The Secret Garden

Chapter Twenty Nine: "Secrets in Chalcedony"

Seeking the Cathedral

Part I

The mages are gathered at Alastair’s safehouse, where they are holding Arnau de Villanova hostage. Keeping him sedated, they carry out deep magical interrogation of the Spaniard. They discover that he is a mage whose immortality spells have failed due to something called The War of Ruins. He has been reduced to petty alchemy and stealing kidneys in order to stay alive. He has come to London to reach something called the Chalcedony Cathedral, where he hopes to find healing and refuge, and promises to share his wisdom and learning if his captors will let him go.

Kailani delves deeper into the Spaniard’s mind and sees a vision of the world as he sees it: Long years of wandering, feeling life ebb, magic ebb. The world has changed, and so have you. Your skills, your powers are mere shadows of what they once were. The world is in ruins, and your vast alchemies are likewise ruined. You are reduced to scrabbling in the ruins now, little more than a rat ekeing out a pitiful existence. There was a fine House you were once a member of – you can’t even remember its damn name now! What has become of you, of the order that once you called home? All that remains now is hope. A last, desperate hope… There is a place, it is said, that has evaded the Ascension War, a place that stands outside the ruins. There, if anywhere, you might find those who could grant you the immortality that once was yours; make perfect your shattered life; restore your greatness. A cathedral, made of white bone. The priestesses who tend that place have been known to grant such favours. If only you could learn how to win their favour. If only you could figure out how to find it, this Chalcedony Cathedral…

Kailani shares this vision with Aiden and together they ponder what it could mean. Aiden in particular is drawn by the idea that, if the Spaniard could find healing at the Cathedral, then maybe Aiden can too.

Alistair decides that it would be prudent to contact Baedecker and get his take on how to deal with the Spaniard. He and Kailani head to a Canary Wharf cafe to meet with Baedecker. When there, Baedecker magically conceals their presence and arranges for a few coincidental coffees, before getting down to business. He is behaving in a particularly paranoid manner, even for Baedecker, and reveals that he has come under considerable pressure from the Brythonic Lodge due to Alistair’s mishap with the tragic gas leak at Stafford’s house.

As for the mages’ questions and dilemma, Baedecker has little useful advice. He knows next to nothing about the Cathedral, but promises to look into it further. He has also never heard of the Spaniard. As far as Villanova is concerned, though, Baedecker recommends handing him over to the Lodge as a way to win back their favour.

The trio conclude their meeting. As they are leaving the cafe, a truck swerves across the street towards them. Alistair draws his gun and shoots the driver. The truck veers out of control and flattens Baedecker, killing him instantly and spraying Kailani with his blood.

Kailani and Alastair flee immediately, coincidentally evading notice, and call for help. Felix drives out and collects them, then drives back to the safehouse. Aiden, meanwhile, Aidan magically hacks into local CCTV coverage of the area and removes all footage relating to the incident.

Back at the safehouse, the mages catch their breaths and try to make sense of what has just happened. Baedecker is dead, with no seeming reason, motive or forewarning. Our heroes are now alone in Shadow London, at the mercy of the city’s other cabals.

They decide that the time has come for them to fully take matters into their own hands. Kailani taps into what she has learned of the local underworld and arranges contact with a dealer to buy a large dose of ketamine. Her contact turns out to be the enigmatic Jah Kingdom. Giving her the ketamine, Jah tells Kailani that everywhere is the Church of Jah, but some places are stronger in his love than others. “One such place is coming soon. Your path starts there, little sister.”

Back at the safehouse, Kailani heads down into the basement and administers a fatal dose of ketamine to the already-sedated Villanova. She observes his consciousness and spirit descending into a flat, white oblivion. His spirit has no words of farewell for her, and she watches with silent dispassion as the Spaniard dies.

Part II

After you have slain an ancient and powerful mage with a ketamine overdose, what do you do? Well, in Kailani’s case you go shopping for munchies at the local corner shop. And you bring Aiden along with you, just in case.

Turns out to be a prudent move. At the shop, a quartet of hoodie-bedecked youths burst in and try to rob the proprietor, Kenji Hiromoto. Aidan and Kailani intervene and save the man, forcing the assailants out of the shop with cunning use of coincidental magic. Kenji is overcome with gratitude and invites Kailani and Aiden to his house for dinner. They politely refuse and return to the safehouse.

Alistair, meanwhile, is at home at Pudding Lane tending to his Node. He is examining the fragments of the stone head he carried back from Georgia, when the coins embedded in it wriggle free, fly across the room and lodge themselves in the wall. At that exact moment the doorbell rings. It is Jenny Smits, looking for help. Jenny, tearful and terrified, says that her dad always told her to look Alastair up if she found herself in need of help. Jenny has fallen foul of her drug-dealer ex-boyfriend Declan and needs a place to stay. Alistair agrees.

The mages decide that the safehouse is not somewhere they can stay long-term. They dispose of the Spaniard’s body by weighing it down and dumping it in the Thames, while Felix takes possession of the Spaniard’s belongings. They regroup at The Mobius Strip to discuss their options.

Their discussions are interrupted, however. A spiritual ward blankets the shop and, before the mages can react further, a pair of strange spirits rip through the Schism, materialise in the shop basement, and attack the mages. Phasing in and out of reality, they hurl powerful magical attacks at our heroes, all the while loudly proclaiming that this is in revenge for the deaths of their companions and the breaking of their pact with the mages.

The spirits’ attacks are coordinated, precise, and seem to take into account the mages’ defences and tactics even before they happen. Although the basment is badly damaged, and the mages suffer several wounds, they are able to kill one of the creatures and drive the other off.

In the aftermath of the battle, the mages receive a message from a man introducing himself as Portobello and asked to meet with representatives of the Brythonic Lodge. They agree and set a date at a local hotel.

In the interim, the mages investigate what they know about the imminent arrival of the Chalcedony Cathedral. Based on lore taken from the Spaniard and other investigations, they are able to pinpoint its possible appearance in a Juncture at one of three locations – the sunken Isle of Caractacus, the old Temple of Diana and a third unknown place. Given that the Brythonic Lodge control Ludgate Hill, the mages make magical preparations to detect the Cathedral’s arrival and plan to find the Isle of Caractacus and gain entry there.

The mages meet Portobello and his colleague Solomon, as agreed. Portobello and Solomon want to know who the mages are and who they work for now. They want to know where Baedecker has gone and are also still angry about the killing of Stafford and, apparently, Felix’ use of one of their leylines near St. Judes. They also have questions about an imminent Juncture, which the mages claim to know nothing about.

The meeting is cut short, however, by the appearance of three of the same umbrood who attacked the group at the Mobius Strip. Portobello launches an immediate attack against the spirits, fearing some kind of ambush, and the mages are soon caught up in a pitched battle. The creatures seem outraged at the attack, claiming they expected to be discussing a truce. When one is killed, the other two flee, promising retribution. Portobello and Solomon are suspicious that they have been set up by the mages and depart.

The day of the Juncture arrives and the mages prepare to seek the Cathedral. Kailani has another meeting with Jah Kingdom at the Dragon’s Head pub; he tells her that her path is about to begin. Leaving her meeting with him, she encounters a family of clearly semi-human individuals: Yanner Morrow, his wife Diaphina, and their son Tobias. They are members of the Mater Carasophia and are seeking the Cathedral in order to barter for passage home. Kailani provides them with advice on finding the cathedral, and Yanner promises to repay her kindness before departing with his family.

The Juncture arrives and the mages head out in a boat to find where the sunken Isle of Caractacus should be. The Periphery blooms around them and the mages find that here, the Isle still exists. They also find that the Juncture has created a Shallowing, allowing them to pass into the Penumbra. There they behold the Twin Rivers of London for the first time, glimpse strange signs of settlements along her banks and see overhead the immensity of the Chalcedony Cathedral hanging amidst the spirit-storms.

On the spiritual echo of the Isle, the mages find a set of six dolmens, but before they can investigate further, a quartet of the umbrood that have been harrassing them for the past few days appear and attack. One is apparently already injured and confused and lashes out at our heroes, perhaps mistaking them for the source of its wounds. By now, however, the mages have figured out what is going on, and immediately call for a truce. The umbrood depart, agreeing to a truce and promise that they will return shortly to discuss matters and potentially forge an alliance.

Once the creatures have departed, the dolmens suddenly animate, revealing themselves to be a group of winged, stone creatures much like gargoyles in appearance. These creatures identify themselves as the Sleepless Tribe of the Petrefax, the Stone Hunters. They are satisfied with the group’s reasons for seeking the Cathedral and, without further ado, carry the mages aloft to the Cathedral’s vast alabaster doors.

Once within, the mages are met by two members of the Bone CuriaSister Scalamagdria and Sister Evanora. Kailani glimpses a third individual watching from a high gallery, whose identity is confirmed when the Sisters address Kailani as “Mother” and “Great One”. One day, they say, Kailani will return to the Cathedral to be its warden. In time she will instruct the Sisterhood, when she joins the Bone Curia, fleeing the War and its heartbreak. Her path to the Cathedral, they say, begins when she helps Aiden find the Hapsburg Codex.

These initial revelations are followed by a slew of others. Felix learns of the nature of the Ascension War, also known as the War of Ruins, and the effects it has upon Awakened and Sleeper alike. Evanora tells him that the Chalcedony Cathedral hides from the War in the Schism that lies between the worlds. The current phase of the war and the storms in the Schism date back to November 1998 and the death of an angel in the umbra. This conflict escalated with several powerful chantries becoming involved (she names Doissetep and the Maze of Ebon Gates) and culminated with something called the Giza Continuum in May 2000, although the Sisterhood don’t know what that exactly was.

Aiden discovers that the healing he seeks, the restoration of his lost kidney, may not be what he truly wants. Scalamagdria tells him that power can be derived from woundings such as this. A long line of mages believed this to be true – the best source of their studies can be found in a book called the Hapsburg Codex. It is a book that seems to move through the ages, seeming to choose its next owner. Its last keeper was a renegade mage called Balthazar of Thebes, a sometime associate of Mama Nettie.

Alistair also speaks with Evanora, and from her he hears the suggestion that Baedecker’s death could have been a salvo in the Ascension War, and suggests that he might wish to look more deeply into the matter.

The mages remain for several days in the Cathedral, studying in its libraries and learning from the Curia. Eventually, however, they elect to return to the material world where, before long, they will find themselves ensnared with mortal coils.

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