The Hollow Crown
‘recta actio non erit, nisi recta fuit voluntas, ab hac enim est actio. Rursus, voluntas non erit recta, nisi habitus animi rectus fuerit, ab hoc enim est voluntas’ the voices of the three regents complete their ritual. In the Thunor Institute Flood’s hand passes over a font, the water shimmering to form an stylized image of those communing.
Two images appear in the water, a theatre mask and a tower with three windows. ‘Cambridge, Gloucester. We have three issues to discuss in camera. First, the continuing actions of the Sambenito. Second, what knowledge do we have on the Garou incursion in Concord? Finally, Concord have approached us through Tyrone. I suspect to do with the vassal court.’
The tower comes to the fore, ‘The Sambenito continues his actions, he seems to be spreading discord amongst all of the factions. His true purpose remains clouded.’
The mask shimmers slightly. ‘His attention wanders, he has been occupied with the garou activity. We believe they have tapped into something akin to vis to power their magicks. It should be noted that the Concord lieges are rumoured to have been present. It seems they made some arrangement with the Garou before this point, although what is unclear. I would suggest that we take action against the Assamite, it would be typical of his kind to trade the Camarilla’s interest to the dogs, or worse.’
‘I concur that Concord merits attention. The Assamite has made rather a noise about killing a few weak Sabbat. One either assumes he is relatively weak, lucky and slightly vainglorious, or he may be covering his true motive behind a show of allegiance. It cannot be a coincidence that Sabbat activity has increased again.’ The tower moves, something akin to cannon fire erupting from the tower. ‘Moreover, the Artist they are with is a walking masquerade breach, it will be months before we can bury the chemical spill story. Primogen Winthrop has asked if we can blame this incident on Providence based companies?’
Flood contemplates this,he hides a strike against Dyer’s long-term interest behind a clear attack on the current Sabbat. An intelligent stratagem. Worryingly, not one that has been noticed by either of his fellow Regents. Damn, they had been raised to this circle to early, Wymer’s fault, so desperate was he to replace losses in the war.
‘Advise Winthrop you will assist as he sees fit in this matter. Cambridge, advise Dyer that Winthrop seeks to move against her. With regards the Assamite, I think you worry too much. You younger ones forget we smashed the clan once, we can do so again. Monitor him, by all means, but no other action unless hostile intent is demonstrated. Have Kingston continue to report on Sabbat incursion, so many weak attacks does not match their normal approach.’
Flood leans back in his chair, looking up from the font, across to his toguz kumalak board. ‘What do you propose we do with Concord’s request?’
‘The plan itself is uncertain – the Ventrue is a cipher to us. None the less, the auspices suggest this plan is beneficial to the Pyramid. A risk exists that the Sambenito, or the Assamite clouds this.’ the tower shakes, before the mask comes forth.
‘I think it unlikely that they would be so foolish as to directly move against us. Still, it would be sensible that they meet only one of us.’
‘I suspect this communication comes at a convenient time. Wise counsel has been divided, leaving the Prince to his own whim. This plan will be a way to break the deadlock.’ Flood looks thoughtful, contemplating the other players on the board. He sees four potential influences on Concord, any of whom could have created the plan. The subtlety appeals to him, offer a deal from which the Tremere seem to benefit, but one that will be slightly unpalatable to him directly. Appeal to his desire to see the deadlock on the Primogen end, all the while hiding behind a group of childer that can be disowned. No-one seems to fully gain what they want, but no-one loses face.
‘When you meet with them Cambridge, press them hard. Find out what they will not negotiate on, we must seem to dislike the arrangement so as to flush out their backer.’
The images convey assent, ‘We will allow the high apprentices to join us. We must be of one mind.’
‘Has it come to the time that we descensus in cuniculi cavum?’ the theatre mask flashes briefly, with the tower slightly trembeling. Flood considers addressing this frivolity, but cannot find it within him to take action, wearily he begins the next ritual.
‘mens sibia conscia recti.’ The last of the six voices intones the ritual phrase and the link is created. The blood dripped onto the silver mirror forms images as a close to sub-audible whisper issues from it.
The viscous fluid forms a dripping axe, a pawnbroker’s measure and a raven. The meeting begins.
‘we are agreed, no other apprentices meet the requirement to move beyond the fourth circle.’ the mask continues on. Flood finds himself distracted, looking again towards the game board so beloved of his eldest childe. ‘Moreover, to conserve our force no member of the pyramid will be suggested for a vassalship by our Lord Regent at this time. We shall garner support through negotiation. Do we have other business?’
The axe is the first to come forward, the blood dripping quicker from its edge. ‘My Lord, Regents, and fellow Apprentices. One of the vassals of Concord, the Ventrue, has requested to meet with us to discuss an upcoming vote at the Vassal Court. We are aware that they now cast two votes at such a meeting, and potentially could break the deadlock.’
Flood doesn’t move, he hears the click of a pebble being moved along the board. This is how it begins.
The raven that forms briefly tugs at a carcass, before the voice interjects ‘The Ventrue has some talent, the other lieges are linked with other factions at court, it strikes me that we may benefit from them being allies.’
‘Is that all of your thoughts on this brother? You are not overly influenced by your link to the Scourge, or to your past with her sire?’ the mask moves over the raven briefly.
‘I respect the Pyramid in all things, I am as loyal to it now as I was on the day of my embrace. I counsel that I have seen the actions of this group twice against Sabbat, I doubt they would intentionally act against the interest of the Camarilla, or this city.’ The raven squawks and chases off a rival in front of him. ’Of course, I do not discount the chance that they may well unwittingly do so. Or worse, actually think they are helping" The ripple of amusement around the group is brought to an abrupt end by the interjection of the measure.
‘I do not trust the Assamite, or his sudden influence at court. I understand he now holds Ames’ proxy after he ‘vanished’. Death has an unfortunate habit of following this group around.’ The pawnbrokers sign appears in front of Flood, the mirror growing smoky and opaque, ’Moreover that death tends to be to their advantage. ’
‘You consider them to be dangerous?’ the mask appears, ‘Seriously? A neonate barely whelped, an outcast, a degenerate and peacock masquerading as a sorcerer?’ the incredulity of his fellow regent is palpable, his contempt clear. ‘If you are that fearful grave robber, I suggest that you take steps.’
‘I have.’ The simple answer causes silence amongst the group.
‘This was not sanctioned by the pyramid- explain yourself.’ The tower forms into a cannon, the mirror showing a crimson smoke billowing from it.
‘As was your intervention. I have initiated no actions, they came to me, I now hold most of them in my debt. My interaction with this group has arisen from the spirit’s request, fulfilling the role assigned to me in the Pyramid.‘ the pawnbroker scales move as if measuring something ’But for caution I took the opportunity to have them enter my debt when it offered itself.’
‘Enough of this.’, Flood intervenes. ‘We shall not squabble like the Rabble, but take action. Cambridge, meet with Ventrue to discuss Concords plan. We trust in your judgement in this matter, press a hard bargain so as not to appear to keen, I am also interested in why she is a cipher to us.’
‘Lord, I believe this may be overly hasty. The caitiff seems to act from good intentions, and we may be better placed by acting kindly towards them.’ As the axe forms it moves into a chopping motion, as if falling from an executioners hands. Irritated, Flood makes to clear the blood from the mirror ending the ritual, instead he stays his hand.
Flood speaks for the second time in the meeting, ‘Perhaps, but she is touched by the Sambenito, in alliance with the Assamite and her actions in the past have cost our clan.’ The raven’s wings beat quickly and are stilled, the axe raises high as if to strike. I also fear that you apprentices are straying from the pyramid. It is not through independent action we flourish, it is by unity. We are Tremere, we acknowledge our role in the pyramid. As such you will accompany Cambridge to this meeting, you will pronounce our judgement and protect our interests. Failing to do so will result in your demotion to the first circle. Refusal to accept this, and we will send you to Vienna for judgement. We will also consider this one’s position, as she has renounced her Sire’s blood and protection.’
The axe hovers, hesitant, ‘Ich Dien. What is the judgement of the Pyramid?’
‘Cambridge will inform you of this before the meeting. It will not go easily upon them.’ The jumble of blood that forms indicates the surprise this has on the assembled group.
The Tower intones ‘The pyramid has spoken. So say we all, in Tremere’s name.’
‘So say we all.’ The others respond as one – Flood moves his hand across the mirror, reabsorbing the blood, and returns to the game board, moving a stone piece forward.