Storybook | Game

Death Day.

It is a very splendid building, The Order of the Bloody Rose. Named for the seventeenth century chapel that had stood on the site, one of the earliest, if not the earliest buildings of worship in Darkness Falls it is home, and has been for well over a century as it proudly proclaims, to Darkness Falls' most prestigious charitable and benevolent brotherhood. The current building is a glorious example of Beaux Arts architecture, an imposing edifice of Grecian columns, of cornices and pilasters set with exquisite taste in manicured grounds it has opened to the public as a park. A tour of the building is a ritual feature of Darkness Falls school life so that, by the time they reach adulthood, almost everyone has seen the breathtaking interior of this marvellous, trusted and deeply loved building.

Or, at least, the part of it the Brotherhood wants them to see. And if the curious were to consult maps of the ground under the park, they would see nothing but the usual maze of sewers and utility pipes and a branch of the city's subway network, yet if they searched deeper they would find that those sewers and pipes had never ever gone wrong and that that beautiful park had never had to be dug up to fix a burst or worn anything. And if someone had been lying on the perfectly manicured lawn, lost to the bustle of the city just yards away, and heard the distant rumble of the subway train on its way to Strangers Farm then he might have heard it coming distinctly from his left, whereas every map he might find, even in City Hall itself, showed the track running directly under where he lay.

And if he had risen from his reverie and wandered inside on one of the many guided tours the Brotherhood allowed of their great building, he might marvel at the grand staircase, modelled on the Winter Palace of the Russian Czars, admire the oil painting collection, the third finest semi-public collection in the whole of Darkness Falls. He might gaze at the stern bronze faces of the previous Masters of the Brotherhood, some of the most respected and upright men in the city's history. And he might smile ruefully at the Ladies' Room, there after the infamous court case of '88 forced the admittance of women to this previously most resolutely male establishment.

But would he notice the small doors that led deeper into the building? He would certainly notice the elaborate tapestry at the back of the Great Hall; it was a major feature of the tour, but would he notice the great and heavily built doors behind it? And if he did, and if he were sufficiently abusive of his hospitality to open them, would he be surprised to see the chamber beyond, and the heavy doors beyond it? And beyond them the large goods lift. That only went down.

Deep below ground level, in what might have been called catacombs if they hadn't so closely resembled a very high class hotel, bright chandeliers shone on exquisite furnishings. Two men were fencing, poised in their fencing whites and masks. They came together and broke apart. They lunged, parried, riposted at blinding speed, the clash of their swords bright in the room. A group watched, elegantly dressed, attentive, fixated almost on the contest, rippled polite applause at each move. Apart from one large man with a leonine mane of hair, seemingly more concerned with seducing a young woman than any swordplay.

The two fencers paused, considered each other for a moment then reared and lunged. A loud beeping signified a hit.

“Well done sir,” the younger man pulled off his helmet and walked to congratulate.

The older man pulled off his. “Thank you,” he said, “you sure you didn't give it to me?”

The younger man flushed. “No sir, no I wouldn't dream of it.”

The older man smiled. “Very well then. I accept. Well done me.” They shook hands and walked to the edge of the piste. “Antoine,” he called, “did you follow that at all?”

Across the room the man he spoke to waved his hand airily. “Two pussies hitting each other with rubber swords,” he said, the faint lilt of a French accent in his voice. “I followed everything. It was very entertaining.”

The older man grinned. “You're an animal Antoine,” he said, “but I suppose I can expect no better.”

Antoine turned from the girl he'd been focussed on and smiled. “And you are a pussy Nicky, who confuses hitting boys with a rubber sword with real fighting.”

The air grew still, nervous. One simply didn't speak to a High Adept of the Order like that. Nicky grinned slyly. “Care to test me on that old man?” He said.

Antoine leapt to his feet, around him people stiffened, grew tense. Then he laughed, loud. “Not right now. And not while I am a guest in your beautiful home,” he said, “and not with these fucking toothpicks.”

Nicky laughed, the tension drained from the room. “A poor workman Antoine,” he said, “a poor workman.”

Antoine picked a sword from a rack and swished it half heartedly. “I'd hardly call this a tool,” he said. “You know my opinion of these things.”

Nicky smiled. “Oh yes,” he said, “Antoine if there is one thing you can not be accused of it's withholding your opinions. I need to change. Coming?”

The Adept's private quarters were simple but elegantly furnished. The larger man threw himself messily into a leather armchair while the other man showered.

“I see little has changed,” he called.

“Little has ever changed,” Nicky called back from the shower, “you above all people should know that.”

Antoine grunted. “The world has changed,” he said.

“Not by much.”

Nicky entered towelling his hair. His body was lean and muscled, Antoine could see fine scars laced across the skin of his back and buttocks. “I would have thought they would have faded by now,” he said. Nicky looked at him, puzzled. “Hmm?” He looked down. “Oh the scars? They were deep, and you know how it is, magical wounds and all that.”

Antoine nodded. “I think that that began my doubts,” he said, “that was when I realised that we were not prepared.”

Nicky went back into the bathroom, emerging in a towel robe. “You're trying to aggrandise yourself,” he said, “it was simpler than that and you know it. You liked change they didn't. You wanted things different, they wanted them the same. You tried to force their hand, they stood fast. You grew apart.”

“At least I grew.”

“By becoming a mongrel? You'll find few here who'll call that progress.”

Antoine snorted. “Then they are fools. Fighting with... you know what those things are.”

Nicky laughed and shook his head. “Yes,” he said, “the modern fencing epee is a practice smallsword, the smallsword was a reduced version of the rapier. I know this, you taught me this yourself.”

Antoine leant forward in his seat. “And do you know how we fought with the rapier?”

Nicky frowned. “What is this, a test?” He said. “The rapier was a close defence weapon designed for use against unarmoured opponents in enclosed spaces. It was designed for the cramped streets of Renaissance Europe.”

“And when you fought you fought with everything. Feet, teeth, fists, everything. Because you were fighting for your life. Your life.” Antoine sat back in his armchair. “And now I see people fighting with please and excuse me and a jolly good handshake afterwards.”

“Have you come all this way to tell me we've gone soft and decadent?” Nicky teased. “Now you just sound like a grumpy old man.”

Antoine shook his head. “No,” he said, “I called you because... two things. The first there are changes. Newcomers. They are few, but we.. you, the Order is not as numerous as you'd like to think.”

Nicky nodded. “We have heard of the newcomers,” he said, “so far they don't seem any sort of threat. I'm more concerned with what made them leave their previous city. Are you anticipating trouble? Are you seeking an alliance between the Order and....?”

“No.” Antoine leant forward again, agitated. “I do not see evidence of aggression. Of course they are only just arriving. I have heard that one claims she owns the city.” Both men laughed. “She will learn. But they must be... managed, we do not want open warfare.” Antoine let his eyes flick to Nicky's shoulder where his robe had slipped down. The white trace of a scar was clearly visible. “Not again.”

“Agreed.” Nicky smiled. “But I'm still at a loss to know why you're here if you're not seeking a direct alliance, especially as you must know that the others won't agree to it. And I can't see the shape shifters being too enthusiastic. Could it be you came to warn us? Could it possibly be that you still care about us.... Magister?”

Antoine threw his hands up in mock horror. “Aieeee,” he said, “don't call me that, no-one's called me that in years.” He laughed and glanced to the door they'd entered by. “Do they know?” He said.

Nicky shook his head. “When you left the Order the others commanded that you not be mentioned. And you're not; you've been airbrushed out. Probably just as well, if those little darlings knew they'd just met a Magister they'd have peed themselves.”

Antoine nodded. “And you, Adeptus Major Nicholas, you have done well, but you've had done better if you'd jettisoned your loyalty to me.”

“That would require a denial of simple reality. You were a great Magister Antoine. You still are. Even if you have gone off and become a mongrel.”

Antoine roared with laughter. “Hey,” he said, “did I tell you I can nearly do Kodiak bear? Man it is tough, huge concentration. I can do wolf in my sleep; any pussy can do wolf, even you could do wolf, but Kodiak bear? Now that's some shit right there. Ten feet tall, rip the doors off a security van with my bare hands. Well, ok, paws, but still. Hey you want to see?”

“No!” Nicky was caught between amusement at his old mentor's enthusiasm and alarm at the thought of a ten foot bear in his apartment. Maybe Antoine wouldn't lose control, though it happened more often than shape shifters cared to admit and everyone knew it. But. Ten foot. Bear. In his apartment. With Antoine's enthusiasm. And some of these antiques were irreplaceable.

“Some other time.”

Antoine grinned. “And some old guy reckons he can do Roc. Giant fucking bird with a forty foot wingspan, swoop out of the sky kill a grown man single strike. Been extinct for thousands of fucking years he's had to reach down into the tribal memory of the Clovis people – the fucking Clovis people – to get the template. I have my doubts but shit if he can do that....” Antoine’s voice trailed off. He smiled. “You indulge me,” he said, “not many vampires would indulge an old werewolf like this.”

Nicky grinned. “You're not old,” he said, “and you're not a werewolf, well, ok, not just a werewolf. You are one of us too, and you always will be one of us. You will always be part of us. And vampires and shape shifters are not as far apart as we like to think.” He glanced at the ceiling and smiled wryly. “And I'm sure I've just blown any last chance I may have had of promotion by saying that, but in reality most of our young bloods recently have been mongrels, purebloods are becoming something of a rarity. Of course a lot of them are witches.”

“Fucking hippies,” Antoine roared, “how's that going down with the others?”

“They hate it, naturally, if they had their way we'd admit nothing but purebloods. But the pureblood is a dying breed. If you'll forgive the.... is that a pun?”

“No, it's an irony. Just like the one where the Order accepts mongrels after driving me out for becoming one.”

“Well, forty years after.”

“Gah, whatever. Times change. But that's what time is for eh?”

Nicky smiled. “It is indeed.”

Antoine stood. “They are learning to fight for real?” he said, nodding toward the door.

“They are Magister. And we only admit those who have already achieved some level of competence at their own volition. That hasn't changed.”

“Good.” Antione grinned. “I would miss you if you managed to get yourself all killed. Again. Which reminds me. You've been wondering what I've been nursing in my jacket?”

Nicky raised an eyebrow. “That was you nursing?” He said. Antoine snorted. And pulled from his jacket a gift wrapped parcel.

“Open it carefully,” he said, “those things are fucking fragile.”

Nicky took the parcel and unwrapped it. It was an interesting experience, Antoine was not the most dexterous of men and Nicky found himself wondering if he'd used the entire roll of scotch tape rather than cut it. But finally he held his prize in his hands. He stared at it for a long time.

“You like?” said Antoine, “it took me fucking years to find it, I hunted everywhere.”

Nicky's voice was choked. “Where did you find it?”

“Ebay,” said Antoine, “you know I think I was there the night you recorded that?”

Nicky smiled. “No,” he said, “no you weren't. But I wish you had been.”

“Hey I went to the Zanzibar Rooms. I went to the Zanzibar Rooms lots of times. I even remember the band leader, what was his name, little guy, middle parting, Hitler moustache?”

“Morty, Morty Schlenstein and his Modern Swingers. I remember telling him that he had to change the name but he wouldn't listen. Fool. But he got rid of the moustache. Eventually. Mercifully.” Nicky held the old record delicately, as if it were a flower that might blow away.

“You were good,” said Antoine, “Should have been a star. Better singer than that pussy Astaire.”

“I was,” said Nicky, “although I think he had me topped in the dancing. But I was a little too old to interest the record companies, they all wanted a Crosby or a Sinatra, but we've been over all this. You know I haven't heard this played since.... the early '40s, '41, '42 I think. Thank you. Thank you Antoine.”

Antoine looked slightly awkward. “Yes, well,” he said, “I'm glad you like it. Happy... you know.”

“Death day.”

“Yes, well I have to go. I have a Kodiak bear lesson. Hey did I tell you I'm getting good?”

“Yes Antoine. You'll have to show me sometime. Outdoors perhaps. From a distance.”

Antoine laughed. “Pussy,” he said, “you stay here, I can find my way out. They haven't changed the layout have they?”

Nicky grinned. “You know the Order,” he said.

“Nothing changes.”

“Nothing changes.”

Antoine scowled. “Except everything does. You take care boy. You take care.”

“You too Magister.”

After Antoine left Nicky gently slipped the old record from its sleeve. He placed it with great care on the turntable of his old phonograph and wound the handle. As the record spun he lowered the needle and there he was. His voice, younger, higher, nestled in amongst the crackle of an old 78rpm phonogram.

Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me, or far
It's no matter darling where you are
I think of you

Night and Day.

Storybook | Game