For me, it all started with a bad dream. Something about a library and a dead man sprawled across a mosaic of religious iconography. I woke up sweaty and disoriented, glad that Simon was there. It took me a few seconds to calm down and realize that my phone was ringing.
I tried to clear the sleep out of my voice. “Hello?”
It was Meaveen, and I was wanted downtown. I slid out of bed, trying not to wake Simon, brushed my teeth, splashed some water on my face, and pulled my red hair back into a sloppy bun. I grabbed my glasses and car keys off the bedside table, made sure my flask was in my purse, and headed for the Cayenne.
It didn’t take too long to get from my place to the El Paso Club, and as I walked down the alley toward the concealed entrance, I saw a few familiar faces. I didn’t know their names, but I knew they were like me. We made the appropriate motions in front of the brick wall and entered into the Sanctum together.
In the council room, three of the Heads of Tradition awaited our arrival. Meaveen was there, of course, as well as Isias from Hermes and the Ghoul, Nikos, head of Euthanatos. Last was head of the Chorusters, Corin. I blushed slightly as he smiled a greeting at our group. A priest has no business being that cute.
Isias greeted us all, and made introductions. He started with the only other member of his order present, though his introduction was completely unnecessary. Anyone who’d been alive for the past ten years would know her in a heartbeat. Her shoulder-length blonde hair, flawless skin, and smoldering eyes were completely unique and completely intoxicating. It was Eleora Bell, the world-famous actress. I smiled her direction and tried not to look like a totally geeked out, drooling fan. I think I was only marginally successful.
Eleora was also the council’s Herald, which made sense, since people would definitely listen to her if she started talking.
Next, Isias introduced Rothas Nesimi. He was pretty average looking, with dark eyes and messy brown hair, but that probably came in useful in his work. Not only was he a PI, but he was also the council’s Justice; blending in would be an advantage. He wore jeans, a dark grey T-shirt, and a leather jacket, and he carried a motorcycle helmet under his left arm. His Tradition was Euthanatos, and Roth looked like someone who enjoyed making things come apart.
The last person who’d been summoned by the council was Zahir El Hissam, a somewhat crazy looking man who appeared to be in his 30’s, but somehow seemed older. His dark hair stuck out at wild angles around a pair of goggles he had perched on his head. His dark eyes were keen and intelligent, but as he observed the proceedings, he seemed bored.
Lastly, he introduced me. I’m Genevieve DeSantis, a Life mage of the Verbena Tradition. I’m a medical student at CC. Next to Eleora I’m a Schnauzer, but otherwise, I guess I look alright. I’m 5’6’’, of average build, and I have hazel eyes and red hair that reaches the middle of my back. Okay, that’s enough time spent on me… back to the story.
The council told us that they’d called us together because there was something strange going on, and they thought our specific talents would be of use. The wildfires that had been blazing recently seemed suspicious to them, and they wanted someone to investigate.
Corin offered us the use of his library, and after a brief discussion, we decided to start there. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who’d had a strange dream last night, as Eleora told us she’d experienced something a bit strange herself. She couldn’t remember a ton of details, but one word, gigas, stood out to her. We headed over to Corin’s library for a bit of research.
When we arrived at the Lutheran Church across from King’s Chef Diner (a fave of Simon’s and mine), Roth excused himself to make a phone call to one of his contacts in CSPD, and Corin escorted Eleora, ____ and me down a flight of stairs and through a solid wooden door with iron rings for knobs. As we crossed the threshold, a miniscule hum let us know that we weren’t where we appeared to be, and Corin confirmed this, saying we had teleported to his private library in Southern France. I’m going to need to remember this the next time I get a craving for crepes!
I was kind of hoping that the library might look familiar to me… like the one from my dream, but no such luck. I guess I’d just have to keep looking if I wanted to find that place.
Anyway, we started searching for anything we could find about the word gigas, and we soon discovered that the word was Greek for an ancient race of giants who had lived around 200 BC. We also found mention of the Gregori, a choir of angels that had been exiled from Heaven and was sometimes called “The Watchers” or “Nephalum”. Lastly, we discovered that there was something called the Codex Gigas, or The Giant Book, but we didn’t know if that meant it was a tome about giants or just a really huge old book. When we stepped back through the threshold and into the Springs, we asked Corin if he knew about the book, and he said he’d see what he could find for us. We headed upstairs to reconnect with Roth.
Roth’s phone call had been productive. His contact in CSPD had told him that things around the station had been a bit rough recently, what with trying to figure out who was behind the wildfires. Unfortunately, he said that all of the 911 call records from up to an hour before the beginning of the fire had been lost. IT said it was a “glitch”, but it seemed a bit suspicious all the same. The police had also been planning to investigate the Bennet Monastery, and were headed up there in an hour or so. Roth’s contact advised him not to be there when they arrived.
Roth also told us that he’d been doing some investigating earlier, and had heard that all the local vamps had abandoned the area of the fire and were gone.
The four of us talked briefly about our options for continuing the investigation, and Eleora, Roth and I decided to head up to the monastery before the police arrived. Zahir decided to investigate the fire’s ignition site remotely from his lab.
Eleora, Roth, and I piled into my Cayenne and headed up 83 toward the Bennet Monastery. As we approached the Benedictine monastery, we noticed that the burn scar had seemed to avoid it somehow. Everything on one side of the road was scorched and blackened, but the grounds of the monastery itself were pretty much untouched.
The police presence was already there.
“How are we going to get in?” I asked. I closed my eyes and loosened the lid on the flask in my purse. I dipped my pinkie into its mouth until I felt the cool water inside. Then I reached out toward the monastery with my senses. In addition to the police we could see outside, I felt the life forces of fifteen to twenty more people inside the monastery.
“Leave that to me,” Eleaora purred as she glided out of my SUV. She practically floated toward the two guards at the door, and I noticed that Roth’s gaze followed her every movement.
“There are others in the monastery, but they seem to be avoiding an area near the back.” I told him when Eleora’s hypnotic gate had brought her within talking distance of the guards.
Roth nodded and opened the car door. “Let’s see if we can find an entrance near there.”
I watched the younger of the two officers extend a notepad toward Eleora with a shaking hand, and then followed Roth.
Upon entering the monastery, I was immediately certain that this was the setting of the dream I’d had this morning. The windows opened up on the mountains just as I had seen, and the shelves and tile mosaics looked familiar as well, though I couldn’t recognize anything specific in the mosaics. I pulled out my cell phone and started taking pictures. Maybe Eleora or ___ would be able to see something in them that I hadn’t.
Roth was less concerned with the tiles on the floor, and more concerned with the outline of a body on the floor. Oops. How had I missed that?
“I’d say this guy’s 5 o’clock shadow was just a shade past Hiroshima,” he said as he examined the scorch marks that pretty much made any type of chalk outline completely unnecessary.
My stomach rolled slightly at the gruesome loss of life, and I said. “It was one of the brothers. I saw this in my dream. See how he’s got his arms around that area on the floor? I think he was trying to show us something. Or maybe protect something.”
Roth nodded and closed his eyes as he reached into his pocket. I couldn’t tell what he was fiddling with in there, but when he opened his eyes again he said, “That’s weird,” and started examining the floor tiles with renewed interest.
“What?” I asked.
“Well, you know, entropy means that eventually everything falls apart. Everything.” I waited for him to continue. “But this tile… It’s completely untouched. Like, impossibly untouched. Not one single molecule of it has experienced any degradation of any kind. That can’t happen. Everything wears down.”
“Okay…” I started, “so what would keep it so perfectly in tact, and why would anyone bother?”
“Do you see the runes in the edges of the tile along the grout?” He pointed. I hadn’t noticed them, but once he pointed them out, they were clear. I had no idea what they meant. I took some more pictures on my cell phone. “They must be some sort of protective ward,” he continued, “but I don’t know why they’d need to protect an empty tile.”
The sound of police sirens outside reminded us that we were here on borrowed time.
“We’d better get going,” I said, “before your contact finds us in here. Rothas nodded, and we headed for the back door we’d entered through.
As we slipped back around to the front of the building, we caught Eleora’s eye, and she started wrapping up whatever conversation she and the guards had been having. She joined us in the car just as a black and white pulled onto the monastery property. I turned the key in the ignition and drove away as normally as I could. I started heading for Zahir’s lab.
“Well, what did you find?” Eleora cooed. I tossed her my iPhone, and she started flipping through the camera roll, paying extra attention to the tile mosaics. “There’s something very familiar about these pictures…” she started. “Of course the main images are all related to Christ’s Passion, but there’s a side story here. See these images?” She held the phone out toward Rothas in the back seat. He shrugged noncommittally. “There’s something about a priest here who’s begging for something from his Father. His life maybe?” Roth leaned closer. “And here… in the next image, the Father’s handing him a book. Maybe they’ve struck a bargain? Next, the priest is writing in the book.”
“A task he has to complete for forgiveness?” Roth interrupted.
“Quite possibly,” Eleora agreed. “But look at the last two. Here he’s praying, and in the last picture he’s presenting the book back to the Father.”
“What is that on the front of the book? It looks demonic,” Roth observed.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to look it up, I guess,” Eleora finished.
I glanced over at the images she had zoomed in on, and gasped. “That’s the man from my dream!” I looked at Roth in the rearview mirror. “Mr. Hiroshima. Or at least close enough to be related.”
Rothas filled Eleora in on what he had discovered about the location of the body and the tile he had guarded. I kept driving until we’d reached Zahir’s lab. When we pulled up to the Briargate Apple Store, we ducked around the back and found the dumpster that concealed the entrance to the lab. We descended a flight of concrete stairs, and emerged into the sterile white light that is so typical of laboratories. A strange machine against the wall arced blue electricity in an unnerving way, and Zahir stood in front of it, turning knobs and pushing buttons.
“It was a summoning site. Something large and not of this world,” he began, without even greeting us. “Something was summoned to the site where the fire ignited, and then the energy was channeled to a monastery up north.”
The three of us looked at each other. “Bennet Monastery?” Eleora asked.
“Obviously.” Zahir confirmed before continuing. “The monk you saw…”
“Brother Caleb,” Eleora supplied.
“YES.” Zahir flashed her an annoyed look. “As I was saying…. The monk, Brother Caleb, was incinerated immediately upon receiving the weight of the spell, and he died trying to protect the entrance.”
We waited to make sure he was finished before Roth said, “Entrance to what?”
“I don’t know. But it lies beneath the tile he died over, and the tunnel goes deep.”
“Interesting,” I murmured to myself. “We’ve got to try to figure out what’s down there,” I offered to the group.
“But we can’t just waltz out there and bust up the floor of a murder scene,” Roth said.
“Probably not,” Zahir confirmed. “We’ll have to wait until we will go unnoticed. Later tonight perhaps.”
“Alright, then. What will we do until then?” Eleora asked.
“The burn site,” Roth answered. We agreed, and piled into the SUV again.
Twenty minutes later, we were pulling up to ground zero, which was swarming with fire and police personnel. We pulled out the passes that the Heads of Tradition had provided us, and used them to gain access to the area. The fire marshal didn’t seem quite convinced, but Eleora made him forget his reservations soon enough. A small crowd gathered around her as Zahir, Roth, and I made our way to the giant crater Zahir had seen via his scrying.
In the dead center of the crater, a square of wood was visible. There were runes on it that we couldn’t readily decipher, so I snapped some photos.
“We need to get this out,” Roth said. Zahir and I just looked at him.
“And how do you propose to do that with all of these officials present?” Zahir asked.
“Let me take care of that,” I said, and walked to the center of the circle, beginning to chant quietly to myself. As the minds of the policemen around us began to lose focus on the area around us, Roth and Zahir started digging. After about half an hour, we had on seriously huge wooden stake pulled from the ground and loaded into the back of the Cayenne. A few minutes later, Eleora slid into the passenger seat with a smile.
“Let’s go,” she said, and she smiled and waved to the officials as we pulled away with our treasure.
We returned to Zahir’s lab, where he immediately started bustling around, setting up tests to run on the stake.
I pulled my flask from my purse and splashed a bit of the water onto my palms. I extended my hands toward the stake, and began to explore it with my senses. It was wooden, obviously. And there was dried blood on it. I pushed a bit further. The blood was not like anything I’d ever experienced before. It was neither human nor animal. I pulled my hands back, perplexed, and shared what I’d discovered.
“So what’s our next move?” Roth asked.
“I suspect we’ll need to return to the monastery and see what’s in that tunnel,” Eleora said. We all nodded agreement.
I checked my watch. It was 6:15, and I had plans with Simon at 7:00. “Well, I kind of have somewhere to be, but I can meet back up with you guys later. Where and when?”
“The monastery. Midnight,” said Rothas.
“Great. I’ll see you guys then,” and I headed to Manitou to make my date.
I am NOT going to go into detail about my private life, but I will tell you that Simon extended an interesting invitation to my new group of colleagues for Friday night. Apparently, Ulric, the Dreamspeakers’ Head of Tradition (did I mention that Simon’s a mage, too? A Dreamspeaker. Let’s not get into that right now. It’s complicated.) Anyway, Ulric invited our little group of adventurers to a party at South Side Johnny’s on Friday night. Which I thought was interesting, and a little weird. It made me paranoid that Ulric had known that Simon would be able to get a hold of me so easily. How much does he know, I wonder?
Anyway, we finished our dinner at Mona Lisa’s, and headed back to my townhouse. I had a few hours to kill before midnight.