Caleb sat slumped at the steamboat's bar liberally taking shots of something green and very alcoholic while everyone else around him continued to laugh and socialize, most unaware of the real present danger that was currently in their midst. Money was not a problem for Caleb. It had taken several months after parting from Johnny for Caleb to organize this journey, but now that he was here he was quite prepared. The loss of the papers outlining the whereabouts and attributes of the castle where his scroll was kept was a hindrance, but since he now had a very clear idea of what it was he was actually looking for, ascertaining the location of the castle proved to not be very difficult.
Getting there was another matter, however. Caleb had discovered that the castle was located deep in a nearby mountain range. That was troublesome enough, but to get there he would first have to make his way through kilometres of swamps and bogs unless he found a way to go up the river that flowed away down from the summits. At first he thought he could charter a boat from one of the locals, but upon approaching them he found that they were all surprisingly uncooperative. There were many strange stories regarding this part of the world, and all those who lived nearby respected these tales with a reverence that Caleb himself wished he could refute. Unfortunately for him, he actually knew the truth of many of them.
That left him with this luxury steamboat, commanded and utilized purely for the enjoyment of the upper classes, all coming to enjoy the view of what was to them a far distant land without even the slightest clue of what it might actually have in store for them. To get on board Caleb had to of course pay his way, something which he did eventually manage to do by falling back on one of his old tried and true habits from his days as a gunslinger, namely robbing a bank in true old western style. Once that was done it was a relatively simple thing for him to clean himself up, swagger over to the ticket booth, purchase a ticket, climb aboard, and then hold his tongue for the rest of the trip.
Well, it was relatively simple at least. The final part of that plan was proving for him to be increasingly difficult. Caleb allowed himself slight glance over his shoulder where several people were either playing or observing a game of billiards, including the young married couple from earlier. The husband was one of the two that was playing while his wife watched from the sidelines, occasionally protesting her total ignorance about the game in order to ensure she did not intrude on the assembled group's manliness. Every once in awhile she would also steal a glance at Caleb, who tried his best not to notice the fact that each and every time she did this she still wore the same expression of gentle concern that she had had on her face before.
Caleb returned his attention to the glass that he was drinking from, staring at the ripples that formed whenever a particularly large smack was heard emanating from the billiard table behind him. He felt his current thoughts start to slip away as all of the drinks that he had previously consumed started to do their work on him...
Caleb and Ophelia ascended the large stone steps of the Hall of Epiphany together under a darkly clouded orange sky, a cold wind cutting through the air as they went. Neither Caleb or Ophelia had any idea why it was that they had been summoned, why their audience was now being so urgently requested by Lord Tchernobog. After all, it had only been a few months earlier that Caleb had done his first bloodletting in penance to the cult on these very steps. Rarely had recent converts ever been allowed to even enter the temple, let alone be beckoned into its very heart. Since joining Caleb had not exactly shown himself to be all that cooperative with them either. It was all very strange.
For instance, he was still sporting the same hat and trench coat combination that he had been wearing when he had joined. They had of course tried to force him into the ritualistic robes that were sported by the others, but Caleb had flatly refused. He did not see the point of them; he could do his service just as easily if not better in what he was wearing now. In reality, it was all about uniformity, all about control. The cult wanted everyone to become like everyone else, because they knew how to control someone who was like everyone else. Caleb would not be controlled. If he was to serve, he would be doing it for his own reasons. That had proved heretical enough to almost make him be excommunicated. Excommunicated from his head.
Ophelia, who had previously also followed the party line, had become emboldened by the death of her husband and son, as well as her present relationship with Caleb. She also joined the protest, taking a liking to a brown outfit which included a flowing green cape. While the conflict had still not been completely resolved, it had eventually reached a point where those in charge appeared to be willing to look the other way. At the very least, they had stopped bothering them about it, letting them go about their business unmolested. The two exchanged quick glances with each other upon reaching the final step, a look of gentle concern on Ophelia's face. Perhaps they had not forgotten about it after all. Maybe they now had something else in store for them. Maybe tonight would be their reckoning.
It was Ishmael that was waiting for them inside the temple. He still wore the same embellished Elder robes that he had been wearing when Caleb had joined. "Our lord is waiting for us in the throne room" he stated, eyeing the new guests critically. "Follow me." They of course did follow, observing the interior of the temple with some degree of awe as they passed. Ishmael lead them through several more winding corridors before eventually reaching their final destination, which predictably enough was a large room that displayed a very noticeable throne. What was less predictable was what was sitting on that throne. He was huge, skeletal, and definitely not human.
Tchernbog towered above them even from a sitting position, His large goat like head staring down at them with no other discernible expression on his face other than that of an emaciated grin, His long claws digging into and scratching the stone floor as He waited. Standing beside the figure was also the form of a man, clad entirely in steel armour that covered him from neck to toe. Why something like that would need a human body guard was beyond Caleb's comprehension. Maybe he had been summoned here too. All four of the people present jumped despite of themselves when the large goat thing decided to let loose His voice. "These are the ones?" Tchernobog inquired, beginning to lean down towards Ophelia and Caleb.
"Indeed they are my master" Ishmael replied, relatively unfazed by the size of the head that now hovered only a short ways in front of him. "These are the one's that have defied our orders to wear the sacred robes." Caleb and Ophelia inadvertently squeezed each others' hands, unaware that they had even grabbed for them earlier upon hearing the sound of the god's speech.
"Do you think you are better than the rest?" Tchernobog asked, this time quite clearly directing the question at both Caleb and Ophelia.
"All except you, my lord" Ophelia offered in supplication, still not ready to concede their whole protest quite yet. Caleb found himself stepping forward, moving between her and Tchernobog protectively. If he had been aware that he was doing it, he probably would have stopped.
"They have performed well otherwise my lord" Ishmael interjected, foreseeing exactly where this might end up. "It might be a mistake to let all that go simply due to the failure of us, your servants, to break their pride."
"You can leave that to me!" the man in the body armour cried in a thick creole, stepping forward to properly greet the newcomers.
"Silence Gabriel!" Tchernobog chastised, forcing the insanely tall man to stop in his tracks. The god then turned His large head back to Caleb and Ophelia again. "I do not want them to be broken."
"My lord?" Ishmael inquired, actually confused for once. Caleb and Ophelia exchanged more glances, while Gabriel looked on and simmered.
"Assemble before me!" Tchernobog ordered, forcing Ishmael and Gabriel to reluctantly stand beside their lower ranking visitors. Caleb and Ophelia let go of each others' hands and straightened, the four of them becoming a uniform line ready for inspection. Tchernobog approved, letting out a deep and powerful laugh that reverberated around the throne room. "My choice is now complete. You four are to be my chosen. The Chosen."
"An honour to be sure, but if I may ask..." Ishmael started, but was cut off by a flourish of Tchernobog's hand.
"Silence" He instructed, forcing everyone back to attention again. "You four shall lead the Cabal, but only one of you can lead the Chosen." Tchernobog stared down the line, observing each of them, settling on a choice. "Only one of you has not tried to win my favour tonight." The god then reached out and extended one of his long arms towards Caleb, pointing him out from the crowd. Caleb felt three sets of eyes, two in anger and one with pride, watch him as he stepped forwards. "You shall lead them. I can see great things in you."
"As you wish" Caleb replied, before bowing down and keeling before Him, his own followers doing the same from behind. Tchernobog laughed again. His deliberations were complete.
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Some might recall that I had previously made mention as part of the Blood Wiki's sixth anniversary that I had plans to once again invest some of my time in an area of Blood fandom that I had formerly been quite involved in. To that end I present Scroll, a story I originally began in the summer of 2008 as a kind of retelling of the story behind Cryptic Passage in an attempt to bring it further in line with the main Blood canon. Designed to be published in multiple parts, I shall endeavour to release a new instalment of Scroll every Sunday from March 9th on until the story is complete.