A New Interpretation
The Mysterium scholars have a lecture room in BCU. It is unremarkable in every way: rows of desks and a succession of Mysterium mages speaking in front of images projected up on a pull-down screen behind them.
Elithora takes her place in front of the room filled with a mix of her superiors, compatriots, and undercaffeinated Mysterium researchers.
And it seems to be drawing a decent crowd, filtering in one by one. She recognizes Finn, Sterling, Huygens, a fellow named See’galu she has heard of but not met, Han Yolo, a young man named Farnsworth, and Tia, the Moros herald.
Aurelia gives Eli a thumbs up from the back of the room. She took a half day for this.
The door squeaks open and Arcimboldi steps in, wearing a pair of glasses with different-colored lenses. He makes a silent hang-10 gesture Elithora’s way and grabs a seat in the back.
Elithora takes a final good luck sip of her coffee and tries warming up the crowd with Mysterium humor: “For better or worse, I really only have two slides you’ll need to see today.”
She taps her iPad, connected by three chained umbilical cables to the projector hanging from the center of the ceiling. An image familiar to most of the room pops onto the screen beside her.
It’s an extremely high-resolution photograph of a painting from the illuminated grimoire known commonly as Moros 45.a.l. The grimoire itself has survived in several pieces which have not all been recovered, but some of its sections have been in Mysterium hands for more than a century and are thus fairly common knowledge.
The image itself is a scene in a somewhat crude Medieval style, not unlike Christian or official art: Figures of now-unknown unknown identity are arranged in hieratic scale: ten men in dark robes with curly beards and stylized halos indicating that they are awakened by halo iconography common to the Moros in the 15th century.
The ten men are lined on the left hand side of the image, facing and pointing right to a large skeleton in the center, facing toward the viewer with its arms crossed over its chest. On the right are ten corpses in similar attire and un-haloed, but otherwise looking not terribly unlike their living counterparts given the meager artistic range of expression common at the time.
“Page 37, which most of you know well. It has all of the common signs of Moros grimoires of the era. The aggressive bilateral symmetry that appears over and over in 45.a.l. and of course in the Wyckenburg fragment. The skeleton, central,” she moves to the center of the screen and taps it as she passes by, “Is the only figure forward-facing to emphasize this symmetry. We know the cabals of the time were exceedingly familiar with anatomy but the stylization of the ribcage, clavicles, and so on is retained from the previous century.”
“Likewise the adherence to an even balance of the living and the dead on each side, with the skeleton — the human body — as the literal dividing line between life and death. Their rotes at the time echo this sort of overriding binary impression. Given their possibly-historical troubles with Sclesti at the time, one can hardly blame them.”
Elithora moves quickly through some of the more common elements of iconography found repeating through the grimoire and in this piece, tapping the screen each time as she paces back and forth. Her voice and the sound of her heels as she paces back and forth across the screen fall into a steady rhythm punctuated by slaps of her finger against the screen.
“While the general presumption has been that the return of Time Arcana understanding returned to the Moros cabals only through later Persian influence, we have something recent and closer to home that’s of interest.”
Eli taps her iPad, bringing up a new image: A smallish oil painting, clearly on the other side of some dividing line between the middle ages and later Renaissance art. The difference in artistic skill is significant. A walled garden is shown with perspective that isn’t technically correct but at least takes a strong stab at a vanishing point.
Several trees are shown, although their sizes are not correctly adjusted for distance. An ambiguous building with a rounded arch entryway lies to the left hand side of the image and a gate lies to the right.
Centrally, a small girl looking to be a few years old — reasonably looking so and not merely represented as a shrunken adult, sits to the left. Next to her is a woman perhaps in her late 20s, and to their right an older woman, wrinkled and slightly stooped.
“Some of you have no doubt seen this, courtesy our tireless friends in Berlin. A completely-intact single page of the rumored White Hidden Moros Grimoire hitherto considered a poetic fancy.”
“80 years makes quite a difference in technique. This is more than merely social change — new blood has come to the Moros after their trying times. Who were they?”
Eli strides slightly quicker, back and forth before the front row of seats. “No one yet knows. A promotion in the waiting for one of you, no doubt.” (pause for laughter)
“But the Italian fingerprints are all over this. This isn’t typically my point of focus for study, but when the image came across the wire something about it caught my attention. When Corax Muther sent this through, he suggested that this was in fact the Lost Family of the Moros poetry of the time.”
“Daughter tap wife tap matriarch tap.”
“A final memento before the southern European Moros vanished almost entirely under a Seer onslaught; forced to wait nearly one hundred years to cobble an existence back together.”
“And upon their return, protected by Persian Arrows, the cabal traditions of the area were revived with a new understanding of both Time Arcana and Space, which they had lacked. But no.”
Elithora stands in the center of the projection screen with her arms crossed, facing the image. The shadows of the trees in the painting fall across her, and the body of the central woman with her inscrutible face ripples across Eli’s back.
She says something almost inaudible and catches herself.
She turns back to the crowd and repeats it: “This is the same woman.”
“I expect argument, but: their eyes are not the same because they’re related. Their eyes are the same because this is a 16th century Moros representation of their own flowering awareness of the Time Arcana and what it would mean to their understanding of Death, philosophically.”
“The child’s smile; the woman’s smile; the elder’s smile. Identical and timeless. Look at the trees behind them. Above the child are tiny flecks of flowers — real flowers, not simply stylized lilies of the 45.a.l. Above the mother, here tap, the tree bears fruit. And here, to the right, the fruit has fallen and is beginning to rot around the crone’s feet.”
“See how the shadows fall to different angles — is this naivete or the passage of a light source in real space and time represented over the course of a day?”
“I know this demands further evidence and that there are obvious questions if the theory is correct: what does it mean to our understanding of of the sudden disappearance of the authors of 45.a.l. and their descendants if they did have a fuller understanding of Time and Space a full century earlier than we had thought?”
There are assorted murmurs as the lights come back up and people begin standing and stretching their legs. A small crowd of mystagogues surrounds Eli. Huygens is super-enthusiastic. “Very interesting work, doctor!” He’s a Moros himself, you remember. “When I return to Europe I plan to pursue this line of inquiry.”
Sterling, the Provost, blinks a few times. “I, uh, I didn’t understand a whole lot of that, but what little I picked up was pretty, uh, pretty interesting.”
Eli is all smiles and attentive forward leans and thoughtful nods as she fields commentary / accusations of quackery and proposes that several people “get a serious group CC: going” via Mysterium email.
Elithora very carefully fires respect beams at Sterling and gestures to the other scholars around her. “Merely a proposal, Provost: the other mages will all have their own thoughts on this. As they say, many quills make a fast grimoire.”
He nods eagerly. “If you’d like, I’d be glad to help you get the presentation digitized and up on our private network – Europe’s going to be very interested…”
The circle falls quiet as Minerva approaches. Everyone pauses to hear what she’s going to say. “Tres bien, Elithora! That was quite insightful. You are doing some of our Order’s most important work – recovery of our lost past. It is a mitzvah.”
Elithora pantomimes a curtsy. “Merely the first glance. If more of the grimoire were recovered, who knows what we might find.”
Aurelia is at the edge of the room still, unsure whether to approach.
Elithora massages the group and spies Aurelia, flashing her an inviting smile.
The Councilor is wearing a pink blouse over a dark tartan skirt and is balanced expertly on a dizzying pair of heels. She follows Elithora’s gaze and waves Aurelia over. “Come, come!”
“Oh?” Aurelia walks up to the group, somewhat shyly. “That was an excellent presentation, Eli.”
Elithora waves away the compliment and gestures to Aurelia. “And of course, the Searcher who makes it all possible: my colleague, Aurelia.”
Minerva beams beneficently at the newcomer. “Aurelia, yes. We met at your Sanctum. I have been meaning to take some time to deepen our acquaintance.” She regards the two of you. “Lunch, perhaps?”
“That sounds delicious.”
Elithora nods in agreement. “That would be delicious — rather a few things I was hoping to discuss as well.”
Minerva nods eagerly, her glasses sliding down her nose. She pushes them back up and holds an arm up, snapping her fingers. “Huygens, Finn – please see to putting away the lecture equipment. Sterling, I am treating the ladies to lunch.”
And bam! 1 hour later. Al fresco dining in the pleasant July afternoon. It’s cloudy and seventy-four degrees.
The three are under dappled shade in a loose triangle, with Aurelia on one side, Minerva on another, and Elithora between them. There are tables plunked in this patio behind a restaurant in what is supposed to be a casual way. The tables are all wooden, painted white, with white wooden chairs. The flooring is simple brick, with circular areas left open to allow trees to sprout up somewhat haphazardly. The restaurant itself with its rear entrance and kitchen are off to their left. They’ve already ordered and are sipping their waters and iced teas and such.
I’m imagining the body language lingers in the Mysterium mode — the buck stops with Minerva. But there’s definite laughter and a slow relaxation as they discuss something fairly benign.
So Minerva – I don’t know if I’ve really described her much aside from her giant “holy shit I have bad vision” glasses. She’s in her early fifties with brown hair showing only the barest hint of grey. A heart-shaped face. She takes impeccable care of herself and is always made-up, has a lovely scent on, and coordinates her wardrobes exactingly.
Her shoes match her purse match her glasses. Physically, she’s short and round – not fat as such, but round and matronly. She has a lot of nervous energy, making big gestures with her hands and drumming her fingertips on the table. This might be an artifact of coffee or Life magic.
Aurelia is smiling plastically, not exactly at ease but trying to hide it.
The three are chuckling at varying levels of energy about some anecdote when Elithora leans forward on the table. “So, Minerva. I have to be honest. I’m happy to light a fire under local butts for Berlin but I have no desire to go.”
She taps the table with a finger. “Sanguenay.”
She has lit an unfiltered cigarette, a French brand, and points at Eli with it. "I knew it. I had the feeling the lost city would speak to you. It is why I requested your transfer. You were marking time in California, cheri. Doing good work, but to no particular end. Let someone else pore over old manuscripts for a change, non?
“This here, this is the heart of something bigger. Something that could make a change.”
Elithora sheds her usual level of composure as a level of emphasis leaks through. “I feel like this might really be a big one. We can do this.”
She punches the word “we” and holds an open hand to Aurelia. “You haven’t seen her in the field. And our people are good. We don’t need other teams in the way. We can absolutely open this one wide and scour it.”
Aurelia sighs softly “But we don’t have enough concrete details to locate it, if it even really exists and isn’t just a fairy story. It could take years to uncover the city even with the full force of the order. Meanwhile there are things converging in the temenos. New things. And they’re going on about this yea.”
(Elithora) “But if we had the map …”
Minerva purses her lips and looks directly into Aurelia’s eyes. “Jude made mention of this. He was curious but not…worried. Tell me what you think, Aurelia.”
Aurelia looks down. “We don’t have the map. The seers have the map and I like living too much to ask them for it.”
“I don’t know exactly what to think about the consciousnesses in the Temenos, and that is what is so exciting. And scary, too.”
“Our cabal used to catalog it faithfully….but I…I lost faith in the project. It was like…turning the kaleidoscipe, non? Ever changing, unpredictable, but never really creating anything new. Perhaps I was mistaken. Or perhaps Jude is. I would like your perspective on his work as it goes on.
“You…have not spent years of your life on it. He has, and I worry that he is too eager to throw good time after bad to justify it to himself.”
“Well maybe fresh eyes will help. It is a vast and ongoing project after all. I am working on a presentation myself.”
Eli looks interested. “Such a fascinating world … a place for ideas themselves.”
She stubs out her cigarette, smiling. “Indeed? This is good news.” Off Eli: “It is beautiful, in its way. Perhaps you should arrange to join your cabal-mate and Jude on one of their expeditions. If nothing else, the experience navigating the inner worlds is invaluable, and your eyes might catch something the rest of us miss.”
Aurelia smiles “I’ll have to bring you along sometime!”
Eli looks almost shy for a moment. “I certainly couldn’t ask for better guides.”
“But,” she touches Aurie’s arm, “Come on. We can get that map from the Seers and we can make our own map of the Temenos.”
“The map must be had,” Minerva agrees, “or at least copied. The Seers don’t deserve the lost city. They would plunder it at best, or more likely destroy it. A crime against history, against nature….we are not perfect. I have no illusions that we are the ‘good guys.’ But on this thing? Yes. We are better than them.”
Aurelia nods. “Destroying knowledge is the worst crime against humanity and nature. I knew that in my soul long before I joined the order.”
(Elithora) “We are better than them. We might mistakes but we’re … Regular everyday society made the pyramids. Regular people made the Great Wall. Regular people made the Internet. Name me one thing of true and lasting value the Seers have ever created. They are slaves and torturers and we’ll get that map through their own hubris. I can feel it.”
(Elithora)“Virv… Minerva, do we know anything else in the current theories on Sanguenay?”
She pauses to think for a moment. "Hm. We know it was a colony of Atlantis – not the lost city itself, or we would never have come so far toward finding it. The lost city is not just forgotten or misplaced; it was abstracted, and the Archmasters hint that there are forces at work to keep it so.
“Saguenay was not just a city-state, but an Awakened territory, stretching across much of upper North America. It was not a land of mages, but ruled by them. Garbled local Sleeper lore – the natives, the tribesmen – speaks of a pair of siblings, brothers with magical, godlike powers.
“This is consonant with our own findings – documents suggesting that a powerful Atlantean bloodline was extant here. They did work with ley lines and geomancy to attempt to slow or even halt the decay of their powers. For a brief time – centuries, maybe a millennium – the degradation of magic was halted here, in this place. It was a second chance.”
Elithora nods, her mind clearly leaping amongst several flights of fancy.
She looks wistful. “But something happened. Unrest, invasion, a civil war – we are not sure. But the documentation, such as it is, simply stops. There is no more. History lies fallow for an age, and then the Sleeper tribes begin as we know them, seemingly unaware that they dwelt in the ruins of splendor.”
(Elithora) “So much potential. And if enough is preserved …” Her voice drops, almost inaudible, “If it was possible once …”
Aurelia smiles and nods “Restore it?”
Minerva nods, smiling very slightly. “Yes.” Her voice is low and hoarse with an unnameable need.
Aurelia frowns slightly. “What about the other orders?”
“Everyone has their works. Each point of the star, and the sleepers around us besides. But something like this is so … delicate. It could be so easily mishandled and lost.”
(Elithora) “If we could put it back in its rightful place, or reconstruct its underlying structure … it would be ready for the others.”
“The other orders…” Minerva frowns. “I don’t understand them. I never sought Sacerdote as an enemy. We never used to clash. I respected his…professional demeanor. And he respected our duties. But Saguenay – it changed that, somehow. He has done nothing but seek to obstruct us on that question ever since we began. Nobody has ever understood why, and he will not tell me.”
Eli frowns, puzzled. “Surely he doesn’t want the Guardians to seek it out.”
“The Mysterium prided ourselves on being neutral and dutiful. We never sought enemies in the consiilium. I am nobody’s revolutionary. And yet here I am, with my red banner in hand, ready to storm the ramparts. Because to do otherwise is to surrender knowledge.”
“The guardians don’t have time to seek it out. They are too busy watching us. They have gone from our silent protectors to, to, secret policemen.”
Aurelia nods. “You’re right. I’m sorry I’ve been… cowardly about the map issue. I’ll be with you at the barricade, Minerva.”
Eli looks sour. “Aren’t they busy enough coming up with fresh lies to mislead the nearly-awakened? They have enough time left over to fuss with us? I know how delicate the politics are, but … This is exactly why we should go in as a smaller team and retrieve that map. We don’t need to drag the rest of the mystagogues into this and throw everything in disarray.”
(Aurelia) “You know my thoughts on politics. What is right should come before what is politic.”
(Elithora) “We can go in, and we can trust BJ, he wants this one almost as badly as we do and,” she glances at Aurie, looking not entirely confident, “Sinon is on our side as well. He wouldn’t compromise it for Sacerdote.”
She looks at Aurelia with a smile. “There is a fire to you, Aurelia, when you set your mind to something. Jude has told me of it. Elithora wants your cabal to be on the front lines of this excavation and now I begin to see her point.”
Aurelia just blushes, now that the attention is on her. “Oh, thanks…”
She lights another cigarette. “You four have been unfairly put on the spot since you arrived. Very, uh, sink or swim, no? It is not how I would have done things. But if you are volunteering…and now that I see something of the kind of work you can do…I think you can be trusted on this.”
Eli puts her hands on her hips a Wonder Womanly pose, straightening up in her seat. “Just wait, Minerva. We’ll bring this one to you on a silver platter.”
Aurelia nods with determination!
(Elithora) “Hey, Minerva. Can I ask you a question?”
She chuckles and swirls her iced coffee before taking a long sip. “Of course.”
The remains of Eli’s Mysterium propriety fade away. “No, I mean: a personal question.” She pauses and then plunges ahead, “What’s the story with Gerard?”
Aurelia grits her teeth.
Minerva is silent for a long moment, staring into her coffee. She doesn’t look up when she begins speaking. "We were in a cabal by necessity rather than choice. Myself, Gerard – he called himself Vult back then – Jude, and Saracen, our Banner Warden. The Mysterium was small, thirty years ago. We were all the newest Mystagogues so we were in a cabal, non?
“We would not have chosen each other’s company at first. Jude had been to Oxford. He liked to remind us of that often, and what he thought of our backwoods academics. Gerard was…I thought he was a brute, at first. He said the most horrid things. Later I realized that he simply could not help but be completely honest. He wasn’t sophisticated like Jude, but he had passion. He loved what we were doing, and we spent hours in the Athenaeum, browsing old grimoires, writing index programs on punch cards…at some point I began to feel protective of him. Then that turned to love. It was not what I had expected. I thought I would catch myself an Alain Delon, not a short, hairy little man. But…” she shrugs.
Aurelia reaches across in what she hopes is a comforting manner
“And then we began the Saguenay project. And I have never been quite certain if that simply eclipsed me in his mind, or if I had always been one of his…academic pursuits. I could have asked him. He is a Mastigos, after all, and could have found out definitively. But I was perhaps afraid of the answer.”
She squeezes Aurelia’s hand.
Elithora opens her mouth, but says nothing and keeps listening.
Aurelia smiles reassuringly and holds tight
“Sanguenay is my passion too, but it consumed him. He began digging up things we weren’t supposed to look at. Overextending himself. Using Mind magic to pursue six trains of thought at once, and my Life magic to forestall sleep. Doing that to himself was one thing, but when he began asking for favors, making promises we couldn’t possibly keep in exchange for scraps of knowledge or a few more leads to follow….he got the attention of the Guardians.
“You know how intelligence services watch out for agents who rack up debts, because those debts can potentially compromise them? It is much the same with us. A man makes too many promises too quickly, people begin to wonder what happens if the markers are called.
“His behavior became erratic, he kept odd company, he sought out Left-Handed mages and some of the Mad. No one thing was at issue, but taken all together…Sacerdote gave us an ultimatum. Much like the one he gave those youngsters. Imprisonment, or exile. Gerard took exile. He practically leaped at it.”
*She sips her coffee again, looking at you two expectantly.
Aurelia is just holding Minerva’s hand comfortingly
Eli looks thoughtful. “Yeah, I didn’t mean to pry, it’s just …” It becomes clear this is not the first discussion on the affairs of the heart she’s ever had with Minerva, but is clearly news to her. “Look, Virva, you know the gist my dating history. I’m the last one who would tell someone it’s their job to save anyone. It was just … surprising to see him. You know, bobbing on a boat that smells like corpses and thinking ten thoughts at once.”
Minerva chuckles mordantly. “It is not /that/ surprising.”
(Elithora) “I guess it was not strange to me that he is going to die of neglect out there, alone. It was unexpected that he was still obviously in love with you in his own fractured way.”
Eli lifts her hand to her mouth. She clearly is not sure that she should have just said that.
Minerva raises an eyebrow. “No. Do not be embarrassed. I told you, Gerard was never good at holding back. He says things sometimes…but then he will disappear for six months and take no calls. You see? I know he feels something. I do not know how much I care, though.”
She smiles slyly. “Playing matchmaker, it seems to come naturally to you, though. Everyone is talking about a certain party at Ankh….”
Aurelia turns beet red and tries to pull back her hand.
Eli looks like she was caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “It’s … It’s … It’s the nature of fate for threads to knot together. I spend enough time watching fabric unravel.”
She glances at Aurelia. “And I may be hasty in my advice sometimes. I don’t really know.”
Minerva follows her gaze to Aurelia.
Aurelia just throws her hands up. “I don’t even know”
Eli knows Aurie enough to know her aversion to spotlights. “I guess I could chalk it up to building guanxi with the Moros and Libertines alike, but …”
Minerva smiles and pats Aurelia’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, dear heart. I am done embarrassing you for one afternoon. Grading papers waits for no woman.” She gets up to leave.
(players fall asleep, story over for now!)