Benedict "Bic" Raker's Secret Stuff
Erratic schedules, strange events, weird sleep cycles; the Society work resemble your real job quite a bit. Of course, the creatures you make aren't going to try and eat you, are they?
Bic slides back into his work with little difficulty. Labor Day Weekend brings with it a moderately enjoyable party at the studio where Bic meets a woman that is attractive and that finds him interesting. Of course, she was pretty drunk. Bic uncharacteristically decides to join her in her state of intoxication and proceeds to have one of those experiences that he knows his friends and the readers of Penthouse won't believe. The young woman had a fetish for monsters and latex, and Bic wakes up the next morning not knowing how much was real and how much was imagined. He does wake up next to the woman, confirming some small part of it. She is blonde, buxom, and probably eighteen or nineteen, the embodiment of so many claims in the chat rooms, here, in Bic's bed. No one's gonna ever believe this.
She politely and quietly leaves Bic's home after a quick shower. It is not until an hour later that Bic realizes he didn't even get her name. Perhaps the Las Colinas studios are all they were cracked up to be after all. Bic starts pondering uncomfortable and rarely explored territory; marriage, kids, growing old, etc. as he flips through the morning talks shows and cartoons. A few hours later, he concludes the previous night was a good thing and he gets back to work, pushing off thoughts of his future for another day, perhaps that chat room he found last weekend.
As if in answer to a desperate cry for distraction a message appears from Little Fish (Tuesday 05SEP2000):
A little hourglass icon appears and the sand dwindles from the top to the bottom. When Bic starts typing, the flow stops. He quickly figures out that he has a finite amount of downtime and types a reply.
The hourglass icon updates after the message is sent and is a little past half full. About half a minute passes. Bic's heart beat speeds up and his body tenses as he finally has a chance to react to the surprise of contact.
The words still hang on the terminal window, but the text turns gray. Bic correctly assumes the connection has been broken.
The short week passes quickly. Gaming was a little dull, but maybe it was just the distraction of issues that Bic has put off as ones that don't concern him. Work is more attractive than before because it is one of the few things that he can completely immerse himself in and forget about the aspects of his life that are sliding by unattended.
Marvin, the guy who plays Mefriend, the reformed Half-Orc Shaman with the wombat familiar, loses himself in gaming and his hobbies. Must be nice, but then again, his trust fund pays the bills, so maybe he just lacks the motivation to get off his butt and do something useful. Bic is unsure if he is envious or worried, Marvin's life is slipping by and the accomplishments of Mefriend are a sad legacy for a human to leave behind as one of his most significant contributions to the world. Maybe he just needs to find a job he loves. Bic shakes it off and returns to molding the Bradakkian Larva pod; this is gonna rock!
The weekend disappears as Bic puts in extra hours at work. The pod was good, but he came up with a cool tentacle firing mechanism that he just had to get out of his brain and into existence. On Monday, the design is well received and goes a long way to justifying the special considerations made in Bic's hiring. Work moved to the Bradakkian Adult and the projections were made that the project might make it under time and under budget.
The following Tuesday Bic gets the e-mail from the Society and a few minutes later a window pops up. Bic's heart starts to race. If Little Fish has this level of awareness of Bic's computer, then nothing he has is safe from her when he's connected. She was supposed to be good, maybe one of the best, but this was ridiculous. Did she have nothing better to do than monitor Bic's mail? The window finishes opening and shows the result of a timed disk scan. Bic calms a little and realizes that he's normally at work at this time of the day, so he had set his home computer to perform housekeeping functions now. Bic does wonder where LF is and whether or not he is OK. The last line of his message didn't sound good. Bic hits work hard, trying to finish up the Bradakkian Adult before he leaves.
Next week, the Monday before the trip to Kathmandu, Bic returns home late. The Bradakkian Adult was finished and well received. He didn't have time to create the heavy duty hydraulic tail lash that he thought up at the last minute, but it would do. Besides, the hydraulics guy was slow and lazy and working with him was really annoying. As Bic taps the case of his optical mouse to wake up his computer, he notices a subtle difference in the way the screen flashes to life. A window pops up once again, this time with a small blue fish with a white mohawk swimming around the border (Monday, 18SEP2000).
A download window opens, awaiting Bic's approval. He pauses for a moment then clicks it.
The download window closes and the small blue fish strikes an anthropomorphic pose, standing on its back fin, with it side fins akimbo. It starts tapping one of its "feet" as if impatiently waiting. As Bic starts typing his response, it smiles and then begins swimming around again.
After a brief discussion with the team, you split off and head to the temple that seemed to feel unusually comfortable to you, the Temple of the Ki-Rin.
As you approach the temple, you seem to really see the Ki-Rin image for the first time. What might have seemed garish or flashy to before is different in your eyes now. The gold tells of the Ki-Rin's purity, the deep metallic blue of its honor, the bright glistening red of its courage, and the deep emerald green of its natural strength. It is a good symbol and far more instructive than most will realize. You feel a slight twinge of pride as you approach which puzzles you slightly but feels nice nonetheless.
You are welcomed inside and are greeted to the same sounds of combat in the main room. The imagery on the walls and ceiling is not so vague. They clearly depict heroes and champions defending their charges and slaying various fell beasts, including not just the familiar demons, devils, medusae, dragons, and such, but also what appear to be Yaksas, snake men, and strange ghostly creatures. In the center of the ceiling is a larger image that depicts what seems to be a gladiatorial fight. The slim athletic female monk that showed you in the first time you visited walks up and strikes a pose, her arms akimbo, and asks, "What do the images tell you?"
Bic pauses for quite some time, studying the images and contemplating his answer. Finally seeming to reach a decision, he replies, "The images speak several truths to me. One is that our work is honorable and necessary, though it may at times seem to be never-ending. Another, perhaps more important truth, is that evil may take many forms and come from varied sources, including those who at other times may seem our friends. This is not paranoia; it is merely understanding the nature of man and beast. Finally, the gladiatorial scene is more of a puzzle to me. Of course, it shows combat, which concerns this order at its core. But to be honest I don't understand the context. That sort of a fight would seem to me not to accomplish any goal other than a choiceless fight for survival. I understand that we fight for the survival of good, but combat in the arena seems more for show, unless you are the prisoner. I do not feel as though those who fight for the Ki-Rin are prisoners.
The woman smiles as you answers and waits patiently for you to finish. "The final image holds the most important lessons. When I look at it I see that if we lose ourselves in the task and forget the goal then we become slaves to the task and we become our own enemy." She turns to another warrior, a large brawny man with red hair. What do you see Angus?" The large man does not move from his position, meditating in a corner as he answers, "It tells me that sometimes members of our order can become our enemy and we must be prepared to strike them down as we would any other foe; it is hard to walk the path of guardian without slipping on the blood." She nods in agreement. She claps her hands loudly. "Enough talk! Let's train!"
You eventually learn that your guide's name is Tariko. The day is spent sparring and as you eat a hearty dinner of water buffalo stew and rice, Tariko declares, "Your skill exceeds your body. We must train your body and develop your strength and speed."
The next day, true to her word, Tariko takes you out onto the slopes of the mountains and essentially takes you hiking out into the snowy wilderness. She carries little, leaving you to strain under the weight of the camping gear and rations. The final manner of her words when she assigned the task made it clear that it was not up for debate. You shrugged and awkwardly donned the large pack. Tariko helped situate it on your back and you were off. The trek was immediately difficult. You were not accustomed to carrying such a heavy load farther than the distance from your van to the studio, and now you were walking miles with no studio grips to help carry the heavy stuff. The first day of hiking was hard. You were barely able to ignore the pain in your muscles while also keeping your footing on the treacherous rocks. Tariko kept referring to it as a trail, but it was little more than a subtle difference in the snow pattern.
The second day was not much better. All of the pain and stiffness from yesterday magnified your discomfort. Conversation only occurred at breaks for meals, if you stayed awake. Towards the end of the day, however, the stiffness had gone and you found a better arrangement of the pack straps on your body.
The third day was a little easier and you were able to occasionally converse with her. The conversation was very philosophical, concerned mostly with the concept of protecting the world without becoming that which you protected the world from. The cold air burned your lungs a little less, and the pack was just a little easier to carry. Of course, maybe you were just getting better at tuning it out or the news that you hit the halfway point last night was inspiring you.
By the fourth day, your memory of the discomfort from the first day was already fading, the weight of the rations had lightened considerably, and you became a real chatterbox. You spoke of the tools that could be used to protect humanity and the topic quickly turned to the use of magic. Tariko had much to say on the topic. It turns out that ritual magic is a very common tool, especially in the form of warding and binding spells. You talked throughout the day and learned that many of the things your grandmother told you were true, and that which was not was the magician's equivalent of ribbing. As you sat down to eat dinner, Tariko began to explain the procedure to allow you to bind a Creature. It is a little tiring and requires silver dust, but the technique itself is surprisingly straightforward. Shortly after dinner, you make it back to the temple. You sleep hard. The trek has been worthwhile, your mind and body grew. You wrestle with the notion that you are part of something much bigger than you as you settle down to sleep. Your dreams are filled with battles with mythological beasts and demons. When awake in the morning, you feel invigorated.
You walk towards the main room and see a man kneeling in the far corner. All is silent and then you hear a great yell and a man runs out from one of the corners you could not see yelling and screaming as he hurls himself at the kneeling man, who holds up a hand and stops the runner cold. You recognize the use of Sphere of Protection. You are beckoned forth and take the place of the kneeling man. A similar sequence ensues and you use your Art. The assembled monks seem quite impressed. The next two days are spent in rigorous training with a monk you had not met yet, Jason. Jason's strength in the Art is staggering. He knows every use of the Art that you have heard of as well as some that you have not. You talk with him at length and he decides to teach you Gad, an Art that allows you to bend fate in the favor of the target of the Discipline.
Jason also instructs you on the globe-trotting nature of the order. There is little useful information, but he does tell you of a similar place to the temple. A less mystical, less spiritual base of operations in Langley, West Virginia, coordinated by agents within the CIA.
As you leave the temple, there is a twinge of sadness. The fraternity in this place is palpable. You look forward to seeing it again, or perhaps you will meet one of your ilk. Perhaps you will pay a visit to Langley soon.