Chapter 6 (rough)

Olivier stood at the end of the block leading to the Wilks’ house. He changed his black and blue attire to grey and red with darker slacks than his overshirt and dress shoes for his sneakers. He considered a vest but didn’t want to come across too professional now so as to come across slovenly the day before.

He walked with purpose past the two houses at the end to reach the Wilk’s house proper. Laura was in her nest on the fire escape catatonic as ever. She did not call out as he approached but watched him move with a subtle lock of her eyes to his. It was rather like an owl watching a mouse in the moonlight.

The front door was open. Worse. They were forced open by a crude barrier. Olivier could see the shoddy craftsmanship of the magic. Rather than making the barrier less effective, it made it more volatile. Much more likely to stop an intruder from another realm but also likely to tear open energies beyond mortal ken or simply burn down the house in the process. It was also effective enough to block any other information coming out of the house. He could neither see nor hear anything in the house.

Quickly, he returned to the fence outside of the alley and looked to Laura. She sat as before, eyes locked and waiting. Faint sounds threaded their way through the chaos in Laura’s bedroom and into the nest. If such a shoddy barrier were constructed near the bindings that constituted the nest, it would be far more than a quake that rippled down the street.

He considered his options carefully but at speed. He could call the house, warn James and Elizabeth of the dangers. He could break the barrier and attempt to intervene in whatever negative effects arose. He could also try to contain the barrier, pushing it in on itself and moving the effect somewhere else. Of course, that required the barrier to be set but not anchored, something that wasn’t obvious form this side and something he couldn’t pivot from once the attempt was made. Lastly, he could move in from the bedroom and hope to stop the amateur spellcaster before they got to the fire escape.

The direct approach carried the fewest risks to the house. Whatever exposure he received moving through the bedroom could be addressed after the fact. His mind set, he passed through the fence and flew up to the nest.

Then he stopped. The faint scent of chocolate in the air caught him. Perhaps it was from a nearby kitchen, perhaps it was merely a though in the wind, but it gave him pause.

Simple. He dropped to the ground on the street side of the alley fence and pulled out a phone.

It rang. A click as the century old landline wires connected inside of the house. Sound then, a shouting between two voices, one Elizabeth’s the other could only be Catherine Johnson, the self-styled Madame Zidania. “Hello, this is James Wilks.”

Olivier moved quickly to the front door. “Mr. Wilks, Oliver Kelley. Whatever you do, keep your sister-in-law away from Laura’s room.”

“Mr. Kelley? They’re arguing on the stairs at this very moment. I think it would be better if I came out and we talked, let them be.”

Olivier was already moving back to the alley. “James. I know confrontation with old money isn’t your thing. But at this moment, more than your daughters well being rests on you keeping that woman away from that room.”

He stowed the phone and bounded to the nest. Laura watched dispassionately as he crossed over her. Her eyes ever fixed but her head unmoving.

More sounds crossed through the chaos. Three raised voices now. Olivier adopted the first signs of his Office and passed into the bedroom. It was like smashing into the ocean from a cliffside dive. He could feel the pressure waves pushing through him, not over. Each step was a strain, his vision swam and reversed, his ears popped and screamed, his mouth filled with acrid flavors and his nose with pungent smells. The disturbance that had coated the room had grown exponentially in just fourteen hours.

Despite the discomfort and disorientation, he could still make out raised voices beyond the door. They were closer, more insistent. The women drowned out the third voice as Olivier stepped within inches of the door. The first tendrils of an inept barrier began to wind their way through the wood.

He had only seconds to push the door open before the barrier took hold and potentially set off a chain reaction that he had no hope to contain. To do so would expose his form to the Wilks and shred any hopes of stopping other forces from converging on the situation.

A flurry of voices and then silence.

Olivier pushed open the door, the threads of the barrier shoved aside, dissipating like a spider’s web in wind. The hallway was empty except for a bag brimming with herbs and philters filled with dubious substances. Olivier shut the door and dropped the trappings of his Office. He pulled the wards out of his satchel and attached them on either side of the door. As expected, his previous wards had all but burned up. The new ones took hold with an invisible flash and a wave of power. He opened the door and stepped in again. The energies within were now contained.

He closed the door again and headed downstairs.

James was in the kitchen assembling a tray for tea. Olivier nodded to him and spoke in an even tone. “You did well, James.”

The weary man nodded. “They are in the parlor. I invoked a family tradition of taking tea whenever it was offered, to never broach decorum no matter the animosity or parties involved.”

Olivier smiled. “As I said, well done.”

James continued piling the tray with saucers and cups, grabbing a fourth for Olivier. “You told me not to fear the old money. It reminded me of the saying about the aristocracies of old, ‘a gold cage is still a cage’.”

Olivier followed James to the parlor. The sisters were seated but still bickering.

Elizabeth was fending off a snipe as they entered. “You don’t get to tell me what to do with my daughter. She’s my child. I am her mother. I will make the decision and you will stay out of it.”

Christine met the request with a scoff. “Your child? It was a miracle child. A child destined for greatness, and you’ve done nothing. Nothing! To protect her. Banning me from this house? That is why she’s possessed!”

James set down the tea tray abruptly. It was only years of being in the presence of these irreproachable aristocratic women that kept him from slamming it down. “I would remind you ladies that we are here to have tea and be civil.” He nodded to Olivier, then gestured to his couch on the left of the room. “Please, be seated.” Then to the women, “We do have a guest, after all.”

James remained standing as he set about preparing the tea service.

Christine, sitting on the central couch Olivier had occupied the day before regarded the stranger with only half as much disdain and venom as she used on her sister. “How did this thing get into the house?”

James was slowly stirring leaves and spices with a sifter. “Through the door, as do all welcome guests.”

Elizabeth also seemed puzzled. “I didn’t hear anyone. I also do not wish to see y0ou, Mr. Kelley, unless you have good news.”

Olivier locked eyes with Christine, nay, the self-styled Madame Zidania. “Unfortunately, I am here to keep the situation from getting worse. I have not yet located the answers I promised.”

Madame Zidania drew arcane symbols in the air and patted at her side to find her bag missing. She stood to fetch it but James blocked her physically and verbally.

“Christine, you agreed to tea. You don’t need your bag for that, and it is rude to leave. I will fetch it for you, once I’m satisfied that you will remain here and remain civil.” There was a quiver in James’ lower legs as he said it, perhaps from the leaning posture he used to fuss over the tea service, but more likely it was where the nerves were going to keep his voice steady and strong.

Christine settled back into the couch but rubbed a crystal tied in her hair with one hand while pointing a well-manicured natural nail at Olivier. “This thing in your house is a great danger to your daughter. You should have him removed at once. I say this as a loving sister and a seer of all evil.” She glared at James then at Elizabeth. “For the child!”

Elizabeth adjusted her posture slightly, not as full upright and staunch, but with a slight tilt of her shoulder and a bow of her head to her husband. She was impressed with how James was handling things and gave him this abeyance. “Thank you, James. What ever would I do without the father of my child and better half?”

Olivier used the moment of Christine’s distraction to put an end to the spell she was trying to construct. The stone was a power focus, a sliver of black diamond from the east coast of South America. Born int eh heat of a supernova and smashed into the planet when it was still cooling, and the continents were as one. A dark moment in the War of the Hosts. An act of evil so depraved that it caused a rift within the Rebels.

The stone bore an intricate power, half-slaved to chaotic forces and yearning to destroy. The other half welcomed the possibility of all life and fostered a beautiful unification. like the Hosts themselves, the stone was divided against itself and that made it versatile to craft and weave any number of magical feats. Those energies were volatile, so it only took so much to tip them another direction.

Olivier sat forward and tapped his foot against the antique rug. As he did so he pushed thoughts of a fleeting past into the room. The what ifs and what could have beens of chances not taken, loves not declared, and battles not fought. “I think you’ve confused yourself, Madame Zidania. Everyone here is deeply vested in the safety and future of Laura. She’s counting on you to help her grow, not force her into a shape before her time.”

Christine rubbed the stone harder, but her nail quivered in its motion, lolling and fidgeting as she wove her figures. There was a crackling sound, not unlike a bug zapper in summer, and she shoved her finger in her mouth. The stone dropped from her hair as the smell of burning flesh swept into the air.

James handed the sisters each a cup. “Your preferences?”

Olivier shook his head. “The same as yourself.”

Christine winced as she pulled her finger from her mouth and pressed it hard into her skirt. She looked to Elizabeth. “Your man of mystery may be an abomination, but he does have good manners.” She sipped her tea and gave James an approving nod. “You husband also knows his way around a service. Fine. I apologize for being so…” the words eluded her or the act of saying them was a monumental feat, “concerned about Laura that I forgot that she was a sensitive, sentient being as deserving of space and freedom as anyone.” She tipped her cup to Olivier. “We all want her to recover and grow.” The words were sincere, but the concession was anything but. Olivier could see in her eyes and the tautness of her mouth that she had every intention of backing down to regroup and resurge, not to let it lie.

Elizabeth, satisfied with the part she had played, invited James to sit beside her. “Please dear, do us the honor of accepting a moment of thanks for helping two caged birds stop their bickering.”

James handed Olivier a cup and then dutifully sat next to his wife. She leaned into his side, and he beamed with pride, if only for a moment.

Between her concession speech and James’ position at his wife’s side, Christine had no avenue to request her bag. She curled her burned finger in her skirt, sipped her tea, and did her best to hide her hatred for everyone in the parlor.

Olivier took the opening to further delay whatever Madame Zidania had planned. “If you would excuse me for a moment, and grant me the honor, I would be happy to fetch Ms. Johnson’s bag.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Such a graceful offer. Of course.” Her words bore the same care and well-mannered decorum as her sisters but the intent beneath them was still clear, Olivier was about out of largesse with her.

He excused himself form the parlor and headed up the stairs. He also took note that the barrier at the front door had vanished after the crystal’s disruption.

He recovered the bag from where he had seen it on the second floor. It was heavier than it looked, loaded with crude instruments of magicka and esoterica. Despite the garish appearance of a carnival fortune teller, Madame Zidania had real materials at her disposal. No natural powers or training, but enough money to secure a treasure trove of oddities. Olivier inhaled deeply, memorizing the traces that permeated the objects. It would serve the Third to know more about the supplier and to put eyes on them. Satisfied he had the impressions he needed, he reached out with power of his authority and the visage of his Office to subtlety fracture, bend, and wilt everything therein. Any power she tried to pull form them would see them crumble but any sense used to detect them would still register that they were active.

He returned to the parlor and gently handed the bag to Christine. “That’s an interesting collection, quite extensive.”

She pulled a tincture out of a side pocket and wrapped her finger. “I take my craft very seriously, Mr. Kelley. If only the other so-called experts my sister had allowed to tromp through her home had been equally dedicated. Some were simply misguided; others were quite obviously frauds. More the latter, I think.”

This last part was clearly a slight at Olivier.

Olivier placed his half-filled cup on the tray and stood at the threshold. “I must take my leave. I’ll return as soon as I get any new information, Mrs. Wilks. Mr. Wilks.”

Elizabeth stared through him with bitter, desperate eyes. “We shall finish our tea, my dear sister will go home and we will all take a quiet day to collect ourselves and pray for Laura.” This last part both an accusation and a plea at her sister.

Catherine nodded. “I am desperately tired. I t would be best if I did some studying and prepared a few things. I’ll be back tomorrow. With your permission, of course.” This threat carried with it the weight of their social obligations. Without a clear reason to bar her, Elizabeth could not simply refuse.

“Of course, Catherine. But not before dinner. We’ll prepare something adequate and host you properly.” A time delaying tactic and one that told Olivier just how much time he had before the situation again spiraled out of control.

He departed through the front door, shutting it behind him.

Olivier understood that his timeline was anything but stable. The risk in leaving a problem unsolved should have been that Laura could suffer further damage or become unrecoverable. Sadly, the real dangers kept being the human elements that refused to leave it well enough alone. He smiled to himself as he headed across the street to the park. If humans were more complacent, less willing to push into spaces they didn’t belong, they would not be the focus of Creation. It was these impish, imprudent, outright frustrating entities that were the reason he and everyone he served with had been formed. He might have changed his Office but he stayed steadfast in that duty.

He stepped back to the sacristy. O’Hugh had locked himself in, the tables, clean only a few hours ago, were laden t with tomes opened and marked. O’Hugh was at the desk arranging something over the phone as Olivier arrived. “It matters not what permits. The church has recourse to hold a vigil at any time given the permission of a parishioner. We can gather at the Wilks’ home as soon as I reach James.” He stifled a gasp as the agnel appeared. “See that it gets done. Twenty of our most faithful, we need strength of spirit, not numbers.” He hung up the phone and came around the desk. “I’ve been working hard here. The identity of the Guardian has to be connected to the area or the Wilks’ line. Or perhaps the Johnson’s, if it has followed Elizabeth. I dare not delve into the Sephirot and commune with the mysticism of the Jewish faith. It is too far beyond my purview.”

Oliver shook his head. “It’s fine, Reverend Father, I will send along a person well-versed in all things pertaining to the tribes of Israel soon. It is best he remains here with you and work on this aspect of the problem. But until I can get him, I have some information that will assist the process.” Olivier scanned a few pages of a book open nearby, it was a detailed history of the Wilks’ family line from their time in southwest England in the years 1240-1600.

O’Hugh came to his side and pointed at the book. “After 1600 the family scatters. Some end up in Virginia, some in Germany. Others remain. The known house angels of the family get split up and more get added as the traditions of each area override.” A note of disgust leaked into this final statement. He shifted the shoulders of his robe uncomfortably and crossed himself. “Forgive me, Father. It is a trial sometimes.” Then to Olivier, “Nothing against the Anglicans, so much, but they did make records of this sort… difficult to parse.” He crossed himself again, “To say nothing of the Calvinists.”

Olivier dismissed the intrareligious issues and cut to the point, “I have additional information on the identity. This Guardian would have been working with a select group in the earliest of days. Do you have anything pertaining to the Pillars of Eternity or scriptural translations that substitute the name Sandalphon for the Metatron?” There was no point in bringing up the bindings, if they were barely considered elements of the Enochian archives, it would not have crossed human holy pages. “If you find something there, trace back to any scribes of those translations, any monasteries they came from, and determine their patrons and house angels. That will give us the shortest list.”

O’Hugh jotted down a note and started looking at the shelves as he continued the conversation. “I am sure we will find something. Something significant, but how long will it take? How long do we have?”

Olivier considered his answer carefully. He didn’t have time to wait for Israfel to decipher the message on the page. “We might have a day, two if your prayer circle distracts certain concerned parties.” He pushed the book aside to the one beneath it. A treatise on the anatomy of the Nephilim by a heretical sage named Ströd. “I give it at most, twenty more hours. By dawn tomorrow we’ll be facing heat from sources that will not be rebuffed. You have that long to track down the shortlist of Guardians and get a name. Otherwise, I will be forced need to take a risk and enter the turmoil of Laura’s psyche.”

O’Hugh slammed a recently collected tome onto the table. “You would violate the girl’s soul in such a way?”

“I suggest it only as a final resort. And it is not so simple. I risk more than her essence in doing so, I could easily get swept up and trapped. Human souls are not meant to be tampered with and to do so requires a powerful intent.”

O’Hugh smirked and crossed himself. “He has such wisdom and foresight to protect His children in such a way.”

Olivier conceded the point. “Layers upon layers of protection. But nothing is infallible. I will make preparations for the task; I hope that I will not have to use them.”

“I will hold you to that, Olivier. Not a single avenue must be left to you or I will stand ready to see you banished.”

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