It has a visitor this day. An uttered password, and a tunnel of calm appeared in the tempest. The robed figure floats along, and the clouds clear to a sight hidden from the outside world: an imposing fortress carved into the foreboding cliff face. Two dozen towers abut it, with two in a state of utter ruin.
As the robed man approached the gates, they opened to allow him entrance.
The woman bowed. "Of course, Master Garland."
She led him to one of the outlying towers; the newest of the two dozen, truth to be told, but still having stood nearly two centuries.
The wizard sported a long, bushy beard, and carried a staff. He was a member of the Order of Hermes, a guild of wizards that had formed during the dark times of the Eighth Century. It had stood strong ever since, at the fringes of life during the Middle Ages, then fading into the shadows during the Renaissance, deleting any public record if its existence.
Of the original twelve Houses, one had been destroyed, and another no longer existed. Five more had joined since the founding, however, bringing the number to its current fifteen.
Three items hung from his belt: the spiral medallion marked Master Garland as a Follower of Tytalus, one of the original Houses. The medallion bearing the balanced scales marked him as a Quaesitor, a designated member of the Order's "internal affairs department". And the metal key marked him as the Watcher, the one member of House Tytalus who stood outside the schemes of its members. In ancient times, this post was known as the "Traitor", but its dual role was basically unchanged: to refound the House if its schemes went too far and immolated it, or to start new intrigues should the old ones grow stale. The Tytalus Quaesitor, and the Watcher, were nearly always the same person--such as Garland.
The woman in red--a Redcap, a member of the Order of Hermes' messenger House--opened the door to a resplendent bed chamber. Weaponry hung on the walls, as did a massive wood wheel, the helm of a long destroyed sailing ship.
On the bed lay a man. He had olive, Mediterranean features, and a short beard that still showed some patches of black.
His eyes were open, unseeing, and glowing.
"Aram Marangoudakis, Twenty Fourth Primus of Tytalus. I bid you greetings." Garland called out.
A few moments later, he repeated his greetings.
After a third issuance, he went over to the bed, and knelt beside it. "Aram?"
He exhaled, and gently closed the man's eyelids. "Go in peace, Primus. Your struggle in this world is over, and the next receives its new challenger."
"Redcap?" Garland called.
"It is done, then?" the Redcap asked in return.
"Yes." Garland nodded. "I, Garland Garamonte, Filius of Getulio, Follower of Tytalus, Quaesitor in good standing of the Order of Hermes, do officially declare the passing of Aram Marangoudakis, Twenty Fourth Primus of Tytalus, into the state of Final Twilight. In accordance with the traditions of the House, and the Order, I have made this proclamation a year and a day since the Primus's last know communication with his Covenant. This proclamation is certified on the Tenth Day of Cancer, in the Nineteenth Year of the Age of Aquarius."
"Furthermore, as Watcher of Tytalus, I invoke my traditional duty to declare the holding of an Erisatic Moot, to be held at Fudarus, Domus Magna of House Tytalus, on the Tenth Day of Cancer in the Twentieth Year of the Age of Aquarius. The purpose of the Moot will be the appointment of the Twenty Fifth Primus. Signed, Garland Garamonte, Follower...well, you know the rest."
The Redcap nodded, making a note on clipboard. "So noted, Quaesitor."
Garland continued. "This document will be taken to Harco, and copied in accordance with the traditions of the Order and House Tytalus. A copy will be made for, and House Mercere will deliver it to, every member of House Tytalus. Additional copies will be made for, and delivered to, the following: Morgond, Primus of Bonisagus, Magus Dominus of the Order of Hermes; Quaesitor Anna Hardwyck, Prima of Guernicus; Shalgar Regit Midusulfis, Primus of Bjornaer; Tsukasa, Prima of Criamon; Adam Ayajiri, Primus Ex Miscellanea; Ananiya Divraniya, Prima of Flambeau; Steven Landon Masters, Primus of Fortunae; Eutus, Primus Hisui-no-Mikado; Maraksha Kashaf, Prima of Jerbiton; Tao Lian, Primus Jin se Tian-lung; Marianne Walking-Cloud, Prima of Mercere; Virgil Endrina, Primus of Merinita; Luis Arrah, Primus Solificato; and Sharad Osei, Primus of Verditius."
Garland sighed, and sat in a chair near the bed. "It has been nearly two hundred years since Master Aram seized the Primacy. The House has changed much in that time, to say nothing of the world at large." He pulled out a pipe, and lit it. "The next year may determine whether House Tytalus will continue to be the backbone of the Order, or slide back into the backbiting and divisiveness that marginalized it for so long." There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Either way, it should be fun to watch."
But she patted the pouch at her side with a resigned sigh. A message this important to Hermetic affairs was, by over twelve hundred years of tradition, to be delivered by hand.
She barely managed to dodge the attack that attempted to separate her head from her shoulder blades.
With a swift, fluid motion, she pulled the length of Verditius steel from its scabbard and blocked the next sword stroke.
A masked man in black and red robes howled and hacked away at her. He was more power and anger than much technique, she realized--but strong enough that one false move on her part could allow him to do a lot of damage.
"Soul Tracker!!! Halt!!!"
The attacker's assault stopped so suddenly Gwendolyn didn't trust it.
"Salve, Sodalis." a smooth, measured voice said to her. A man in a dark trenchcoat moved from the shadows. "I offer my deep apologies for my servant's overzealous defense of my sanctum."
The man had a Cheshire grin, and skin like old leather. She presumed it was a Twilight scar of some sort that made it such an unnatural pallor, almost purplish.
"As well you should, Sodalis." she finally said, sheathing her sword. "Accosting a Redcap on official business, as you well know..."
He leered. "And here I thought it was a personal call."
She fought off the urge to vomit.
"Necromancer..." the Soul Tracker asked. "You know this woman?"
"She is Gwendolyn, Filia of Janna, Follower of Mercere." the smiling man answered. "She is part of an Order to which I also belong."
She opened her pouch. "Nathaniel, Filius of Alexandre, Follower of Tytalus, I bring you official notice by the authority of Quaesitor Garland Garamonte, Filius of Getulio, Follower of Tytalus." She passed him the parchment within, and turned. "Having thus discharged my obligation, I take my leave of you."
"Not going to stay for some biscuits?" The Necromancer asked cheerfully. When she ignored him, he shrugged. "Aw, well, only three years until the next Tribunal. I shall count the days, my Dear!" He was clearly pleased by the disgusted noise provoked by his words.
"I don't..." the Soul Tracker shook his head.
"You are not meant to understand, my friend." the Necromancer said. "It is far outside the scope of your existence, I promise you." He regarded the parchment for a moment. "The personal hand delivery of a Redcap has been, for the last half century, reserved only for the most momentous of Hermetic news. A message originating from Quaesitor Garland can only mean one thing."
He opened the parchment, and the Soul Tracker watched him read it silently. After being solemn for a few moments, his Cheshire grin returned, wider than ever. "I've been awaiting this news, Soul Tracker. The leader of the House of wizardry to which I belong is, after two centuries, no more at last. In a little less than a year, his successor must be chosen."
The Soul Tracker blinked underneath his mask. "You seek this post of leadership?"
The Necromancer chuckled. "The Primacy of Tytalus goes only to the most devious and powerful of schemers, my friend. To be worthy of that post...well, I would have to be responsible for something quite...spectacular."
He furled the parchment, and placed it in a jacket pocket. "Fortunately, I have arranged something just that spectacular. Decades have gone into what is about to happen, Soul Tracker, and all of this is working just as I had foreseen."
"The toy soldiers are almost in place, my friend, and when the moment comes..." He flicked at the air with his finger. "Left right left, they all fall down."
The Soul Tracker felt unease at what the Necromancer was saying, even if he didn't understand all of it. But in three years of service, he'd become aware that the Necromancer liked to talk in riddles, and was also keenly aware that hidden in those riddles were truths that were going to be unpleasant for somebody.
The Soul Tracker had his suspicions. All he still didn't know for sure was...
...Was he part of those riddles and their unpleasant results?
"We now have a time table, my friend." the Necromancer continued. "Everything is where it needs to be--with one exception. There is one more player in the grand drama that requires my personal supervision; but though he fancies himself above the games of the creatures of the night, he is already within my grasp." He made another gesture. "All it will take is the right name dropped by one of the undead rabble, and he will be mine. With that..." He snapped his fingers.
"Left right left, they all fall down." he repeated in a more sing-song voice
With that, the Necromancer laughed. Longer, deeper, and more gleefully than the Soul Tracker had ever heard him do so.
Nathaniel Blaque created by James Van Hise and John Tobias. He first appeared in Now Comics The Real Ghostbusters #9; Ghostbusters created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis.
Soul Tracker created by Kyle Stevens; Developed by Fritz Baugh
Additional Research: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ushant