Six Kingdoms

Elsewhere, Part VI

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

“The evolution of the adept towards some kind of apotheosis is a highly personal one that is unique in each individual, based on their gifts, their temperament, and their talent for synchronizing the two. One cannot teach an adept how to shape reality; one can only help him cultivate the proper mental state that he can discover it himself.”

From Chapter One of Will and the Art of Shaping, by Magister Magnir.

“A sense of morality is not a tattoo; it is a shirt.”

Ibid.

Magnir's construct of the mens arcana is a useful one; a magical consciousness that sits astride the consciousness in the way that the superego sits astride the ego. Just as the ego is a balancing point between our survival instincts and our higher senses of morality and community, so is the mens arcana a balancing point of a higher order. It is the place where the adept can find the crucible in which to destroy himself a thousand times and where the only imperative is transcendence.

-Magister Manhue's afterword to Will and the Art of Shaping, date unknown.

July 19, 1224 J.R.

Grandmaster Guillaume-Thibauld de Vichiers stalked down the corridors of the Prelate's Palace in Tiberium, gritting his teeth and ignoring the incessant prattling of Father Bendert. Bendert was expressing the Prelate's great sadness about the attack in florid Soleilan that was nevertheless heavily accented by his Almanian heritage. The words sounded foul in his mouth, and not just because of his accent.

Brother Guillaume had been angry about the loss of the Rosary of Santa Willa, was furious when that woman lost the Star of Michael, but those angers were sparks beside the bonfire off his fury at what had happened next. The Armory of Solomon, sacked! Numerous relics under the protection of the Temple, under his protection as Grandmaster, stolen. Three of his Knights of the Circle of Silence slain there on the floors of the grotto, the wards breached.

And yet despite the overt violence of the attack, this had been an inside job. Formidable though the Armory's protections were, both magical and mundane, its greatest defense had been secrecy. There were few who even knew that the Armory existed, and among those who knew it existed, those who knew its physical location could be counted on a man's hands.

“Father Bendert,” Guillaume interrupted suddenly, turning on his heel to face the man who, despite stopping quickly, found himself just inches from Guillaume's face. Though Bendert was the taller by several inches and was a man of some importance, he shrank back in startlement, his mewling cut off midstream.

“Urm,” he stuttered.

“Where is Father Vignon, Father Bendert? I would like to ask him some questions about the Rosary.”

“Urm,” Bendert began again, “he has not returned from Coronale, Grandmaster. The last I heard, he was staying at the Church of the Ninefold Virtues.”

“No, Bendert. He left the Basilica some time ago. Why hasn't he returned here? Is he acting on the Prelate's orders?”

“Grandmaster,” Bendert temporized, “surely you know that I cannot discuss the counsels given by the Prelate's inner circle, nor can I reveal his orders to us.” Father Bendert spoiled any show of resoluteness by inching away from Guillaume.

“Listen to me, Bendert,” Guillaume hissed, stepping forward into his face, “the Prelate, God bless him, can surround himself with all the sycophantic priests he wants. That is not my concern. When his sycophants start losing relics that are under the protection of the Temple, however, I don't give a shit about propriety. I will find the Rosary, and the Aegis, and the Star, and if I have to string every last damn one of you kittens from the walls of the Prelate's palace by your heels to do it, I will. Do you understand me? Now, where is Vignon?”

Bendert was white as a sheet. Good. “I swear, Grandmaster. I don't know. I know he has family near Chalon. Perhaps he is visiting them?”

Chalon. That damned place kept coming up. Time to go.

August 3, 1224 J.R.

Sister Jousseleau leaned back, luxuriating in the bath. The accommodations in the Basilica of the Southern Sun were adequate, even if they lacked the comforts of her own apartments in Coronale. Still, there were things that needed doing, and Sister Jousseleau was nothing if not committed to duty. Of course, duty was difficult to meet when it was not clear what the duty was.

She turned the problem over in her mind like the spinning wheel in her room at the Abbey of Epsee in bygone days, spinning information into action like she used to spin wool into thread. Usually the why of something presented the hardest question, but this was not a usual situation. No, she knew the reason why these Nephilim were stealing relics and reservoirs of all sort. They did it for the same reason that most adepts do anything: to increase their personal power.

No, it was not the why. It was the who. Who are these Nephilim? Is power the end in itself or were they an arrow aimed at some other target?

The easy answer would be to say that these questions didn't matter, and that so long as they were stealing from the Council and the Church, they had to be stopped. That was true, as far as it went. It was imperative that the thefts be stopped. Even if the Rosary were the last object they stole, though, they would still have the Star of Michael, one of the greatest weapons in the Church's arsenal and one that might allow a sufficiently powerful theurge to do many things, impossible things.

Hence, she found herself here, in Lons-le-Saunier, putting yet another relic into play in hopes that the Nephilim would make a move. When they did, she would spring her trap and see if they were both a match for the physical might of a dozen templars and the cooperative magic of some of the best of the Sisters of the Sainted Sisterhood. She smiled, sliding her head beneath the warm water.

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