The Color of Night
“I told you never to call me here,” said Max, as he answered his cell phone.
“Hey, Max,” Winter responded. “I need a favor.”
“Hey, yourself. What’s up?”“I need an introduction to your Templar friends.” Winter waited a moment, and when Max didn’t respond, she waited a little longer before saying. “Max? Are you still there?”
“Yo! Yes! I am still here. That’s complicated. Why do you need that?”
“I’m about to buy tickets to London. I want to do some networking in Europe.”
“Is Kolin going? What does he think about this?”
“No, he’s working out of town. I didn’t ask him.”
“You modern girls,” chuckled Max. “It’s cute how you act all independent.” He could practically hear Winter grinding her teeth.
“Well, it’s your lucky day. I happen to be free. When do you want to leave?”
“For London. When. Do. You. Want. To. Leave.”
“You want to come along?”
“Obviously. I’ve already been here too long. Besides, I hear Ichiko’s grandmother is here for a visit.”
“Why does that have to do with you wanting to get out of town?
“Oh, nothing really.” Max replied innocently. “Honestly, Kolin might kill me if I let you wander around Europe on your own.”
“Um, whatever. It’s not my first trip to Europe you know.”
“I can introduce you to a few people. There are some I can’t introduce to you. They’d freak out and start trying to kill us if they knew I told you about them.”
“You haven’t told me about them.”
Winter drew a deep breath and counted to ten in her head. “Well, I want to leave as soon as I can get on a flight.”
“How about Thursday?” Max countered. “We should check into St George’s Hotel Wembley. There’s a great bar nearby where we can have drinks.”
“Oh? What’s it called?” Winter asked.
“Wembley Stadium,” said Max.
“Of course it is. Fine, let’s do this.” Winter resigned herself to traveling with Max. Truthfully, she wasn’t nearly as annoyed as she pretended to be. She enjoyed travelling with friends.
“Just buy a one way ticket for now.” Max said. “We’ll want to go to a couple of other places afterwards.”
Winter and Max bought first class tickets from Columbus to Heathrow, London, leaving at 4:15PM on Thursday, July 12. The flight was scheduled to take just over eleven hours, with a stop at O’Hare in Chicago, and arriving at Heathrow at 10:35AM.
They boarded the plane around 3:50PM and settled themselves into the large cushioned seats. The seats were covered in beige leather, and resembled fancy recliners. There was a table between their chairs with plenty of room for beverages, and a large screen which would display the in-flight movies. The two seats across from them were empty.
A moment later, a gentleman in a business suit entered first class. He nodded to them, but chose not to sit across from them. As soon as he was seated, he opened his laptop and started working. Winter checked that he wasn’t listening to them, but he was muttering to himself and appeared to be editing some kind of presentation.
“He’s distracted.” Winter confirmed to Max.
“Good. Let’s talk about our itinerary for this trip.” Max was looking enthusiastic. “There are lots of places we could go…South America, Egypt, Africa, or…” Winter cut him off by raising a hand.
“Let’s stick to Europe for this trip, okay?”
“Western Europe or is Eastern alright?” Max asked, his enthusiasm not noticeably dampened.
“Either or both. I just don’t want to be gone for months. Grad school starts in August.” Winter grinned at her friend.
“That’s fine. I was thinking after we meet John in London…John will probably want to meet us for drinks. John’s not his real name, that’s Janos, but I call him John Augustine. He’s actually Hungarian. He owes me a favor you know, I haven’t seen his wife and kids in ages.” Max was rambling, as usual.
“Then, I think we’ll hop over to Ireland. There’s someone there you should meet. After that, we’ll go to Hungary. There’s a group there that used to be Templars, but aren’t anymore. That should be enough for one trip. Unless you want to go to the Isle of Man, and meet the Speaker for the Cailleach. How’s your Gaelic?”
“Well, I’d have to translate then. She only speaks Gaelic.” Max stated emphatically. He paused as they were approached by the tall, leggy blond flight attendant.
“Hi, I’m Gracie,” she said in a posh British accent. “I’ll be taking care of you on your flight. What will you have to drink?”
The gentleman in the row behind them ordered a gin and tonic. “I’ll have a scotch and soda.” Max said pleasantly, while admiring the view.
“I’ll have the same,” said Winter. She amused to note that Gracie was eyeing Max like a cat with a bowl of cream. Gracie took her order, while barely making eye contact.
“I’ll have those right out Max.” Gracie said with a wink.
“Max?” Winter turned to him expectantly. “Do you know this woman? She seems to know your name.”
“She looks familiar,” Max admitted. “Give me some time to think about it.”
Winter and Max were chatting about London when Gracie came back with the drinks. She served Max last, and frowned slightly when it became apparent that he and Winter were traveling together.
“How do you know each other?” Gracie asked pleasantly, when there was an appropriate lull in the conversation.
“We’re colleagues,” Winter replied. Gracie’s smile widened at the implication that Max and Winter were not an item. Max proceeded to flirt with Gracie, and eventually remembered an extremely acrobatic and enjoyable evening. Eventually, they made arrangements to meet up in London, since Gracie was scheduled for a two day layover in London, where she lives.
When they arrived at O’Hare in Chicago, the third passenger in first class disembarked. Max and Winter were left alone, except when a particularly pushy couple tried to move into first class. Gracie handled them professionally, and eventually escorted them to their assigned seats at the rear of the plane. Winter and Max had returned to a discussion of their potential itinerary, when a gentleman followed Gracie into the first class compartment.
Gracie entered, saying, “Right this way, Mr. Parsons…” At that moment, the hair on the back of Winter’s neck stood straight up. She looked up at the new arrival, who was turned slightly away from her. She saw a nattily dressed man in a bowler hat. As he turned to glance in their direction, he froze, and for a timeless moment Winter and Victor Logue stared into each other’s eyes.
Max looks up, and his eyes narrow for a moment, as he recognizes Linus’ employer. Moments later, Max was on his feet, introducing himself to “Mr. Landon Parsons”. As Victor Logue broke their deadlock, Winter’s gift kicked in, and she immediately began to draw in her notebook. The moment passed quickly, and Winter closed the notebook to prevent the others from seeing her drawing.
Victor turned to Winter and extended his hand, “I am Landon Parsons, Miss…?” Winter was forced to stand and shake his hand. He deftly turned the shake into a continental kiss on the back of her hand.
“Ravenscroft, Winter Ravenscroft.” Winter replied.
“Of course, Miss Ravenscroft.” Victor leaned in slightly and dropped his voice. “And may I offer my condolences on the death of your father? I greatly regretted hearing of his death.”
He turned back to Max, leaving Winter discomfited and confused.
“Well, Mr. Calibur, shall we sit down and have a drink?”
“I think that’s a lovely idea.” Max replied. “Gracie,” he called out, and the woman quickly came to take their orders. All three ended up drinking scotch and soda, as the two men clearly preferred it, and Winter was too muddled to come up with a different drink. Victor settled into the seat directly across from them, so they could talk.
“So,” Max said after a short respite, where they all sipped their drinks, “Have you seen Magdalene lately?” He sounded wistful as he spoke her name.
“No, regrettably.” Victor replied, glancing at Winter, “There was an unfortunate series of events a few months ago, in Las Vegas. She was in a…car accident.” Max murmured the appropriate condolences, and looked distressed, but before Winter could ask him about it, Victor turned to her.
“Speaking of Las Vegas, how is Mr. Sean Flynn?”
Winter’s expression shuttered, and she replied stonily, “He’s fine.”
“Ah, Sean Flynn,” Max broke in. “I rarely see him. I don’t work with him much.”
Victor turned quickly to Max, and said, “Were you in Las Vegas recently?”
“No, I rarely have reason to go there.” Max said. “Why were you there?”
“I was there to…” He paused and glanced again at Winter, “to say goodbye to boon companions.” He looked at Max as he continued, “You’ll be interested to know that Mortimer Faust and I will no longer be working together.”
Max nodded at that, and replied, “I ran into old Morty down in Florida. He seemed to have lost his head.”
“Yes, poor Mortimer. Pity about his…reduced state.” Max smirked, and Victor chuckled lightly under his breath.
Finally, Max said, “So, have you spoken to Linas recently?”
“No, he generally worked with Magdalene and Mortimer.” Victor responded.
Winter was unable to prevent herself from commenting, “Max, you do have the most… varied… acquaintances.”
Max nodded. “I am unusually well-traveled. Here I am, returning to the “mother country”. It’s been far too long.”
“England is lovely in the spring.” Victor replied.
“Are you British?” Winter asked Victor pointedly, but he busied himself pulling a book from his bag. When he retrieved the volume, he made an attempt to turn the conversation to Max’s heritage. Max replied noncommittally, and went to sleep. Victor shrugged and began to read his book.
After a time, Winter asked him, “I admit I’m curious. What sort of book are you reading?”
“I’m reading a history of World War 1 called “The Guns of August”. Tell me, Miss Ravenscroft, are you a student of history?”
“Not really,” Winter replied, “unless it’s art history.”
“Who is your favorite artist?” Victor asked idly.
“Titian.” She replied. “I particularly like his Assumption of the Virgin.”
“Ah, the classics. I prefer the post-modernists. Jenkins, Warhol. Of course, I also enjoy Van Gogh.”
Winter and Victor began a long, in-depth conversation about art. They agreed that Dali was sublime, but disagreed on the best of his works.
They came to an agreement on the works of Tim Shaw. As the conversation paused, Victor looked over at Winter and suddenly said, “What are you planning to do in London?”
Max woke up yelling, “The Spaghetti Wolf! It’s behind you…and me! It’s behind us all!”, Victor clenched his jaw momentarily in irritation as Max neatly interrupted the conversation before Winter could reply, disrupting the rapport he’d carefully built over the previous two hours.
Not long after Max’s explosive disturbance, Gracie came in, saying,
“Max, would you prefer the sea bass or the chicken for dinner?” After they all ordered, Victor leaned back in his seat, still frowning slightly.
Max stretched his arms above his head, yawning. A moment later he asked Victor, “I have a question for you, and I just have to ask. Who was the most difficult opponent you’ve ever faced?”
“Hmmm,” said Victor. “Say I agree to answer your question. I wonder if you, both of you,” He paused, and nodded at Winter, “would agree to a proposition to pass the time?”
“Like what?” Winter asked, with some of her former suspicion.
“I suggest we play something I call the Question Game. The rules are simple. We must all agree to answer truthfully, or forfeit. If you refuse to answer you’re out of the game. If you answer, you gain the right to ask a question.”
Winter and Max looked at each other, and Winter shrugged. “That’s fine by me.” Max nodded his agreement.
“No ganging up on me now,” Victor said, with a smile. “I’ll even let Max go first.”
Winter considered a moment, and then also nodded. “OK, I’m in.”
Max jumped right in, restating his original question. “Who was the most difficult opponent you’ve ever faced?”
Victor thought for a moment, and then asked for clarification, “What did you mean by difficult, and by opponent?”
Max considered the question and responded, “A matter of life and death, and someone with whom you are, or were, at meaningful cross purposes.”
Victor answered promptly, “A man named Bêla Kiss.”
Immediately, he asked Max and Winter, “This question is for either of you. How did you become affiliated with the Eric Raven Foundation?”
Max responded promptly, “I was recruited to verify the history on a number of South American artifacts. It was more of an audition than a job, and they’ve had me “on the rolodex” ever since.”
Winter opened her mouth to answer, and then fell silent, realizing that by the rules of the game, she didn’t have to answer. Victor looked disappointed.
“Well, Ms. Ravenscroft, I believe it’s your turn.” Victor said smoothly.
Winter queried, “What is your opinion of the Eric Raven Foundation?”
Victor responded forcefully, “I think they’re a collection of gormless twits who are going to get us all killed. My turn. This question is for Ms. Ravenscroft. Do you have knowledge of who destroyed the old Adana market?”
Winter stared into his stony eyes and responded, “Yes.” He nodded to himself. Max gestured for Winter to take the next question, and she followed up with, “Are you interested in knowing the location of the new Adana market?”
Victor smiled at her and responded, “I do know the location of the new Adana market, but I would appreciate an introduction to its master.”
“I see,” Winter said thoughtfully.
Victor cleared his throat and continued, “This question is for both of you. How much to you know about the Ouroboros Institute?”
Max and Winter looked at each other blankly. Both responded,
“Nothing?” Victor nodded to himself at their replies.
Max said, “My turn. Who or what is the Oroborous Institute?”
Victor returned, “They are a collection…a society…perhaps the best word would be a club, all of whose members are immortals. And by immortals, I use the term synonymously with ageless.”
Victor looked calculatingly at Max and Winter. “My turn again?”
When they nodded, he turned to Max. “Who are Tony Akira’s sponsors?” Max and Winter were both startled by the bald question.
Max shook his head. “I’m not going to answer that.”
“A forfeit then.” Victor said easily.
“Apparently so.” Max said forcefully.
“Well then, Ms. Ravenscroft, it seems to be down to you and me. I believe it’s your question.” Victor seemed unruffled by this turn of events. Winter wondered if Victor had deliberately asked a question that Max would refuse to answer, and prepared herself to watch for the man’s real intent.
Outwardly, she tried not to appear uncomfortable. She decided to respond in kind, and ask a question Victor might not want to answer. “What are the goals of the Scions of Solomon, and how to they differ from those of the Eric Raven Foundation?”
“That’s technically two questions, isn’t it Ms. Ravenscroft?”
“True, but if you answer the second one, you’re basically answering the first, aren’t you?” Winter set her jaw stubbornly.
“Very well. Your question is pushing the rules, but I am enjoying the game, and do not wish it to end yet, so I will give an answer. If you find my answer too vague, you may consider it a forfeit.”
“Agreed.” Winter replied.
He nodded to her and continued, “The goals of the two initially started on a similar path. The Scions are a group I started, once the Foundation and I came to irreconcilable differences. It began with the Babylon Working. My group and the current management of the Foundation have differing opinions on how to progress toward the improvement of the human condition. Is that answer acceptable to you?”
“It is,” she said.
Victor thought solemnly for a moment and then asked, “Ms. Ravenscroft, do you have an objection to letting Max back into the game?”
Winter shook her head, “I do not.”
“I propose that we do so. My question regarding Mr. Akira was, possibly, inappropriate.”
Max said pointedly, “I’ll reenter the game if we all agree that we won’t ask questions about people by name, or about people who are not present.”
Victor said quickly, “I agree. We can just call it the ‘Don’t Be a Prat’ rule. By way of apology, Maximillian should get the next question.” Winter agreed, and the turn passed to Max.
Max looked at Victor and inquired, “Regarding the question you asked me, did you already know the answer?”
Victor laughed, and said, “No, but I had a good idea.”
Victor looked from Max to Winter, “If you like, you can consider this an invalid question and I’ll choose another….Is your little group as deeply involved with House Teruel as Mr. Flynn?”
Max said, “For my part, no. But I don’t necessarily consider myself part of ‘your little group’.” Max made quotation marks in the air with both hands. Winter tried to conceal how revolting she found the idea of involving herself with monsters.
Max turned to Winter, “I have a question for you, Winter.” Victor looked intrigued. “What is it about the first world that you dislike the most?”
“I hate watching monsters prey on the defenseless.” Winter answered quickly. She didn’t need to think about the answer to that question.
Victor smiled and said, “Cheerio. Good on you, Ms. Ravenscroft.”
Winter nodded briskly and said, “This question is for both of you. What would you improve about the human condition?”
Max demurred, saying “I’m just a humble explorer.” Winter rolled her eyes, but didn’t debate the matter with Max.
Victor answered simply, “I would give humanity the tools to defend itself, and achieve the greatness of which it is capable, but has yet to achieve.”
He turned to Max and asked, “So Maximillian, what are your principles? What will you fall for?”
“Those aren’t necessarily the same things,” Max said shortly.
“What do you think, Ms. Ravenscroft? Are they different? Which question should I ask?”
Winter considered this and answered, “I do think they can be different things. You should ask the question you most want to hear him answer.”
“Very well, Maximillian” said Victor. “Answer the second question please.”
Max responded, “I don’t actually know of anything that I’d be willing to die for, so I guess I’d have to be in that situation.”
“That answer revealed something of the answer to my first question, didn’t it Maximillian?” Victor said snidely, looking down his nose at the other man.
Max shrugged off the other man’s disapproval. “What led to you and Mr. Faust parting ways?”
“I grew tired of his cavalier and ill-considered definition of humanity. One can only deal with Nazis for so long.” Victor scoffed. “Ms. Ravenscroft, why don’t you take a turn?”
Winter asked him, “If you leave out the Scions and the Foundation, what do you think is the most dangerous faction in the First World?”
Victor pondered the question for a few minutes, and then asked, ”What do you mean by a faction?”
Winter retorted, “A group of individuals who refer to themselves by a name that represents their shared goals or philosophies.”
Victor said in reply, “Well, that’s a bit of a toss-up. I would have to say that it is either the Possessed, even though they aren’t a group as such, since they may be acting under the same direction. Then, there are those daft mugs who worship the Old Gods, and finally, House Teruel.” He paused a moment and said, “Maximillian, I’ll defer to you while I consider my next question.”
Max nodded and asked Victor, “I have to know, who does your tailoring?”
Victor smiled. “Jeffrey West. I think I have a card, if you’d like. It’s bespoke, of course.” He pulled a card from inside his jacket and signed it, handing it to Max. “Here. Tell them René sent you, and they’ll give you an appointment. I’d recommend a haberdasher as well, but given your taste I’m not certain they could accommodate you.”
“A great hat speaks for itself.” Max snarked back.
“Well, you should never try to wear a hat that has more character than you do.” Victor shot back.
“Is that something they taught you at Hogwarts?”
Victor wrinkled his nose in reply, and turned to Winter. Max murmured, “Well, I can’t say I got nothing out of this evening,” and pocketed the card.
“The next question is for Ms. Ravenscroft, and I mean this with all sincerity, do you need a teacher?” He leaned forward, looking directly into her eyes.
Winter responded with a frown, “That’s a difficult question to answer, because the comprehensive answer is always yes. We are always learning.”
Victor said, “I will accept that as an answer, if you will accept a corollary statement.” When she nodded, he continued, “If you ever decide that you do, reach out to me.”
Winter queried, “If I did, what would you choose to teach me?”
Victor answered, “I would teach you what you really want to know, and that is how to carve yourself a place in the first world.” He handed her a white card with a long string of phone numbers printed on it. She accepted the card from him, and looked at it with her brows drawn together. The he turned to Max, gesturing for the game to continue.
Max said, “I’ve heard some rumors, and I’d like a little confirmation. Honestly, what do you think will happen when all the crystal skulls are gathered together? Honestly. Assuming such a thing is even possible.”
“Impossible? I rather think it’s inevitable,” replied Victor. “That’s a big question, but I won’t call foul. The Next Step…either something wonderful or something terrible, depending on who is present.”
Victor turned to Winter swiftly and shot out another question, “Do you actually have a goal, or are you just stumbling around in the dark like this one?” He gestures to Max.
“Are you asking about me personally, or my friends and I? Our little group?” Winter made quotations with her fingers, as she parroted Victor’s earlier statement.
“I will accept either as long as you define it.” Victor stated.
“Then I will answer for myself alone.” Winter nodded, as much to herself as to Victor or Max. “I have a goal, but recent events have caused me to reevaluate it.” Victor hadn’t asked her to define that goal, so she kept it to herself, thinking that she would make him use another question to define it.
Instead, Victor stood up. “Please excuse me, while I step away to refresh myself.” As he got to the door he paused long enough to say, “Just remember, it would be considered ‘bad pool’ to go through my things while I’m gone.”
Winter immediately opened her notebook and looked at the drawing she made when Victor first boarded the plane. She had drawn a man in a bowler hat, with his face in shadow. Behind and around the figure are indistinct but inhuman shapes. It is clear they are chained in some way. She showed the drawing quickly to Max and closed the notebook again.
“I can’t believe he mentioned the Babylon Working,” she said. “Do you know what that is?” Max nodded, but Victor reentered the cabin as he began to answer, and he fell silent.
“Whose turn is it, or are we still playing? I admit while I’m a little tired, I’m not inclined to sleep yet.” Victor settled himself back in the seat and looked expectantly at his companions.
“I’m not inclined to give anyone the red card.” Max quipped. Victor titled his head in recognition of the jest.
“Red card? Oh, you mean soccer.” Winter said sarcastically to Max.
Max and Victor rolled their eyes in a simultaneous expression of European solidarity.
“I don’t have to take that from an American, when you people refer to a sport played mainly with your hands as FOOTBALL.” Max said acerbically.
“I believe it’s my question,” said Winter, with as much dignity as she could muster after the football comment. “What can you tell me about House Teruel?”
“A great deal,” Victor said seriously. “It could take a considerable amount of time to answer that. Let me ask a clarifying question…what do you want to know?”
“I’m interested in strategic information, vampiric strengths and weaknesses, that sort of thing.” Winter realized she was giving away her own ignorance, but the recent hunt through the alleys of Columbus was motivation to gain what information she could.
“Again, that could take some time, but I can give you some interesting information. What do you know about vampires?”
Winter sighed, and replied honestly. “The simplest answer is, not nearly enough. I know they’re fast and strong.”
“The older they are, the stronger and more powerful they are. They gain more abilities. They are heavily influenced by their sires.” Victor ticked off the facts on the fingers of one hand. “Do you understand the difference in nature between the feral and what you consider vampires? By that, I mean those such as Aloysius and Lilly Valiant.”
“I suspect I don’t.” Winter decided that to get something, she was going to have to give Victor something in return. “I’ll explain my interest. Lilly Valiant came to my home, to demand a service, based on our association with House Teruel. She asked me to invite her inside.”
“You didn’t let that creature into your home, did you?” Victor asked swiftly.
“No, I refused, and probably offended her.” His expression leached away, until his countenance was blank, displaying nothing of his thoughts.
Winter struggled on, “One of House Teruel’s ferals had come into her territory, and she demanded that we kill it. We agreed to do this.” Winter shuddered, remembering Lilly floating outside her balcony. Her hand gripped the armrest more tightly at the recollection.
Victor nodded and said, “Let’s go through some old myths…the mirror reflection thing is bunk, unless the mirror is silver-backed, and those are hard to find. They are generally faster and stronger than your typical human. The sunlight legend is true, and fire is effective against them. Most things are at least inconvenienced by being set on fire.” He smiled coldly. “The old legends about a stake through the heart have legitimacy, but only if you put it through their heart. It will make them inert, but may not kill them. Sunlight, silver and fire are universally anathema.”
Winter nodded, feeling as though she should be taking notes, but she was afraid to ask him to pause. He continued, “There are many variants. Once a vampire is old and powerful enough, their spawn will exhibit different attributes based on the sire’s personality. They all need blood to subsist. They can exist without but it is unpleasant, and they often go feral.”
Max interrupted, “I suspect that the reason so many creatures are affected by sunlight and fire has to do with the nature of fire. It’s a cleansing force, so to speak. Sunlight comes from a giant ball of….fire. Hence, why it kills vampires.”
Victor looked over and said, “You surprise me, Maximilian.”
“As for silver,” Max continued, “It has antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It’s a powerful natural purifier and first world entities are…not natural.”
Victor nodded his head and went on, “A vampire in its baseline state is little more than a hungry animal. Eventually, if they survive they can grow to be more. A vampire can choose to create its spawn and avoid that step. They are influenced by their sire. Additionally, there are indications that the progression in power is not solely tied to age, but also to the number of spawn it has.”
“How many spawn does a vampire sire usually have?” Winter asked.
“The largest European clan of vampire, the Vasilescu, has maybe thirteen members that are a century or older.” Winter swallowed hard at the thought of fighting over a dozen full vampires.
Victor held up a hand to regain her attention, “House Teruel has at least thirty that we know of. A normal clan has limited relationships with mortals, such as thralls or what is now commonly called a “Renfield”. House Teruel actively cultivates living family members, and Aloysius has competitions every generation among the best of them, the victor among whom is raised to vampirism. Its unheard of, and not well understood by the other clans.” Winter’s eyes widen, as she realized her worries about Lilly Valiant may be misplaced in light of the threat presented by House Teruel. “Have I answered your question sufficiently, Ms. Ravenscoft?”
“Yes, you have certainly given me much to consider.” Winter agreed.
“Alright, this may not be in the rules, but I will ask it anyway, for either or both of you. It’s only fair, based on the broad question presented to me,” Victor said smugly. “What would you do if you possessed one of the crystal skulls? What would you do with it?”
Winter realized she had been played, but responded truthfully, “I would hide it and protect it, to prevent the skulls from coming together, since no one seems to agree on what would happen if they did.”
“When, Ms. Ravenscroft…when.” Victor said softly.
Max stepped in, saying, “I would study it. After that, it belongs in a museum.”
“Interesting.” Victor smiled to himself. “Now, I believe you both get to ask me a question. It seems only fair.”
Winter finally decided to ask the question that had been burning in the back of her mind since his first comments to her. “How did you know my father?”
“I worked with him, and with many of his family members, at the Eric Raven Foundation. Had he been born then, he would surely have been part of the Babylon Working.” Winter was shocked to hear Victor say that her father had been a member of the Foundation.
Max shot back, “What can you tell us about the Babylon Working?”
Victor looked amused and said, “I could tell you lots of things, but what I’m willing to tell you is that the Babylon Working was an attempt to pull the divine down to an earthly plane and elevate humanity.”
“I’m guessing they failed,” said Max snidely.
“That remains to be determined, but it was not successful in the way its progenitors hoped.” Victor didn’t acknowledge Max’s sarcasm.
“Is the project now over, or does it just continue on in a different way?” Max asked.
“More the latter.”
Max decided to press the issue. “What is your opinion on all that business? Your take on it, as it were.”
“Let’s just say that I’m here to clean up the mess.” Victor replied. He continued, “This next question is for either of you. What do you know about Dipple Pharmatech?”
Winter said, “I know they are a pharmaceutical company, and RITSS provides much of their software. I suspect they are involved in first world research.” She watched Victor closely, but he didn’t visibly react to her statement.
Max said, “That name sounds familiar, but I don’t know anything specific.”
Victor rejoined, “Bonus question, do either of you realize they are involved in the Reanima Project to reanimate dead brain cells? You don’t need to answer that.” He smiled confidently.
Max jumped back into the conversation with, “What hard and fast rules of the First World can you tell us about?”
“Well, it’s not like there’s a playbook.” Victor said. “It does vary, depending on who you’re dealing with. “A good rule of thumb is, don’t deal with fairies.”
“You could say that about most first world beings…” Max shot back.
“To explain all of them and their vagaries would be very time consuming.” Victor was being cagey now, and Winter sensed they were pushing their luck.
“Can we agree on two examples?” She asked both men, who both nodded in agreement.
“Amongst those of the first world, promising something three times is considered binding. It is extremely bad form to break that agreement. If you break it, you mark yourself as not of their world, and therefore not entitled to the niceties. The other is politeness, as monsters don’t like to think they are monsters. Simply put, be polite, keep your word, and pay your debts.” Victor looked each of them in the eye.
Winter and Max landed in Heathrow in London around 8:30 in the morning on Tuesday, July 17. They checked into adjoining rooms at the Novotel London Wembley. Max ran into the flight attendant, Gracie Beecroft, as she was checking into a room at their hotel. He quickly made arrangements to meet her later that evening, while Winter went up to her room to unpack and take a shower.
They met in the hotel restaurant for breakfast. They had the place largely to themselves, and Max made a few calls, starting with John Augustine.
“John! We’re in London!” Max exclaimed.
“Max! That’s great, who’s we?” John asked, with a certain amount of caution.
Max laughed and replied, “Don’t worry, it’s not Tony. I brought Winter to introduce to people. We’re going to do a whirlwind tour of Europe. I thought I’d bring her to you first, since you have a broader sphere of influence that some of the others we’re going to visit.”
John paused, clearly thinking. “Isn’t she part of the lot that gave a certain item to the Vatican?”
“Yes, and that’s why you should meet with her. That group is pretty new to the First World. They’re pretty influential in the US, and they only know people at the Vatican. I thought they should meet some other people. She has lots of questions.”
“Um, ok. This sounds like a bar conversation.” Max could hear the grin in John’s voice.
“Wembley Stadium, I presume? How about 3 o’clock?”
“Perfect! See you then!” Max hung up and filled Winter in on John’s half of the conversation. She decided to grab a nap before they went to Wembley Stadium.
When Winter woke up, greatly refreshed and energized, she dressed quickly and brushed her hair. She put on a pair of black jeans and a pretty green top trimmed with lace. After adding some jewelry to dress it up, she slipped into her thick leather boots. Nodding at her reflection in the mirror, she glided out the door and made her way to the lobby to meet Max.
Winter waited for a few minutes until Max made his way down to the lobby. He didn’t look like he got a lot of sleep. In companionable silence, they set out for Wembley Stadium. On the way, they saw massive preparations for the Summer Olympics.
“Looks like we just missed it,” Max said, yawning hugely.
“It’s supposed to start on the 27th.” Winter said absently, as she craned her head to look out the cab window.
“Huh. That’s a coincidence.” Max said.
“What is?” Winter asked.
“That’s my birthday.” Max looked bemused.
When Max and Winter arrived at Wembley Stadium, John was already in the bar. He was dressed casually, in a simple short sleeved shirt and sport coat, with his hair in a ponytail. As they approached his table, John stood up and shook Winter’s hand. He bent slightly over it, and then turned to give Max a back thumping hug. As Max began the introductions, his phone buzzed with a text from Gracie. He elected not to answer the call.
John sat down and said, “Angyalka sends her love. There’s a new Augustine on the way.”
“Congratulations!” said Max expansively.
“The other two will want to see Uncle Max while you’re in town.” John continued, with a wide smile.
Winter murmured congratulations, as the waitress approached. She ordered fish and chips, while John and Max both ordered steak and kidneys. The waitress took their order, and brought three beers to the table.
Finally, small talk exhausted for the moment, and the waitress safely out of the way, John turned to Winter. “Max tells me he plans to introduce you to his European acquaintances. Is there an agenda?”
Winter pursed her lips before replying, “Well, as you no doubt know, we’re been working for the Raven Foundation.” John nodded his awareness, and she continued, “It recently came to my attention that they’re not the only game in town, so to speak. After recent events in Ohio, I’d like to know who the players are.”
Max interjected, “It helps to have friends.” John and Winter both laughed in acknowledgement.
John thought for a moment and then said, “ The Ministry of Cultural Infrastructure has a surprising amount of resources, but they are not unlimited. Our range is not what it once was. It is somewhat restricted to the UK and parts of northwestern Europe. We don’t have a lot of resources in America, unlike the Church or the Foundation. What we lack in field resources, we make up for in experience. I think our philosophy is best summed up by the phrase ‘There can be no covenants between men and lions’. Let’s call it a zero tolerance policy. Not everything out there is malicious, but we won’t tolerate it operating in our areas of influence. That’s not to say that the UK is completely safe, but we work to keep it as safe as possible. Modern day life has made things more complicated. On the other hand, it has provided other advantages, like rocket launchers.”
Winter smiled appreciatively. “I’m interested in your zero tolerance policy. How does that work?”
“Simply put, we kill it. Or we drive it off, and make it very sorry it was ever here.”
Winter mused, “You must have a good relationship with your government in order to maintain a policy like that. It’s been a challenge to handle some of our missions without exposure.”
“The closest thing in the US to a group like ours is the Raven Foundation. However, they seem to have other agendas, and have their hands in various researches.”
Winter nodded thoughtfully. The conversation paused while the waitress brought their food, and everyone turned their attention to the meal. Max carried the conversation for a time, telling John some amusing anecdotes from his recent adventures in the US.
Max got a phone call from one of his love interests, Maurine Bree, which he let go to voicemail. She followed up with a text, wanting to know when he was going to be back in town. She made him promise to come and see her. In order to annoy her, he suggested that he might have a date with another woman, but it didn’t have the desired effect. She suggested a threesome, which he ignored.
After they finished eating, John seemed much more relaxed. He turned to Winter, “How did a Foundation agent come to be in contact with the Church?”
Winter explained about the Chateau Blemmyes, and Chef Gaston Claes, outlining the assistance provided by Father Matthew. John nodded in understanding, finally wrinkling his nose in disgust, as she explained the situation.
Finally, he asked, “Do you have specific questions for me?”
Winter nodded, “Well, I have some concerns about vampires. What can you tell me about them?”
John frowned thoughtfully. “Well, the largest clan in Europe is The Vasilescu. The clan has around twelve to fifteen fully mature vampires. They are nowhere near as large as House Teruel in the US. I recommend that you have nothing to do with vampires.”
Winter laughed in irritation, “I’m not sure I can avoid them, now that Lilly Valiant has stopped by my condo.”
John had a lot of questions about Lilly Valiant, and took notes for later review. He then shared a name with Winter, by writing it in a puddle of condensation on the table. “This name should never be spoken aloud.” Nyctimus
“Who is he?” She replied.
“The original. It is said that his father was the original lycanthrope.” Lychas
As Winter and John were talking, Ophelia called Max, who excused himself to take the call. She was on a plane to Columbus, with a piece that she needed him to translate. When she found out he was in London, she asked for Frank’s number. He provided the address of Frank’s shop, and shot him a text to want him that Ophelia is coming to visit.
Meanwhile, Winter asked John about other organizations active in the US. “With whom do we not want to be affiliated?”
John began listing various groups that he felt were unethical. “There’s A’A’, and Neo Burkheim. Stay away from the Holy Vehm, they’re Nazis. Avoid the Thule Society, The Vrill, and The Horus Society if you can. Then there’s the Possessed.”
Max got another phone call, this time from Gracie again, and he answered in order to confirm their dinner date for 8pm.
“What are the Possessed?” Winter asked.
John grimaced. “The possessed are the forces of hell. They may or may not be organized in a meaningful way, so I’m not sure they count as an organization. You may also want to avoid The Adana Market. It’s a Fae thing, a way for them to trade with the mortal world. You can find your way into faerie from the market. It’s run by an entity called Cain Enochian.”
“Not anymore,” interjected Max, with some satisfaction.
“What do you mean?” asked John cautiously.
Max proceeded to explain about the recent conflict with Cain Enochian, while Winter pondered whether or not to tell John about Frank’s recent elevation. In the end, she decided not to say anything yet. John seemed nice, but she thought it might be better to hold that information in reserve. She sensed John was getting restless and there was still at least one more question she wanted to ask him.
Winter started sketching the bar and several patrons while she and John talked about the various organizations active in the First World.
At a break in the conversation, she interjected, “Is there anything in your records about a man in a white suit?”
She explained her own experience with this entity, but John shook his head, saying “It could be a ghost, or some other kind of specter. Angels and Demons are also spiritual entities. Experiment with different forms of protection to see what may stop it. If you like, I can help you find someone who is an expert in that type of entity.”
Winter shook her head in disappointment, “It’s not really my decision, but thank you for the offer. If I decide to take you up on that, I’ll be in touch.”
Thinking of Victor, Winter said, “What about The Scions of Solomon?”
John snorted and said, “The Scions of Solomon are infamous. Victor Logue clearly has an agenda. They have their fingers in all sorts of things, and have plenty of resources to draw upon. They have done good works, but they also have people like Mortimer Faust and Maggie May Bondurant on their payroll.” He glanced at Max as he spoke.
“Mortimer won’t be bothering you again.” Max said, with a certain amount of satisfaction.
“Oh really?” John replied.
“He had an accident down in Florida recently. A permanent accident, if you take my meaning.” Max said quietly.
“That’s a pity,” John said insincerely. “I’ll pray for him.”
Winter hesitated, thinking hard, and then said, “You should probably be aware, we were on the flight with Victor.”
“Victor Logue is in London!” John sat straight up in his chair.
“Well,” Winter temporized, “We don’t actually know if he stayed here, only that he flew in on the same plane we did. We have a truce with him.”
Max nodded. “It lasts for 48 hours after disembarking from the plane. Even if we knew more, we can’t tell you. We gave our word.” He gave Winter a hard look, and she dropped her gaze.
John grumbled, and pressed the issue. “Isn’t there anything you can tell me? What name was he flying under?” He paused, “It would be really useful to have one of his aliases.”
Sensing Winter’s hesitation, he continued, “Here, write it on this napkin. I’ll put it in an envelope and I swear I won’t open it until the 48 hours are up.”
Max shrugged, so Winter wrote the name “Mr. Landon Parsons” on the napkin and sealed the envelope. John took the envelope from her and tucked it into his pocket with no small amount of satisfaction.
Winter finally started drawing Max while she and John discussed Victor. As the conversation drew to a close, she looked down and sucked in a breath. She had drawn Max with a monster in the background behind his head, a number of injuries that were healing, and plant-like tendrils loosely wrapped around his waist. The monster was massive, with large tentacles molded in a vaguely canine shape. She showed it to Max, who commented on the spaghetti wolf.
“That’s the spaghetti wolf!” He said emphatically.
John asked, “What’s the spaghetti wolf?”
Max answered, “It’s a disembodied spirit form a ritual Tony and I interrupted.” He proceeded to tell the John and Winter the story about disrupting the plans of a group of murderous occultists.
John was interested in Winter’s drawing, and leaned over to get a better look. When he touched her arm, she snapped into a vision. John was sprawled on a pile of rubble with a hunk of rebar poking through his chest. He was clearly dead.
Immediately, she flipped to a blank page and drew her vision. John was clearly shaken by the drawing, and asked if he could take it with him to have Angela look at it. Winter obliged, but took a photo for her records. He assured Winter and Max that he was going straight home after picking up his kids, and left the bar.
“Forewarned is forearmed,” he said simply, on his way to the parking lot.
Max and Winter went back to the hotel, as it was nearly time for Max’s date with Gracie. Winter made her way into the hotel bar, while Max went to dress for dinner. When Max arrived at Gracie’s room, they decided to order room service and stay in. The evening went very well, until their tryst was interrupted by Gracie’s panicked choking.
Max performed CPR, and managed to pull seaweed and other detritus out of her throat and lungs. He called for an ambulance and continued CPR until a squad arrived. Winter saw them as the EMTs loaded Gracie into an ambulance, and agreed to go with Max to the hospital.