Father Justiniani Jacobus
Like I said, Rush, this story's for you! ^__^
See? Another chapter already. Must be a record! Yeah! Go, coffee!
The man stepped off the gangplank, drawing the voluminous folds of his hooded cloak around him. His footsteps upon the pier were measured and unhurried, ringing clearly above the crashing of the waves and the occasional shout from the crewmen aboard the ship. If there had been a mist it would have curled about him, veiling him in mysterious streams of gray, but LeÃ¡n was a tropical island and not particularly given to eldritch mists at this time of year. A strong breeze blew in from the sea, momentarily driving back the stench of smoke and rotting garbage that hung over Digos. It lifted his cloak, tossing it this way and that, so that to an onlooker he would seem to grow in size, becoming, perhaps, a hulking, winged beast melting out of the darkness. A solitary lamp-post stood among the stacks of crates, ropes and woodpiles, and as he drew closer to the flickering circle of light, the image of the beast dwindled away, revealing an ordinary man behind the fleeting illusion.
He stood in the light with his hands clasped within his sleeves, his dark eyes beneath the shadow of the hood surveying the almost empty pier. A few minutes later, two men came hurrying up, both of them dressed in rumpled shirts and trousers, with the purple and white stoles that marked them as clerics of the Temple of Deos hanging crookedly over their shoulders. They appeared as if they had jumped right out of bed and tossed their clothes on, and judging from their nervous faces, they were obviously expecting an unpleasant retribution for their tardiness.
"O-our apologies, Eminence," one of them blurted as the other struggled to regain his breath. "We were expecting you much later. The oracle said--we were told that you had just left Harth-- "
The cloaked man held up a hand, cutting off the disjointed apology. "Be at ease, Brother. People have often underestimated how swift The Talon is, despite the fact that it moves over water and not through air. It is something I have grown accustomed to."
"/The Talon?/" The second member of the welcoming party craned his neck, looking at the shadowy form of the ship in question. "That's, er, an unusual name for a ship."
Father Justiniani Jacobus smiled. "It is an unusual ship."
They led him to a waiting carriage, and soon they were clattering off through the silent streets of Digos. They stopped in front of a modest stone house that was indistinguishable from the other houses on the street. The inside of the house was as unremarkable as the exterior. The dark, wooden furniture were old and uncomfortable-looking; as the candles were lit, their shadows leaped against the bare walls in black, eerie shapes. There was nothing in the house that could indicate that humans had inhabited it at any time--no paintings or knickknacks, not even a vase of flowers or a colorful doily. The only adornments were the rattan blinds covering the windows, hiding the house from view.
One of his escorts gestured apologetically at their surroundings. "Eminence, this is--we can move you to the Golden House at the embassy. There must have been some mistake in the instructions--"
"/I/ gave those instructions," Father Jacobus interrupted, "and I am pleased to see them carried out so conscientiously."
"But this is--Eminence, surely one of your rank deserves much bet--"
He turned around to face his escorts, and only the thin line of his lips was visible beneath the dark hood. "Brothers, please, I am but a humble servant of the Temple, as you are," he said, his soft voice cutting cleanly through the air. "This simple abode is my choice. After all, is it not written that we are to serve our Lord Deos with all our hearts, turning our backs upon the snares and deceptions of the worldly life?"
The men looked down, looking chastened. "Yes, Eminence."
"Excellent." White teeth flashed as Father Jacobus smiled again. "And now, I am tired and would like to rest."
The men bowed and almost collided at the door in their haste to depart. As they clambered into the carriage, one of them shivered and rubbed his arms. "Hurr. Were there any windows open in that house? It's so chilly in there."
His partner gave the house one last, uneasy glance. "You know something? I don't think it was the house."
As the rumbling of the carriage faded away, Father Jacobus raised his hands and pushed his hood down. The candles sputtered, causing the shadows to shudder erratically, and he lowered his hand, running his fingers over smooth top of a bureau. "Report," he commanded.
The shadows moved again. "He has returned, just as you said," said a voice. "The disks are with him, and he intends to continue his research on them. In fact, he has already recruited some volunteers to help him with his investigations."
"Four. All of them children and easy enough to manage."
"You made sure our boy is one of them?"
"Yes. One more thing. I believe he may have smuggled a copy of the resonator's design with him. The machine he is working on now is crude and unwieldy, obviously an early prototype, but he has made a few adjustments that roughly correspond to the latter versions of the machine. So far, he has made no attempt to build a new one. I believe he suspects that he is under surveillance."
Father Jacobus chuckled. "Ah, well. From what I have heard, the man has reason to be mistrustful. Excellent work, as usual," he said, facing the other occupant of the room. "I want to be kept informed of the professor's every move, including the results of his experiments. Everything is running according to plan, but I want you and your operatives to be ready when it is time to bring things to the next level."
"And when will that be, Father?"
"Not yet," he answered smoothly. "Not yet, but soon. His Holy Excellency's visit must be carried out seamlessly, which is precisely why I am here. The world is watching, my friend, and all the major players in the World Council have embassies even on this miserable island. With his invasion of Ithuar, Saridia's impetuous fool of a king has made it easy for us to execute the plan; we cannot waste this God-given opportunity by acting with equal imprudence."
"His Holy Excellency, will he--"
"He will dance, that's what he will do." Again, another lightning-quick smile. "And His Holy Excellency has ever been a superb dancer. As we servants of Deos must all be."
"Understood, Father." The other speaker bowed and turned to leave.
"One more thing."
The figure halted questioningly.
Father Jacobus was once again running his fingers over the bureau, a thoughtful expression on his face, looking for all the world like a fastidious housewife checking the furniture for telltale traces of dust. "Run a complete background check on all the professor's young volunteers. I don't want any loose ends when we finally have to...manage them."
The figure grinned, revealing a set of broken, rotting teeth as crooked as a cemetery after an earthquake. "Understood, Father," he said, then vanished, leaving nothing but shuddering shadows behind.