It Won’t End! This Week in Notes From The Abyss – Chapter Five
January 30, 2012
What follows is the fifth chapter of Notes From the Abyss, that serial sci-fi I’m writing. This is also just part one, so there’ll be even more when this is over.
I’m having test readers go through whole document now and I’ve got two artists working on cover mockups for me so I can get this up on digital marketplaces soon. I hope you’re interested in buying it, reading it, showing it off to your friends, etc.
Second Twilight had just started when we arrived at the estate. When we pulled up to the Gates compound, the whole place was lit up in the soft blue glow of captured Will-O’-the-Wisps hanging over the walls and in lanterns every twenty feet or so throughout the gardens around the house itself. A huge gold and silver pendant hung above the building, gathering raw arcane power from the leylines running through the planet and focusing it into the building at the center of the estate. The energy was used to power the arcane devices and spells they were using, like the Will-O’-the-Wisps and the lanterns that contained them. The front gates opened for the car as we approached, and closed again after we passed through despite there being no guard in sight, and it pulled throug a parking circle and stopped right in front of a massive white marble building. The Gates family, apparently, liked to reach back to their roots and reflected the Greco-Roman heritage of their Hellenic Practice. Ionic columns soared to the sky holding up the triangular roof inlaid with reliefs of each family member, moving slowly through whatever craft they had perfected during their lives, surrounding their ancient father, William the First, in the center. He sat upon a throne with an ancient computer on one side, his hand resting on it, and on the other he held a torch high above his head. Everyone knew about William Gates; hearsay said he took over the world with his infernal technology hundreds of years ago then renounced it and tried to save the world before dying earlier than he deserved.
Now the family, almost as penitence, gave most of their money and thaums away. They helped the poor whenever they could but, like most wealthy families, they still lived the best life possible. Apparently, like most wealthy families, they also had some very dark secrets hiding behind all that altruism.
As the car came to a rest right in front of the house, the doors opened gently and quietly. A young man and woman were waiting inside and smiled as they saw me climb out. The woman hurried up to me and grabbed my hand and shook it hard as she said, “I’m Jennifer Cranston, you’re Jarvis Mac Callan, correct?” I nodded as I shook her hand, a little stunned by her enthusiasm. She smiled even wider, “Great, I have a room ready for your use for as long as you’ll be here examining the grounds. I manage all of the service employees here at the manor so just let me know if you need anything. Paul here is one of our best men and he’ll help you to your room. I, as I said before, am at your disposal if you need any help with the history of the family or the house as well as any information about the arcanology used here. The Gates, I am afraid, are out yachting for the next month and will not be around to either assist, or interfere, with your inquiries. Luckily, the service employees here are much more informed on even the family’s day to day lives than the family themselves are.” The gentle hint of sarcasm in her voice didn’t go unnoticed, though there was a clear affection in it. Apparently, while the family’s out of town it’s fine to let one’s hair down a little.
I nodded my thanks as I stepped past her and went inside the manor. “So I’ve got full access to the grounds and the vaults, correct? I need to be able to investigate anywhere the thief may have been.” Jennifer nodded, “As well you have access to any personnel not engaged in any life-threatening service. There aren’t many people here that may be killed or injured by their job, but there’s a few thanks to the vault itself and some of the relay teams that are stationed here. Arcane power of that magnitude can be destructive if it isn’t contained properly.” I nodded and looked around at the entrance hall. The floor was black marble, the room itself at least forty feet tall and held up with white marble columns as thick as a tree. Scattered about the first floor were small tables with vases or statues on them, seemingly pointed at the pair of staircases that dominated not only the room but also the airspace within it. They wrapped around each other, both in blue marble and one red carpeted and the other gold carpeted, to a balcony overlooking the room. Standing on the balcony was a baby grand piano and a clearly enchanted rail – a natural place to address a crowd. As I walked through the front room I noticed the subtle but intricate engravings on the floor, a natural ritual space with a large locus for leading parties…or rituals, whichever is more convenient. Given trance states and the statues, probably the parties. Drunk people are less destructive than magicians on the average.
Paul quietly led me upstairs to the room that had been prepared for me. It was a nice apartment style bedroom, with a luxurious bed, small den, and private bathroom. It appeared to be a guest room for someone important since I could see the various family bedrooms from the door. They were guarded, as was my door, by a bevy of security spells but it was still nice to be treated like a veritable king. Sitting on a table in the den was a collection of the paperwork that was being used by House to record security details – private documents detailing security procedures, events, personnel that might have access…the normal sort of investigative documentation. And sitting on the table, surrounding the paperwork, were other elemental spirits that looked exactly like Mori. That is if Mori was painted different colors. It was like a tiny council chamber had decided to move their chairs and tables to my room in preparation of my arrival. Not to say I’m surprised, they did send Mori all the way to Metris to keep an eye on me in the first place.
“Jarvis Mac Callister, We are pleased to See that You have arrived in Safety.” That was one of the spirits I didn’t know yet, a yellow sprite. It walked to the center of the table before continuing, “We are the Council of Spirits that oversee the Family and their House. We were Bound long ago by an ancient Practitioner with Skill and Arte beyond the capability of the Family today. Such lost Artes are familiar to You, I am told. Please, join Us. Morikatrix of the Northern Wind, please Join the Council. Your Seat has been Prepared.”
I sat down in a nice leather chair seated near the table as Mori settled onto an empty chair in the small circle on top of it. A small black figure that had remained seated through out the brief introduction spoke in a booming, low-toned voice. “I am Carvax, Son of the Tortured Night. Welcome to the Council. We have Watched the Family for Two-Hundred and Forty-Seven years, inclusive. We have Observed this Action with great interest. The Theft occurred while We were watching and Our awareness availed us not. We need to Understand howt this Theft occurred and how the Theft Evaded our Perceptions. It has been Explained to Us that You are of Great Wisdom and Power. We have Observed within You an Arte and Practice of hidden Power and thus introduce Ourselves. We ask of You to Assist Us while you also Assist the Family. We will compensate You as only We can.”
I sighed slowly, set my hat on my knee, and leaned over my other leg. “Well, Carvax, I’m willing to help you out in any way I can. I’m limited to the strengths of any human detective, with the additional assistance of my Arte, but I see no reason why I should hold any information from you that I would give to the Gates. You are, after all, family guardians.” Carvax nodded slowly. The yellow sprite stood again and said, “Jarvis, I am Soluphar the Crossing Storm. I was Watching the Cask that evening. The Cask was Taken while I performed this Duty. I saw no Intruder nor did I See any changes in the Air, the Waters, the Stones, or the Ether surrounding the Cask.” The way Soluphar said see stuck out, with a kind of vibrancy that I could never manage. At least not without some very ingenious enchantment. “Normally, we can track the Cask as a Council,” Soluphar continued, “but the Thief has found a way to obscure the Cask from our Sight. Thus far the Council has Reached through Space and Time and finds no trace of the Cask after the night of the Theft. The Thief was intelligent enough to ensure the Cask appears Before that night but has Obscured anything about After.”
I sat back and steepled my fingers. It was pretty impressive for an expert magician, let alone a normal burglar, to hide an object in time and space from any Elemental spirit. It was especially frightening to hide it from a devoted group that was purposely searching for it. I closed my eyes and focused on the pressure at the edges of my perception, the feeling of the tracking spell that I had cast to find the vase. I followed the threads of the spell with my Inner Sight as far as I could. The Inner Sight sees magic, leylines, and the enchantments on objects – essentially anything that’s magical. Normally if I’m Tracking something by its True Name I can use my Inner Sight to locate it even if I can’t see where it is – I can at least see the object itself and what state its in. As I said, though, this was in normal circumstances; I couldn’t see the vase at all when I checked.
“Council – can I call you guys Council? Do you know the True Name of the Cask itself? The Seal would prevent me from Feeling the spirit inside and I can’t See the Cask with my Inner Sight. Completely invisible. Whatever’s hiding it, I can’t tell what it is, but it’s powerful.”
The Council shook their heads simultaneously and responded as one; “The Cask has no Name.”