John Brockway's Secret Stuff
Steve calls John and Sarah into the room. "Hello and thank you for coming. It's been a only few days since I last saw you, I trust things are going well. I'll be brief and you can get back to your life." He slides a piece of paper across the table to each of the agents. "These are the latest findings on Project Lycan. I am sharing this information with you because I am concerned that Bud is too close to Daryl to be objective and Bic's recent communication with high-powered hackers worries me. Read this and tell me if you have any questions."
Walking Between Light and Dark
Steve calls Sarah and John into the small meeting room. He makes no introduction nor offers a prelude. He looks tired and concerned, sipping from a cup of coffee as if a junkie in withdrawal. "Because of the timing of things, I don't think your team should address this. We will watch over Daryl until your team returns. He has no record of episodes yet, so perhaps he will be safe. I hate to drop this on you, but I feel it is important to keep the two of you as informed as our operational procedures allow. Let me know if you have any questions."
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 Sleeping Dragon. You are a little anxious as you approach and old habits die hard, so you sneak up and scout around. As you round one corner of the building, a man dressed as a monk is standing and waiting as if expecting you. He is next to the "back door" to the kitchen. He silently opens the door and waits. You cautiously enter the building, ready to duck, roll, and come up shooting. However, you only see another monk, eating rice quietly and paying no attention to you.
With more than a little trepidation, you walk down the hall from the kitchen and past the quarters, which are all closed. You move into the main room and then the foyer. There is a slight shudder as you remember the reptilian man that you believe to be Frank and the hardship your team had in defeating him. The pillars seem to have more meaning to you now, but their full meaning still seems to be beyond you. You step into the main room and see that the walls and ceiling are covered with pictures that depict various reptilian creatures, the vast majority of which are snakes.
At the end of the main room is a short stone slab with a three foot tall golden statue of a cobra with glistening ruby eyes. The only illumination in this room comes from two braziers to either side of the cobra. The braziers consist of iron basins supported on the coils of brass serpents. They cast a flickering light on the images around the room, giving a sense of undulating motion and an illusion of life, or is it?
You wander up to the library and see that it is dedicated to knowledge and lore, as evidenced by the two monks quietly reading at a table and the rows of books along the walls. There are triple deep bookshelves that slide across one another. The cataloging system seems a little counterintuitive at first. You quickly get the hang of it, but you suspect that the average person might not. There are various books there. Some are pristine and still smell of ink, while others look as though they might fall apart with the slightest gust of wind. Your attention is drawn to a series of manuals on the intelligence operations of various countries, written in compromising detail. Similar references can be found on military operations and and Tables of Organization and Equipment. Your team could probably topple a small country with the proper application of this information, and yet, you feel a strange sense that you should guard this information from the "common" man. It is your place to know, but others would probably misuse the information.
There is also a black cabinet that catches your eye. You open it and find a computer setup with multiple flat screens that can be swiveled out to give a three panel display area. Currently, only the middle screen is active and the two side screens are stowed as the side. Below the computer is a drawer that contains row upon row of CD-ROMs which seem to contain data, if the presence of labels upon them is any indication. You take a quick look around on the computer and the cataloging system seems remarkably obtuse. You do manage to determine that the most recent files accessed concern SAVE's operations in Asia. Even that task was difficult.
You wander down to the pillars before the main room and the markings on them barely evade your understanding. However, you remember how you opened the door before and quickly get the door open. A monk passes by as you open the door and a shiver of concern races up your spine, but the monk walks past without hesitation. You relax and descend the stairs. The entirety of the walls looks like a ripple pattern at first glance, but closer examination shows that the walls have been carved with bas relief snakes. You recall the stone slab at the end of the room. It has only a single pillow for your head. It does not look very comfortable, but you feel that is the way it is supposed to be. You throw some more fuel into the braziers and the flickering light of the flames gives the snakes an illusion of motion, however it is exaggerated by the three-dimensional nature of the bas relief carvings. You become uneasy as your long fear of snakes comes to the fore. The fear rises in a sudden wave and you turn to walk out, but find a monk barring your way.
You are taken aback with this sudden attention from a monk. "Excuse me," you say and move to walk beside him, expecting him to shift slightly out of your way. He stands his ground and you mind races with how to handle the situation. The fear clenches at you crawling up your spine and circling your neck. "Damn it! Let me pass!" You exclaim, a little surprised at your lack of composure.
The monk speaks in a steady level tone, in English with a slight accent that you can't quite place. He says, "Do you know what it is that you fear?"
You focus on his image and the undulating snake imagery is easier to ignore. You calm yourself down just enough not to try and knock him down and race past him. Lacking any clever replies, you simply stand there quietly and adopt a poker face. You manage to force out a surprisingly calm reply, "Who said anything about fear."
You can hear the smile in his voice, "You hide your emotions well. Good. We are well served by such skills. If we cannot protect our own truths, we can certainly cannot safeguard truths beyond ourselves." He pauses for a few seconds and continues, "What you fear is yourself. Your 'beast' as the monks of the Healing Moon would say. You fear the essence of the Serpent within you, and well you should. The Serpent was drawn from Dr. Masterson too quickly and forcefully. We do not expose such secrets readily, which is why we did not simply go straight to the Temple of the Healing Moon. We did what we could, but it became obvious it was not enough. We saw your team coming and we knew you were coming for him. We distracted him so that he did not learn of this until you attacked. From what we know, he is recovering. Perhaps the Serpent will leave some wisdom in its wake."
The monk pauses again as if to let that sink in, then he continues anew, the smile long gone from his voice, "The Serpent's power comes from truth. By concealing or revealing it, his machinations are realized. However, our truth is one based on observation and knowledge; we can still be deceived by our own. Such a person was the one that forced the Serpent from Frank. He is dead now, killed by one of the very Beasts he drew out. This is good. We are masters of deception, but we must never deceive one another. Any that violate that are to be destroyed.
"We have principles by which we act. First, the pursuit and protection of truth are the highest purposes. Second, never deceive our kind nor endanger the truth nor our order. Third, the truth should be revealed only when needed. The third principle is the hardest of all and will test your judgment sorely. If evil transpires because you were too secretive, it is as much of a crime as if it transpired because you were too forthcoming. We walk the razor's edge and we often cut ourselves. Betraying these principles can be cause for execution.
"As for you, you will remain in this room until you have come to grips with who and what you are. When you no longer fear your own essence, then you will be ready to embrace your path.
The monk turns around and walks up the narrow stairs. He stops and turns, "By the way, you can call me Jacob." He continues silently out of sight and the sound of the pillar door closing and some locking mechanism engaging can be heard. You steel yourself and turn about. The undulating snake forms re-enter your awareness and the old fear rises up again, but it is softened slightly. You stand at the entrance of the room for some time, perhaps an hour, before you finally advance into the room. You place some fresh incense bricks into the braziers and lay down on the slab and stare at the ceiling which is completely bare of any images or carvings.
You quickly slip into a meditative state and the presence of the snake forms slips out of your awareness. Instead our senses become attuned to a background sound, a faint whisper. The whisper grows until it sounds like the background din of a social gathering. Voices murmur and discuss, but you can not pick out anything specific. You ask "What is the power of the snake? At first, nothing seems to happen, but then from the murmur a single voice, that of a mature Chinese man, says, "Knowledge."
You are somewhat disappointed with the brevity of the answer, but quickly think of another question, "How do I use the power of the Snake?" Again, the murmuring continues, but soon there is a voice that is heard clearly, a different voice this time that sounds like a young Indian woman. It says, "You have but to ask."
The notion of boundless knowledge that you can simply request is temporarily overwhelming. Hundreds of questions flood through your mind, vying for dominance. One finally rises above the others triumphant. You ask, "Why am I here?" The answer to this question does not come as quickly. When it does, the voice of a middle-aged American answers, "The Serpent resides within you. You contain its essence, as do all of our order. In the days that come, you will learn to embrace it. You will cease to fear...yourself."
As the final words sink into your mind, you suddenly snap awake. The room is much darker. The flames have died and the smell of incense has impregnated your clothes. You slide off of the slab and walk upstairs. The door is open. As you step outside, you see the monk again. You can not see the face, but you know it is Jacob. Perhaps it is his build.
"I see that you have found the Serpent within. Now you know that the accident you had is not what dulled your senses, it was your human mind railing against your Serpent essence, actively denying you the sense of the Serpent. You will find that your sense of smell and taste are like any other man's now. In time, they will grow stronger, much stronger. That time is not now. Go now. Sleep. Tomorrow, you will learn to extend your Serpent self.
You head to the kitchen, your mind still somewhat blurry. It is strange, you can actually smell the dirty stone scent of the hallway as you walk. You actually smell the kitchen before you see it. The heavy, wet smell of steamed rice tells you what to expect. You sit down to eat and pick up the odor of salted fish. You have very little fish. The rice itself has more flavor than you recall. You can taste a hint of vinegar and sugar. It is quite remarkable. A glass of beer becomes a meal unto itself as you savor the taste and how it changes with the temperature of the liquid.
You finally settle down to sleep, noticing the scent of the fabric. It has a smell that tells you it was dried outside in the mountain air. You do not dream. It seems as if no time at all has passed when you awaken. It is morning. You eat a quick breakfast and seek out Jacob. He takes you to the basement and tips out a basket of snakes. You feel the caution of any normal man, but the old fear is gone. "Good," he says, "your fear is gone, now you can gain their respect." He points to a spot on the ground and says, "Kneel there."
You hesitate for a moment because of the proximity of the snakes, then kneel down. Jacob engages you in grueling training over the next days. You are taught how to call snakes to you as well as how to command them. You are trained to use the snake staff that you obtained from Frank, as well as how to maintain the potency of its "bite." You grow in other, less perceptible ways as you come to accept the concept of the Serpent essence within your being. Your mind seem calmer, stronger. Things make just a tiny bit more sense.