returning to his hunched posture that gestured nothing but apathy.
What happened last night? Memories of a maiden of water rising from a silver gilded fountain flickered through his mind. The meeting of the Guardians also returned to him shortly after. With a click of his fingers the candles littered around his room roared to life with a pale ghostly flame that mysteriously gave no heat. He knelt to the ground and scanned underneath the bed frivolously before withdrawing a large bottle of some vintage wine, open and empty.
After garbing himself, Faustus made haste for the heavy steel door blocking his exit, being cooped up in the dank chambers of the Guardian's compound always made him feel uneasy. Too many restless spirits dwelled in these walls, but what could he do, these were the apprentice chambers 'A test of resolve' the Guardians called it. A stupid sorority game was all Faust saw it as.
With a mighty pull the metal door crawled open, as it came free the lights that filled the room were extinguished and replaced with the dim glow of burning torches guided the way from the 'dungeon' into the main building. His climb up the cobblestone stairway, normally a sullen drudgery, was given a glimmer of interest as he went over the 'memories' that the spirit had recorded last night.
Faustus, deciding to skip breakfast, made his way to a remote corner of the courtyard and began his daily routine. He was enveloped in an aura of wisp-like white smoke as he performed graceful swings, thrusts and slashes with the great curved blade he called , "Elizabeth".
"Where am I?!?! What happened?!?!?!" Rueben was in sheer panic.
He found himself inside the blank white space of the mind.
"Rueben, please calm yourself!" Kin appeared from seemingly nowhere.
"What happened??? How did I get here?!!!"
Kin had to grab him by the shoulders. "Rueben, take it easy, you are safe!"
The panic of suddenly being in a different place was too great. Rueben collapsed.
Kin knelt down next to him.
"Rueben, stay calm. Your are safe here, I guarantee it."
Rueben Chantal was no longer just a shell. He seemed full bodied once more, clean shaven, color and life in his skin. Sweat and panic mixed together with a red face from the trauma. He heaved breath in and out. Swallowing nervously and starring up at the blank white ceiling.
"Rueben, you may not believe this, but right now you and I occupy a space between the physical and spiritual."
"But... I was in a hospital..."
Kin sat down, taking a deep breath. It was always weird to explain to people.
"Do you remember what you were shown just a few seconds ago."
Lying on his back, Rueben blinked sweat from his eyes.
"There was something gold colored.... mask.... mask, yes that was it! a mask...."
"That mask if the only physical remnant of me left."
"Who are you?" Rueben sat up.
"My name is Kin. And I suppose I have a lot of explaining to do..."
And so Kin, taking a great risk of opening his mind to the unknown, regaled his story to Rueben.
"I can help you Rueben. Not only can you fix your mind, but I can make you more powerful than before. Now Im sure you remember friends telling you you had a knack for understanding things that werent said aloud, or you were just good at tapping into feelings, or you just knew when people were lying?"
"Yes" came a slightly hesitant response.
"Simply put, you could read people?"
"Well I believe that what you experience isnt some random chance set of qualities. It is in fact the ancient art known as Imperiomancy, and your record indicates a high natural raw potency. I can help you unlock your full potential, but you will have to do two things. The first is that you must help the guardians."
"Simple enough. And the second?"
"You must do exactly as I say, when I say it."
"I can understand your having doubts about this. Tell you what, Bastian can get you out of here, let you clear your head. Come with us, give it some time, think about it. Ill check back up on you in a day or so."
Rueben slid the mask off and looked at Bastian. Only a few moments had gone by, time always seemed warped inside the mind. "Im.... im.... Im ready to leave.... I think..." He said with a sort of nervous anticipation. "Kin..... said you could get me out? That you could authorize my release?" A slight hint of hopefulness in his voice. Outside of the mask he was still a basket case of mental trauma. His movements were slow and shaky, with a general distrust of strangers.
Harper checked his pistol before holstering it and slipping his knife into the sheath on his wrist. He left his apartment and secured the door, making sure to place a hair along the bottom edge. Finally happy, he headed to the library to see if he could find anything on this 'golden skull'.
Bastian nodded "I can have you declared a magic user. To the state, it means any past or present incarceration or parole for any actions done while under the stress of your magic is forgiven. However, you must live with the Guardians in their Sanctum. It is the law, and we abide by it. I will speak to your doctor and relate to him what we have discussed."
Reuben went to hand him the mask but he waved his hand, dismissively. "Keep it, it is yours now."
Bastian stepped outside, spoke with the doctor in a sober tone. The doctor nodded and opened the door, allowing Reuben to follow him. They signed some papers and the nurse smiled at Reuben and said "You're free to go." Bastian helped him walk outside, to where he saw the living gargoyle of the Crellyx Vampire named "Breaker" sunning herself...as only a young Crellyx might. Crellyx, of course, have no fear of daylight. "Good morning!" called Bastian to Breaker. She leapt down lithe as a cat, and walked with them. She had a pleasing, lithe shape...disappearing beneath the flesh mask all Vampires wore. Bastian had spent two weeks with a Crellyx instructor who only taught Fortunamancy in his natural form...it had been a strange two weeks.
"Hello, feels so nice to be in the grayness of the morning." She looked up at the sky for a minute and took the staff off her back. She held it above her head, spun it for a few seconds then slammed the end of it to the ground. A minute passed and ten the sky seem to part, leaving a hole in it and letting sun though and shining on the Trio.
"Much better, who's your friend you have here?" Breaker said gesturing to Rueben while placing the staff on her back once more.
Rueben stayed relatively silent. Paranoia was still present. He didnt trust any of them so far, but they were his ticket out. He sheepishly hid his face behind Bastian.
Breaaker felt bad about the man hiding behind bastion for some reason. "I apologize if i scared you. My name is Breaker and I'm an aquamancer. Look at the sky." she said then gestured up to the hole she had made.
Rueben stayed hidden. So far, in his own mind, non of them had done much to warrant his trust aside from Bastian. This wasnt uncommon. He was at times a closet case, shut in. Most staff knew very little about him at the hospital. He really only opened up to one doctor and a nurse or two.
Soon a black Cadillac pulled up and the man from earlier, Lazlo Mercer stepped out.
He only gave a look towards Bastian.
"I am under strict orders to ensure the survival of both Kin and Mr. Chantal. Towards that end, I am also to help aid and guide the reconstructive process in any way deemed necessary."
He opened the door to the Cadillac and motioned them in.
"Ms. Breaker, Mr. Chantal, Mr. Wyre."
"How convenient." Beaker said as she folded her wings away and walk towards, then sat down in the car.
As he sat there in the library, Harper was immersed in the books. He learnt a great many things, but nothing of use to him, and nothing relating to a golden skull coin...
He shut the latest tome to be finished and laid it down on the desk; as he did so he heard the slightest creak of a floor-board. He looked up and noticed a shadowy figure slipping out of sight behind a shelf. Immidietly Harper sighed and opened another book with his left hand, though with his right hereached for his automatic. Sliding it out of the holster, he placed it on his lap before sliding his arms out of his coats sleeves. All the better to work with it unnoticed.
Whilst his face was oriented to the page, Joseph's eyes were facing his lap. He grasped the pistol by the slide before releasing the magazine. Keeping the hammer back the then cocked the weapon, a small 'chink' and tinkle betraying the actions. Finally he wrapped his hand round the grip and flicked off the safety.
Harper sat there, turning the page with his left hand for another 30 seconds before he heard a tell-tale, faint, thump directly behind him. Leaping up he brought his right hand round until it faced an area on the shelf where books had been removed and a face looked through. The figure tried to jerk sideways, but too slow - Harper squeezed the trigger and the hammer swung forewards with an audible click. He stood stock still, hearing the gasps from the other side, before walking round the corner and seeing another Guardian lying on the floor, an uncocked revolver in hand and struggling to breath through fits of laughter. He cracked a smile and offered a hand to the giggling man, pulling him to his feet before turning to replace the books.
"Well, Jack, that was a bit poor - even for you. I wouldn't expect you to place the hole at shoulder height, directly behind me!" Harper turned and began to walk back to his desk, the conversation following him.
The young man stared incredulously before following Harper. "Come on, I nearly had you! You had no idea I was there until I moved the book to quickly!"
"Well, actually I had known you were there since you checked I was still seated, the floor board gave you away. You should've taken me then since I would've had no time to prepare." Harper slid his hand under the cover of the book and retrieved the magazine before laying the weapon on the table. He bent down and picked up the ejected round, whole, from his chair. Finally he snapped it back into the magazine before loading and cocking his pistol. "What's so funny anyway?" He asked bemused.
"Basically, you spent so much time thinking of me, you didn't notice Dan on the other side, you're dead." The man began to giggle again: "We've finally got you!"
"Really?" Harper turned and faced the shelf in front of the desk. There was an annoyed face there. "His hammer's soldered closed. I mucked with it when he left his coat alone earlier. I can fix it easily though." Harper said as he reached through and took the weapon from Daniel. He placed his hand over the hammer and heated it a small amount until the solder dripped off. Fixed, he cocked and fired the weapon before returning it. "Better luck next
Harper slid the tomes back into place before putting his coat on and walking off, leaving the sheepish Dan to face the ire of Jack for ruining the plan.
Bastian nodded and got in the car, it was sleek and well polished.
Bastian tapped a small button inside his collar. "Good Morning, Crew...this is Sebastian Wyre speaking. I'd like all investigative team members to form up in the courtyard. We'll be going over today's agenda. See you there in a few minutes,"
The communicator felt warm while it was active, projecting the message to emanate from the communicators possessed by the other Guardians. He could hear Breaker's communicator sputter to life and speak in a hushed tone, possibly hidden somewhere on her person.
The car stopped at a checkpoint near the Parliament Building and Bastian passed his badge to Lazlo to present to the officer at the gate. The officer nodded and waved them through into the protected zone. A place where, clsoe to both the seat of government and the Guardians, anyone who was not directly involved with either did not dare venture. The law was stiff there, and lynch mobs were dealt with harshly by the Metropolitan Police, under duress from the Parliamentary Council on Civil Obedience which had been created to govern rising tensions. However, things were not always clear skies. Out of an alleyway, a Warlock's Beast was scrounging in trash cans. It looked ugly, its eyes glowing green and its fangs were bared at the car as it rolled by. It looked like a dog had been cross-bred with an arachnid.
As the car kept rolling, some aeromancer's played kickball in the air between two building, flipping and soaring whilst laughing. There was a werewolf sunning himself and catching a smoke with two vampires under parasols, most likely Argus. They could not stand the kiss of the sun at all, or they would burn. There was an ease about the people, and here things seemed almost normal.
At the gates of Parliament, the car drove through a huge iron gate overlooked by sentinels of the Queen's Guard and two overbearing statues of Great Guardian Libra and Archon Achemorus Somataaw looking out at the world. Between the two statues was a scroll which read "Semper Patiens" which was the motto of the Order of the Guardians of Light. The car parked, allowing egress to the main gates, which were gilt in gold. It only took some quick Fortunamancy for the elemental locks to click and allow the gates to creak open enough to allow entrance.
"Harper had just reached his room when his communicator crackled into life from his belt. He sighed and turned on his heel to try and get to the courtyard without being unfashionaby late.
If felt like he'd walked down this corridor for forever, as kase looked out the window he saw a car pass through the gates, this felt slightly unusual to him. "I wonder who that could be?" he asked himself before making his way down to the staircase downstairs towards the car which he had a mixed feeling of curiosity and fear, this was after all the first day of terror.
Rueben was self occupied most of the ride, he starred, nervously down at the mask, which had almost instantly become an object of fixation to him. For a second he remembered he was not alone. He looked over at breaker, then slowly lifted a finger pointing, "ummm you have something..... on your shoulder..." He pointed to a small spec of something or another, then seemingly backed away, retreating back to his head down, hands folded position. "S..Sorry" He murmured under his breath.
In the courtyard the team was wandering in, looking ready for the day. Bastian nodded aproovingly and said "Good to see everyone up and ready."
Bastian scratched behind his ear.
"Today we're splitting up to do some preliminary investigating. Half of you come with me, we're going to the scene of the latest crime on Regent Street. The other half is here and researching three important books. I want someone to search Occult History And Lore, every volume, for reference to the skull coins. I want someone to read up on ancient practices and rituals of any religious sect...so the Compendium of Faith and Doctrine should help. Finally, someone needs to read relevant portions of the Illuminomicon to do with ritual, for every sect. We need to know what kind of mind went into this..."
"So, divide up as evenly as you can...but make sure your talents are mixed so no one team is lacking. We'll keep in touch by communicator."
Harper stood up from leaning on the rim of the fountain previously used by Breaker to make a semi-dramatic enterance, "I'd say my forte lies with investigative technique so I think I'd benefit the mission most as a field operative at this time" He turned to face the others, "Who else is coming with?"
"I'm going into the field, my powers are suited for use there." Breaker chimed in from next to Bastion.
"I'll stay behind on this one, I got the Illuminomicon." Seth signaled to Bastian "Though if you find some DNA of any sort send it back here."
Faustus was last of the Guardians to arrive at the small gathering in the courtyard, fortunately enough he had made it to briefing before any vital information was lost. His body was pulsating with a sharp pain from his morning's exercises but he refused to reveal any signs of weakness to his superiors. He was surprised by the amount of mancers that had been called on this mission, normally Apprentices would be assigned to small tasks in groups of two or three but this was a genuine squad, he couldn't help but feel out of place.
"I'll go to the scene of the crime if you haven't had a spirit mage scan the area yet. However, if you've already seen to this I'll go research the Occult History, Sir." Faustus gave a slight bow expecting the Guardian known as Bastian to give him some direction.
Bastian nodded and motioned for people to follow him. "We're wasting daylight."
Reuben looked nervous as Lazlo led him off someplace else.
The room the crime had taken place in was the way it was the night of the stabbing, the Police had cordoned the building off and the Guardians flashed their badges to gain entrance at two tired looking cops. "Lets get to it, team." said Bastian.
Mr. Mercer took Rueben aside. "If you will excuse us, We have a lot of work to do"
"Talk to me, what happened exactly?"
"I remember a bridge...."
"yes... old grey stone work construction, cobblestone on top."
The bridge stood tall over an river connecting two halves of an old Bavarian town. It was war torn. Buildings collapsed, old shell casings lined the streets. Bits of vehicle strewn across the roads.
"We were told it was prime real estate."
Two tanks rolled across the bridge, several infantrymen on the flanks.
"We wanted to plug it. Command said terminate, but something just didnt sit right with blowing it. We were........... stubborn."
"So you stayed?"
"Yes, against orders."
"Haha...yea, I can relate to that mentality."
"So this is where it all went down huh?"
"Then we start work here. But this isnt where we begin..."
"What doe you mean?"
"What I mean is, that in order to truly help you, I need to see everything. Every moment you can recall. Every detail, every idea, everything about you. So again, I offer you my services in exchange for two rules. The first is, you assist the guardians. The second, you do everything I tell you to, when I tell you, how I tell you. Do we have a deal?"
"Okay then, we have much to do, and fortunately, plenty of time to do it. That is, in the mind at least."
"How much exactly?"
"About an hour to the minute."
"Wow.... we do have time..."
"Indeed.... lets begin."
Bastian looked around. An old dusty bookcase was on the left side of the room, a desk near the door and a painting of a regal castle, pennants waving in the breeze, hung on the right wall. It was a small, private study...that much was clear...Bastian walked up to the bookcase and looked at the spines. Every edition of the british journal of surgical medicine from 1985 to present was there along with textbooks....many of them written by the same author, Pietro Van Diverson II. Bastian looked around and said "Everyone look close and hard. We may find something."
Bastian pulled out a funny looking fob watch with a weird meter on it. A chronometer, which measures time magic related energies. He paced the room, looking at the red hand pointing to the 0, which meant everything was fine. Until he neared the window and it dipped, to -3 which was the lowest point. Someone had ground time to almost a halt, the Golden Skull was a Chronomancer.
"Found something, this assassin is a Chronomancer. I'm getting residual readings here, its still decaying....watch." the hand was slowly increasing to 0 again, but the grind was slow.
Bastian looked over at the desk. Check the desk, please...Joseph."