Description: A vision of singular destruction, of dark days ahead, drives a seeress to take extreme measures and treat with potential enemies. Are the legends of the man called 'Dragonslayer' true? And can he -- and his 'Sacred Order' -- quell a rising darkness before it's too late?
"We are the Knights of the Sacred Order..."
In the middle of the gazebo - tucked away in this hidden area of St. Peter's Basilica - is a man who is well known within the Vatican. Kneeling on the floor of the structure, a massive cleaver-like sword laid out on the ground in front of his body, is Kliff Undersn - the senior member, and head, of the Sacred Order. His neck is inclined downwards, eyes shut against the afternoon sun that shines around the courtyard beyond the shade of the gazebo's roof.
He whispers a prayer, voice low and solemn; and despite his age, there seems to be a great power that rises up around his squat, wizened body... the spirit of a man who has seen countless battles, waged numerous wars to defend the souls of mankind, fought a lifelong conflict against the monsters and evils who have always sought to corrupt the people.
"We are the soldiers, of Eternal Light..."
Kliff continues his mantra, seemingly oblivious to everything around him. It takes some effort to keep his mind off of recent events; the Gears, the Illuminati's subversion of the United Nations and - he fears - the Vatican itself... to say nothing of the NOL, or the bizarre monsters that have begun to spread throughout Japan following the madness that has been taking place in that island nation.
"We are the vanguard, the defense against Night..."
Other, junior members of the Sacred Order pass by on their business - or simply relaxing in their free time - but none seem willing to disrupt the elderly man. Whether simply through respect, or a combination of that and fear for what the Sacred Order's oldest Knight is capable of when roused, one can only guess. Beneath his stark-white beard, his jaw barely moves as he continues to mumble out the words of his Order's oath...
"Divinity and steel, to shine like the Sun..."
Is this space inviolate? One might imagine that for the faithful, there shold be no greater sanctuary, no safer place, than the Vatican itself. Perhaps only certain places in Israel -- Jerusalem, Bethlehem -- could be considered more 'holy' by the masses. And while the Holy See is a smoothly-presented face above the waterline, a placid swimming swan, beneath the surface there's an army of guards, functionaries, and others who control access to this space. It is a church, but it is also a nation, with the concerns of a nation.
When she walks into the courtyard, heads turn, and not solely because motion draws the human eye. Her dark blue clothing stands out against the white and green of the courtyard like an inkstain; her outfit, rather than any surplice or cossack, feels like the rainment of some fantasy princess. Her stride is slow but purposeful, and her aura impressive. She clearly does not belong here, and yet no one moves to stop her. Her shoes click audibly in the silence as she steps inside this space, and when she lays eyes on the kneeling man she knows, instinctively, that she has found who she is looking for. It could be no one else.
For a moment, she passes the pond and her steps falter. Goldfish -- one bright gold, one a bronze so dark it's nearly grey -- swim about each other in an erratic circle before spiralling off in different directions.
Finishing her path and coming to a halt a respectable (and safe) distane away, Elise Harkness brings her hands together in front of her and bows her head slightly before speaking, in a resonant performer's voice intended to be heard and to carry. "Excuse me," she begins. "I come seeking Sir Kliff Undersn, the man known as 'Dragonslayer'." She does not take her eyes off Kliff, despite a growing crowd of initiates and other observers.
"I bear urgent news of vital importance."
From the shadows and darkness offered by tall buildings in the sun, a horned figure watches the approaching figure. Given his form he didn't want to get too close generally, but he kept an eye out, making sure this wasn't some kind of troublemaker.
Well, let's be honest, there were a FEW reasons to keep an eye on this one, but Blue was a bit too distracted by a feeling of unease to truly appreciate the view.
"We are th-hrmmm?"
That sacred mantra, muttered out from the mouth of the old, wise father figure of the Knightly Order, is suddenly interrupted by a new arrival within the hidden courtyard. And one who is brave - or foolhardy - enough to interrupt the elderly warrior in the midst of his whispered chant...
One eyelid creeps open and his neck inclines up a few inches, as half of the man's gaze settles upon the bizarrely dressed woman standing several feet in front of his place, kneeling on the raised floor of the gazebo. Immediately, his impassive expression turns downwards into a disapproving frown; though whether it's the result of the interruption, or her style of dress in such a holy place...
...well, who can ever tell what Kliff is upset about? He always seems to find some excuse to grumble and complain about /something/ regarding the other members of the Order. Even Ky Kiske isn't safe from his judgmental gaze, despite the old man's great faith in that younger Knight.
With a heavy sigh that seems to reverberate off the ceiling of the gazebo - and into the wide-open space of the courtyard - Kliff grabs the hilt of his massive sword and pushes the tip onto the ground. Using it as a cane, of sorts, he slowly pushes himself into a standing position; predictably, he's grumbling under his breath the entire time.
"You've found him, young one... in his daily /prayers/," comes the low utterance from the short, squat, strong frame of Kliff Undersn. Both eyes now open and regarding Elise Harkness from underneath thick, bushy white eyebrows, he doesn't seem to have anything else to say... for what might be minutes on end.
It's clear he's waiting for her to state her business, as the fingers of his right hand drum lazily across the handle of that impossibly large weapon.
It's a lot to take in. Elise doesn't know Kliff personally, and in truth he didn't appear in her visions, either. She didn't know what to expect, and the man standing in front of her likely isn't it. But she is a person who has spent her life dancing amid a flurry of identities and disguises, appearances and performances. She is not one to judge on appearances alone, considering doing so with her is a fatal mistake many make. And the man's aura... there is something about it. A mountain seems harmless and solid just before it's revealed that it's a volcano, in all its apocalyptic majesty.
"If there were a better way," the woman says, her Scots accent becoming more pronounced as she eases into discussing things with the venerable elder of the Order, "I'd have taken it. But there is very little time." She bows slightly, once again, perhaps a little more formally, a little more deeply this time than before. The first, perfunctory; the second, more heartfelt, a gesture of respect.
Straightening once more, the woman in blue briefly closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in through her nose. It's anxiety; she can feel it right into her marrow, and it's not a feeling with which Elise Harkness has much experience. Confidence and assuredness are perhaps among her limited unquestioned virtues. But what's happening now is on a different scale entirely.
Turning back to Kliff, her face is grave; she reaches up and removes the gold clasps holding the veil she's wearing in place, removing it, stowing it in some... random part of her outfit. "I don't know how to begin. Sir Undersn, I am a seer, with the gift of foresight. I have had... a vision of terrible destruction." Unthinkingly, at her side, her fingers curl into a fist, tightening until the skin on her knuckles whitens with the effort. "And it is not in some distant future, but *now*. Soon."
Another pause, and Elise shakes her head. "You do not know me. You've no reason to trust me. But what I saw made it clear that something disastrous has happened, something which only the man they call 'Dragonslayer' has a hope of standing against."
For a man of his stature within the Sacred Order - to say nothing of that aura of power which seems to emanate from his hunched-over, thickly muscled frame - Kliff Undersn appears to be almost /too/ relaxed in front of this new arrival. There are no niceties, no cordial gestures, no bows in return, not even a nod of recognition...
...simply a flat - perhaps even slightly annoyed - expression in his eyes, accompanied by that frown that keeps his lips curled downwards.
"Hrm..." he grumbles, his free hand coming up to rub at that chalk-white beard that grows in thickly from his solid jaw and pointed chin. Calmly narrowed eyes regard the woman standing some distance in front of him, with no more words forthcoming for the time being - as though he were trying to discern something from her mannerisms, her style of dress, the way she carries herself.
Dropping that hand back to his side, but keeping a firm grip on the hilt of his sword with the other, Kliff seems to come to some conclusion on the matter. Lifting the tip of his blade off the gazebo floor so as to not scratch it along the surface as he moves, he takes a few confident steps towards Elise - although he remains on the raised structure - before stopping and placing the blade back onto the ground.
"And tell me... why should I believe you, when I don't even know your name?" he asks, with no disrespect in his tone - rather, a healthy skepticism for this individual who has walked into this sacred courtyard and disrupted his daily incantation in such a manner.
Although, the mention of his name, 'Dragonslayer' - earned a long time ago - does seem to pique his interest, one eyebrow arching up high onto his forehead as he awaits an answer.
"Prophecies of doom are an easy thing to come by, in these troubled times. What makes yours any different... or any more worthy of my attention?"
"You have no reason to believe me," the woman in blue replies smoothly, watching Kliff as he walks. As the moments flow by she seems more at ease, more in control of herself; perhaps something badly rattled her earlier and her composure is coming back? Or perhaps there's some other factor steeling her resolve, bit by bit. Either way, she keeps it professional, regardless of what she might be feeling inside. "It may be that I leave here without your help today, a Cassandra."
Her brown eyes meet Kliff's own, however, and there is a proud tilt of her chin upwards as she continues. "But what I have seen will come to pass... may already BE coming to pass. Innocent people will suffer and die. Hence my risking much to come here."
Have you always cared about innocent people, Elise Harkness, she asks herself. Perhaps not. Maybe she's never cared. But that vision, which came on her unbidden, unasked-for, was different. This is different.
"My name is Elise, of clan Harkness," she says, in response to Kliff's not exactly a demand. "Who have used our gifts to hunt those in the dark for over a thousand years. And as for what makes this different?"
A weighty pause. "A dragon has come. A TRUE dragon." With that, she says no more, leaving the words to hang portentiously in the air, assuming -- likely rightly -- that they are sufficient to make her point.
Kliff would be inclined to state, firmly, that innocent people have always suffered... innocent people have always died... it's always been the way of things in this world. Such things have made organizations like the Sacred Order a necessity, after all.
Instead, /something/ causes him to remain silent, to keep any further skepticism unspoken for the time being. The old man simply stands, slouched over significantly to make his short form even more squat, as he listens to the words of warning being spoken to him.
It is more than just /any/ prophecy... it is one which strikes close to home for Kliff Undersn.
At the mention of dragons, there is a small stirring in the assembled crowd; words are shared, whispered, between spectators... even a small chuckle is heard from a disbelieving member of the impromptu 'audience'...
.../that/ sound brings a sharp glare from Kliff, his eyes snapping /wide/ open to stare daggers at the young Knight who seems to view such a thing with humour, rather than the seriousness it deserves. The assembled Knights immediately fall into a hushed, intimidated silence.
Yes, it has been a long time since a true dragon was seen within this realm... perhaps the Sacred Order has grown too complacent and unbelieving; merely fighting gears, Darkstalkers, and the sins of men.
There are far greater threats in this world; no matter how long they have remained hidden from view.
The elderly man thinks back to the last time a dragon had attacked the world of men... it was in his youth, before he had earned the nickname which was now spoken by others without a hint of knowledge as to it's /true/ meaning, what he did to /earn/ it. 'Dragonslayer'.
But he never forgot. And so Elise finds herself with the old man's full attention now that she's spoken of the true nature of her vision. Of course, how can he be sure that she's speaking the truth - and even if she believes it, it may mean /nothing/, just some flight of fancy... could he possibly justify mobilizing the Order on the word of some stranger?
"If what you say is true..." he begins, looking at her with a newfound attention - still skeptical, still hesitant to believe, but feeling as though it's owed to those he's sworn to protect to, at least, consider the possibility.
"Where is it? Why has it not struck? Such things do not remain hidden for long; they are cunning beasts, to be sure..." he begins, then trails off before completing the thought... once again, his free hand comes up and rests underneath his chin, contemplating this turn of events.
"The last time this realm was cursed with the presence of such a creature, I was still a young man. Why now? You understand, I cannot take your words as gospel. Not in such a serious matter."
These are not unreasonable questions to ask, and so Elise's countenance remains unruffled, though she notes with secret satisfaction that her statement had the intended effect... and, in its own way, confirmed that the legend of Kliff Undersn is no mere folk tale. She is highly adept at reading people, and everything in his reaction -- the sudden swing of his attention, the sudden hesitance, the lack of an outright dismissal -- suggests that he understands the true terrible impact of what she had said.
Dragons. True dragons, 'noble' dragons... once, they were more common on the Earthly plane. Now they are largely the stuff of legends, having retreated to more mystic realms, away from man. But all the terrible destructive power they brought to bear in antiquity is no mere folktale. For one to be walking the Earth now, even if it is hidden, is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Still... when Kliff demands something more than her word, there's aught Elise can do but shake her head. "Do you know any seers, Sir Undersn?" she asks, genuinely curious. While the Church openly opposes the idea of the occult -- notoriously, throughout history, though often as a cover for less spiritual and more political ends -- the history of witchcraft and magic in Europe particularly is inextricably bound with those who serve the Lord. The Knights Templar are the prime example, but they are far from the only ones.
But the question is still largely rhetorical, and Elise bears this out by continuing after a short pause. "It is the nature of visions that they are... vague, often confusing. I have more impressions than facts. To be modern about it, it is not as if I received GPS coordinates from on high." A brief smile, quirked here, an attempt to find humor in an otherwise grim situation.
"But there were other... clues, other hints, that suggest to me this is real. A woman of terrible beauty and power whose visage haunts me, who feels familiar yet I do not know her. But I can feel it. There is some connection between us, and the dragon is part of it."
A shrug, now, and a shake of the head. "I have decided to be honest with you out of necessity, sir. I am likely not a 'good person'," she says, a rueful smile following this self-conscious admission. "I haven't lived a life of virtue like you have. In another situation, I might have been inclined to ignore this. But... I cannot. Something is calling. Something dark, with the power of a dragon at its fingertips."
Kliff stands calmly in place, allowing the strange woman to state her case to him; he simply rubs away at his chin, eyes returning to their heavily-lidded state... he almost seems /sleepy/ as he contemplates this turn of events. But despite his appearance and his age, that keen mind is working away at this /new/ problem - far more serious, if true, than anything they're currently facing... /including/ the recent Illuminati subversion.
Finally, Elise Harkness finishes stating her case; at which point, Kliff snaps his eyes back open... but not to stare at her. Rather, he scans the assembled group of eavesdroppers who seem to be hanging off of every word passed between the pair of them.
"/What/ are you all staring at? This isn't a stage-play, children," comes the gruff, rumbling, low voice of Kliff - addressing the small crowd of onlookers that has formed behind Elise. It takes a moment for them to begin moving; even with the cold glare of the Senior Knight of the Sacred Order on them, talk of /true/ dragons has their attention firmly captured... they want to hear where this conversation leads.
That is, until the elderly man's voice booms out - a noise that sounds impossibly loud and authoritative coming from the squat, slouched-over old man: "/NOW/."
At that, the audience rapidly disperses and finds something /else/ in the courtyard to occupy their attention... in fact, most of them clear out of the area completely, save a certain brave few who make a great effort to stay out of Kliff's line of sight as they wander off to some far corner.
With a mild grunt, he hefts that large sword up off the ground again - lifting it up with one muscular arm and placing the flat of the blade onto his shoulder. Even with the added weight of the gigantic weapon bearing down upon one shoulder, he doesn't seem to be hunched over by it - nor is his movement hindered, as he steps down the few stairs of the raised gazebo until he is on the grassy earth which Elise is stood upon.
Staring up into her eyes - now that he is no longer given a height boost by the gazebo floor - he considers her words.
"I have experience with your sort," he states, finally, "Sometimes you're right... sometimes you're wrong."
A moment of silence then, and he inclines his head downwards - breaking eye contact with Elise as he mulls the situation over in his head. A noble dragon... could he truly do /nothing/ with this warning? Even if she were lying, or delusional, or just plain /wrong/...
...it is too great a risk. No other organization in the world is capable - or experienced enough - to deal with such a threat. If such a thing /has/ come to the earthrealm, it is /their/ responsibility to deal with it. Nobody else's.
"This must be discussed, by more than the two of us..." he starts, raising his deep eyes back up to the Seer, "A council must be convened. It's been so long..."
Chuckling at the memory of decades long-since past, of Knights of the Order who he knew and who had long ago perished... remembering himself as a young man, in battle against such a terrible beast. To Kliff Undersn, they are fond memories... of darker days, certainly, but of great triumph. The strength of just and righteous men and women, defeating an unspeakable evil.
Could such a thing be accomplished again?
"You must stay with us, you understand," he says - not offering it up as a question, but rather a definitive /order/, "We will need /all/ the information you have. And... if you are what you say you are, I'm certain you will have visions to come. Tell me one thing, however... is it already here? Do you know?"
She cannot suppress a faint smile at the parade ground authority of Kliff Undersn over the various rank and file of the Order, though Elise does her level best to keep it professional. After all, any show of amusement might be taken as a tacit challenge of his authority, and she genuinely has no interest in doing so. He is an interesting man, this living legend. At another time, in another place, the seeress might find him fascinating, worthy of study.
As it is now, she can only hope his bite is equal to his bark.
With a nod of the head, she responds to Kliff's statement that she might need to stay with the Order until this is resolved. "I'm happy to be your *guest*," she says, placing a necessary and unmistakable emphasis on that last word. She has no intention of being a virtual prisoner of the Order or the Church, and has every means at her disposal to leave whether they like it or not. Her reaction ideally conveys both of these facts together, her willingness to stay in a cordial fashion, and her refusal to be some sort of hostage. "Though... I may need to depart, briefly, and only briefly. I have... other obligations. Someone important who deserves an explanation for my absence." She leaves it at that.
His other question, though, requires a more circumspect answer. Closing her eyes, taking a breath, Elise lets out a sigh. "Do I know, as in, am I certain without reservation? No. But the... power that called it here is very real, and close by, certainly in Europe." She opens her eyes, looking at Kliff intently, watching his reaction. "It may be that it is sleeping, for now. But we both know that blessed state won't last."
Kliff pauses to consider Elise's words; about her 'other obligations', as well as those regarding the sleeping dragon.
"Other obligations, you say?" he says finally, eyes narrowing slightly as he regards the woman standing nearly a foot taller than him with a fresh skepticism. Who could these other obligations be to? One of the Sacred Order's many enemies, perhaps? The organization has been beset with troubles by all sides as of late... could this all be some distraction, simply to take their attention off of more pressing matters?
The old man maintains this eye contact for some time, brown eyes betraying little emotion - and none of the thoughts that run through his head - during his stare. Finally, he looks away - off to the right side, to gaze at a bas-relief carved into the nearby stone wall...
...it depicts a giant creature, wings spread out over the skyline of an ancient town. On the bottom of the carving, a veritable army of men lifting lances and pikes towards the beast, as it breathes a plume of flame into the air above it's head.
Many of the people who come and go in this Courtyard assume it is taken from some fanciful tale... but Kliff Undersn is one of the few who knows the truth of the matter. It happened, once, long ago... and it could happen again. Even if this woman were not here speaking this prophecy, the threat was never /truly/ gone.
"So be it," he says - at last - turning his eyes back up to Elise, and offering her a slight nod of acceptance. "A guest, of course, and you're free to go and speak to whoever you wish. Just know your presence here would be appreciated, and will go a long way towards building trust with the Order."
He takes a sudden step towards her, dragging the tip of his massive sword along the grass as he does so... for a moment, his aura is so strong, so overpowering, that it seems to belong to a man much younger - and of more impressive stature - than Kliff himself.
"Leave too many times, come and go too often, and you may find yourself unwelcome upon your return. We cannot afford to be as trusting as we once were; not with the current state of things. You understand, hm?"
"I'm all too familiar," Elise Harkness says, voice soft, "with the delicate nature of trust."
She says this while her eyes are on the wall relief, glancing at it, her face impassively set. Though she continues to speak to Kliff, her eyes are on the relief, never leaving it; her tone remains quiet, her words airy, as if she were speaking from a long way away. "You might scarce believe it, Master Undersn, but even a woman like me knows the shape of obligation." The fingers of her left hand curl inward, then out again, before she continues. "In fact you might say that, in my own unique way, I know it better than most."
She pauses before turning halfway toward the Order commander, head tilted. "Don't you have someone important to you? Not as commander to subordinate, or peer to peer. And I don't mean romance." In her mind's eye, memories play across her vision like the sepia-toned reel of an ancient film, memories made hazy with the passage of time and the growing of distance, but their core -- their essence -- she sees not with her eye, but with her heart.
Again, as Kliff closes, the seeress has occasion to reflect that the man's physical appearance is indeed deceptive. It is perhaps now that she wonders if that is not some vicissitude of age, but rather his personal decision.
Facing the old man fully, Elise inclines her head in acknowledgment. "You say you have to confer with the others of your Order. While you do that, I shall take my leave and put to rest what unfinished business remains to me." A tightness, at the curve of her lip, at the corner of her eye. Fleeting, but unmistakable. "When I return from that, I am at your disposal for as long as I am needed or the crisis is resolved. Is that acceptable?"
The question posed by Elise, about having someone important to him, causes Kliff's deep-set eyes to widen underneath his bushy white eyebrows... a moment of surprise, perhaps at the nature of the query, before he casts his eyes down to the grass underfoot. Memories of a boy he once fostered, who was taken in by the United Nations and turned into... something else. Testament...
Kliff's answer comes after a few moment's of consideration, and with a low, almost regretful tone of voice that is entirely at odds with the gruff exterior and mannerisms he has presented Elise with during the rest of this exchange.
"Only my faith. And my duty to defend mankind."
A heavy inhalation of breath brings his shoulders up, making him appear talling for an instant, before he sighs heavily - adopting that slouched-over position once more. Suddenly it appears as though all of his 70+ years, and the weight of the entire world, is resting upon those broad shoulders.
When did he get so /old/. When did he lose everything that made him the man he once was? Years ago? Decades? He can't even remember, anymore...
Once again, his eyes find their way back to the woman's face, and he offers her a non-commital grunt in response to her offer... a moment's pause, before he follows up with proper words:
"I believe it is. I simply urge that you hurry, for if what you say is true... it may already be too late..."
Gesturing to the courtyard's exit, he inclines his head in that direction as a vague dismissal.
"May the Lord bless you and keep you," he says with great firmness, before adding under his breath, "...and all of us, as well."
Climbing the steps back up to the platform of the raised gazebo, he once again lays his massive, cleaver-like sword on the wooden surface of the structure in front of himself - horizontally. That done, he takes a kneeling position with eyes closed and head bowed low.
This time, the mantra isn't one of the Sacred Order - spoken in English... instead, he speaks in Latin, the Prayer to Saint Michael - from the late 1800s, during the time of Pope Leo XIII. Only spoken by Kliff in times of impending unrest, when the true depth of his faith - and those of his men - were sure to be tested.
How could it be... that such dark days have come again, after so long? Was there truly to be no rest for Kliff Undersn and his Holy Order, until the very end of days themselves?
"Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio; contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium..."
His voice grows lower as he continues, until the words are a barely audible mumble. Suddenly, Elise's presence - in fact, everything else happening in the Hidden Courtyard - is forgotten, as the Senior Knight of the Order falls deeper and deeper into an almost trance-like prayer.
After their parting, Elise has no need to take a surreptitious path out of the chapel. When she finally emerges, the sky is turning into the velvet purple of dusk. Placing a hand on her breast, the seeress looks up at the sky, where the first silver pinpricks of stars twinkle into sight.
'May the Lord bless you and keep you,' Kliff had said.
"No..." Elise murmurs. "Even if I believed in your god... he isn't here with us. Our problems are much much closer to home."
She walks into the darkness. Not unafraid, but resolved.
Log created on 18:31:09 01/22/2018 by Elise, and last modified on 23:48:46 01/31/2018.