And though I had slain a thousand foes less one,
The thousandth knife found my liver;
The thousandth enemy said to me,
'Now you shall die,
Now none shall know.'
And the fool, looking down, believed this,
Not seeing, above his shoulders, the naked stars,
Each one remembering.
--John M. Ford, The Final Reflection

The Asylum Director

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"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any." - Russel Baker

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

It begins...

Well, they say every journey begins with the first step. So here's my proverbial first step. Truth be told, I was - and am - quite reluctant to use the Illuminati but vampires had already been done. I'd rather have called them the Camarilla but I felt that too infringing on White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade.


When I first saw her emerging from the meditation chambers, stepping out from what appeared to be jaws of some great monstrosity, I knew fate had great things in store for her. If but she had the proper guide to it. It seemed odd that none of the higher echelons of the Illuminati sensed it within her, whereas I could see it plainly in her wide, pale sapphire eyes. She was going to rise to power and stay in power, I could feel it in my bones, in my flesh as surely as I felt my soul writhe in sensations unknown when our eyes met. I smiled as I made my decision to get close to her, gain her trust and confidence. If my feelings were correct, it was in my best interest to be by her side from her days as a mere Acolyte and through to her rise in power.

My name is Nicole and I have been an Acolyte in the ranks of the Illuminati for a year, spending my time learning as much as I could of the Dark Powers. I was merely wandering the halls of the Academy when I passed by the meditation chambers when I first saw her. She had a petite figure, slender frame and it was all too simple to pass her off as just another Acolyte that would never get very far in the ranks based on her body and looks alone. She seemed to appear so innocent, so harmless with her wide, pale sapphire eyes and small, ruby lips. And I was quite tempted to run my fingers through her rough-cut, black hair when I’d taken time to appraise her. The lust for power was all too common among the Illuminati but in her eyes, she also had potency, a drive that set her apart. She was, by far, the most dangerous person I’d seen and that was more than enough reason for me to attempt to befriend her. So I made my approach, calmly smiling.

Do not think me delusional. I am told I have a latent talent in tapping into the Dark Powers but the pool of candidates has lessened quite a bit, as I am aware of. Centuries of excessive secrecy and constant conflicts over pocket domains have weakened the lower ranks of the Illuminati, while immortality and the refusal to change over time has whittled away the effective prowess of the higher echelons. There was the need to reform, to restructure the Illuminati if it was to maintain power and the favor of the Dark Powers but the ranks were not up to it. I have no desire to overtly change things; my desire is that of any other that is in the order. I am interested in power overwhelming, in attaining more power than any human being could possibly imagine. I have no illusions of total dimensional conquest or of creating my own pocket domain in the expanse of reality but I do want to see the human race bowing at my feet. Or at the very least, I want them bowing at the feet of someone that I can manipulate and influence to see things…my way.

“I’ve not seen you here before. My name is Nicole.” I said as I extended my hand to her. Not once did she take her eyes off of me, her gaze cold and predatory as she looked at mine. I could see it. There was the same fire, the same ambition I saw in myself but in her it was something darker, deeper. She didn’t take my hand, as I thought. Suspicion was a common thing among new Acolytes. “Don’t be so suspicious. I’m not an Inquisitor out to terrorize the Acolytes with some random killings, if that’s what you think.”

“How do you know I’m not an Inquisitor?” she answered confidently. Brimming with confidence, I thought at the time. It was difficult to tell if she is an Inquisitor, as they are masters at blending into any of the ranks of the Illuminati. I smiled at her. She smiled back at me. It was a sweet, bewitching one.

“Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were. Inquisitors are never far, particularly from beauties such as yours truly.” I said as I tossed my mousy brown hair back, smiling and batting my eyelashes. “It would be such a shame if the Inquisitors took such a beauty like yours truly from the ranks.”

The Inquisitors are a branch of the Illuminati chain of command that was answerable only to the Grand Executor himself. The Inquisitors are being trained and exist only for the sole purpose terrorizing other branches of the Illuminati through random murders, summary executions of suspected traitors and similar acts of psychological control. It didn’t occur to me that she could be one of them and frankly, it was a possibility that I shouldn’t have failed to consider. Inquisitors were supposedly immune to any powers in the arsenal of the Illuminati hierarchy and possessed a secret ability that was available only to them. If she was one of them, I had potentially made a mistake. I could have found myself as just another victim of the strictures and games played by the Inquisitors. It was possible I’d even encountered the shadowy leader of the group herself and not known. Such was the price of the power promised by the Illuminati. Everyone in your life might be an Inquisitor, a rival or an assassin sent to kill you or lure you into some malign trap. It is impossible for me to speak of how relieved I was when she took my hand and laced our fingers together in silence before leaning close to me. Her eyes looked so innocent that I doubted she was even Illuminati. No one in the ranks of such a vicious, power-hungry order could be so youthful, so innocent to behold.

She and I were both Acolytes, I could sense that message being conveyed through her soft touch, for the hands of higher ranks have grown cold with the constant presence of death stalking her elusive prey or hardened by lives spent in war, sleeping with a sword in one hand and a mystical weapon in the other. I was relieved, despite the fact that our lives might well be short-lived, like most others in our rank. We were part of the frontlines of the order in their pan-dimensional invasions, the storm troopers of the death squads that rid the pocket domains of the Illuminati of opposition and maintained order and supremacy for those in power. We were, quite frankly, expendable. That is the reason that I and most other Acolytes were always trying to gain more power, to earn the favor of the higher echelons enough to be elevated to better ranks. I assumed that she was no different though I strongly suspect that her methods in rising to power were not as mine. Regardless, I had taken time to steer clear of other Acolytes but this one was different. I could feel it. The risks of siding with her early on would be far outweighed by the prestige, influence and power that she would no doubt have and extend to the few she could trust. I intend to earn that trust.

“A beauty such as yourself would be such a waste if an Inquisitor got to you first.” She said with a viciousness deeply hidden in her tone. She was such a delicate, tempting little morsel. “Call me Leonia.”

“Tell me, have you been approached my Malcolm Crowley yet?” I asked her, keenly observant of the politics among the Acolytes. Crowley is a deceptive fellow, having other Acolytes flocking to his side because he is the son of a man of high rank in the Illuminati, as well as being blood descendant to Alistair Crowley, one of the most feared Illuminati Prelates in recent memory. “Please tell me he hasn’t.”

“He doesn’t interest me.” She said, her innocent face distracting me for a moment before I realized that there was such severe distaste in her expression when I mentioned the name. “Men don’t interest me.”

“What exactly do you mean by that comment?” Mind games, I’d assumed.

“You’re quite lovely, with your brown hair and your lovely green eyes. Yes, very lovely indeed. I could learn to long for someone like you, for beauty like yours. It is tempting, even slightly delectable if I let my mind drift into it enough.” She said with her voice clear as crystal and as smooth as finest silk. And that was what terrified me about it. “I can imagine your honeyed lips over my flesh as our passions fuse and mere. Tell me, can you feel the same? If not, then I have many ways to make you more…agreeable.”

I raised an eyebrow at the comment. I was inclined to think she was giving me an appraising eye as I took a step back, not quite sure what to make of her statement. There was a fire in her eyes that seemed a little too conveniently like passion. She drew a little too close, held my hand a little too tight for comfort as I pondered the meanings behind her choice of words. As I was starting to back away even more, she let her body slip closer and closer into my personal space. Her eyes were locked with mine and I could almost feel her body touch mine, her warmth all too human and all too toxic. Then, she let out a hearty laugh and took several steps back as she let go of me. There was coyness in her, a confidence that brimmed from the soul as she reached forward and brushed a few loose strands of my hair from my face. I’d only then really realized I was panting and, though I loathe admitting it, rather turned on. She laughed again and shook her head as I regained my composure. It was fortunate for me that no other Acolytes were there to see it.

“My only interest is power.” She said, as if clarifying her earlier statement. I cannot even begin to speak on just how much I felt relieved by that statement. “I suspect you’re of like mind, Nicole.”

“As ambitious as she is beautiful. My, but you remind me of…me.” I said as we both proceeded to walk down the hallway, away from the ominous, jaw-like meditation chambers. I myself have never been inclined to enter them. “The desire for power runs strong in us, stronger than in other Acolytes, I dare say.”

She turned to me a cold eye but she still seemed so…charming. “I don’t trust you.”

“Nor do I trust you, Leonia.” I wasn’t the least bit shocked by her statement. It was natural.

“Then we understand each other.”

“Why did you ask me about…Malcolm Crowley?” she asked. It was a fault in her gamesmanship, asking me such a direct question. However, one cannot help but wonder if there was something else in her mind when she did so. Was she laying a trap for me? It was certainly possible and not outside what I could see any Acolyte being capable of. I’d heard tales of an Acolyte rising in the ranks so rapidly through such trickery; perhaps it was his way of compensating for his grave facial deformities.

“That is an elaborate thing best saved for a later time. Suffice it to say for now that one of us will not live long enough to see the end of the year.” I failed to mask my bitterness at the thought of Malcolm. We have a rather cruel colorful history, he and I. “Regardless, I feel inclined to ask why you were in those wretched – not to mention distastefully decorated – meditation chambers? I rarely see Acolytes there.”

“I was in there to let my mind wander for a while.” She answered though I could tell there was something deeper behind it, a more…concrete reason for her staying there.

We continued on with idle chit-chat, both of us I suspect trying to pry into each other’s minds in as subtle a manner as possible. The games we played were to be expected, frankly. However, the more I spoke to her the more I sensed that I had made the right decision. We walked together and, naturally, she was reserved and treated me suspect as I did her. However, there was a mutual understanding of one another present. It would take time but I believe I can earn her complete trust and doubtless, that will be of great benefit to me when she ascends to power. Also, she was not completely alone. I could sense the Dark Powers themselves wrapping around her, slowly encroaching Leonia and I could see she was could become as powerful as she was beautiful. She does not trust me yet but I intend to remedy that situation and if she is as favored by the Dark Powers as my senses are telling me, it will be an excellent move on my part. Chess was always something I was rather talented at. However, my openings have always been slightly shaky.

Eventually, we both found that time had caught up with us and the scant hours given Acolytes to wander the Academy and take time for ourselves had passed us by in our idle talk. We parted ways and I have no doubts she was off to her chambers, likely to continue an experiment. The Illuminati were always eager to learn new secrets, discover new abilities or weapons to utilize in their eternal thirst for dominance over the countless pocket domains. So the Acolytes were clearly all encouraged to experiment, to learn for themselves old secrets or accidentally – and often fatally – discover new ones for a faster rise in the ranks.

I myself am less interested in experiments and more in mastering the body politic of getting those around me to tell me what I want to know and how to manipulate them to do what I want them to do. I took time to delve into the libraries, browse through the archaic records and make sense of the cryptic clues and secrets that older Illuminati weave into their notes whenever they record their work and discoveries. Again, more signs that the higher ranks are not welcoming of new additions to their membership. However, I have all intentions to change that, to shatter the old order and replace it with one more suited to my tastes.

The hour is late and I have early practice tomorrow in the Blade Chambers, harnessing my skills in martial combat is just as important as any experiments and political knowledge I attain. Many others I’ve noticed seemed to have ignored the fact that Acolytes are often called to the frontline to battle any of the near countless enemies that the Illuminati have. I’d been taught to use a lightweight sword early on and it was prudent, I think, to review my knowledge as well as learn new skills with physical combat during my stay in the Academy. It is rather simple to spend time in the Blade Chambers really, few Acolytes use the place and only on rare occasions have I seen those of higher rank there. None of them complain of my use of the facility, so long as I agree to be their sparring partner. Agreeing to such, of course, was equivalent to letting them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat whenever I felt it suited them best. Other times, I had to pay for their silence in kind but that was negligible. I am still young and I still have a hunger for the flesh and a great many of them are more than willing to accommodate the lusts of a beautiful woman such as I.

The dawn approaches, the time of greatest power for an Illuminati member is past and doubtless, many other Acolytes have already gone into sleep. I entertain doubts but I sense in my bones that I will find Leonia where she said she would be: the Hall of The Fallen. It is an interesting choice and one that I have not yet become aware of an Acolyte having recently decided upon, a very curious move on her part indeed.

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