You're sitting before a window looking out over Vegas. Below you are the spires of Camelot, the black pyramid and the sphynx, a circus with a daemonic clown, and a thousand other oddities and wonders spreading out towards the distant horizon. Facing you, his back to the window, in his massive chair is Arthur. Jesus is asleep, in new clean clothes and diapers, resting warm and heavy in your lap.
Maria doesn't have the faintest idea of where to begin. For one thing, how on earth does one address a king in this day and age, in America? To hide her unease, she fusses for a bit over sleeping Jesus, straightening the clothes, brushing his hair back from his soft baby face.
"Just call me Arthur." His voice is deep and rolling, holding a power that is as undeniable as it is unidentifiable, a sound from an age that is gone now, the tone of a man with real power in his person and soul rather than his position or possession. "My friends call me Osso, or Bear -- you could as well, if you like."
She draws a deep breath, unaware that she'd been holding it. "Arthur, then." Before anything else, before her father, before Jesus, before anything, she takes care of other business first. "The.. the Knight of Three Swords" she doesn't sound certain that she's gotten the title right "wanted me to ask a... a boon of you. His daughter..." She can't continue, and swallows hard, taking some comfort in the baby in her arms.
A slight motion of his hands and head at the title, a tension like an old worry. "Sascha? Is she... no.. she's passed, hasn't she?"
Maria's lips tighten into a thin line. "He said you would bury her. We brought her body with us." For a moment she can't help but remember the hell of Sascha's discovery, as well as the nightmare that preceded it. To her credit, she doesn't shudder, but simply tenses through her shoulders.
One big, powerful hand passes over his face, and for a moment his strong features look tired and old. He nods once though, voice steady, "We shall. The body is in your car?"
"We hid it," Maria says, suddenly ashamed of where the body lies. "She's... in the trunk." Her voice shrinks at that last. Without a doubt, she feels lower and smaller in the face of Arthur's ageless power than she ever felt in the face of any fear, even when the Crying Man was a step behind with his breath on her neck.
"There is no shame in that." His eyes are kind with the gentle compassion that only the truly strong can manage. "Once, before I was King, I had to carry a friend of mine out of a building in a garbage sack. I made it up to him after. You have done the same by bringing her here. Owen will see to her, you need not worry at it anymore."
It's too much, compassion after everything else, the endless chase, the fear, the violence, the confusion. It's too much. Maria doesn't respond, because she can't. Her head stays down and her shoulders shake with silent weeping. She cries like one unaccustomed to it. It doesn't last long, not more than a minute or two, before she's clearing her throat and pushing angrily at her face, shoving the tears away rather than wiping them. Another clearing of her throat and she says, "Thank you."
"It is a small thing." Leaning forward he takes a decanter from the oak table to one side of you and pours from it into a glass at your right hand. "You have been through a great deal, I think. I was able to ward you once you got out of Sodom, but before that..." He shakes his head, "Your father was right about you."
It takes her a moment to process that statement. "My father? He -- you knew him?" She picks up the glass mostly out of habit, taking a sip without really paying attention to it. Although there are several questions she could ask, the first one that comes out is, "What was he right about?"
He pours himself a glass and takes a drink before he answers, "Your strength. I knew him, yes, though only for the last year or so. He found me just after I became King, running from terrors of his own. He was desperate to find your brother, you see, and thought I could help." A slight sigh, a small shake of his head, "I could not, not the way he needed."
"What is he?" she asks, looking at the child she's traveled so far to bring... here. "How did our father know that... that he'd be back?" Bad choice of words again, bringing back another set of memories she'd rather forget.
He drinks again, dark eyes watching you over the rim, then going to Jesus for a long moment. "I do not know how your father knew, only that he knew -- as for what Jesus is, I am not sure myself. He is an avatar, and a powerful one. So powerful that I felt him the moment you came out of Babylon. It was like a gong sounded in my head."
Great, something else Mikey didn't tell her about. She's starting to realize that maybe Mikey doesn't know everything after all. So much for that theory. She shakes her head, not quite able to meet the king's eyes. "I don't understand." She has to smile faintly in spite of herself. "I don't understand any of this."
The drink is set down, his hands steepled before him. "Your father didn't get a chance to explain, did he? How much do you know?"
"He died just as I got to his side." She takes a long drink, still not caring what's in the glass. "He told me where to find Jesus, and to take him to the king. Then he died."
"So you don't know anything, really, do you?" He shakes his head, "It's amazing beyond the bounds of simple luck that you stumbled onto Mili. He must have told you somethings, surely?"
Maria shrugs. "A little. He told me about magic. I think he had to, to explain some of what we saw. He didn't want to. A little about mages, a hint that there are bigger fish out there." She risks a direct glance with a small smile. "There hasn't been a lot of time to talk."
When you look right at him you can see why people call him Bear. He's big a and slope shouldered, and the light of the sunset behind him makes the hair on his arms look like softly glowing russet fur. "I imagine so. Did he tell you about Avatars? Or only mages?"
"I don't remember anything about avatars," she says, her brow furrowing. She rubs at that furrowed spot with one hand. "He may have." Then she shakes her head.
"It blurs together, doesn't it?" Weighing you, his eyes seem to turn you inside out and upside down, seeking out your tolerance to see how much you can hear. "You know magic is real, from Mili. What he might not have told you, or might not know, is that there is more than one form of 'magic.' I don't mean different schools either, but whole different beasts. Your friend Mili is a mage, I and Owen -- and yourself -- are avatars. We gain power not by doing something, but by being it."
She blinks. Okay, she heard that wrong, clearly. He meant Jesus. "I don't understand." That's an understatement. "You said Jesus was an avatar. What do you mean by gaining power from being something? Being what?"
He answers the question you didn't ask first. "He is, and so are you. I do not know what he is, but you are either the Protector, the Mother, or the Pilgrim." You can hear the tone of import that makes the words capitalized, "As for being -- it is from being one of the great Archetypes, the forms of the beings that make our reality. I am the King, and thus my power. Owen is the Knight Protector. Your fater was a Pilgrim. By being that thing that we are, by acting in accord with the forms of the universe, we become powers."
Maria shakes her head, denying at least part of that speech. She knows she's nothing that special or powerful. "Why? What do you do?" Power for power's sake sounds like a very bad idea to her. Somehow, she isn't taking this as well as she took the conversation with Mikey.
"You fulfill your role. What you do with it is, of course, up to you. I am King, let us start with that. There are many kinds of King, I'm sure you know. There are tyrants and war leaders, emperors and dauphons, the chosen of God and the sworn by the sword. Kings rule, Kings are the land that the land is them -- so all Kings will rule. I rule, but I rule with toleration and respect, or try to. By doing so I don't just gain power in myself, I give protection and stability to those who need it."
Maria rocks Jesus in her arms, but it's obvious she's rocking more for herself. "What did my father do?" She's approaching the idea of having a role to play indirectly. Start with Arthur, then her father, then move closer.
The sun slides completely behind the horizon, making the black pyramid burn like it was illuminated by Ra. "He was a Pilgrim -- he spent his life searching for a goal, a quest, and when he found it he gave his whole life to it. He was looking for redemption, I think, and not just for himself."
For all she knows, it /is/ being illuminated by Ra himself. The King's words strike too close to home. Her father's search is one she knows all too well. She ignores that, however, and goes on. "Was Jesus an... avatar... before? Before he died?"
His lips draw down in a frown, and he shifts in his seat -- which you realize bears more than a passing suggestion of being a throne. "I do not know. He may have been, or it may have been his death that made him an Avatar."
You know, finding the King was supposed to make things easier. It was supposed to solve everything. Finally she sighs, her shoulders slumping. "What happens now?"
"For the short term? You rest. I can protect the two of you, for a time at least. You learn, and let Jesus grow up a bit. After that? I do not know, I am a King, not a prophet or mage." Leaning forward he catches your eyes with the power of his gaze. "In the end you are going to have to find your own path, and Jesus as well. I cannot tell you what to do, there are some things that are beyond even a king."
The girl who meets your gaze is not the same girl who broke into tears just a few moments ago. There's a resolve that wasn't there before, almost hidden behind the slouch and the worried brow. "What about the ones who were after us? The Crying Man killed my father. He wants Jesus. Will he come here?"
Those big, powerful hands clench down -- just a bit, but enough that you notice it. "The Crying Man?" His voice is hard suddenly, and deadly dangerous. Sitting back he forces his hands to unclench. "No, no he will not -- even he would not dare to strike at the center of my domain. I will, however, put Owen and Boris on notice. They know him, both have fought him, and will make sure that nothing untoward happens."
"He found us at the nursery where Jesus was." She doesn't flinch from sudden hardness -- it's actually easier for her to deal with than the compassion. "He would have gotten us too, if it hadn't been for Mikey." And someone else, too, but that memory is vague, a shove and a duster and gunfire.
"Mili is braver than I thought. Even I would hesitate to get between the Godwalker of the Executioner and a target not under my protection or in my domain." His fingers drum against the carved lion head that forms the handle-arm of his chair. "I may have misjudged the man, he certainly has done well enough by you."
Maria doesn't have any idea what a 'Godwalker of the Executioner' is, but it sounds very very bad. "He saved our lives more than once." There might be a teeny teeny bit of hero-worship growing down there somewhere. "The Crying Man isn't a.. an Avatar, then?"
A nod, the single decisive gesture of a man who does everything with confidence. "He is. He is, in fact, a Godwalker -- the first among Avatars. For each Avatar there is one who is the first, one who is the closest to becoming the Archetype, to ... becoming a Saint, would be the way the Catholics would put it. The Crying Man is the Godwalker of the Executioner."
"That's a /saint/?" That might have been the wrong thing to say to a Catholic, however lapsed. "Holy Jesus. What happens if he does become... whatever that is?" She's starting to remember echoes of Sascha in her dream, something about the end of the world.
A flicker of annoyance crosses his face, a frightening thing even though it is clearly directed at himself. "No, not a saint. He is... on the edge of not being human. He is still flesh and blood, but not by much. If he became the Executioner? I do not know -- perhaps very little, it is already a dark archetype, perhaps very much, gang killings, assasinations and such would become more common, while legitimate excecutions would all become tinged with his taint."
Maria shudders, either from the annoyance or from the thought of the Crying Man being 'in charge' of anything. She nods though, starting to understand, at least a little. "Something tells me I have a lot more to learn," she murmurs.
"My teacher used to tell us that we always have more to learn, it isn't a situation that is peculiar to you." His eyes sweep over you again, "You need sleep -- and a bath. Do you have any more urgent questions?"
A flush creeps up from the neck of her shirt. That's twice in one day someone's suggested that she needs a bath. It's enough to make a girl self conscious. Not ready for more metaphysics just yet, she asks a mundane question. "Where's Mikey?"
Those piercing eyes go distant for a second, then he chuckles and they refocus. "He's currently climbing out his window -- on the 40th floor. Probably he's planning on coming looking for you."
"Jesus!" Maria almost jumps out of her seat, and would, but for the sleeping baby. "He's gonna kill himself." She stands, slowly. "Can't you stop him?"
Chuckling he waves you back down with one hand, "Don't worry about Mili -- worry more about anyone within 50 feet of him. Owen has already gone to stop him, and I'll have him bring him to talk to you before you get some rest, alright?"
Maria sits back down, but warily. She nods, then says, "You were just going to let him make like Spiderman down your wall, weren't you?"
"Actually, he was probably going to go up -- but no, I wasn't planning on having an entropomancer running about loose. It's just as well that you asked, however, or I might not have noticed till he was all the way out."
Maria can't help it. Something about that makes her grin in spite of herself. Only then it occurs to her to ask, "What floor are we on?" She wasn't in a mindset to notice on the way up. She looks around at the room as if seeing it for the first time.
That brings a slight, sly grin, "We're on the top of course -- the King can't live anyplace but the penthouse, now can he?"
"How silly of me," Maria says dryly. She pauses for a moment, then says something she's getting used to saying to strangers. "Thank you."
He takes your thanks with a nod, noblesse oblige at it's most perfect. "You are welcome. Now, why don't you go ease Mili's mind, then take your rest. We can speak more later."
Just as he finishes speaking a large man in a steel grey suit opens the door and stands waiting for you. He looks much like Owen, but even larger and with salt and pepper grey marking his dark hair. "Boris will show you the way."
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