For a brief moment, Ben felt as though he didn't exist. An eternal nothingness was pressing in on him, suffocating him, and then it was gone. Gasping, he stumbled forward and caught the edge of something. His eyes re-focused. It was a map of Albion and Aurora.
He stopped his question short as he took in his surroundings; large, circular room, brightly lit, four doors leading out, a map at the center. "This is the Queen's Sanctuary!"
Reaver grunted in reply. He was again examining his shoulder, or rather the hole and blood stains in his cloak.
"It's exactly as she described it," said Ben. "Well, except for the clutter. You just... moved right in, did you?"
"She's not bin usin' it."
Ben winced. He moved over to the shelves and glanced over the various titles. Most of them were theoretical texts or histories. "Are you a scholar?"
"In a past life," Reaver answered absently. He made a disapproving noise at the state of his garments. Ben was much worse off, what with all the bullet holes and caked blood, but he could care less. He could wear a ratty disguise, but he refused to wear a ratty, tattered, and filthy disguise if he could help it. "I shall return shortly," he said as he prepared to activate the map. "Don't go anywhere."
"Wait, you're leaving me here?"
"Yes." He reached towards Millifields, but paused. "Oh, and Benny? Keep in mind there are worse fates then death, and if you touch any a' my things, I'll introduce you to several."
He activated the gate and was gone.
Of course, now Ben had to snoop through the room.
He first tried the doors, but they were all locked and now amount of force seemed to budge them. Good. Assuming that Lemegeton fellow didn't have a secret means of opening them, this meant whatever the Queen kept in there was safe.
Next he examined the chest. It was locked, yet there was no place anywhere on it to insert a key. There was, however, an enchantment circle glowing bright blue on the top. Ben touched this and received a sharp jolt of lightening for his trouble. He shook his hand and blew on it till it healed.
There were a number of crumpled papers by the desk. He collected these and opened them, finding they contained what read like abruptly discarded diary pages. The frequently crossed out words were written in a loopy, elegant style that probably took years to perfect, and described things like handling money, hiring decorators, and various escapades of the bedroom. No name was mentioned. He figured his host was probably a wealthy noble, or business man.
He crumpled them back up and dropped them on the floor.
The desk was littered with more papers, some covered in rather amusing doodles, pens, ledgers, and a number of more interesting books. There was a crumbling old copy of The Hero of Oakvale, and a beautifully preserved children's fable called Adventures of Chicken Chaser. Ben had read both of these long ago, so he pushed them aside.
He picked up one of the others, The Pangs of Sunset, flipped it open, and nearly died of laughter. It was some sort of... harlequin romance from the vantage of the Hero Hammer, and it was describing the relationship between her fellow Heroes Garth and Reaver. That premise alone was fairly humorous, but it was the author's depiction of the Hero of Skill that did him in.
Reaver was being portrayed as some sort of beautiful, but damaged flower, wilting from Garth's advances and angsting about a tortured past that had driven him to Piracy. He nearly felt insulted on the scoundrel's behalf!
He might have continued reading if it wasn't so disturbingly saccharine and poorly written; sort of a one note joke, if you will. Still chuckling, he put it down... and realized that, yes, Reaver was alive back in Queen Sparrow's time.
He mentally shrugged. There were plenty of legends about Heros living well past the normal human expectancy. He had fought beside Garth in Samarkand after all.
The next book was Reaver on Reaver. He grimaced. Reaver wrote an autobiography? There was no way he was reading that.
There was only one left, smaller than the others and bound in red leather. There was a black, circular seal inked into the cover that looked like a corrupted Cullis Gate. When he picked it up, it was heavier than it had any right to be, and something terrible settled into his stomach.
He gulped and opened it. On the first page was the title, The Invocation of the Watchers, but it was the author's name that made his eyebrows rise; Lemegeton.
In the empty space at the bottom was a shaky, barely legible scrawl, smudged in some places as though the ink had gotten wet. It took him a minute, but he managed to decipher it:
Bury this book DO NOT READ will destroy you as it has me
I'm so sorry
He really should put the book down, but, hands moving as though possessed, he turned the page.
Old Kingdom Runes. The book was full of them; translations underneath, the occasional sketch or explanation. It was a hand written journal... all very hard to follow.
Ben frowned in confusion. There was no way that tight, concise font was written by the same hand responsible for those crumpled papers.
So his host was using an alias; the author of a favored book.
His eyes began to skim over one of the translations.
I conjure thee, O thou Mighty and Potent Prince of Darkness...
The book was torn from his hands, causing him to jump and bang his hip on the desk.
"I told you not to touch anything!"
His host was behind him, brandishing the book and sounding inhuman in his fury.
"Shit! Oww!" Ben rubbed at his hip. "You gave me quite a *GAHK!*"
He was grabbed by his throat, that pistol pressed to his temple.
"Did you read the words?! Did you say them aloud?!" his captor hissed.
He kicked out and tried to pry off the fingers that were crushing his trachea. "N... no... only cover page..." he lied.
He was shoved to the floor and another bullet was put through his head.
He lay there, twitching until his brain was healed enough for his limbs to function, then he got to his knees, moaned, and placed his hands over his eyes. "That causes wicked migraines," he said.
"Good," replied Reaver. He brushed a hand over the seal on his chest, causing it to pop open. Tossing the book inside, he slammed the lid, placed both hands on it, and leaned forward. "You nearly doomed us. If you summoned the Shadow Court here, then it would all be over."
Headache fading, Ben got up. "What's the Shadow Court?"
"That which threatens Albion." Reaver walked over to his desk and sank into his chair.
"If the book is so dangerous, why not destroy it?"
"I've tried." Pulling out one of the drawers, he retrieved a tumbler and a crystal decanter half-filled with an amber liquor. He poured himself a generous portion and tossed it back. "I would 'ave offered you a glass, but then you went and ferreted through my things after I expressly forbade it." He poured himself another.
Ben crossed his arms and smirked. "You certainly know how to torture a man."
A dark chuckle. "Yes, I do."
Ben shuddered and fell silent, so Reaver grabbed The Pangs of Sunset, placed his boots on the desk, and began to read.
His guest didn't last long before breaking.
"So where's this Seer of yours?" asked Ben.
"'Aven't a clue. I expected him to arrive the moment I retrieved you, but per'aps this place is beyond 'is reach. I shan't suggest traveling to Albion since you threatened me so colorfully about it. Yet it may be the only course left to us."
"That won't be necessary," said a momentarily disembodied voice. The misty portal opened at the other end of the room, and the Seer appeared within it.
"Funny," said Ben as he examined the young man. "I could have sworn the Queen said you were a woman."
"The old Seeress died last year," explained the Seer. "My name is Gabriel. Um... and you are?"
One of Reaver's hidden eyebrows rose. He doesn't know who Ben is?
Ben didn't miss a beat, "Benjamin Finn at your service!"
"Benjamin?" It was difficult to tell without seeing his eyes, but Gabriel looked perplexed. "Ben Finn? As in Bloody Ben?" Ben groaned at the nickname, but the Seer continued.. "I've heard of you. Yes, you're the one. You've done well Reaver."
It wasn't beyond Gabriel's notice that both men suddenly froze.
"Did you just say, 'Reaver?'" Ben asked, his eyes narrowed.
"You... didn't know it was him?" He looked over to the cloaked figure and nearly slapped his palm to his face. "He's wearing a disguise, isn't he?"
Having suppressed the urge to shoot the boy, Reaver dropped the low tone and cut in with his normal voice, "I certainly am. I never would have got him here otherwise."
Ben rounded on him, eyes wide and furious, mouth spluttering.
Reaver swept his hood off and unfastened the buttons of his concealing collar. Practiced fingers ran through his hair, setting it straight. He offered Ben an easy smile. "I meant it when I said you didn't want to see my face."