It was cold. The bitter cold that bit at your face and seeped into your bones. Nadia was used to this cold; she had grown up in the slums of Russia feeling that constant cold in winter time. It was a constant companion in her country. Nadia stared over the frozen lake in the snow muted wilderness.
You live here long enough and the cold seeps into your heart.
Nadia stared out over the cold wild beauty, thinking deeply, about nothing and everything.
Nadia thought back, to the time before, long ago...
You were a Russian long enough here and the cold seeps into your heart. Russians were born children with warm, hopeful hearts that froze one way or another in childhood or adolescence, but Nadia was not like them. Nadia's heart had been frozen from birth, from the very first beat it gave.
Nadia had been born in poverty, blood and snow. Her mother had raised her as her father had died before she was born. She grew up in the slums of Russia, along the alleys, learning the rules of the world and learning street smarts. Her street smarts had saved her on more than one occasion. After her mother had died, she had become a thief and a con artist, living off her street smarts and sharp senses. She had conned people with magic tricks. She had lived off smoke, mirrors, and slight of hand. She also had the rare ability to read, a useful advantage over the others.
Nadia smiled. It was through her magic tricks and literacy that she had found her new life.
Nadia had had no idea why her mother had named her "hope". She was the least hopeful person. She got by because she was tough and skilled. Not by hope.
The moon had come over the lake, shining bright and cold in the dark blue velvet sky. She heard nothing, but was suddenly aware of someone beside her. She had the sixth sense every street urchin had.
"Andrei wants you," Sasha informed her. Sasha was a strange mix of co-worker and big brother to her. He was "night shift" and dealt with the archives at night. The archives where they both lived were filled with old books and old soft furniture and overall homey/medieval museum feel. They were also underground and windowless. Which was convenient, because Sasha was a vampire.
Sasha cocked and eyebrow. "You plan on coming back, or you gonna sleep out here?" Nadia shrugged. "I'm coming. I was just thinking out here. It's a good place to think."
Sasha nodded. "You know, if he wasn't so lazy, he would have come to get you himself, instead of wait for nightfall for me to go get you." He remarked. Nadia snorted. Andrei would consider it a serious indignity for the boss to go looking for one of his lackeys like a servant. He would just wait until nightfall and pretend he didn't care. "Thank god for small favors," Nadia said. Sasha made a sound of agreement. "Well, we better get back before he decides to give us the full-blown archivist's responsibilities lecture. If we hurry we may only get the abridged version." Nadia laughed. "I don't know, he hasn't had the pleasure of lecturing us this week, he may just go the whole hog for pleasure. You know how much he likes making us as humanly miserable as possible."
Sasha snorted at the word 'human'. "Well, let's get going then." He said. Nadia and Sasha walked back across the snowy fields and countryside until they came to an ancient graveyard with a rusting iron fence that had not seen visitors in many centuries. It was one of the secret entrances to the Archive.
The Archive is where I have lived my last few years. I'm an archivist. If you think your know what I do, think again.
The Archive holds all things precious, dangerous, and magical. It holds creatures and nightmares, artifacts and tools, but mostly books.
The whole place was crammed with books and queer artifacts. They had everything from scrolls from Alexandria to part of the Arc. (It had been made into a room)
Nadia walked down the stone passageway that led deep into the earth. At the end of this tunnel was a door made of some kind of dark wood. She pulled it open and stepped into the Archive.
The Archive was a huge underground structure with vaulted ceilings that went up and up and up, supporting shelves of old books and manuscripts almost all the way up. As with most of the Archive, the Library (for that was where they were) was made of a dark, hard wood and gold colored brass. There was a staircase platform that wound its way up to the top.
Sasha disappeared into the corridors to do some menial task that Andrei always lined up for them. Nadia went to her room.
Nadia's room was off in the living quarters. Like most of the Archive, it had the same dark wood and brass designs, and also like the Archive, her walls were mostly covered in books. Some of them she had bought at the market, but most were old non magic books she had found and collected. A good few of them had been left by the previous archivist. In fact, quite a few things had been left behind in here by previous Archivist who had lived there. She had found boxes of feathers and dried roses and feathers, trinkets and junk, and a journal she had found being used to prop up the short leg on her bed. She had kept it all, of course, because she had very little of her own and being a street rat from the slums of Russia, had a habit of hoarding things. Even the most useless or broken items found there way into her possession, and she guarded them jealously. You can take the rat out of the street, Nadia thought, but you couldn't take the street out of the rat.
Nadia took a shower and let the hot water and the smell of steam and the Archive relax her. The Archive smelled of books and parchment and wood and a million other things. Nadia thought it smelled of history and magic.
Nadia finished her shower and slid into her usual dark shirt and pants. She walked over to the book covered wall and traced her fingers over the familiar brass pattern in the center. It was more or less a disk, about a meter in diameter, molded into an intricate pattern. She was sure the pattern hid something, maybe a door, or a passage or portal. Most of the rooms, according to Kiril, had secret passages and hidden secrets within them. Nadia had tried everything she could think of to open it, and searched every inch of its shining brass and intricate patterns, but had found nothing. She wasn't about to give up, though. Nothing was going to defeat Nadia the street rat, especially not this. She would find a way to open it.
Sasha knocked on the door and invited him in. He smiled in an amused way as he saw her bending over the pattern. He had long since lost interest in the unyielding brass pattern, but Nadia had been looking at it since she had been first brought here as a scruffy twelve-year-old. "You never give up on that ol' piece of metal, do you?" He asked, shaking his head. Nadia shrugged. "One of these days I'll figure it out," She said with sureness. Sasha shook his head but knew better than to disagree. He flopped down on her bed. "'One o' these days,' huh? Good thing you got a lotta days left then." Nadia shrugged and flopped down on the bed next to him, and pulled out her box of roses, studying one. "Good thing." She agreed. Sasha was talking about one of the many strange magical rules regarding Archivists. Once someone became an Archivist, they stopped aging altogether. For someone like Sasha, who was already immortal, that was no big deal. But to someone like Nadia, it was very had to run an Archive with a short human lifespan running through her fingers like sand. Sasha had been the same age as her when she had become an apprentice, but was a few centuries old. He had had and accident in the Archive before she had met him and "died". Vampires, like cats, had nine lives. Sasha had died, and been reborn from his own ashes, as a kid, like a phoenix.
Nadia sniffed the rose she had been studying, enjoying the comfortable, familiar cloying scent. Sasha picked up one and studied it intently. "Why don't you throw this stuff out?" He asked. "You know me." Nadia said. Sasha grinned. "Packrat." He teased. Nadia shrugged. "Waste not, want not." She said. "But why do you keep them?" He asked. Nadia shrugged again. "I just do," She said, trying not to get annoyed. She hated anyone touching her stuff, even Sasha. "Put it down." Sasha grinned wickedly. "Territorial, aren't you?" He said. "Give it," She snapped, not bothering to disguise her irritance this time. She tried to grab it from him but he held it out of her reach. She punched him in the stomach and reached for her staff, and Sasha dropped it and grabbed the broom to defend himself. Fencing with brooms, staffs, branches, anything they could find, was an old childhood game they played. Sasha and Nadia fenced into the hall, dodging and ducking each others blows and swipes. Suddenly, someone grabbed them both and put them in a headlock, knocking there heads together. "What part of 'no fencing in the halls' do you idiots not understand? Do you seek to destroy everything you possibly can in within your reach?" A sarcastic, irritated voice asked. "Let go, Andrei, it was just a bit of fun!" Andrei released Sasha and Nadia. "Oh, yes, of course. A bit of fun destroying anything that gets in your way." Andrei had all the charm of a temperamental crocodile, and all the warmth and kindness of a king cobra. He had ice gray-blue eyes and white-silver hair, although he looked in his late twenties or early thirties. He was nothing if not cynical. Andrei was like poison ivy, annoying like an itch that wouldn't go away. "Since you two have nothing better to do, perhaps you could work on the card catalog, or update the records?" Sasha and Nadia moaned. Of all the jobs in the Archive, those were the two most boring and tedious.
Nadia was updating the records. She was seeing who wanted to borrow what, who owed what, and what was in or out. Of course, normal people couldn't borrow books or artifacts, but other Archives could. So far, The Archive of America wanted a book on primitive curses, The Archive of Naples wanted the compass back, France needed a book called Beasts of Southwestern Europe to deal with some man-eating kelpies, Romania needed to turn in History of Lands Both Real and Imaginary and Egypt needed to turn in the cloak of invisibility.
As Nadia continued her boring and tedious task, Andrei slunk in to make sure she was making progress. "Naples wants the compass back." Nadia informed him.
Nadia and Sasha had borrowed it for use a few months back to find the cloak of invisibility, (Which was hard to find, because it was of course invisible.)
"Sent it back this morning." Andrei replied. "Your little boyfriend is cleaning out the cages."
Andrei loved baiting people. This one was so old it had ceased working. "He's not my boyfriend," She said reflexively. Andrei sneered. "You can have your wedding at castle Dracula."
"Gotta do better than that." Nadia said distractedly.
"You can be Mrs. Bloodsucker."
"Get some new material." She told him.
"Your little mutant kids can run around and destroy priceless artifacts like their parents."
"Speaking of mutant children," Nadia said. "Kell sent a letter."
That wiped the sneer right off Andrei's face. "What does he want?" He said. His voice was sullen and full of dread. Nadia smiled, enjoying the words in her head like chocolate. "He said that this year the meeting will be on Avalon." She smiled. Andrei moaned like a tortured man. "Can't they have it in Athens like last year? Or at the Metropolitan?" He asked.
"Athens hosted last year." Nadia said. "And the Americans' are next year. It's Avalon's turn." Andrei gave another moan. The Archive of England, a.k.a. the Archive of Avalon, was the home of the Archivist he least liked. Or rather, least liked him. Or more like, would sooner turn him into a frog than see him if not for his status of Archivist of Russia.
"Morgane will turn me into a newt." He moaned. Morgane was not only Avalon's Archivist, but a powerful witch from a powerful line. And she HATED Andrei.
"To bad," Nadia said unsympathetically. "You should have thought about that before you screwed over her and Kell."
Kell was Morgane's son, and, unfortunately, also Andrei's. When he and Morgane had been younger, they had been romantically involved for a night and Kell was the result. Andrei had abandoned Morgane and become the Archivist of Russia. Morgane didn't really need him, she was more than self sufficient, but it still hurt her. Morgane hated Andrei for his abandonment of both her and his son. And Kell, raised singularly by Morgane, hated his father for abandoning his mother. And now, Andrei had to go to a meeting hosted by them. Talk about awkward.
"We should get packing," Nadia said. Andrei scowled at her. "You are going to finish your job first."
Nadia rolled her eyes. "Jeez, kill the messenger."
Nadia finished her long, boring job and started packing. She was very excited; meetings were always fun, despite how much Andrei loathed them. It was always fun to talk to other Archivists, see if anyone got promoted, if there were any new apprentices. Nadia had been the last apprentice for years, but she could always hope for new blood. There were only three apprentices currently; Sasha, herself, and Kell. It got pretty lonely.
Nadia had very little to pack; a few useful books, her identification, some warm clothes and some light clothes, (Avalon's weather was rather erratic. It was usually cool, but there had been a few rare fogless days where the blue ocean looked rather inviting.) Her knife she always brought everywhere just in case, a tough pair of leather boots, and her lock pick kit. The basics.
Sasha slunk in. "Packing?" He asked. "Yep. You already done?" Sasha nodded. "Nothing much to pack." he picked up her knife. It was thin-bladed and without a cross hilt. The hold was brass. Nadia shrugged. "Better to bring it and have no use for it than to not and have great need of it." Sasha shrugged and put it down. "Think anyone found another apprentice?" He asked. Nadia shrugged. "Maybe. America needs one, and Romania. Maybe Naples too. But you know the rule." Sasha sighed. "Unfortunately." Another of the strange rules of the Archive was that you couldn't just pick some random kid. There was some kind of sign, though Nadia didn't know what it was. In addition, the apprentice needed to be intelligent, resourceful, and unusually brave. Thus, it was extraordinarily hard to find new apprentices. (Another reason Archivists lived so long.)
Sasha and Nadia loaded up their trunks, and Andrei finally slunk out of his room for the first time in days, looking even more bad-tempered than usual. He loaded up his trunk.
Flying on a plane was not fun. Sasha was unable to sleep, which made the vampire cranky. And a cranky vampire is not a good flying companion. His temper just got worse when the sun came up and shined through the window. He didn't burn in the sun, that as just a Hollywood myth. But his sensitive eyes were aching, and he probably had a headache. Plus the kid behind him was kicking his chair. Maliciously. Sasha was not in a good temper. Nadia turned around and asked the kid to stop for her suffering friend. The kid stopped for about a minute before starting again. Geez, this kid must have had a death wish. It was noon, and a sleep-deprived, cranky vampire was not a good person to annoy. Sasha eventually turned around and asked if the kid had a death wish. The kid stopped and didn't start again after that. Sasha could be scary if he wanted to.
This was the first time any of them had gone to a meeting via airplane, and was probably the last.
When they finally got to England, they took the boat to Avalon. Sasha slept most of the boat ride, and was feeling a bit better.
Avalon was impossible to find unless you knew where it was, and perpetually wreathed in fog.
When they got there, they found an empty dock. Of course, that didn't fool either Nadia or Sasha. They were proved right when Sasha was tackled from behind by a red blur. "Hi, Sasha!" Kell actually picked up the vampire and gave him a bear hug. "Kell, I kinda need my ribs." Sasha complained. Kell released him from his vice-like hug. "Hi, Nadia!" Kell gave her the same bone-crushing hug. "It's good to see you too, Kell, but I kinda need to breathe." Kell released her.
Kell was around their age, and the same height as Sasha. Despite his hatred of his father, Kell liked Nadia and Sasha. There wasn't a bit of Andrei in him; he looked like the male version of his mother: messy scarlet hair, and bright gold eyes.
Kell also had the unfortunate luck of being the son of a witch and an Archivist. Those were to very strong magics, and Kell had paid a price for that. He had very unstable magic.
Kell shifted from foot to foot, bouncing like he had springs on the bottom of his feet. "Guess what?" He said excitedly. "America's got here, and they say Romania's got a new apprentice!"
"Really?" Nadia asked, intrigued. A new apprentice was quite a big deal, especially if you were still an apprentice yourself. New news was refreshing, considering
How cut off from the rest of the world the lifestyle of an Archivist was. A new member of any Archive was as exciting as news got.
"How old are they?" Sash asked. Kell shrugged. "Dunne. Younger than us, I think. I can't wait til they get here!"
"Is it a boy or a girl?" Nadia queried. Kell shrugged again. "Dunno. All the American Archivist said was that Romania found a new apprentice and that they were bringing them to the meeting."
The meeting, as usual, started in a chaotic sort of way where all the Archivists walked around and talked to all there friends and caught up. Nadia and Sasha saw the new apprentice, an eleven year old girl with large round glasses, a tight ponytail that pulled every hair on her head back tautly, beat up converse sneakers, and an oversized sweater. He eyes were wide and curious, in a frightened new kid sort of way. She was human, and from what Kell said, pretty new. She clutched a notebook to her chest like a lifeline. Nadia was not sure where she was from, but was almost certain she was not a native of Romania. She had the look of a tourist and she clearly came from a sheltered, educational life. Nadia, who had grown up on the streets, was pretty curious.
The shy-looking kid approached them apprehensively. "Are you the other apprentices?" She asked doubtfully, as if this was a question she had asked the wrong person.
"Yeah, we're the two from Russia," Nadia said. The girl looked surprised. "Russia has two Apprentices?" She asked "All Archives are supposed to have two apprentices, usually a boy and a girl." Sasha explained.
"Oh." the girl said, silent for a second. "Then there are three of us. I thought you were the Avalon apprentice, Kell." She said. Nadia was amused. This girl was very new. Sasha and Kell were nothing alike, in appearance or temperament. The only characteristic they shared was the usual tall lanky build of most teenage guys. Sasha's hair was dark brown, and Kell's was flaming red. Sasha was too mature for his age (well the age he looked) and Kell bounced off of walls like a six year old. Only someone very new could make that mistake. She probably had been an apprentice no more than a week.
"Ivan told me about only one Russian apprentice, not about you." She said to Sasha. "He told me about a female Archivist, Nadia or Sasha or something. I didn't know Russia had a guy Apprentice." She said. "Where do you come from? Are you just a human, or something else?" She asked eagerly. Sasha's mouth twitched as he tried to suppress a smile. "I come from a lot of places. And I am a Child of the Night." A Child of the Night was the nice way of saying vampire.
"Oh, wow," The girl said in awe with not a bit of fear in her voice. Good thing she was braver than she looked. But then, that was one of the requirements, wasn't it? "You're a vampire!" Sasha's suppressed smile twitched into being. "Yes, I am a vampire."
"So are you Sasha?" She asked Nadia. Nadia laughed. "I'm Nadia. I've been here for a few years."
"Okay,"The girl said. "Ivan seemed to think your name was Sasha, for some reason." She turned to Sasha. "What's your name?" Sasha raised his eyebrows. "I am Sasha."He said. That seemed to take the questions out of the girl. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you..." She blushed scarlet when she realized she had just insulted a vampire. Nadia guffawed. Sasha gave her a dirty look before raising an eyebrow at the girl. "You didn't realize I was a man."
The girl blushed an even deeper maroon. "Sasha, er, I've never met a boy called..."
"It is a man's name in Russia," Sasha informed her, his face was serious, but the amusement had crept back into it.
"I take it from your ignorance of such you come from America?" Sasha asked. The girl nodded. "It's okay," Nadia said. "Even I make that mistake so times. Sasha is pretty effeminate. We call him big sister." Nadia joked. Sasha punched her lightly. The girl laughed. Kell popped into being beside Sasha; the usual silly grin on his face. "Having fun without me, are you?"
"Hi," the girl said. "You must be Kell." Kell turned his attention to the newcomer. "Right you are, little lady. Kell of Avalon at your service." He said, giving her a loose salute, silly grin still present. The girl giggled, offering her hand to shake. "I'm Debbie. I grew up in America and moved to Romania recently. I've only been an apprentice for a week. It's all sorta new to me."
They talked to Debbie for awhile, answering all her questions. The meeting was pretty bland otherwise, Romania's Archivist introduced Debbie formally to everyone, and the new apprentice waved nervously. Despite the uneasiness and open hostility between Andrei, Morgane and Kell, there was surprisingly little conflict. But then it was France's turn to speak there news. "All it fine in our Archive," the French Archivist named Delmont started. "But we have come across something both puzzling and worrying." This aroused anxious whispers in the gathering.
"A few weeks ago, in the south a archaeological dig was robbed, but the theft baffled the archaeologists working on the dig, because the thief only took a single piece of minor value: an iron ring with a hexagram on it."
"Why is an amateur treasure-hunter any concern of ours?" the Archivist of Germany asked unconcernedly.
"It is a great deal of concern of ours," Delmont snapped. "Because I had sent my own apprentice to get the exact same piece. It is a concern of ours because although a normal human would not look twice at the thing, this thief has stolen the Seal of Solomon."
This caused a controversy of opinions.
"And why should we care if some ignorant human holds one single artifact unknowingly?" Germany asked acidly.
"Because, you dumb brute," Morgane snapped and stood up. "It is too much of a coincidence. Why should someone steal it unless they knew what it was?"
"Even so, what will they do with it? Probably put it on a shelf for some private collection."
"You idiot!" Morgane fumed. "Do you know what the Seal of Solomon does?!?"
"Seals up demons." Germany answered calmly. "What's the worst damage it could do? Some crazy priest goes around chasing demons. Or are you worried about your friends?" He said cuttingly.
Morgane was so furious she ignored the slight about witches. "You idiot, you sorry excuse for an Archivist!" She shrilled, "Any shell of an Archivist should know that any process of magic can be reversed. The Seal of Solomon isn't just a tool for sealing demons, but releasing them and controlling them! Would you leave this tool in the hands of a thief or a brigand?" She asked fiercely.
The meeting continued the argument. A third was on Morgane's side, a third of the Archivist of Germany's opinion, and a third of undecided. Nadia and Sasha were amoug the undecided.
After it became apparent there was nothing more to discuss, the meeting was ended and everyone went home, the problem Delmont had presented still unresolved.
Sasha and Nadia packed and got ready to leave, after saying goodbye to Kell. As they were heading out to the boat to leave, someone called them. "Sasha! Nadia!" They saw Morgane striding toward them like an avenging goddess. She was still fuming about the argument, and her wind-tangled hair and fierce golden eyes did nothing to dispel the image. Morgane was usually a very motherly woman, but had a fierce temper, but woe to the person who crossed her. Morgane was every inch the avenging female she looked right now, flaming tangled hair blowing in the wind. She was obviously mostly Celtic, and very pretty, in a way. She was not the stick-figure towering model of these days, but neither was she short or fat. She was of medium build, a little on the stocky side, and had some dangerous curves. Despite being shorter than most males, she gave the appearance of being tall, simply by pure confidence and attitude. Morgane was, to use Andrei's description, a hellcat.
Morgane hugged them both in her usual mother hen fashion; as per usual ignoring Andrei. "Watch yourselves," She commanded. "I don't care what that idiot shell of an Archivist that is Germany thinks, whatever this is it does not bode well for any of us. Keep your eyes sharp and your senses about you. I sense a storm coming." Nadia nodded. "We can take care of ourselves." She assured Morgane. Morgane turned to look at Sasha, who raised an eyebrow, albeit a little defensivly. "I can certainly take care of myself and Nadia. I have lived long and I am not fool." He said. Morgane shook her head and hugged them both again,
"There is a storm coming." She repeated, then left them to get aboard there boat.
Morgane is seldom wrong, Nadia thought. She felt uneasiness stir inside her gut.
Nadia had a feeling Morgane was not talking about the weather.