Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Unseen World, Chapter 5: White Queen to King’s Bishop Seven

Lily walked down the long, lavish hallway with fine carpeted floors, marble walls, and elaborate chandeliers. In one hand she was carrying a manila folder, neatly filled with papers, pressed against her blue-flowered low-cut blouse, while she dangled the other arm artfully at her side, complementing the exaggerated sway of her skirt-clad hips. Turning right, then left, at the end of the hallway, Lily emerged into a well-lit rotunda. Although entirely enclosed, it was decorated like a courtyard; a circular walkway surrounded a gravel base sectioned like a pizza into four by further walkways leading straight to the center of the rotunda, where what appeared to be an old, uncovered stone well stood starkly. The walkways leading to the well corresponded with the four cardinal directions, and each was labeled accordingly.

From the entrance to the rotunda, Lily made her way a quarter turn along the circular walkway, or just past the East walkway, her high heels sounding off on the light colored paving stones as she went. She opened, with a creaking sound, one of two monumental bronze doors, labeled above the archway with the Roman numeral ‘CXIII.’ Entering, she released the door, which closed with a scraping metallic sound somewhere between a clang and a thud. Inside was a low light carpeted corridor intersected by another, forming a ‘T.’ Along the top of the T there were four Red Oak doors, two on either side of the intersection. Lily opened the door on the far right.

Inside the room, her tall, dark and handsome new boss sat at a rather Spartan desk near the far wall, scribbling away at a piece of paper. He looked up, briefly, and then pretended he wasn’t distracted by the intrusion, seemingly returning to his work. But Lily knew better. First, she looked around to see what he had done with the place. Not much, she noted disapprovingly. There was a giant vid screen set in the left wall, and an admittedly impressive-looking life-sized replica suit of Alexandrian armor, complete with sword and shield, against the wall roughly halfway between the vid screen and an unadorned single bed at the corner of the near wall. The only other furniture was a red velvet sofa parked practically right in front of the vid screen.

She made an audible ‘tsk tsk’ sound, and furtively watched his reaction. It was subtle, but blocked from light though it was by his long, thick, charcoal black hair, she could see his pale face, milky white like the rest of his skin—no longer tanned by the Mediterranean sun, and borne of near agoraphobia, it seemed—,twitch in irritation. He half looked up toward her before catching himself and returning his gaze to his paper, trying to pretend it was something else that had distracted him.

Lily whistled a couple bars of some elevator music.

“Yes?” he said finally.

It was the reaction she had been hoping for.


Alex watched as his tall, platinum blonde secretary, neatly arrayed in her trademark style—a blouse and ruffled miniskirt with floral patterns—seemingly glided over to the desk where he was working. Arching her long back, the slender but muscular fair-skinned young woman, in her early twenties by all appearances, about his age, bent over Alex’s desk, plopping a manila folder in front of him and opening it with her long, agile fingers. “You’ll probably need this,” she said with an air of command in her sweet, soft, almost lisping voice; like the foaming of the sea.

Alex looked into her expressive, aquamarine eyes, ignoring the folder. “What is it?” he asked.

“Stuff,” she replied simply. She motioned suggestively with her eyes for him to look at the material.

“No abstract?” he arched a thick, charcoal eyebrow.

She let out a light, almost playful, sigh. “There’s a lot of different things. Some mail. But most is just information you need to do your job. How’s that going, by the way?”

There was a pause, then:

“Is that a challenge?” he asked, pushing his chair away from the desk, leaning back, jutting forward his broad, black-shirted chest, stretching his long arms and cracking his knuckles above his head, yet still keeping his eyes locked on hers.

“It might be…” she replied coyly.

It was. And they both knew it.

“Very well, then. I suppose I’ll have to meet it.” He stood up.

“You aren’t one to shy from a challenge, are you?”

“That’s why you hired me, isn’t it?” he joked, but it wasn’t rhetorical, and they both knew this as well.

“That would be telling,” was all she could say.

“Yes it would,” he grinned. “But that’s alright,” he assured her, “I’ll pretend it’s a game; that’ll be more fun.”

“That sounds dangerous.”

“Is that a threat?”

Lily frowned, but perhaps noticing that he was smiling, instead of reassuring him it was no such thing she said, “You aren’t taking this seriously.”

He laughed. “You obviously didn’t read my résumé.”

“I don’t recall you submitting one.”

“True, but you know what I do. I solve riddles… I like games.”

“I thought you were a detective.”

“That’s what my uncle paid me for.”

“And it’s what we’re paying you for, too. So, I’ll ask you again, have you detected anything?”

“Ouch,” he shook one hand as if he had been bitten. “Ok, I’ll give you a progress report, little Miss impatient.”

Lily looked a little guilty—bashful even, which pleased Alex, because that was the only time she didn’t intimidate him. It wasn’t her beauty so much, although that was a factor, but the way she always seemed so at place, so comfortable. Her persona was as much a natural fixture in the suspicious, corporate ambiance of Prometheus Technologies as was her visage. She was confidant; adaptable, fluid, like a chameleon, or water.

“Sorry,” she said with sincerity, “It’s just that there’ve been some setbacks, apparently.” She bit her pink lip before continuing, “...And I’m just conveying Lucien’s impatience.”

Alex smiled tightly.

As he let his smile fade, Alex looked her in the eyes, commenting as unacerbically as he could manage, “You’re just like a little reflecting pool, aren’t you?”

She looked almost hurt. He had expected that, however, and was ready with self-deprecating addendum, saying with as humble an affectation as possible, “Which is perfect for any handsome Greek, such as myself—every Narcissus needs his mirror.”


“That’s sweet,” she said, softly. Then, thinking about it some more, Lily wondered if he was really saying she was necessary for him to show interest in the external—perhaps she was even the object of fixation itself—,or just some sick, twisted device to be used for reflecting his own self-love. More likely, he was just messing with her. So, she added, “Wait. What do you mean?”

“That would be telling.”

“Been saving that?” she snapped back.

“Yes, but…” he tried to salvage the situation. She wasn’t really angry, and he probably suspected that, but she did want to know more. She figured that was something the two had in common.

“But what?” she asked pointedly.

“…But, if I recall correctly, it was not five minutes ago you were trying to get my attention.”

She thought about it a moment before responding in the affirmative.

“And if my memory is further accurate,” he continued, “As well as my understanding of subtext… that had something to do with your previous claim that I’ve been working too hard?”

She bit her lip. “I suppose,” was all she offered. He took that as a ‘yes.’

“Then why,” he asked, “Bother conveying Mr. Snow’s impatience?”

It hit her like a ton of bricks. That had been rather hypocritical of her. But you couldn’t blame a girl for holding two entirely contradictory notions in her head at the same time. And it appeared that Alex didn’t. Rather, he seemed to have more to say.

“And that just begs the question, what is my obsession?”

Lily frowned, not following him.

“I mean,” he explained, casting a penetrating stare deep into her eyes, like they contained all the mysteries of the universe, “What do you think I see in the mirror?”

Comprehension finally dawned. She pursed her lips, trying to come up with an answer to his question.

“A bit more ambiguous than you thought, I bet,” he grinned smugly.

She abandoned the train of thought, figuring it was futile for the moment, opting instead to change the subject, first by putting him on the defensive, “Been saving that, too?”

“Fair enough. You have to admit, though,” he looked far off up and to the side, as if in joyful reminiscence, “It was brilliantly executed.”

“I think you see a chessboard,” she cracked, subtly rolling her eyes. “Now why don’t you go through the folder I brought you?” She was through with games for the moment, and he seemed to take the hint.

“Well, there seems to be a letter from my uncle in here, conveniently laid on top…” Alex said as he opened the letter. She watched as he removed the letter from the envelope and unfolded it.

“What’s it say?” she asked unabashedly after a moment.


“My uncle’s offering to match what Mr. Snow’s paying me,” Alex told Lily, feeling rather surprised. He felt a brief pang of nostalgia for the Greek shipping company he had worked for until he was half-kidnapped, half-recruited just a week ago in this one hundred million strong megalopolis of London.

“So?” Lily asked, presumably wondering what his reply would be.

“Of course not,” he said rather hastily. “If he wants me to go back he would have to start by exceeding my current salary, not merely matching it.”

“And then?”

She was a pushy one, wasn’t she? Well, if he was going to stay here he would have to deal with it. “My uncle doesn’t think in as big a picture as he believes,” Alex said. “There’s more to a job than just money.”

“I do have my charms,” Lily quipped haughtily.

“There’s that…” he said offhandedly.

“Anything else in there...?” she said suggestively.

“Nope,” he put the letter away.

“No, I mean the folder.”

“Oh, well, there probably is then.”

There was an awkward pause, then, “Aren’t you going to read it?” Lily prompted him.

“With you standing over my shoulder?”

“I’m in front of you.”

Another pause.

“Would you like to see the progress I’ve made?”

“Alright,” she acquiesced. “What have you found out?”

“Not much,” he admitted, “But let me show you nonetheless.”


Lily found herself standing next to Alex, leaning over his shoulder and looking at an ancient piece of parchment protected under a thick glass tile (or possibly crystal, as it seemed to shine) set in the center of his old and otherwise unadorned Twenty-Second Century mahogany desk. The parchment consisted of a long list of names, or terms, some with rather lengthy ‘clarifications’ underneath, others with shorter clarifications, and some without any at all. She watched as Alex waved one hand over the crystal—it must be some kind of crystal she decided—and there appeared different text, or rather a different piece of parchment, in place of the old.

Lily wondered, and so asked, “Magic or science?” She hadn’t seen the new setup yet and was surprised by its elegance. Had the boy selected it himself? Probably not. Although he seemed to have good taste when he put his mind to it…

“I honestly couldn’t say,” was his reply. “But it looks like magic to me, so…”

It was good enough for her.

“Anyway,” he said, “This is the second page in the prophecy, and it seems to have most of the major actors in your little game; The Nord, The Greek, The Wanderer, The Lone Wolf... I’m sure you’re familiar with all of this so far…”

He was trying to bait her again. Prometheus Technologies was more than meets the eye; that much was obvious. Even if they had hired an idiot they couldn’t have hid that from him. Unseen machinations and all that…

Naturally, she responded with a question. “So you’ve been focusing on this page, mostly, then?”

“Almost entirely,” he admitted. “That might be the wrong way to go about it, but that’s my strategy so far. Although I have scoured the other pages for some clues—some kind of code—that’ll unlock this one, no such luck. I’ve tried all the basics already. It isn’t a cipher. It seems the text is meant to be taken literally. In fact, I would say it should be viewed literarily.”

“Like a book?”

“Not exactly. Thematically, perhaps. But many of the characters and terms seem to be, not quite archetypes, but familiar to say the least.”

“Maybe you know them?” Lily suggested.

“I suppose Mr. Snow could be the Nord,” he mused.

“Or I could be…” Lily fluttered her eyelashes.

“True, but you don’t look like you could kill anybody.”

“Could or would?” she asked.

“I’m sure you’re very capable,” he responded diplomatically.

“Darn right,” she elbowed him. “Now what about you?”

“Oh, I’m pretty tough.”

“No, silly,” she admonished him giddily. “I mean, who in the prophecy do you think you could be?”

“I hadn’t really given it any thought.”

She assumed he was lying. Regardless, she had a suggestion, “Maybe you’re ‘El Greco.’”

“Strange,” he replied, “I’ve always wanted to paint. And I’m sure the end of the world would provide some inspiring scenery.”

“Or I could braid my hair and put on my Viking helm, and you could do a portrait of me striking a mean-looking pose.”

“Actually, I only do nudes. I am a Greek classicist, after all…”

“Alexander!” she protested, stepping away, back facing him and glancing coldly over her shoulder, chin up, as she put on an exaggerated look of shock, defiance, distrust, and diffidence. Then she pretended to relent, saying, “Alright, but I still want to wear the Viking helm…”


This had been an eventful conversation. Alex had learned more about Lily in the past fifteen minutes than in the entire previous week. Plus, it almost made up for her seeing him in his boxers. Almost. Always make a good first impression. Although, come to think of it, for all he knew he had.

“I must admit, though,” he said at last, “I’m not all that sanguine about the end of the world bit,” that was an understatement; it had him terrified. He was skeptical by nature, and certainly this was way out there, but so was Prometheus Technologies. Who would have thought one of the world’s leading tech firms would be dealing in magic? Also, it was probably evil, but that was somewhat less surprising. “Do you,” Alex asked, really hoping he would get a straight answer on this, “And more importantly, does Mr. Snow, really believe this prophecy will come true?”

“Lucien believes it, and he has for a very long time.”

How long, exactly? Alex wondered. He didn’t ask, however.

“And if I help you with this, I’ll be helping you end the world. Which would make me a bad person. A very bad person.” Alex knew he sounded rather stupid stating the obvious, but he needed to say it, and really needed to hear her response. He watched her closely.

“Define ‘bad,’” she said, attempting to be humorous. It wasn’t what he was looking for at the moment.

So he said, darkly, “I suggested I draw you in the nude, and I have no artistic talent, and have never painted in my life.”

“Oh, that’s what you mean!” she responded in faux surprise, still trying to be light-hearted. “Yeah, in that case I guess ending the world would make you a bad person. But guess what?”

He was listening. He didn’t really expect her ‘guess what’ would change his perspective, but he was listening all the same. “What?” he gave the obligatory response dully.

“The prophecy,” she explained, “Doesn’t say the end of the world; it says the end of this world.”

“Oh,” he arched an eyebrow, “So no one will die?”

“Well, not ‘no one,’ but certainly not everyone.”

“So, afterwards there will be you, me, and Mr. Snow?”

“Stop being so gloomy, Alex, pretty much everyone who dies is listed in the prophecy.”

That made him feel a little better; just enough, in fact, to shove the matter to the back of his mind for the time being and switch the topic. “Ok, I’ll just keep plugging away, then,” he intended no sarcasm, and Lily didn’t seem to take it that way.

“Actually, no,” she said.

“Taking me off the case?” he gave no hint of emotion, or whether he was joking or not.

“First,” she told him, “Read the rest of what I brought you. Next, we’ll be getting out of this office for a while; you need some time to clear your head.”

Alex frowned. “Are you asking me on a date?”

“Of sorts,” she smiled. “Think of it as field work.”

He still didn’t understand her completely, although several ideas floated in his head.

“We’re going to Africa,” she announced suddenly.

That was not one of the ideas floating in his head. “’W-we?’” he stammered.

“You, me, and Mr. Snow,” she answered.

“Ok, so we aren’t the survivors after all. Gotcha.”

“That may be.”

Maybe she was taking this in stride. But Alex wanted to live. The place had never been habitable south of the Sahara (and he could only assume she wasn’t referring to the Mediterranean portion more commonly known as Greater Arabia), and in the last fifty years it had only gotten worse. No Greek trader would set foot on those shores for less than triple pay, which few employers were willing to offer for the meager wealth to be gained, and the prospect of going inland wasn’t even a consideration; there was nothing but disease, famine, and human butchery in the heart of the Dark Continent. So, naturally, “Why?” was his next question.

Lily walked up next to him again and tapped the crystal in the center of his desk with one long, manicured fingernail. He read the ‘entry’ where she tapped, just past halfway down the second page of the prophecy, which was still displayed.

“The Savage God?” he asked.

“Self-evident,” she asserted. Yes, but not all gods were created equal, it appeared. “Also,” she added, “Lucien wants to be low-key for a while.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with what, uh, ‘happened’ to Lycus, does it?” He hadn’t liked the guy from what he had seen of him, and given the circumstances of their only meeting that was understandable, but what happened didn’t sit right with Alex.

“Hardly,” she replied. “Now, Lucien wants you to get reading that material right away; you need to be prepared for our journey.”

“I don’t know that that’s possible,” was all Alex could muster.

Lily simply smiled a smug, sideways smile and said, “Checkmate.”

Alex looked on glumly as Lily twirled around and walked away, hips swaying seductively.


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