ILLUMINATI #1: The Circle Chase [Part I]
Long, long ago, in Ancient Rome, there existed the tradition of the gentes. A gens was a clan, a family connected in that they could each trace their lineage to one key figure. In most cases, it was a ruler or philosopher- a mean of riding their coattails long after they had returned to the earth. It was a major component of the political world of the times and many people campaigned for adoption into these clans- as not everyone could seek office.
The members of a gens had a legal obligation to help each other when asked. They were forbidden to marry outside of the tribe. Today, such archaic traditions do not exist- the gens are all but gone now… all but for the Aurelii gens.
Loosely translated, it means “the Golden Clan”. The mother of Julius Caesar, Aurelia Cotta, was part of this clan. So were the emperors Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius and his son Marcus Aurelius Commodus. Aurelius Clemens Prudentius was a Christian poet of the fourth century; the man responsible for dreaming up the seven virtues was also a member of this family.
All of these people were able to trace their lineage to one man… to the Aurelius. Thousands of years ago, there was a group of supermen who fought to protect the world from evil. They were men of great renown; they were the Gibborim. Amongst their number was one man; he was a wise elder, a man who had penned everything forbidden mankind had been taught, compiling it into a single tome. The Aurelius had written the Book of the Grigori, and he passed it on from generation to generation.
Aurelia Cotta, Marcus Aurelius, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius… each was charged with an unearthly task… to safeguard the Book of the Grigori and protect mankind from the horrors it could unleash.
Today, the current Aurelius is Doctor Steven O. White… and his apprentice… is Coup Field.
“So, we’re not, like, related too closely, right?”
The Aurelius sighed as he stalked the halls of the Chapel. Doctor White’s body phased through a woman, kneeling at the altar, muttering prayers that her husband’s pancreatic cancer would cease to cripple him as it did… and thanking God they had been given the fifty years that they had.
The pair of magi lived in the basement of a great cathedral in San Francisco. They moved unnoticed by the parishioners because they were not in the same plane of existence. In order to enter the home of the Aurelius, one had to first arrive at the Chapel and then traverse to the Astral Plane. It was a curious thing really- the Astral Plane was a veil suspended over the material world. From it, one could see and hear anything and everything as if they were a specter that haunted the real world. What many had perceived to be ghosts were simply those with the ability to freely traverse.
It was not a Neo-Sapien ability to do so. Doctor White had concluded that there were many people born with incredible psychic abilities stemming from a perplexing force of will. Those with such talents often found themselves in strange situations- subconsciously traversing to this realm. Helping such people was one of the Aurelius’ sworn duties.
Still, there were those who could not be helped. The Astral Plane existed as a mirror of earth… save for one difference. All hallowed ground was but a void ripped into the veil- a column of darkness that traveled on for infinity. Graveyards and churches did not exist within this fantastic plane and those who traversed within them were beyond anyone’s help.
That they lived in a church found in the astral plane was hardly an anomaly- the church had been built long ago, by the Aurelius who trained the man who had trained Doctor White. It was not hallowed ground… it was a cover.
Doctor White had paused, uttering the incantation that would allow him to peer into the woman’s mind and gleam where her husband was. He made a mental note to visit the man later- his magic could remove the cancer and leave both praising God for the miracle. It was one aspect about him Coup failed to understand.
“Coup? She is only seventeen.”
“So? We live in California… isn’t the age of consent seventeen here? All I’m sayin’ is, if Atlanta and I were to bump uglies- we wouldn’t have super retard babies right?”
“You- you’re aware I could evaporate you with a single word, aren’t you?”
“We can do that? The BOG’s got a Power Word: Kill in it!? Doctor Dubuya… you’ve been holdin’ out on me!”
The Aurelius sighed and calmed himself. Their bloodline had thinned over the years. To his knowledge, he had but two options for an apprentice- his daughter and this distant relation his magical search had turned up. He was sure he could find others if he pushed… but at the moment, it was down to one of the two of them fulfilling the role of the Aurelius. Atlanta Jane White seemed not to want anything to do with the dark arts he practiced, which only helped his decision…
…however much he regretted it.
It was twenty years ago that his master passed on… the day the Wanderer fully embraced him as the next Aurelius. He had opted to use such a responsibility by creating a new team of Vindicators. To that end he had gathered together new heroes. Rosa Freeman was an athlete who dreamed of being the world’s first gold medalist in women’s boxing. Her status as a Neo-Sapien was exposed and many argued her powers gave her an unfair advantage in sports. Her ability was to transform her flesh into super-strong rock resembling onyx; there was no way for her to use her powers without others noticing.
He also recruited Alexander Higgins, a human who had acted as a costumed vigilante in his home of New Jersey. As the archer, Nock, he had faced many petty thugs- some instilled with Neo-Sapien abilities. Armed only with his bow and arrows, he had experienced a successful career fighting crime- one that drew him the Aurelius’ eye as he drafted the sixth incarnation of Vindicators.
He also recruited ten-year-old Natalie Styles, a Neo-Sapien able to manipulate light. His master had been able to use his magic to heal, although Doctor White had yet to decipher that bit of the Book of the Grigori. As such, he felt her healing abilities would benefit their new team. He also called upon Jacob Loder, the grandson of the original Lodestone.
Last, but not least, he had brought in Scarlett Clementine, the southern belle with uncanny physical abilities. As the two adventured together and fought together, they fell in love together. They would eventually marry and see their one-and-only daughter born. With Atlanta’s birth, Phenomena had retired from the Vindicators and begged the Aurelius to do the same. He had given the reigns of leadership to Onyx, but he couldn’t pull himself away completely. He was too dedicated to his role as a protector- to his job as Earth’s Master Mage.
And when she felt that his job was more important to him than his family was- Scarlett White left her husband, taking their daughter with her.
He never contested custody.
Still, his emotional distance wasn’t the only thing that had driven a wedge between him and Atlanta. Her mother had eventually returned to the life of a superhero and placed Atlanta with an all girl’s school in Georgia. Atlanta was raised by the clergy at Bethel Baptist Bible Academy for Young Girls. She had an exuberant amount of faith and that clashed with the energies he commanded. Her religion taught her that magic was a dark art… an affront against God. Her father was the purveyor of such talents.
Almost as if on cue she appeared inside the Chapel. It had been weeks since her last visit- she spent every spring and winter vacation and summer break with her father. After this summer, she would begin her first term at a new school. She had argued with her mother that she was old enough to decide for herself- she wanted to spend her senior year at the New Vindicators Academy of America.
“She’s so hot,” Coup whispered to the doctor. The Aurelius sighed and crossed the room, phasing through his daughter’s body to stand behind her. With a simple incantation he crossed dimensions- becoming another ghost to his apprentice. Atlanta hardly seemed surprised to find his touch on her shoulder, nor to hear the words that would transport her into their realm. “So hot…”
“Ah heard that,” Atlanta grumbled, crossing the auditorium with her father. “Enhanced hearin’ and all. How’re y’doin’, cuz?”
Coup shuddered at her chosen nickname for him. There was no telling just how they were related- if at all. They were simple descended from the same man. Still, Atlanta insisted that they were cousins and called him as such. Such titles hindered his fantasies.
‘Then again,’ he mused to himself, carefully not to voice his thoughts out of fear for her Neo-Sapien abilities, ‘she is from the south…’
“Pumpkin,” the Aurelius said, gesturing to the woman, “this is Missus Caldwell and her husband is not long for this world. She had been praying that God will end his pain soon… I thought perhaps we could go visit him. Daddy could heal him- take away his cancer… They would both be so happy. What do you think?”
And suddenly, Coup understood why a man who’s power was spitting in God’s eye tried to use it to do the Lord’s work. Atlanta blushed as she fought to contain the grin. Her father extended an arm and she wrapped hers around it. That girl could bench press a Buick- yet she was refined enough that she could control her strength and keep from disintegrating the bones in his appendage. “Coup? We’re heading out for a bit… be sure to watch the Chapel for me? We shouldn’t be long.”
They made their way out of the church and out of the Astral Plane and Coup knew immediately what he wanted to do.
Hurrying into the basement of the church, he arrived at the fixtures Doctor White had brought over from the material plane. Down here in their library were a great many things the Aurelius was charged with protecting. The slumbering form of King Arthur- the man historically known as Ambrosius Aurelianus rested peacefully on a gilded bed. Excalibur would be with Nimue, the Lady in the Lake. His hands held Caladbolg though- the sword that could cut through anything.
At the Battle of Camlann, Arthur had slain Mordred… but had been fatally wounded. As the Aurelius of the period, he spirited himself to Avalon- the mystical island had long served as the realm of the Aurelius. When everything held on the island had been brought to San Francisco, King Arthur’s body had been brought over too. According to legend, he would slumber until the once-and-future king was needed again…
Coup Field passed the king’s slumbering form and stalked past the golden statue of a man weeping from atop his throne. He held his face in his hands and sorrow emanated from him. King Midas was just another fixture in the home of the Aurelius.
Pandora’s Box was bound in chains and secured away inside the Arc of the Covenant. That item in particular Coup was careful to steer away from. He had never seen it, though his master had told him those who touched it died instantly. The Mask of Agamemnon and the Holy Grail sat on shelves not far off- propping up tomes of lore. The color-changing sword, Joyuse, rested nearby and the Durandel leaned sheathed against the very shelf.
Coup’s eyes fell on the Lost Dutchman’s Gold and a grin spread like wildfire across his face. Each coin was harmless enough, unless pressed into someone else’s palm. The head of each coin depicted a man laughing or weeping, terrified or swooning… once pressed into the palm of someone, that person would experience those emotions. Fear, despair, hope, hate… Coup’s eyes settled on one in particular- the Love Coin. If he pressed it into Atlanta’s hand, she would be his loyal servant, bound to do anything he asked.
He looked up to the top shelf, to a small, ornate urn bound with twine. Something was shaking inside of it… something was trapped within.
Reaching up, Coup plucked it up into his hand and brought it down to his level. It seemed harmless enough and his curiosity often got the better of him. Coup opened the urn… and out he flew.
The sprite appeared like a small tiger- barely six inches in height, with large, angelic wings adorning its back. The strange being rotated in the air, scanning his new-found surroundings and finally settled on the fridge. “Sugar!” he exclaimed, rocketing through the air and wrapping his appendages around the handle. Try as he might, he lacked the strength to open the apparatus. “Sugar! Sugarsugarsugarsugar!”
The creature leaned back his head, regarding Coup coolly. “Hey, big fella… open this up.”
“Are you hungry?”
“… Are you retarded? Honestly, kid… what was your first clue? Was it my screaming ‘sugar’ repeatedly, doing my best to open this door or… throw me a bone here, Einstein.”
“What are you?”
“At the moment I’m hungry and tired of stupid questions. Open the freaking door!”
Coup complied easily enough, though he preferred to avoid mundane movements whenever possible. Why walk when you could levitate? Why talk when you could psionically project your voice into another’s skull? Why open a door when you could use telekinesis to do so. He had hardly mastered much in the way of mental spells, but telekinesis was like second nature to him. An accomplished street magician, he referred to it as prestidigitation.
The strange creature seemed hardly impressed- much to Coup’s chagrin. He merely rolled his eyes at the young man’s excessive use of magic and launched himself into a bowl of pudding. “So… what exactly are you?”
“Neophlyte,” the diminutive beast managed around a mouthful of tapioca.
“Are there others like you?”
“Whole island where I’m from.”
“Avalon,” the winged beast groaned as he wiped his mouth on the back of his paw. “Mmm, whipped cream!”
“So, do you have a name?”
“And I thought I had a stupid sounding name.”
While Oafeon gorged himself, the telephone began to ring. The ear-splitting ringing forced the Apprentice to abandon any further inquires and make his way to the receiver. “Yo,” he said, picking up the archaic telephone. “Santa’s Secret Workshop, Complaint Department… did your child lose an eye?”
Silence answered him. The simple truth was, their number was unlisted; the services the Aurelius offered were hardly anything to advertise. If someone had dialed their number, they either knew who they were or they had the wrong number. The caller took a chance and a deep breath and dove in headfirst. “I- I need to talk to the Aurelius.”
Coup looked over his shoulder cautiously. “Speaking,” he said wearily.
“M-my name is Tom McMertree,” the man said, a hint of terror mingled with urgency in his voice. “I- I’m the mayor of Point Pleasant, West Virginia and… well… we, uh…”
“We’re sort of having a problem with… with the dead.”
“What kind of problem?” Coup asked, peering around the corner to Oafeon. The creature was laying on the floor before the open fridge, stroking his engorged tummy.
“Well… they’re- they’re not exactly acting like the dead anymore.”
“They’re up and about?”
“Ooo… Tell ya what, William-”
“-I’ll go ahead and clear my schedule. I mean, I did have a two o’clock battle with Popo Bawa but… I can prolly bump him to tomorrow.”
“Popo Bawa is a lesser demon that attacks Zanzaibar during election years. He has huge bat wings and a penchant for sodomizing men. Plus, if you don’t tell your family and friends about him, he’ll come back and do it again.” Silence responded to such a revelation. “Seriously, he really exists. Go WikiPedia him or something. Anyway, just for you, I’ll go ahead and give you a group rate on these zombies. I normally charge by the head but…”
“Just- just please… hurry.”
Coup hung up the phone and cracked his knuckles. “Hey, Oafeon! I gotta go make a quick buck over in West Virginia. You gunna be okay here?”
“You can’t charge people for their services!” Oafeon bellowed from the kitchen. “You’re the Aurelius! It’s your sworn duty to protect mankind from that which goes bump!”
“Yeah… you keep your mouth shut about that and I’ll buy donuts.”
A wide grin spread over Oafeon’s face. “Shotgun.”
The Phial of Aa’ron amplified the distance anyone teleported, allowing Coup and Oafeon to traverse the country in a matter of seconds. They soon found just what Tom McMertree had called them about. The dead had risen from a murky grave and freely roamed the town, panicking the simple denizens of the peaceful eastern hamlet. Yet still, they were not unmolested as they meandered through the city. Coup’s attention was pulled to one spot where an explosion of force cast the animated corpses aside.
His lower face was hidden under an orange scarf- the ends of which trailed behind him as he ran through the smoke. Shuriken flashed in his hands as he barreled through the melee. Against the undead, his knives had no effect; the flesh was long gone from their bodies- only dark green vegetation clung from their ribs now. Still, with a flick of the wrist, the ninja let the daggers fly… and they exploded on impact.
“How do you suppose he did that?” Coup asked; though he had voiced his inquiry aloud, he was merely asking himself. Still, Oafeon provided the answer.
“He’s able to manipulate kinetic energy,” the sprite said, his eyes glowing as he watched the young man explode forward at incredible speeds. “He charges energy into the throwing knives and they explode when they impact.”
“And how do you know that?”
“The Sight. I- I was the Neophlyte chosen by the Order of Nature this last cycle. I can see magic and identify it…”
“Then he’s not a Neo-Sapien,” Coup mused. “He’s magical in nature?”
“It’s an old magic, yes… but…” Oafeon narrowed his glowing eyes on the Japanese man engrossed in the melee below them. “…He- he’s an immortal and he’s not alone.” Oafeon’s paw pointed out towards another engaging the skeletons. There seemed to be nothing special about the man wildly swinging a club about, doing whatever he could to obliterate the undead. Yet, as Coup watched, he began to understand. Any wound the man received began healing almost instantly. “It’s weak but there’s something magical about his abilities…” Oafeon mused.
A third hammered at his foes, harnessing the power of the wind for his weapon. Oafeon scanned him as well, revealing the trick to how he performed the uncanny acts he performed. “It’s his bracelet,” Oafeon explained. “He’s a normal human but his wrist is giving off arcane energy… he’s manipulating the element of air.”
It suddenly dawned on Coup what he was doing. “Wait a minute! If I sit up here and watch them fight… I can’t collect for this job!” With a quick incantation he was on the ground, slinging spells into the undead and obliterating them one by one. The trio seemed not to mind the newcomer to their fight. They seemed to wish he was more capable, however. The horde of undead was still too much for the four of them, fight all they would. Magical spells, kinetic force, the wind and regeneration were hardly the most suitable weapons for dealing with an army.
And then… they all fell.
“W-what?” asked Coup, looking around him at the lifeless remains of the dead. Each and every skeleton had been dispatched quicker than Coup had been able to see. He looked over his shoulder, to the aghast Oafeon. The Neophlyte shook his head, unable to comprehend himself what had just happened.
“Forty-six people,” a young man said from behind them. He wore a black and white jogging suit with a stopwatch suspended from around his neck. In his hand was an acquired copy of “the History of Point Pleasant”, pilfered from the town’s museum. “Forty-six zombies. Can’t be too much of a coincidence, ey?”
“Who- who are you?” Coup thundered. If there was one thing he couldn’t stomach, it was being shown up. “Did you do this?”
“S’aboot time somebody did, ey?”
“What did you do?”
“I took out the rest. Name’s Joseph Higgins.”
“Did you say there were forty-six?” the young man with the bracelet asked. He removed his cowboy hat to wipe his brow and slick back his long, slightly greasy hair. Dirty and unshaven, he appeared to have been traveling for days. The wrinkled appearance of his clothes only hinted at the nights he had spent sleeping in them. The single six-shooter on his side and machete on his back appeared to be his only other possessions. “You know, forty-six people died here about forty-years-ago.”
“Did they drown?” asked the regenerator. He appeared to be the eldest, his chin accented by the dark goatee he stroked thoughtfully. “Some of these bones show signs that fish may have picked the flesh clean off of them. They appear to have been submerged for some time. Given that we’re on a river…”
“Oi,” Joseph said as he flipped through the book at blinding speeds. “Point Pleasant is most famous for a series of local legends centered on the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge, which killed 46 people.”
“Wait a sec,” said Coup, throwing up his hands to silence the others. “This- this all sounds kind of familiar. Why does this sound kind of familiar?”
“The Mothman Prophesies? It was a Richard Gere movie.”
Coup’s eyes widened at the goateed man’s response. “Yeah! It had the chick from Will & Grace in it, right? Huzzah!”
Joseph Higgins stared blankly at the Apprentice. The others followed suit. “So, you mind tellin’ us who you are, ey?”
The Apprentice blinked in surprise, slightly wounded that his reputation had not preceded him. “Me? I’m Coup Field, the Aurelius.”
“I thought Steven White was the Aurelius,” Joseph corrected.
“Indeed,” came the muffled response from the scarf-clad shinobi.
“Has he passed on?” asked Joseph. “Did he retire?”
“Yeah, that. The- the second one!” Coup shared a look with Oafeon for a moment, as if threatening the small creature to keep his tongue stilled. “Th-this is Oafeon. He has magic eyes. Not like those posters that you look at cross-eyed and see sailboats but really magical eyes.”
Joseph and Coup stared at the other three. Removing his cowboy hat, the shaggy-looking man took the initiative to introduce himself. “My name is William Benson. I’m an archeologist. I’m pleased to meet you all.”
The man with the goatee looked to the man in the scarf, as if waiting for him to introduce himself. The man in the scarf seemed hardly willing to offer anything about himself voluntarily. “Fine… I’m John.”
Joseph’s eyes ran over the man and a grin flashed across his face. “You’re modest. He’s Doctor John O’Reilly, considered one of the best surgeons in the world today. I’ve read your journals, Doctor.” Joseph’s face contorted into a pained look then as if he further offered, “I am sorry for your loss.”
“Whatever,” growled the Doctor, intent to keep any further personal details of his life from these people. “So what’s your story, scarf-boy?”
“Unno Rokuro,” the man offered, his eyes scanning the horizon of the quiet village.
The Doctor appeared to be waiting to hear the rest.
Will looked at his five new cohorts in turn. “So, any of you have any idea what would make the dead crawl their way out of the Ohio River and rampage through the city?”
“Sure,” offered Joseph, “just as soon as you explain what an archeologist is doing in West Virginia.”
Will’s jaw dropped. “I, uh- well, you- I mean…”
“You knew aboot the area- knew aboot the incident that happened here nearly forty-years ago. Logic dictates that you’re here for something.” A knowing grin moved across Joseph Higgins’ face. “Odds are that whatever brings you here is tied to the skeletons. You probably knew this… and you’re attempting to test us to see how much we know. Am I right?”
William Benson could hardly form words to justify what was running through his head.
“I’m guessing this is aboot the shard, ey?”
William’s eyes weren’t the only ones that widened. The Doctor turned around- his interest peeked by this sudden turn of things. Even Unno Rokuro seemed captivated by Joseph’s words. “Aboot a week ago, I had a client come into my shop. I’m a clockmaker- I run a little shop back home in Quebec. I don’t think he was a local, given his accent… he sounded British. By his appearance and demeanor, I’d say he was a rabbi. He dropped off a grandfather clock to be fixed. Normally, I work quick enough that I have it done the next morning… but before he could get out the door, this other man appeared- commanding a golem.”
“A golem?” asked Coup, not sure what Joseph was talking about.
“A golem!?” asked William, his interest peeked.
“He came in, went to the clock the man dropped off and pulled this stone shard out of it.”
“He was an old man, wasn’t he?” asked Doctor O’Reilly. “Tattered robes, leaning on a walking stick?”
“You met him too, ey?”
“He attacked the lab I’ve been working out of. A- a colleague and I have been researching a strain of bacteria, a new virus or sorts. My colleague is something of a… a collector of oddities. He had this shard of a stone tablet, with some runes carved on it. The same old man, with the same golem, just made their way in. My colleague attempted to fight them both off but… the man practices dark magic.”
“He attacked a shrine in Japan,” Rokuro explained. “He was spat from the earth and easily took the shard given to the gods for protection.”
“He took one from you too, ey?” asked Joseph.
William nodded in response and with his confirmation, the air around Joseph distorted for a split second. Suddenly Joseph was holding a shard of stone- unintelligible runes etched into it. “Did they look anything like this?” he asked.
“Wait… how did you-”
“Museum,” offered Joseph.
Coup shook his head. “No, not that… the- the- what did you do?”
Joseph blinked. “I… got the shard?”
“Super-speed,” grumbled the Doctor.
Joseph shook his head. “Not really. I change the proportional relationship with time- slowing it to a crawl for you whilst speeding it up for me.”
“Wait- you… you control time!?” Coup’s eyes echoed his infinite surprise that Joseph was capable of such a staggering feat. “Why don’t you just go backwards and get the shards before this guy does?”
“Because I can’t travel through time, I just manipulate it. Truth, I’m not even sure how I do that…”
“Well, are you a Neo-Sapien?” asked the Doctor.
“I’m not sure. I don’t remember my parents. I- I’m not sure if I even have them to be honest.” Joseph gave them a nervous laugh, half to put them at ease- half to put himself there. “It’s just… it’s just something I’ve always been able to do. I’m not sure how I do it but… I do so… you know.”
William Benson cleared his throat and stepped into the middle of their odd group. “Okay… so I think it’s safe to say that this guy has been coming after the shards. They must be pieces of something. Joseph and John had one- myself, Rokuro… wait- Coup? Mister Aurelius, sir? Did- did he take one from you?”
“I ain’t got one,” Coup said with a pout. He was sorely disappointed that he didn’t actually.
“Okay then… we can assume he has at least four of these things. No clue how many there are.”
“Wait… there’s something on this!” Joseph turned it over and traced an engraving around the edge of the shard. “It says… ‘Gevurah.’ What’s that mean?”
Coup shrugged. “I didn’t take ‘Gibberish’ in high school.”
Joseph ignored the intellectually inferior young man and continued to study the artifact he had pilfered from the community museum. “I think the odds of that man coming for this are fairly good,” he mused.
The ground trembled beneath their feet and was torn asunder as a great arm rose from the soil. The fingers flexed and reached for the would-be heroes. Rokuro easily leapt out of the way, while Joseph’s abilities pulled the Doctor easily to safety. The hand grabbed William Benson and pulled him back into the earth, his screams trailing behind him.
From behind them, the earth split open and out he rose. The listless mage wore the very tattered robes Doctor O’Reilly had identified him with. Pointing with his gnarled walking stick, he commanded the golem he had animated, sending it to fetch that which he sought above all else. “If you value your lives,” he said slowly, having an awkward time communicating in English, “give me the shard.”
Joseph grinned, easily seeing the advantage he held over the man. “You want this shard, ey? You’ll have to catch me first.”
An unforgiving wind beat down on the collected forces and Coup Field was forced to turn away to shield his eyes against the barrage.
The old man was mildly unaffected by the wind. The tattered robes Doctor O’Reilly had identified him as wearing rippled before him like so much a king’s banner waving on the fields of a glorious battle. The long, frayed, coarse hairs jutting from his jaw moved ever so slightly; the density his beard had gained in its tangled mess allowed it some resistance against the cool summer gale. No, the wind affected him to be true- but he was not bothered by it.
“Give me the key,” he intoned, his voice delivering the hoarse command. He leaned easily on that gnarled walking stick, unconcerned with whatever challenge these united heroes may have posed.
“Let go of Billy!” Coup thundered dramatically, thrusting his hand forward and pointing for the old man.
“In but a day, all of reality will finally be purged. What matters if he dies here and now than during the deluge?”
Unno Rokuro sighed and hid his face in his raised hand, his eyes peeking out from between his fingers. The Doctor moved to explain things for their young companion’s benefit. “Deluge is a fancy name for flood,” the Doctor intoned, not taking his eyes off of the old man.
“Give me the shard and I will permit your companion to live for the time remaining.”
Joseph Higgins still held the shard, ready to run if necessary. With a mere thought he could slow down time for them while speeding it up for himself. It made him appear to move at uncanny speeds… but things were still different for him. He had run hundreds of miles in what seemed like a few scant seconds to mortals; for Joseph, weeks had passed.
Weeks more of his life would be lost should he speed away again- but if it meant preventing a catastrophe the old man predicted there was no question as to the justification.
Could he justify abandoning William Benson to the old man’s mercies though? None of their group appeared capable of freeing him from an earthly prison. If they cooperated, there was the off-chance the old man would let William live… together they could still prevent this man’s dark ambitions.
“How many of these are there?” Joseph asked, shaking the shard and reigning in the old man’s attention.
The old man chuckled at their ignorance. “Ten,” he admitted. “One in the hands of each member of the Illuminati. Only two were not entrusted with such power.”
“What do they do?”
“Ask the Illuminati.”
Joseph calmed himself… and asked what he was hesitant to ask. The question would give the old man too much power… but he had to know. “If we give this to you, you’ll release our friend?”
“Whoa!” exclaimed Coup. “Let’s not go makin’ friendship bracelets right now! He’s not our friend! Nobody is anybody’s friend and I resist such accusations! In fact, I’m fairly certain my attorney, from Field, Oafeon and Weinstein would dispute such allegations!”
“Yeah!” the flying fey pronounced with a paw punch into the air.
Rokuro’s eyes shifted to take the pair in from between his fingers. “Just say the word,” he mumbled to the Doctor, “and I’ll have them both dead.”
“Enough!” thundered the old man impatiently. “I will keep my word- no matter how futile it is on your part to insist on purchasing more time for the oaf, it is infinitely better than I agree to such a trade than to waste precious energies in expending your sorry essences!”
“Everyone talks funny today,” Coup said to Oafeon. Oafeon only nodded.
The old man raised his hand and the ground shook. William Benson’s head broke the surface, his face covered in dirt and his hair now the home to worms and bugs. He breathed deeply, drinking in the air and flailing his head to rid himself of the infestation. “Give the shard to me!” ordered the old man.
Joseph moved slowly- a difficult task for him -and hesitantly offered out the shard.
“Don’t!” bellowed William Benson. “Don’t give it to him!”
“It’s either you or it,” the Doctor muttered around an unlit cigarette. He rummaged through his pockets, digging for his trusty lighter and fumbled with it once he had it. “You got a gripe with us savin’ your sorry hide?”
“If it means destroying all creation? Kind of!”
“Hold up!” Coup howled. “What the frig does this thing do?”
The old man turned towards William’s head, poking just barely from the earth. “I should have killed you when I had the chance,” he snarled. Then, his hand opened and his palm was facing William. William’s eyes widened in horror as the old man’s fingers snapped shut and knew what was about to happen.
He had seen Perenelle die in the very same manner. Her husband’s cries still echoed in his head. “Take the shard!” he screamed, throwing the bag to William and urging him to run. “Don’t let him complete the Sephirot!”
William had left Nicolas, one of the few people on this earth he genuinely looked up to, and fled with the small, velvet pouch. Inside was one of the ten shards of the Sephirot- the most dangerous artifact known to man.
One of the twelve- one of the Illuminati -had betrayed the others. Who knew how many shards the Wanderer had already absconded? The others had to be warned.
Leaving the Alchemist’s side, William telephoned Japan, attempting to warn the next of the guard. The Samurai claimed The Wanderer had already come and stolen the shard in his protection; he had dispatched Unno Rokuro to find the renegade and stop him at any cost.
The Scrivener and the Mirabilis had also lost their shards to the man. The Astronomer and the Dodger, the Soldier and the Weaver… six still held their shards and those five had been warned to keep their shards close. The Bard claimed he had long ago put his where few would be able to find it and the Physician claimed his would be almost impossible to find.
Of the Illuminati, the Collector and the Wanderer were the only two members of the Illuminati who had not been named as guardians… and now the Wanderer was gathering them… to end his wanderings.
As the earth cascaded over William and moved to crush his body and grind his bones to dust, the Wanderer turned and cast a spell on the Roach statue.
Standing at twelve feet tall, the stainless steel sculpture of the legendary Mothman who had plagued Point Pleasant so many years had been brought to life in Robert Roach’s exquisite piece of art. Now, the Wanderer brought it to life with his exquisite magic.
Wings flapped and legs began to work in locomotion. Inch by inch the statue familiarized itself with the alien process that was walking.
“Every man for himself!” Coup screamed, turning and running as fast as his legs could carry him.
“You’re the Aurelius!” the Doctor thundered. “Can’t you blast it with fire or something?”
Rokuro had already moved, placing himself between his companions and the steel beast. He flourished and suddenly, steel danced beautifully between his fingertips. “That’ll never penetrate-” Coup’s words were cut off by the blades flying for the monster. Each was charged with kinetic energy and exploded upon impact. Through the smoke and debris, the monster sauntered forward, though his pace had noticeably been slowed.
“Hickabickaboo!” Coup exclaimed, whirling around and flinging his arms out for the beast. “Fulmenos venite!”
Lightning tore from his fingertips and struck the metal monster. “How do you like that!?” Coup laughed, turning to find himself met by a pair of Wanderers.
Joseph Higgins sped through the field of earthen decoys, occasionally his fist rupturing one and reducing it to a pile of sand. He grumbled at the sight of the walls of stone and earth rising up around the battlefield. The Wanderer had managed to keep him close- nullifying the benefits of his quasi-speed. Without the benefit his chronal manipulations gave him, he was just a man… and a man couldn’t hope to keep the shard of the Sephirot from the Wanderer.
Waves of sand cascaded over Joseph’s feet and cemented him to the spot. In his struggle to speed away he collided with the ground and watched as the shard was expelled from his fingertips.
The ground beneath the shard began to rise as a decorative column ascended from under it. One of the Wanderer’s reached out and gently hefted it from the stone creation. Without another word, he began to sink into the ground- swallowed by a patch of quicksand. Moments later, the walls came tumbling down and his earthen doppelgangers were dispelled.
“Did we win!?” exclaimed Coup happily.
“Not at all,” Joseph grumbled, getting to his feet. He fixed the submerged William Benson an angry look. “You knew what that did, didn’t you?”
“No!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know anything! Can- can you just get me out of here?”
Blades flashed in Rokuro’s hand and he eyed them apathetically. “Talk,” he muttered.
“Is your name even William Benson?” asked the Doctor.
“Yes!” Joseph knelt down, picking up William’s forgotten cowboy hat and dusting it off casually before he rested it on the man’s head, the brim pulled low over William’s face. “All right!” came his muffled exclamation. He sighed as he shook his head, throwing the hat off. “To be fair… I never actually lied to you. I just held back some information. My name really is William Benson and I really am an archaeologist. I’m employed by a group in Germany… the Thule Society.”
“Then what?” Coup asked.
“What he said,” declared Oafeon, equally confused.
“About ninety years ago, there was this group…” Joseph sighed and shook his head. “You’re s’posed to be the Aurelius, ey! You should know this!”
“Pretend I don’t,” Coup said, attempting to sound more intelligent than he actually was.
“The Studiengruppe fur Germanishes Altertum,” offered William, was founded by Rudolf von Sebottendorff. He was a German occultist obsessed with antiquity and legends. The dabbler in the occult that he was, Adolf Hitler took a keen interest-”
“You’re a Nazi!” exclaimed Coup, pointing an accusing finger at William.
“I’m not a Nazi! Granted… the early society was sponsored by what would become the Nazi party… but the Thule Society has no affiliation of the sort today.”
“You USED TO BE a Nazi!”
“I could tear out his larynx,” suggested Rokuro, his voice muffled by the scarf he wore wrapped around his lower face. “That might shut him up…”
“Continue,” Doctor O’Reilly said, inclining his head at the submerged man.
“The name comes from the capitol of Hyperborea- the eighth continent. Millennia ago it- sank into the ocean. The Hyperboreans dispersed around the world… became legends of their own right. However, they left behind a lot of their artifacts- implements of tremendous power. The Thule Society is dedicated to working in the shadows- gathering these artifacts and ensuring they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
“There are twelve men at the top of the organization. Twelve men who live around the world. They’re renown for being the men who took the Study Group for German Antiquity and turned it around…
“They are the Illuminati.”
“Now THEM I’ve heard of!” Coup declared. “They’re trying to rule the world. Ronald Reagan was one of them…”
“Considering that Illuminati would translate to ‘illuminated ones’, I strongly doubt that.” William Benson shook his head. “A former priest in the Thule Society, Father Ortega, was always like a father to me. He introduced me to the Alchemist- one of the twelve. Rumor has it, the twelve were planning to retire and introduce a new Illuminati.”
“The Alchemist?” asked Doctor O’Reilly. “Great name.”
“All the twelve took similar names,” William explained. “Their true names carry too much weight. In any case, ten of the twelve were entrusted as guardians of the Sephirot. Ten shards that come together to form the most devastating artifact known to man. The Wanderer decided to betray the order and he’s been targeting the guardians. If you witnessed him taking the shards, then you’ve been in contact with other members of the Illuminati.”
Unno Rokuro nodded- his master had made no secret of his involvement with the Thule Society. Those who served Sanada Yukimura were denied nothing he could offer. Still, though he knew of his lord’s involvement, he knew nothing about the other eleven… only that his master went by the name ‘The Samurai’.
Doctor John O’Reilly could only imagine what his colleague was involved in if what Benson was saying was true. He had seen the Wanderer steal the shard from his acquaintance’s hand.
What was Doctor Bacon involved in?
“So what happens if all ten shards come together?”
“Well… the Sephirot is supposed to be the ten ways in which God reveals himself to man… Bringing all ten together will open a door.”
“Gestundheit,” offered Oafeon.
Joseph took a moment to reel in what he had just heard. “This guy wants to open a door into the Realm of Emanations?”
“What about it?” asked Coup.
“Atziluth is the highest of the four worlds in Kabbalah. The World of Causes is a world of pure divinity- it- it’s where Ein Sof’s light burns brightest.”
“Back the crazy train up and start speakin’ American!” thundered the magician’s apprentice, flashing the Canadian a stern look.
“If Atziluth and this world were connected…”
Joseph looked down at William, as if fearing what he already knew to be true.
“It would unmake all of creation. Reality wouldn’t just cease to be… it would never have been.”
Last edited by Michuru81
on Tue Oct 02, 2007 3:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.