The Color of Night
No Covenants between Men and Lions
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.