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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Crux: Revelation Hatrick


Jean-Jacques was royally pissed and one of the reasons why he wouldn’t stop chewing on his bottom lip in frustration was that they called him at two in the morning when he had a fishing trip planned just a few hours later. Come autumn, that part of the Mediterranean would turn very nasty and most people were rushing to take advantage of the last few moments of sunshine and good sailing conditions, taking their boats out of the channels of Port La Nouvelle and out to sea. If not for his sociopath tendencies, he would actually love the small town lifestyle and the routine, which was why this place was so adequate for someone like him. This particular mage was indeed a hazard to himself and others, and was (as one high ranked member of the Lion Order once said) like “Elmer Fudd without those last remnants of self-restraint”. He would make use of an atomic bomb to take care of the rabbit infestation in his garden. And to make it all pretty and wrapped in a pink bow, Jean-Jacques was also a pyromancer.
The other reason why he continued to nibble on his lip and the massive chunk of fresh irony was the fact that they summoned him to handle an issue because he was the highest ranked mage in the area. That wouldn’t normally be a problem, but actually something rather flattering, if not for the fact that he was never told that that issue might exist in the first place because, as Lion motivated, “that information was reserved for higher ranks only”. Just a few miles off the coast and on the beautiful island of Corse, stood an ancient temple buried within the mountain; a couple of hours earlier, the mages sent to guard it failed to report in at the scheduled time and now Lion had a very big problem. The mage just nodded, like he was taught to, and carried out the orders as given. In less than half an hour, with his stomach on the verge of being regurgitated inside out, he had jumped two portals and a chopper hitherto and finally woke up across the black waters of the gulf with a team of silent experts and longing for a cup of coffee and a croissant.
“What’s this all about?” he finally shouted over the noise of the propeller, at the group of five black clad individuals sitting across from him and on his flanks.
“Ask Snowfox!” shouted the one in front of him who appeared to be a woman and pointed behind him at the cockpit. He couldn’t tell since they were all wearing some strange masks that covered up their face completely and some high tech cherry red goggles which looked like toys.
“This is ridiculous…” J.J. muttered and turned and squeezed a little between the front seats. “Which one of you is Snowfox?”
“That would be me, sir” came the reply from the one on the right, who the Frenchman observed he did wore some kind of hierarchic symbols on his left shoulder. The voice was however a very young one, Jean Jacques noticed and shook his head in dismay.
“Ok… Snowfox,” he said calmly “What is the plan?”
Snowfox looked at the pilot and he looked back at him, sharing what J.J. assumed to be amused glances. Finally he turned to face him again and said: “Sir! We’re supposed to be following your orders! There’s a breach in sector 45 so we were sent to assist. Usually this would mean a flashbang-and-sweep operation, but it’s your call!”
The “civilian” looked completely puzzled. He nodded in that calm way of his and said “I’ll get back to you on that one”, then crashed back in his seat. He had baggy eyes, a receding hairline and he could feel the five o’clock shadow starting to grow, ironically as they were nearing 05:00 A.M. He tugged on his black tie and loosened it, then closed his eyes and tilted his head back comfortably.
“Sir!” came the woman’s voice. “Sir, what’s the plan?”
“…Sit back and try to sleep.”
“I mean for us, sir! What’s the strategy?”
“Same thing. I’ll think of something until we get there.”
Even though he wouldn’t open his eyes, he had the feeling that the whole group was sharing the same amused look their commander and the pilot exchanged earlier, and he found he didn’t give a ratatouille’s ass about it.
At that exact time, at the said temple, Alexis Huntington-Gates and the vampire Victoria were arguing loudly, their high pitched tones echoing through the tall room and annoying immensely the local bats.
“For the last time!” shouted the blonde, her steel blue eyes burning with fury. “You can’t kill them!”
“I didn’t say kill them!” replied the green-haired vampire. “I just want a sip! …It’s close to sunrise and I’m feeling peckish!”
“You can’t bite them either” Lexi said calmly, trying logic one more time. “It’s bad enough we clobbered them, tied them up and broke in here without permission. Andrew would get the axe for this. Literally!”
There was a moment of silence while Victoria scanned Lexi with an expressionless porcelain face and cold emerald eyes. She shrugged and sat on the floor next to the aforementioned wizard, crossing her legs Indian style. After a second’s thought she asked again: “What if I try it from the wrist? Won’t leave any marks if I drop some blood on it.”
“No biting! Jesus, it’s like babysitting a baby piranha! Next time I go and Drew can very well strap a magical leash on you or something!”
Lexi exhaled deeply and looked down on the body of her husband. Her demeanour changed instantly, turning from frustrated to extremely worried. It had been just a few minutes since they performed the ritual and… well, died. But she had no idea how long it will take until they came back. From what the young wizard said, it couldn’t be much longer lest they risked not being able to return to their mortal shells.
“…Drew won’t come back” Victoria said quietly, sniffing at the two unconscious guards, tied up like Christmas presents.
“What?” Lexi asked, just realizing what the vampire said.
“He won’t come back with Thomas. We’ll need to find a way to bring him back and fast-“
“Why? …How do you know this? Did he tell you that?” Thomas’ wife asked in astonishment.
“Yes. Just before we started. He made me promise I won’t tell until the spell was done.”
“…This just keeps getting more and more complicated.”
“Not really. Why do you think he agreed to do it in the first place? Sure, he cares about your hubby there, but loves being a mage. Drew loves a good magic book – imagine how he must feel in a place where everything around him is magical! …No, he knew what he was doing. Greenwich was going to remove him from service anyway so he thought of it as an early retirement. What better place to go when you’re a mage?”
Alexis listened in shock as Victoria was speaking to her matter-of-factly, without any visible emotion on her face. She was speaking of death. Cold, silent and permanent! And she didn’t even seem to care. The girl growled and barked at her:
“Are you completely insane? …No! That’s not the right thing to ask. Is he” she asked, pointing a finger at the dead mage “completely stupid? If he dies for real then he doesn’t stay on Crux does he?! He will be forced out to a different realm and most importantly stay dead!”
“Huh!” the blood drinker said in reply. “Guess neither of us thought about that! …Maybe his soul isn’t yet ready to move on?” she added optimistically.
“It’s Drew! He’s the selfless, good-hearted, martyr type we both know! He will move and we won’t be able to get him back!”
“You’re right” Victoria conceded and stood up.
And there was a shift in the air, one that Lexi knew quite well ever since her spouse and the vampire fought the demon Damumus together. It was one of those times when Victoria would stop being the trigger-happy crazy teenage bitch and become a calculated and tactical genius, pulling a rocket launcher out of the pocket of her coat.
“Whatever happens,” the vampire said “do NOT move him. I’ll be back.”
“Where are you going?!” Lexi shouted after her as she was leaving the circular room.
Victoria half turned and spoke levelly: “Shopping.”
The blonde opened her mouth and then decided against it, considering it was better to just trust her for a change. Lying down next to her husband, she rolled on one side and embraced him, caressing his face gently and repeatedly. There was just one light, coming from the broken ceiling, shinning down on the three bodies that lay between the twin colossal pillars which still stood over the centuries. Lexi fell asleep, hoping to slide through miraculously in the dream world Thomas was visiting.
*
“Behold! The Rift!” yelled Ash, opening his arms like captain Ahab marvelling at the white whale. “It’s be the scavenger’s holy land! Wonderful isn’t it?”
And what a marvellous sight it was, for the waters above the ravine were crystal clear and every sunken ship down there was perfectly visible even from the few hundred feet above. It went on, like a sleeping snake, for miles, beyond the horizon, and it was filled with thousands of vessels that have sunk during the course of history.
“Yes,” said Mona almost laughing. “We also have a Titanic down there.”
“That’s not funny” Ash commented. “Many people died in that terrible accident!”
“Yeah” she retorted. “And they made a terrible movie after it. I’m sure those lost in the tragedy feel a lot better now that they turned the whole thing into a sobbing love story.”
“I went to that movie” Thomas said quietly. “We joked about it up ‘til the end. Now I feel like a jackass…”
“…If you ask me” Mona added “ if those who died on the Titanic saw you laugh at the movie, they probably felt better about it.”
“You really hate that film” Drew said amused.
“Oh, yes. And I’m not too crazy about that Celine Dion song either, buddy…”
Thomas chuckled and looked at Arlo and Tesla who were watching the conversation completely confused, but tried not to show it. He opened his mouth to explain but thought better of it and just waved it off.
“This is all very interesting” the Meka finally said “but we should get going. If we don’t reach the eastern beach by sunset, we will be cut off from Raibah. There is a canyon pass there that would take us to Genesis faster, but it closes at night.”
“The pass closes?” Thomas asked and looked at the mage. “I thought those thing were like 7/11. Open all day, every day.”
“The landscape changes here” Drew explained. “With every passing moment, the planet… if it really is a planet – might be flat for all we know – shifts it’s forms according to celestial alignments. Not sure those really are stars up there either…”
“Okay then! Captain, would you be so kind?” Thomas asked.
“Of course, lad! Mona! Full speed ahead!” the giant bellowed.
“Aye-aye, meatball!” the vampire replied and pushed the throttle to full sailing speed. The vessel, which appeared to be a tugboat from the 1900’s, roared madly but barely produced enough visible progress. Still Ash loved the old boat and was very proud of it, though it made the wizard really ponder the fact of navigating without static constellations, a non-changing shore line and any viable navigation instruments whatsoever. He told himself it was wiser not to ask and just hope Ash knew where they were headed.
Arlo approached Thomas with feline grace and slid next to him on the boat’s prow, struggling a little with her white cloak and getting her bent blade out of the way. He gave her a nod and a polite smile.
“Something eating you?” she asked softly, scanning the silver sky’s reflection in the water.
“Except for the fact that my friend will die?” he joked bitterly.
“Except that, yes.”
“I don’t know how I’ll explain that to Alexis. She’s my wife… “
“You look too young to be married. How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-five but…I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I found the perfect girl. One as damned as I am.”
“Then there you go – she will understand.”
“You think?” Thomas asked and his amber eyes turned softer looking at the half-angel.
“You’re a pact-child, aren’t you?” the Nephalem asked smiling a little. “Oh, I know, there’s no point in explaining how. What’s your power?”
“My eyes. Whatever I see, I suddenly understand. …I’ve graduated five universities already.”
“That’s a huge advantage” she commented. “And Alexis’?”
“Charm. Her family thought it best for woman to master the social disciplines. Turns out, the Huntington and the Gates both served the same demon lord. Hell of a way to meet the woman of your dreams…”
“Nice pun” Arlo laughed. “…But not fair, is it?”
“No, definitely not. We took care of the demon, but our souls are still… condemned. Who decided that parents should have ownership of their unborn children’s spirits anyway?”
“Same entity that decided the Nephalem could be influenced so easily by their own creators I guess” she said shrugging a little. “I hope you’ll find a way to redeem yourselves” she added after a short moment of silence. “You love her truly, don’t you? I can see it in your face. It’s the kind of love that our race is capable of. Never saw that reflecting from a human…”
Thomas closed his eyes and listened to the boat slicing the wavelets and enjoyed the sea spray for a  short while. He turned his head and looked the girl next to him once more, her eyes locked on the horizon and the wind blowing back the cerise energy swirls rising from the corner of her eyes.
“It’s why I came here” he muttered. “I figured if we can make a difference by aiding this Nilithar person, we could tip the scales in our favour.”
Arlo laughed softly and turned to him smiling benevolently. She patted his shoulder and pushed herself up.
“It doesn’t work like that, my friend. You can’t cure a damned soul. If you really want absolution, then you must act out of selflessness, out of the good in your heart. Your friend is a good example. His sacrifice has worth, while your actions are just… trade goods. They don’t value much up there…”
Thomas gazed at her and nodded grimly. He wanted to ask her about love and if that didn’t count at all. In every movie and every book, especially the holy one, that concept was the guide for a repentant person’s path to enlightenment. But he realized love came in different forms and if she had so much love to give to the Light, there was certainly a sinister adoration for Darkness as well. Love was a concept, but the deeds in its name were what really mattered. Love, loyalty, courage… sacrifice. He was better off just putting all of them out of his head and hope that they at least played AC/DC in the torture pits.
“Land ho!” yelled the werewolf captain, extending a giant arm at the starboard side of the boat. Through the fading haze, the ashen outline of the shore became slightly visible. Mona giggled.
“What’s funny?” Drew asked.
“He said ‘ho’…” she explained. “It always amuses me.”
“Is that snow?” he asked smiling.
“Yes. Crux snow.”
“What’s Crux snow?”
“It’s just like regular snow, only that it doesn’t melt. Ever. And it’s not cold to the touch.”
“Good” Thomas said joining them. “I hate the cold.”
“I know I’m going to regret asking this, but why do you hate the cold?” said Mona.
“I’m from Florida! Our notion of skiing involves a wetsuit and a motorboat. …Wait. Why would you regret asking me anything?”
“Because asking you a question and expecting a normal answer would be like making a poll about preventing global warming at a mental institution” Drew answered instead.
“Pfff! You don’t need a poll for that! We just need to invest in technological development regarding alternative fuel and replace paper filing with an electronic system, manage a data base and stop fucking up the ozone lair with rockets.”
Mona shared a tolerant smile with Drew: “Point made.”
*
Lexi woke up to the sound of a helicopter hovering outside. She didn’t so much wake up as jump to her feet and draw a CZ2000 pistol, pointed at the entrance. Her heart pumped madly as she realized that the inevitable was about to happen. They broke in a temple guarded by mages and hijacked a sacred pathway to another dimension. Cause and effect, she told herself as she took a position in front of the Thomas and Andrew. The two guards appeared to have woken up from their magical slumber as well and they were watching her calmly through the dim light, waiting for their rescue party to come crashing in.
There was no flash, no guns firing madly, no blood and gore. Just a simple man, dressed in a navy blue suit, looking really annoyed as he marched in without even saying hello. Lexi kept her gun pointed at him and stood her ground quietly. Jean-Jacques looked at her, looked at the bodies behind and glared in a disappointed manner at the two wizards who seemed to say “not our fault!”.
“I don’t care who you are and why you’ve come here, ‘cause I have no idea why this ruin is so important in the first place. What I know is that I have orders to arrest you or use lethal force if you resist” He finally said.
As following his cue, the six combat spec-ed mages walked in, aiming suppressed Uzis at the girl. Their laser sights danced on her white cotton pressed shirt like red fireflies. They looked like black ghosts, clad in their neoprene suits with special light armour plates covering their vital parts. Lexi had never seen such a team before but from what Andrew told her about wizard warfare, she could tell they could level a small town in minutes.
“You can arrest away” she said icily. “But only after my husband and my friend wake up. As you can see, we have not harmed your people. We’re just borrowing the mystic energies that flow free here and we will surrender when we’re done.”
“I think” the man said with his strong French accent “that you’re not following me. I did mention the fact that I do not care right from the beginning, no? You will come with us and your friends will be brought along.”
“They are not to be moved!” Lexi thundered as the air around her seemed to vibrate. Her pale eyes glimmered for a second while her powers activated. She could manipulate anyone at will and, if Andrew was right, with time she could even posses another’s mind. Yet the wizard in front of her didn’t even flinch. Not only that he was immune to such charms but he also had the social abilities of an oak.
“That won’t work on us, but it is rather impressive. You must tell us more about how you acquired such skills after we bring you in” Jean-Jacques replied. “Put your gun down or I will tell them to fire.”
Lexi felt like a mouse trapped in a corner. Her frustration grew immensely as she couldn’t even reason with the man, not to mention do anything else to stop him from doing what he planned. Smart as Thomas was, it was a wonder sometime how he didn’t think this plan through – of course they would send a team to investigate! It was a holy temple! She told herself to remember to scold him if they survived this encounter.
“I see there’s no way to convince you of our good intentions… But I will not lower my weapon, sir. If you move them they will die and I’m not going to just let that happen. If your men will shoot, I’ll certainly die. But perhaps I manage to shoot you too before I hit the ground. Now what do you suggest we do?”
The man breathed out exhausted. He was over forty and tired of such complicated situations. It was hard enough to live while seeing mathematical solutions about every little detail in his life. Being in control for someone with obsessive compulsive issues and an extreme hatred for people was already too much, and such situations definitely didn’t make things easier. If one was to sum up what it felt  to be Jean-Jacque Monnier, that would be not caring about anything on a regular basis.
“I’m just following orders” he said slightly displeased with himself for even giving such a crude explanation. “Take her down now.”
There was a prolonged pause as the mage team didn’t want to believe that order. Normally they wouldn’t hesitate, but this woman was obviously no threat, even if she did point that small pistol at Monnier. The safety locks on their Uzis went down but still no one fired.
“What’s the matter with the lot of you?” the wizard asked aggravated. “I said shoot her! I want to go back to sleep.”
“Sir,” Snowfox said from his side “perhaps we can find another way. I’m not comfortable with taking down a civilian like this. My team-“
“Will follow orders!” he exploded. “What’s wrong with you? Lethal action was approved. She doesn’t want to cooperate so we will take her down. NOW!”
“Yes… sir” Snowfow said gritting his teeth and rose his weapon towards Lexi.
The girl’s muscles tensed to the point of breaking but before the first gun could fire, a noise like a hurricane was heard and a blur of green dashed from one soldier to another, sending guns flying in the air with precise strikes and knocking them back against the walls. For a split second, Lexi thought Victoria had returned but realized it couldn’t be her because, despite her supernatural speed, she didn’t move that fast, nor did she ever glow like a green neon illuminating the entire chamber.
Merde! “ roared Monnier. “What the hell is-?”
A hand like of steel closed around his windpipe before he could finish the sentence. It tossed him aside like a rag and stood in front of the girl, protecting her with his large body. As the light faded, Lexi could see that it was a man, but not just any man. An old friend that came to make sure they were safe. She laughed softly and scolded herself for not trusting in Thomas’ tactical abilities. He was, after all, the best chess player she had ever met.
“You okay, chérie?” Rene asked in his warm usual voice.
“I’m fine. Would have been a lot better if you arrived faster. I was scared my heart would give up before they would even start shooting. Thomas called you?”
“He called Octavius. He told me what you were up to. Next time, call me before you get yourself in such a mess, oui?”
“Oh. I thought my husband was clever enough to ask your for help. As back-up at least…”
The Incubus laughed still scanning the recovering mages, scrambling to their feet and recovering their weapons. The one in the blue suit was particularly annoyed.
“Don’t sell him short, Alexis. He knew Octavius would call on me. Your husband just likes to do things a little more… complicated.”
“What are you standing around for, you fools? Shoot them! Or will they have to rip one of you apart to agree they are hostile?!” Jean-Jacques yelled.
“Stand down, gentlemen!” Rene ordered and his eyes burned that hellish green fire. He walked closer and his glow became just a thin mist, revealing himself completely to them.
The Incubus was almost seven feet tall, with a natural muscular body and long platinum blonde hair that fell freely to his lower back. He was wearing a royal blue outfit with golden trimming, the jacket knee-long and showing the symbol of his Family – the lion’s head. On his belt he carried a sheathed Roman gladius , its pommel shaped like the feline as well, a reminder of who Rene Montmartre really was: one of the almost extinct Gauls and the one responsible for the massacre of the Roman armies at the Bay of Biscay over two millennia back. His sight alone could turn a man to stone, possessing the purity of a flawless diamond, but his reputation among the magical circles was enough for the combat team to lower their weapons and bow their heads.
“My team and I mean no disrespect, milord” Snowfox said. “But this is mage business.”
“Look at me, boy” Rene said gently extending his chiselled jaw and chin towards the masked speaker. “What is your name?”
“I… My codename is Snowfox, milord.”
“What is this?! You will address me! I am in charge here, vampire!” Monnier thundered.
“Shut up before I drain your soul and eat it, little man” the Incubus said quietly and waved his hand at Jean-Jacque, making him instantly faint. “He’s alright” he addressed Snowfox. “He needed a time-out.”
“Truth be told, your highness, we are grateful for that. But about this-“
“Yes, yes, formalities” he agreed. “Okay, if the words must be said, I here by claim my right of dominion over this territory which is part of France and this temple and so forth…” Rene added amused. “Are we good now?”
Snowfox removed his goggles and took off his mask. A red haired young man with hazel eyes smiled at the ancient psychic vampire and nodded: “All good, milord. Begging your pardon for the trouble, but it is protocol to hear the exact words be said. I will report back to command that you needed to… borrow the site for a few hours.”
“Dearly appreciated, monsieur Snowfox” Rene said kindly. “Give my regards to the Order and tell them I will stop by Lion for debriefing on the way back. We don’t want any loose ends here.”
“Of course, milord. Sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. For the record, we wouldn’t have followed that bastard’s order anyway” the team leader said apologetically.
“It’s okay” she said bravely. “For the record I would have shot him.”
Snowfox nodded and gestured at his team to free the two guards and retrieve the unconscious Jean-Jacques’ numb body, while the Incubus finally faced Lexi.
“That was quite impressive. I knew they respect you deeply but I didn’t know you had such authority…” she said.
“I am above their conflicts now, as is Octavius and others that survived for over two thousand years. The matters that capture our interest are far more complicated that even the clever wizards can comprehend. Such as what you are doing here…”
“I’m glad you find my husbands demise fascinating.”
“Well… demise is not the right word is it, chérie?” he said looking at Thomas’ body. “Oh, he is quite alive I see. Yes, his spiritual link is still very strong…”
“What of the mage? Is he still anchored to his body?” she asked concerned.
“Shouldn’t he be?” Rene asked puzzled. “…What aren’t you telling me?”
“He said he won’t be able to return. Victoria went to find… something. She thinks she might be able to bring him back. Can you help?”
“My power does not reach that far. I can barely slide out of this dimension but to pull him all the way from a… what was that again? Purgatory?”
“Something like that…”
“No. That I can’t do, I’m afraid. But maybe the young Merioch can figure out something we can’t.”
Lexi didn’t answer. She was just concerned about getting Thomas back. If Victoria wasn’t successful, surely her brilliant spouse could come up with a solution.
“Don’t you worry” Rene said placing an arm over her shoulder and giving her a gentle comforting squeeze. “I trust Andrew knew what he was doing. Despite his situation, he would never put Thomas at risk.”
“…Yes, ‘cause we know he wouldn’t kill himself either, right?” the girl said bitterly. “How long does he have?”
“Without medical assistance, his body will die in a matter of days. I guess I could force-feed him energy, but…”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes – he said” Alexis growled silently. “Men are idiots… Since when do you report to mages anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you will stop by Lion…”
“Ah, yes, indeed. But I don’t report to them, they like having me around. I just show up and let them squabble about my origins. It’s like Santa Claus coming by for a cup of tea” Rene said and offered a delighted grin.

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