Prologue: The Damned, Scene I (Lauren)

   
Prologue: The Damned, Scene I (Lauren)

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“Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day.”

Charles Dickens, Bleak House

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February 5th, 2007

It had been six years since Lauren had been Embraced by Vincent Moon and inducted into the mystery cult, and she had learned a great deal about them over the years.

There were three masters, the 'Residents' of the Golden Room. They were known to the rank-and-file as the Sun, the Demon, and the Spider. They were vampires, powerful and influential, with over a millennia of experience between the three of them. Lauren, by virtue of her unique position, was acquainted with two of them.

Vincent Moon was the Sun, around whom all revolved, the illuminating mind that had given birth to the Golden Room. The choice of his cult-name had been a fraught one, for the Sun is never a friend to vampires. The Demon was the one that Lauren did not know, though there had been hints she would be introduced in the near future, a brutal killer and enforcer for the mystery cult. And then there was the Spider, Sophie Penrose, who built her intricate webs of silk and poison, and wrapped it all together with a pretty bow.

Tonight, quite casually, Lauren was introduced to another one of the Golden Room's secrets, that of the half-mystical haven where they dwelled, the infamous Golden Room itself.

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One Canada Square.

It was a skyscraper. An office building, really, a center of finance here at Canary Wharf. It was filled with real estate agents and insurance companies. There were few places that were more mundane in London. In a city filled with ancient castles, centuries-old palaces, and roads dating from Roman days, One Canada Square was the last place to look for the headquarters of a mystical cult. Except... it was dark. And it was tall, and it stretched out to the sky. The air felt thin. Perhaps due to the wind, perhaps due to another reason. It was capped with a pyramid, an Eye of Providence that looked down on all of London. It was a latter-day demon's tower, a Bad Place built of steel and glass.



Somewhere in the center of the building, there was an elevator shaft, one which the mortal herd did not know about. It led directly into the London Underground, accessible by secret tunnels and guarded by two stone gargoyles, a passel of security cameras, and -- if Sophie's off-hand comment was to be believed -- claymore mines with infra-red sensors. The Golden Room took security seriously.

Despite that, Lauren had entered the elevator unmolested, because she was in the company of one of the Residents. Sophie Penrose was an attractive, elegant woman, blond-haired and reserved, presently dressed in a sharp business suit of some soft, white material. There were two bodyguards as well, a slender, red-haired man and a big, Afro-Caribbean man with a buzzcut, both dressed in grey suits that concealed a plethora of metallic nastiness.

Sophie had been speaking on the phone since picking up Lauren outside her apartment in a chauffeured, pure-white, Italian sports car, discussing something that sounded like it involved chemical formulas, stock prices, and FDA approval for sale in the United States. Finally, with a cold grimace, Sophie closed the phone (small, ultra-powerful, and silver-plated), and looked at Lauren.

"My apologies for that." Sophie said. She looked Lauren over, a dissecting gaze, from head to toe. "Yes, I think you'll have to do."


It took Lauren considerable effort not to trot after Sophie slack-jawed. Occasionally, when she noticed someone watching her, she even did a decent job of looking like she was supposed to be there. Which she was. But the combination of anticipation and curiosity bubbling in her made her feel like a kid on their way to Disneyland. This place would hold a very different kind of magic, though.

Sophie's apology for her long and incomprehensible phone conversation had been unnecessary. When Sophie was paying attention to her, Lauren always felt like she should be doing something, and her mind would run in five different directions at once trying to figure out what that something was. Lauren was fairly sure that if Sophie wanted to, she could cause anxiety attacks in people simply by staring at them long enough.

Or perhaps all it took was a comment. Lauren wasn't sure if that was a near-compliment, or an expression of disappointment that she was all Sophie had to work with right now. Either way, she had no idea what to say to it.

"It's alright. Er, what will I be doing?" That seemed like a safe assumption. Most of the time, when Sophie or Vincent came for her, it meant they had a task.

Sophie just looked at Lauren again, tilting her head to one side and tapping her chin with one exquisitely manicured nail. On the whole, Lauren represented material that was hardly ideal, but not without promise. Yes, Sophie could work with this.

"For reasons comprehensible to Moon and Moon alone, he's decided to hold a... gathering." Sophie couldn't bring herself to say 'party', she just couldn't. "As the only Childe of his not presently infested by 4th-dimensional insects, you will have duties."

If given the choice between Sophie looking at her like that again, and a vigorous pat-down, Lauren would choose the latter. At least it would end with more of her dignity intact.

"Oh, like a party?" she guessed, deciding to ignore the comment about 4th-dimensional insects because she really didn't want to know. "Okay. What kind of duties?"

"Yes, precisely." Sophie said, turning her attentions now to Lauren's face. She had grey eyes, and there was something positively serpentine in that gaze. "Your task would be to carry invitations, and at the party itself, handle introductions."

"You will also need to conduct yourself in a manner befitting the favored -- admittedly, only -- Childe of an Elder." Sophie said, giving up her examination of Lauren to rub her forehead, as though she had a headache from the one idea of Moon at this sort of gathering. "A manner, and attire appropriate to your position."

Lauren frowned. She was slightly concerned about the sort of people that would be invited to this party. And she wasn't quite sure what a "manner befitting the favored Childe of an Elder" was, especially when the Elder in question was Vincent Moon. Lauren was at least fairly sure she had the attire part covered. She'd splurged on a couple of designer dresses, just because she finally had the funds to do so. But perhaps there was a particular dress code?

"What kind of manner do you mean?" She'd thought her social skills were quite good, especially when compared to her Sire, but Sophie was making a point of it. "And what kind of attire would be appropriate?"

"Yes, I know." Sophie said drily, catching Lauren's frown. Sophie's phone rang, and she glanced at the caller-ID, but decided that whoever it was could wait. She turned her attention back to Lauren, her smile turning silken. "But we'll pretend Vincent has taste, just between the two of us."

"By manner, I mean polite, respectful, attentive, and understanding of the fact that most of the guests belong in Broadmoor." Sophie continued, regarding Lauren thoughtfully. The freckles might even be fashionable. "And you have clothing other than jeans and bomber jackets, I trust?"

"I can do that," Lauren said, referring to the proper treatment of guests. "I have plenty of practice." Her tone was dry, as she thought she warranted a bit more respect from Sophie after all this time. After all, she was basically being asked to be polite and tolerate eccentricities while looking pretty. It wasn't that far removed from what she usually did. Vincent Moon was certainly eccentric, and Lauren looked like she was on the cutting edge of fashion by comparison.

"And I do own dresses, I just never get the chance to wear them." Lauren was already building an outfit in her head. She should probably go for elegance, which would mean she'd need to expand her dismal jewelry collection. That was going to hurt her in the wallet, but she'd always found lenses shinier than precious stones.

"You haven't seen the guest-list yet." Sophie said ominously, as the elevator rose higher and higher into the sky. She favored Lauren with a silken smile, the kind of soft, gentle, understanding smile that just had to have had straight razors concealed in it. "You'll be fine, I'm certain."

It came to an abrupt stop, and the doors opened to reveal a sterile-looking corridor on the very top floor of One Canada Square. Officially, there was nothing but machinery and pumps and a maintenance station. In truth, however, it contained a great deal more. There were havens for all of the Residents, a barracks for the Men in Grey, armories, research labs, and the Golden Room itself.

The elevator brought Sophie and Lauren to the penultimate floor, also owned by the Golden Room (mostly offices and storage rooms, however), from which it was up a flight of spiralling stairs into the Golden Room proper. It was a large room, probably taking up most of the pyramid, with very large ceilings contributing to it's peculiarly squared off appearance. A perfect cube within the perfect triangle, twenty meters to a side. The walls were covered in what looked like hand-crafted clay or ceramics, and the floor as well, giving the room a rough, unfinished aspect.

In the center of the room was a deep shaft, an unused elevator shaft perhaps. A spiralling stairwell led downwards, into the darkness from which Sophie and Lauren had just come from. What was at the bottom, you could not even begin to guess. Scattered about the room, around the pit, were medical gurneys and cabinets, all with heavy straps, and unidentifiable stains upon the frames. Pride of place was given, however, to two objects on opposite sides of the pit. A heavy, circular stone, like an altar surrounded by brass candlesticks, and opposite it, a stone statue, carved in the Egyptian style, heavy and monumental. But instead of a face, the statue had a slot, and someone had put a golden mask into that slot, showing the face of some hideous Indonesian demon, with bulging eyes and a long, questing tongue poking between savage tusks.

"Demon left his mask here again." Sophie said, making a disapproving noise with her tongue. She glanced at Lauren, smiling that silky-razor-smile. "Any other questions? Do you need anyone to go with you? For protection."

Lauren was becoming increasingly concerned with why she was being brought here. Sophie could have told her all this anywhere. She hadn't given it much thought before; she'd been too excited to see where they were going. Now that they were here... well. Lauren was still interested in the room, but she'd seen enough horror movies to know that gurneys with straps and strange stains were probably bad. And being here alone with Sophie and her predatory smile wasn't helping.

She eyed the demon mask (that Sophie said had been left by a demon...) then looked at Sophie. Protection sounded pretty great right now. "Where will the party be? Here?" It didn't look like the place for a party, but considering the guests... "Having someone with me would be nice."




 

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