The bloodshed would end as history cycled; a minor page, bloodied footnote really, added itself to the annals of night. Written in crimson ink was the inevitable end to the Families’ conflict. Not a blood family – in a regular sense – yet quarrelled as frequently; how many did this make? Was this the ninth? The twelfth? Thirtieth? They had spats like this one often, and once again, it was reaching an inconclusive end.
The man ending the war, or rather bring to a final wheeze, was Ivor Crown. He paced under moonlight, shooting glances at a lit building across the street and drinking deep from his copper flask. The wait was over; another man approached holding two long suitcases.
“Decided to show up,” Ivor said in his grating tone, laden thick with accumulated aggravation.
“C’mon, I’m less than twenty minutes this time.”
“Twenty-one,” Ivor corrected.
“Ah,” the man sighed, smiling at moon and stars, “how fondly I remember your impatience – and your impressive dedication to being a meticulous bastard.”
“Forgotten the business we’re in?” Ivor scowled at his companion. His name was Bones, and truthfully, Ivor liked him, he just didn’t respect him – much. His company was agreeable but in their times as co-workers, of a sort, he saw no reason to view him as an equal; it sounded arrogant, it was, but the status of ‘best’ bestowed upon Ivor gave certain allowances. Bones’ biggest asset was being a counterweight to Ivor: expressive versus stoic, blonde hair to black hair, tall to short. “You’ve brought our belongings?” Ivor continued.
“Course, don’t trust me after all these years?”
“It’s doubtful I ever will.”
Bones grinned, never one to be offended by Ivor’s nature. Crouching down and opening a case, he tossed up an automatic rifle; Ivor caught it one-handed. From the other case, Bones took an identical rifle.
“Kinda funny, eh? Don’t really need a rifle for the rabble we’re dealing with.”
“Some added insurance does not go amiss,” Ivor countered, priming his weapon; he led them across the street.
“Then aren’t you underdressed, Ivor? White shirt matches your complexion but won’t stop a bullet.”
“You’re overdressed; shouldn’t become too dependent on armour instead of speed in our line of work.”
“Bit of insurance doesn’t go amiss,” he grinned.
Scowling, Ivor entered the lobby first. He proceeded without pause to the stairs, Bones in tow, ascending to the first floor. “Ready?” He asked.
“Still need to ask?”
The slaughter started.
The building’s pool would be swimmable with the volume of blood spilled, green carpets becoming damp, scent of death pervading every corner, and bullet casings littering the halls like dust. The purge of the inhabitants was calculated and precise, Bones and Ivor well versed practitioners for this event.
Their wet steps were the only sound remaining as they returned to the lobby. They were met by Senior Navigator Cadogan. He walked the area, toying in bored fascination with items around the lobby. “Reputation precedes you,” he remarked without looking up from a particularly interesting snow globe.
“It does,” Ivor confirmed.
“Thank you,” Bones bowed.
Cadogan glared at the latter.
“I take it you’re here to bring us to the Styx?” Ivor hastened to say.
Cadogan replied with a low nod, his fingers becoming a steeple.
“You,” Bones corrected. “The Styx ain’t for me, Ivor. Tonight’s been fun, but I deal with the Council’s order, not the Council themselves.”
“Then I’ll see you when we have to clean up the next war,” Ivor said in farewell.
“Let’s hope not,” he smiled.
Cadogan and Ivor watched Bones disappear into the dark before the Senior Navigator spoke. “You are ready to leave?”
Chanting an incantation, Cadogan’s hands moving in patterned rhythm, uttered words had an instant effect as with a final flick of his wrist an opaque black portal materialized; it was like a space in reality was missing.
The ‘Styx’ Ivor spoke of was a high-rise building appearing like any other – from the outside. At that time the interior housed a colossal party spanning three open floors; the celebration in recognition of another Family conflict ending. It was a time for those who survived to revel in debauchery with their enemies-made-friend. With its open door policy, ‘many’ attendees was a laughable understatement.
The portal released Ivor at the elevator of the third floor, cacophony of the party hitting him full force. With hasty thanks to Cadogan, he wove through the crowds to a meeting room at the opposite end. Slipping through the door, Ivor was in a room too small with a table too big and lighting too dim. Ignoring the décor, he regarded those seated: four Clansmen of high status, three Witches of three covens, and a bizarre woman. She looked mortal and would have passed for one if not for the skin and eyes; her skin, a sickly purple and grey, clung to a fragile frame, and on her face, black eyes sunk into the skull. Though even with peculiar features included, she was not the most unattractive in the room. These individuals were secondary to those who beckoned him: the ten members who formed the Council of the five Families. The five leaders, known collectively as the Scions, sat at the table; standing behind them were imposing figures known as Guardians, a protector and servant to each Scion.
Amongst that group Ivor was underdressed – and bloodied. The Family heads in contrast were, as usual, immaculate in rich suits and gowns. The one in the room closest to Ivor’s outfit was the mortal-looking woman whose rags passed as clothing.
Ivor took the lone seat designated.
“Welcome.” Greeting Ivor was the Scion of the Lenatro Family, nearing five-hundred years, and eldest in the room.
“Evening,” Ivor curtly replied.
“I trust your trip with Cadogan was a comfortable one?”
“I trust you realize I came by Navigator portal?”
“No need to be snappy. Come, onto business, then.” A lucky urgency for the Lenatro Scion, a round-faced man called Melvin, could speak for hours and say nothing. Perhaps those five-hundred years were affecting him. “Is the conflict over, Ivan?” he began.
Ivor expected the mistake. He retorted, “The conflict was already over.”
“Yes, but, you know what I mean. The building in North Dakota, you’ve handled the remaining belligerents? Our troubles are removed?”
“Our trouble? Come now, Melvin, this was hardly a group effort.”
“I don’t care to hear about your views,” he hissed, “maintain tone of your standing and answer my question before I commit you to the Crucible Site.”
All eyes were on Ivor which, to a degree, pleased him greatly. But he didn’t intend to see the Crucible Site so another curt reply would do: “It’s over.”
Melvin clapped his hands together and congratulated but Ivor had stopped listening. He though: Bastards, the lot of them, they’ll be back at each other’s throat by century’s end. They tried to thank Ivor, shake his hand – he wouldn’t have that. He busied himself with feigning deafness and escaping the room.
Aside from fountains of drinks there was no reason to stay. But that sole reason was a fine one. Ivor walked to the nearest and took a glass of spirits. As he leant against the table, the Families wasted no time in announcing over the intercom that celebration could start. It was difficult to imagine it hadn’t already and that the already chaotic floor could intensify. It did. The building’s three floors kicked into action, the beast of revelry enraging, and like a switch the party flipped from intense-yet-restrained to gratuitous-and-immoral. Ivor downed his drink and took another before they all disappeared then to avoid the party he inspected a statue occupying a corner. It was carved of ice, depicting a man fighting a ghastly monster – an ugly sight for a party.
Like a snake, slithering unseen, a woman took to standing beside Ivor; she, too, inspected the statue quietly. Ivor was undisturbed by her appearance but nonetheless questioned it; his lack of knowing burned in him, the need soon forcing a brief glance. It yielded sight of deep brown hair, possible red in the right light, framing an inquisitorial and stern face, kept hidden in profile by the cascade of strands. What he could see, he could not ignore: elevated cheekbones, thin nose, and strong jaw all seeming too perfect, a statuesque and regal beauty above beauty and becoming unnerving. Further, she smelt of intoxicating gardenia & vanilla.
“What do you suppose?” Her sudden words were startling. Ivor hurried to compose himself after realizing he’d began to stare.
“Suppose what?” he replied in tone too sharp.
“Suppose why this statue is here,” her gaze turned to Ivor. “It serves no purpose, it’s not a pretty sight, and yet it’s unsightly presence remains.”
“Perhaps someone is playing a joke. Maybe the statue is like a symbol to parallel how the Council perceives their role as strong and brilliant,” Ivor put aside his caution, “when they’re actually flashy and worthless.”
The woman laughed; it rang with such charming vigour, beyond contagious, it was enchanting. While she did, her eyes shone. That alluring aura was unforgettable to Ivor. “Very interesting,” partial smile remained, “but I didn’t come here to discuss statues with you…Ivor Crown.”
Ivor hid surprise at his identity being known. Apparently not well enough.
“Yes, Ivor, I know who you are, and why shouldn’t I considering your reputation?”
“And what reputation is that?”
“Oh, it encompasses so much. At one time you were even called the Harbinger, were you not?”
Her knowledge of his past title piqued his interest – and trepidation. “I haven’t been called that in a long time,” Ivor said. “Since you know who I am–”
“My name is Vivienne,” the woman answered, predicting the question.
“Well, Vivienne, my past is hardly a common topic, how do you know it?”
“Later, I’m not here about your time as Harbinger. I have questions for you about the real Harbinger.”
It was Ivor’s turn to laugh. Compared to hers it was sandpaper and leagues less charming. “If you know I’ve been called the Harbinger you’ll also know there is no Harbinger,” he declared. “It was just something those Clansmen, those half-witted Scholars of Yenna, made up during their drug-addled rituals.”
“I acknowledge their shortcomings as seers, but you are wrong. And that’s where my primary question arises: will you help me?”
“Help you? You haven’t told me what you want, yet my answer is no. I serve the Families alone.”
“You choose to help the Families as you will choose to help me.”
“You so sure? You don’t look like a Scholar of Yenna?” Ivor joked.
“I don’t need to be. You will. After all, you and I share a common goal,” she purred.
Vivienne’s eyes, like confident orbs of jade, remained gazing at Ivor, persuading him with their green richness. He heard the whispers of a trap, as if a cage would spring around him. But he knew she was right. He was too curious not to accept.
“Fine, Vivienne, assuming you’re right – assuming – what’s our common goal?”
She pressed closer to whisper over the din of the party: “Freedom, Ivor, freedom from the Families that control us.” Her warm breath reached his ear; it carried with it a great sweetness. “I know we both want our kindred in the Society to be wardens of their destiny, and what better way of change than with the Harbinger?” she continued to coax.
“You sound so sure the Harbinger exists. I’m not.”
“And you needn’t be, yet, nor must you provide me an answer right now. Just know that we will see one another again, Ivor Crown.” Before he could respond, Vivienne slithered away, disappearing into the crowd.
Ivor remained with untouched drink in hand, reminiscing on what she said. This Society, the microcosm of creatures and freaks inhabiting the night, certainly had its flaws, but was Ivor willing to dedicate time to finding a person that may or may not exist? He was. After all, his affliction made him immortal, and what’s a few years to infinity?