"Ultima Ratio Regum"
Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
St. Bartholomew's Hospital was the pride and joy of the Kindred of London. It was founded, with the Priory of St. Bartholomew, in 1123 by Rahere, formerly a courtier of Henry I. A vow made while sick on a pilgrimage to Rome, and a vision of St Bartholomew, inspired Rahere to found a priory and a hospital for the sick poor at Smithfield in London.
The Priory was closed as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, and although the Hospital was allowed to continue, its future was very uncertain as it had no income with which to carry out its functions. The citizens of London, concerned about the disappearance of provision for the sick poor, and alarmed at the possibility of plague breaking out, petitioned the king for the grant of four hospitals in the City including St Bartholomew’s. Henry finally relented; near the end of his life he issued two documents, one a signed Agreement dated December 1546 granting the Hospital to the City of London, and the other Letters Patent of January 1547 endowing it with properties and income. Along with Bethlem, Bridewell and St. Thomas’, St Bartholomew’s became one of four Royal Hospitals administered by the City.
Since the late 17th century, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, St. Bartholomew's (Bart's) had been the hereditary seat of the Lord (or Lady) of London, the ruler of the city's vampires. The Hospital building itself managed to avoid the flames, only lightly damaged, but it had lost a great many of its properties and therefore its income. The Kindred, as vampires are wont to do, swept down upon the Hospital and by way of funds and promises secured their role in it forever.
Now, the Hospital's Great Hall, a gorgeous, wood-paneled room, was formally rented out for the 13th of every month for the Elysium. Elysium meant truce, and it meant peace. Under the auspices of the present Lady of London, Elizabeth Sheridan, it was a place where all violence was forbidden. This meant that it was a night when all the vampires (and a few miscellaneous other horrors of the night) gathered, to drink (though not wine), to talk (all lies), and to seduce (this, at least, was genuine).
Monday, January 11th, 2010
"Erin! J.T.! Just the two people I was hoping to see!" The quiet evening at the Cat's Cradle ended quite suddenly when the titular Cat arrived in the Private Lounge, dressed in a bottle-green waistcoat and with his whiskers outrageously upswept. Dark-skinned and pale-haired, he was a very distinct individual. "My two favorite-most people in the whole wide world!"
It had been a quiet evening. Erin had been organizing work-schedules and cooking regimen with Ajay and D'Angelo. Rook and Squick were in a corner playing cards, with Rook winning by a significant margin. Lydia was sitting next to her boyfriend and listening to the silence, since it wasn't as though she could actually see what was going on. Underwood, meanwhile, had been typing up this week's radio address.
At another table, Whim, Heather, and Bat were gossiping about men, fashion, and (in Whim and Bat's cases) dead people, with Mary Mack sitting a little off to the side and smiling. For some reason, Mary always found the girlish gossip both very silly and very endearing, and though she rarely participated, she was often around. Lauren was a little away from it all, sipping some bloodwort and enjoying the ambiance.
"First! Presents. Or as I like to think of it, preemptive bribery." Othello said, opening his waistcoat and withdrawing for Erin a very, very, large chocolate bar. It weighed in at four pounds of sweet, Swiss-made white chocolate. For Underwood, a white panama hat was produced from the waistcoat as well, though how it avoided being crushed was one of life's mysteries. The hat also had a very bedraggled-looking robin perched on it, which prompted Othello to look at it for a moment. "...That is not supposed to be there, but you may as well keep it."
The robin chirped. Othello glared at it, and it fluttered down to hide on Underwood's shoulder.
"Now, have I mentioned that you are two of my favorite-most people in the universe? Kind, understanding, not-leaving-me-in-Arcadia-ing? I may have been remiss in my gratitude for that." Othello said, though there were dark circles under his eyes. It occurred to Erin that her friend and mentor didn't look as though he'd slept in days, and there was an edge to his manic cheerfulness. "Which is why I... do not much want to ask this of you now, but you two are really the best people for it. If not you, then I'll ask Rook and Cheshire, but they won't do half as good a job."
"It's a matter of politics. Rascally business, I know." Othello said with a sudden grin. "But you two have the advantage of being Lost without being part of our particular Freehold. Underwood is an ambassador and thus a neutral party, and your independence is almost as famous as your ability to inspire terror, Erin." Othello winked. "And... we really need some goodwill ambassadors just now."
"I need someone to go to the Elysium on Wednesday at Bart's Hospital. And you're the best at it." Othello said, suddenly serious. From his waistcoat he produced a letter in a cream-colored envelope. He pressed it into Underwood's hands. "Once you're there, open this letter and announce it to the entire assembly of vampires. You'll have to decide how best to do it, but make sure everyone pays attention to it. I'd rather you don't open the envelope before-hand, though. It seems irrational, but there is a method to my madness."
"Afterwards... use your judgment and try not to die."
Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
Elysium, as a name for the monthly gatherings, was something of a misnomer. Formally, Elysium was the invocation of the Right of Assembly, a half-legal, half-metaphysical permission to gather without interference by others. Violating the truce of Elysium was the sort of offense that was punished very, very harshly. But Elysium only allowed gathering. It was not the gathering itself. Formally, therefore, tonight was the Lady's Court. A time when the Lady of London could establish just who was in control of the city. It was a fraud of course. Sheridan had little power. But she had its appearance, and changelings knew that perception had a reality all its own.
The little group of emissaries had arrived early, along with the rest of the lesser Kindred and immortals who made up the great mass of the guests for tonight's entertainment. A pair of mortals with rather vague looks in their eyes had accepted everyone's coats, and a quartet of Kindred guards led by Anna Darlington checked everyone for weapons before letting them inside. While technically the sacred truce of Elysium was enough to keep violence down to a minimum, Sheridan tended to believe in 'better safe than sorry'. Only a few Kindred were allowed to wear weapons at the Elysium.
Once inside the Great Hall, it was time to mingle. Everywhere one looked, there were vampires in all their macabre glory. Most were dressed in their finest fashions, resplendent in silks and velvet. Alistair Niall, the former High Sheriff of London, was dressed in a Victorian waistcoat with elegant white gloves and a silk ascot at his throat, a gleaming, blood-red gem sparkling from its center. Lujza Dvorzsak, the Rampant Dragon and war-leader of the Ordo Dracul, was clad in a masculine uniform of black-and-crimson, her black eye-patch emphasizing the austere severity of her face. Rajani Ravindra, the Unbound necromancer, attracted many an eye in her emerald green sari, heavy gold at her wrists and ankles.
Refreshments had been provided as well in the form of about two dozen young men and women in revealing, yet elegant gowns and evening clothes. They were gathered from the private herds of the Invictus, or else picked up from bars and nightclubs. They wore red ribbons about their necks, marking them as vessels for the evening, and ghouls and junior Kindred were on standby to make sure that none of the guests let their hunger get the better of them. Woe betide the vampire who let his Beast overwhelm him at Elysium. It would be a very long time before he was allowed back again.
All around, the Kindred mingled. There was Cynthia of the Mara, exquisite in a faerie-made gown of black water, speaking with the dapperly-dressed Silk Eddie Treadwell, who had provided so many of this evening's meals. Not far from them, Scratch was holding court, surrounded by a gaggle of Nosferatu, their bizarre and uncanny presence enough to clear an area around them. The old gangster had an orange zoot suit on, and there was an ostrich feather in his wide-brimmed hat that was already beginning to rot. And there, just twenty paces away, was Evangeline St. Claire in a dark, plum gown, scanning the crowd for someone or something. She saw Underwood, and smiled.
The Lady of London, Elizabeth Sheridan, was not yet here however.
Monday, January 11th, 2010
"Ah, Miss Darrow. A moment of your time." Lauren had been in the midst of enjoying her bloodwort (a strange concoction with a faint taste of oranges), when a disreputable-looking cat-fey sat down opposite her. He was rather short, with dark skin and frizzy, pale-grey hair, and he had distinct whiskers and two large cat ears that swiveled atop his head. He was dressed in a bottle-green waistcoat, neat grey slacks, and black spats on his feet, and he had a golden pocket-watch which he was now consulting. "I realize that we've rarely had a chance to talk properly, but I was wondering if I might request your presence at an event on Thursday, the 14th? I find myself in need of an escort by a kindred spirit, if you catch my drift?" Othello scarcely waited for an answer. "Excellent, capital. I'll pick you up in front of the Cat's Cradle."
With that, Othello left the suddenly-alone-again Lauren to find his last quarry of the evening. He came up behind Mary Mack, and very softly and very silently leaned in behind her and blew in her ear. Mary looked up and grinned at him, and then the cat-fey lured her away, all without saying a word, with a beckoning glance.
She followed him into one of the hallways of the Cat's Cradle, and you could just catch a sidelong glimpse of the two talking in low, silent voices. Mary's eyes were wide and full of hurt, and Othello's face was grave, unusually somber. At long last, he paused, and after a moment's thought, Mary nodded, once. Othello's shoulders sagged, and then he stepped up on tip-toes to kiss her on the forehead, a swift, chaste kiss. But Mary wanted more, hugging the Cat to her, and for a moment they embraced, seeking comfort and support from each other. Then Othello stepped back and gave Mary a full bow, deep and respectful. Then with a tip of his head to Erin and Underwood, he was gone once more, disappearing into the night. Mary sighed, testing a fang with her tongue, and then went upstairs into her room. She wanted to be alone, suddenly.
Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
"...heard that witch was trying to get borrow money off Treadwell. I wonder what he's getting in return..."
"Mrs. Lamothe. Now here is a person I had not expected to see here." The speaker was a vampire, known to Erin and to Lauren as the Black Bishop, Solomon Birch. To Underwood, he was a vision out of a nightmare. Birch was a huge, powerful man, his body absolutely covered in scars. Dozens of them, hundreds of them, wide and slender, recent and ancient, all testament to an active unlife. A thick red velvet robe trailed the floor behind him, complete with a hood, overlaid with a black clergyman’s stole. The stole was embroidered in gold with symbols of his faith—snakes devouring themselves, thorns, spears, skulls, and more. Solomon’s chalk-white head was bare, hairless, crowned only with a series of thick, blunt scars.
"...glad Darlington got the post of High Sheriff. Couldn't have happened to a nicer lick..."
Standing behind Birch were two of his Sanctified servants. They were dressed in plain black robes with the hoods over their faces. Black gloves covered their hands, which were supporting elaborately embroidered red pillows. The pillow on the left cushioned a golden mask, the face of a bearded man showing exquisite sympathy and sorrow. The other held a pair of gold-gilt gauntlets, detailed with animal fur and sporting three-inch claws. One could not help but notice that they’d been positioned so that the finger-claws dangled over the pillow’s tasseled edge, and the thumbs were crossed to leave those talon-tips resting in midair. These were the signs of Solomon’s office: the Mask of the Man and the Claws of the Beast.
"Darrow, Mary." Birch said, nodding politely in turn to Lauren and to Mary Mack, his eyes lingering on the latter vampire. Mary had dressed in her 'Sunday Best' for this evening, a white shirt and black skirt, and she had been nervous. Birch continued, casting his gaze at the rest of the group. "Introduce me to your comrades, perhaps?"