September 27

It’s been a few days, owing to some very recent personal news. Here’s where we stand currently:

My personal goal for fundraising is $250, of which people donating via my link have given $119.37(after those unfortunate Paypal fees), so nearly fifty percent.

Overall, RAWR’s fundraising goal is $3000, and the currently raised funds total $290.74(after fees).

I want to make a push to raise a significantly higher percentage by the end of the Write-a-Thon. Currently, any donation made until Midnight Eastern time tonight, the 27th, will be matched dollar-for-dollar for the first $100, and at $0.50/dollar for the next hundred. If you haven’t yet donated, and have been considering it, please think about doing so by tonight. Every little bit helps.

 

Now, here we have a fleeting scene in the Achilles Club’s library. This will be a bit more of an introduction of Cyril Understone, the Club’s chief librarian. I hope you enjoy:

The room before him opened outward. There were a few rows of bookshelves here, as well, but when Simon had passed these, the room revealed rows of tables with thickly padded chairs arranged comfortably around them. On the top of one was stack upon stack of books. On another, rested several scrolls, and two scroll reading stands with scrolls rolled onto them. The walls here bore more electric lights, whose wiring simon could trace upward along the arch supports and into conduits in the ceiling like the stone-copper spiders of the corridor. Along the base of each wall was a long row of display cases, housing thick tomes, opened to a particular page or another, or alternately individual pieces of parchment, or scrolls.

Candlemere was just taking a seat at the head of one of the long tables, along which sat Whitehead and Ari Singh. Francis was already seated, the ermine’s back to Simon. Finally, at the end of the table opposite Candlemere stood Cyril Understone.

Francis turned and gave Simon a smile and patted the cushion on the chair next to him. Simon smiled in return, feeling himself grow warm in the cheeks, and sat. Understone gave him a stern, but not hostile, glance.

“Now that we’re all here,” Candlemere began, “Have you been able to find out anything yet?”

“Bear in mind, Lord Candlemere, that we’ve only had the better part of a day to research,” the marmot replied, turning his stern gaze onto the wolfhound, “and obviously my antiquities dealers have not yet provided me with any useful scrolls or translated books.

“However, I happened across something that does at least point us in the direction that I suspected.”

Understone lifted from one of the stacks on a nearby table a tome that looked to be nearly four inches thick, and balanced it on the table, holding it open to a marked page.

“This is a commentary on one of the ancient Persian holy texts. Not remarkable in and of itself, but for the marginalia here in this section.” The marmot tapped a claw. At the edge of the illuminated manuscript, written in a language that Simon did not understand, was a scrawl of jagged symbols, also in a language that Simon did not understand. It was, however, familiar.

“I do not wish to speculate as to what form of ink was used here. The character shapes match the style of the symbol we found used in the murder ritual.

“And this portion of the commentary is one that makes another, as Somerset would call it, ‘oblique’ reference to the language of nothingness, the heresy.”

“What do the marginalia say,” Candlemere asked, leaning eagerly forward onto his elbows.

“I do not have a translation for you, Lord Candlemere. Not yet. But I have hope. I sent a brief hand-copy of this margin note to Calden Birchcroft, one of the rare book dealers I most frequently purchase from. Within an hour he had written back a reply, which was delivered faithfully by our friend Vicoff here, stating that he believed he had an incomplete handwritten text that contained pages in traditional Persian and in this script.”

The marmot continued, “I have ordered that book sent here immediately, charged against the Club’s account. I warn you now, that it was not inexpensive.”

Candlemere waved off the expense as if it were nothing. Simon suspected that if the Club were somehow to take umbrage at the purchase, Candlemere would fund the book himself, so long as it provided valuable help.

“So, here we are, then, Candlemere. A few hours of work has yielded some sort of clue. Whether it is valuable or not remains to be seen,” said Whitehead, whose eyes bore the visible puffiness of desperate need for sleep.

“So it has. We are stymied by too little information, and information that is coming but not here. It presents us an unsolvable problem.” Singh folded his paws on the table.

Candlemere sat in silence for so long that Simon briefly considered speaking, simply to nudge the wolfhound back into awareness. He wouldn’t, of course. He would never need to. Candlemere’s silence meant deep thinking, not a lack of awareness.

“Then we should adjourn for now, gentlemen. I will remain here at the Club. I’ll be in one of the meditation rooms in the cathedral should I be needed. In the meantime, get some rest, and update me the moment we have new information.”

The company rose from their chairs. Whitehead and Ari Singh departed swiftly and silently, through the main doors of the library. Francis started to leave, but paused with a questioning glance at Simon.

“I’ll be along, soon, Love.”

“All right, Simon.”

The ermine craned his neck into a kiss. The electric spark of desire shot through Simon. He held the kiss just long enough, breaking away for propriety’s sake and sending Francis off with a discreet pat on the hindquarters. He watched him walk away, hips swaying suggestively.

That mustelid was going to get a visit in his bedchamber from an aggressive fox, very shortly, but the back of Simon’s mind tickled. Something wasn’t sitting properly and he could not tell what it was.

Understone had his back politely turned to where Francis and Simon had been kissing, quietly turning through the pages in one of the dusty volumes of the stacks on one of the other tables.

“Do you really think this Persian heretic idea is going to bear fruit,” he asked, moving closer and peering at the text of the book, which was predictably in a tongue he did not read nor recognize.

“We have so little information at this time that speculation is largely useless, Mr. Bartholomew.”

“Simon, please.”

“If you wish. Simon. As Mr. Doyle’s famous detective is so fond of pointing out, it is a capital offense to theorize before one is in possession of the facts. Though,” he added, “I’m quite certain he means ‘hypothesize’, the end result is the same.”

Understone gave him a small smile and a wink. Simon blinked, not fully processing the gesture. Understone had thus far been cold, almost mechanical in his interactions. Was he flirting?

“You are wondering what to make of me, aren’t you Simon?”

The fox blinked, his ears twitching reflexively, surprised. Was he that easy to read?”

“No, I am not reading your mind. Your expression clearly tells me everything I need to know about what you are thinking. As for what to make of me, I’m afraid I can’t answer that. After all, what fun would it be?”

“Under the circumstances, I think fun may be the least of our concerns, Mr. Understone.”

“Perhaps logically speaking, though the scent you are currently giving off is indication enough that fun is still on at least part of your brain.”

Simon’s ears pinned back as they and his cheeks grew hot. He’d thought it wouldn’t be so obvious.

“Mr. Merriwether is a very lucky person to have someone so excited by him. I recall his days here when he still lived. Mrs. Merriwether is a kind soul, more kind than most, to allow him to indulge himself with the males here at the club. He certainly took advantage of the opportunity.”

Simon tilted his head. “Meaning what?”

“Oh, certainly you are not the first to sleep your way through the Club’s membership roster.”

A snarl threatened to curl on Simon’s muzzle. With great effort he forced his face to remain impassive, though Understone must have picked up on his underlying mood.

“I do not mean that in an insulting way. That is why most beings come to the Club in the first place. So few have any interest in forgotten lore, mystical knowledge, or the performing of magic or ritual. The rich, the aristocracy, the artists, many of whom have carried out their duty to family and society by reproducing, and the innate biological need to pass on their seed, come to the Achilles Club to unburden their loins with their true desires. It is sadly predictable.”

“It’s not so awful. It gives so many of them a new lease on life. It takes away their despair, their hopelessness.”

Simon stared at the marmot, taking him in. He was more bookish than Francis, an appearance helped along by the tiny square glasses perched on his nose at a slight angle. Simon could see him being enjoyable in the bedchamber. Perhaps when he knew him better, Francis might enjoy a menage a trois with Understone. They hadn’t discussed the more exotic ideas for the bedchamber, largely because Simon did not wish to share him during the handful of weeks per year when Francis could remain in earthly form.

“I suppose it does,” Understone said with a resigned sigh, snapping Simon out of his reverie. “In any case, your scent is getting stronger. I’d say you’ are overdue for a romp of rutting with Mr. Merriwether, are you not?”

Simon felt the heat in his cheeks again. He turned to go, but the image of the painting in the vestibule, the fox who looked so much like him, rose up and stopped him.

“I do have another question, actually, if it’s all right.”

“I have nothing but time at the moment Mr… Simon.” Understone gave him a soft, encouraging smile.

“That painting in the entry way, the one of the black fox—“

“Ah, yes, him. Our best guess is that the painting dates from the mid 1700’s, but we have few records of the Order from those days. Openly displaying membership in an organization like ours would possibly have earned a burning, or a hanging, as a witch.”

Simon’s heart sank a bit. In his mind, he’d constructed some little narrative, that somehow he was destined to be a part of the Achilles Club through some distant, unknown family connection. The likelihood was small, of course, despite the relatively small number of black foxes in Britain at any point in history, but even so, a part of him had hoped.

“In any case, you require attending, and I’ve no doubt your lover awaits in your shared bedchamber. Go. The words will still be on their pages come the morning.”

Understone gave Simon another wink, which gave him a small chill, then turned back to the stacks of books and scrolls.

Simon, feeling the growing pressure in his breeches, considered, momentarily, inviting Understone along, but thought better of it. Francis needed to be asked, first. Even at that, Simon did not know Understone well enough, and he wanted to be careful about rolling in the hay with members of the Inner Circle. Those times were best saved for ritual, when the energies released could be harnessed effectively to advance the Club’s goals.

Simon made his way to the wooden double-doors where Vicoff waited. As Simon approached, the mouse gave a courteous bow, and pulled the great door open once more before Simon. He was not led, this time. Ceremonially speaking, the guide need only lead the seeker of knowledge into the library. They were on their own when leaving.

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