In the antechamber of the cathedral at St. Blanc, only an echo of the pomp and circumstance in the sanctuary reached Brother Lux’s ears.
The sound of muffled organ music leaked through the heavy oak door and set the floor beneath his feet vibrating. The voices of the congregation were little more than a hum until the door opened, and the music and voices spilled through before being silenced again.
Brother Lux did not look to see who had come through the door. The only person he could see was Monsignor Pius- soon to be Father Pius, High Priest of the Aeternan Church.
Monsignor Pius stood still and silent in the center of a whirlwind of preparation. One of the monks was adjusting the folds of the Monsignor’s pure white robes, and another combed the shining black hair that spilled down his back. The Monsignor’s head was bare, and his chest and fingers were free from jewels and adornments, yet his eyes sparkled brighter than any gem, and his lips were redder than any ruby. He stood taller than any of the other men, looking as regal as a god.
And someday, Brother Lux thought, his heart swelling with pride, you will be a god.
“The clergy shall assemble shortly. Brother Lux, please stay to attend his Holiness,” Bishop Severus said above the din. “I will return when it’s time for the grand entrance.”
Monsignor Pius nodded silently to the Bishop. At his gesture, the monks and priests assembled and followed the Bishop from the antechamber in two lines.
When the door closed, Monsignor Pius raised his hands and the muffled sounds that leaked through the door ceased.
“We may speak freely for now,” Monsignor Pius said, turning toward Brother Lux.
Brother Lux stared at Monsignor Pius for a moment, too awed to move. Then he flung himself into the Monsignor’s waiting arms.
“In this moment, you look as though you’ve already ascended to godhood,” Brother Lux whispered.
“We are close,” Monsignor Pius said, and then kissed the top of Brother Lux’s head. “Things are moving swiftly. Are you ready? It’s not too late for me to secure you another position in a hospital, or-”
“No.” Brother Lux drew back and looked up into Monsignor Pius’s eyes. “I am ready to serve by your side. I will not budge.”
“Very well.” Monsignor Pius smiled down at Brother Lux, his dark eyes taking on an uncharacteristically gentle expression. “I had wondered if I was being selfish in keeping you so close.”
“Be selfish,” Brother Lux said. “I love fulfilling your whims.”
“I won’t have many whims, now. We must tread carefully until my power is secure. By the way- I have good news. Your brother and his wife came to me last night, and confessed that she had discovered us.”
“This is good news; I need no longer pretend to keep their secret. Will you tell him our plan?”
“I’m afraid not.” Monsignor Pius broke the embrace and paced away, re-adjusting his robes. “I think your brother will play his part better if he does not know- the same as the others. Don’t worry; he will succeed in his task. He is the strongest of our coven.”
“I trust you,” Brother Lux said.
“My gratitude and respect for your brother- as well as consideration for your family makes me mindful of my duty. I will protect his little love-child and Lady Frey.”
“Of course. After all, they are innocent.”
“Is Lady Frey truly innocent? She coerced Lord Frey into violating coven law to keep the secret of her discovery from me. Instead of entering into a blood pact with her, Lord Frey should have brought her to me at once.”
“It was a foolish move,” Brother Frey agreed, “a move that has needlessly condemned Lady Frey.”
“Your brother is prone to rash actions, though his intentions are good. However, this is not my only concern. Lady Frey told you that she took the blood oath to protect her freedom. Freedom is like power; it is the means to an end. What, then, is her true end?”
“I believe Lady Frey is a scholar. I assume her pursuits are academic in nature.”
“Her academic pursuits are dangerous. She toys with radical ideas, much like another girl we once knew.”
“Ah,” Brother Lux looked down at his feet and sighed. “I understand.”
“Worst of all, Lady Frey is resistant to our powers, and her father- our enemy- gave her in marriage to Lord Frey. This cannot be a coincidence; if I know anything about Lord Ainsworth, I know he has a political motive behind his every action.”
Brother Lux was silent for a moment, and then said, “my brother loves her.”
“And she does not love him. But dear Lux- let’s not quarrel, today. Even if I owed Lord Frey nothing, I would protect Lady Frey because you asked me. I would do anything for you.”
Brother Lux nodded. “And what shall happen to Miss Taris once our plan is in motion? She won’t be as capable as the others, yet, and she still needs to learn the craft.”
“Once Miss Taris is initiated she will stay with us. We need her father on our side. Will she be ready to join, soon?”
“Miss Taris can sense that I’m withholding something from her, and her frustration is building. Once she grows desperate, she will seek to join us.”
“Excellent,” Monsignor Pius said. “And now, our time is growing near.”
Brother Lux smiled, and all of his previous worry seemed to melt away from his face. His brow smoothed, and he closed his eyes as he embraced Monsignor Pius once more. Then he straightened Monsignor Pius’s robes and took his station behind him, ready to follow him into the sanctuary.