“We were so close!” said one of the men in robes. “So very close. Two more days and we would have raised the demon.”
“Is it … angry … at the failure?” asked another man.
The first robed man looked around the table at the other twelve, all dressed identically. His features were invisible in his hood but the contempt in his voice was clear.
‘Of course it is angry, Frater Infelix!” he said. “It demands a sacrifice.”
“Another street urchin then?” said a third voice, lazily.
“Not enough,” said the first man. “It must be one of us.”
“The … the straws then, Frater Princeps?” said Frater Infelix, “To decide?”
“The decision has already been made,” said Frater Princeps, as two men loomed out of the shadows and stood around Frater Infelix. “It wants the one who suggested this plan.”
“But I … I just read it … in the books … the failure isn’t mine!” said Frater Infelix. “The failure isn’t mine!”
“Show some dignity brother!” said another voice, “We are an order of the strong, of the brave.”
“That’s a lot easier to say when you’re not about to be sacrificed!” wailed Frater Infelix.
The two men on each side of him grabbed him by the arm. He tried to struggle but they pulled him up. The chair he was sitting on fell back and he was dragged away, crying out as he left. The others sat, impassive.
“There is a space at the table,” said Frater Princeps. “A space that must be filled.”
“It must be filled,” they all intoned.
“We will look for candidates then, from the outer order?” said a voice.
“There is no need,” said Frater Princeps, “we have one who is perfect. Step forward brother and take your seat.”
There was muttering from the men as a very portly gentleman wearing a strange amulet around his neck came out of the darkness, picked up the overturned seat and sat on it. There was some movement just behind him as well, barely visible in the dim light.
“Announce yourself,” said Frater Princeps.
“I am Frater Gravitas Maximas,” intoned the new man.
“The most … overweight brother?” said one of the others.
“The most serious brother!” snapped Frater Gravitas Maximas.
“I’m a lecturer in Latin, I think you’ll find…” started the other.
“Enough!” said Frater Princeps. “The brother is joining us as he has some useful experience, relating to our current difficulties.”
“What’s that strange pendant?” asked another.
“This, brother, is a mere replica of a more powerful artefact,” said Frater Gravitas Maximas. “The original was destroyed by a man, a man who thwarted my plans and has now thwarted yours. A man of shrewd intelligence and powerful cunning, who is unafraid to use the most appalling violence on another human’s body. I wear this as a reminder never to underestimate and never to forget.”
“I say,” said another voice, “this is all well and good, and I think we can overlook the change of protocol and the ignoring of the dress code. But who is that chap behind the brother? This is supposed to be a secret meeting!”
A small man just behind Frater Gravitas Maximas leaned into the circle of thirteen.
“I am most frightfully sorry if I have caused any distress, which is furthest from my aim. I am, you see, the most loyal servant of Mr Clack … of the Frater and I merely hoped that my presence here may better facilitate my understanding of your requirements of him and hence my ability to serve both my most generous employer and your own august selves.”
There was a general mumble of assent.
“Yes, yes that seems in order,” said the one who had complained.
“Now we are all satisfied gentlemen, our future path is clear,” said Frater Princeps.
“Whatever else we may do we now have one aim, one goal … to destroy Sir John Jennings.”