Prologue: A Matter of Soul, Scene I (Lauren)

It was impossible to miss, a construction of marble and brass in the old part of the cemetery. Jeffries was carved in the stone above the great brass doors, and then a motto, Matthew 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden". This was the task that the Guardians of the Veil, the masters of London's wizard-kind, had taken upon themselves. To hide that which cannot be hidden.

"Ostentatious, much?" Oleander said, deflating the moment ably. Then again, he was a pretty man pushing a squeaky shopping cart wih two dozen Folger's extra-large coffee cans. "Do we just knock, or---"

It was then that Lauren's question solved itself for her, as the brass doors opened to allow two men to emerge from the mausoleum, wherein they were greeted with the vision of a pretty young woman with a camera, a handsome, blond bodybuilder, and a shopping cart full of coffee. Even when one was a mage, this was not something you saw every day.



"So," Oleander said, stretching out length-wise on the bed of the guestroom they had been provided. "Do you think they'll bite?"

The room that the Guardians of the Veil had given Lauren and Oleander was a small chamber, decorated in that same austere luxury that characterized the rest of the Citadel. The walls were crafted of white marble, and the furnishings were almost entirely made of some dark wood. There were quite a few plants, as a matter of fact, leafy green things that Oleander took a certain amount of interest in. There was a pair of single beds, a dresser, and a table.

"Poor choice of words?" Oleander said, smirking up at Lauren.



They were in the Hierarch's private office now, just the Lictor and the Hierarch. It was a plain room, with only the Hierarch's desk, and a pair of potted plants in the corners. The two bodyguards were gone, and so it was just Seth and Civitas, plotting out their response, late into the night.

Civitas had listened quietly as Seth had laid out his opinions on the matter, and his discomfort with letting Moon be allowed to pay for his crimes with money rather than blood. Civitas had said nothing all the while, instead withdrawing a small sheaf of documents from one of the drawers in his desk, and looking through them as Seth spoke.

"You are aware, Lictor, that I've had several complaints about how you are handling this investigation to date?" Civitas said, examining one document. "Gross negligence, abrogation of wisdom, fraternizing with the enemy, hubris..."

"From whom?" Seth asked, doing that thing where you twirl a pencil when you're thinking. "And in what contexts?" was all that he said. "Because in this case, it's sort of important."

"From sources which I trust." The Hierarch said, voice imperturbable. He put the documents face-down on his desk and clasped his hands in front of him. Given that through his magics, the Hierarch neither slept nor ate nor even breathed very often, he had likely committed the complaints to memory long since. In some ways, Lauren was far more human than Civitas had been for decades. "But they are concerned about your close relations with Jean LeNoir and Sophie Penrose, and about your disregard for prophetic dream-warning. The situation of Paige Benton also is cause for questions about your judgment."

"They're worried about you, Melek." Civitas said, his voice softening. "And frightened for you."

Lauren plopped herself down on the other bed with a sigh. She wasn't really sure how to feel about what happened, mainly due to the fact that she hadn't understood a lot of it. But it had seemed to work out fairly well. And she'd decided that she wasn't annoyed at Moon not mentioning that she would be negotiating payment for his crimes, since that would have involved her in them more, and she did not want to be involved in anything that had to do with a bunch of souls.

"I think so," she said, ignoring Oleander's awful attempt at humor. "Working with Vincent is a hell of a lot easier than working against him.

Lauren straightened up and looked over at Oleander, narrowing her eyes. "So. How'd you know about weregilds?"

"Because I've negotiated them before." Oleander said. His eyes were closed, and he'd kicked off his shoes. One had to wonder whether he'd fall asleep soon. Certainly, his chest was moving up and down easily, his breathing slow. "The Vampire Courts aren't the only people who use them. Werewolf packs do too."

"Punishing supernaturals is hard." Oleander explained, stretching for a moment. "You can't really throw them into prison. Like anything would hold something like you or me, let alone Moon. You can go for whipping and hot irons, but trying to brand a werewolf can go wrong very fast. Killing people doesn't work much either, since the other guy's got no reason to go along with it, and he's got friends and allies and magic and money enough to do damage."

"So you pay weregilds." Oleander said, turning to one side and looking at Lauren with ice-blue eyes. "Money, territory, service, whatever. The other guy won't mind quite so much, since he's not getting killed, and even if he did mind, friends that might help you save your life aren't going to risk themselves to save your stuff."

"I think faeries have this whole system of oaths and stuff instead. Mages and some other vampires try to go for an actual legal system." Oleander said. "The whole central authority thing only works when the government's a lot bigger than any one guy. Then it can just force you to do stuff."

"I'll cop to the close relationship with Jean." Seth said, pencil ceasing its twirling. "I like him. Is it probably in my best interests? Not really. But it's one of those things where I like him, I feel good around him, and it makes me happy." He said the last bit with the sort of tone suggesting that not much really did, and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the hand that wasn't currently holding a pencil, because impaling your own eye tended to make you look like an idiot.

"As for Sophie, it's not a relationship. I had sex with her. I could be even more vulgar, but eh. It was a gamble, didn't pay off, or did just in a bizzare way. Still waiting to see on that." He went from twirling the pencil, to drumming it on a convenient surface, eraser point down.

"As for prophetic dream warning, Prophecy is usually that delightful thing known as maddeningly vague, and depending on which set of symbolism one goes by, can be construed any number of different ways. It's the pizza topping conundrum." Apparently, no explanation of that was forthcoming.

"As for Page...yeah. On that one, I kinda got nothing. It was me doing something tremendously dumb on the principle of "because I can." I'm fairly certain that I spit in god's eye with that one, and something that should be metaphysically impossible happened. If it bites me in the ass, I deal with it and clean up the mess."

Seth sighed, leaning back. "I'm just...ugh. Do you mind if I just kind of vent for a moment? I kind of need to, and who knows, it might be healthy for me."

Civitas listened patiently to all that Seth said, though what he thought of it was impossible to say. This may have been one of the reasons he affected the shadowy-silhouette guise, as it prevented anyone from knowing what he thought, even discounting that a Guardian Hierarch would have had an imposing poker face. Did he agree with Seth? Did he disagree? Who could tell?

"You may say whatever you feel needs saying, Lictor." Civitas said softly. And perhaps there was a warning here, just a little bit of one. Though this was an informal conversation, there would be formal consequences of what happened here.

Lauren nodded. "Makes sense. Thought it would have been nice to know before."

She toed off her shoes as well, leaving one balanced on the tip of her foot in case she needed to fling it at Oleander if he was rude enough to fall asleep during the conversation.

"You know more about mages than I do. What did you think?"

"Since when does Moon tell anyone anything?" Oleander said, smirking. He was running his eyes up and down Lauren, and thinking something to the effect of it being a crying shame that they were probably under surveillance right now. "He probably forgot."

"I've only met three mages before tonight. They're arrogant and judgmental bastards?" Oleander was not a big fan of the London magical community. "So I think they're going to need to bloody themselves a bit before they see reason. I just hope we survive it."


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