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He placed the lit cigarette in his mouth once more before taking a long drag. He blew and watched the smoke curling from his lips and into the air around him.
Here and there, dotted around the world were young men and women bedecked in dark green coats. They were clustered mostly around an old grey building, maybe eighteenth century built, no one knew for sure.
He took his final drag from the cigarette and threw it on the ground, placing his small black mask over his eyes and drawing his coat around him.
The frosty ground crunched under his thick boots as he walked, trying to remain inconspicuous as he walked under the archway.
“Greetings, Master Opstilling.” Said a dark green cloaked man, standing at the entrance to the building, bowing to his feet. Master Opstilling simply swept past, not caring how late he was.
After the entrance to the building there was a long thin courtyard which was kept at an icy cold temperature every day. Guests or visitors didn’t use this entrance, but Scriptors and Masters did. He strolled through the courtyard and as he entered the second door, he could already hear the organ music start to play. Through an endless maze of corridors, he walked as though he had done it a thousand times, which he probably had, and into a small dark antechamber that smelt of dark and dank. In the middle of the room was a rough stone table with a bench either side of it. There was a small bed in a wooden frame at one side and a primitive stone basin beside it. On the floor, between the bed and the table was a trap door that lead down to the cellars, it was decorated in the same ostentatious designs as the walls; carved dark oak with garishly beautiful people staring out at him.
The only highlight in this mundane room was the person sitting at the table, drinking dark grey smoke from an enormous tankard.
“Amelie.” She looked up at the sound of her name but carried on drinking. “Has he arrived yet?” She nodded. They stared at each other for a long moment, then;
“He’s waiting for you.” She rose from her seat, letting her long dress fall around her ankles. She kissed him softly and he could taste nothing on her lips but he knew that meant good luck.
The stage was hung with long black curtains, caked in centuries of dust and, in the rows and rows of packed in seats, sat as many cloaked and masked people as could be possible. And, in the front row, there he was, his face was unmistakable even in the feathered mask he was wearing and his eyes were still visible through the tiny holes in the fabric.
Master Opstilling walked onto the stage as the whole room, which had been quiet before, entered a whole new realm of silence. Even the organ stopped playing and the Master stood there.
He waited for a few minutes before addressing, then blessing the people before he bid them to remove their masks and cloaks. Opstilling’s eyes were firmly fixed on the figure sitting towards the left and on the front row and, they lit up more as that person removed his mask showing his devilishly handsome face and long blonde pony tail. Merely looking at Storm almost made Opstilling hard so he turned his mind to other things, like the ceremony about to happen.
It opened in the normal way; there were various displays and speeches by semi-famous people. Storm surveyed the entire thing with his fingertips touching and his eyes looking over them in a mildly curious way.
Opstilling had mere seconds until he had to begin to speak, to persuade and to perform so he transported himself into his calm place, into the arms of his beloved on a quiet and peaceful beach before he walked back onto the stage.
Again, he blessed the crowd before beginning to speak, today’s topic was the mindset of “celebrity” and as he spoke, the words mixed with the rapture from the crowd reminded him again why he did this, the rush was incomparable to anything else.
Suddenly, blue flame burst from his fingertips. Many people jumped, but, by obeying rules, not a word was uttered. He continued to speak, his voice no quieter or louder than before as the fire began to dance.
They started off as bursts of flame but slowly became long snakes, issuing from each finger and flowing into long plaits. They reached around his head, the fire curling at the ends and made a bow. The bow became louder and brighter until it broke free from the chains connecting it and flapped around the stage as a butterfly. Next, there was some time travel as the butterfly found itself encased in a cocoon until it wriggled out as a caterpillar.
Each of these images were perfectly detailed and provided a deep metaphorical illustration to the story that Opstilling was telling.
He finished with a flourish to the silent applause and the grand blue flame oak tree behind him fizzled itself out with a great deal of smoke.
He then had to wait until the end of the ceremony before he could close it and have a quiet word alone with Storm. The time it took, only forty five minutes, seemed like forever.
He finally ended the service with seven long notes, deep in his throat and the few last words. He spoke them so loudly, a magnifier in place in his mind, so that the drilled around the hall and echoed backwards and forwards again and again and again.
Organ music started up again and only a few people remained, dancing to it, and most left, returning their masks to their faces. Master Opstilling took a few swigs of brandy from his hip flask before retiring to the antechamber again. This time, three people sat in the room, speaking in low voices and waiting for him.
The one sitting nearest the door and the steps up to the stage was Amelie, she was still drinking from the same tankard but it was nearly empty now. Her hair was short, black and cropped, in respect for the man sitting next to her. He was, again, wearing a mask and the hood of his long viridian cloak was up.
The third figure was lying on the bed, his knees were in the air and his face was in shadow.
First, Master Opstilling washed his face at the carved stone basin, then took another swig of brandy before addressing those in the room. He blessed them and bid them to remove their cloaks and masks. Only Storm did so, the others weren’t wearing masks.
“I can offer you a drink, or something to eat.”
“Have you got any Cogah?” Opstilling nodded and descended to the cellar to fetch some. Storm looked a lot more contented with the drink in his hand; he took a long swig before speaking. ‘Storm,” he extended his hand. Opstilling shook it.
“Thank you.” The man on the couch and Amelie were both paying the utmost attention to everything going on between the two.
“How long have you been a master?”
“One year, three months and seven days.”
“You know what people say about you…?” Opstilling raised his eyebrows then shook his head. ‘That you’re one of the best they’ve seen in a long time. Rumors have it that you can hold a crown of one hundred thousand still and quiet for the whole time you’re speaking.” He took a final swig before refilling his glass to the brim.
“And I agree.” Opstilling smiled his first genuine smile for days and took another long gulp from his hip flask. “I was speaking with Grand Master Furellic, earlier this week, about you.”
“I hope it was nothing too bad.”
“On the contrary. He recommends you.”
A large, wide toothed smile broke out on Opstillings face, he could almost not contain his excitement. He looked over at Amelie and felt warmth directed from her towards him. Storm drained and refilled his glass for a second time before continuing; “I asked him what he thought of you for the job and he said there was no one better. He said you are the most passionate, the most talented and by far the hardest working. He said that you care the most about what you do and what you say. He said that you’ve been working here the longest and that you’ve given your life to it. He also says, and this is just between you and me, that when he’s gone, he wants you to take up his position, as grand master.” Opstilling sat there, drinking it all in, barely believing his eyes.
“And what about you, sir?”
“Well, you’ll need training, and lots of it. But you’re talented enough. And people like you and with a recommendation like what you just heard, I can think of no reason not to take you on. Of course, you will have to prove you are worthy; show my seniors that you are adept at the job. But so far, my answer is most definitely yes.” He ended on a positive. Amelie could not contain her excitement; she flung herself across the table and hugged Storm close to her,
‘Thank you, Thank you so, so much!” Storm simply patted her on the back, looking mildly bemused at her behaviour. He then drained his third glass and lent back against the beautifully carved wall. It was getting a little dark and the candles were almost out so Storm let go a bunch of warm yellow beads of light into the air and they bathed the room in a soft mellow glow.
“Is it alright if I stay here for a bit, I’m not expected home until three and it would be nice to get to know you a bit better,”
‘Sure, that’s fine. It’s better than fine, it’s… I’ll get some more cogah.” He retreated down into the cellar again and returned with another bottle.
He came back and sat down, lighting up a cigarette and taking in a long drag. He offered the packet to Storm who declined but heard a grunt from the bed in the corner, so threw the packet over. Amelie was sitting on the bench, buzzing with excitement about what she had just heard.
“Isn’t this so exciting though, it’s amazing!” she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t properly introduce myself, I’m Amelie Vance. I’m a Holingii but it isn’t very useful because I’m not even that powerful.”
“Oh? What do you work in?”
“PSRU. I’m a Legio Guard.”
“Oh, of course, hey, do you know Gefilite No?”
“Yeah, she’s one above me but I’m soon to be promoted to her level so we’ll see more of one another which’ll be good.”
“Yeah, she’s a great girl, I knew her parents too before they died. Did you hear about that?”
“I did, it was terrible wasn’t it.”
They carried on like this, small talk about work and people, for quite some while. Master Opstilling, sat there for a while, bored, before he finished his cigarette and went to sit down on the bed next to the man there.
“Jasper,” Said the man, laying his head on Opstillings shoulder, “Well done. You made it.”
“Not yet, but almost.”
“Almost is good enough for me.”
“Ferril! Don’t say that when you don’t mean it.”
“so, you gonna move out of this place when you get your fancy new job?”
“No, because I’m still going to have this fancy job too,” Opstilling said, stroking Ferril’s hand gently. They sat there for a few minutes, listening to each other breathing.
“So how long’s he staying for?”
“Dunno, few hours maybe, I should really go and talk to him, y’know… first impressions and all that,”
“It’s not really first impressions anymore though, is it?” Opstilling laughed, “C’mon,” He dragged Ferril up by his hand, ‘stop being antisocial and come and introduce yourself to our representative.”
They both sat next to each other, on the opposite side of the table, Amelie was doing her best job of flirting with Storm. He raised his eyebrows when he saw the newcomer,
“Ferril Hawawl, pleased to meet you.” They shook hands and Storm poured Ferril a drink, ‘thanks.” He took it and had a gulp.
‘So,” Storm started, paying attention to Opstilling, “Master-”
“Jasper,” Ferril confirmed. Storm smiled at him,
“Jasper, what is so appealing about working here, because I never really understood it.”
It took Jasper a few seconds before he replied, the thought long and hard about the question though, before he did. He needed to impress Storm now, but in a different way, as a social person.
“I don’t know what it is. But people listen, and concentrate and care and you don’t get that anywhere else.” He said slowly, “And, it’s so beautiful here.” He looked around him at the overly decorated walls and the minimalist furniture.
“It can be beautiful everywhere.” Said Storm. Jasper shook his head;
“No, not like this. This is everything and nothing you could have possibly ever lived or dreamed or worked for.”
Storm was quiet for a moment, drinking that all in and Jasper rested his feet up on the bench near Amelie.
They spoke for hours, Amelie getting a little drunk, but speaking deep into the night about anything and everything they could possibly think of. Even Ferril, who was usually the most antisocial person at anything, preferring to find someone to flirt with and seduce than actually talk with anyone, still had some input.
It was half past three when Storm checked his watch and decided that he needed to go home.
“I’ll show you out,” Offered Jasper,
“Thanks, but I’m okay, I-”
“No. Really; I insist,” Jasper took Storms arm and guided him through the maze of tunnels and corridors until there was the exit right ahead of them. “So, I guess this is it,” Started Jasper, holding out his hand to shake Storms roughly.
“Until we meet again, which we definitely do. I mean, even if you don’t get the job, which you will,” He gave Jasper a friendly pat on the shoulder, “We should still hang out, yeah?”
“Yeah, sure.” Jasper was a realist and knew this would never happen. Storm handed him his card,
“Give me a call,” They hugged a brief manly hug between slightly awkward friends. Then, to the amazement of Jasper, instead of strolling off into the night or waiting for some flashy car to pick him up, like he was expecting, Storm started walking slowly, ambling a bit, into the sky. He walked up a seemingly steep staircase until he was several hundred metres up in the air.
Jasper knew what he was going to do but had never seen anyone do it before, especially not anyone as powerful as Storm; it was amazing to think that people like this actually travelled that way. For convenience mostly, probably.
When he got to nearly five hundred metres into the air; Jasper watched Storm free fall at a ridiculously fast speed; his head was pointing down and his arms were tucked in, coming out slightly like a rocket. He carried on descending at terminal velocity until he was about five feet away from the ground, there he turned sharply over and, almost simultaneously, four long ropes, extending from him, coiled at the ground then sprung back up again, propelling him into the air. Also, two enormous bat wings sprung from his shoulders and beat twice so that when he lifted off again; he was travelling at nearly one hundred miles per hour.
Jasper watched him for some minutes, against the starstruck sky, his head cocked slightly to one side, before he returned to the tiny room.
Inside, Amelie was asleep, her head lying on the table and her mouth open.
As soon as Jasper saw Ferril he managed to find himself falling into his arms. Ferril carried him to the bed and lay him down on his side, stroking his face softly.
“You’re so beautiful” Whispered Ferril so gently that Jasper could hardly hear. They kissed, ever so slowly and gently, savoring the taste of each other lips.
“Check out Amelie,” They both looked over, she was drooling slightly. Jasper propped himself up on one elbow, “So, what you wanna do tonight?” Ferril laughed and hit him playfully;
“It’s nearly four in the f***ing morning and some of us have work tomorrow.”
“Such a kill joy” Said Jasper, pulling the thin covers over them and turning Ferril around so they were spooning, “Night,” He said, pecking him on the cheek.
And they drifted off into contentedness together.
The next morning, both Jasper and Ferril were woken early by Amelie ringing a loud bell over both of their heads;
“Wakey-Wakey sleeping beauties!” All Jasper could manage was a lousy;
“F**k off,” And to bury his head deeper into Ferrils neck.
“Bet you don’t want to know what time it is…” She sang,
“No. We. Don’t”
“Half eight.” They both scrambled out of bed, cursing and shouting and rushing around.
Jasper lead Ferril out, through the maze of tunnels he called home, to where the taxi was waiting, like every Monday morning, to whisk Ferril away to his day job of training recruits and whipping young men into shape, which Jasper was so sure Ferril enjoyed.
‘I’ll see you soon, okay?’
‘Tonight.’ Ferril said firmly, ‘At mine, where we can have a real bed, okay?’ He briefly touched his neck. As a confirmation, Jasper pulled Ferril towards him and their lips crashed together in fierce love; Jasper could feel the itchy whiskers on Ferrils chin but that was part of his love for him. Ferril pulled away; ‘I have to go.’ He kissed him softly again; ‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’ Ferril got into the cab and it sped away. Ferril would only be half an hour late for work.
Jasper walked slowly back to the small chamber he called home, where Amelie was eating cereal out of a wooden bowl.
‘You okay babe?’ She asked, concerned about his eye-weary expression this early in the morning. But she hardly ever saw him this time on a Monday morning, it was odd because he knew he would see Ferril tonight, and if not the tomorrow night or the night after, but not spending 24hours a day with him felt like 4hours wasted to Jasper.
‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
‘Look, I have to be off by ten to ten, I have an important meeting.’ Jasper nodded, ‘And so do you.’
‘I got this from Storm.’ She showed him her telephone, on it was a text message from Storm, ‘He gave me his number, just in case of emergencies,’ She grinned. The message read; ‘Come to Voxcarus Courtina, floor 428, the room is called ‘Darius’. They know you’re coming. Best foot forwards.’
‘I thought no one used that expression anymore.’
‘Well turns out the high and mighty do. Better get dressed-’
‘But he doesn’t say what time,’
‘Just turn up.’
They left the small room tidy, like it had to be kept and the bed was made with the thin blanket pulled tightly across it. Jasper was so much more favourable to Ferrils modern apartment with under floor heating and a soft, king sized bed.
It seemed that no one but the masters knew the way; considering how many times Amelie or Ferril had stayed with Jasper or visited him or anything, they could never remember the way. It was like a vast pipe work or catacombs that welcomed unnerved visitors yet masters and Scriptors could dance and navigate their way through the tunnels with complete ease. It seemed that the knowledge came with the badge.
But Jasper would soon be spending far less time here. Something he was glad about but mostly, unhappy. He loved this building with its history and its walls of thick stone, also the tiny chamber he was forced to live and work in with primitive food and light. He supposed it was all part of the experience but far from it was the glitz and glamor of the PSRU, a world which he had always been wary and unsure of but one that he would soon be throwing himself into; arms, legs, body and soul.