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Sins of the Dead (Mage: The Awakening)

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Chapter 1: A Curious Email

Mordecai Rowen awoke to the sound of someone rapping on the other side of the door, the frequency of which was steadily increasing between pauses, and the groggy aftereffects of staying up well past the witching hours to research the Mysteries and test his hypotheses and theories through experimentation in his lab again; he was a Moros after all. The latest object of his mad obsessions was finding a way to combine translocation --that is to say teleportation, a skill of Space magic-- and transmutation --an art that Mordecai had near mastered as an Adept Moros, one skilled in Matter and Death magic-- into a useful manner. He was close to perfecting the spell, though there were complications.

The knocking on the door grew in pace and strength, jolting and annoying Mordecai awake in equal parts. He arose from his seated position --he had slumbered at his desk, face planted firmly on the pages of a grimoire he purchased from the local lorehouse-- and became aware of his surroundings, all the while scratching his slightly messy strawberry blonde hair. As he expected, his laboratory was in a state of utter disarray. Alchemical reagents were scattered about, many a grimoire and tome of arcane lore were piled haphazardly in corners and tables, some of them open, multiple of his more experimental technomagical tools were on the floor, and worst of all, his cheeky familiar, in the form of a black cat to mock him, sat upon a shelf, taunting him with its mere presence.

"Why hello there, dear master. I see you are finally awake." It said, its voice mocking.

"We share an empathic bond, you insincere Count. I know you're mocking me." Mordecai said in return, his voice laden with irritation and insomnia. "Who is it that's knocking at the door?"

"It's your servant, Allison, of course. Who else would degrade themselves by interacting with you in anyway, your master aside of course?" It replied, the sharp blade of friendly derision obvious in its tone.

"You are unbearable sometimes, and, for the record, she is not my servant- For the love of the Supernal, please stop knocking. Come in and tell me what you want." Mordecai commanded.

"Sorry, sir," a muffled voice said from the other side as soon as the knocking stopped and the door creaked open. "It's just this is very urgent and I wanted to get it to you immediately; you've received an email addressed to you from Master Ptolemaeus." Ptolemaeus was Mordecai's master and was equally, if not more, just as eccentric as Mordecai himself.

Into the room walked Allison, Mordecai's assistant, a laptop in hand. She had raven hair that she obviously kept cut short, for long hair would have been an occupational hazard; but her short hair did not mar her natural beauty at all. Allison had vivid light blue eyes and pillowly lips, both of which complimented her feminine facial features perfectly. She was slightly short, standing around 5'10. Zkesaer, the Count, constantly wondered why someone as beautiful was her constantly put up with someone as eccentric as Mordecai, something she didn’t know herself.

Taking his laptop from her hands, he got to work. Being slightly paranoid and schizophrenic, he not only had a password on his computer, he also had magical wards on it that operated like randomly-generated cryptograms, ones that had to be solved before he could even input his login information --a perk of having lots of free time on one's hands and using said time to perform Ars Nova.

Wasting no time, he began looking for patterns in the puzzles, performing the proper mental gymnastics to decipher Atlantean runes, and most importantly, balancing alchemical reactions, all towards the goal of solving his own overly complicated wards. Allison watched on with a certain satisfaction and intrigue; due to her status as a Proximus, a human with special powers, she was naturally drawn to the supernatural, particularly to displays of technomagic such as the one in front of her. In no time, Mordecai had decoded his wards and logged in to his laptop, to see a particularly alarming email on display.

It read as follows:

Dear Timaeus,

I hope this email finds you well. I am contacting you today to inform you of a particular case that might interest you and your Sleepwalker protégé greatly. As I'm sure you've heard, there has a spree of unusual killings thought to be the work of an insane killer. However, I suspect something supernatural is at work here, and I wish for you to investigate it. A Guardian should be dropping by your sanctum shortly after you receive this email and open it, I'm sure. He'll inform you more on the matter. Oh, and I expect a detailed report of this incident on my desk or in my inbox when you're done.

Best wishes, Ptolemaeus.

"Interesting..." Mordecai mumbled to himself while stroking his chin inquisitively.

"What is it, Timaeus?" Allison asked, drawn into a state of interest by Mordecai's chin stroking.

"I'll inform you in a moment, but as of now, another mage, a Guardian of the Veil, is coming over. Try to stay under his radar, the Guardians are sticklers about mortals witnessing magic, understand me?"

"Understood, sir."

"My, my, and you say she isn't your servant." sneered Zkesaer.

"For the umpteenth ti-" Mordecai tried to retort before experiencing a bout of synesthesia. Sound and feelings of touch transformed into bright, vivid colors for a moment. Alerted by the spell placed on his sanctum, Mordecai knew the mage was here already. Damn, Ptolemaeus is uncannily good at predicting the future for a Moros.

Quickly saying his obscenely long verbal phrase to activate the portal that connected his home to his lab, Mordecai watched on as the Guardian mentioned in the email stepped through the portal. He had a manila folder filled with documents and photographs. The Guardian was dressed rather casually, something Mordecai hadn't expected, wearing a black and white pinstriped jacket, black pants, and black tennis shoes to complete this casual look, though Mordecai thought he looked like he was going to rob a bank instead of capturing Scelesti mages and doing away with Abyssal horrors. The Guardian had wavy black hair, piercing brownish-crimson eyes, --a mutation acquired as the result of Paradox, no doubt- and a strong jawline that reminded Mordecai of Councilor Enoch. Then it hit him: this particular Guardian was Councilor Enoch's son, whose shadow name was well known as Lucifer. Lucifer glanced derisively at the disarray and chaos that was Mordecai's lab, at Allison, and lastly on Mordecai, who returned a nasty gaze of his own.

In an instant, Lucifer's expression and mood changed, and now he appeared more amiable and willing to work with someone he no doubt thought to be a "Libertine heretic". "Hello there. Judging from your expression, you know my Shadow Name, and I yours. I assume your master told you why I am here?"

Mordecai scoffed, causing a momentary change in Lucifer's mood. "No need for the formalities, as I had already been informed of your arrival and why you'd be coming. So if you're done putting on that mask, could you please get to the point."

Mordecai was wearing Lucifer's patience, and he knew it. However, they both knew that they were allies for the time being, and that it was Guardian doctrine to swallow one's pride to better take on the roles their job called of them. Lucifer's smile dropped and settled into a stoic, derisive scowl. "As you wish, Timaeus. Before we begin, are you sure it's proper to discuss this in front of a Proximus?" His tone was more calm and emotionless now.

"She in my student in the Mysteries and I respectfully ask for you to acknowledge that."

"Noted, but if she is drawn into this," Lucifer said as he pointed at Allison, his eyes still firmly on Mordecai. "Be mindful that it's your fault if she is injured or killed."

"Duly noted, now please inform me."

"With pleasure, Timaeus. For starters," Lucifer laid the manila folder down on an relatively empty spot on one of Mordecai's tables, allowing Mordecai free access to it. "We are unsure about the kind of supernatural the killer is. There's been conjecture that it's a mage or ochemata, but we would have sensed magical resonance of some kind. Spirits around the crime scenes said that the killer was a man possessed, so we assume a particularly powerful spirit crossed over and took a human vessel and is wreaking havoc. However, attempts to track this killer have proven...fruitless." Lucifer elaborated.

Lucifer stopped his explanation for a moment to allow Mordecai to take this all in. Mordecai was lost in deep thought, thinking of what this killer is and wanted, playing out the idea of it being a human possessed. If that was the case, a simple exorcism was in order. But was baffled him the most was why the Guardians and, by extension, the Consilium were handing this job to him.

"That's all fine, I can handle a spirit possessing a human body. A simple exorcism is in order, and then after that I'll repair the Gauntlet in the area."

"If you find the killer, that is. He/she/it/whatever is good at eluding capture and hiding themselves. Which I find to be very odd, given its trail of carnage. Speaking of that, its targets have mainly been mages thus far, though it has claimed the lives of several Sleepers, so be careful with this target. All of his murders have occurred during the night, typical of a murderer, though strange as night gives magi essentially a free pass magically."

"I see. I'll handle this case with extra care and try to keep the casualties to a minimum."

"Excellent," Lucifer said as he started to turn around, "but there is just one last thing. The Shamans in the Guardian's ranks that tried to tackle this case said the perpetrator's soul looked...strange, to say the least. Hopefully that will help you in your investigation. The Guardians and the Consilium thank you and you will be compensated for your trouble." He began to walk back through the portal before being stopped by Mordecai. Lucifer merely turned his head, his gaze meeting Mordecai's once more.

"Why, of all the Necromancers and Shamans, did you all choose me? Why delegate this matter to me when the Consilium and Guardians have the manpower to search the entire damned city?!" Mordecai asked, a serious look on his face.

A grin sporting only a hint of humor creeped onto Lucifer's face. "You're nothing special, if that's what you're expecting. The Consilium and Guardians are busy fighting greater demons and we don't have the time nor the men to deal with this little sordid affair. And before you even utter what you're thinking, no, I cannot reveal to you what. But if you ever need my help, contact the number that I just implanted into your mind. Ta ta for now."

And with that Lucifer walked through the portal, with him all hopes of Mordecai's question being answered: What was it that the Guardians and the Consilium were busy fighting? Whatever it was, it meant that he was essentially all on his own, minus his own personal contacts with other mages and supernaturals. Once again, he was in deep thought, contemplating how to go about this whole situation.

Allison walked over to try and confer with Mordecai, but Zkesaer advised her against it, as it was best to allow Mordecai to formulate a plan of action. After several minutes, he broke out of it, a gleam in his eye. He looked over at Allison and Zkesaer.

"Allison, grab my antipsychotics and the Ring of Illyrien. We have a job to do." Mordecai ordered.

"Ye-Yes, sir!"

Chapter 2: Tangle With An Eater of Sins

Mordecai, Allison, and Zkesaer walked into the Apocrathum lorehouse, located in downtown Allentown only 15 minutes away from their sanctum, a mission plan in their minds. They were here to purchase some lore regarding spirits, as Mordecai's extensive collection of lore on souls and spirits didn't have anything that matched what Matthias described earlier.

The lorehouse was buzzing with activity, Allentown was a mage hotspot after all, which made this killer all the more dangerous. Mordecai watched out of the corner of his eye as grimoires, lore, magical tools, etc. were sold, traded, and bargained for, all the while making his way to the back of the library. Allison walked behind Mordecai, who had Zkesaer on his shoulder; she felt the flutter of stares dance against her skin, and she knew why. She was a Proximus and the mages in this place were interested in her. She walked closer to Mordecai, but she was not the only one receiving aside glances and strange looks. Libertines, such as Mordecai himself, weren't very well liked by the other Pentacle Orders; however, this was a Free Council-owned lorehouse, so those who disliked his presence were in the majority.

Finally at the back of the lorehouse, where the library was, Mordecai and Allison began their search for the lore they required, while Zkesaer lazed around on bookshelves and teased them. Out of nowhere, they were approached by a very beautiful young woman who looked no younger than her early twenties. She had long flowing auburn hair, wild-looking yellowish-green eyes, and fair, creamy skin. She was dressed casually, wearing a lowcut grey tank top and a plaid skirt. There was a certain aura about her that Mordecai and Allison couldn't quite place, but it was exotic and enticing. In her hands was a certain book, and she looked as if handing it to them.

"Hello there, the name's Diana. My Shadow Name, that is. You must be Timaeus; Lucifer told me that you'd be coming sooner or later and to look out for a hipster doctor with strawberry blonde hair and a girl and cat trailing behind him," she said with a courteous smile and enchanting voice. There was no doubt about it in Mordecai's mind: Diana was an Acanthus, an Enchanter on the Path of Thistle.

"Why yes, I am Timaeus. I came here looking for more information on the killer that's on the loose. From Lucifer's intel, the killer is possessed by a spirit of some sort, though I can't tell which, as it doesn't fit any description....Anyway, I'm assuming that book has the information that I require in my search, yes?"

"Yes, it does. Consider it a gift to make up for Lucifer's rudeness, I know how he can be sometimes. Well, all the time, really," she said politely. "It's yours now. I used my pull as an employee to get it for free. It should contain all of the information you need for your case."

"Thanks, I appreciate it. I really do, let's go Zkesaer and A-" Mordecai replied before being interrupted by Diana establishing a mental connection.

"Take good care of that girl, understand? She has such great potential, I can sense it."

"I will. And thanks again."

"You're welcome, Timaeus. Goodbye."

Their business done in the lorehouse, they made their way back to their sanctum and began reading over the lore Diana had provided them. The book was titled "The Study of Sin Eaters: An Encyclopedia about Geists" and it looked pretty old, as some of the pages were yellowed and torn. According to the book, Geists were minor death gods from the Underworld who made deals with humans who died. In return for sharing their body and soul with the Geist, the human was granted life anew by the Geist as a "Sin Eater", though the alternate term "Bound" was also used. This information troubled Mordecai and Allison and intrigued Zkesaer.

"So we're dealing with a Bound, whose powers we know nothing about, as the book doesn't cover it. But I'm guessing they're like the Numina of spirits and ghosts, if Geists are a type of spirit that is. I wonder if I could..." Mordecai's voice trailed off.

"Whatever we do, we have to be careful. We have the Ring of Illyrien, which affects ghosts and spirits thanks to the magic of Arc Illyrien. That gives us an advantage over this Bound, doesn't it?" answered Allison.

I'm just saying, maybe this Bound-guy is a type of a undead-spirit thing, which makes it easier for us hurt him

"Are you insane? That's not how it works. An undead can't have a soul or be a spir-"

I agree with Dust on this one, Mordo

"No, shut up."

But-

"Shut. Up. Both of you."

You're rude, man. We're just tryin' to help

"SHUT UP, DAMN YOU!"

"Uh, did it happen again, sir?" Allison asked, concerned about the mental health of her teacher, but she knew quite a about Mordecai's schizophrenic fits and the tell-tale signs he was hallucinating again, mainly he was talking to himself.

Mordecai shook his head and centered himself, doing his best to drive away the voices --voices that gave themselves the names of Dust and Alan--- that plagued his mind. He looked over at the clock. It was a quarter past 6. They weren't going to get much done, given that the killer only struck at night.

".....Allison, go through the book again and see if we missed anything. Also, wake me up around a quarter to nine. Sleeping will help me clear my mind up."

"Yes, sir, I understand. I won't let you down."

--------

Mordecai was shaken awake by Allison at exactly 8:45, just as he had asked her to. Not wanting to waste time, he immediately got up and began asking her what she found about the possible powers a Bound possesses. She explained the concept of Keys, Stigmatas, and Manifestations to him, concepts she had found in an hidden page of the book they had somehow overlooked. Mordecai was pleased, as he finally knew something about his opponent.

"Allison, I know you want more field experience, but I want you to stay behind, okay? It's quite dangerous if what you discovered is accurate, alright?" Mordecai said in a caring tone, both of his hands on her shoulders.

Allison reached up and pulled him in for a short kiss and moved away. "Come back to me safe, okay?"

"O-Okay, I will. Let's go, Zkesaer." Mordecai beckoned to his familiar, grabbing the Ring of Illyiren and assorted technomagical tools and stuffed them in the larger-on-the-inside pockets on his lab coat. Quickly, he opened a portal to the general vicinity of the murders, intending to use himself as bait, but he wasn't going to tell Allison that. Once he stepped through that shimmering gateway, he and Zkesaer were gone, leaving Allison alone at the sanctum, under the protection of the sanctum's defenses.

It was a dark night, the moon stuck behind an impenetrable wall of clouds, though Mordecai could see perfectly clearly. A cold breeze flew through the air, chilling everything in the area. A rainstorm was bound to happen at any moment. Mordecai and Zkesaer were in a dark alleyway, the same alleyway where most of the murders had occurred so far. There was an eerie resonance, one covered in blood and built upon death. This was the spot no doubt.

Mordecai and Zkesaer hid behind a corner, with Mordecai using what he had learned as a Celestial Master. Mordecai had a visual on the murderer. The murderer was tall and possessed a bulky, muscular frame, indicating that they were most likely a man. The stench and essence of death wafted off his body every second. The murderer was shaved bald, but Mordecai couldn't make out the rest of his features, as the murderer was turned around. Zkesaer nodded his head, confirming that the soul of this killer was strange indeed.

Mordecai had to do this quick. Incapacitate or, if the need arises, kill the Bound and this will be the end of this entire affair. He cast Entropic Guard and Unseen Shield on himself, just as a precaution if things went south quickly. Once he thought himself ready, he emerged from his hiding spot and made his move. Manipulating the sound of his own motions and the darkness around him, he made himself as undetectable as possible short of invisibility. When he felt he was close enough, he felt a bone-chilling cold and was swept up in bitter cold winds: he was in the Bound's Boneyard and the Bound knew.

He quickly crafted a gun and ammo out of shadows, firing shot after shot of darkness at the Bound that was rushing towards him, but the bullets didn't seem to be affecting his assailant, as the Bound was still drawing closer and closer to him. In an attempt to slow the Bound down, he conjured fire, which stopped his assailant in his tracks. "He's activating his Caul and Boneyard manifestations. I have to be careful and put him down quickly." Conjuring more fire, he watched in bewilderment and horror as it dissipated as quickly as it formed, eliciting laughter from the Bound in front of him.

"You mages are all the same, relying so much on your pathetic little magic," the gruff voice of the Bound called out. "Since I'm a nice guy, I'll put a name to the man who's about kill you: Adrian Crawford. You and your little mage buddies are going to pay for what you all did to me. Every. Single. One."

Out of the shadows stepped the man Mordecai saw from afar, now up close. He had a scar down the entire left half of his face that seemed to extend down to his torso, but Mordecai couldn't tell if the fully encompassed the left half of his body. Adrian's left eye was glazed over and his right was a dull hazel color. He had a strong jawline and a gritty aura about him. He was about twice Mordecai's size and had the strength, durability, and speed afforded to him by his Geist. Troublesome.

"What in the world are you blathering about?!" exclaimed Mordecai.

"The time for talk is over, you arrogant piece of shit." Adrian replied, charging at Mordecai once more.

Mordecai stood his ground, confident in his ability to fend off Adrian again. When Adrian was in striking distance, he cast Call Lightning, summoning lightning from the stormy sky above to strike down Adrian. The mighty bolts of celestial power stormed forth and hit their mark, causing Adrian to fall to his knees. The smell of charred flesh and clothing was carried on the winds. Adrian sat there, smoke wafting off of him. "I have to finish this now."

Mordecai stepped closer to Adrian, poised to deliver the final blow in the form of a quick lightning blast from his fingertips. To Mordecai's horror, he found himself sent flying through the air and, soon, into a hard brick wall. A sizeable crater was left at the point of his impact and his injured body fell onto the ground; his shields had failed to protect him from being grappled and that was his mistake: he was too overconfident. He was injured pretty badly; he felt blood trickle down his head, his arm was broken, and he was sure he was internally bleeding. In other words, not an advantageous position.

Mordecai picked up his battered, bruised, and bleeding body and stood up shakily. His breathing and heart rate were erratic and off the charts. He was coughing blood. And to add to his troubles, Adrian was slowly walking towards Mordecai, a sadistic smile on his face, humming as he drew near. Mordecai could only imagine how Adrian would mangle his body, but Mordecai had a last resort up his sleeve, quite literally, ready to use before it even got that far. To Mordecai's surprise and Adrian's anger, Adrian's entire body had become ensnared in a trap of metal and brick, preventing his movements.

"How in the wo- Zkesaer!" Mordecai exclaimed. For once in his life, Mordecai was actually happy to see Zkesaer. "Thanks for saving me.."

"Stop being so loud or you'll wake the dead and the werewolves. Now then, that ensnarement won't hold him for long, and you're unfit to fight anymore. In other words, we have to retreat."

"I...agree...completely. Let's..go." Mordecai managed to make out between grunts of pain.

A shimmering gateway opened up behind Mordecai and he limped his way through it, Zkesaer's agile feline body behind him. As the portal closed behind him, Adrian broke free and into a mad dash, pissed off at Zkesaer's little stunt. Using what little mana he had left, Mordecai focused it into a powerful telekinetic blast, sending Adrian flying, a payback for earlier. The portal closed behind Mordecai and Zkesaer, leaving Adrian alone.

"AARRGH!" Adrian cried out in a primal, all-consuming, animalistic rage that had overtaken him. He started smashing everything in general vicinity. "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU ALL ONE BY ONE, YOU COWARDLY MAGES! YOU HEAR ME?!"

--------

Mordecai sat perfectly still as Allison cleaned up his external wounds, while a healing spirit, bound to a fetish in the form of a walking cane, healed his other wounds. In no time, Mordecai was back to normal, as normal as he normally was anyways. Once he was, Allison slapped him on the cheek, leaving a large hand-shaped mark that stung, which inevitably healed.

"Look, I know it looked bad, but that's because I was alone." Mordecai tried to explain himself, but to no avail. Allison's once gentle, light blue eyes were alight with rage born of worry. Mordecai felt as if she was looking at his soul, and she was just a Proximus with an innate ability to converse with spirits.

"You had Zkesaer with you and you nearly got yourself killed! I told you to come back to me okay and you end up looking like a car hit you-" Allison exclaimed, her voice trailing.

"That is actually a very apt analogy for what actually occur-" Mordecai joked, but he stopped when he saw the look on Allison's face.

"Point is, you can't do this alone anymore. Call up that number Lucifer encoded into your mind and ask for their help."

"Ugh, Lucifer is most likely far too busy with whatever he and the Guardians are dealing with to help me. But that Diana girl and whoever else is part of his cabal might answer the call. Besides, I despise him and any potential help he has to offer."

"Mordecai," Allison's voice took it's usual gentle, compassionate tone once more, "I'm just worried about you. If Lucifer is trusted enough by Master Ptolemaeus, then isn't that enough for you? His judge of character is impeccable, you know that."

"Ugh, fine," Mordecai conceded defeat, "Let's give it a go then..."

Chapter 3: Labyrinth of Half-Truths

"I am under the suspicion that the Bound is a servant of the Seers of the Throne, another servant of the Exarchs, whether he knows it or not. It makes sense when you take a look at his modus operandi..." Matthias said, his voice trailing off.

"Not this again, Luci. For the last fuckin' time, not everything and one who kills mages work for the Exarchs." Xavier growled, his deep, gravelly voice travelling throughout the entire sanctum.

"I would beg to differ. And I thought I asked for you to stop calling me that." Mordecai said, his tone laced with annoyance.

"And what would you do if I didn't stop?" Xavier said mockingly.

"Challenge you to a Duel Arcane and make you." Mordecai replied, his voice filled with anger and determination.

"That's enough, you two. We have more important things to do, don't we, Matthias?" Elise interjected, hands on her hips.

They were all inside of an abandoned church, located on a Hallow in the inner city, that they had fixed up and turned into their own little sanctum. Despite their proximity to gang violence, just about every gangbanger and mobster were afraid of them because everyone thought they were a satanic cult, an image they actively cultivated so as to be left alone to their activities in private. Matthias --better known by his shadow name of Lucifer-- was the Loretender and Edgetender of their little cabal, Xavier, a Thrysus of the Adamantine Arrow whose Shadow Name was Virgil, was the Doorwarden, and Elise, whose Shadow Name was Diana, was the Hearthmaster and Scrounger.

Xavier had wavy dark brown hair that he kept short, wild, black eyes, a face that looked as if just screamed "killer". As expected of a member of the Perfected Adept, he had a body that could be said to border on perfection. He had little to no fat on his body, which was covered in images of power and Atlantean runes to better channel his mana and magic. He wore black biker gloves on his calloused hands, black combat pants with padding on the knees and matching black combat boots, lacking only but a shirt. He took a certain joy out of riling Matthias up, his most favorite method being referring to Matthias as "Luci".

"I suppose we do," Matthias said, standing up from his seat at their round table. "As you all know, I spied on Timaeus and his familiar using a scrying spell, bypassing his wards without alerting him, not more than five minutes ago. They engaged the Bound in combat and lost, leading to their retreat and Timaeus healing himself. Now they're contacting that number I gave to them, just as I suspected they would. Ryan Black has already been informed that he'll receive a call asking for his aid. If everything keeps going to plan, we'll find out soon enough why that Bound is angry at mages and then we'll take down the person manipulating him and him in one, swift movement. "

"Are you so sure about this plan? Sin Eaters are dangerous creatures and Timaeus nearly died from fighting this Adrian Crawford. I say we get directly involved if this keeps up." Elise protested.

"I'm gonna have to agree with Matt on this one, Elise. Though it sounds crazy as hell, there has to be someone behind all of this. Mages don't just attack Sleepers, who may or may not turn in a Bound. There has to be someone behind all of this, someone with a vendetta against mages. " Xavier interjected, messing around with his glaive while he spoke. "You know I don't trust this sociopath unless I feel he's on to something."

"I have Guardians and Arrows shadowing Timaeus and Ryan and whoever else decides to tag along with them. If things start going south again, they'll intervene and help Timaeus and Ryan to kill Adrian, if necessary."

"I hope you're right, Matthias."

--------

Mordecai, Allison, and Zkesaer sat in an internet coffee shop in the business district of Allentown; it was named "Atlantean Coffee" and its tagline was "Rediscover the long, lost secret of a good latte." It was run by a cabal of Thyrsus and Obrimos mages and their primary demographic were Awakened, however, they also catered to Sleepers. Their secret to success was that they infused a bit of tass into their coffee, thereby making mages come back for more and humans more than addicted; some Sleepers even Awakened, so the Consilium and Guardians turned a blind eye to the shop and its owners. A pretty ingenious tactic, once Mordecai thought about it, but he was here for a different reason: to meet a one Ryan Black here. Ryan Black was the Shadow Name of the mage who picked up the phone when Mordecai called that number given to him by Matthias, and he had told Mordecai to meet him here at this place.

Allison was on her laptop and drinking a decaf latte she had purchased, checking the web for more reports of Adrian, who the ALPD were calling the Allentown Slasher, on the free Wi-Fi provided by the magic of the Obrimos mages under the shop's employ. Once again, she was recieving some strange looks, on account of how her soul looked, but she ignored them and kept working. Mordecai was staring idly out of the window from his booth, watching the patrons of the shop walk in and out.

One in particular had caught his eye. He looked to be in his early twenties and a police officer, as he was wearing a black leather jacker with a white collar shirt underneath that was tucked into his black dress pants, and officer's cap, and the ALPD police badge on his chest. He had strange greenish-yellow eyes and rugged, masculine facial features, a strange officer indeed was shaped strangely, though Mordecai couldn't make out what legacy this officer was part of, but just everyone else in the shop seemed uneasy about his presence. He had brunette hair that he kept neatly combed neatly.

When he walked into the shop, everyone moved about uneasily, and Mordecai understood why: this stranger had a certain aura about him, one that reminded those privy to the workings of the supernatural of the Fae, the Good Folk of the Supernal Realm of Arcadia. He was an Acanthus, for sure, and quite possibly a member of the Daoine, the mystic vigilantes and hex assassins of the Fallen World; he fit the stereotypes for one, at least. The stranger walked over and sat down with Mordecai, Allison, and Zkesaer, prompting them all to look at him confusedly. The stranger stretched out his hand and said in a friendly voice, "The name's Ryan Black. You contacted me over the phone. Nice to make all of your acquaintances."

After shaking his hand and introducing themselves, Mordecai, Allison, and Zkesaer spent several minutes bringing Ryan up to speed about their situation, about Adrian, Sin-Eaters, the fight, all of it. Ryan simply sat their and took it all in stride, and once they were done, sat their for a few moments contemplating things for speaking again.

"It seems like we have our collective hands full, don't we?" Ryan said, laughing afterwards. "Now then, the precinct has been running us ragged trying to find out who this killer was and now I have a lead. Looks like Lucifer wasn't lying or telling half-truths after all, it seems. I'm willing to help you three on this case, but we have to try and keep this under the radar. The police department is looking for this Adrian fellow, and we don't want to get in their way. Meet me at the place where you fought Adrian and we'll pick this up there, alright?"

Mordecai, Allison, and Zkesaer nodded in agreement, a sentiment that Ryan copied. Ryan got up and left the cafe, and Mordecai, Allison, and Zkesaer followed suit, going back to their sanctum to formulate a plan of action while they waited for night.

--------

It was a bright night in the inner city, a full moon was out this night and it cast its luminescent light on the Fallen World. Adrian was in a house of God, a cathderal that no one really attended, maintained by a philanthropist turned archbishop, this beautiful and cold night, doing one of the few things that made sense anymore: praying to God and confessing his many sins to him. He was on his knees, head in his hands, before the archbishop. The entire room was dimly lit by the light of prayer candles that the archbishop had lit to add a mood of solemnity and somberness to confession.

"I just want this all to end! What have I done to deserve this, Brother Black!? What sin has driven Lucifer to torture me so!?" Adrian cried out, still distressed by his transformation and God's abandonment. Tears rolled down Adrian's cheeks as he poured his heart and soul, no longer just his as he shared his mind, body, and soul with the god of death within him, to this Brother Black.

"Calm down, my son," Brother Black said in a soothing tone of voice, crouching down and placing his hands on Adrian's shoulders. Adrian raised his head and looked Brother Black in his unnatural yellow eyes. "We all have our torments, some of them the work of our righteous God and others the work of Lucifer and his servants, but we must remain steadfast, my brother."

Brother Black stood up once more, while Adrian remained on his knees. Brother Black was a tall, lean man with long, messy snow white hair. He wore clothes expected of someone of his status, donning a black suit that denoted his status as a man of God. His presence just exuded divine authority and wisdom, wisdom that Adrian so badly desired to be bestowed unto him.

"Those heretic witches and wizards cursed me to look like this! Hair was white as God's blessed snow and eyes like that of a feline! Just as they are the source of my troubles, they are of yours. I watched, paralyzed with utter fear as they killed you and as they brought you back to life! We must eradicate their evil from the face of the Earth, it's our divine purpose, Adrian. It is a decree of our righteous, wrathful God! Our Heavenly Father, He will see justice done unto those who dare to harm his children!" Brother Black dictated, his voice booming and his movements grandiose, as if he was addressing a grand congregation of dogmatically loyal followers that heeded unto his every word. He was panting, exhausted by his long, impromptu sermon, and there was smile was upon his face, his gaze on Adrian who was moved by the preternatural charisma and passion of Brother Black's words. "And you, my brother, you now possess the power to do so! To carry out his divine, celestial justice on Earth is a privilege many grasp at, and you now have it! Go, end them all!"

Adrian stood up, his convictions once more assured. "Yes, sir, I will not fail you or God." he said, walking out of the cathedral and into the night, a grim look on his face, ready to do the work of his Heavenly Father.

After Adrian left, Brother Black cackled, overtaken by a divine madness and glee. Once he was done, he ran his hands through his pure, white hair. "Those mages will convert or be killed, so sayeth the Lord! So sayeth the Ministry of Paternoster!" he said, struck by a bout of mad cackling once more that echoed into the night and throughout time.

--------

Mordecai, Allison, and Ryan were out in the night, investigating the same spot where Mordecai and Zkesaer had fought Adrian and lost, sparking a retreat. Just thinking about it made Mordecai angry, but he had a spell prepared just in case he did die. Ryan was on his haunches, inspecting the scene with both his skills as a cop and a Daoine mage. Zkesaer was elsewhere, interrogating spirits in the Shadow about what they've seen and heard.

Since Ryan was an Acanthus and a Daoine, he had an advantage the others didn't in this scenario: he could rewatch all the murders and Mordeca's fight as if they were just happening in front of him, as well as see how everyone in the murders were all related to one another, according to the red strings of fate, and he had just noticed something strange. Breaking out of his trance, he turned to the others.

"Those mages who he killed weren't random." Ryan said in a serious tone of voice.

"You're kidding me, right? If they weren't random then-" Mordecai's voice trailed off.

"Someone's been feeding Adrian information about mages and their cabals," Ryan and Zkesaer said in unison.

Zkesaer was back, walking towards Mordecai and the others. "The spirits have been talking to me, and they've told me that Adrian has been visiting a certain place after his murders, but they couldn't seem to get any closer to the place or tell me anything about it." Zkesaer said.

"That proves it, he's being manipulated by some supernatural, and he doesn't even know it. " Allison added.

"We have to find this place that he's been visiting and we'll find the person manipulating Adrian, assuredly." Mordecai said.

"Then we have a plan. I'll do some searching around the city for it, while you and your crew handle Adrian. I'll let you know if I find anything." Ryan added.

"Alright, Allison, Zkesaer and I are going to stay out longer and try and find Adrian, but we won't confront him. We'll trail him." Mordecai said.

"Sounds like a deal." Ryan said, before driving off in his police cruiser.

"So it begins..." Mordecai said. "The end of this, finally."

Chapter 4: A Second Coming

Mordecai, Allison, and Zkesaer had decided to take their search into the heart of the inner city, a hotspot of criminal activity from drug-dealers to mafia, as they felt Adrian would hang around here, given his appearance and disposition. So far, they hadn't see a trace of Adrian yet, but they remained vigilant and careful, as they knew that this area was even more dangerous at night.

"I'm going off on my own to see if I can get some more answers from the spirits in this area. Try not to get yourselves killed, Timaeus and Allison. Last of all, be careful. This area is practically made of death.” Zkesaer said, a sliver of genuine concern in his voice, before dashing off into the Shadow, discarding his physical form.

Mordecai and Allison continued their trek in silence, knowing that it was in their best interest to not draw attention to themselves. To that end, Mordecai was controlling the darkness around them, using it to conceal both him and Allison as they walked, though he only stopped whenever they passed a streetlight. They had been searching for Adrian for hours now, exhausted and sure that morning was soon to come.

Paranoia and panic crept up from behind and gripped them, the feeling of another’s eyes on them the cause of this. But there was something else to it, a primal wrongness that Mordecai couldn’t describe properly, be they in words or concept. Mordecai and Allison turned around, now face-to-face with a….thing.

It was looked human, but it lacked a soul, something Mordecai found peculiar. “It doesn’t have a soul…Strange. What in the world could it be?…A homunculus maybe? Perhaps it’s hiding its soul from me, somehow…” Mordecai thought to himself, frantically looking for an explanation. Mordecai couldn’t make out any facial features or the like, not because of the dark, but because it wore a mask and black clothes that made its body look entirely uniform. Scanning it, he detected a gun in its pocket, an automatic red flag. He quickly and covertly cast Unseen Shield on both him and Allison, granting them both a protection from just about every form of danger, a privilege afforded to them by an invisible energy field around their body.

The creature opened its mouth and said, “Child of Atlantis, you are accused of heresy and blasphemy against the Heavenly Father, He Who Rules The Heavens and The Earth, and you are hereby sentenced to death,” –the creature pulled the gun, a pistol, out of its pocket and aimed it Mordecai- “but you have a chance of living. Repent and convert, ending your wicked ways, or die.”

“You soulless monstrosity, be you the servant of another supernatural or a hunter of the Mallaeus Maleficarum or Lucifuge, I don’t care. Give the name of your master or masters and I’ll be on my way.” Mordecai replied in an annoyed tone, his patience waning.

“You have chosen death. Begone, heretical little mage.”

The creature opened fire on both Mordecai and Allison, but the bullets landed harmlessly against their skin, a boon of Unseen Shield, but it wouldn’t last forever.

With that in mind, Mordecai jumped in front of Allison, who took a step back, and got to work. Magic was way more than thinking of an effect and it occurring. A Mage was taught about the higher realities of the Supernal and how to form and visualize effects in those higher realities and draw them downward into the Fallen World; however, Mordecai thought of it in a different way: drawing down the form of an event in the perfect, higher reality of the Supernal into the imperfect reflection of this higher reality, the Fallen World, akin to Plato’s Theory of Forms, and that’s what he doing.

He formed the Imago of the improvised spell he was about to peform, a hemisphere of space that caused whatever entered it to veer off course radically, a protective bubble that would surround them for a little while and shield them. “Divide by 5π, take the square root of both sides…” Mordecai thought to himself, solving algebraic equations to determine the size of the hemisphere. Once that was all done, he drew down the form he had constructed in the Supernal into the Fallen World.

Pain rushed through his body and every fiber of his being cried out in sheer agony. His spell had worked, yes, but it had also caused a Paradox, and rather than let a “true” Paradox occur, he drew the effects into his body, causing him great pain, but it was worth it. Blood dripped out of his ears and down the sides of his face.

The shooting stopped for a moment, followed by the sound of a cartridge hitting the ground with a thud. The creature pulled out another cartridge and put it into his gun, and thus, the shooting started back up again. The bubble was starting to diminish as well, an aftereffect of the Paradox, Mordecai was sure.

I have to take out his gun and quickly subdue him. And I know just how to..

He cast the rotes –spells proven to be functional time and time again- Rouse Spirit, awakening the spirit of the creature’s gun. He then cast Control Spirit, ordering the newly awoken spirit of the gun to jam. Though their protective bubble of spatial threads was gone, Mordecai had succeeded in disarming the creature. Mordecai expected the creature to be look confusedly at the gun, but instead, the creature pragmatically threw the now useless weapon down and charged at him, fists raised in the air.

Mordecai pulled out a gun of his own this time: a pistol he had enchanted with Matter and Space magic to always hit its target. Aiming directly for the creature’s legs, he fired. His bullets whizzed through the air and found their mark in creature’s kneecaps, causing it to fall backwards and scream out in pain.

“What the hell is wrong with you!?....Argh…You fucking psychopath!” the creature said in a genuine human voice.

A scream for help from a girl not too far caught Mordecai’s attention and made him lose focus on the creature in front of him. Turning to see where the scream came from, he saw that Allison was no longer behind him. Flying in a furious panic, he rushed away from the creature and into the nearby alleyway.

He found nothing in that alleyway, just an empty darkness and a lone dumpster. He ran back to the creature, only to find that it too had disappeared. He had been played by whoever Adrian’s mystery partner was, and he knew it. Lightning crackled and jumped between his fingertips before finding its mark on a nearby stop sign, breaking it in two. He pulled Zkesaer from across the Gauntlet and they both went back to the sanctum, wondering where and who took Allison.

--------

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, illuminated by the celestial rays of the Sun. Adrian was walking down the sidewalk, on his way to listen to Brother Black’s sermon, if he made it in time that is. God was just about the only thing left in his life that made any inkling of sense and filled him with a reason to keep on living. Adrian wanted to hear Brother Black’s charismatic and booming voice, to see his grand motions as he orated to the small crowd that attended. He needed to hear and see these things.

The familiar sight of police cars and yellow tape greeted his eye as he turned his head and saw several police cruisers surrounding an alleyway, a small crowd of people around them, opposite the sidewalk he was on. He did his best not to stare, wanting to not draw attention to himself. He just kept walking ahead, minding his own business. He did his best to walk straight, to not scream and lash out at everything and one around him while the Geist taunted, laughed, and whispered to him things he wished not to hear.

A brief, but powerful throbbing headache came over him, prompting him to grip his head, but he kept walking through the pain. Once it was over, the world around him had changed. The dead, some of them his victims, shambled and shuffled around, walking side-by-side with the living. In detail he wished he could unsee, he saw every bullet hole, cut, stab wound, bruise, scrape, etc. on their freshly dead, walking corpses. Wounds still oozed with blood and were sickeningly detailed. This was the price of resurrection, of letting a Geist stick its fangs into his soul: this was Deathsight. “I mustn’t scream, I mustn’t let the demon win. I mustn’t scream, I mustn’t let the demon win. I mustn’t scream, I mustn’t let the demon win.” Adrian chanted over and over to himself, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth, still walking forward. “I’m almost there, I can do this… I mustn’t scream, I mustn’t let the demon win.”

“Why do you close your eyes, my child? Does your demon torment you?” a familiar voice said, their voice soothing and laden with compassion.

Adrian opened his eyes to find the world was back to normal and that Brother Black was standing in front of him, a smile on his gentle face.

“Yeah, it was…” Adrian said weakly, still recovering from the trauma of seeing what he just seen.

“Then come on in. The sermon is over, but I’ve made refreshments. We can sit and talk.” Brother Black replied.

They walked into the old, Gothic-style cathedral, the twin doors shutting behind them. The inside of the cathedral was much less foreboding in day that at night, giving off an aura of comfort and peace of mind, something Adrian desperately needed.

They sat down at a little table in a back room of the cathedral. Little cakes and other desserts were laid on a porcelain plates and platters, two cups of tea not too far from them. Brother Black was enjoying the tea and partaking in the cakes that he had laid out, but Adrian was barely touching the food and drink, only a sip of tea here and bite of cake there.

“You’re worried about the girl, are you not?” Brother Black said out of seemingly nowhere, picking up on Adrian’s mental turmoil.

Adrian broke out his thoughts and said, “Yeah, what’s going to happen to her? She’s just a normal human, after all.” “Follow me.” Brother Black said simply, standing up from his seat and walking towards the door.

Adrian followed behind him and they walked down the long corridor to the room that Brother Black was keeping the girl in. Once inside, they looked upon her. She was pacing around the room before they stepped in. She was in perfect condition, only a few minor bruises and scrapes from when Adrian grabbed her but those would heal in time. Her room didn’t match up to Adrian’s expectation of a prison. It was well-furnished, a nice, comfy looking bed, a dresser, and even a television.

She looked at them both with fear and disgust in her eyes, but that didn’t faze either of them. She opened her mouth to say something, most likely an insult, but the face she made soon afterwards told them both that she had decided against it.

“Allison, how long are you going to keep this vow of silence? If you told us where your mage friend was, we’ll happily let you go. But if you wish to keep silent, you’ll stay here under my hospitality and no harm shall come to you.”

Allison had no intention of speaking to either of them, people she considered scum of the highest order. She was just biding her time, waiting for a chance to escape and tell Mordecai everything, but there was one complication: Brother Black was a mage.

She knew this and he knew that she knew, but Adrian didn’t. She wanted to say something, to yell it at the top of her lungs, but Brother Black was using his magic to control her and keep her silent, as well as read her thoughts. He knew that she wasn’t going to say anything useful to him, but he kept trying anyways, which surprised her. Adrian looked at Allison, who looked away.

“I’ll take your silence as an answer. If you ever need me, just yell. We’re right down the hall.” Brother Black said cordially.

He and Adrian left the room, locking the door behind them. Allison was left alone to her thoughts, which she had to carefully monitor as to not reveal anything to Brother Black.

Nice try, my child, but an ultimately fruitless effort. I see you’re learning how to better protect yourself from mental intruders. I applaud you for that, truly, I do. Though these games we play are fun, they will come to an end. I pity you, my dear. You got involved with mages and you’re paying the price, but if you were to join me and my Heavenly Father, you could have a place in his kingdom.

Under his heel, I’m sure.

Feisty today, aren’t we. No matter, I will make your stay here as comfortable as possible before your friends inevitably come to rescue you.

"How do you figure that? They don't even know where I am..."

I’m not an idiot, girl. You think I’d let myself fall as others have before me? I am not some cliched villain weaved from the tales of incompetence children call television. I am a Seer of the Throne, faithful servant of the Exarchs and inheritor of the Fallen World. They'll find you, eventually, and that is why I have a plan and you are instrumental to its completion. Now, if you cooperate this won't hurt you too much, my fair Allison...

--------

“You idiot, because of you she was captured! What if she becomes a Hollow One like that poor soul Mordecai was fighting before she was grabbed, huh?! A soulless husk under the control of whoever Adrian’s partner is!?” Elise screamed at Matthias, who took it all in stride, the same stoic look on his face.

“We fucked up, we admit that. But we have to remain calm.” Xavier interjected

“I had a feeling something like this would happen, so I managed to grab a sample of her hair.” Matthias said, holding out strands of black hair that used belong to Allison. “With these, I scry where she is, even if for a little while.”

“But what if she’s dead or worse?!” Elise asked.

“Then I’ll accept my punishment at the hands of the Consilium.” —Matthias saw the shook wash over Elise’ face— “I know what’s at stake here: the life of a young girl, the lives of many more mages, and a potential break of the Veil. If within my power, I’ll try and save her along with stopping Adrian and his accomplice. Now please stop screaming, I need concentration to scry.”

“You heartless...If you’re not going to warn Timaeus, I will.” Elise said, before grabbing her jacket and storming off.  

After Elise had stepped outside, Matthias looked over at Xavier, trying to discern whether or not he still agreed with Matthias. Xavier wore that same pissed off look that he always had, which told Matthias nothing. Not wanting to waste anymore time, he began to cast the scrying spell when he heard the sound of tires rolling up against gravel. Elise burst through the dark, running frantically towards Matthias.

“Who’s outside?” Xavier and Matthias asked in confused unison.

“This is the ALPD, come outside with your hands up!” a voice boomed from outside, obviously coming from a megaphone. Matthias formed an Imago, thinking of the ability to see through walls, and cast his improvised spell. Outside of the church, there was a multitude of cop cruisers, forming a sort of blockade around the entire premises. The SWAT team was also present, guns and riot shields ready for anything the cabal could throw at them. They were surrounded.

“What are we going to do?” Elise asked, looking over at Matthias.

“It’s simple: we retreat and warn Timaeus. If Adrian’s accomplice knows of our sanctum, then he might know the same about Timaeus’.” Matthias said calmly, hiding the anger in he felt.

“Then what are you waiting for? Open the damned portal and let’s get the hell out of here. We can’t take on the entire ALDP by ourselves.” Xavier added.

Matthias cast Portal, creating a spatial warp that linked his sanctum to Mordecai’s, bypassing his wards. A shimmering gateway appeared, and wasting no time, Matthias and the others walked through it, much to Mordecai and Zkesaer's surprise.

"How did you all bypass my wards!? Better question: why are you all here?" Mordecai asked, bewildered by their sudden teleportation into his lab.

"Not much time to explain. Short story: we believe that whoever kidnapped Allison also called the SWAT team and the entire ALPD on us. They might also do the same to you. I have a safe house downtown that no one knows about. We have to go now." Matthias quickly explained.

Mordecai had so many questions to ask, but the sound of cars pulling up and a battery ram trying to knock down his door made him think otherwise about asking them. Right now, he had to survive. Summoning a large duffle bag, he started ramming as much of his research and tools in it as he could, just in case Adrian's secret partner dropped by and decided to go through his things. He also cast Forensic Invisibility on everyone and thing, thereby making their trails code. Once he was done, Matthias and the others stepped through the new portal he had created, seconds before the SWAT team burst down the lab door.

--------

Brother Black sat in a dimly lit, secret room in the cathedral, one that Adrian nor Allison knew about. He sat at a long, rectangular table, a candelabra in the center, and with him sat two other mages. They were all in a pylon, the Seer equivalent of a cabal, and were discussing the day's events.

"All five targets managed to escape neutralization and capture." Esthriel said.

"It matters little really, Esthriel. We are now in full control of their sanctums, and that's all that matters. One of my spies within the police force will be here soon enough to bring me what evidence they could find. I'm sure that would be enough of a sympathetic connection to find where they're hiding." Brother Black replied.

"And then we destroy them, correct? We can't have those pests interfering in our work anymore." Azazel asked.

"Correct, Azazel. I'll send Adrian there to kill them all, along with a little help from our personal army of Hollow Ones. However, there's an issue with that plan of action...." Brother Black's voice trailed off.

"Ah, yes. No doubt their little Consilium will be called together and they'll go to inform the rest of their ilk. This will mean heightened magical security-"  Esthriel said

"Which makes it harder for us to make our move. That heretic of a Hierarch also poses problems, but he'll be dealt with later. Let us maintain our position of advantage for now and make no further moves until see how fate plays out. When all is said and done, the future of this city is ours to shape as we please." Brother Black said.

"I suppose this meeting is adjourned then," said Esthriel.

"May the Sleepers no longer be burdened by choice. And may his Second Coming be a glorious one." They all said in unison, and with that, they all deserted the room, ready to see how the fortune of tomorrow shined upon them. 

Chapter 5: New Threads of Fate

Mordecai, Matthias, Elise, Xavier, and Zkesaer were located in an underground bunker, the true location of which Matthias only knew. Although Elise and Xavier had worked with Matthias for several years now, they were surprised at how much the bunker gave them the impression of an actual military installation, if a mage had made one that is.

The bunker was powered by an off-the-grid generator that converted tass into electricity and vice versa stocked with a technomagic device that transmuted what was inserted into it into whatever form the operator desired, a supply of rocks and other inconsequential objects ready to be turned into whatever they needed --gifts from Free Council mages that owed him favors. There was an armory and training room, a varied assortment of mundane and magical weapons at their disposal, a meditation room, several spacious rooms --created with some spatial tweaking on Matthias’ part, no doubt--, and lastly, a command center stocked with military-grade tech that raised several eyebrows as to how Matthias acquired it. In the room where everyone was situated in, there was a granite table that was bolted down to the floor with four leather chairs around it.

Matthias was wearing the clothes of a paramilitary officer, opting for an all black outfit similar to Xavier’s usual mode of dress. He had a two holsters, one for his GLOCK 42 and another for his Desert Eagle. There was a pouch dedicated to storing his prized dagger on his right hip. He looked prepared to take on a small army, or at least that’s how everyone else saw him.

“We’ll stay here for the time being. Make yourselves at home while I-” Matthias started to say.

“Wait, how in the world did you build all of this? How did you acquire this tech?” Elise asked befuddled.

“You’ll find it better that you don’t ask where and how, just know that I did it in case of something this.” Matthias replied calmly.

“Okay…..”

Matthias started walking down the long corridor to the control room, preparing to contact his father, Councilor Enoch, and notify him of his whereabouts.

“Wait, we’re not done here!” Mordecai screamed, the tell-tale pangs of anger echoing throughout his voice.

Matthias turned around, halfway down the corridor, and said, “What is it? You’re preventing me from contacting the Consilium.”

“The Consilium can wait for all eternity for all I care. I am owed an explanation, one from all of you. How did you know that Allison was kidnapped?! Tell me now.”

An awkward silence fell over the bunker, which was permeated with palpable tensions and flared emotions. Matthias let out a sigh of annoyance and said, “I’ve been manipulating you, Allison, and your familiar.”

“So you knew...you knew that she would be kidnapped!? And you did nothing!?

“I’m not omniscient, Timaeus. I have suspicions, feelings, and hunches, just as you do; And I had a feeling that she would be kidnapped and you killed, so I had Guardians and Arrows alike shadow you two, but they were taken out by Adrian, who kidnapped Allison. I know that you’re angry but think logically about thi-” Matthias was saying before being thrown against a wall by a blast of solid darkness.

Xavier and Elise looked on, surprised at this occurrence. “Didn’t think the guy had it in him, but I’ll be damned. I’ll see how this plays out, but if it goes too far, I’ll step in and shut it down.” Xavier said in a telepathic conversation to Elise. Elise nodded her head and they both watched the chaos unfold.

Matthias picked himself up and dusted himself off with the nonchalance of a child who had just fallen while playing. His face didn’t look angry, but Mordecai knew that a silent, cold fury had been awoken within Matthias, who had set his sights directly on Mordecai. Matthias cracked his knuckles and his neck. Mordecai and Matthias’ eyes met, their wills colliding. “I hope you have another one of those in you, Timaeus, I sincerely do.”

Matthias cast Burst of Speed and charged at Mordecai, who had little time to react. Mordecai, reacting as fast as humanly possible, transmuted the ground beneath Matthias’ feet into ice, but Matthias countered by increasing the friction of the ice so that it was easier to run on. Matthias was drawing nearer, dagger in hand, and Mordecai needed a barricade.

Casting Plasticity, he mentally reduced the flexibility of the hard ground beneath them into wet clay and molded it into a large dome that covered and protected him. After that, he cast Alter Integrity, giving the concrete wall the hardness of steel times ten. “Finally, some time to think.” Mordecai thought to himself.

Is that so?” Matthias said over a telepathic link, his voice echoing throughout Mordecai’s mind. “Let’s see how you deal with attacks on two fronts, Timaeus.” Matthias cast Multi-Tasking, allowing him to carry out multiple thought processes without trouble, which now meant he could cast spells and torment Mordecai mentally at the same time.

Mordecai panicked, but he did his best not to think about it. He had to push Matthias out if he was going to win. The sound of lightning and flame crashing against hardened concrete broke Mordecai’s concentration further. Mordecai panicked even more, but he tried to center himself. “I can do this. I can’t let him win.

You don’t have much of a choice in the matter. You decided to attack me and now you pay the price.

At that moment, Mordecai became the sufferer of a throbbing migraine, breaking his concentration even more. He screamed out in pain, but the only one who could hear him was Matthias, who also felt it. His vision was waning, but Mordecai could see light slipping through cracks: Matthias was breaking through. Mordecai’s train of thought was further derailed by visions and sights of horrors he wished not to see, he felt worms made of darkness crawl against his skin and eat him, he saw unimaginable horrors from beyond human consciousness and much worse. The light was becoming brighter: Matthias was about to break through and kill him.

The sound of a cane hitting the floor echoed throughout the bunker. The lighting and flame stopped. The images and visions that taunted and tormented Mordecai disappeared, as did Mordecai’s dome of concrete. In the center of the room stood a figure everyone present knew all too well: Councilor Enoch.

Councilor Enoch was an old man, though he looked as if he was still in his prime, despite the streak of white down the middle of his hair and the wrinkles. He possessed a tall and imposing, muscular frame, gained from extensive and excessive combat training with the younger Guardians. He had the same wavy, black hair as Matthias did, though it was kept more neatly than Matthias’. Enoch had hazel eyes, a fact that confused Mordecai, but he reasoned that Matthias’ eyes were the cause of a Paradox mutation. Councilor Enoch wore a a black Armani suit and enchanted ring. His cane was made of thaumium, a highly-prized arcane metal composed of orichalcum, lunargent, and hermium. He gazed sternly at Matthias, who feared and respected his father’s presence.

“Is this how you treat your brothers in arms, Adept Lucifer? You used to be the ideal Guardian, guarding the Mysteries from the unenlightened with the fervor of a fanatic and the tact of a sage, but now, I am not so certain.” -he walked towards Matthias and Mordecai- “And you,” he said, pointing to Mordecai, “is this any way for a scholar to react? Emotions are a blade to be used, so don’t point them in the wrong direction, at the wrong person. Matthias meant well, so be angry at the one responsible.”

Councilor Enoch’s wisdom was not lost on the either of them, as they stood there, dumbstruck by his sagely advice and how idiotic their actions had been. They both had succumbed to the violent passions and throes of rage, and they were both to blame. Satisfied that they had learned their lesson, Enoch addressed them all.

“All of you, come with me. You have much to inform me and the Consilium of, I’m sure.” Councilor Enoch said, opening a portal with ease behind him. “How did you find us?” Mordecai asked weakly, still a bit shaken by his brief skirmish with Matthias.

“Like calls to like, the most simple principle of sympathetic magic, my boy. Now, we must be going.” Councilor Enoch replied simply.

They all stepped through the portal and prepared for a private meeting with the Councilors of the Consilium.

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It was a warm, windy Sunday afternoon in Allentown, and Adrian was on his way to see Brother Black for the second time that day. He was anxious, or that's what he told himself, to go out and end those pesky mages once and for all, but he wanted Brother Black's opinion on the matter.

As he neared the cathedral, he saw something he hadn’t seen before: other clergymen, well-dressed he might add, leaving the building. It wasn’t all that strange, it was just a new occurrence for Adrian to see priests other than Brother Black in that old cathedral of his. He watched with a certain fascination as they drove off before heading inside.

Pushing apart the double doors, Adrian stepped in and found Brother Black sitting at a little wooden table near the altar, drinking tea. Once Adrian walked in, Brother Black greeted him and invited him to drink tea.

“How are you, Brother?”

“I’m just fine, Adrian, but enough about me. You’re here because something is on your mind. You want to go out again and fulfill your holy mission.” Brother Black said knowingly, sipping on his tea.

“Ho-How did you know?” Adrian asked in his usual deep, gravelly voice.

“Ah, God has given two blessings unto me, Adrian.” -Brother Black stood up and walked towards the altar, his back turned. The fires of the candles seem to blaze brighter as he passed them.- “God has answered my prayers. He has given unto me the gift of prophecy and the power to know the hearts of mortal men. We mustn’t continue our crusade yet, my son. We must wait, as Satan’s servants are consolidating his forces as we speak and they try in vain to twist God’s divine plan to their own doing.”

Adrian got up from his seat and took a knee before Brother Black, entirely loyal to him. “If that is God’s plan, then I will stay my hand.”

“Very good. Speaking of Satan’s servants, the ones that have been meddling in our work were the targets of the SWAT team, but alas, they used their unholy power to escape, though they will be found in due time. The eyes of God are everywhere, my boy.”

“I understand, sir." Adrian agreed with Brother Black, but something was eating away at him. Had the girl touched him in a way that he didn't understand? "Um...about the girl...”

“She is doing well, sleeping in her chamber as we speak. She refuses to see the error of her ways, but I refuse to give up on here. I will save her, mark my words.” Brother Black vowed, the conviction in his voice noticeable.

“So what do we do now? If we are unable to kill God’s enemies, what can we do to hinder them!? My lord, tell me!”

“In my possession is a crown of thorns, the very same one worn by our Lord. When the time comes, I will crown their leader with it, sapping him of his power. Downtrodden, they will admit defeat, as their leader has lost all of his power. And then we’ll purge this city of the heretics, lest they convert and use their power for God.”

“It’s just that...I want to be a weapon wielded by God. Sitting idle just doesn’t feel right to me.” Adrian said unsurely.

“Even the greatest weapons must rest sometimes, Adrian.”

“I suppose so.”

“Now come along, we have preparations to make. God has shown me the strings of fate, and I intend to use them to enact his divine will on Earth.” Brother Black proclaimed, his voice taking on a booming quality once more. The room felt as it was shaking. Every candle Brother Black passed by grew brighter, every banner flowed as if being blown by a powerful gust of wind. Adrian was stupefied. "This is the power of God. I will follow this man until death's cold embrace takes once more."

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Consilium meetings were always a spectacle to behold, in every sense of the phrase. Most, if not all, of the mages attended Consilium meetings, convening at the chosen location --which changed with every meeting as to not draw suspicion--  and discoursing and deciding on very important political matters involving mage society, or insignificant quibbles between mages, you could never tell. But this time, it was just Mordecai, Matthias, Elise, Xavier, and Zkesaer and the Councilors in a Civil War-era courthouse they acquired as a meeting spot because the Hierarch and the Mayor of Allentown were friends.

The Councilors and the Hierarch sat on veritable thrones of marble and orichalcum, the Hierarch in the middle, and each was inscribed with the Atlantean runes denoting their Path and Order. In order from left to right: Matthias' father, Councilman Enoch, an Obrimos, a Theurgist of the Guardians of the Veil; Councilman Vale, an Acanthus, an Enchanter of the Mysterium; Councilwoman Galatea, a Thyrsus, a Shaman of the Free Council; Councilwoman Marianne, a Mastigos, Warlock of the Silver Ladder; and lastly the Moros councilor, Dathan, Necromancer of the Adamantine Arrow. Each of them were more powerful and experienced than everyone in the room could ever hope to be or imagine.

In the middle sat Hierarch Cyran, undeniably the most powerful mage in the room. Everyone knew him only by his Shadow Name, as he was a very secretive, reserved person. He was an old, kindly Moros, though stern and wise when the occassion arose. He along with the rest of the Councilors was dressed formally, as he and they were very important figures in mage society and appearances were crucial. He had blue eyes and silver hair bestowed to him by age. His face was littered with wrinkles, accentuating his look of power and wisdom.

"Councilor Enoch, you and this group of Adepts have called the Councilors of the Consilium together. What purpose have you?" Hierarch Cyran said, standing up and pacing the area where he and the Councilors sat.

"We have called this Consilium meeting to voice matters of grave concern. As you know, there have been attacks on mages perpetrated by a Sin-Eater as of late. They have come forward to me, and I to you, to present what they have learned."

And thus began the longest half hour of everyone's lives. They tried, in vain, to explain their situation to the Hierarch. Matthias kept going off about how Adrian's partner was a Seer of the Throne, while Elise and everyone else tried to rebuke him, saying that they didn't have enough evidence in the to support that line of reasoning.

-------

Unlike his fellow officers, who were on the lookout for his associates --Matthias, Elise, Xavier, and Mordecai--- , Ryan Black was out in the field doing work to clear their names. During his search for the location that Adrian had been frequenting to gain information on other mages, he found the place: an old cathedral in the inner city. He was going to tell Mordecai and the others, but he was too late.

However, there was something very odd about the Scale of Wyrd and the threads connecting Adrian to that place: they were next to nonexistent. The only supernaturals that he knew that could tamper with the sympathetic connections that a being has to a place was mages, which had lead him to suspect whoever owned that cathedral was a mage.

With that in mind, he had did some background checks on the guy who owned it, Isaiah Rivers, and next to nothing came up; no birth certificate, no school report cards, nothing. This led him to his next conclusion that Isaiah must be a Seer of the Throne, most likely of the Ministry of Paternoster, and where you have one Seer, there are many more hiding in wait, but Isaiah had been the most active so far, unless he had help which was always a possibility.

While driving madly, grasping at the threads of the Scale of Wyrd, the vast and myriad tapestry of tanged strands of fate, and using them to divine where he was supposed to be even driving to, he wondered about something. “Why? Why make such big moves and draw attention to yourself in that way……Oh God.” Isaiah was challenging the authority of another Seer, one who already had considerable control of the city, it seemed, but who? Ryan rather not thought about that and instead kept on driving, as he needed to inform the Consilium of all this.

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Through the uncanny luck bestowed upon himself via his Fate magic, he had made it to the Consilium just in time, and he was surprised as ever. Mordecai and the others were alive, and it filled him with a certain joy to know that his associates and friends were safe, however short-lived that life may be.

“You all made it out alive? I should have never doubted you guys.” Ryan said, a burden lifted off of his shoulders.

The Councilors were outraged by this intrusion, and out of nowhere, the Sentinels had him restrained. Councilor Enoch was the only one willing to vouch for Ryan, as he could just feel he had something important to say.

“I apologize profusely for this interruption, Hierarch Cyran, but please, let him speak. I feel it will help drive our discussion into a new light.”

Hierarch Cyran raised an inquisitive brow, but ultimately capitulated to the demands of Enoch, as Cyran trusted Enoch’s judgment. “Release him and let him speak.”

The Sentinels released Ryan, an act of generosity that Ryan was about to pay back. “Thank you, Hierarch Cyran, your wisdom is boundless.”

“We have no time for flattery, my boy. This is a very serious matter at hand. Your associates here are accusing the latest attacks by that Sin-Eater serial killer on the manipulations of a Seer of the Throne. I find their claims preposterous, as they have yet to provide evidence or even a motive.” Hierarch Cyran said curtly and succinctly.

“Isaiah Rivers, Hierarch Cyran.” Ryan said simply.

“I beg your pardon? Who is he?” Hierarch Cyran asked, caught off guard by Ryan’s reply. There was murmuring amongst the Councilors and even Hierarch Cyran looked intrigued.

“The Seer of the Throne in question, most likely of the Ministry of Paternoster. His sanctum is located in the inner city, an old cathedral that he bought from the city, though there’s no record of any sort of monetary exchange between him and the city of Allentown ever. I did a background check on the guy, and next to nil appeared about the name Isaiah Rivers, a supposed philanthropist turned archbishop. It’s a fake name, but comparing his actions in this city with what friends in other cities have experienced, his Shadow name is Brother Black. ” Ryan elaborated.

“Impressive, Adept Ryan Black. But what is his motive?” Hierarch Cyran questioned.

“Simple, the same in every city that he’s been too so far: establish the Ministry of Paternoster as the dominant Seer Ministry in that city and, by extent, crush the Consilium governing mage society in that area, thereby splintering their efforts and making them easier to rule. His modus operandi is creating Sin-Eaters and setting them loose on mage society, using the chaos that ensues to his benefit.” Ryan explained.

At that moment, everything made sense to Mordecai and the others. And now they knew their new goal: kill Brother Black, or at the very least, foil his plans. They could not allow him control of the city, of Allentown, one of the biggest mage hotspots in America. The power and reputation that would afford him would be off the charts.

“Thank you, Adept Ryan Black. Your input has been very...illuminating in this little matter of ours. Now, if all of what you said is true, we must stop him at all costs, but if today’s little display was indicative of anything, it’s that he has control over the non-mage portion of the ALPD, which makes large-scale assaults on his sanctum problematic.” Hierarch Cyran replied.

“He is also holding my Proximus student hostage, Hierarch Cyran. I’m not sure of her current status.”

“Even more troublesome. Whatever the case, the resources of the Consilium are at your dispos-”

A hail of bullets flew through the windows of the courthouse, breaking glass, which went everywhere, and causing everyone inside to take shelter behind pews and whatever else they could find, casting various magical shields on themselves as well.

“This is the ALPD SWAT team. You are all under arrest for charges of attempted terrorism, treason against the United States of America,” -the voice over the megaphone changed drastically, resembling Brother Black’s very own- “and heresy of the highest order. Did you really think I wouldn’t know about your little Consilium meeting? Surrender Hierarch Cyran and I will spare the rest of you.” The voice over the megaphone said.

--------

Allison sat in the room provided to her by Brother Black, worried. She had to tell the others what he had planned for them before it was too late. But she was stuck in this room, the only way being the door Brother Black kept locked, along with sort of enchantment she thought. To her surprise, Brother’s Black constant presence in her mind was fading gradually until it was all gone. She was now free to try and escape him and Adrian, but her only problem was how.

She got up and looked around the brightly lit room. Above her were prismatic, bright spheres of tass, crystallized mana. Her room was actually cleaner than it was before she went to sleep, which sent shivers of fear and paranoia down her spine: Brother Black had been in the room while was sleeping. More grossed out than she needed to be, she dropped the thought and ran over to the door.

She turned the knob, only to find it locked. “Damn it. There aren’t any windows in this place and nothing in here is hard enough to break the door down.” She thought to herself. What would be the ticket to her escape? This was a question she couldn’t answer herself. She slumped downward into a corner and sat there, sulking. Little did she know that her friends were also worried about her. All seemed lost to young Allison, who was on the verge of giving up.

Wait, I’m the intern for a mage. Studying with and learning from Mordecai has had to have paid off. Somehow...think...think” Allison reassured herself, and then it hit her. “Mordecai said I had the ability to see and interact with spirits….and the only way to do that is that they have to be in a state of Twilight and the same of me. Am I sending a part of my consciousness through the Gauntlet to do this….or am I entering a partial state of Twilight, half-solid and half-immaterial…?” She wondered. “If either are true, I can get a message across to Mordecai or Zkesaer, or better yet, go to them. I’ve never really tested out my powers before, but there’s always a first time for everything” It was true, she had never truly tried to reign her power under control, as she had always let it run amok and generally cause her troubles, but not now. She was going to be the master of her own powers, not the other way around.

She centered herself, slowing down her breathing and heart rate to calmer paces. She closed her eyes and visualized, as a mage would, what she wanted to happen. She imagined her body being enveloped by the Shadow, symbolized by darkness in her mind, and then the Gauntlet, an impenetrable wall, being cut open a little to allow her access to the Realms Material.

Her body felt lighter and her surroundings looked different to her. She was still in the room, but now she saw the spirits she normally ignored in greater detail, as they were now on the same plane of existence. She had succeeded and she had to warn Mordecai and the others of Brother Black’s intent, or at the very least, show them that she was okay. She ran through the wall, finding herself to float several feet in the air.

This is going to take some getting used to, but that doesn’t matter. Now, last time I saw them that SWAT team is after them. If they’re still alive, the SWAT team would be after them, so wherever the SWAT team is, Mordecai and the others might be there.

She felt two very powerful presences throughout the Realms Material, feeling inexplicably drawn to it. Though it was just a hunch, she thought it to be Mordecai and the others, making her way towards the source of the presences.

Chapter 6: Turbulent Future On The Horizon (Incomplete)

Though they were some of the most powerful mages in the room, all of the Councilors and the Hierarch still shared the weakness of their less powerful comrades: the potential for Paradox. They knew they were dealing with Sleepers, so their spells had to be covert or risk Paradox. Everyone took cover behind a pew or some other form of cover against the bullets. 

Mordecai and Elise were in the middle row of pews; Matthias and Xavier were in the back, closer to the Councilors and Hierarch. The Councilors stood their ground, ready to risk Paradox if it meant that they survived to see another day. Ryan Black was closest to the doors, unfazed by all of this commotion.

"You have five minutes to surrender Hierarch Cyran to my forces or I'll be forced to use these Sleepers to end your lives, and though I find murder tasteless, I am not above it. Please think over your decision." Brother Black said, speaking through the SWAT team's commander.

They had to do something, and quickly. Teleporting out of there would be cowardly, perhaps proving Brother Black's preconceptions about the Pentacle Orders. What were they to do, surrounded as they were by Sleepers with such weaponry under the thrall of a Seer?

"Adept Lucifer, I have a special task for you. You are to retrieve an artifact that will aid in our defeat of this Isaiah Rivers. Take this and go." Hierarch Cyran said.

A piece of paper with coordiantes of longitude and latitude, surrounded as they were by Atlantean runes and symbols of power, appeared in his hands. Matthias got up and looked at Hierarch Cyran. "I won't fail you, Hierarch Cyran," he said. And just like that, he had teleported away, going to a location that he had a sympathetic connection with and was closest to the coordinates.

Hierarch Cyran turned to the others and said, "The rest of you, you are to eradicate this police force," his voice stern and serious now.

"But sir, these are Sleepers. It would be uneth-" Dolan objected.

"No, they are without a soul and, ultimately, "self," just puppets for the will of this mad Brother Black. They are Hollow Ones, all of them." Councilor Dathan spoke up, his voice similary stern and serious. "Now, please, put those soulless abominations out of their misery. I beg of you, on their behalf."

With the thought that they'd no longer suffer Paradox inside of their minds --doubly so, as they were on the outskirts of town, far away from prying eyes--, they went to work. Ryan stepped outside, before the force of heavily armed Hollow Ones. Their commander looked at Ryan, lowered the megaphone and called out to him.

"Have you all made your decision or are you here to try something reckless?" Brother Black asked through the commander.

Ryan cast Fortune's Protection on himself, granting him incredible luck, and yanked on the skeins of fate, the ones involving their guns, metaphysically altering their luck. Should they open fire, there was a very big chance that their guns would misfire and explode in their hands.

"Why, yes. We" --Ryan pulled his gun out of his holster, aiming it at the commander-- "respectfully decline your offer," he said, shooting the commander in the head. The commander fell to the ground, blood leaking from the headshot wound.

"You have all chosen death," the entire SWAT team said in eerie unison, opening fire on Ryan. Some of their guns misfired and exploded in their hands, as expected, but this did not deter them. Bullets whizzed and weaved past Ryan, barely missing him. One managed a lucky shot and it surpassed Ryan's own luck. A wave of solid darkness rushed out in front of Ryan, shielding him from the bullet and subsequent ones after that. Ryan turned to find Mordecai by his side, his white lab coat fluttering in the wind.

"Thanks for that, I would have been dead if it weren't for you..."

"You're welcome," Mordecai said curtly, "but I have a favor to ask in return."

"Anything for the man who saved my life." Ryan said, confident in his words.

A bullet had pierced his shield of shadows, but dropped in mid-air, rusted and leeched of its kinetic energy as soon as it zoomed any closer to Mordecai. Mordecai cast the same improvised spell from his first encounter with a Hollow One, a bubble of distorted space, this time larger, surrounded the entrance of the courthouse. Mordecai dropped the shield of shadows and turned to Xavier and Elise.

"Diana, er-"

"Virgil." Xavier said simply while pulling a large, enchanted glaive out of a small pouch and charging it with mana.

"Virgil, right. I need you, Virgil, to help me cast this spell to take them all out in one swoop." Mordecai explained.

"Sounds fun, although I was hoping to stab something. For a later date, I guess." Xavier replied.

"Diana and Ryan, I need you two to draw their fire. Take out some if you feel like, but draw their fire. Understood?"

"Understood, Timaeus." Elise said.

"Clear as crystal, bud." Ryan agreed.

"Good, now let's make their deaths glorious ones." Mordecai said.

Ryan and Elise ran back outside to perform their jobs, casting Fate and Time magic to avoid shots from the SWAT time, a stray bullet here and there making it past Mordecai's spatial defenses and their subtle twists of fate. Mordecai and Xavier stayed in the courthouse, making preparations for whatever Mordecai had in mind.

"So what's the plan, boss? How are we going to take them out?" Xavier inquired.

"Simple, we cause it to rain heavily for a while and when Ryan and Diana are back inside, I transmute it to nitroglycerin and then we both set it alight, causing a massive explosion that will kill them all. Of course, me and you will have to contain the explosion, but it'll be fine." Mordecai elaborated.

"I like the way you think kid, let's do it." Xavier said.

Xavier rushed outside and quickly informed Ryan and Diana of the plan, while Mordecai cast Change Weather. Dark storm clouds pooled over the courthouse and surrounding area, spewing forth heavy rain, but this did not deter the SWAT team, who were reloading and firing on Ryan and Diana continually. They both cast Change Weather again, making it a sunny day again. Xavier and Mordecai ordered Ryan and Diana to retreat and Mordecai and Xavier took their places.

Mordecai cast Transmute Water, transforming the water on their assailants into nitroglycerin through sheer force of will. Xavier and Mordecai looked at one another, and with the wave of the hand, two fireballs fired from their hands transformed in a rising conflagration of flame and smoke and dirt and dust. The vans and cars the SWAT team had arrived in exploded as well, sending charred husks of cars flying through the air. Once everything had died down, Xavier and Mordecai extinguished the flames with Forces magic.

The affair over, they all turned around to face the the Councilors and Hierarch.

"Impressive display of teamwork, wit, and determination. You will all be rewarded, but not now. We have a war to wage." Hierarch Cyran said.

The Councilors all clapped and nodded their heads, as they found the Hierarch's judgment to match reality, as it usually did. Hierarch Cyran turned to Councilor Enoch and said, "Ready the Guardians, as we might need to wipe the memories of Sleepers once this affair is over," and turned to Councilor Dathan and said, "Prepare the Arrows for battle. This is war."

Enoch and Dathan nodded in agreement and the Consilium meeting was at an end; war was about to begin.

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