He didn't like the man at all, but he was necessary. He walked next to Maria as she didn't need his support on the granite floors which were dry. To himself he kept repeating that it was what he was sent here to do that was important, not how it got done. That left a bad taste in his mouth, his throat and recessed gills as he had come to dislike the Keeper of Winds the more he stayed close to him. They went slowly from display case to display case, some modern and brightly lit, others from the Exhibition and retrofitted with modern lights. Those lights caused the nictitating membrane in his eyes to linger a moment longer than his eyelids due the brightness and quality of the light which were things he wasn't accustomed to. He missed John who obviously knew what he was doing and did what he had to for this mission to continue. John did have another name, of course, but John suited him more on land and that is how Shlasuar thought of him.
"Now this case has that look to it," Guthrie said peering into the interior of a dark wooden case with inset glass and interior lighting. "It looks to be some native works from Indonesia. A very interesting set of carvings of various designs, a blowpipe with darts, worked sea shells and, of course, one of the native curved daggers."
Shlasuar shifted around to the end of the case near Guthrie to look into the case.
"Sadly, the V superimposed over the O C and description are that these were taken in trade from natives of the region. And while there is a loose definition of 'trade' from that era, it usually means some form of cooperative exchange. Still the sealife carvings are interesting, particularly the octopus. The various elephant, orangutang and others are purely native trade goods, not too well crafted. That VOC pistol is interesting as an artifact, but none too useful as a weapon."
Maria looked at him.
"It is all worthless," she said, "I know what a Made work looks like, and none of these are from such a one."
Guthrie nodded and turned to look at her.
"Two more cases similar to this one on this side of the room and then," he shifted to look along the other wall, "perhaps another half-dozen there. That will move us out from Oceania and the East Indies and to the next room which contains goods from India and then the Orient. The African Room has shown to have nothing and I'm not expecting the South American Room to have much more. That will leave the North American and Asian Rooms on the next floor, after that, with the Natural History section and Explorer's Room in the last part of the 2nd floor Hall."
Maria sighed, shaking her head.
"It is going faster avoiding the modern displays. But there are so many old displays here, and each of us needs to see what is in them to make sure that they hold nothing of interest."
"To the next case, then," Guthrie said, "Ah, the Andaman Islands..."
Tom and Frank stood to either side of her, making sure she was steady enough to stand up and then take some steps. Barbara handed her a water bottle and she thanked her for it and drank two gulps of it, which helped steady her nerves. In her other hand was the Faberge Case.
"He just left it with me. After all that has happened..."
"Yeah, weird is the word," Frank said, "can you get to the elevator, Selina? It would be better if you rested in the van."
She stopped as they were headed along the south side of the building and at the intersection for the elevator on their right to the south. At the other side of the building, to the north, the corridor ended in the lavatories. She shrugged as her costuming material could wait. There was nothing identifying to it and it was relatively cheap to replace most of it.
"There is no reason for you to remain here, Miss Kyle," Dr. Gotham said, "and our agreement was the Egyptian mummified cat and its sarcophogas for the Faberge Spider Necklace. I am ready to uphold my end of the agreement, which will bring the affair started by the Norris' to an end, as well."
Frank set down the closed up case of Old Reliable and looked at Selina and then Tom, who took the keys to the Jaguar out of his coat pocket. Selina handed the water bottle back to Barbara and took the keys.
"I promised Amy that you would get out of this alive and intact, Miss Kyle," the Project said.
Selina looked at each of them and shook here head in agreement.
"OK. Here is the damned Spider Necklace, Dr. Gotham. Its yours."
She handed the opened box out to Dr. Gotham who shifted the box he was carrying to Frank.
"And your exchange, Miss Kyle. Thank you for a job well done." He extended his hand to close the case and take it, and left a business card in the palm of her hand. "If you ever need me, just carry the card and come looking for me and you shall find me."
Frank handed the box over to Selina and she glanced at Frank as she took it. She walked out of the intersection and over to one of the benches along the side of the hall between larger exhibits, the nearest one being one from central Austria showing a life size diorama of a hunter in the mountains tracking a Lynx. She sat down on the bench and opened the box and saw the stone sarcophogas for the cat and it had gold leaf on its surface along with inset ebony and emeralds for eyes. She gasped as she saw it and the others crowded around to see it.
"That's beautiful," Lisa said, "perfect."
"We never thought you had anything like that in your place, Dr. Gotham," Erin said, "we never would have touched the other stuff if we had seen that."
Barbara looked and smiled as she saw the envelope in the box next to the sarcophogas, "And all the paperwork, too."
Dr. Gotham nodded.
"Dr. Ahmed Yamadi reviewed the piece before I was, detained, and has all the particulars on it there. It is not the finest example, of course, those are in Egypt, but a rare one for its late period work. All properly accounted for."
"Now that is something you just don't see every day," Vivian said looking up the intersecting corridor that they had come from, "it looks like that Guthrie guy has hooked up with some woman and her kid."
Everyone turned to look where Vivian was looking.
"They were so busy talking with each other I don't think they saw me."
Dr. Gotham gave a curt nod as he put the Faberge case in his suit coat pocket.
"Very well. I will be in the Explorer's Room. I implore you all to not follow as I cannot protect you here."
"You don't have to," Loren said, "Frank, Tom and I will do that. Frank isn't the only one that carries something reliable with him."
Dr. Gotham scowled and looked at Selina.
"Again, my thanks for your work above and beyond what we agreed to. You are a true professional."
After lifting the lid of the sarcophogas she set it back down and closed up the box.
"Not that professional, Dr. Gotham. And if Tom is going to make sure I get out of here, then I'm going to stick like glue to Lisa. I'm not having her turn up dead from this after what she must have been through. Not if I can help it."
Pressing his lips together Dr. Gotham nodded.
"To the Explorer's Room, then, before something untoward happens."
Maria looked at yet another set of encased objects, this from a tribe in Africa in the southern central region.
"A dry and dusty land," she said softly.
"Ah, yes, it is. Quite windswept as well, although not desert climate but savannah. Feast and famine with the shifting rains and the herds of animals and predators that follow them. Modern life has impacted them some, of course, but the migratory hunts continue."
"It looks too modern," Shlasuar said, "all metal and glass."
"Yes it does, Shlasuar," Guthrie said, "and I think that is something important you have put your finger on. All of the displays in Dr. Gotham's shop were of wood and glass for valuable items. And that would make this entirely all too modern room..."
"Useless," Maria said, "and that ends this floor. It will either be the next floor down or out in the transportation exhibition areas. And I do not think any items would be a mongst them."
She looked at Guthrie who was pursing his lips.
"Yes, I agree. Whatever their nature they will not be in the transportation area, save as some curio or other. Come, lets go down to the 2nd floor."
Maria was satisfied to have Guthrie lead the way as she was getting tired. Even with the stamina of her kind and their ability to dwell for long times in darkness, the diurnal phases and being on the surface was taxing for her. She walked with Shlasuar and put a hand on his shoulder. Her hybrid nature tended to make sleep a more pressing issue than for the pure bred deep dwellers and it was this that was considered a prime weakness amongst their changeling kind. Shlasuar slowed to her pace and they followed Guthrie down the cross hall they had come through to the elevator.
"It is just a matter of time now," Guthrie said, "and we shall each have something to satisfy those who sent us."
"Perhaps, Wind Master," Maria said as the elevator dinged and the door opened for them. They stepped in, turned around and Guthrie pressed the 2 button as the doors closed. "It is best not to count on grah'n-tharanak."
"Of course, maturity is," Guthrie said in response.
The elevator shifted for a moment and then dinged as it reached the 2nd floor, and they stepped out and looked at the signs.
"Hmmmm... Explorer's Room, Colonial Room, or the Prehistory of Gotham over in the north section?"
Looking at the signs Maria shrugged.
"Does it matter?"
Guthrie sighed as he looked at her and then turned as he caught a glimpse of movement from the cross hallway between the sections.
"Why, that is Mr. Wayne! I wonder if he is here to meet up with his friend, Sgt. Rock?"
"Should we follow?" Shlasuar asked.
"Lets," Guthrie said, "I can at least be sociable if nothing else."
They hurried past the side room passages between the Explorer's Room and Colonial Room, which meant that they did not see the people gathering in the Explorer's Room. As they got to the intersection where Wayne had walked through, they saw him go into the far entrance to the Explorer's Room.
"Ah, good, we can use the near entrance," Guthrie said as he turned to lead the others into the room. As he did so and worked his way past the first exhibits he heard voices, which slowed him. As he turned the corner around an early aviation exhibit he saw that the room opened up and, at the far end of the room, was a group of people familiar to him.
Maria stopped next to him and looked at the people.
"This does not bode good, Wind Master. The case is easy to see as is Dr. Gotham."
Dr. Gotham looked up from examining the display case to the three that had entered on the far side of the room, and then at Bruce Wayne.
"I believe that Barbara will be back in a minute or two," he said, "and when she does things can then proceed apace."
Bruce looked at Dr. Gotham and then at Frank, who shrugged while holding his case of Old Reliable in his left hand. The Project gave no indication of anything, just a slow shifting of its eye to scan the room as it stood just on the other side of the case from Frank.
"Very well, Dr. Gotham, I'll follow your lead but I will also do what I think is right."
"That is all that I can ask, Mr. Wayne."
With that Dr. Gotham put a slight smile on his face and walked around the case towards the three that had come into the room.
"Hello Mr. Lewis, Maria and Shlasuar!" he said with a voice that carried and indicated some amount of light-heartedness in his approach, "I know you have come to find those things which you were sent here to find, and they are, indeed, in this very room."
Guthrie looked at Maria who looked at him, in turn, and then shrugged. This was not what either of them was expecting, and what they had been expecting was, perhaps, a slight bit of opening a display case and removing some contents in an unadvertised fashion. Now that appeared to be impossible.
Guthrie inhaled, smiled naturally and stepped forward to shake Dr. Gotham's hand.
"It has been a long search," Guthrie said as he looked over the array that stood around the case either looking at it or him. He was surprised to see Selina Kyle standing next to Frank Rock, who stood next to Bruce Wayne on the far side of the case. On the other side were Erin Norris, Tom Octurian and Lisa Choi. To the front of the case were Vivian Rose and Loren Seifert with the latter on one knee and looking into the case and only now just standing and turning to look back at him. "And that is quite a group of people you have there. It is not often you find a thief next to a multi-milliionare."
Dr. Gotham had given a short bow to Maria before shaking Guthrie's hand.
"Yes, it is," he said softly, "and many a twisted thread has gone into the weaving of the spider, yet now its actual tapestry is becoming apparent and it may not be the author of it."
"Eh?" Guthrie said after letting go of Dr. Gotham's hand. "How do you mean?"
"Even the spider may not know what its weavings actually are," Maria said, "it is just a knitter, not the maker of the threads."
"Indeed so, Maria, and while those who physically emulate it do make their own and fine threads, that which has influenced them uses the finest of all threads of affinity. It weaves to its own end, but the threads come to it in a certain way which guarantees a type of weaving that it cannot change."
"So," Guthrie asked, "can we see the items or is that to be yet another struggle?"
"No struggle at all, unless you wish it, Mr. Lewis. Come with me so you can see the items and I can tell you their nature, at least so far as I've been able to figure them out."
He said guiding them between cases and one display of an early frontiersman that had come from Gotham city to go exploring out as far as the Rocky Mountains. They passed a display of an early submariner who died in making one of the early machines, and only a few items from his estate were available, the submarine, itself, lost to the depths along with his body. Then came the displays charting the career of Chester Rhinold in the Americas, Africa, Orient and Far East. At the end of those displays was the case of items that he had collected over the years and both Vivian and Loren shifted away from the front of the case as they approached.
"Mr. Lewis, you do know everyone here, of course, and Maria, Shlasuar, may I introduce you to Miss Vivian Rose and Miss Loren Seifert."
"Howdya do?" Vivian said.
"Pleased to meet you both," Loren said.
"Yes, of course," Maria said in return and Shlasuar said "Fine and pleased as well."
Dr. Gotham stepped around the left side of the case, past Vivian, Erin, Tom and Lisa to stand next to Mr. Wayne.
"I do not own all the contents of this case, of course," Dr. Gotham said.
"It is a case from your shop," Guthrie said, "but it looks... different."
"Oh, it is from my shop, no doubt. I did change out the glass with modern laminated glass that met my specifications and added some additional locks and mechanisms to ensure the safety of the items from mild theft."
Shlasuar stood next to Maria and then stepped forward to place his hand on the wood of the case. He stood very still and frowned as he looked at Maria.
"This isn't... Maria, this wood is different from the other wood here... its... shielding..."
Maria looked at him and also placed a hand on the display and shook her head.
"The touch means nothing to me," she said softly, "although it is dense wood."
Guthrie leaned forward and ran a gloved hand over the case and then its glass and glanced up at Dr. Gotham.
"Gold. And the wood... thorn tree, yes?"
Dr. Gotham smiled.
"Of coourse, just as the ancient texts describe for other vessels of safety for items, this one has an acacia construction from old thorn trees native to this land and the glass laminate has a thin layer of gold between the glass and plastics involved. That gives it a slight golden hue when the lighting hits it at certain angles."
Guthrie shifted back to his upright stance while Maria and Shlasuar peered into the case.
"Nothing even this close," Shlasuar said.
"Against even a sensitive, you have made this innocuous, Dr. Gotham. My congratulations! It is only the style of case being that from your shop that would even hint to me of its contents," Guthrie said, "and that makes it singular."
Dr. Gotham looked to Mr. Wayne who was nodding to the far entrance where Guthrie, Maria and Shlasuar had come from and there he saw Barbara with Mrs. Hamilton.
"Ah, Mrs. Hamilton, it is good of you to come here as it is time to decide the final arrangement and disposition of the items in the case that we are concerned with."
Cindy Hamilton smiled as she approached the group, which included people who had entered earlier and assumed it was just to get out of the cold.
"It's good to be here, Dr. Gotham. Do you have the piece with you?" She said indicating the package that Selina had.
"Of course," Dr. Gotham said removing the Faberge case from his suit coat pocket, "and it is time to open the case so that we can determine just where each piece belongs as they must all be in their proper place."
"But what are the pieces?" Guthrie asked as he watched Mrs. Hammilton go to the back of the case.
"Ah, yes," Dr. Gotham said, "it wouldn't do for there to be decisions made without some understanding of what they are. The Faberge Spider Necklace is, of course, known to each of you, at least by what it has accomplished. As it is no longer the place where power is bound, it has only affinity left to it."
"Yes, I did not like having that thing weaving affinities and tangling them up," he said, "and so I used the place link affinity to send it someplace else."
Guthrie paused a moment and he looked at Maria.
She shifted a step away from him as he said that.
"You mean the nexus?" she asked softly as Mrs. Hamilton was kneeling behind the case to open it. She gestured for Dr. Gotham for some assistance and he produced a key from his pocket and, together, they worked the locking mechanism which allowed the internal hasp to turn. A small red light coming from a box attached to the case went from red to green as the locks turned.
"Of course! A mere touch affinity was all it took, and now it is beyond this realm and into one that it cannot easily get out of. Wherever that link ends, that is where it is, now."
"That's horrible," Lisa whispered, "and not a good place to be."
Guthrie shifted to look at her and bowed his head.
"Far better there than where Dr. Gotham has linked this place. At least it still lives wherever it went, perhaps not for long, true, but better than being abolished in the Void. And what you did to get the Spider back," he said looking at Dr. Gotham, "contractual, wasn't it?"
"Of course," Dr. Gotham said, "contracts leave the lightest of traces for affinity, and depend upon the power of those making the contract to abide by it. The more one abides by it, the more power that is bestowed upon those exercising it. I contracted with Selina Kyle and did not expect there to be much trouble in exercising her part of the agreement. As it stands she has shown more strength than any contract could ever bestow upon her to actually have dealt with the circumstances of its recovery."
Pursing his lips together Guthrie shook his head as he looked at Selina.
"I should have been warned by your presence," he said, "not blinded by my task."
Selina scowled at him.
"You had far too much enjoyment in what you did to mean that."
"As you will. I, too, get tasks to perform, although they are less contracts than...persuasion."
Cindy Hamilton stood up with Dr. Gotham and she had obviously heard such talk before and was unphased by it. Dr. Gothm and Bruce Wayne each had their peculiarities in who they dealt with and what they engaged in, but the Museum had a simple purpose and dealt with all the people of Gotham City.
"Now you said there needed to be some changes here?" she asked, "I mean not just adding the lovely necklace to the collection, but something more?"
Dr. Gotham stood up and looked down from the top of the counter and it suddenly seemed as if he were the proprietor of a shop.
"Indeed, Mrs. Hamilton as the piece from my shop is on loan to you, it can be further disposed of if there is a need for it elsewhere. While the loan is permanent, as such, it is also provisional so long as my shop continues functioning or other proprietor of it with a different establishment comes forward with the necessary paperwork upon my demise."
"Which piece is it?" Guthrie asked as he looked from Maria to Dr. Gotham again.
"The ring," Erin whispered, looking at the inscribed ring that sat in its own wooden case with a velvet pillow, sides and top on the inside, and just a hint of gold running along the internal edges of the case.
Dr. Gotham pressed his lips together and nodded.
"Yes, the Dragon Mother Returns ring. Tiamat f'taghn."
Maria shifted to kneel and look at the ring through the glass and could clearly see the inscription. Her eyes widened and she looked at Shlasuar who was next to her. She shifted over so he could get a good view of the ring.
"Do you, see it, Shlasuar? This must be what the Avatar held."
"That would be Mr. Li Sun who took this piece, yes?"
"It was stolen from my shop and he received it as an item to fence. It is its own seat of power and only exercises that through other means. He was that means and it cost him his life."
"Even so roughly made," Maria said, "it was made with purpose to it, that I can see."
"By a native to South America, not well described but possibly of Incan origin or Mayan descent. In either case that primitive jewler was required to make some piece to show his skill and did a good job of it. Chester Rhinold acquired it early in his career when he was traveling through Europe and particularly in Madrid near the end of his travels."
"It doesn't look like much," Frank said as he looked down at the item in the case, "just a ring shaped hunk of gold with some emeralds inset in it. Looks like a dragon or snakey bird. Not my cup of tea, though."
Selina looked at the piece and then over at Erin who was looking at Bruce Wayne.
"Erin... why did you and Ron go after this?"
Erin looked at her and shrugged.
"Stupid easy money and debt. Ronnie couldn't let go of... that kind of work and now..." she shook her head, "it looked like an easy score, you know? That and the necklace got us out of a bind with Li Sun."
Selina shook her head, "I'm sorry, Erin. I've only heard through the grapevine and no one had a straight story."
"If it weren't for the Bat, we wouldn't have been in the bind," Erin said pressing her lips together, "but no one can stop him."
"Ah, the Batman, was it? That got you in that mess?"
"Well, it was Ronnie that got us into it, really. The Bat was just... being the Bat."
Guthrie shook his head in agreement.
"I certainly couldn't rid myself of his presence, just... keep him at bay."
"You've run into Batman?" Loren asked.
"Oh, quite, yes," Guthrie replied with a smile, "I though the one time at a distance, giving his car the slip as it went into the Gotham River was the closest I would get to him. But," Guthrie rubbed his jaw, "that proved not to be the case. He is very resourceful even when he is direct, and it is only circumstance that no worse has happened to me. I would have much preferred to gain what I came here for in a peaceful manner, but such was not the case."
"And you want that piece?" Barbara asked as she shifted slowly to the side of the case and then to stand next to Dr. Gotham.
"That is not up to me, at this point," he said looking at Maria. "I have an agreement with Maria as we are both after one of the objects and as the Spider has no interest to me, that leaves either the ring or the other piece."
"Correct... Guthrie..." Maria said standing up and looking at him. "What is the other piece?"
"That one," Dr. Gotham said, "I do not own. It is in the care of Mr. Wayne."
Bruce nodded and looked at Maria.
"It is that necklace of amber shaped around an interior piece which is a tooth or tooth fragment. My mother found that in a cave by the sea. It had no claimants, although it had once been Chester Rhinold's it was not part of his estate on his death. And as the estate is gone and no member of the Rhinold family or its descendants have a claim on it, it became my mother's. It was still listed amongst her effects in the Wayne Estate which were transitioned to the Wayne Family Trust which now has the Wayne Foundation as the legal entity overseeing it."
Maria nodded then gave a slight smile, although not enough to bare her teeth. "That is also a fitting position for it to be claimed by the sea peoples."
Shlasuar stood up and looked at Dr. Gotham.
"What is it, though?"
"Tai a mate," Lisa whispered softly and Barbara shifted to slip her arm around her.
"I still can't believe it," Barbara said.
Looking from Shlasuar to Guthrie, then Lisa and Barbara, and finally to Bruce, Dr. Gotham nodded and smiled as he looked at Cindy Hamilton.
"Mrs. Hamilton, it is more than just an artifact of the Rhinold expedition into China, although it is that, as well. The workings of the piece, beyond the more modern chain for the amulet, go back to the Yuezhi when they were in that western territory of what is today China. A period before the Yellow Emperor."
Cindy looked puzzled.
"Well, I did have a couple of our interns look into it, of course, but no one can really trace its origin. And I didn't really have the knowledge of a good enough jewler to contact with regards to the period involved. Just that it was Rhinold's was the important thing."
Dr. Gotham nodded once and looked at Shlasuar.
"Shlasuar the people who made it believed it is a tooth from the living dragon who was Tiamat. And there is more than some evidence that demonstrates they have good cause to believe this as this is not a fossilized tooth. It has undergone none of the transformation involving silica that come with fossilization and it has no equivalent in any creature as far back as we can go in history. Thus it was either a mutant of some sort, a creature not in any catalog and thus having this as its single remains, a thing coming from some other place or realm, or all of that at the same time, which makes it what it was said to be."
Guthrie looked at Maria and Shlasuar and then to Dr. Gotham.
"Can we see them?"
"Of course! Come around to the back of the case and you can see them clearly, as they are."
Dr. Gotham moved aside and Guthrie walked behind Lisa and the Porject to the back of the case while Shlasuar walked tentatively behind Sgt. Rock. He looked at Maria who nodded to him. With a single nod he continued to the back of the case to look inside of it and then understood that it was the case, itself that was the thiing diffusing affinity and creating the Void link. Each sensitive amongst his People were different and none could give an accurate description of what they saw to others as each perceived them differently. He had never seen an object that was a true seat of power of its own, only those with indirect affinity and associations. Even the pressures of the Deep were not as powerful as these objects, with so many traces of affinity that they could not be discerned as separate pieces but were a continuous whole around them.
"They are beautiful," he whispered.
"Indeed they are," Guthrie said as he stooped down to look into the case, "and unique in their own ways."
Standing up he looked at Maria.
"If you wish to bargain, then the choice is yours, Priest Maria. I suggest you choose wisely."
Maria looked at Shlasuar who stood up to look at her, his eyes wide and his face fiilled with wonder.
Maria looked at Dr. Gotham and cocked her head.
"Does the carrying case come with each piece?" she asked softly.
"Ah, no, that isn't part of any negotiation. They stay with the case."
Guthrie turned to look at Dr. Gotham and was clearly enraged at him.
"Don't be mad at him," Bruce said, "I'm the one who suggested it as a final safety precaution."
Dr. Gotham smiled as everyone else turned to look at Bruce Wayne who shrugged.
"Just because I don't understand these things doesn't mean I don't believe that others understand it. The simplest precaution is the best, after all. Even without understanding the workings of it, I can understand the logic, and that logic requires that the carrying cases remain in the display case until such time as all are agreeable to their disposition."
"Oh," Guthrie said as he looked at Bruce Wayne, "I misjudged you. Badly."
Bruce shrugged and smiled.
"It is always best to have a solid hand for negotiations. And the logic is inescapable."
Maria looked at all the surface dwellers and knew that the crux of her mission had arrived. She had been sent to find the object or objects that indicated such power in Gotham City and to get them before the creature that made this tiny set of islands what it now was reawakened. She had expected talisman or tokens, possibly idols of some Great Old One or Ancient One, as they were many and many that had been crafted through the ages. Perhaps some relic of the Lost Race or a piece brought out of the Treacherous Path to be left here in Gotham to work its wonders and terror. She thought upon the objects and looked at the enraptured face of Shlasuar and envied him his ability to sense the connections those pieces had. She had never thought that a true seat of power, a thing in and of itself, something not easily banished back to the Void because of the way it was in coming from Azathoth would ever be before her or her People.
The tooth fragment gave many possibilities being just that.
It was also the fragment of the Mother Dragon. She thought long and hard on the lore passed down for generations, going back so far that even the names of those who made the stories was lost in time, about what the earliest of times that created the People were like. And even those times were long after the murder of the Mother Dragon who's very body made the basis for all that came after. Those Ancient and Old Ones that she had spawned were separate entities, but they, too, were bound up with Her that was the basis for this All. They were born directly of Her and had powers beyond all save the Outsiders, and even Outsiders must respect the power of Her place.
The other piece seemed more like what she was accustomed to, but if Dr. Gotham was to be believed, it was also a seat of power all on its own. She had worked with Makers but was not one herself, and although the craftsmanship was not like that of the Spider necklace, that sat on its cushion in its jewelry case atop the display case, she could tell that the ring had as much or even more true craftiness about it. This form of piece was one that only those with the most intense of skills can create as they do not become their own power until they are finished, and then their form of power is unique to them. Few pieces to actuate events had ever been crafted and most sit stored and locked away in various realms so that they could do no harm. They were the bringers of power, not a power itself, when crafted, but soon start to garner their own form of power that binds up to the events they were formulated to bring about. Over time these become something on their own and, if anything, are harder to destroy than the living seat of power like the tooth in amber. Because of what the ring was made to signify, it may be not only the creator of end events but have a link to some original source that goes back to Azathoth on its own, and is thus outside of even the power of the Dragon Mother. In that way it was a totem or embodiment of that set of affinities linked to that power, which thus makes it something that has power all its own.
The ring was the item that most assuredly created an Avatar out of a mortal, the direct line to start end events if that is what was needed for them to happen. Yet an Avatar may be the least of its actual abilities, and a mere indication of what sort of transformation it would bring. It was, perhaps, the way out of this room. A way to break free of the Great Old Ones. She nearly started to smile until she realized one other thing.
It had also brought together the events that killed the Avatar it was making.
"Maria?" Guthrie asked standing behind the case and then walking around to the front of it, stepping closer to Maria.
She looked at Bruce Wayne and then Dr. Gotham, and finally to Shlasuar.
"Before you decide, Maria, please remember that these items manifest through other things, not directly."
"Why is that important?" Vivian asked.
"Ah, Pilot Rose, we are in a vast volume in which power of the sort utilized by these items will only give the holder a link to the Void. Hold the item and you will perish as it seeks to manifest through you."
"Yes," Maria whispered, "and so you saying that you would give up the item is meaningless if one cannot remove it from here."
She sneered at him shaking her head.
"I'll remove it to hand it to you...Maria, is it?"
Again everyone turned to Bruce Wayne.
"Bruce," Frank growled in a very low tone, "not you."
Bruce raised his eyebrows.
"I'm proving a point, Frank."
"Boss, if it's safe for you, then I'll do it," Vivian said, "I don't believe in this stuff, anyways."
Bruce shook his head from side to side.
"Sorry, Vivian, I'm it."
"I would advise against it, Mr. Wayne," Dr. Gotham said, "you will die if you try."
"If I'm successful," Bruce said carefully, "then I'm prepared for what comes next. At least mentally, I expect a few days to actually have to deal with the fallout of events, of course. And if I die then it is a headliine of 'Millionaire Industrialist Claimed by Ancient Curse' or something equivalent in the Gotham Enquirer. And that the stories taken back and told to others will mean that these items will remain safe for quite some time, which will ensure that if they ever go from here it will be long after my time or even the time of all humanity. And that these items now belong here until Gotham is no more. That is worth the risk, I think."
Dr. Gotham looked at Bruce Wayne and pressed his lips together, then looked over the case at Maria.
"Do you wish an item from the case, Maria? Do know that if you cannot leave here with it, then it is not yours."
Maria gave a cold stare at Dr. Gotham then a quick look at Guthrie before finally looking at Shlasuar.
With dazzled eyes he looked up from behind the case at Maria.
"Do you think that either of those items can be taken from here and return with us?"
Shlasuar shifted to one knee and pressed his lips together.
"I... the ring, maybe, I think... but it is so dark around the case, Maria."
Dr. Gotham looked at Shlasuar.
"That is part of the warning, Shlasuar, to those who can perceive such things."
Shlasuar looked back and up to Dr. Gotham and shivered.
"I had been told about such things, but this is the first time..." he looked back into the case, "they are so beautiful and yet... " he looked up to Dr. Gotham. "It is not safe."
"Nor is it safe to have them be used," he said, "their placement here was meant to put those seeking them in a bind."
"And you did a very good job of it, Dr. Gotham," Guthrie said, "no matter which piece is left, I am not so sure that I would be able to leave here. Alive at least."
"But what is wrong with the pieces?" Cindy asked, "Aren't they safe?"
"Oh, Mrs. Hamilton, they are quite safe in the display situation and away from anyone touching them. Perhaps a touch from a feather duster once a decade will do no harm, and that under controlled conditions and observation which I had put into my storage instructions for the Museum. To actually hold one directly, or even with gloves on invites some problems. Perhaps with tongs there might be some element of safety, or by other means beyond direct handling. Closing the internal cases would also be safe and then going through the removal procedure for each would ensure the safety of all involved. While many may take this to be of mere superstitious nature, I am deadly serious."
"Oh, I see, like Mr. Wayne said a curse or something with them?" she asked.
"Or something," Maria said as she looked at Dr. Gotham. "If the ring is under your posession, Dr. Gotham, then I will accept that. Shlasuar?"
She nodded to Shlasuar who started to reach into the case. A hand was on his shoulder, a firm hand that was pulling him back. He looked up at the man with the hand on his shoulder and saw the ceiling spotlight shinging down and casting long shadows over his eyes and cheeks. A deep shiver went through him and he started to slide away from the man, using his walking stick to steady him so he did not fall completely over.
"The agreement is with Maria," Bruce said, "and she is the one who will receive it. You are not part of the agreement."
It was a flat voice and yet to Shlasuar it was a voice coming out of the Void, telling him of affinity and contract and the misfortunes of breaking either. As Bruce bent over Shlasaur stood up and moved backwards, and ran into Sgt. Frank Rock, US Army, retired, who placed his hand on Shlasuar's shoulder and looked down at him. In fear Shlasuar looked up into the light that shone on the face of the combat veteran who had landed on the coast of Africa and been one of the first Americans to step into a concentration camp, before a final firefight nearly ended his life.
"This isn't your fight, son. I don't like it, but it isn't mine, either."
The shadow of the man by the case fell over Shlasuar once more and he saw the ring held by his fingers, glinting emerald shone from gold and the shards of emerald seemed to swirl as the ring moved, as if it was alive.
Dr. Gotham did not like this but he could not stop this man, and that was one of the surest things he knew about this new time he was in. Once Bruce Wayne had declared what he would do, he did it, and he had made himself an implicit part of any agreement. He watched as Bruce walked towards the other side of the table and saw Lisa, Seliina and Erin move out of his path. Only Tom Octurian watched Bruce unmoving from his position which still left Bruce room to go by, but gave no indication of any fear. As Bruce passed him by, Tom whispered something in a way that barely saw his lips move and Bruce gave a single, slow nod and then proceeded on to Maria.
She was pale turning to a greenish-gray across her skin and eyes taking on a yellow hue.
Bruce held the ring up between them.
"You would send a boy to die for you?"
"Of course," she said.
"It is the way of their kind," said Guthrie looking at Bruce and raising an eyebrow as he did so.
"She did that with John," Shlasuar said.
Maria looked at him.
"There was no choice. He was the most skilled to go after the girl."
"For us to report back," Shlasuar said, "now I will have to do that, won't I?"
Maria nodded once.
"Tell them... it is not worth the price."
Shlasuar nodded and inhaled and then looked at the man behind him as his hand left Shlasuar's shoulder.
"Some things are," he said, "and some things aren't. You never know which is which until after you have paid the price."
"Do you still want the ring?" Bruce asked.
She looked at him and tried to get a read on him and was unable to. The ring, she could see, was indeed a form of a seat of power, but the man was obviously not effected by it. She took heart in that, as he was not skilled in the ways of power or had any of the knowledge she had as a Priest. If a mere, ignorant surface dweller could achieve this, then surely she must be able to as well.
"I do," she said.
He extended his hand and she held out hers and only then did she realize her mistake.
"With this ring you are wedded to it, till death do you part," Dr. Gotham said as Bruce slid the ring over her finger.
Bruce's had moved away and she felt the burning of the inscription in her skin and, more deeply, into her. She wanted to scream but could only gasp. She felt her skin begin to transform, a thing she had not bidden it to do, but the power that coursed into her would not be denied. The ring had to entice its prior wearer into opening his mind to power, but a Priest was used to it coursing through them and made easy vessels to get into and exercise the transformation into an Avatar. Maria felt the greatness of the power, and beauty of it as her eyes began to swell and yet recede into her skull which was slowly transforming itself.
Such power was going through her and then she felt it coursing hard and deep through her body and going to the Void. First the empty spaces in the molecules began to recede and, as they did so, the matter began to follow. An emerald glow came from her skin, mixing with gold until the light was blinding and all were shielding their eyes from it, save for Tom Octurian who stared unblinking at it. Where her skin had been dust was forming and then, in a flash of gold and emerald her entire body turned to ash. She died without a scream as the air would not leave her lungs. The moment the flash ended there was only a drifting soot that was moved by the air handlers and the sound of a golden ring hitting the marble floor.
The others were lowering their arms and looking to the now dissipating form that had been Maria. Many had stunned expressions on their faces, while Guthrie just looked at where Maria was and shook his head.
"I think I would scream but I'm too terrified," Erin said.
"But... what happened to her?" Cindy asked looking at Dr. Gotham.
"Yeah, where did she go?" Vivian said, "she could have just vanished."
"The Void took her," Dr. Gotham said, "and we are left with the slight residue of her, the rest scattered across the cosmos along the Void link. What is there is, perhaps, just the outer layer of her skin."
"But that's horrible," Loren said looking at Dr. Gotham.
"No one should die like that," Barbara said.
Bruce Wayne knelt down to pick up the ring by its edge and walked back behind the case and put the ring back where it belonged.
"There are worse ways to die," Frank said.
"Yes," Tom said looking over at Frank.
Shlasuar looked at Bruce Wayne as he stood up, the ring now in its proper place.
"And that leaves the piece in my care, Guthrie, unless you wish to have the ring, instead?" he said now standing behind the display case.
Guthrie was looking at Bruce Wayne and then noticed some dark soot on the left side of his jacket, and attempting to brush it off just smeared it. He pursed his lips as he gave up the attempt and looked back at Bruce Wayne.
"I don't think that would be a wise choice, would it Mr. Wayne?" Guthrie said with a sneer.
"Neither is a wise decision, Mr. Lewis. And, really, is it the item or items that you truly came for?"
"Eh? What do you mean?" Guthrie asked.
"Well if what you came for was actual items of power, then, of course, you should get what you desire. Even if that ends you and those you serve in a rather swift and horrific fashion. Not to speak of the rest of us, as well."
Guthrie looked puzzled as he looked at Dr. Gotham.
"I do not follow you, Dr. Gotham. Why would that be a swift end to us all?"
Dr. Gotham smiled as he walked over to stand next to Bruce Wayne.
"There is a problem with what you are seeking to do, Mr. Lewis."
"And what is that?"
"You are operating without knowing what the prior intent of that which has given all of this form and place. She had one thing that we do not have and cannot have and that is the items she came with that were part of her birth along with the space around her."
"I'm not following you, Dr. Gotham? What else was there?" Guthrie asked.
"Well you were a late comer to the scene, as were those you serve," Dr. Gotham said smiling, "really the stories were known to me even before modern archaeology discovered them, and coming from where you did, you surely had some better access to them than I did."
Guthrie shook his head negatively.
"No?" Dr. Gotham said, "And yet you passed by some of the inscriptions in the room dedicated to the archaeology of the Orient on the third floor, did you not?"
"Many, Dr. Gotham, none that were of interest."
Shlasuar looked at Dr. Gotham.
"That land called Sumer by your people?" Shlasuar asked. Everyone turned to look at him and Dr. Gotham smiled.
"Yes, the very same, or one of its forebears. It told of the great battle fought by the Mother Dragon and her demons."
"My People know of such things. We are descended from them that fought with the Mother Dragon."
"We all are," Lisa Choi said as she walked closer to the display case. Selina and Barbara moved to be closer to her. "Everything as far as you can see from..." Lisa shook her head.
"The Precipice," Shlasuar said, "it is the place to look back or out, but you can't survive either."
Pressing her lips together Lisa nodded.
"Beautiful and horrible there."
"Miss Choi, did you see any artifacts there?" Dr. Gotham asked. He really did not want to intrude on her memories but it was something that he would like to know.
"I... there's a stand there for... a cloak... with a hood... red on one side, white the other..." she said looking at him but also at a distant scene lost to her in dreams.
"Were you expecting something there?" Guthrie asked.
"Not that, assuredly," Dr. Gotham said, "although it is interesting. No what I had thought might be there were the items that Tiamat brought with her into creation."
"That's right!" Barbara said, smiling, "She had tablets with her. Tablets of Destiny. Didn't she give those to her second mate, though?"
"Would you hand your complete fate over to an outsider that you needed to merely enrich your brood?" Dr. Gotham asked.
"Oh!" Erin exclaimed, "I mean if it wasn't love then, ahhh... well that would be a stupid thing to do, wouldn't it?"
"But what about..." Cindy asked looking at the soft layer of soot on the floor where Maria had stood, "her? What was her name again?"
"Mrs. Hamilton she is gone, abolished by the Void. It has reclaimed her and only with some effort will we remember her name, which is Maria. Her place in this was, unfortunately for her, woven by the threads given to the Spider. It is a rich tapestry and all of those threads have an author, although its source is the Void it cannot be said to have a mind or be an actual author of events, just of happenings and places."
"Ahhh... the one who makes the thread, the one who weaves it and the one who cuts it. Yes, those I knew," Guthrie said, "although to get a straight answer from them meant some rather unpleasant bed stays, in which it was required to be of the same cheer for each of the three. They ran quite a lot until they also found out that they could be abolished."
He sighed wistfully.
"Really, not as bad as you would have thought," he said softly.
"The Spider took up their job, not to worry," Dr. Gotham said.
"Yes, as I found out. Now you are saying that what it wove was something that was given it to weave?"
"Of course and it was guided by," he looked down into the case at the tooth in amber, "that which is still alive there. A tiny piece that had been in the jaw of something that could have swallowed entire galaxies and more if they had not been created from her. By her grandson or great-grandson, or at least of someone from a lineage that was not of her early spawn, like Shlasuar, here. Is that what your stories tell, as well?"
"Not exactly like that, but yes."
"And the great war between him and his grandmother? Do those stories tell of the cause?"
"Not really, no. They don't even tell of her name, at least to Novitiates like me."
"Understandable," Dr. Gotham said, "but it did have to do with her grandchild seeing half of his kind enslaved by her, yes?"
"Yes, that is part of the story. They were serving her."
"How were they serving her?" Bruce asked.
Shlasuar looked at him.
"I don't know. I don't think that even our Priests know. It wasn't given to us to know."
Dr. Gotham looked from Shlasuar to Guthrie.
"Tiamat was born from Chaos, the Void, and through the thing surrounding it, and then further out from Chaos, allowing the first of Order being able to do more than give some feeble formulation to things. And she had something that is a very gift from Order, didn't she?"
"The Tablets," Barbara said.
"Yes, Miss Gordon, exactly that. Order is order, and while it gives the minor gift of time very close to Chaos, it has problems doing more than that until one is very distant from Chaos itself. Tiamat was born of Chaos. She had a gift from Order. This, alone, should give a very strong hint as to what she was doing to reach her Destiny."
"You can't avoid your destiny," Frank said, "it is always waiting for you."
"But what you do will change its timing," Bruce said, "Vivian and Loren can attest to that."
"You ask me to land in the damnedest places, boss," Vivian said.
"I never expected anyone to just take me with a cert and a few months of experience in Knoxville, but it was worth trying."
Guthrie raised an eyebrow and stepped towards the case again.
"And what has that to do with why I am here?"
"A very simple question is your answer, I should think, Mr. Lewis. Is the universe now more in the realm of Order than it is of Chaos?"
Guthrie shook his head.
"How can anyone know that?"
"If she did bring in outsiders with power to add to her cosmos, and set her children about a task they may not have understood but that had purpose, then would that purpose be part of seeking her Destiny? Order definitely has a role for her and everything she did was not to bring herself and the cosmos around her closer to Azathoth and the Void, was it? Just the opposite, in fact."
Guthrie inhaled looking down into the case at the tooth in amber that had been crafted about it milennia ago.
"Are there any Lords of Order?" Dr. Gotham asked.
"No," Shlasuar said sidling out from in front of Sgt. Rock and closer to the front of the case. "None exist."
"No," Guthrie said softly, pressing his hands to the case. "I dare not act now."
"And that is your answer, Mr. Lewis. The pieces will remain here for quite some time, I expect. Safe with the Void link, protected physically, and of no real monetary value. These are the pieces and they tell you so much of what is to come. This is not their time."
Slowly Guthrie nodded, and slid his hands from the case.
"I will talk it over with those who sent me," he said slowly, "you will still get a storm here, but only what would happen without their backing. I would much rather anger them than anger her."
"A wise choice, Mr. Lewis. Mrs. Hamilton, if you would assist me, we wiill close the case."
Bruce watched Guthrie Lewis as he turned and left by the near side entrance and disappeared out into the hallway. The children on the lower floor had been taken to the central portion of the Museum where the warmth of the steam powered generator meant that they could take their winter coats off and be in comfort. His own leather jacket he had opened as it was now just chilly in the room, no longer frigid. He stepped out of the way so that Dr. Gotham and Mrs. Hamilton could close up the display case once more, and it was soon sealed with the green light on indicating that all of the devices were properly locked and secured.
"Those are not good things," Shlasuar said looking in from the outside of the case.
"They are what they are," Bruce said, looking to the young man who was neither man nor other species entirely.
"Yes," he said looking at Bruce. "How could you handle the ring and not be touched by it?"
Bruce raised an eyebrow and shifted to step beside Shlasuar to look into the case. Shlasuar did not look to where the soot was even now being moved by the air handlers so that only a bare trace of Maria was still left on the floor.
"That is simple, really. I do not want any other power than that which I already have."
Shlasuar shifted away from Bruce and Sgt. Rock and looked at the Bruce Wayne.
"But you know... what they can do," he whispered.
A slow smile crept to the lips of Bruce Wayne as he saw Dr. Gotham and Mrs. Hamilton stand up, yet all eyes were on Bruce Wayne.
"What I want they cannot provide," Bruce said slowly, "and what I am they cannot have."
Vivian nodded as she looked at her boss, Bruce Wayne, a man she had come to know well but not intiimately.
"That's the truth," she said very softly.
Frank Rock smiled and set his case down.
"You are a good man, Bruce. Your father would be proud of you, and your mother, too."
Shlasuar looked intensely at Bruce Wayne and shook his head.
"But no one can resist...that..."
"And yet he has, Shlasuar," Dr. Gotham said as he looked at the others and then at Shlasuar, "and it is something I would not trust myself to do without proper protection and precaution. I know such temptation and must safeguard myself from it. Find one who has no need of the power of these things, who cannot be enticed by them and you will also find the person who does not need them. Mr. Wayne's mother, Martha, I now believe was such a one, herself, which is why it passed to her and why that piece now rests here. These were the people the piece must go to so as to safeguard it. Your people should know of that, Shlasuar, for no good will come to them from these pieces as the power and affinity is now aligned to keep them safe, together."
"That I will tell them of, Dr. Gotham."
Shlasuar turned and they heard the slight tap of his walking stick as he left the room by the far entrance, going around the early aviation exhibits and finally disappearing into the hall.
"I'm just, shocked," Mrs. Hamilton said, "I never thought that anything like... this... actually had anything to it."
"It is best to keep them safe," Lisa said softly as she looked into the case, "for when they are free, only Chaos may result."