Moving up the small stairs and through the open archway of Templar Hall, Micah passed the guards at the doors without them even batting an eye in his direction. Stepping past another set of large wooden doors that stood open and guarded, he came into a massive foyer with white and grey marble floors and stone columns holding up a massive dome. On every wall of the square foyer there were more large wooden doors flanked by guards, but only one set of doors stood open. Off to his right, Micah could see a large deep red carpet, and an ancient painting of St. George and the Dragon hanging above a mantle and fireplace.
He approached the open doorway, and rapped his knuckles twice on the wood. The lone occupant of the office was a handsome, dark-skinned man meticulously penning his signature on a stack of forms. He didn’t look up from his paperwork as he said, “Ah, come in, come in. Good to see you’re capable of following the directions on the back of a card. It is the basis for us getting along famously.” He was neatly dressed in black and white pinstripes, with the Templar cross on his tie clip. His tie and pocket kerchief were predictably, blood red. When the Templars had decided on a motif, they really stuck with it.
Micah walked into the room when invited, and when the man at the desk finally abandoned his paperwork and stood up, he had expected him to at least be mildly surprised about the antlers. Instead, the Templar had just gracefully maneuvered around his desk to shake Micah’s hand, smiling politely. “Of course, with an establishment like this one we’re practically in the Yellow Pages under ‘Crusaders.’ Richard Sonnac.” He introduced himself, shaking Micah’s hand with a firm grip.
He couldn’t help but smirk at Sonnac agreeing with his earlier criticism of the Templar way of hiding in plain sight. Micah chuckled and introduced himself, shaking Sonnac’s hand with a more delicate grip. He was trying to be careful of the claws. “Micah Arclight. You uh… don’t seem too bothered by the horns?”
“Indeed, I am not.” Sonnac confirmed, taking his hand back and steepling his fingers in front of his belly, arms relaxed at his sides. He started to pace his carpet while telling Micah, “It is rare, but there have been cases of those blessed by Gaia experiencing significant changes in their appearances. Usually, the culprit is a non-human ancestor. The bee disenchants any magics that had been woven over the chosen one to hide their inhuman traits, a side effect of receiving Gaia’s blessing.” He stopped in front of Micah, appraising his horns. Sonnac crossed his arms in front of his chest, and lifted one hand to his chin thoughtfully. “If I were to venture a guess, I would put my coin on a…. Satyr ancestor. Or maybe a faun. Definitely something from one of the Fae courts.”
Micah stood with his hands folded behind his back. He blinked slowly and raised an eyebrow at Sonnac. “Are you suggesting that… fairies are real?”
The Templar chuckled, “Mr. Arclight, you just spent the last six days hidden away in your apartment, setting things on fire with your mind and growing antlers. I would think that the existence of fairies shouldn’t be too large a pill to swallow.”
Micah paused, and then found he had to nod in agreement. “…Fair point.”
“Everything is true, Mr. Arclight. Folklore, stories, myths and legends, from all across the globe. Even the most outrageous tales hold some grain of truth. You’ll find vampires are real. Werewolves, too. Devils, demons and angels. As you work as an agent of the Templar organization, you’ll come to find yourself rubbing elbows with all manner of creatures and cryptids.” Sonnac side-stepped his way back behind his desk, straightening the lapels of his suit jacket as he sat. He pulled a form from the stack on his desk, and started scribbling on it.
“Ah… that brings me to the big question-- Work? I am, in fact, newly jobless, but I’m having trouble imagining the Templars needing a lead coder. I mean, do you even have a website? Is www dot Templars dot org a thing?” Micah quirked his eyebrow at Sonnac again, delicately scratching at the side of his neck with his claws.
“Heh, I do believe having an Internet presence would be even more counter-intuitive to secrecy than having a gigantic marble hall in the middle of London, don’t you think?” Sonnac smiled and shook his head. Signing the document with a flourish, he stood up from his desk again and brought it to Micah. “No, your new Gaia-given talents would be wasted on a desk job of any kind. You are a soldier, Micah Arclight, a Crusader chosen to fight the rising tide of darkness. You will work as a field agent, furthering the interests of the Templars as well as fulfilling your purpose as chosen of Gaia. You’ll find that these two great tasks go hand in hand–”
“Hang on a second, Mr. Sonnac…” Micah held up one of his clawed hands, it had started to sound like the Templar was about to start up with a rousing speech, but he had concerns. “Look, I’ve never-- soldiered. I have zero combat experience, I didn’t even want to take taekwondo as a kid. I played Call of Duty, that’s all I’ve got to run with here. Even if I have some kind of superpower, I can’t really say I’m thrilled about the idea of running headlong into a hail of bullets. Haven’t you got some sort of internship position? Somebody’s gotta photocopy all of those papers, right?” He offered with a self-deprecating chuckle, then finished, “I just want some help getting myself back to normal, and dying sounds like it would put a crimp in those plans, so-- how about we dial back on the Crusader bit, yeah? Hell, I’ll even take up janitoring if that’s what it takes to look human again.”
Sonnac shook his head, the corners of his lips curling up. “You are a very funny man, Mr. Arclight. But I can assure you, Gaia does not grant her gifts idly, nor does she allow her chosen to rest peacefully within her earth. You are quite immortal now, you will not die.”
Micah pursed his lips, staring at Richard Sonnac for several heartbeats before he drawled, “Yyyeah. I might be willing to humor the fairy thing, but running headlong into danger just because you’re telling me I’m immortal-- That’s gonna still be a hard ‘no’ from me.”
“Hm. I see you’re going to require further convincing.” Sonnac nodded, then backed up a few steps. He lifted a hand in a beckoning gesture, and Micah had thought that the Templar wanted him to follow, until a bald man in a black suit stepped out in front of him. He jumped, Micah hadn’t heard the man walk into the room, hadn’t even seen him from the corners of his eyes. He was so nonplussed by the man’s sudden appearance, and his appearance in general, that he didn’t immediately question what he was doing there. The man was wearing a perfectly white full-face mask that looked eerie, like an un-decorated Mardi Gras mask. Micah watched as the masked man unceremoniously bent at the waist to spread a tarp over the carpet in front of him. “What the fu–”
A gauntleted hand reached out from behind Micah, roughly grabbing one of his horns and using it as leverage to pull him backwards, slamming the back of his head against an armored shoulder. The motion jerked his head back, and his eyes rolled up to see a towering man in full plate armor, gazing in Micah’s direction through the slits of a bucket helm. The armored man wore an ornate hood over the helm, with Templar symbols in red, black, and white. He looked every bit like a knighted executioner, and he didn’t even give Micah a second to struggle before drawing a blade across his throat, slitting it open.
Blood poured into his windpipe and flooded his mouth, causing him to splutter helplessly for air as he grasped at the wound. Micah started to stumble forward, but the armored man held him centered over the tarp as he staggered. His vision darkened, and they seemed to be guiding him down onto the tarp-- to bleed out there, and not make a mess on Sonnac’s carpet.
“Hmm… Do try to control the spray better next time, Pendulum.” Sonnac was frowning hard, but less at Micah and more at the blood droplets that had reached his desk. He mildly chastised the knight executioner while polishing blood off of the wood with a pocket handkerchief. “Or, are you Pit? I can never remember which is which.” He gestured to the man in the black suit, and then back to the knight. Both of them just stood at attention, perfectly silent while Micah died at their feet.
Darkness, cold, and then a hammering, whooshing noise, something like the percussive rush of sound and light after a magnesium flash. The light filled his vision, blinding and white, until it faded into a warm golden glow. He found himself elsewhere-- surrounded by foliage, the golden glow, and the cadence of buzzing bees. A well of energy rushed around him, the bees riding on its currents.
“Hell. Lo? Hello?” A sweet, genderless voice tried, forcing its timeless tongue around clumsy English for Micah’s benefit. He tried to call out a reply, but his own voice rang out like full-volume static and hammered in his skull. It frightened him, he tried to huddle inward and hide in the golden depths of the well.
“Fol-low. Follow. Follow, follow follow…” The sugary voice called out to him, and a big fluffy bee meandered its way outside of the well, leaving a golden trail of pollen for Micah to follow. He shook his head, refusing. It was warm there, and good, and nothing hurt. Just peace and buzzing.
“FOLLOW.” The voice was suddenly less sweet, and Micah found he had a small swarm of bees lighting on his face, their little stickery feet papping against his skin and their wings buzzing irritably. Micah squealed and flailed his arms, surging to his feet and dashing in the direction of the insistent little fuzzy bastard leading him away from the well.
“Alright, alright! I’m following!” Micah called out, his voice ringing out in the grey silence. The world beyond the well was desaturated and cold, a mocking shadow of the living world he’d just left behind. He could see shapes and features of the London he knew, but they were distorted and fell away into shadow, beyond the pollen glow of the bee he followed. Even with the limited sight distance, it didn’t take Micah long to realize where they were going-- right back up the steps of Templar Hall. He gritted his teeth and kept following the bee directly into the room where he’d died, Sonnac’s office.
There was another magnesium flash and rush of energy, and then light and color filled the world around him. Micah was acutely aware of the temperature in the room suddenly, crisp air conditioning blowing around his ears where he hadn’t noticed it before. It made his skin break out in goosepimples, and he shuddered. The breath rushing into his lungs stung like hell, and his vision blurred and danced with the sudden onslaught. He coughed, leaning hard on the wooden doorframe. The wood creaked in protest, and the sound was as loud as gunshots to Micah. Taking several deep, gasping breaths seemed to help him get his senses under control. Then he pawed at his neck and chest, looking for the damage done to him.
Gaia had taken the liberty of doing his dry-cleaning, it seemed. There wasn’t a speck of blood on him, and no scar or wound at his throat. It was like it had never happened, Mama Earth rewinding time just for Micah. Pit and Pendulum were still standing at attention with a bloodied tarp at their feet, but there was no corpse. Sonnac was back behind his desk, scribbling on paperwork again. He looked up, and waved to Micah. “Come in, come in.”
Micah drug his feet across the carpet as he approached, a look of disbelief on his face. “I… you… You killed me!” He stopped in front of Pit (or Pendulum) and pointed accusingly at the knight, shaking his finger at him. When Micah realized there wasn’t much he could do in retaliation to the huge, armored man, he started to lurch toward Sonnac. “You let him kill me!”
The big man’s gauntleted hand fell on Micah’s shoulder, halting him. He tried to shrug his shoulder out of the knight’s grip, but found it stuck there like it had been glued on. Sonnac smiled, “And yet, here you still stand. Like I said, uniquely equipped for ‘soldiering.’ There would be no greater asset in war than a warrior who gets right back up after they’ve been cut down, wouldn’t you say?”
He quit struggling in the knight’s grip, instead straightening his posture and brushing down the front of his rumpled waistcoat. When he calmed, the knight let him go. “Alright, fine. Color me convinced. I’ll do your soldiering, or whatever, and you get these horns off of me. Sounds like a fair enough trade, I guess?” Micah didn’t sound entirely convinced, but the alternative seemed like Pit and Pendulum would just continue to stab him until he changed his mind.
“A fair trade, indeed.” Sonnac said with a smirk, and approached Micah with a manilla folder in his hands. “To sweeten the pot, I’ll even add on-the-job training into the deal. We would not send you into the field to merely ‘run headlong into a hail of bullets.’ We can hone your remarkable abilities, sharpen them into a fine blade. Or at least, teach you to control them to less disastrous effect on property values.”
Micah made a snide face at Sonnac, wrinkling his nose in a faux smile as he took the manilla folder that the Templar offered him. “Yaaay, suuuper. …What’s this?” He asked, opening the folder and flipping through it. It had a photo of Micah paperclipped to several forms inside of it.
“Your dossier. You’re to take this to Brigadier Lethe, in the Crucible. There are some forms inside that he’ll need for his records.” Sonnac explained, then pointed. “Down the hall here, and to the right.”
“Wait a minute…” Micah said, his eyes lighting on something on the top form. “Full name, Micah René Arclight, operative alias-- Razorgrin?!” He popped the folder shut and slapped it against his knee. Pursing his lips and squinting at Sonnac from the corner of his eyes, he couldn’t believe the Templar had given him a nickname that poked fun at the fact that he’d had to have his own throat cut to be convinced into this entire debacle.
“What? Too soon?” Sonnac asked, steepling his fingers in front of his belly again and shrugging nonchalantly.
He wanted to continue glaring at the templar, but Micah quickly broke when a snorted laugh escaped his nose. He had to admit that he liked the dark humor of it. “Nah… nah… that’s pretty good, actually.”
“Good, good.” Sonnac joined Micah in a good-natured chuckle, and then pointed again. “Now, down the hall, to your right. Brigadier Lethe. Best of luck.”
“Right. Okay.” Micah said, and then headed toward the door. Pit and Pendulum had already collected the bloodstained tarp and were waiting patiently at the door to be excused by Sonnac. He scowled at them and made a two-fingered gesture with his hand, pointing rapidly between his own eyes and the two of them, an unspoken vow to keep an eye on the strange pair.
As Micah exited into the hallway, Pit and Pendulum both turned their heads toward each other. They were probably having a silent laugh at his expense.