An Assembly of Sarkics

An Assembly of Sarkics


Hoia Forest of Romania, SCP-2191
22 November, 2021


Clef balanced the combat shotgun on his shoulder while checking the belt of shells was snug across his vest.

“Have you ever thought about using a different weapon?” Varis asked. “You look like Elmer Fudd.”

“Aren’t you centuries old? Don’t you have better things to do than watching Looney Toons?”

“Immortals watch TV just like anyone else, Alto.”

Clef chuckled. “Well concerning your question, no I prefer the shotgun most days. Although I’m glad to use something else as needs must. But, let’s face it, not a lot of open ground down there is there?”

Varis shook his head and turned to the ruins of the temple complex rising up against the dense forest. It resembled an Eastern Orthodox church someone had plopped down in the middle of some trees. No village or other structures in sight, just a church sitting beneath the canopy, morning sunlight barely touching the crumbling dome where a crucifix used to sit.

“Tight spaces, barely explored, mostly just observed for the last few decades. A shotgun is exactly what I want. Besides I have those ‘dragon’s breath” shells for when things go really sideways.”

“And those do what?”

“Jets of flame. Absolutely hell on organic tissue.”

“Right, well, let’s try not to burn the place down.”

“Varis, I’m a professional. I know how to handle myself.”

“Oh yes, what was your doctorate in again? Mayhem?”

Clef rolled his eyes.

“To be honest, I’m not worried about you.” Varis turned to look at the MTF agents arrayed behind them. Six men and women, armed with automatic carbines and pistols, sheathed in body armor. Given what awaited them down in the dark, he did not think they were well prepared at all.

“This is a bad idea.”

“It is.”

“Then, excuse me for being obvious… but why the fuck are we going down there?”

“I have to know if she’s here.”


Watchtower-91, Conference room A
19 November, 2021

“I would like to thank Director Varga for allowing us the use of her Site… uh, Watchtower… for these meetings,” Varis said.

Varga smiled. “I am glad to offer a meeting space for our newest members of the community. I have the utmost faith in what you are doing here, Varis.”

“At least one of us does.”

Clef choked back a laugh, about to light a cigarette.

“Alto, if you light that in here, I will give the Okories free reign to hex you,” Varga said as she left the room.

Clef put the oily black cigarette back into the box and into his pocket.

Varis scanned the faces around the conference table: Võlutaar1 Jaská of the Vaśńa; Angelica Harada, elder of House Kurinuka; Klavigar Orok; Zend Oriyan of ███████, Massachusetts; and Judith Low, PhD, former director of the Foundation’s Department of History and current Vanguard liaison to the Nälkän people.

“Thank you all for coming, we have a lot to discuss,” Varis said.

I saw you on the television box last week, Varis. Showing up on a talk show, is not very subtle.

“Thank you, Klavigar. I thought you might appreciate the direct approach.”

I did. Do you think the others heard you?

“I don’t know. But if the other Klavigar were listening, let’s hope the invitation was welcome.”

“I liked how you told him to mind his business when he asked you about cannibalism,” Clef said.

“That’s not quite how I worded it, but if we aren’t hurting other people, what difference does it make? Consuming a part of the deceased to keep the community continuous isn’t quite so alien as the conservative Christian voices might have you think.”

It was a good message, one of strength but also information. This attempt to make the world more at ease with our existence is a brave gambit, but not a weak one, I think.

Varis bowed to the Klavigar. Someone coughed quietly.

“I do not wish to be rude to the Klavigar or yourself, Karcist, but it was not a short plane flight from Vancouver.”

“Apologies, Elder Harada. Thank you to everyone who made the trip here to York. As you know, I made our presence known in Massachusetts recently, in order to head off violent action on the part of the Coalition against our cousins in ███████. The good Zend here is from that community, his name is Oriyan.” A young man with trim beard nodded to each of the others at the table. “In the process of talking with the people of his community, Dr. Clef and myself found that they are not the maddened zealots the Foundation believed.”

“Not all of us believed anything of the sort, Varis,” Judith Low said. “I wrote that file myself, and we were very careful in the phrasing. No offense to your people, Oriyan, but the actions of Karcist Karvas, or Oswalt, over the years played merry havoc with the surrounding area and even allowed entities from outside reality to filter into the town. It took us almost a decade to reinforce the perimeter and shield the outside world from harm, not just containment, but actual harm.”

“Ah, the good Dr. Low. I’m realizing we haven’t met before. Your reputation precedes you.”

“Only good things, I hope.”

“Not at all.” Varis allowed the silence following the reply to fill the room. “But we’re here to find some common ground, and it is time for the turning over of leaves. Let me make myself clear: you are an academic and outsider, yet you have been considered the greatest authority on my people for decades by those behind the veil. Instead of going to the source, the Foundation preferred to cage ‘Sarkics’ and not hire them. It is only due to Directors Moose and Varga’s fondness for you that we allow you to be here at all. I think your experience will prove very useful as the Nälkän people have been spread far and wide… but you represent everything wrong with how my people have been treated for centuries. We earned our reputation of being dangerous, I’ll grant you. But an outside historian and anthropologist should never be considered the greatest authority in the people she studies.”

“I agree. I can absolutely sympathize with your feelings, and I recognize the way the Foundation treated your people – no matter if you earned the reputation or not – was colonial at best, and militaristically authoritarian at worst. Anything I can do to help mend these strained relationships between the mundane world and the Nälkä, I would be glad to do it.”

Varis nodded. He turned to the rest of the table. “I’ve called you all here as representatives of your various communities, to discuss the joining of hands.”

“Excuse me,” Võlutaar Jaská said, “but what is the Zend doing here? Their ‘community’ is very clearly not of the faith. Their Karcist is a charlatan and liar, and they have no traces back to the Grand Karcist.”

Oriyan bristled and started to stand up before Varis’ hand pushed him back down. “Zend Oriyan is here on my invitation, and you will show him respect. His community may have been led astray by a false Karcist, but it is my opinion that the we need to heal the divides between our communities, not reinforce them. It was others who named our communities neo- or proto-Sarkic. And while many who would have been labelled as neo were aggressive and did not embody the ideals of Ion, we cannot let such rivalries lay claim to our loyalties. The world knows about us. The Veil has fallen. We cannot stand apart and hope to survive. If any are willing to lay down practices that betray Ion’s ideals, I will welcome them as family. Who are you to question that when already a Klavigar joins our fold?”

Yes, Võlutaar, please be at peace.

“With all due respect, Klavigar, wasn’t it true that until very recently your followers were running an organized crime ring guilty of slavery? I find that very against the ideals of the Grand Karcist.”

That is unfortunately true, but I was not well for a very long time and they lost their way. Russia has never been the most welcoming of places. Do not forget, I am older than the nation. I remember when the majority of that territory belonged to the Daeva. But all things being equal, I would advise you to speak. With. More. Caution.” The towering figure growled a little for emphasis.

“Klavigar, Võlutaar, please. We have all done what we needed to in order to survive. I will not pretend there is no blood on my hands. But ever it was for the protection of the Halkost, for the people. Right now, we need to stand united. If we are ever to stand at all. What will stop the Mekhanites from breaking down your doors now that the Foundation does not keep you in pens? Vanguard, an organization I believe strongly in, can only do so much. We must be useful members of this community, and that starts when we come together.”

“I can only speak for my community, Karcist, but we are glad to be free of the walls and gun emplacements and armed guards. We are glad for new clothes and clean water. The Foundation treated us like refugees in our own home,” Zend Oriyan said. “Since you came to us and spoke with the elders, and the media, we have been given more freedom than we’ve had for most of my life. And with access to other Nälkän texts, we can see the questionable leadership our sect’s Karcist provided us with. We want to meet more of the people, more than anything.”

“Kid, don’t blame yourself,” Clef said. “Oswalt was controlling you through biological and anomalous means. Who knows how the community might have developed without his influence?”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Varis chuckled to himself, which led to Clef narrowing his eyes in the Karcist’s direction.

“I think there’s a very good reason for us all to be here, Varis, but what the fuck is this man doing here?” Harada asked. “He’s a buffoon and a murderer.”

“Alto has become my shadow; he’s been very useful despite his presentation.”

“Come on.”

“But the point is that everyone here is here at my invitation. I want to talk about collaboration, and more importantly, something to tie us all together. The children of Kalmaktama must come together and stand as one.”

“What do you mean?” Harada asked.

“Collective effort, to start. But I want something concrete: a coalition or confederacy–”

“Jesus, don’t call it a confederacy,” Clef said.

“Thank you, Alto.”

“So, this would be a political entity?” Harada asked.

“Eventually, yes. But obviously there’s no nation state we can tie to. At this point it would be a coalition of communities. A Nälkä cooperative.”

“That’s a better name,” Clef said.

Varis threw a pen at him.

“So, what would this organization do?” Oriyan asked.

“Share resources and information, cultural exchange as well. But probably most importantly, we can create a unified front to the outside world. Collective action is more convincing. If we are a group of people living across the globe, it will be that much harder to justify the Mekhanites attacking us. I don’t mean to be cynical, but there aren’t many of us, and it would make surviving the coming years so much more likely if we faced it together.”

“I don’t mean to step over the line, Karcist, but don’t you worry this will set you up as a target? Stepping into the shoes of the Grand Karcist?” Jaská asked.

“Not particularly. If someone wants to say I am trying to take his place, they’ll very quickly find out how little I think of them. But more importantly, I am not trying to be a messiah. I’m trying to organize us. Thousands of years of diaspora is enough, I think.”

“And this is everyone? All the Nälkä in the world?” Judith Low asked.

“Ostensibly, yes. That would be the goal. We wouldn’t force any one group to join if they didn’t want to, but the more the better.”

Then it is probably time to see if my old friends were listening.

“My Klavigar, I would love to see them all join the fold, but who could predict where Saarn or Nadox could be. And no one has seen Lovataar in centuries.”

“Actually, I think I know where you can start looking for her.”


Outside Cluj Napoca, Northern Romania
21 November, 2021


Why do you think she is below the temple?2

Nina Ardelan knelt in the soft black earth on the outskirts of the Hoia forest. She would not look up at Varis. He had stopped trying to get her to stand up.

Because, my Karcist, she has always been there. Watching over her children while in hiding. Sending her drones into the night to collect blood from the unworthy. It has always been known to those descended from the Solomonari. The mother resides in the earth, she is the earth and it is her. When she hungers, the world shakes and her drones spew forth to hunt. They are vampir, strigoi, and vârcolac. It is known.

“Ask if anyone has ever seen her. Or why she came to be here.”

Varis rolled his eyes, but asked the woman in Romanian.

There are stories. She came here after the Sorcerer King of Adytum left this world to devour god. When the metal ones cast down our great halls in Adytum and that city vanished from the world in the space of a single night. This is where she came to heal. To be with her people. And she watches over us in her wisdom. Those who would oppress us are taken by her strigoi and we take care of her in return. We feed her.

But has anyone spoken with the mother?

No. Never. My Karcist, perhaps she will speak with you. But she does not bother with us. Our blood is weak, our rituals paltry. All we can do is keep her appeased.

Thank you, Doamnă Ardelan.

The middle-aged woman got up from her knees, and still did not look at Varis’ face. She took his hand in hers and kissed it, then turned and walked back into the city.

“Jesus, they ‘feed her.’ Well, we know what that means,” Clef said.

“Yes. I assume many a vagabond that goes missing finds their way into this forest, against their will.”

“Still set on this plan?”

“How else are we going to know?”

“I don’t see how this will help. We’re going to get eaten by goddamn Draculas.”

“Dracula was a person, Alto. A very unpleasant person with a ridiculous mustache, if I remember correctly. Very religious too. He didn’t like me.”

“Holy shit, you’re kidding.”

“What? Not everyone likes me.”

“NO. That’s not what I meant. You knew Vlad Dracula Tepes?”

“Well, I was living here at the time. Pretending to be a monk in a monastery he liked to frequent. Yes, I knew him. Pompous, vile man. But that man could fight.”

Clef just stared at him then shook out a cigarette and lit it, then passed it to Varis.

“I meant it, we’re going to get killed doing this.”

“You’re free not to come.”

“Hell no, life was boring as hell before I met you. Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Just… we’re gonna die.”

Varis turned to look into the misty woods of the Hoia.

“Well, this would be a good place for it.”


Exploration of VNP-2191

Date: 22 November, 2021

Personnel Present:
Karcist Varis – Shepherd of Vanguard
Alto Clef – Vanguard Researcher and Security Agent
Members of Mobile Task Force Psi-9 ("Abyss Gazers"): Ψ-One, Ψ-Two, Ψ-Three, Ψ-Four, Ψ-Five, Ψ-Six, Ψ-Seven, & Ψ-Eight

Foreword: Vanguard personnel are to explore the premises of VNP-2191, in search of VNP-2191-3 to determine the nature of the organism with Varis’ expertise.

Clef: Alright, we need two sets of two to secure the entrances and perimeter. Keep sharp. One of you with us, and the rest of you enter from the southern entrance. Make your way down, we rendezvous in the second basement level, where things get organic. Remember, stay in contact with each other! Your radios will work most of the way down. And anything that moves, we shoot. No one has been down here in years, the Foundation only kept observation posts nearby. Which means all we have are nasties.

[Ψ-Two and Ψ -Five secure the entrances with belt fed heavy caliber automatic weapons. Ψ-Four and Ψ-Eight begin patrolling the perimeter of the temple complex. Ψ-Three accompanies Clef and Varis, while Ψ-One, Ψ-Six, and Ψ-Seven enter the structure from the southern entrance. Both teams advance through the temple interior, which resembles an eastern orthodox church albeit unfurnished. Pale stone walls curve away towards the ceiling dome, covered in dirt. The floors are cobblestone, various detritus from the forest having found its way in. Dried blood is noticeable in paths from both entrances to two separate descending staircases made with rough stone. The blood is caked onto the stones in many layers, mostly brown with droplets of red.]

Clef: Reeks in here.

Varis: The locals have been dragging sacrifices through here for centuries. And not cleaning up after themselves.

Ψ-Three: How many?

Varis: No way to know. Thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands over the years.

[Clef raises the combat shotgun to his shoulder and indicates the stairs. Ψ-Three nods and holds her weapon at readiness to cover him at the doorway to the stairs. The other team descends at roughly the same time. Abstract images are painted on the walls of the stairwell. Angelic figures with multiple limbs and nude pale humanoids with black eyes. The latter are depicted with canine like paws on the lower extremities and sharpened talons on the upper extremities, while also frequently depicted ambulated on all four extremities. The angelic, tentacled entities and pale humanoids are universally depicted with visible protruding canine teeth, and blood around the mouth.]

Varis: I don’t know of any other Nälkä depictions like these. They could be flesh constructs.

Clef: What’s the point of this place?

Varis: I don’t know. There’s no congregation here. No sense of community. Just blood and death. Life is to be cherished, not sacrificed to cannibal servants. I cannot imagine what she has to do with this place.

[Varis’ team continues down the stairs to the first subbasement. Here a stone altar is seen standing next to a pit in the ground. Both are covered in drying blood, far more substantial than the path through the church’s ground floor.]

Ψ-One: Team two is ready to descend to the next subbasement.

Clef: Anything to report?

Ψ-One: Sacrificial altar of some kind, seen a lot of use. Big open pit. Can see some organic tendrils in the stone of the pit, but it goes down too far to see the bottom. Appear to be SCP-2191-2C.

Clef: VNP.

Ψ-One: Right. Sorry.

Varis: Don’t worry about it. Keep your eyes open, and continue down. We’ll join up with you one floor down.

[Both teams enter the adjacent stone stairwell, descending further into VNP-2191. Moments later gunfire can be heard on the recording.]

Clef: Report!

Ψ-One: A … VNP-2191-1 instance rushed us. It’s down.

Varis: I didn’t even feel it.

Clef: What do you mean?

Varis: I don’t feel anything alive in here.

Clef: Except us, I hope.

[Varis does not answer, but indicates they should continue moving. Both teams reach the second subbasement without further incident. This level consists of a single chamber, made up of rough stone tiles and pillars supporting the ceiling. Around the chamber, multiple instances of VNP-2191-1 rest vertically in shallow impressions in the wall. Each have large canine teeth protruding from the mouth, and ashen gray skin that is rough and resembles that of a rhino. The instances’ fingers terminate in large talons.]

[Both teams converge on the center of the chamber, firearms pointed at the three dozen silent entities. Varis approaches one of the instances and places his hand on the entity’s chest.]

Clef: Christ, Varis! Get away from there!

[Varis holds his hand against the entity’s chest for thirty seconds and then removes it, walking backwards towards the rest of the incursion team.]

Varis: Nothing.

Ψ-One: What does it mean, sir?

[Varis shakes his head and looks around the chamber.]

[Clef indicates a section of the floor and wall at the point equidistant from either stair case. The stonework ends in a ragged hole, covered in a thick, dark organic matter – resembling crust grown over a wound.]

Clef: It’s like a scab.

Varis: I can feel whatever -3 is below the structure now.

[Clef points at Ψ-One and -Three, then the crust. Both remove k-bars from their belt and hack at the surface of the crust. After a full minute, no damage is discernible.]

Varis: Blow it.

[The two MTF agents withdraw breaching charges, planting them around the bottom of the organic structure, arm them and then take shelter behind pillars along with the rest of the team. Ψ-One triggers the charges. A white flare and static interfere with the recording, then debris and smoke are seen clouding the air of the chamber. Movement registers on the bodycams of the MTF at the edges of the room. Clef indicates the encrusted orifice, a large aperture approximately four meters wide and two tall. He begins to move towards the passageway.]

Ψ-Three: We’ve got movement!

[Varis turns to face the wall where VNP-2191-1 instances are housed in their alcoves, just as three instances approach. Varis reaches out his hand and grunts, shaking his head. The instance continues advancing on his position.]

[An instance reaches for Varis with its clawed appendage. Varis bats the claw aside and grasps the instance by the neck with one hand, wrenching its head off with his other hand. Viscera showers him as he throws the body at the two remaining instances, knocking them to the ground. Past the crumpled forms of the pale humanoids, dozens more are emerging from their cradles in the wall and shambling forward towards the team.]

[Several MTF agents begin firing their carbines at the instances, retreating towards the newly created aperture in the organic structure. Varis rushes through the opening, followed by Clef and several of the MTF agents. Rubble coated in organic material resembling fibrous tissue populates the floor of the roughly hewn tunnel. Ψ-Three covers the entrance as the others retreat, becoming swiftly surrounded by instances who tackle her and begin sinking their teeth into her body at the torso, arms and neck.]

[Clef stops Ψ-One from rushing to Ψ-Three, pushing him back towards the rubble.]

[The MTF agents seek cover behind the rubble, firing into the aperture as VNP-2191-1 instances pile through the hole. Clef fires his shotgun into the opening, a gout of flame blasting through several instances and pushing the crowd back for a moment. Small organic tendrils attached to the back of the instances’ heads are seen, whipping back and forth violently. Three instances push back into the tunnel, receiving fire from the MTF agents. The team begins retreating down the tunnel, maintaining fire on the instances.]

[Varis reaches out both hands, concentrating while the MTF agents and Clef continue to fire into the crowd of 2191-1 instances. Fine beads of sweat can be seen on the Karcist’s brow, tinged with blood. Varis groans and brings his hands together, violently clasping them. As he does this, the organic structure of the crust covering the aperture closes and seals over. Ψ-Six and -Seven fire into the several instances caught inside the new organic wall. The entities receive multiple rounds to the torso before going down. Varis collapses to the ground of the tunnel, his hands clasping his head.]

[Clef checks the three instances for signs of life then examines the newly sealed aperture. Pounding can be heard on the other side of the organic barrier. He turns and walks back to Varis, crouching next to him.]

Clef: You alright?

Varis: It was nearly impossible to manipulate the halkost.

[Clef offers a hand and pulls Varis to his feet. He looks the Karcist up and down.]

Clef: You’re covered in vampire bits.

Varis: [Laughing] Thanks, I hadn’t noticed.

Clef: Never seen you do something like that, didn’t know you had that sorta strength.

Varis: I can do a lot of things, Alto. I’m two thousand years old.

Clef: Anyway, what’s the plan?

[Varis indicates down the tunnel in the opposite direction.]

Clef: Right, everyone in one piece? Good, let’s keep moving. Who knows how long that will hold.

[The team continue down the tunnel for several minutes in silence, their path only lit by lumens attached to their firearms.]

[The walls of the tunnel shudder, sending debris raining down on the team. The organic matter of the tunnel pulses as they pass through.]

Clef: That is -3 right?

Varis: Yes. I can feel it all around us.

Clef: What exactly are we looking for?

Varis: A central nervous system or node. Something I can communicate with. It’s sentient according to the SCP files we had. Maybe it’s sapient as well.

Clef: This is an entity we believe is responsible for dozens of earthquakes, and controlling a literal army of vampire wannabes. Do you really think you’re going to have a reasonable conversation with it?

[Varis started to shake his head when the tunnel begins squeezing closer, only slightly at first and then more noticeably.]

[The team rush down the tunnel, dodging organic tendrils emerging from the floor and walls. Suddenly, a wall of organic matter rises from the area in front of the team, forcing them to pivot into a smaller branch of the tunnel. Roughly thirty meters down the side passage, the ground drops off into a cliff. The chasm is deep enough that their flashlights do nothing to illuminate the bottom.]

[Rumbling can be heard on the recording. Varis turns and looks back down the tunnel where many tendrils have burst from the floor and are creeping steadily closer to the team. Clef fires repeatedly into the organic mass with the incendiary shells. The MTF agents follow suit. The tendrils continue their slow advance. Varis reaches out his hands to the chasm.]

Varis: Do you not recognize me?

[Varis groans and falls to his knees, his arms still outstretched. The tendrils reach Ψ-Six, lifting her up and tearing at her armor. Ψ-One fires several times, shredding the tendrils holding -Six and Clef drags her to him. She gets to her knees and begins firing, ignoring the shallow wounds along her legs and arms.]

[Clef fires his last incendiary round into the sea of tendrils rising before them, then brings out his side-arm. Varis drops his arms.]

Clef: Well?

Varis: Nothing. I can’t stop it and it won’t communicate with me.

Clef: I fucking told you we shouldn’t have come h–

[All of the sudden, the tendrils stop advancing. The slithering sound of the thousands of organic structures rubbing against each other ceases.]

Clef: What the?

[Varis holds up a hand silencing Clef. He cocks his head as if listening to something far away. The tendrils retreat out of sight. The walls stop constricting and shuddering. A fine layer of dust and debris covers the entire team.]

Unknown: Apologies. I got here as fast as I could. Hello, Varis.

[A woman steps out from an opening sphincter in the organic wall. She is dressed in gray denim tights, a silk blouse and a leather jacket.]

Varis: Lovataar.

End Log


Hoia Forest of Romania, SCP-2191
22 November, 2021

The forest felt as cold and forbidding as it had before they'd entered the temple complex, but as Varis exited into the fresh air he took a deep breath, relieved.

Varis turned back to the complex as Lovataar exited. She moved with confidence, completely sure of herself. She wiped some dirt from the sleeve of her jacket and met his eyes, shaking her head.

“Varis, what the hell were you doing down there?”

“Looking for you. Were you aware the local population think that thing is you?”

“They think it’s the mother. They barely know who I am, beyond the myths.”

“Klavigar, please forgive the disrespect, but what the fuck is that thing?” Clef asked.

“A by-product. A failure. Something left over from one of my worst days.”

“Explain?” Varis asked.

“We were fighting a retreating action, running from the Mediterranean with the Mekhanites hot on our heels. Trying to get back home to Adytum. But then we heard the capital was gone and the momentum faltered. We were sheltering in the Carpathians and were ambushed by a Mekhanite hunting party. Most of my party died, and I was injured badly. There was a temple here to a local deity, I don’t remember which. It was basically a hole in the earth with a stone roof and ritual chambers. Months passed, and those with me tried carnomancy to heal me. It worked but… my body was trying to heal itself already, and the two effects cascaded. I eventually was well enough to travel and I didn’t notice the effect I was leaving behind. What’s down there now is a construct made out of me, growing and mindless.”

“It’s sentient though, that’s clear.”

“Yes, but only barely. It’s hunger and the need to expand.”

“Why didn’t you do something about it?” Clef asked.


“That thing has caused the death of thousands, and the locals have been feeding it. The Foundation couldn’t do shit, barring a full-scale invasion. So why didn’t you stop it? It clearly listens to you.”

Lovataar sat on a stump, and pushed some of her chestnut hair away from her eyes. In the background, Varis saw the MTF agents securing the entrances against any of the creatures following them.

“I didn’t know about it until the 70’s and I’ve been trying to keep it in check ever since.”

“You’re handling this pretty well,” Clef said. “Not terribly guilt ridden.”

“Enough, Alto,” Varis said.

“I have my guilt, you buffoon. Thousands dead, and for nothing. Every one of them might as well been killed by my own hands. But I’ve also had forty years to deal with it.”

“And it’s not like it’s the first time you’ve killed.”

“You’ve very judgmental for an assassin, Clef,” she said.

“Oh, the things I’ve done, it eats me up. But I don’t have a body count like this.”

“I said, enough, Alto,” Varis said.

“No, it’s not enough. You think this ends with rainbows and hugs? We’ve found two Klavigar and both have a body count in the thousands, and that’s just from the last century. You people need to wake up. We’re in the public eye now. This shit matters. We’re not hiding anything anymore, right? That’s what Vanguard is. So how do we deal with the dead just two of your Klavigar have left behind? If you think the Foundation was the only one benefitting from the Veil, you’re insane.”

Varis kept his mouth shut, looking back at the MTF agents, who were all looking their way.

“He’s not wrong, Varis.”

“You know about Vanguard?”

“Come on. You went on the BBC. That shifty looking doctor made a statement to the General Assembly of the UN. I have a mobile, it wasn’t hard to hear about. Who hasn’t heard of the new guys?”

“That’s part of why I was looking for you.”

“You’re gathering the tribes, I assume.”

“Orok, so far. He was asleep under Moscow, a Russian mafia operating under his purview. Though in his defense, he’s been pretty checked out,” Clef said.

“Right. I always wondered if he was really there. So, that leaves Nadox and Saarn.”

“Do you know where they are?” Varis asked. “You were my priority, but if we can find everyone, then all’s the better.”

“I don’t. But I’ve heard some rumblings about Nadox in Prague a few decades ago. Saarn has never not been active. She’s always moving. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but I think she’s been in Poland recently. Doing her thing.”

Lovataar sighed and met Varis’ eyes.

“Why was I your priority?”

“I need your guidance, we’re in uncharted territory now,” Varis said.

“You sound like him.”

“I don’t intend to. And I’m not trying to take his place.”

“No, I don’t mean it that way. Just, none of us ever felt the need to pull anyone together. We’ve all been doing our own things for millennia. It’s good to have someone organizing. Like he would have.”

“He’s not coming back.”

“Don’t you think I know that? If anyone knew, it would be me. If he came back now, after so long away, what would that even look like? No. He’s dead probably, or worse. Better that way. What a failure we turned out to be. Left the righteous in our hands, and we pissed it away.”

“The Mekhanites might have had something to do with it, I wouldn’t blame yourself entirely,” Clef said.

“Yes, the clockwork played its part. And I will always hate them for it. But none of us were in Adytum. None of the four. He left his city in our hands, the Deathless Empire. And we killed it.”

“What did happen to Adytum?”

“It was just gone. And most of our people with it.”

The roar of incoming helicopters filtered through the trees.

“What now?” she asked.

“Like you said, we gather the tribes. I’ve already started.”

“Then it was about time I did something about this.”

Lovataar stood and walked to the entrance of the church, the MTF agents splitting ranks to allow her through. Lovataar raised her hands to the building and jerked her palms upwards. Dust and stone erupted from the building, followed by a veritable ton of viscera, blood and tissue. The stones of the church collapsed in on the pit she had created, burying what was left of the creatures inside.

She brushed a bit of flesh from her shoulder and walked back towards Varis and Clef, then past them towards the tree line and the incoming helicopters.

Clef whistled.

“You got to her. You have an annoyingly persistent way of being right in the most obnoxious way.”

“You love me. Besides, she’s just not used to someone telling her straight. Someone who doesn’t give a damn who she is.”

“Oh, do shut up. Give me one of those cigarettes.”

“Varis, those things will kill you.” Clef handed one over.

They followed the Klavigar towards the tree line.

“What’s next?” Clef asked.

“Find the other two, bring them in, and any other communities we can. Make ourselves known, publicly, so we can’t be wiped off the map so easily. And then…” He lit the cigarette. “I think it’s time we find out what happened to Adytum.”

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