The Ides of March
“How long have these meetings been going on?” Stew asked.
“Longer than I’ve been alive,” Wiz replied. “And that’s saying something.”
“And always in Prague?”
“Actually, no. The Triskaideka was well established before Prague even existed. Shortly after the Council of Nicaea in 325 a.d., when Christianity really started to get organized, they decided it might be prudent to get organized themselves. They had their first meeting right down the street, so to speak, in Constantinople. They moved the meetings to Prague sometime before the Crusades.”
“So, do we just go in unannounced?”
“Oh, they know we’re here by now. They have sentinels everywhere. Some stay in shadow. Some hide out in the open.”
“That cab driver was a sentinel,” Stew noted, his head coked back ever so slightly and the hint of a smug smile forced one side of his mouth. “Wasn’t he...”
“He was,” Wiz answered. The group walked deeper and deeper into the catacombs beneath the city, as the passageway steadily got narrower. After what seemed like miles of walking, they came to a large, burgundy door. Beside it stood a large figure.
“Is that a sentinel?”
“No. That’s just a guard. You usually won’t see a sentinel and know it’s one until it’s too late.”
This guard wore no armor of steel. No chain mail. No leather hauberk. Not a single stitch of clothing, except for a loin cloth. He was, however, covered from head-to-toe with thick, coarse, brown fur. Large, ram horns grew out of the sides of his forehead and curled back around his ears, ending at his jawbone. Samal stared in awe, having not seen an Ariensatyr—the highest order of satyrs—since his grandfather died five-hundred years ago. “Why do you hide yourself with these human clothes?” he asked, peering down at Samal.
“I vowed to help. The Circle of Light saved my life. I can help them better if people don’t know what I am.”
“Honor through sacrifice is nobler than honoring tradition. Your ancestors might be proud of you yet.”
“The Council is waiting,” the ram said, holding the door open.
Compared to the cramped passageway, the inside of the council room, with its high-vaulted ceiling, was the Taj Mahal. Torches lined the walls. At the far end was a large, crescent-shaped table, made of polished, black marble. Opposite the table, on the near wall, was an enormous hearth, warming the room with a blazing fire. Seated at the table were twelve men and women, dressed in garb from an array of different cultures, all facing the near wall. One seat was empty. On the table was an assortment of fruit and flowers.
At the center was the dual god, Ometeotl. With a large, colorful, feathery headdress, and an ego that has grown bolder over the centuries, he was the god above all other gods in the Aztec pantheon. He had also been the speaker for the Triskaideka for the last three centuries.
“Modeos… It has been a long time. Step forward and address the Council,” Ometeotl said loudly.
Wiz stepped into the center of the room and faced his elders. “Your Honors, there is an immortal named Zachary Di Corvo who we believe to be gathering himself an army. For what purpose we do not yet know, but it is our experience that if it involves Di Corvo, it is not good.”
“What proof have you?” asked a short and stocky man with blue skin. He didn’t have very much clothing but wore a number of pieces of ornate and colorful jewelry.
“Only eyewitness accounts, your Honor, that he tried to kill us. Twice.”
“Who are these eyewitnesses?” Ometeotl asked.
“This satyr, Samal, can attest to the second time, but for the first time, it is only the victims, Xamn, myself, Brandr and Tófa, who were there.”
“You have no evidence of this army he’s allegedly creating. What would you have us do?” asked an old man with a long, white beard, wearing a smith’s apron.
“Can you have someone investigate, at least, please?”
Ometeotl sighed. “Very w—“
A messenger burst through the door. His black robe flowed behind him as he ran toward the Council speaker, revealing black pants, bare feet and a white tunic.
“What is the meaning of this most rude interruption?” The messenger whispered into the speaker’s ear. “What?” Ometeotl shouted. “Murdered? Impossible! Meeting adjourned until further notice.”
The six members of the Circle of Light were escorted by a guard to a nearby room to wait for word on when the meeting would resume. There was a table furnished with refreshments and plenty of chairs. Physical comfort was not an issue. Mentally, however, they were not sure what to expect next.
At the end of a dark hallway, another Ariensatyr stood by an open door, along with two men in black-leather, hoods pulled down to hide their faces, who waited for Ometeotl to arrive.
The speaker hurried down the hall, followed by all of the other members of the council who were present. “Where is he?”
“She’s inside her chambers, Sir,” one of the sentinels said in a voice that sounded like chewing on walnut shells. stepped aside so Ometeotl could go into the room.
The body of a woman, the Greek goddess of justice, destiny and inevitability, lay in the middle of her chambers, on her back, spread-eagle, with stab wounds in each of her limbs, as well as her throat.
“Is she really dead?” Ometeotl asked.
“There is no life in her, Sir,” the sentinel said, stepping closer to the speaker. “I can’t explain it.”
Govannon walked over to Ometeotl from the other side of the room, carrying a piece of parchment. “You should read this,” Govannon, the Celtic smith god said as he handed the paper to the speaker.
Wiz, Stew, Brandr, Tófa and Samal sat on two plush couches in a waiting room. On a small table in front of them were two, large, wooden bowls. One contained an assortment of oranges, apples and pears. The other had three, freshly baked loaves of bread. After waiting for nearly an hour without any word from the council, Stew reached and grabbed one of the loaves and tore a chunk off. The rest of the group stared at him for a second before each of them reached for their own snack. As soon as they all had their mouths full of food, the door opened and in walked two ariensatyrs with five sets of handcuffs.
“The six of you,” commanded one of the guards, “stand up against this wall, facing it.”
Wiz stood up first, “What is this? What’s going on?”
“Do as you are ordered or there will be consequences,” the other satyr said.
Samal strode to the wall and put his hands behind his back. The rest of the group looked at each other and, one by one, followed suit.
The six members of Hringr Ljóss, the Circle of Light, were placed in a cell. The cell door, made of vertical, steel bars, slammed shut.
“Put your hands through the bars, one at a time,” one of the guards said. Brandr motioned with his head for Alex to come up first. Once everyone’s restraints were removed, the guard said, “Members of the council will be by shortly to speak with you. The evening meal will be served after that.”
“But when do we get out of here?” Alex cried. “And what are we in here for?”
“The council will be by… shortly... to speak with you,” the large satyr said clearly and firmly.
Once the guards walked away, Alex turned around. “What the hell? We were speaking to the council...the meeting was interrupted when someone came in… we wait in a room for I don’t know how long and then they lock us in a prison cell without any explanation.”
“And we can’t magic our way out of here, either,” Tófa coomented.
“Why not?” Stew wondered.
“This is the Triskaideka,” Brandr pointed out. “For the most part, magic users are the only ones they lock up down here.”
“It’s okay,” Wiz remarked. “We’ll see what the council has to say. I’m sure they’ll explain what’s going on. In the meantime, let’s all do our best to relax.”
There were two sets of bunk beds on each of the walls, with the exception of the one the door was on, for a total of six beds. The floor was made of cobblestone and the walls, granite.
“That letter,” Samal said, his voice low, “Now might be a good time to read it.”
“You’re right, Sam,” Wiz replied, retrieving the letter from his inside pocket. He broke the wax seal and opened the envelope. “Hm. It’s from Nemesis. ‘I’m afraid I don’t have much time. I’m fairly confident your friend, Zachary, intends to kill me. I’m not sure how, being that I’m immortal. In case I don’t get an opportunity to speak with you in person, here is some information you might find useful. It has been brought to my attention that Zachary has gained a small army. And he has bound them to him by giving them tattoos laced with his blood. Now, if you were to capture one of the ravens he shapeshifts into, pluck one of its feathers and keep it handy. The shaft will turn light red become hot if he gets within a mile. Kill the raven and drain its blood. Dip a feather in the blood and let it dry, then burn it. Once this is done, all under his influence will be released and he will be unable to put anyone under that power again. Also, if someone were to drink the blood, Zachary would then not be able to go near that person. Only one person can do that, though, and I’m not sure of the radius of resistance. Choose wisely. That’s all the information I have. I wish it could be more. Hopefully, its enough. Take care of each other. Blessings, Nemesis.’” Wiz folded the letter up and put it back in his inside pocket.
“Well, that’s some good information but it’s not going to do us much good in here,” Stew fumed.
The sound of footsteps echoed outside the cell. The faces of the council members appeared soon after. The sides of Ometeotl’s mouths were turned down and the muscles of his jaws were flexed. “You six,” the two twin men, again, speaking in unison, “who identify yourselves as Hringr Ljóss, the Circle of Light, are being charged with the murder of the goddess, Nemesis. Our evidence, a piece of parchment with the word, ‘circle,’ written in her blood. What say you?”
“First,” Wiz stated, “we have a letter Nemesis left for us at the bookstore upstairs. In it, she says she thought Zachary intended to kill her.” Wiz took out the letter and held it up for Ometeotl to see. “Second, Zachary is trying to kill us. Of course, he’d try to frame us. Who’s to say he’s not the one who wrote that word, ‘circle’ after she was already dead?”
“What you say may be true. In time, we will find out what actually happened. In the meantime, you will remain here. I hope you find the accomodations comfortable. Dinner will be along shortly.” Ometeotl turned and walked away, letting the echo of footfalls say his farewells for him.
“Don’t any of you worry,” Wiz told his friends. “We’re going to be fine. I’m sure they have ways to figure out who really killed Nemesis.”
“Well, I think it’s clear now that Zachary will stop at nothing to destroy us,” Brandr noted.
“No doubt,” Wiz added.
“And I won’t,” they heard a voice say from out in the hallway, though they saw no one. With a sudden flapping of a hundred wings, dozens of ravens appeared, flying in circles. The birds’ flights grew tighter, more focused, until the whole group of them formed the shape of a man. Like liquid filling a glass, the shape filled out and grew flesh and clothes. Black shirt, black pants, black jacket.
“Zachary,” Wiz growled.
“At your service, Modeos, old friend,” Zachary smirked as he moved closer to the bars. Too bad you can’t use magic in there. You might have a chance of injuring me. Alas…”
Stew made his way to the bars. He was inches away from Zachary. “What are you doing here, Birdman? Who’s watching my sister?”
“You’re so clever… with your nicknames. I’m gloating. I thought that would be obvious. I’ve had my fill, though. It doesn’t take much to bore me after twelve centuries of living. And your sister is safe. Your ex-girlfriend is keeping her company.”
“I’d hate to be in that room right now. You might get back there to find yourself in a warzone.”
“I’m confident that everything is just fine. It’s too bad we don’t have more time to chat. But, perhaps I’ll come back and see you some day.”
As if someone flipped a playing card over, the man was gone again, in his place, the birds. Stew stuck his arm out into the middle of the chaos of black. He closed his hand quickly over and over. On the third try, he got a feather, which he dropped on the floor. Ten, twelve times he closed his hand on nothing. On the thirteenth time, his hand held a wing, still trying to flap and fly away with the bird it was attached to.
“I don’t know if I can get it back through the bars,” Stew said, holding on to the raven with everything in him. “And I’m not sure how to kill it without bringing it in.”
Samal joined Stew at his side. “Are you able to hand the bird to me?”
“Yeah, here,” Stew said. With the wings beating the sides of his arms, Stew moved his body to the side, holding on to the bird’s wing with his right hand, so Samal could get closer. With the bird’s’ wing incapacitated, it didn’t have the leverage to do anything with its talons or beak other than scratch.
“Hold on a second,” Brandr interrupted. “What do we plan to do once it’s dead? Someone’s got to drink the blood, right?”
“Crap,” Stew said. “Who’s going to do it? Who do we want as Ravens-bane?”
“It’s just my opinion,” Tófa commented, “but I think it should be Alex. She’s...”
“She’s suffered enough at the hands of Zachary.”
“Is drinking blood from a bird safe?” Stew asked.
“I’m immortal, in case you forgot,” Alex noted.
“Yeah, but… I don’t know. It’s just really weird… and disgusting.”
“It doesn’t matter. Think about it… these ravens are not normal ravens,” Alex assured him. “They’re part of Zachary. Zachary’s lived for centuries. These ravens wouldn’t have any diseases. It’s the taste I’m worried about. Okay?”
“Ok. You’re right. As usual. So, do we have a cup or container of some kind? I don’t think you’d want to drink it straight from the vein. We’ve got to do something, though. I can’t hold on much longer. Immortal or not… I’m not Superman.”
“I have this bag of peanuts from the flight in my pocket,” Brandr said. “I could empty it…”
“That works. Did Nemesis say how much?” Stew asked.
“No, she didn’t,” wiz replied. “The amount drank probably determines the radius.”
“Just keep filling it until I can’t drink anymore,” Alex ordered.
“Ok, Stew,” Sam said. “Hand the bird to me.” As Brandr emptied the bag of peanuts into his mouth, Stew reached his left hand through the bars and attempted to control the bird better in order to make the transfer to Samal’s hands easier. The satyr had both of his hands ready to take the raven from Stew. Stew took hold of the wing that was free with his second hand. He eased up with his right hand so he could get a better grip and when he did, the raven took the opportunity and began to flap his wings harder, breaking free of Stew’s grip, and wasted no time in flying away down the hall, out of sight.
“Damn!” Stew exclaimed. “I had him.”
“At least we got a feather,” Wiz sighed, holding the feather up like a third place ribbon. “We can reset Zachary’s influence.”
“Yeah, but we don’t have the blood to dip it in,” Brandr noted.
“True, but we can still burn it,” Wiz argued. “It might do something.”
“I had him,” Stew repeated. “I’m sorry, guys.”
“Don’t worry about it, Babe,” Alex said as she took Stew’s hand and pulled him close. She looked into his eyes, “I really didn’t want to drink raven’s blood, anyway.”
“What did you think?” Zachary’s voice, again, scratched through the darkness in the hall. “Drink the blood of one of my pets and that would somehow destroy me?”
“Well… you’re apparently afraid to show yourself,” Wiz quipped, “choosing instead to remain in the shadows.
“You make me laugh, Modeos. I may have failed all those years ago…”
“And failed again just a couple months ago,” Stew added with a smirk.
“I guarantee you… I will not fail again. I will break the Circle of Light until all the pieces lie on the floor like a shattered vase… and swept into the trash.”
“Is that so?” Ometeotl asked as rounded the corner, accompanied by two ariensatyrs. In an instant, Zachary appeared in front of the cell, his eyes wide and face flushed. “Arrest him.” The guards immediately took hold of Zachary’s arms, placed him in handcuffs and escorted him down the hall to another cell. “I apologize, Hringr Ljóss, for the inconvenience. You do understand, though, that I had to keep you here until the matter was investigated.”
“We do, Your Honor,” Wiz assured the twin gods.
“And… if we hadn’t kept you here, we probably would not have found Zachary and he would still be on the loose. Instead, he will be locked up, no longer able to do anyone harm.”
“We sincerely appreciate it. He will probably have a dagger on him… the Raven’s Kris. Somehow, it is imbued with the power to kill a god. Also, we were given a message from Nemesis. She had left it for us with the man in the bookshop. We were told not to open it until after we had spoken to the council. We read it once we were put in this cell.”
“May I read it? By the way, you are free to go.” Ometeotl waved his hand and the cell door slid open.
Wiz handed the letter to the twins and waited as he read it. “Well, I don’t see any blood on the floor," Ometeotl said. "I’m guessing you were not able to capture one of his ravens.”
“No, but we did get a feather, Wiz reported. “Now, Nemesis said if we soaked the feather in the blood and then burn it, all of Zachary’s followers would be released and he would not be able to put anyone else under his magical influence. We didn’t get any blood. Would burning it without the blood do anything?”
“It can’t hurt. Can I see the feather?”
“Yeah,” Wiz said, reaching in the same pocket he had the letter in. Ometeotl took the feather and dropped it. As it fell, it became englufed in flames. A few seconds later, it was nothing more than a small pile of ashes.
“Done,” the twin gods said. “You said someone’s sister was being held against her will. Correct?”
“Yes,” Wiz replied. “Stew’s sister. Xamn’s… whatever.”
“Mine,” Stew clarified. “My sister.”
“Well, I pray you go home to find she’s found her way home as well,” Ometeotl said. “Zachary’s here and burning the feather should have at least temporarily released his followers, who would probably not have the gall to keep your sister for very much longer. Now, business done… I will have someone escort you out.”
“The dagger,” Ometeotl commanded. “Where is it?”
Zachary stood in the center of the council chambers, just as the Circle had when they were questioned. He reached behind his back and pulled the dagger from its sheath. He held it out in front of him, in his palms, careful not to pose any threat, and lay it on the floor.
“Can I make one request?” Zachary asked.
“You can make it. Then I will decide whether or not to grant it.”
“Fair enough. Can I send a message home with one of my ravens?”
“Not one yours,” Ometeotl replied. “And not a raven. I will let you send your message with a crow. Let one of the guards know when your message is ready.”