… since its last, true Golden Age.
The visitor cast away the nostalgia with an annoyed grunt. Despite the perfection of this artificial island, it had its faults: pollution, crime, noise, and excesses of all sorts were not the least of them. The most bothersome was the fact that the sky seemed to always be covered in a haze of cloud cover with frequent rain, fog, or other precipitation.
He shifted under his heavy waterproof cloak and adjusted the hood over his head with one hand. In most places, he noted, his concealing cloak and long coat attire would get him strange looks in most places this time of year. Not so in Angelus, with the countless styles and cultures blending and clashing together commingled with the nearly constant threat of some manner of wet weather. Here the visitor’s attire was perceived as somewhat normal, a little outlandish at the very worst, but perfectly within reason considering the season.
The visitor found himself patrolling the grounds of XSWAT Headquarters, taking the time to admire the architecture and the devilishly clever designs of the building and its immediate area. He could see, no feel, the purpose of the tri-tower design of the building itself. The borders and layout of the surrounding grounds creating a perfect circle only confirmed his thoughts and feelings—even if those around him had no idea.
He looked up towards to top of the sloping towers, positioning one hand to make sure the sun stayed out of his eyes and on his head. An action born more out of habit than necessity he reflected but a moment later. The visitor pulled a pocket watch from within the confines of his coat and checked the time. In the day and age of advanced computers, fusion power plants, and advanced digital networking, a pocket watch was a strange archaic device. But one that suited him perfectly. “Most perturbitory… ,” he murmured to himself as he closed the watch with a metallic snap and leaned upon the only other artifact of note he carried on his person: an ivory-gray walking staff.
The disturbance caused the man to snap out of his reverie and look for its source out of sheer reflex. Looking down he found a cat. More specifically, a Maine Coon. The visitor cocked his head just slightly as the animal looked first to his boots and then back up to him, bobbing its head expectantly. “Why, hello there little one. And what are you doing out here all on your own?”
“Trrrl.” The cat spoke again, looking once more at the man’s feet and then up to him with that same expectant stare, but with a hint of annoyed impatience upon its face.
Not exactly sure what to expect, the visitor took two steps back. His space was immediately occupied by the feline who with practiced grace flopped on the ground and began giving himself a sun bath.
“That was quite anomalous… ” The stranger murmured to himself as he watched the cat. He knew that most cats were creatures of habit, but this was taking it a little to the extreme. He withdrew his pocket watch again and checked the time. “Perhaps the spring needs to be recalibrated… ” He regarded the cat once again, who was now rolling on his back in the short, well-manicured grass. “… unless. No. That is preposterous.” He muttered ruefully. “She is either late or I was mistaken.”
The cat sat up, glanced at the stranger with an expression that seemed to say ‘you never saw me’ and then dashed off across the lawn towards the voice’s owner.
“Corporal Cadbury! Where have you been? You keep this up and I’m not taking you on any more picnics!”
The stranger watched the cat leave with a slightly raised brow. An intriguing animal, quite unlike any other feline… His silent musings were cut short as he observed the Director of XSWAT walking towards him, a large bag slung over one shoulder while a second dangled from one hand. The cat, ‘Cadbury’ apparently, trailed close behind, nosing at the bag.
It was then that everything came together for the stranger. “Right on time… ” He murmured to himself as he closed the pocket watch and tucked it away. At least well within reason. After all, measuring the nuances of Time is indeed more of an art than science.
“Ahh, Director Renuka.” He began with a calm, neutral accentless tone. “I have been expecting you. You needn’t worry about your wayward familiar.” He gestured casually with his staff at Cadbury, who sat down and promptly ignored him. “He was just chasing butterflies and sunbeams. In the meantime, I was wondering if you could indulge me with some of your time. There are… matters that need to be discussed.”
There was a pause then, and a neutral half-chuckle. “My apologies. I am getting ahead of myself. You can call me Nicodemus. I was a close, personal friend to Alice Cadbury.”
The Director paused and glanced from him to her cat and back again. She set the bag in her hand down and gave him an appraising look, “I don’t recall your name appearing in my appointment calendar for today.”
“Oh, I did not make an appointment Director.” Nicodemus replied. “I did not think one was necessary considering that I both knew you would be here at approximately this time and the role you played in dealing with the second largest Incursion in history.” There was a brief pause as if to let those words sink in. “The Ordinus Seal you created was, is, a remarkably effective, although crude concoction. I am impressed that you were able to create such a device on such short notice,” he concluded, leaning against the staff. Despite the fact that his face was mostly hidden behind the hood and cloak, one could almost hear the smile in his voice. “I am glad to see that her trust was not misplaced.”
The Director glanced at her cat again, who, in turn, shrugged. Nicodemus quirked an eyebrow, but kept quiet. “Alice Cadbury trusted all of us,” she replied. “And selected each of us personally. She also sacrificed herself so that your ‘crude concoction’ could be put in place. And so far it’s held.” She paused and looks askance at Nicodemus, “Would you have done something different?”
“I am well aware of the trust that she placed in those she chose to defend the remainder of her home. However, I speak of her trust in you, specifically Jamadagni Renuka. And in specific of that trust in you, I speak of as her successor to being the Defender of Angelus as well as the Director of XSWAT.”
There was a sigh then. Almost as if he were suddenly weary in the sense that the weight of age and time itself was suddenly pressing upon his shoulders. “Alas, I cannot take credit for writing the scriptures that were your inspiration for the Seal, though I know… rather I knew the authors. And to answer your question, yes, I would have done something quite different. However, what I would have done should not be a factor in your actions and decisions Jamadagni, nor should you feel guilty that there was, perhaps, another way. You do not know what I know, and despite my thoughts of the Seal’s construction, it is, indeed quite effective. In fact, I am quite impressed that you were able to construct it at all. So please, do not assume that my words are in criticism or condemnation. They are not.”
“I see...” Jama sighed and shook her head, “Thank you, then, Nicodemus. The Seal wasn’t an easy thing to create and cost a great deal.” She paused and then looked at him squarely, “But you don’t come to talk to me about that, did you?”
A weak smile was given behind the confines of his cloak. “Most perceptive… you are correct. While I will admit that I came here to see what had become of one of my longest and closest friends, the primary purpose is twofold. First and this is more of a passing interest that I have, is that I am well aware of the vault that is buried far beneath your headquarters building, as well as what lies within it. As a scholar and historian, this interests me a great deal for there has not been such an extensive collection of artifacts, knowledge and lore all in relatively the same location for well over ten thousand years. I would enjoy looking it over, and, perhaps codifying and studying it.
“My second reason for seeking you out is more of a personal nature….” He lifted a hand to stave off any protest. “Not like that. I am well aware of your marriage. Besides, you are far, far too young for me. No, my motives are far more translucent. I am seeking the tome that…” he paused for a brief moment and took a thoughtful stance. “…you have called it the Grimorium Esperanza. While I do not expect you to know its real name, as it is quite unimportant at this juncture, I know that you are in possession of it. I need to return those forbidden texts back to where they belong; preferably before they can do more damage.”
“No.” Jama slid the bag off of her shoulder, stood up straight, and folded her arms together under her breasts. “You come here, unannounced, tell me you knew Alice Cadbury, tell me the Ordinus Seal is ‘crude’, ask to view our vault, presume that I would want to marry you, and then tell me you wish to lock away the one weapon we have that enabled us to seal away the Entity threat. I don’t know who you are, I don’t care how old you are, and I don’t like the idea of giving anyone free access to our vault.” Cadbury stepped away from the bag he’d been investigating to sit next to his mistress, fixing Nicodemus with a dark glare.
Nicodemus returned her stare, but rather than being dark, it was completely neutral, the young woman’s reflection glittering off the surface of the dark circular sunglasses he wore. “Jamadagni that so-called ‘weapon’ is the cause of your ‘Van Goren incident.’ Had the Grimorium been where it belonged in the first place, locked away from human eyes, your city would not be in the peril it is in at this very moment! You have no idea what lies in those text. While I am quite aware that you have opened those pages and tried to reap the knowledge within, you have only barely scratched the dark surface of those contents. Those texts are Forbidden for a reason Jamadagni Renuka. It is of no coincidence that those texts were what nearly ruined Angelus twice now and have been the source of your own teetering madness in the past. Oh yes, I am quite aware of your connection with the King in Yellow… and I assure you that the creature you called Gurzorath was not it.”
He took a deep breath to compose himself. To become angry and indignant at this point would only serve to form barriers, not bridges. “I knew Alice Cadbury well before she took on that name. She was a close friend of mine before she came across the likes of Joshua Norton. I will not take credit for any of her actions or the way that she enacted her decisions and allowed others to influence her, but I assure you that she and I shared a lot through our correspondence. You can take that as you see fit.
“Your seal is crude because it was hastily constructed, is highly inefficient and it has not done exactly what you have expected or wanted it to do. It is flawed and imperfect. The fact that it even works at all is a testament to your skill and ability neither of which I have not seen or heard of for a very long time and that I had expected to have completely left this world long ago.
“I want to be clear at this point Jamadagni Renuka, I have not taken an extensive amount of time and effort to divine that you would be standing where you are right now simply so I could get into a confrontation with you, much less make an enemy. My purpose here is to set right something that has been wrong for fifteen millennia.”
“And that is?”
He took another deep breath, releasing it as a barely audible sigh. "It is... complicated." He began, once more leaning against his staff as the weight of the ages seemed to press upon his shoulders again. "I trust you understand that the tragedy that befell Angelus in 2093 was not the first incident of its sort or scale."
Jama gave a slight nod. “I’ve long suspected that mankind has trafficked with Entities for centuries, if not millennia. Stories of demons, monsters, and gods seems to support that.”
Precisely. The first incident of notable scale had dramatic repercussions to say the least. I assume that you are familiar with the so-called myth of Atlantis and its fate. With that in mind, I will not bore you with things that you would already know; rather I will try to shed some light onto the matter.
“The details of that particular incident, even those leading up to it, are quite complex to the extent that I cannot go into the details at this time. Rather, I will tell you that they should not have transpired. A series of miscalculations and misconceptions coupled with typical human greed, arrogance and lust for power are all the cause of the Fall.
“Ancient texts… Forbidden texts… that were locked away were released. Things that human eyes and minds were not supposed to come in contact with were allowed to be viewed freely and arbitrarily. Those that exist both in the outside dimensions away from this reality as well as Things that exist beyond the stars and in between realities were allowed free rein over the land as a result. They were eventually cast out, but at great cost. In the process though, the very Forbidden lore that granted them access were scattered far and wide. While I cannot bring Atlantis back, much less replace the lives that were taken and the souls that were destroyed or consumed, I can prevent a similar incident from occurring again.”
He shifted his stance just slightly to lean a little closer to the sorceress. “You have absolutely no comprehension just how close this city has come to not only repeating that tragedy not once, but twice. And should history replay itself again, even on the relatively small scale that Angelus exists upon, there is little that remains in this world now that could stop it.
“Don’t get me wrong, your Seal is good Jamadagni, but it is not perfect and it will not hold up forever, not while there those in this world that would willingly bring those creatures here; and especially not if those individuals gain access to such repositories as the Grimorium Esperanza or similar texts.”
“So...” Jama began slowly, “You want to take Grimorium Esperanza and lock it way because you think it’s too dangerous for the rest of humanity, is that it?” She paused and clasped her hands together before her face, “How do I know you don’t want to use the book for the very purposes you say you are trying to avoid? You say you are a friend of Alice Cadburys, but we have no way of proving that, since she is no more. You say you saw Atlantis sink, but how can you prove it? You tell me about ‘forbidden’ texts, but I have to ask, ‘according to who’? You? Are you the self-appointed librarian of the world, here to protect humanity from itself?”
Nicodemus stepped back and Jama could almost see the internal smile behind his otherwise emotionless face. “You doubt me. This does not come as any sort of surprise to me. There are numerous methods that you could use to assess the truth of my statements, or, at least in some cases come to the conclusion that I am fully convinced that what I say is fact. I will not dictate or suggest what methods you should use Jamadagni. I will leave that up to you.
“As far as to answer your question about my intents and reasons, I will ask you a question instead. How much time do you have on your hands at this moment Jamadagni? I ask, because it would take a fairly long time to fully answer your questions properly. The short and simple answers however are as thus: various Forbidden Texts were deemed such by the Keepers of the Great Library and the Atlantian High Council, deeming this knowledge too dangerous for the untrained and ignorant. I do believe that the Grimorium Esperanza was, in fact the sole cause of two significant Entity incursions within as many decades is proof of that. I could elaborate further time permitting if you wish.
“And my… task of restoring the Black Library, while it is my own, it is born out of two motivations. The first is that there is nobody alive, nor that could live long enough to be properly trained to handle the mental and spiritual strain of such a task. The second reason is simply Atonement. I did not ask for, nor desire immortality Jamadagni. But it is the cost of my own folly and sins that I have it. I do not necessarily seek to protect humanity from itself. If that were my quest, do you not think that I could have ended numerous atrocities? I certainly have lived long enough to weasel my way into governments and secret organizations across the globe that operate in the dark and behind the scenes. With that, I certainly could have set things in motion that would have seen some measure of world peace by now. So no, I do not seek to save humanity from itself. Rather, I seek to protect humanity from something far, far worse than anything man could do to himself or this world.”
“I admire your dedication.” Jama replied as Cadbury rubbed himself against her leg. “I have often wondered how long I’ll be able to remain as Director of XSWAT, and that can’t be more than thirty years, much less 15,000.” Reaching down she collected her cat in her arms, scratching between his ears and eliciting a deep, rumbling purr. “But I also have to wonder why the edicts of a long vanished civilization should still hold sway.
“The Grimorium Esperanza was the cause behind the initial Entity invasion of Angelus, but blaming the book is like blaming a gun for its use in a murder. Both are tools, and aren’t inherently evil in themselves. It is the use people put them too. I don’t blame the book, I blame Van Goren and his misguided attempt to bring his daughter back to life. And as far as I know, it had nothing to do with Gurzorath’s assault, in fact it was the reason I was able to create the Seal that keeps Entities and their ilk from freely entering our world.
“Nicodemus, I think you fail to give mankind... or at least some of us, credit. I don’t consider myself a fool, and while I don’t have even a fraction of your experience, I had Alice Cadbury’s trust, and I think that’s good enough. We keep a number of artifacts in the Vault for many of the same reasons you give — they are dangerous. But we don’t presume to know better than anyone else. I feel we can learn from what we find, and if we deem it safe enough to examine, we do so, be it a book, bell, or candle.
“So,” she said, “You want to study what’s in the Vault and possibly help catalog it? Fine. Earn that right. XSWAT accepts all qualified applicants, be they unmodified humans, the cybernetically augmented, cyborgs, espers, clades... or mages. Pass the exams, serve six months on a field team, and we’ll see about making you one of the curators for the Vault. I’m sure Lieutenant Anubis would be glad of your help.” Jama stopped scratching Cadbury long enough to point, “And if feel that’s beneath you then this conversation is over. You’ve lived this long, surely you can wait until there’s a new Director and try to sway them.”
Nicodemus smiled sadly, perhaps one of the few instances of real emotion flickering over his face since the beginning of the conversation. “Perhaps you are correct Jamadagni — I do not give mankind enough credit. Immortality instills a certain… cynicism after a few centuries. I have observed nations march under a banner of peace, prosperity and forward thinking, but in a handful of generations collapse under the very things they championed against. It is difficult watching history repeat itself constantly. While you are correct that the Grimorium is a tool, it is very much like your analogy with a gun. While, yes a gun is a tool… it’s only purpose in existing is to kill, maim, or destroy. How those purposes are implemented are numerous, and the topic of a philosophical conversation best suited for another time.”
He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, with almost a sense of relief coming from the man. “Alice chose her heir very well, and she placed her legacy in more than capable hands. For this I am most relieved. While it is a pity that you would prevent me from completing a step in my Herculean task, at least the Grimorium is in the hands of someone who at least has sufficient wisdom and foresight to use the knowledge within it properly.”
Nicodemus stood up straight, almost as if the immeasurable weight of time had suddenly been lifted. “I will consider your offer Jamadagni. Regardless of whether or not I choose to join your XSWAT forces, I ask that this not be our last correspondence. There is far… far too much that I could teach you, to educate you about some of the things that you fight against. In return, I am certain that you could help me forget my cynicism and remember why it is that I do what I do. At least for a short time at any rate.”
“If you wish to talk to me,” Jama nodded at XSWAT HQ, “You know where to find me. But next time,” she smiled as Cadbury shook his head and gave Nicodemus a curious look, “make an appointment first.”
"I will keep that in mind Jamadagni," he replied with a bow. "I thank you once again for your time. Have a pleasant afternoon." At that, Nicodemus turned on his heel and departed.