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

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Deep in the recess of Reuben's mind, Nicholas Kin stood. HE had been there so long he had almost forgotten what the outside world felt like. It was an odd feeling, but worth it in this case. Rueben was showing incredible rates of recovery. It was extraordinary, and Kin had seen few so capable of managing madness once they were given the tools to do so. It had been maybe a week or so since they started rebuilding his psyche. Granted there was still much work to do, but Rueben was ready for a field test Kin felt.

With it came physical retraining. Rueben had once been at the top of his game, but years of entropy left him much less than he had been. Now, four days into a rigorous exercise program Kin had structured to loosely resemble Rhyle training ideals. Rueben finished the last set of a hundred pushups, the last set of the days workout. He felt a strong burn in his arms and core from it, but it felt good. Something about such feelings helped spur his growth mentally as well as physically.

Rueben slowly, quietly walked from his room. The mask was gently clutched in his hand. Kin wanted a word with Bastian.

Opening the door, Rueben was slightly taken aback and simply starred for a moment at the sight of Bastian assaulting the one on the ground.

"Heh," Hadrian chuckled. "The bastard actually got me." His left pant leg was torn open, the wound starting from his knee and ending at his foot. It didn't appear to be deep, but it caused Hadrian some discomfort. Probably because it was coated with a poison, or the blade was made out of silver.

He shrugged off his injury and moved to Bastian, who was currently smashing the Golden Skull's face into the ground.
"Wyre," he placed a hand on his shoulder. "Mind stopping for a moment? I gotta do something."

Bastian stood up, wiping the blood from his knuckles. "No more, everyone weapons away."
The Golden Skull moaned, his golden face mask punched in. Bastian took it off to reveal the man underneath the mask and the wide brimmed hat. He had curling rams horns under the hat, his face was pale and scarred. "I've had enough of you interfering. Say what you want, they'll be your last words. Then I am going to walk away, and whatever happens, happens."

The Golden Skull wiped blood from his mouth and tried to stand, holding his side. "You are touched by Shadow. It lives...within you...I cannot let you live..."
He extended his blades but fell, cutting his hand with his own blade.
"Explain yourself, murderer." said Bastian.
The Golden Skull turned his face to the side and said "When you began your tenure as a Guardian, your magic became strong. You beleived you mastered it, thought what you did was of no consequence. Kept to your standards...." here he winced as he tried to get up, but could not. He rolled on his side. "You were not careful enough. It's within you. A tiny fracture in the fabric of reality. It's seeping through, like sand through a crack."
Bastian grabbed the Golden Skull's collar and said "Spit it out, you loathsome cur."
"Shadow, what Arath once was. Where the Shadow Lords rule supreme. They are leaking out through you, and every spell you weave makes the gap wider. What you call small interventions have been too far reaching and too absurd. The cloth of the worlds is unraveling, and you are the one who unravels it. For this transgression, you must control your power or perish. I will...not..." Bastian was clinging hard, strangling the Golden Skull now.
"Will not what? WILL NOT WHAT?!" shouted Bastian.
The Golden Skull choked out "Let...you...live..."
Bastian threw the Golden Skull down an kicked at his face, knocking out a tooth.
"I don't like killers, Annatang Illrian. Yes, I see the horns and I know what you are. Who lives inside you, come out and have words with me."
The Golden Skull's eyes begin to glow a vivid golden yellow and a voice, jaded and old came out.
"I am Zjar'q, The Grey Light of Dawn. My host is part of the ancient family Mourningstar who now lies broken before you. His mind, through sharp and wise has become stubborn and resolute in it's righteousness. He follows the Annatang Path, and he has sworn himself to stopping any harbingers of the Destroyer. He will not waver, not while the thing he seeks is close at hand."
"What, Illrian. Speak now and in plain words." said Bastian, stepping back a step.
"A box, which is sought by agents of evil. It contains something of great value, such that they would endanger the lives of all who conspire with them in order to achieve what they aim for. It lies within the Valley of the Red Moon, in Egypt where the Pharaohs lay resting. This box has many keys, and the servants of evil have done everything they can to gain these keys. We have stolen them, prevented their acquisition by acquiring them ourselves, and killed many who aided evil. He believes you to be against him, but if I am given time I may convince him otherwise. But promise him one thing."
"And that would be what?"
"Keep your magic to it's limits. You reach far to aid your friends, but he is right. There is a rift inside you, growing. It cannot be reversed, only constricted it it's growth. Keep your magic use to a minimum and keep it simple. The more grandiose and complex, the worse it shall become. I must sleep, I grow weak and my host is badly broken. Have mercy on us,"

Bastian turned around and began walking away and said over his shoulder "Subdue him, restrain him, and place him in the brig. Then do as you wish."
The whistle blew three times, and the elemental began to swirl around and crackle with blue energy. The pilot was taking control and soon the place outside was filing with mist, buoyant mist which would carry them aloft.

His eyes were filled with sadistic glee.
"Gladly," Hadrian planted his foot on the Golden Skull's back and pushed him to the ground.

"You and I," Hadrian murmured as he cuffed him. "Are gonna have some fun." He picked up the heavily damaged mask, and pulled off the knives that were embedded in it.
"Somebody bring my bags to my room!" He called as he dragged the man out of the gas bag.

Rueben cleared his throat a little. "He wants to talk to you.... whenever you have time."
He held up the mask, offering it to Bastian.

Parts of his personality were coming back. While he was naturally shy sometimes, his complete shut-out behavior had vanished.

Jeffery looked down searching for something in one of his coats, he raised his gas mask onto the top of his head and looked at Bastion, evidently finding and withdrawing it from inside his coat. It was a grenade. A newer type but a stick bomb none the less. "I forgot to mention. Jeffery... You hired me to blow stuff up." He seemed to be putting in a significant amount of effort into what he was saying.

Pyotr Dubrovsky, Boarding Platform

Pyotr was briskly walking along the boarding platform, knowing that the zeppelin should be taking off shortly. He was unsure of what this trip held in store for him; he had never worked with a group of Guardians before. His solitary lifestyle had made him efficient, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep himself together without something to tether himself to. He was still a bit groggy from a night of drinking and it was becoming an arduous task just to keep himself oriented. He paused before boarding the zeppelin, taking a moment to himself. Partly to think things over, but mostly to prepare his equilibrium for the walk up the boarding ramp. With a sigh, he began trundling up the ramp, onto the zeppelin, and into the cabin.

The first thing he wanted to do was find the room he'd be bunking for the flight and possibly get some sleep. Before he could begin his search, he heard commotion towards the front of the craft and it sounded like a fairly good scrap. Swiftly and silently, he moved towards the source of the sound. He approached the room that he suspected the scuffle had taken place, though it definitely settled down some; he only heard voices at this point. The voices, however, were only resonating through a hole in the cieling. There was a ladder reaching down from the hole and Pyotr approached it slowly and peered up through it. Cautiously, he clambered up the ladder and found himself in a large, glass, spherical room. He eyed the room and everything in it, keeping his hand ready to draw his pistol if necessary. He saw a handful of men standing around, one dragging away a body.

"Well, what have we here?" Pyotr spoke up loudly, vying for everyone's attention, his thick Russian accent showing through clearly.

The Wind and Sail IV took to the sky, the quiet hiss of the Air Elemental the only sound as it began to float away high, towards the east and Switzerland, where the Monolith awaited.

Bastian went to his private quarters with the mask, Reuben following him.
"That man, the Golden Skull, is an Illrian too. Just like the girl, Anastasia. Why two Illrians whould become involved, I have no idea. But if anyone will know what to do, it's their leader."
Bastian paused as he fumbled for the key to his room. "They say he went mad, their leader. He started communing with the Light, withdrew into his shell. Rumor has it he's gone completely mad, been wandering the Far Veil and been spending his nights in a laboratory, building and tinkering but no one knows with what. We get bits, now and then, from people who have better ears than I do."
He opened the door and they went inside, Bastian shut and locked the door.
"The mask?"
Reuben handed it to Bastian.
"Good morning, Kin. Sorry you missed the fun." and Bastian put the mask up to his face, submerging in Kin's mind.

"What the hell was that? I mean, that was truly the oddest thing I have ever seen!" He holstered his gun as the Skull was taken from the room. "I swear, these last few weeks have been the strangest of my life." He reached out a hand to Jeffery "Master Lurker i' Light at your service, now can you please explain what the hell just happened?"

With the blank whiteness of empty psyche in front of him, and a vision of the stars in all their celestial glory behind him, Kin sat, lounging in the chair. His older worn figure made a stark contrast to the world around him, very pristine and clean.
"Dont worry too much, you seemed to have it under control, and I would hate to crowd a party."
He took out a lighter and a cigarette case. With a click it ignited the tip into a red glow. He breathed in a short puff before continuing. With his words, gentle wisps of smoke came.

"I hear Switzerland is on the agenda..."
"You heard correct"
"If you dont mind, I have an errand I need Rueben to run for me. I trust him enough to leave him alone for a bit."
"What is the errand?"
"What will become his tools of trade. He is ready for work, but I dont trust him without a direct link to me. Let him out into the field once he gets whats waiting for him in Switizerland, but make sure he has a link to me at all times."
"Fair enough."
"Good" Kin sat upright in his chair.
"So give me the poop, what is the big picture, what are we dealing with?"

Jeffery shook his hand. "Jeffery Kale." He shoved the grenade back into his pocket. "I'm afraid... I don't... know what is going on here either." He fished in his pocket and pulled out some shotgun shells and started jamming them into the loading breech of his shotgun. "Its a little... strange though... Usually the Order... doesn't need someone who... specializes in demolitions."

"And someone who specialises in putting the chunks back together... wonder what he's planning..."

"Oh great, such a warm welcome." Pyotr scoffed and turned back to the ladder and clambered below. "Fignja," he muttered in Russian out of frustration. He headed for one of the private quarters that he would claim for himself.

Should have stayed, I may as well be on different assignment, he thought as he stepped inside a mostly empty room, at least I would not need to waste my breath trying to be sociable.

Pyotr shut the door behind him and looked around the room. There was a bunk in the far left corner, a footlocker resting against the bunk, a desk with two drawers and a lamp in the far right corner, and a wooden swivel chair resting in front of the desk. He moved for the bunk and unslung his Mosin Nagant, propping it against the wall. Next he removed his backpack, set it on the floor beside the bunk, removed his sheathed shaska, propped it next to his rifle, then sat on the edge of the bunk. He sighed in anguish, knowing that this assignment would be no different than the others; it would do nothing to help him. Turning to the next best thing, he reached for his pack and pulled out a half-empty bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka. He unscrewed the cap, set it aside, and took a large swig straight from the bottle. And so, it begins... he thought himself, chuckling before taking another swig.

"Well, that was pointless."
Hadrian walked out of the brig, holding in his hand what appeared to be one of the Golden Skull's horns. Wtih a sigh, he pocketed the horn and went to his quarters, but not before stopping by Bastian's room.
"Hey, Wyre," he knocked at the door. "The Illrian wouldn't talk. He lost one of his horns in the process."

Bastian was within Kin's mind, he crossed his arms and said "We're dealing with two Illrians. A girl who seems to be behind a revolution, civil rights for people like us. Another is a murderer and an Annatang Path follower, who seems to have his own agenda. As far as we know, the killer is searching for something the Darkness wants and wants badly. He's stolen things that have to do with it from the Hellfire Club, and we've only just caught him."

Bastian called up an image of the girl and the Golden Skull. "One's Illrian is Sareleous, the other is Zjar'q. Do you know of either or them? Zjar'q called himself The Grey Light of Dawn..."

"Sareleous is close to Malachi, they are good friends. I heard that name mentioned, Zjar'q, but only barely. The Grey Light of Dawn is feared, even by other Illrians, he's very dangerous and unpredictable. Zjar'q has gained...insight into some points of an old prophecy. He's convinced that he can avert the dangers spoken of, anything else I do not know. Neither of them are evil, perhaps just...misguided." said Kin, looking at the images "The girl, she seems..."

Kin stood, looking at the image and blew smoke. "Her wrist..."
The image was static, but could be manipulated. It WAS his mind. There was a mark, on her wrist. A mark was tattooed there, a Steward's Mark. "Interesting. One of us was an Illrian all along. But she...she died...she can't be alive."

"What do you mean, Kin?" said Bastian, looking at the mark.
"She died...you remember when Lenin took over Russia? How it's communist now? She died then, thats Anastasia Romanov, she was supposed to join us when she was older when she manifested the mark but...she seems to have manifested more than a Steward's Mark. It's her Illrian Mark, it's the Silrian rune for Judgement. I suppose now we know why Malachi and Sareleous knew one another, Judgement and Agony...the Judge and the Executioner...which means Zjar'q must be..."
"The jury?" finished Bastian.

Kin nodded, sitting back down. "So, the plot thickens...when you arrive in Switzerland release Reuben to do what he must do."

"I shall. And Kin," said Bastian, before turning to leave.

Kin looked at him and Bastian said "You should see him. The Illrian Shadow. He deserves to see you."

Kin nodded. Bastian emerged from the mask to someone banging on his door. He handed the mask back to Reuben and opened it "Can I help you?"

Rueben excused himself and headed back to the solitude of his room. He had yet to make any real connection with the team, but seemed content for the moment to be as such.

Kin sat, the last bit of the cigarette burning down its last moments.
So, Romanov was not only confirmed as Rhyle, but as Illian..... The game had changed.
He sat and starred at the picture. Something about the girl was unsettling, besides the fact that she was alive all this time. If she truly was Rhyle, then she managed to hide her identity the entire time. Could she be some double agent? How had she survived? What was she trying to get at?

The questions were piling up.

He puffed out a bit of smoke, the flicked the cigarette off to the side and into nothingness. THe game had changed indeed.
"What have we got ourselves into this time Nicholaus?...."

Hadrian pulled out the horn from his pocket.
"Interrogations didn't exactly go as planned," He sighed. "He's quite stubborn. I beat him, dislocated his shoulder bones, broke both of his legs, and ripped out a horn."

Hadrian looked at the horn in his hand for a second. "You know, I have no idea why I brought this out with me in the first place." He shrugged and placed it back in his pocket. "Anyway, would you like for me to continue, or should I just leave him there to rot?"

"He rots until we reach Switzerland. I'll speak with him later...for now everybody take five." said Bastian, shutting the door and sitting on the bed, his arms and legs hurt and he needed to lay down so the cramps from battle would go away.

Jeffery sat down and took off one of his trench coats. It slipped off his shoulders and made a horrible crunching sound against the floor. He looked around noticing he wasn't actually in his room yet. "Oops." He lifted up the coat and stepped out of the gasbag room. Gas mask dangling from his neck he set about the ship. Looking for a comfy place.

Hadrian scratched the side of his head.
"Right then," He turned and found Jeffery, wandering the halls. "Oh, hello... Jeffrey is it? Do you need help finding a room?"

Bastian went to the mirror and looked at his face, there was a bruise forming under his left eye. He went to splash his face with some water when the mirror made a noise like frost riming on the glass pane. The worst part about magic was that it is difficult to avoid communication. Mirrors made the best vessels for a face-to-face conversation. Bastian was surprised, however, at the one who was contacting him. His face was hooded and hidden but the glowing red eyes and the horns gave it away. "Are you safely underway?" asked the reflection, it's voice rumbling.
"I'm fine, Charlie. Well....there was a scuffle..." replied Bastian, indicating the bruise.
"Are you hurt?"
"No more than will heal in a few days. I'll be in Switzerland soon."
Charlie nodded and said "Take care then,"

Charlie is not just any human, he's a Demon. Some people would say that makes Bastian's relationship especially hideous and untrustworthy, but to Bastian the racial difference is nothing. To Bastian, love transcends boundaries. He felt weary, he would recuperate and see his team later to discuss protocol.

~~~

Bastian was dreaming. He was in a great sandy desert, under a moonless sky. Before him, far below the great dune he stood on was a strange oasis. When he reached it, he saw purple lights dancing...and the water was clear and still. He should have known before he looked into the pool that there would not be anything desirable within but when he looked, a great face looked back. It was hideous and strange with six great eyes glowing gold and red. It seemed to be something not of any world, but to Bastian it felt familiar.
"Ah" it said, it's voice rumbling. "The tangled webs we weave...that brings you and I closer."
"Who are you?"
"You know not? Perfect. Easy to corrupt, easy to turn...forgetting who I am is the first mistake you make."
"I am not corruptable. I have no time for dreams sent by dark entities. If you serve the Hellfire Club, then I am not interested."
Bastian turned to leave, the water boiled and the creature yowled.
"I serve none, others serve me! I am the fear inside all of your hearts, the thing that lurks in your darkest nightmares. One day, you too will fear the dark...for that is my time."
"You're nothing but a talker, you have no teeth."
"One day you will see my teeth, and my claws, and all that I command. You will quake with fear and when you look upon my true form you will know you look upon the true face of death and destruction and know that your end is soon at hand"
A light, dim at first, but quickly rising came over the horizon and began to beat down on the oasis, shriveling it. A voice said loudly, clearly "Go back, Dark One, to the depths you crawled from. Meddle not in the affairs of morals, you were banished before and will be banished again and again. Get thee back to that dying world you call a home and sit upon your throne, lord over nothing and be content in your purpose."
The creature growled and Bastian awoke, sweating.

Jeffery paused for a good minute before responding. "Uhm... sure." He seemed to start concentrating. "Interesting things these ships... Lots of fun to be had on board. Yet no fun at all to be found. No time to have fun. No time at all. No time at all."

THE NEXT DAY

Still in the sky, the airship's ambient noise had settled to a dull buzz, the noise of the air elemental hissing inside the gasbag.

Bastian awoke, confused at his dream and puzzling over it's meaning. He had read some books by Dr. Freud when he was schooling himself, but for the life of him could not remember any of it.

It was mid-morning, meaning breakfast was being served and that the lounge fire would be put out and the curtains drawn. Bastian made his way first to pick himself some food from the dining area and picked himself up a sweetroll as well as something healthier, a banana. He was not feeling that hungry. High Master Pharisee had come, and he had his face buried in a bowl, slurping at its contents.

"Good morning, high master." said Bastian.
Pharisee looked up, porridge dripping from his muzzle "Good morning, Bastian. I hear we captured that assassin on board. He is quite the slippery fellow."
Bastian nodded and went back to eating "I plan to talk to him later..." said Bastian.

The mid-morning sun was strong and the landscape below gave way from plains to mountains as they began to cross the alps.

Hadrian was staring at a rather large crab. Said crab was housed in a large aquariam in his room. The crab was sitting at the back of the tank, returning Hadrian's stare, it's eyes bobbing inquisitively.

Hadrian tapped the glass, which immediately caused the crab to shoot forward, pressing it's face to the glass. Hadrian jumped back instinctively. He grit his teeth when he saw that the crab was doing some kind of victory dance, waving its claws in the air and swaying side-to-side.
Hadrian shook is head.
"Horrible creatures." he muttered as he left the room.

Jeffery stared out the window of his cabin. "Fifteen Orks on a dead man's hulk looking down the barrel of a gun, gruntin' to each other through their big sharp teeth sayin 'This one's gonna be fun!'. Fourteen Orks on a 'Umie ship killin' anything that isn't green, gruntin to each other throught their big sharp teeth sayin', 'Times are gettin' lean.' Thirteen Orks on the Captain's chest lookin' to quench their greedy thirst, gruntin' to each other through their big sharp teeth sayin', "I wuz da one who saw 'im first.'" Jeffery paused in the song and grabbed a fist full of shotgun shells loading them into his shotgun and picking up where he left off, "One lone ork left to steal the loot, wishin' it hadn't turned out so gruntin' to 'imself throught his big sharp teeth, sayin' 'Maybe shoulda let the pilot gooo~'." He then pulled his coat of the cracking coat hook and slung it on his back and took several thumping steps outside the door. Repeating the song he'd just finished singing.

It was not the glittering black behemoth they saw first but the massive swirling cloud with lighting arcing through it. The Great Barrier was impassible except to those authorized, when Daemons within would divide the barrier and allow entry. Switzerland had become utterly isolated at the same time as highly advanced, combining technology AND magic together.

The airship began to slow as they approached. Anotherairship was approaching as well, a huge gray airship with the red Nazi emblem on its wing. The Germans had arrived with them. Before them, the storm swirled as they waited. On the bridge, Bastia watched, eagerly. The captain was communicating with the Monolith, the voice crackling from the other side through a magical connection. "Aye we're at full stop waiting. Just divide the barrier, we'll come through and dock."
"We're letting the Germans through first, their ship is larger and requires a larger opening. Come through after them as the gap closes."
"That's a little dangerous."
"You'll make it..."
Bastian watched as the storm unzipped vertically and opened, allowing the massive German airship to pass through, it's double gasbags lifting it through. The Wind and Sail IV hurried forward, passing through as the gap sealed behind them. It was hard to miss the giant smooth rectangle of the Monolith. It was glittering black and smooth with no obvious opening. The Monolith itself does not exist on this plane fully but extends into the Far Veil, it's interior is one massive portal that is heavily controlled by the Illrian Order. The Monolith opened up like a giant mouth, inviting the airships into itself. It was like a whale swallowing a ship whole. The other side was darkness for a moment before they came into the light of the platform. A steampunk style airship dock connected to a massive structure. Above them was the tower, formed entirely by the Illrian Shadow from the Far Veil itself. There were Slith on the docks, their blackened bronze skin and monochrome gray eyes made them frightening, if their long arms weren't strange enough. They caught the ropes and tied the ship to the dock, extending the gangplank. "We've arrived at the Monolith. Everyone off!"
Bastian waited at the gangplank for his team to arrive so they could cross together into this unfamiliar and strange world.

Jeffery stomped up to the gangplank, shotgun being dragged behind him. "Well...Go to time. This hope lets work out all." He paused for a second realized he'd mixed up the words. "Errr... Well time to go. Let's hope this all works out. No?" His voice was muffled by the gasmask but still understandable. A trait assumably picked up from wearing it for extended periods of time. "Anyways, Jeffery Kale, Demolitions specialist, reporting for duty."

The sound of the intercom pierced Pyotr's ears, abruptly waking him from his drunken slumber. His arm was dangling from the edge of the cot, empty bottle of vodka still in his grasp. He relaxed his fingers and the bottle dropped from his hand, only to roll away from the cot. He let out a loud belch and almost retched from sour scent of his churning stomach that escaped from his mouth. Carefully, he swung his legs over the edge and brought himself to sit upright. Immediately he began feeling light-headed and almost toppled over, though he just leaned forward a bit and cradled his head in his hands. Remembering the message over the intercom, he took the next step and stood up. Barely managing to keep his balance, he reached for his shashka and rifle, securing the sheath to his waist and slinging the rifle over his shoulder. He looked down at his Nagant revolver, then plucked it from its holster and inspected it. He noticed there was only one bullet in the cylinder and had a clear recollection of a brief moment from the previous night:

He was down to about a quarter of vodka when he set the bottle aside, then unholstered his pistol. He removed all but one bullet, setting the rest into his breast pocket, then closed the loading gate. Pulling the hammer at half-cock, he spun the cylinder and immediately time slowed down greatly. He anticipated every tick of the spinning cylinder, savoring the sound, so beautiful in the room's dead silence. Losing himself in the sound, he released his hold on time and the cylinder rapidly spun as if to catch up to the rest of the world. Finally, he brought the cylinder to a stop as he pulled back the hammer all the way and pressed the end of the barrel underneath his chin. Like many times before, his mind filled with memories of his past and his future; so many conflicting occurences, unsure which were real and which weren't. Perhaps they were all real, then again they may all just be lies. Pyotr inhaled deeply, then slowly exhaled. Once that last bit of air left his lungs, he pulled the trigger. The click of the hammer hitting an empty cylinder was greatly amplified in the stillness of the room, almost deafening. Reholstering his gun, Pyotr reached for his vodka once more, and took another swig. He stared down between his feet with pure indifference, then reached for his revolver again.

Pyotr shook the memory from his mind, reloaded his revolver, gathered the rest of his things and left the room. He remembered the layout of the craft fairly well and found his way to the gangplank where there were already two passengers waiting.


Rueben looked around him as he left the ship. the mask was clutched in one hand. Nothing else on him, Kin had assured him he wouldnt need it.

Giving an affirming nod to Bastian, he headed off on his own. Several blocks later he stopped, Kin spoke through the mask.

"Time to see what you have learned. I used to live here, find my house."

Rueben gave a deep breath and sighed. He took off his gloves and stooped down, letting his hands run across the cobblestone road beneath his feet. The first task was identifying what he felt. The stone was cut out of a mountain not far away, maybe a hundred miles at most. Set on the road, thousands walked on it.

Skip this, move onto the important....

Rueben quickly identified the footsteps of Kin. Everything was played out like some sort of picture in front of him. He could see Kin walk the road in front of him. He followed the figure.

Suddenly his hand felt a sharp sting. He dropped the mask out of reflex. It clanged the ground as Rueben shook the feeling from his hand. Picking up the mask, Kin spoke.

"I wanna know you can focus, cmon now kid!"
Rueben looked up, suddenly Kins projection was lost in a crowd of others. Though the street was empty, Kin flooded his mind with obstacles. He sprinted off towards the projection of Kin, but it was too fast.
"Listen Kid, I havent been home in ages, and Im not waiting for you!"

Eventually they came to an abandoned house. Rueben picked the lock, a skill he had acquired during military service. Closing the door behind him, he looked around at his surroundings. The house was old and worn down on the inside, cobwebs and darkness converged on him. He stepped over to the dinning table, running a hand across it, gathering dust on his fingertips. Old pictures hung on the walls. A wife, two children, a near identical twin brother, Nigel.
"Im going to leave you alone, I want you to find it yourself this time. But tread lightly, this is hallowed ground, and sometimes in this business you just have respect privacy."
As the voice faded, Rueben contemplated it. Here was a mans entire being, layed out before him like an open book.

Climbing up the stairs, he looked as saw an old bedroom. Suddenly two projections were between the sheets, tangled up in each others arms in tight embrace. He stood for a moment, not out of some perverse pleasure, but simply out of shock at how much depth Imperiomancy gave his insight. He could hear their whispering voices, feel their touch, smell their heavy breath. Without even touching the bed, he could feel the linen of the sheets. As Kin let his cheek feel hers, Rueben could feel the softness of her skin against his cheek. Lush full lips gently kissed his neck....

Suddenly an unseen force whipped him around by his shoulder, Kin forcing himself upon Rueben, a voice of slight agitation.
"Not here kid" All Rueben saw was a projection of Kin drawing an arm back and the fist driving towards his face before he felt the full impact and was knocked down.
"Those stay with me, understand?"
"Yeah, got it."

Heading down into the basement, he could feel something stronger, something locked away, sealed away even. Coming to the southern wallhe felt a tremendous surge of energy from within. Something was behind this wall. Pressing his hands against it, he saw no way in, his imperiomancy wasnt giving him anything to work with. Time to get creative....

He snatched up a sledge hammer and gave a swing at the wall. The hammer almost accidentally went through, the wall was so thin. Rueben began hammering away, and after the dust cleared, he saw a passage leading into dark winding nothing. He carefully followed it down to a door. The handle felt like it might break as he turned it. With a creaking noise, it opened to a darkness that was only repelled after Rueben light two smal oil lamps on the walls. The light revealed a large stone room, at least thirty feet by thirty feet, with a high enough ceiling that it might reach up to the floor of the basement. Along the side walls were all assortments of weapons, firearms, blades, and everything between. Exotic weapons from all over the world, spears, clubs, curved edges. Even after years as a soldier, Rueben still hadn't seen many of these. In the corner lay a small blacksmith station, furnace, anvil, workbench etc. Some old prototypes lay on the table, including a small, long, thin tube that contained a double ended, extending spear.

A younger Kin stood, leaned against a wall. A pre-made projection, recorded and left there.

"Well, congratulations, aside from pure dumb luck, only a good imperiomancer could find this place, so I will assume someone sent you. Use it carefully, that's all I ask, but remember, if this finds out its doing something it shouldn't it will fight back. That being said, good luck cowboy. Blueprints for the finer details are in the wall safe if you should need them to rebuild any parts, Im sure you can figure out the combination for yourself."
The projection faded.
"Oh, and I hope you know what you are doing, there is no instruction manual." it finished with a chuckle.

In the center of the room was a suit of armor unlike anything the average person would ever lay eyes on. The metal was smooth, well painted, and engraved with writtings of all sorts in all different languages. It was strong too, unbelievably dense, yet, very thin. It even had a back covering that the mask would lock into, protecting the full head. A note resting on it said
" Refined orhalcium metal, rare, nearly indestructible by conventional (and many unconventional) methods, and it aint cheap"
It was sleek, designed to be light weight, mobile, agile, and above all else, very hostile.

Along the surface of the light grey metal, trimmed with gold, were an array of different weapons. Two knives hung parallel to one another on the left shoulder in mounted sheaths. A long sword was hung vertical on the back, crossing it was a slightly smaller scimitar. A hatchet was in a sheath on the hip, a heavy duty pistol, with a barrel resembling that of old shotguns, but fed by a clip system occupied the other hip. It had an odd sort of ivory grip, but was still in great working condition. Down one outer thigh, small leather slots had been bolted in to hold clips. A small note was resting on one slot, witht he words ".357 please" written on it. Both the wrists packed extra punch, two mounted blades ran out from the end of the top of the wrist. They were fast extending and retracting blades, which could be projected outward with the flick of the wrist. One arm also had a strange feature in which the forearm plate contained several smaller overlapping plates that would extend outward, creating a sort of "spur of the moment shield."

"There is my baby" Kin grinned from within the mask.

---------------------------------------------------------
An hour after leaving Rueben returned to the group, dawning the full suit of armor, with the mask in an up position. He had slung a ruck sack filled with blueprints and small mechanical elements and prototypes over his shoulder. He looked at Bastian.
"Ready to go when you are."

Bastian nodded. This place was a sprawling city, and they needed to get to the Tower of Eternity, where the Illrian Council was...where the Conclave would meet to determine the monumental importance of civil rights.

The city streets were paved with cobbles of white gold and silver, the tower itself was flawless....a beacon of white energy shooting off into the "sky" above. Keeping the nasties of the Far Veil at bay.

"Come on, folks. It's good to see everyone. I've heard all of you are experts in your fields, and though we aren't here for the meeting we are here to get some insight before we go off...ah heres our gust." the Golden Skull was being lead out in chains, with Anastasia following.

They made their way, as a group, towards the Tower. The Tower of Eternity had the benefit of being protected by the Illrian Shadow's magic...somehow making it exist partially outside of the Far Veil and inside of the Light's Realm, Bastian had heard that there was a portal within the Illrian Shadow's chamber that lead to the Hinterlands where the Great Guardians resided. Such contact with the divine was what made the Illrian Shadow so powerful, and so scary. Bastian shuddered, recalling images rendered of the Illrian Shadow's likeness...purple eyes burning bright.

The city itself was home to all peoples of all worlds, a hub for magic and monsters...it's name was Shaddah meaning "Homeland" in Silrian, the ancient language that the Athames speak. There were everyone from werewolves to Slith to Daedra and Daemons of all sorts, Illrians or otherwise. The streets were winding and confusing, getting Bastian lost once or twice.
"Your mission was fruitful, Reuben. Tell me...Imperiomancy can see into mind idly...skimming the surface. Are you feeling the hum of the Far Veil?
He nodded "It's a little irritating. What is it?"
"That would be something the Guardians call "The Darkness" it is a divine being that exists outside of our world...outside the Far Veil in the Primal Nether. The Darkness is basically the antithesis of the Light, but can't enter the Far Veil...because the membrane between this world and that one goes one way. We can go in but can't come out, and so can't anything else in it."
"Then why do we get this hum?"
"That's just his influence. It seeps through little cracks here and there...it's not much but it makes an annoying hum in the minds of Imperiomancers. Other than that, no adverse effects. Just thought I'd let you know, before you go trying to claw your ears off. It's been known to make Imperiomancers go batty when they've bee around it for a long time."
"Hod do you know all this?"
Bastian had to stop and think "I think I read it in a book..."

Jeffery raised his shotgun from dragging position and cocked it. The shell flying out but swiftly caught and shoved back into one of his many second trench coat pockets. "I remember back during the war... Blood everywhere. No escaping it. German blood. 'Talian blood. It was feckin' hell I tell ya. Front lines troops got shit jobs I'll tell you that." His shotgun assumed dragging position again. "So... boss. We close to where we need to be? Or ar we still a times away?" He chuckled at his time reference it wasn't particularly clever but he was bored so it worked out.

"Almost there" said Bastian, looking up at the Tower of Eternity.

The guards at the gates were Avalonian Sentinels, ancient statues brought to life by ancient magic long forgotten to modern mages. Bastian and the group climbed the one thousand steps and passed the memorial to those lost in World War 2, a fountain and wall of names of those mages and monsters who fell during the war for their country. The guards uncrossed their long halberds, they were expected...

The tower within was a mass of confusing, rotating staircases. Modeled after the Obsidian Flame's tower, this was useful for the Far Veil, where invasions meant the interior of your citadel should be confusing to navigate. The rotations, however, were helpful in transportation and the group rode up a section destined for the middle of the tower. "Well, we should part ways for now. This place is massive and has everything any mage or warrior needs. There's more than five lounges...I expect the Chronomancer's Guild is here as well...feel free to explore but do not enter the Council Chambers or the Illrian Shadow's quarters. We'll be...busy for a while. Reuben, bring Kin with us."
Reuben nodded and the group divided, another section of staircase rotating to link to the staircase leading up to the Illrian Shadow, held steady almost making it feel dramatic.

~~~

The chambers were somber and paneled with teak and mahogany, accenting the obsidian and iron that made the room seem gothic and foreboding. There he was, at the center of the circular space. It was his receiving room, where banners from all of the members of the Conclave hung, and sconced torches burned orange. He had his black robes and hood up, the black leather and steel curiass and graves made him look ready for a fight. He was meditating, waiting.
"You've arrived." he said, his voice flat and emotionless.
"We have. I am..."
"Sebastian Wyre of the Guardians of Light. I know of you, I have seen your life unfold through the Veil. You have....potential...this one, however, wears something I assume they stole. Who are these others?"
"Well, this is Anastasia she is both an Illrian and a Rhyle."
The Illrian Shadow's eyes raked over Anastasia, she visibly winced at his glare.
"I watched you with great anticipation of your future. Yet you vanished from my sight. I had assumed you lost to the void."
"It is..." she tried to say, swallowing "Nice to meet you, the voice in my head says hello also..."
"Ah, Sareleous. Malachi and I have missed you. This one I can already feel, Zjar'q you have been too long in your coming."
"I was...delayed. The Nandorian Puzzle Box's keys have been mostly recovered, I lack one." said the Golden Skull, his voiced tinged with regret.
"There is no need for sorrow. The Box will be ours, and it's secrets out of the hands of the enemy. Now..to you...you bring a great memory with you, Reuben Chantal."
"How did you?" started Reuben, but the Illrian Shadow cut him off.
"I know of you...but what I wish more is to know is how and why."
The mask flashed and words appeared saying simply "Hello, Silas."
The Illrian Shadow stepped back, aghast.
"It cannot be. You were destroyed, turned to dust by the glory of the Light. You were destroyed!"
"I think we should leave you two to catch up before we figure out what our mission is, since you explicitly summoned us and it is not by chance the Golden Skull hitched a ride with us."
The Illrian Shadow took the mask and looked into it, before placing it on his face and descending into Kin's mind.

A flash of memories came with the descent.

Two men stood near a cohort of their own kind. Masses assembled, trudging forward into only God knew what.

Suddenly the rush of battle flooded the memory.

Three iron constructs, living suits of armor.
The first figure raised a hand, firing a bolt of some ethereal energy at it. It was struck with considerable force, almost knocking it over.

The second man was not entirely himself. He rushed the construct without a second thought. It made to bring down a hammer on him, but like some football player, he juked to the side, swinging his arms wide. His wrist blade found a weak spot in the knee, between two larger metal plates. The construct was brought to a knee, and the figure was already climbing up its back. Yanking the back of the head off, it jammed a sawed off shotgun in and pulled the trigger, causing the construct to falter and die.

As the second man stood back up, he was joined by the first. Together they looked up at a large tower, black and twisted in the distance.

Again the memory faded.

They stood in a small workshop, a small stone construct, crude, but astounding none the less looked up at the two of them. Riley was its name.

Suddenly a flash and fire as Kins mind collapsed.

The shadow gasped for air, lying on his back like he had been thrown to the ground. He looked up to see infinity above him, and a white floor below. Then a figure...

"You arent real..."
"Hello Silas."
"Projection..." His face full of shock, disbelief.
"Its me Silas, this isnt a projection.Projections are..."
He interrupted "I know, I know, per-recorded memories."
"Could a memory know that Lenin took over Russia, or that you became the Shadow?"
"How did you survive? Your brain was turned to scrambled egg so fast your heart was still beating a minute after you were dead."
"Its true, I am dust now, unless all these things they have told me about embalming are true. But even dust has its place in the world. Part of me survived, and made it out and into the one safe place only I have complete control of."
Silas laughed, still staring at the "ceiling"
"Crazy son of a bitch."
Kin could only grin. "Cmon." He offered a hand to help him up. "We need to catch up, and we have all the time in the world in here."

The seconds were hours, the conversation dragged on. Personal lives, politics, war, jobs.
"Remember that awkward tinkerer phase you went into Nick?"
"Awkward? Please, I was making progress."
They walked through old buildings and neighborhoods, memories reconstructed by Kin during two compressed lifetimes worth to sit and think.
"Okay, what did you ever make that worked?"
"Plenty. Remember how busy I was? Check it out, I stuck a secondary charge on a grenade, stuck it in a tube and lit it. Viola! Rocket Propelled Grenade."
"Hate to break it to you, but somebody else thought of it about a decade ago."
"Shame... Okay, how about this? Using sound waves, I was working on a device that sends and receives sound, and measures where it bounces and when to map out a surrounding area."
"Some guy in Norway has the patent right now."
"Godammit! That was my breadwinner." Silas could only laugh.
"Well lets hope they havent thought of using the emitter to track moving objects by covertly fixing it to them."
Silas thought for a moment. "Okay you may have something there."

Sitting on top of a roof of an old building in Egypt, It was Kins turn to ask questions.
"So how did you end up.... head of the shi-bang? Doesnt seem like your kind of gig. I mean, yeah, you had the whole "touched by the ethereal" thing..."

"I was Chosen. Part of a prophecy thats been perpetuated for hundreds of thousands of years. I was meant to lead the Illrians, unite them. The religious caste of Anchorites ad the common warriors under the High Lord and the Lords of Illriss. My magic was awakened, well the magic I got from the Far Veil...Perditiomancy replaced my old magic..."
"How, exactly. You're born with something and you keep it right?"
"It takes a lot of power to switch it up. Apparently the World Tree had other plans whe I was born. I've fallen into my place, the Illrian Shadow. Something for the Darkness to fear and for the people to look to. A saint and champion...but thats not all."
"The golems..."
"They work now. Shadesteel, the metal we mine here, and those maroon and black crystals, the Nethercyte. We found a way to make them, magecraft them, into vessels. I spent a month meditating, communing...when my soul was ascended into the Light's realm. I walked the Hinterlands with Libra and Scorpio, they gave me the power to create a soul from light energy. I forged a soul and placed it within a vessel....we have golems now. We call the Mara...well, I call them Mara."
"You made a living thing? It has personality.."
"Everything...it is a person. My first creation was The Spear, and he is their ruler. They call him "Warmaster" and they are doing a lot of good work, pushing back the Darkness in Arcania."
"I was wondering...how is that girl both an Illrian AND Rhyle?"
"How did you know that I would know?"
"I just knew, you've gained a lot of wisdom..."
"I've been looking into it..."
"What?"
"Come, I will show you."
Silas created an image, a massive mirror that filled a chamber. It was truly huge. It was held up by a Chinese dragon and other images of the zodiac.
"The Ghostmirror. It's an ancient artifact, divine. Created by the Great Guardians to look upon the mortals they left behind. I've seen much, the fates of everything and everyone I watched. It...changes you."
"That dosen't answer my question."
Silas sighed "She was meant to be Rhyle. The Steward's Mark appeared, meant for your order. However, when the Bolsheviks took over they had them executed. The family's Illrian, Sareleous, jumped into her and kept her from dying, apandoning the child Alexi. She carries both now, and it's a problem. Her Illrian is cometing with the Steward's Mark for dominance so they both are weaker...one must become dominant. The Illrian can pass to another family if bequeathed properly, but the Mark....she could die..."

There was a silent pause

"Why not help her?" asked Kin
"It's not my way anymore. I'm old, I have a lot on my mind...so much to do..."
"So you have changed....you sounded so flat and emotionless...out there."
"Malachi helps, but seeing thousands die and many more thousands born.....no man can comprehend it. I hold the weight of all worlds on my shoulders."
"Such a burden. Why?"
"I am the Illrian Shadow. I am the most powerful force of magic allied with the Light apart from the Great Guardians and the Saints. You need to know, that Shadow is coming. I can't tell you where, or when, or on whose footsteps it follows...but I can tell you that Arath has its eye on Earth. It is preparing itself to do what it could not do to Thassaria..."
"The Destroyer literally annihilated Thassaria. Gone. All that's left is the Maw of the Maelstrom."
"You forget it wanted to corrupt it first. Humans have lost the faith, they are prone to corruption, strife and misery. Earth could be darkened. The Light survived because the World Tree was razed, and a seedling brought ot Earth."
"It wants the World Tree."
"If it can take that, dim its light...Earth would be defenseless. No magic, no Light, we would be devoured by the Darkness. It would only be a matter of time before Aurica and Arcania fell...the Light would be destroyed. Chaos would tear the universe apart....existence as we know it would end."
"But the balance between the Light and the Darkness?"
"Gone. That's chaos...it doesn't care. The Hellfire Club are the agents of the Forsworn Legion, the Darkness's servants. Whatever they seek, take it. Talk to Zjar'q. He will know...he will tell you what we seek."

"One more thing, Kin. I have something for you. I saved this...I think you should use it some day."
It was a small sphere of light, burning bright and strong.
"What is it?"
"Remember you said you'd give anything to commune with your patron Great Guardian...use that at the moment of your greatest need. They will come to you."
Silas faded away, leaving a shadow in his wake. "May the Light guard you and guide you and your new apprentice down the Path. Ashlardi'im, my friend."

"Hey!" Kin shouted as they faded further apart. "You know we made better constructs, two of 'em, and we didnt have the guys upstairs helping us!" He said with a grin, something about seeing an old friend sparked a fire of youthful energy.
"Yeah" Silas acknowledged. "And one tried to kill us... twice. So how is the new guy?"
They were almost out of sight in the shadows. "Hes got some chops, Ill give him that, he can get the job done." Kin shouted back.

Then he shook his head. The head honcho now? Kin knew Silas was in some deep stuff but he couldnt have imagined him becoming the shadow. Sliding his hands in his pockets, a sort of glib thought came to his mouth. He smiled.

"We made them first, a life time ago. Hmph! Shadesteel my ass....."
He sat down on the ground, and laid back, looking at the white vastness that replaced the shadow. Things had changed... the game had changed indeed.

It was estimated that only a few hundred Rhyle were left. An all time low. Back in the days of guys like Namaka and Maylen, there were tens of thousands at least, and numbers had fluctuated over the years, but nothing like this. This was what some feared to be extinction. Only the strongest were surviving.

Rueben wasnt even Rhyle, and never before had an "outsider" been given such unprecedented access to the organization. Weapons, contacts, resources, training for combat, imperiomancy, negotiations, physical fitness, infiltration etc. Fortunately, Rueben had lived a very spartan life a long time ago. Some new concept America was testing called "Rangers" for their army. A step above regulars, with excellent skill sets. Rueben, aside from mental setbacks was the perfect candidate, and even with only a few days of training, he was showing significant results. Especially in the refining of his raw imperiomancy. Kin was pushing him to the limits, most regular folk couldnt handle it, but Rueben could, and it was paying off.

And now this girl, Romanov. A mix, a hybrid, halfbreed. Nothing like this had ever happened, but he had seen to much in his life to shock easily. And it wasnt like he was opposed to the idea, he was willing to investigate and try to understand. However, this girl was facing a very dire situation, and exploration would have to wait. The mark could be removed, the seal lifted. It was possible, but the few times it had been recorded each had different results. It could kill her, or it could leave a rash for a few days or anything number of things between. It would have to be her choice, and they would need a willing substitute the mark would accept.

----
Rueben took the mask back, he bowed and began to make his way out.

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