It’s a Saturday around noon, a week after the last Consilium meeting. Who is likely to be at the Sanctum at a time like this, and what are you doing if you are?
No classes to teach on a Saturday so Elithora is there moving books to one place, then back, then frowning indecisively.
Blackjack is sitting in the chair, reading a book on vampire lore. Well trying to. He appears kind of distracted.
Saturdays are off, Aurelia is busy reprogramming her robot. (Why does it always wake up deprogrammed? So weird.)
Sinon arrives back at the Sanctum around 11am with a caddy full of coffees and a bag with various baked goods. He has been out observing the goings on at Vancouver General Hospital, memorizing names and routines.
There’s a buzz at the front gate.
BJ gets up and goes to look at the camera over looking the gate.
It’s Tia, the middle-aged native woman from Chemical Wedding earlier in the week. You remember that she’s also a Herald.
BJ: “We have company. They are either here on official business or challenge me to a duel.”
BJ opens the gate.
Aurelia: “Already? Ugh.”
BJ goes to unlock the door and open it for their guest.
The gate opens and the woman strides up the driveway to your front door, whereupon you let her in. She’s wearing denim jeans and a baggy flannel over a t-shirt, and a felt hat with a feather in it, which she removes as she enters. “Howdy.”
A bookcase opens in the library and Sinon steps down from the narrow stairwell behind it. He walks down the spiral staircase, adjusting the cufflinks on his usual suit. He passes by Elithora—who is engrossed in a rather large tome—and walks to the front of the house to join the others.
She drums her fingers lightly along the inside of her hat as she turns around, taking in the place. She whistles slowly. “You folks’ve really made yourselves at home. It looks good.” She offers a hand to Sinon. “Tia.”
Aurelia is dressed to unimpress. Yoga pants and a sweatshirt.
She offers Aurelia a hand as well, when Aurie appears.
Sinon grasps the Herald’s hand and gives a single firm shake. “Sinon.”
BJ is dressed casually in a button down oxford and khakis. The cabal’s sigil embroidered onto his shirt pocket. Nods to Tia. “Hello again.”
“Good to see you again. No hard feelings about earlier, right?” She smiles; it’s surprisingly pleasant, given how severe her face looks normally.
(BJ) “You caught me on a bad night.” Offers his hand as a peace offering.
She takes BJ’s hand, nodding, the white skunk stripe in her long black hair kind of bobbing. “I’m glad to hear it, friend. Unfortunately, I’m not here on a social call today. There’s somebody wants a private word with you folks – a Councilor.”
BJ raises an eyebrow. It’s a good trick.
Elithora comes downstairs holding a book in a language which is only half real. “Did someone ring the .. oh!”
Sinon looks at the others. “Of course, we would be happy to meet with any member of the council.”
“Ma’am.” Tia nods at the new arrival.
Tia reaches into her pocket and produces a small round mirror. “Alright, then.” She sets it on the floor.
Aurelia looks back and waves at Eli “Hey Eli! So is it Janis? or Minerva?”
Tia half-smiles. “Smart kid.” She speaks a single word of the High Speech and the mirror glows, its edges limned with a bright light that races around the perimeter counterclockwise three times.
There’s a small rush of air, and Minerva stands before you, blinking quickly behind her enormous glasses. “Oh….well, that was sudden. Thank you so much, Tia. You can go now.”
Tia puts her felt hat back on and tips the brim toward Minerva. “Ma’am.” She nods briefly toward each of the cabal in turn, then turns around to leave.
Aurelia: “You gonna need a ride back?”
BJ nods to Tia.
Aurelia waves goodbye.
BJ: “Welcome to our home Councillor.”
“Hm? Oh, I’ve arranged for that to be taken care of already,” Minerva says. “Do you mind if I sit? I spent this morning climbing up and down ladders.”
“Certainly.” Sinon leads the way back to the sitting room.
She follows, and gratefully slumps into a chaise-lounge. She’s wearing a thin pink sweater over a gray wool skirt, from which her round ankles lead down to surprisingly sturdy shoes. “Ahh, tres bien, that is much better.” She pulls off the shoes and begins rubbing her feet vigorously.
“Ladders of precious metal, or the ordinary kind?” Aurelia smirks conspiratorially.
She laughs, mock-scandalized. “Oh, I’d never…well, there is that Montesquieu….but no, the ordinary kind. We’ve narrowed it down to five possible locations for the site of the first colony after the exile from Saguenay. It’s a very exciting time.” She looks at the cabal. “Your little clique has made a lot of waves recently, you know that?”
Sinon follows the others into the room, turning to close the sliding doors behind them. He sits as the Councilor begins to speak.
Aurelia: “Yeah, everyone keeps saying that.”
Elithora settles into a seat facing Minerva. “Nonsense, we make ripples at the most.”
Sinon: “Our defense of the apostates has obviously fed into the tensions already present on the council.”
Blackjack takes a seat in the sitting room. “I am not sure why everyone keeps saying that. I thought we had a rather mild introduction to the consilium.”
Blackjack, being a polite host: “Can I get anyone anything to drink?”
Aurelia raises her hand and then finds a comfy chair to sit in, pulling her knees up.
Sinon: “Combined with the credibility we gained in helping deal with the Abyssal incursion means any move we make could be seen as pushing the rather precarious balance one way or the other.”
You can take the academic out of the classroom but you can’t take the classroom out of the academic. “Yes Aurelia?” Acknowledges the Councillor. "Yes, we seem to have amplified certain old grievances.
She taps a forefinger on her chin for a moment. “Oh, you’ve all been quite circumspect and well-behaved in many ways. And almost everything you’ve done has been at the behest of other people. But those things have stirred a somewhat unstable brew…oh, my, yes. Gimlet, please.”
Aurelia: “I’m not picky. Whatever we have available is fine. So long as it’s a little sweet.”
BJ looks to Sinon and Eli as a question.
Elithora: “Oh, gin on the rocks.” (to Minerva) “Unstable brew?”
Sinon: “Whiskey. Neat.” A second later. “Uh, Thanks.”
BJ: “Noden. Two whiskeys, neat for Sinon and myself. Something sweet for Aurelia, a Gimlet for the Counsilor, and gin on the rocks for Elithora.” Speaking to the air.
Sinon: “The tension between the two sides I assume? The Guardians and the Arrow. The Mysterium and the Libertines. Not to mention the Seers, and the Apostates.”
A spirit materializes – it takes the shape of a middle-aged man in an old double-breasted suit. “Very good, sir.” It moves to the bar and begins mixing.
Minerva blinks. “You understand the situation very well, sinon. It’s – my word. Is that Marty Metcalfe?”
Aurelia: “What tension between the Mysterium and the Libertines?”
BJ: “In a way. A copy of his spirit but with his memories.” Somewhat dismissively.
The spirit bows to her. “I’ve borrowed his face and memories, yes. Bianca, yes? I warned you about never reading with enough light.” It tsks and goes back to mixing drinks.
Aurelia fidgets. “Uhm, you want me to forget that?”
She waves a hand dismissively. “If someone casts a sympathetic death spell at me, now I’ll know who to blame. Your friend Sinon is correct. The Consilium is split down the middle, with the Guardians and Arrows pushing for ever more control, more security, and the Libertines, naturally, resisting. The Mysterium tried to be a balancing influence….”
BJ: “But maintaining the balance means less being neutral and more working with the Free Council?”
Sinon: “Leaving Rattenbury to bear the burden of every decision.”
“…no, we ‘tried.’ We gave up when Sacerdote started opposing every single one of our research efforts; our hands were forced. Even the Silver Ladder is divided. Rattenbury’s older, conservative faction is constantly tussling with younger elements.”
“The Ladder is the smallest of the four Orders here and have tried to lead by making themselves useful to everyone. Look to Montesquieu, or Volcker – they make sure to provide useful services.”
“What it comes down to is, a hundred years ago, there was a battle between the Pentacle and the Seers for control of Victoria and thus the province. We lost, and retreated here – to what was then a backwater, an afterthought.”
Aurelia: “But not anymore.”
“Just so. The battle lines ever since have run straight down the Strait of Georgia, non? But the Seers outmaneuvered themselves. Vancouver is a world city, despite their best efforts, and Victoria is…what? So now they come here in force.”
“They took over Simon Fraser University a few years ago. They make plays for BCU now – the Mysterium’s stronghold. The financial district is overrun with slaves of Mammon.”
“We are under siege, and we are losing.”
Nodens finishes the drinks and begins silently circulating around the room, bearing them on a silver tray.
Aurelia tastes whatever she is given, and nods approvingly.
Elithora swirls the gin around the ice cubes in her glass. “How do we push back?”
Sinon grabs his glass and stares at it for a second. “Saguenay? Is that the hope?”
BJ takes his whiskey and sips it. “I am not very confident we have much hope.”
“To me it is, yes. This is no mere archaeological project – I believe Saguenay’s secrets have the key to opposing the Seers. Has Blackjack told your cabal of his recent…inquiries?”
Aurelia: “No. What’s new, BJ?”
“Parlare?” Sinon looks over at the Arrow.
BJ: “Yes. And no.”
“In the 1940’s the Seers got their hands on a soulstone and a legancy. One that had a powerful gift of prophecy. It was assumed that the seers killed a member of Parlare’s cabal and taken it. That was not the case.” Taking a deep sip of his whiskey. “The dead member was a seer double. One who is still alive. She killed Parlare. Subtle work, a poison.”
“So she did take it! She was the seer spy! I knew it!” Aurelia raises her hand for a five, grinning.
Sinon: “A double or an infiltrator?”
BJ: “I think she was turned but I have no proof.”
Sinon stares out a window behind Minerva.
Aurelia: “Well, if she’s still alive she must be ancient. I mean, really old.”
Eli gives Aurie a confused high five. Aurelia is happy to not be left hanging.
Sinon: “Was she Acanthus?”
Minerva produces a small manila folder. “When Parlare was declared a murder, the investigation became official Council business, and Friday – who has very good things to say about Monsieur Blackjack, by the by – reported her findings to us. This made some things clear that had not been clear before.”
BJ flushes for a moment when Friday saying nice things about him comes up.
Elithora takes a long sip of her gin. “What have we found out?”
“The dead woman was named Miranda, daughter of Prospero, a very important mage in his day. She was a member of the Ars Regia cabal, along with Parlare, Duncan, and Nodens.”
BJ’s ghost speaks up. “We were the greatest of friends. For a time.”
Sinon reaches out for the folder. “If I may?”
Minerva hands Sinon the folder. It has a series of photographs in it.
Sinon looks through the contents, memorizing each in turn.
Some of the photographs are of the old Ars Regia cabal. Miranda, black-haired and gamine. Duncan, muscular and stern-faced. Nodens, a bit preppy and irreverent-looking. And Parlare, dressed casually and always pictured with a drink in hand.
“Miranda was killed by the Seers in 1948. Or so we thought.”
“The Fate spell?” Sinon asks Blackjack.
BJ: “Yes. And all of the pictures of her were taken. If those are pictures of her then they are very, very valuable.”
“Look at the picture beneath those Ars Regia photographs, Sinon.” Minerva points.
Aurelia: “The Mysterium has its own archives, guys.”
Sinon clips through at Minerva’s instruction.
It’s another photo – judging by the clothes and setting, it seems to be from the 1970s. It’s a woman, raven-haired, still thin, face showing a faint spider-web of lines and creases.
But it’s recognizably Miranda.
Elithora peers over Sinon’s shoulder. “Hmm.”
“That is the one existing photograph of the Tetrarch of the Seers of the Throne for the Pacific Northwest. Her name is Milady, and she has been our Pentacle’s nemesis for fifty years now.”
Sinon tilts his head.
Aurelia: “Well that explains things.”
Minerva nods. “It has explained much for the council as well. We five have discussed the implications for some time now. All this time, and we never knew our enemy had once been one of us.”
BJ finishes his whiskey in a single gulp. “Is it hoping too much that they put aside their differences?”
“It happens more often than any would like to admit.” Sinon says, more quietly than usual.
Aurelia frowns a bit, pulling her knees closer and looking down uncomfortably.
Minerva laughs once, bitterly. "We would not know how to put aside our differences even if we wanted to at this point. You see how I have come to you? I could not come openly like a normal human being, lest those watching this place conclude your cabal was ready to join Janis’s brewing mutiny. I could not even send Finn.
“It was good Tia owed me a favor, non?”
BJ: “My little at show the Anhk did not clear that up?”
“It is much less about what you do, Blackjack, than it is about what people have predisposed themselves to see.”
Sinon: “It’s the symbol.”
Elithora sighs into her gin cup, as if asking the gin if it can believe this shit that mages always get into.
Minerva stands. “Miranda has used the Centaurus legacy against us for some time now. Its predictions are vague, like Nostradamus, you see? They require interpretation. There is no such thing as perfect prediction anyway – but it is enough to change a few little outcomes, here and there.”
Aurelia shrugs. “You’re the head of our order. That’s ridiculous.”
“It is the way of things right now, Aurelia. It is silly and outrageous, but the consequences for ignoring silly things can sometimes be terrible.”
Elithora picks up the 1970 photo and holds it arm’s length, squinting. “So what are we doing about her?”
Blackjack takes a moment to rub his temple, is going to end up in a duel arcade if people keep saying he’s going to join the free council. Would very much apply the Mysterium, or the Silver Ladder first. “I can think of a solution but doing so would be open war.”
“What would that be?” Minerva asks, blinking through her glasses.
Sinon stands up and walks to a window.
“Tch.” Aurelia rolls her eyes. “I get enough politics in my life without this added layer.”
BJ: “Open war like fighting in the streets, reality ripping free and monsters pouring from the Abyss open war?”
BJ sets down the tumbler then looks at Minvera with a look of disbelief. As if one of his students had asked why Germany won the war. “Something like that. I think both sides would respect the Veil at first. Perhaps the Consilium would withdraw to Seattle before it got that bad.”
Minerva holds her hand out. “What was this solution you mentioned, Blackjack?”
“To the US? Really?” Aurelia sounds alarmed.
“A likely impossible one. Forget I mentioned it.” BJ waves his hand dismissively. Getting up and walking over to Sinon. The expression on his face a question, if she could be even be found.
Sinon: “Since none of us are arch masters of time, I can only think of a few possible actions. None are pretty.”
Minerva nods. “I believe that a solution may be found in Saguenay. The lost civilization had artifacts – knowledge – a stronger connection to the Realms Above than we enjoy today. And one other thing; it exists outside of the normal streams of Time, now. You see? No prophecy can foretell it.”
Aurelia: “So we hole up in some ancient ruin?”
Sinon: “We escalate? Mutualy assured destruction?”
“If it comes to that, perhaps. But I am more optimistic. I believe it will have the knowledge we need to fight back.”
“No. I believe she expects to find something there to give us an edge. I mean no offense to the councillor but that is a long shot hope. I will do what I can to help, but a secondary plan may be in order.” He shakes his head.
Aurelia: “So what’s the fallback for the fallback?”
She sets her drink on the bar. “Perhaps it is a long shot, monsieur. But whether it turns the tide or not, consider what would happen if the Seers beat us to it. If they consolidate power over every city between Alaska and Montreal, between here and San Francisco.”
BJ: “If we cannot have Saguenay, I would at least deny it to Milady.”
Sinon looks back over his shoulder. “Agreed.”
BJ: “On that point we all agree.”
Elithora interrupts: “It really exists outside of normal Time streams?”
She nods at Elithora. “So we have come to believe. The hints and clues the Archmasters deign to share with us tell us that history is ever in flux. Events and places and people are erased by changing the past, but exist in a kind of suspension, ready to return if things change again.”
Elithora listens, sets her drinks down, sits back down, and crosses her arms. “Then the bitch can’t have it. I want to see this place.”
“Amen sister!” Aurelia has finished her drink.
Minerva smiles. "Spoken like a true academic. And that brings me at last to the point of this excursion. We require the map. Your search for it proved to be much more complicated than anyone had guessed. And if the Seers has it, that puts us, as they say, ‘under the clock.’ I think it is time to take it from them.
“There is one problem. Sacerdote and Khatsalano have forbidden direct action against the Seers. They think it would be, uh, teasing the hornet’s nest.”
“So if there is a way to obtain the map without provoking them…?” she shrugs. “Your cabal has proven deft at such matters.”
“Being detected would mean an escalation in hostilities.” Sinon turns and sets down his finished drink.
Aurelia: “So we don’t get detected. Simple.”
Eli nods in agreement.
BJ looks at Sinon then shrugs. “Better to ask forgiveness then permission perhaps?”
Sinon: “We’re expected to show initiative. At least in other consillia.”
Minerva nods. “If you succeed, the entire council would have no choice but to laud you for helping the cause of research and denying the Seers a tool.”
“If you fail…well, we will not dwell on that.”
Elithora: “We are not going to fail. We’re zeroing in on its location.”
Aurelia: “I hope we can still be friends?”
Sinon: “It’s hard to be friends with ghosts if you are not a Moros, Aurelia.”
BJ looks at Aurelia and Elithora. “You two are going to look for that city no matter what, are you not?”
Elithora: “And yes, we are.”
Blackjack takes a moment to ponder that answer. “I was sent here from Boston with the express instructions to keep an eye on the Mysterium and provide assistance. That sounds like an order to go to me.”
Minerva pulls out a phone. “Then I thank you, and bid you au revoir. Oh, one last thing – Christophe gave the Guardians who came to speak to him the slip after you found him. He sent me a message. He finds your cabal….‘interesting.’ I have no idea what this means, but I’m sure we will find out soon, yes? Good day.” She bows, and vanishes.
Sinon looks down at his watch and back up at the rest of the cabal. “Sounds like we need to get to work.”