Blood King Rising – Intro 7

Corwyn Malloran III - December 1928

Corwyn scrubbed a frustrated hand through his hair, messing it further.  He’d already spent all night working his way through these papers and he was bone tired.  There’d been too many late nights recently – some more enjoyable than others – but the amount of work that needed to be done never seemed to end.  No matter how many cults and strange occurrences they investigated, more were turning up on an almost daily basis.  It was unprecedented.

Agencies around the globe were reporting an uptick in missing persons cases, in dead bodies being found under circumstances that the local authorities simply categorised as cult-related – assuming they reported them at all, and in events that were without explanation.  The worst part was that he was not getting the full picture.  No matter how many people he had feeding him this information, they were never enough and, for all his wealth, even he couldn’t afford to have everyone on the payroll.  Especially not in financially perilous times like these.

He authorised more real estate acquisitions with flourish of his heavy fountain pen.  In the long term, he’d recoup all this expenditure at least ten-fold, but until then it was money that his advisors did not want him to spend.  They were all doom and gloom these days, when they weren’t revealing their naked avarice at the thought of buying many of their failing competitors in various fields.  Corwyn did this to make sure as many people as possible stayed in work.  They just wanted a clear monopoly so that they could charge whatever prices they wanted for the goods being created.  He tried to keep a lid on that kind of gouging, considering it obscene to make money off other people’s misery, but even he couldn’t be everywhere.

Fortunately, with a number of his companies and agencies, he’d managed to find like-minded and capable individuals to steer them through these murky waters.  Even this investigation firm would be in good hands if he were unavailable for any length of time.  Jenny Astrid was a forceful personality who knew what she was capable of and able to persuade others to stand with her.  Now that she was onboard, he was not worried about the future of the agency.  The others in that group of directors, public or shadow, brought their own skill-sets to the table and had proven their worth many times over.  The synergies enabled them to succeed, time and again, against entities and groups that would otherwise have overwhelmed them.  He prayed that their luck would continue.

Right, that was the last of the papers for today.  He gathered the stack, tapped them into a neat pile, and put it into his out tray.  Mrs. Ashmont, his battle-axe of a secretary, would ensure that they got distributed, copied and otherwise handled, while he was in his meeting.

He glanced at his pocket watch and swore.  Late again.  Crap.

There was an amused peal of laughter from a dark corner of the room and he started, hands reaching for something heavy.

The woman leaned forward into the light.  “Relax, Corwyn,” she told him.  “You have enough time to shower and change.”  She rose to her feet and approached him, looking as elegant as ever.

“We’re late…” he started to protest, but a finger on his lips silenced him.  The finger was followed by a pair of lips and a warm puff of sweet breath.

“I adjusted your timepiece,” she whispered into his ear.  Her teeth nibbled an earlobe, making him shiver.  “I also arranged to delay the meeting.  We have a good hour yet.”  Her fingers rasped over his cheek.  “Perhaps a shave first, hmm?  I can do that.”

Corwyn swallowed convulsively.  Jenny holding a straight razor close to his throat when he’d managed to peeve her only the night before.  “Sounds perfect,” he croaked.  If he couldn’t trust her, then there was no-one he could trust.  A thought pierced his panicking mind.  “How did you get in here?  I told Mrs. Ashmont I wasn’t to be disturbed.”

Jenny smiled, her eyes dark and deep.  “Your secretary and I have come to an arrangement regarding you,” she whispered.  “I get unfettered access to interrupt you when I want to, and she doesn’t try to stop me.  It really works out quite well for all parties involved.”  She pulled away to pick up his suit jacket.  “But only if they don’t ask too many questions.”

Corwyn nodded.  “The door was locked from the inside.”

“Perhaps,” Jenny shrugged gracefully.  “Then again, perhaps not.”  She moved silently to the door in question and held it open, one brow raised inquiringly.

Corwyn shrugged in turn and joined her.  He caught his secretary’s amused smirk as he passed her desk and was truly glad that she was loyal and incorruptible.  “This might affect your Christmas bonus, Madeleine,” he told her.  “There are some papers for you to deal with.”

“Any increase will be gratefully accepted,” Mrs. Ashmont said blandly.  He couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not.  “Do you need me after that?”

“No, thank you, Maddie,” Jenny answered for him.  “We’ll see you after the Christmas break.  Enjoy your time with your family.”

“Merry Christmas, Madeleine,” Corwyn added quickly as Jenny ushered him toward his next-door apartment.  “And thanks.”

The intervening time passed swiftly, more swiftly than Corwyn would have preferred, and he found himself striding into the ninth floor meeting room at the precise time the meeting was due to begin.

Jenny was already in her seat.  She smiled warmly at him, her dark eyes inscrutable.

To her left sat the oldest member of their team, Brendan Delvert.  A big man, looking far younger than his actual age, who spent the bulk of his time studying arcane tomes trying to understand as much as he could of the ancient secrets held within them.

Continuing round the table, he found Maia Raith, her red hair bright.  She was an intense character, quiet and studious, but also adamant in her beliefs.  Growing up in the Cult of the Unnamable Dawn had left its mark on her psyche, but she seemed to be recovering nicely.  She had started as a kind of civilian advisor after she was rescued, but she had taken to the investigative role like a fish to water and was now a junior-grade detective in her own right.

Next to her sat, or perhaps slumped would be a better description, Arnie Maron.  He looked almost as bad as Corwyn had looked an hour earlier, red-eyed, unshaven.  He must have just arrived back from L.A. and, since Constance wasn’t present, he’d come alone.  He was presently holding a large mug of coffee in both hands and sipping cautiously from it as the steam wafted about his face.

Then there was Jenny’s right-hand woman, Carla Drago.  She was a short woman with a lean form that belied her strength.  Carla wasn’t a stupid woman by any means, but her upbringing had limited her educational choices and made her hide her lights under a bushel.  Since joining the agency, she had arranged to better herself of her own volition.  It had been amazing to see her blossom both literally and figuratively over the years – progressing from a near-illiterate driver-cum-bodyguard for Jenny, to the self-assured woman in designer apparel who sat straight-backed before him.

Corwyn gave them all a welcoming smile.  “Thank you for coming on such short notice,” he said smoothly, claiming his seat at the table.  “I apologise for interrupting your various Christmas activities, but I thought it would be good to catch up and to inform you of a new case that will be starting early in the New Year.”  He gestured to Maia.  “Maia has kindly put together a set of information sheets that cover the basics of what we know to date.”  He nodded to the young woman.  “Sorry about the short timeframe, Maia.  If you could let us know what you’ve found out..?”

Maia ducked her head and sorted through the pile of paper in front of her.  She glanced up, trying not to meet anyone’s eyes, and cleared her throat.  When she spoke, her voice started off soft and almost inaudible, but soon gained in strength, certainty and volume.  “On the nineteenth of December, this year, Miss Astrid received a telegram from one Jackson Elias.  He is currently aboard the cargo vessel, Jaded Queen, registered out of Shanghai.  His ship-to-shore communique referenced the ill-fated Carlyle Expedition and the need for a reliable investigative team.  He will arrive in New York on January 15, 1929.”

“The writer?” Brendan enquired, his interest piqued.

Maia paused, flustered at being interrupted, before continuing quickly.  “Jackson Elias is 38, of medium height and build, and dark-complexioned.  He has a feisty, friendly air about him and, as an orphan in Stratford, Connecticut, he learned to make his own way early in life.  He has no living relatives, and no permanent address.”

She flicked a look at Brendan and nodded quickly.  “He is a writer and an adventurer – identifying and exposing death cults wherever he goes.  His best-known book is Sons of Death…”

Corwyn had already read the internal report she had compiled about Jackson Elias, so he tuned out and watched the faces about him react to the information being presented.  While he did so, a song began to play unbidden in his mind, a song he’d heard as a young man, but he didn’t think he recognized the lyrics.

Will you set him free to open his wings

There’s power in the blood

Power in the blood

Would ye offer ye soul to the bloodiest king

There’s wonderful power in the blood.

 

There’s power, power, wonder-working power

In the blood of our king

There’s power, power, wonder-working power

In the precious blood of our king.

 

Would you be whiter much whiter than bone?

There’s power in the blood

Power in the blood

Open your veins and

See all your blood goin’

Oh the Blood King will rise in the blood.

 

There’s power, power, wonder-working power

In the blood of our king

There’s power, power, wonder-working power

In the precious blood of our king.

 

Would you offer service to Court and King?

There’s power in the blood

Power in the blood

Would you be willing his praises to sing?

There’s wonderful power in the blood

 

There’s power, power, wonder-working power

In the blood of our king

There’s power, power, wonder-working power

In the precious blood of our king.

 

“The Blood King rises!” Corwyn found himself shouting while the others stared across the table at him as though he had sprouted horns and a tail.  He clapped his hand over his mouth in consternation.  He felt suddenly nauseous.

“That’s what the Dancer said,” Carla announced, her old accent flooding back, making her words almost incomprehensible.  She made a warding gesture.  “Miseç yákhá tut dikhen – mudaren.  Ochii răi te văd, să piară.  Złe oczy cię widzą, niech zginą.”

Maia looked to Brendan, who frowned in concentration before saying hesitantly, “Archaic Romani, Romanian, and Polish are not my languages of choice.  I much prefer Hebrew, Egyptian or Sanskrit.  Keeping that in mind, I think she said: ‘False eyes see thee, may they perish’.”

Evil eyes,” Carla corrected.  She rose quickly from her seat and moved to stand between Corwyn and Jenny.  “Don’ worry, Madame.  They won’t get past me.”  She made the warding gesture again and spat in Corwyn’s direction.

“Good heavens, Carla,” Jenney exclaimed.  She pushed past her protective bodyguard and went to Corwyn.  “What was that all about, love?” she whispered, concern in her eyes.  “Those voices singing in such harmonious chorus – all from your mouth.”

Corwyn could only mutely shake his head.

“Can’t you feel it?” Maia asked suddenly.  “The pressure in the air, in the mind?  Something evil is coming.  Something that will destroy us all.”  Her face was paler than usual, and she was perspiring.  “This was a warning.  A harbinger.  A dark omen.”

Brendan laid a hand on her shoulder and whispered something into her ear.  She quieted.

Arnie passed Jenny a hip flask and she held it to Corwyn’s lips.

Liquid fire burned its way down his gullet, making him cough, until it settled into a warm glow that suffused his stomach.  “I think it’s safe to say that this investigation could be the most important one yet,” he finally rasped, squeezing Jenny’s hand in silent thanks.  “I have no idea what took me over, but we can’t let it frighten us into running away.  We need to stand and fight.”

“Fine with me,” Arnie nodded, taking a swig from his own flask after reclaiming it.  “How?”

“We finish this briefing,” Corwyn told them.  “I think that was just a warning.  A harbinger, as Maia said.”  He looked into each of their eyes, seeking something, agreement, support, a pitying assumption that he was completely and utterly mentally broken.  “When we’ve finished, I suggest that each of you use the days between now and January fifteen to enjoy life and ready yourself to face terrors beyond imagining.”

“Sounds like a regular Tuesday to me,” Arnie yawned.  The others laughed, somewhat nervously.

“Good.”  Corwyn gestured for the others to sit down again and pointed to Maia.  “Keep going, please.”  This time he had no intention of being possessed, so he forced himself to listen carefully to every word, concentrating hard.  He could feel Jenny’s concerned gaze, and he flashed her a smile that was supposed to be reassuring.  It felt fake to him, so he wondered how she took it.  All the while, that infernal melody capered in the back of his mind, never quite managing to supersede his mental self-control.

Maia continued from where she had left off.

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