August 2017 Portland, Oregon – Desaevio Tower, Storm Syndicate Headquarters
Anticipation – tightly reined – infused the silence of the thirteenth-floor meeting room. This would be the only time anyone not a member of the Shadow Council would be allowed inside. The trio waiting for their guest’s arrival wanted to mark the occasion. Though only recently acknowledging the passage of time, they knew that in human years millennia had passed. But now, at long last, it was time. Their plans could finally advance.
This meeting, and its outcome, would determine their course going forward. And it was the Arnaud family who would be tested first. Two figures, hooded and cloaked in deep Prussian blue and sitting at the Council table, wondered if that family would prove worthy of the trust the Storm Syndicate gave them. Twins, Sebastian and Sabine’s thoughts often mirrored each other’s. They had the ability to communicate telepathically, but knowing each other as well as they did, neither truly felt the need often.
The third in the room - currently calling himself Corin Desaevio - stood alone, his ice-blue gaze trained on the incomparable view of the Hawthorne Bridge as he thought about how much the world had changed since he had last been there. Sweeping natural vistas, the wild beauty of nature, had morphed into city skylines and dazzling lights. Man-made constructs, perhaps beautiful in their own way, were far different from his childhood memories. The voice, born of that seed of darkness planted during a long-ago battle and grown into his constant companion for so long now he barely recalled a time without it inside his mind, hissed a scathing denouncement of the progress of man.
Better progress than stagnancy, Corin replied, silencing the hissing voice momentarily. It was a truth the voice could not fight against because they would not be where they now stood without progressing themselves.
Before the voice could find something more to say, Corin sensed his secretary’s approach. Seconds later, a peremptory knock sounded before the secretary – a young lamia named Nadine – entered.
“Mr. Arnaud has arrived, Mr. Desaevio.”
We could corrupt her, the voice hissed with anticipatory glee. She would enjoy that very much.
“Send him in, Nadine,” Sebastian instructed from his seat at the table.
Too much. Corin ignored what was happening in the room behind him in favor of responding to that voice. His derision came through loud and clear in his thoughts. Lamia are sex witches. They need it to wield magic and even to maintain their health, so they hold little challenge.
A throat cleared nervously as the previously confident footsteps entering the room faltered and halted. The newcomer was unsure of where to go, toward the table or the man standing at the windows. Thus far, Corin’s first impression was not entirely favorable. He might exude ultimate authority. Even those with no ability to see or sense auras could not fail to sense his power. But that same air which told the newcomer Corin was the one in charge should also tell the man that, like a predator, he should never be approached. Especially without explicit permission.
Luckily, his children could be counted upon to set the newcomer straight. And did so now. Sebastian and Sabine had never let Corin down.
“Mr. Arnaud,” Sebastian began, face still hidden by the deep hood, “twenty-four years ago, you joined the Storm Syndicate. We supported your various businesses, aided you in dealing with your competition, and helped you continue operating under the radar of federal law enforcement.”
After a pregnant pause, Armand Arnaud swallowed and nodded. “The Syndicate has done a great deal for my family. We are all appreciative.”
Corin could almost hear the smirk in Sabine’s voice.
“While your appreciation is duly noted, we did not bring you here because we want to hear your toadying. When you joined the Syndicate, you gave your oath that you and your family would obey any commands the Shadow Council might give you. It seems your day of reckoning has arrived. We have orders we expect you and your family to carry out. Failure will bring consequences your family will not like.”
Corin heard a dossier slide down the length of the table. Moments later came the rustle of pages being flipped. Then Sebastian spoke again.
“We believe your two eldest children will be the best choices to act in this matter.” A small package shushed across the table as Sebastian continued. “Give the necklace inside this package to your daughter. She will need it to succeed in the main part of her mission.”
Arnaud spoke then. “There seems to be more than one objective for Amber to achieve.”
“One main objective, with another, secondary objective,” Sabine corrected. “The secondary objective, while we would like to obtain the Goddess Grimoire from the McKenzie Witch, is not as important as successfully completing the first part of the mission.”
Corin could hear the man choking on the word. Ah, so Arnaud had few dealings with species of Otherkind outside his own. If he wished to advance within the Syndicate, the man would need to get over his prejudice and fear. Arnaud’s next words had Corin stiffening.
“Should my daughter just kill this witch?”
“Only if she gets in the way,” Sebastian replied.
Though soft, Corin’s voice seemed to echo through the room, carrying his full authority behind the order.
“If it becomes necessary to kill the McKenzie Witch, your daughter will do so swiftly and painlessly, without causing her any suffering.”
He heard Arnaud’s feet shuffle as the man turned toward him, but Corin continued staring out the window.
“If this grimoire is important to the witch, there’s a good chance it’ll be hidden. I doubt she’ll give up its location easily. We might need to resort to torture.”
Corin’s hands curled into fists so tight his knuckles turned white. His jaw clenched so hard the crack could be heard throughout the large room. Outside, lightning flashed, slicing from the slightly overcast sky down toward one of the city buildings.
“If you have the temerity to speak directly to the Father, at least do so with respect,” Sebastian snapped as thunder punctuated his words.
“I…” Arnaud swallowed. “Forgive me, Father. I was simply looking for clarity on how my daughter is to proceed in her mission.”
Corin did not acknowledge Arnaud’s apology. He was too busy trying to contain the rage coursing through his veins. Thankfully, Sabine spoke instead.
“If your daughter cannot easily or safely locate the grimoire, she is to abort that part of the mission. The primary objective is far more important. Now, I believe you have a flight back to New York to catch, Mr. Arnaud.”
“Yes. Thank you for your trust in my family,” Arnaud groveled as he backed toward the door, bowing his head. “I promise we won’t disappoint you.”
The door snicked shut, leaving silence to descend upon the room once again. But unlike the anticipatory air of earlier, this quickly became oppressive. Ominous. Eventually, Sebastian sighed.
“Father, the man does not know the McKenzie Witch is one of Cahira’s descendants. Few have that knowledge. You cannot kill Arnaud. He might be little more than a blunt instrument, but we need those sorts to do what we refuse to do.”
Corin snorted at his son’s assessment of Arnaud. A blunt, mindless brute, he certainly was.
“He did not even acknowledge the role his son was to play. And the son’s objectives are arguably even more important to the Syndicate than what his daughter is meant to accomplish. Certainly, more important for the Shadow Council’s progression. The foolish man will no doubt leave his son to walk into the lion’s den unprepared. Arnaud has already failed his first test.” He could feel both his children’s worry, so sought to alleviate it. “You’re right, Sebastian. We need Arnaud alive right now. I won’t kill him.”
As his ice-blue eyes found Arnaud’s rental car as it pulled out of the parking garage, Corin heard Sebastian and Sabine’s sighs of relief. Yet Corin’s icy gaze followed the car as it drove toward the airport.