The first time Jonah Magnus hears about the Archivist he is still himself and believes he is going to live forever.
He is twenty-two and his Insitute is starting to gather notice. People write to him not only because he has money or because of the weight the Magnus name carries. His own work and studies are being noticed by those who agree with his ideas. What is more, they have money and are just happy enough to share it with a young man with a plan. Gathering knowledge of all things strange seems like a useless enough hobby for the rich to spend money on.
He receives invitations for balls and secret meetings alike. He obtains books, letters, and research done by others. The idea of the Fears being the real Gods of this world has changed his look at what is real and what isn’t but it ends up only fueling his determination. A real God, not one of those he has heard about every Sunday, means his prayers will be heard. His greatest problem will finally have a solution.
He gathers knowledge, just like has done for most of his life, but now it has a deeper purpose. He reads each letter with great curiosity. He waits for some kind of sign he is doing good. He doesn’t expect angels with flaming swords, but it doesn’t stop him from looking over his shoulder each time he comes across new information. Maybe now the Watcher will show its approval.
There is nothing.
He doesn’t despair. Instead, he blames the information for being too dull. He isn’t sure what kind of sacrifices he should offer, but he is sure that tales of normal, rural life don’t make the cut. It leads him to reaching out to Mordecai during one of the elite meetings in his mansion near London.
The main topic of the meeting isn’t important. Jonah has invested some of his money into the business the Lukas family has started in India, but the numbers are right, the profit is coming so he doesn’t care about the details. He waits until all of the old aristocrats finish their speeches, trying to negotiate more money for themselves, and then cover under Mordecai's unflinching gaze.
Jonah observes them out of amusement, but those small people do not matter. They will be gone in a few years, their children will take their place. But not him. He will stay and watch them, maybe even gloat a little.
“You seem to be even more unfocused than usual.” Mordecai looks at him over the glass of scotch he has brought from one of his voyages.
“I only tend to focus on things that matter.” Jonah doesn’t try to sound apologetic.
Their friendship, if it can even be called such, is centered around mutual benefits and a certain understanding. Mordecai is good with money, very scrupulous, and never goes back on his word. But he is often away from home, which leaves his young wife free to go looking for someone new to warm her bed. This could make a fool of Mordecai, a thing he isn’t willing to entertain.
He has never told Jonah his purpose in exact words but since his marriage has started he has used his own knowledge about the other man’s preferences to pressure him into visiting the Lucas residence during his absence. His visits aren’t regular and he doesn’t stay for long. He is supposed to install the feeling of constant surveillance and he does his job well.
Mrs. Lukas always greets him with a smile. Jonah can see it is brittle like glass.
“Hm. And yet you came here. Do you want me to ask you why?”
Mordecai thinks it beneath himself to answer. His gray eyes stare blankly at Jonah, waiting for him to continue. They could stay like this for hours, ignoring other guests and just waiting each other out.
“I have been wondering about the book you have brought from your recent travels. The one concerning the traditions and culture of people in Africa and Asia.”
“To call it culture is to give it too much credit. What about it?”
“The ways of worship they all exhibit. I have been wondering if…” Jonah licks his lips, unsure how much he can share. “If we should emulate their ways to achieve the attention of our own Gods.”
The dullness behind Mordecai’s eyes changes into keen interest. It almost makes Jonah pull back from where he has been leaning closer to make sure no one overhears their conversation.
“Ah. According to our mutual friend, it is not quite possible for us to talk with our Gods. They aren’t ghosts or demons. And we are no shamans.”
“And yet there has to be a way to achieve their goodwill.”
Lukas rubs his well-trimmed beard with his free hand. He looks over the room, over other people discussing money and whatever he is playing them. His evening attire makes him look older than he is. The fire burning in one of the fireplaces makes shadows play over his face. Jonah feels like he could disappear without anyone noticing.
Finally, Mordecai looks back to him, a decision made.
“I don’t know if the way those savages pray will bring you any good. But I have heard something that may be of interest to you.” He takes a sip of his drink.
His eyes flash knowingly at Jonah’s impatient fidgeting.
“It’s not my tale. I have heard it back in Egypt. I would have paid it no mind if I hadn't heard it before.” Another infuriating pause. “It concerns a man. He is said to travel all across the world to accumulate the knowledge uncovered by humanity. He pays captains in gold and useful advice. Even the savages know of him. He brings news with him, tells them how to treat illnesses. Once he has even tried to warn a pack of those creatures that the British army is coming. He cursed at their chief which resulted in them throwing him out. He is lucky the army hasn’t found him yet.” Mordecai can see the gears turning in Jonah's head.
“He does sound like an interesting person indeed. And what does he have to do with my question?” Jonah scowls.
He knows it is a play between them and Mordecai has an upper hand here. But the need to know, to maybe find an answer makes him push against his distaste for having to rely on someone’s goodwill.
“This man has been traveling for more than a hundred years.”
“Ridiculous.” Jonah scoffs loudly.
It is loud enough to make others take notice of them. Mordecai doesn’t look from Jonah, waiting for the other man to calm. Other people have been whispering about them being too close for long enough. They give them a wide breadth and wouldn’t even talk to Mordecai if not for his business. The loneliness makes him tingle pleasantly.
“There have always been talks about such superstitions. And you want me to believe such a tale instead of relying on century-long traditions?” Jonah shakes his head.
He tries to cover the uncomfortable feeling of being seen through. Mordecai may not know what precisely he is after but the possibility of an immortal man carrying knowledge sounds like music to his ears.
“Like I said I would have paid it no mind if not for Egypt. There I have met a man who has had the pleasure of coming across this traveler.”
“And you have believed some drunkard?”
“Don’t be obtuse, Jonah. This man is a fellow Englishman who has been studying scriptures. He hails from Oxford. I can’t vouch for him, but I assure you if there is someone we can trust about such stories it is him.”
“Fine. Then what did he have to tell you about this mysterious traveler?”
“The two of them have met in Alexandria. It was a brief meeting during which this seemingly immortal man had pointed out mistakes in the works of the scholar. The thing was he hadn’t even seen the writings the scholar was working at. The scholar asked him about it and many different topics once he realized he had someone with seemingly endless knowledge in front of him. The man had answered, but he also required something in return. He wanted stories. They exchanged knowledge. What makes both me and the scholar think that this man wasn’t normal is not only the amount of information he had but also the motif of an eye inked on his neck. Just under his ear, a simple black drawing. It is something that every story of him underlines. The eye blinks. It had blinked at the scholar. I have heard it blinked at the chief of the troubled tribe as well.”
“The story doesn’t prove that this man is immortal.”
“Maybe. I cannot say for sure if the information he had to share is truly that spectacular since I am no expert in scriptures. I have only the opinion of the scholar himself.”
“And how does this all connect to my question about prayers and offerings?”
“Don’t you think it is easier to ask a priest how to honor the Lord instead of looking for answers in different religions?” Mordecai smirks. “Or asking believers of different gods for answers?”
Jonah sneers, caught in what he sees as his own incompetence. Mordecai has taken so well to the Lonely. With each passing month, his skin turns paler and paler and the mist seems to follow him even inside the mansion. Jonah despises him for it.
“How does he look then? This priest?”
“He is short. The scholar has told me he was surprised at how fragile he looked. His skin is supposedly darker a shade or two than yours. It seems to make it easier for him to blend in with those savages. What you should remember foremost besides the eye on his skin are his own eyes. They appear green, yet the scholar could have sworn they changed color whenever even a sliver of a shade passed over them. They glowed in the dark as well.”
“Glowed.” Jonah murmurs under his breath.
It sounds ridiculous. He wonders if it is ridiculous enough to be true.
“Is there a way to reach him? This scholar of yours?”
“Last I heard of him he was in a hospital. A new theory has driven him to try to access some long-forgotten tomb, and the man has almost broken his neck.”
“And it was?”
“Half a year ago. You could try to reach him in that hospital.”
“I could, yes.” Jonah finishes his drink.
The lull in their conversation seems to be a sign for other guests to come closer and say their goodbyes. Some of them have already left, not concerned about proper manners. Jonah knows Mordecai has taken note of that. The man is good with his books and knows how to make things come his way. And he knows how to make sure certain products don’t sell as well as they could.
He hides his grin behind his glass as he watches the rest of the aristocrats flock closer.
The second time isn’t really a second. He has been looking for the Archivist for almost a decade. He has sent many letters, gotten many in return but there was no sign of the illusive man.
He has heard rumors that seem to always have been there. Ones he has overlooked, thinking it was another hoax. He searches through books for information about the man collecting knowledge. It doesn’t bring fruit just like looking for information about the Fears didn’t.
Instead, he relies on tales shared in families for centuries, and there he finds whispers of a short man stalking the Earth to learn about all there is. In some scripture dating back to the middle-ages, he even finds a picture, drawn with charcoal. It is poorly conserved but the eyes seem to be immutable to smudges.
Jonah stares at the picture, leaves it in his study so he can look back at it each time he starts to waver in his quest to find this creature. The eyes seem to look back at him, knowingly. He can swear that sometimes he could even see the shape of the mouth turn into a scowl. Some people who visit him ask about it. He plays it off as an ode to some forgotten scholar that has inspired him. They nod, happy with the non-answer.
Only Mordecai seems to know precisely who tracks their movement around the room whenever they decide to talk there. He doesn’t say anything of course but merely smiles. His visits grow more regular as he has left long journeys to his oldest son. Jonah no longer has to play the role of a guardian of his wife’s virtue but he has a nagging feeling that Mrs. Lucas is not much happier than she was before.
A breakthrough comes in a form of a letter from America. Jonah has meant to visit the other continent for some time. The long voyage discourages him greatly, no matter how well Mordecai’s ships are. It doesn’t stop him from acquiring friends across the ocean. One of them, a young woman that Jonah has led to thinking he intends to take her hand in marriage, writes to him about a peculiar man she has encountered in the country.
She has been visiting a friend, another young girl just wed to a landowner. They spend time talking and baking. Jonah feels pity for his pen pal, she doesn’t even realize how much happier she would be with that friend of hers instead of him. But it isn’t his place to show her her own desires. He focuses on the other part of the letter, the once concerning the appearance of a strange man on the property.
Clad in plain clothing, short and almost petite he didn’t look like a threat. It might have been a reason why the women let him in. The landowner had left a gun so his wife wasn’t defenseless, but it stayed in the cupboard the whole time the stranger was there. He didn’t give his name, just nodded once he was let in and went straight to the kitchen. There he sat down on a stool with a long sight and just looked at the two women hovering in the entrance to the room. He made a vague gesture to the other side of the table, his fingers long and thin.
‘Like the legs of a spider’ she wrote ‘he moved them so quickly, I didn’t even know from where did he acquire an apple and a knife.’
He started to peel the apple, still without saying anything. Finally, the friend decided it was enough.
Instead of going for the gun or just shouting to get the attention of the slaves sleeping in the barn nearby, she spilled everything. Every dark and dirty secret she had. After the first few sentences, she sat down in front of the stranger, who had started eating the apple. He looked at her steadily, without blinking even at the worst crimes she had admitted to. What finally made him speak was a mention of a book. A very particular book. The friend said she had taken it from her parent’s house. It had been in her family for years and she wanted to keep something reminding her of them.
‘Stop lying.’ He said. His voice was rough and deep.
It made both women quiver. His small posture suddenly seemed like a decoy. He felt much bigger than the whole room. He moved forward. Leaning in with a knife still clutched in his hand he looked almost scary. A shadow passed over his eyes, changing them in ways that shouldn't be possible. She could have sworn the shadow moved back to join the one he was casting against the floor. The movement let her see his neck and an eye tattooed there. It looked old but the darkness of the ink hadn’t faded. She knew it must have been made many years ago, but she didn’t know from where that knowledge came.
‘Tell me about your brother.’ And the eye blinked.
What followed was a horrid tale about a book that could wipe a person out of the real world and put them in the book. In there the reader of the book decided what happened to the main character. And the girl had used it on her sickly younger brother. It had been an accident, one she never cared to correct. He was happier there.
The man nodded, listened till the end. He didn’t comment, didn’t judge. He stood up once she was done. The knife disappeared somewhere in the confines of his coat.
‘Are you going to bring him back?’ The friend’s voice quivered.
‘There is nothing left of him to bring back.’ He told her, not unkindly.
He simply stated a fact. With a nod at her, he left the room. Neither of the women moved even when they could hear him rummaging through the bedrooms. Once he found what he was looking for, he left abruptly.
She could see a thick tome stuck under his arm when he moved past her toward the entrance door. It looked like any other book. He looked like any other man. She was hit by a scent she knew from her father’s study. Wet ink and old paper. As the doors closed behind the strange man the smell disappear.
Jonah pulls back from the letter. He doesn’t care for what follows. A teary tale of friends coming to terms with the otherworldly. He has read enough of those. Instead, he looks up at the drawing standing on the bookshelf nearby. He can imagine the eyes being green instead of black. He can see the skin, no longer smudged by uncareful hands but smooth and perfect. He swears that for a second he can even taste it on his tongue. But that may be the similarity of the scent the woman wrote about to the one surrendering him in his study.
He wonders if this mysterious man knows of him. If maybe he has chosen that particular house just because he knew Jonah’s penpal was there. Maybe it is an acknowledgment of the search. Or an encouragement.
Jonah smiles to himself at the thought. It seems silly, but it puts him in good spirits. His collection is growing nicely, with or without the descriptions of encounters with the immortal man. He has enough money to spend on finding sought after books. He is sure that even if he doesn’t find the man sooner than later the man will find him. A library full of rare books will be irresistible.
The day he finds the first gray hair he forgets about the Archivist. He doesn’t have time for him, for it. He is dying. He needs a solution now.
He doesn’t care for such moronic ideas as living through your legacy. He has scoffed at Mordecai and would do it again if asked.
All he cares about is the thing he is sure of: he is alive. And no one is going to take it away from him. He starts looking into the ways of worship. He will become a priest of the Eye if that’s what takes to survive. He knows the books he has collected over the years, he knows the concept of the Panopticon. He knows of the rituals to bring the Powers to this world. The lack of connection with the Eye he has felt keenly over the years feels now like a threat.
He starts throwing his money into the project of building a prison and soon he has to start looking for people willing to sponsor the Institute. He isn’t as good as Mordecai with using the money the way he wants to, but he learns. The craze about the paranormal plays in his favor.
Older women come his way to ask for a way to communicate with their husbands, sons, or other relatives. He plays the part of the calm and collected gentleman, always ready to give advice and take part in a seans. His library and knowledge of the paranormal make him a perfect middleman between the mediums and the aristocrats.
He grits his teeth at the amicable touch and a certain way some of them look at him. It is during one of those he hears a first stray thought of someone else. It creeps into his mind, mixes with the ‘I despise this.’ and ‘I hope Smirk isn’t planning to back off now.’.
An innocent thought of ‘I wonder if he is up for taking.’ arrives without an invitation. He has his eyes closed so he knows for sure he can’t be thinking it. He opens them and his gaze meets the one belonging to the granddaughter of the woman paying him. She is not so subtly looking at him and the thought turns to ‘He is too old to be my husband.’.
The revelation of what is happening keeps him floored. He doesn’t move, scared of what will happen next. But nothing does. He just sits until the end of the whole farce, monitoring not only his thoughts but also those belonging to others gathered in the room.
His happiness is short-lived. With the ability to hear others he becomes aware that someone is watching him. It doesn’t feel like the disapproving looks from the drawing he has gotten used to over the years. It is invasive and he turns to look over his shoulder even when he is sure no one can see him. How this person can track him even inside his own house remains a mystery to him. He sleeps curled up in his big bed, with a gun nearby and the curtains closed tightly.
It still doesn’t help. His hair turns gray faster and faster which makes him even more aware of the threat.
His meetings with Smirk turn sour because the architect just can’t keep himself from mentioning the state Jonah is in. He even dares to point out the drawing still standing on the bookshelf. The dark eyes have been the only constant, the only sure thing in Jonah’s life and he turns cold when the other man even dares to bring them up. His anger boils in his stomach, travels up his chest, and spills out of his mouth. Words of spite cut deeper than physical violence ever could. But it’s not the words that make Smirk take a step back. Jonah looks at him, really looks at him, and pushes the vision he himself has been seeing into the architect’s head.
A vision of his lovely cousin falling from a horse during a summer ride through the country. She was so young, so lovely. She could draw even better than him. He wanted to make her his apprentice, no matter what others had to say about it. But there was an accident. A spooked horse they told him later, a sound of a gun firing in the distance and a tragedy. But he wasn’t there. He didn’t know that the big animal stepped on her leg first. A bone broke with a sound so loud she could hear it even if she was deaf. A kick came next, right into her small chest. Another crunch and her ribs collapsed into her lung. She couldn't pinpoint the place in which it pierces the organ but she did feel the blood gathering at the back of her throat. She coughed, tried to scream. The blood didn’t let her, choking her and spilling over her dress. There were hands on her, her brother was there. She wanted to ask him if everything is going to be alright. He had always said it would be. She couldn't make a sound. She coughed again. And again.
Jonah pulls back. He is in his study and Smirk is out of the door. The architect is running away and Jonah knows they won’t see each other again. He doesn’t know how he has achieved the vision, he knows he hasn’t meant to. But it is too late. A deed was done. Smirk was out of the picture.
Jonah moves to the cabinet in which he keeps his scotch. Such a vision makes it understandable to drink in the middle of the afternoon. He sits down at his desk with liquor in hand. His gaze travels to the drawing. He quickly looks away. He cannot stand the pity he sees in the black eyes staring at him.
He starts to sleep even less than he used to.
He fires the housekeeper that took care of his house for over a decade. She doesn’t understand why and he doesn’t care to explain. Her steps irked him, her breathing made him want to smash something. He knows it wasn’t her watching him, but it doesn’t change the fact he remembers caring at least a little for the old woman and doesn’t want to make her one of his victims. He gives her enough money so she can live to the end of her life in peace. Then he throws her out.
Once he is sure he is alone he tries to convince himself everything will be better now. He is alone. He has to leave his house to visit Mordecai but that won’t be a problem.
He gets ready, a continuous litany of ‘I am fine.’ echoes in his mind. He picks a coat and a hat and leaves his house. The housekeeper has left his courtyard which makes it easier to take a step out of his property.
The busy streets of London are a perfect place to feel anonymous. He decides to travel on foot for a little while. It has been too long since he left his house. With his cane in hand, he strolls down the street. Young ladies look him up and down. Even without his gift, he could have guessed their intent. Lord Magnus is still well known and respected even if his recent behavior makes him look like a recluse. He relishes in the power he still wields. One stroll through the streets and he feels more comfortable in his skin than he has in ages.
Suddenly a stray thought picks his interest. It doesn’t belong to any of the ladies. Or the gentlemen who keep shooting him glances when they are sure no one is looking. It isn’t even any poor child or a begging woman.
A young thug seems to have noticed him. They are on one of the main streets of London and this young man follows him waiting to see if he is going to take a carriage or maybe go into one of the less popular streets.
There is no concrete plan, just an animal scenting the air. His gaze feels like a brand on Jonah’s neck. It is different than the constant surveillance he has been under for the last year. He thinks about fleeing into one of the carriages but something stops him. He muses about making the thug see his worst nightmare, but that also doesn’t seem right. He knows that this man isn’t at fault for the sleepless nights, for the feeling of unease. But he is still following Jonah.
He does take a turn to one of the darker streets. He knows no one is there. It is a dead-end and the thug also knows it. Jonah walks to the back of the alley and waits. He doesn’t have to wait long. Just like he expected the young man that followed him seems to be marked. He scents the air like a dog and his eyes track the movement of his prey. The Hunt. Jonah has only heard about it. The specimen walking his way seems rather unimaginative.
They exchange no words. There is no use for them. The young man moves to tackle the middle-aged gentleman standing still. He is sure of his victory.
A quick move of a cane, right between his eyes surprises him. He doesn’t even register the hit. The end of the cane stays inside his skull when the wooden stick breaks. Jonah lets go of the useless wood and moves forward to finish the job. The hunter finally grabs him but the moment his fingers close on the woolen coat he realizes his prey has disappeared into the thin air. The figure he has been seeing just another mirage placed into his brain. A kick to the knee puts him on the ground. Jonah turns his head a little with consideration.
He can no longer feel the branding gaze of the hunter but the constant watchful gaze is back. It feels welcome. Like coming back home from a long voyage.
He pushes forward, catches the hunter’s hair in his hand, and pulls his head back. With a quick move, he pushes the metal handle stuck in the thug’s skull even further inside.
The brain isn’t disposable, even for ones marked by the Hunt. He feels a shiver at the new knowledge. He looks up, knowing there is no one really there to see him. But this feels like the prayer he has been looking for for so long.
Unfortunately, gifts arrive late. There is no use for such a thing if he is going to die any day now.
He uses them to make the workers build faster, to put everything where he wants it to be. He notices the flavor that certain thoughts have. Those concerning fear are the sweetest and he has never been able to deny himself for long. He finds those whose lives have been disastrous enough and imbibes their misery. Often they don’t notice him and that makes him feel that much more powerful. He is a voyeur, an intruder and it is as heady as wine.
After one of such sacrifices, he enters his study and looks at the drawing he has almost forgotten about. So many years spend on a creature that wouldn't even help him. He wonders if their god would be more generous if he had forsaken the search earlier. Maybe the lack of an answer has been a punishment.
“Trying to rationalize it is useless. The rules it follows change too often for a good explanation to withstand more than a decade.” A voice answers his thoughts.
He hasn’t heard him come in. Near the entrance to his study, a small man stands. His hair is short and doesn’t seem to follow any modern fashion. His coat looks old and well-worn. He has a bag thrown over his shoulder, the brown leather faded from the sun.
“And have you tried writing them down?”
The man, no, the creature chuckles. It doesn’t sound happy.
“What for? I remember everything. There is no need for writing.”
A bunch of names flies through his mind. Names he has come up with during the years of search. Names he has put to the eyes watching him now. They truly shine with a light of their own.
“The Archivist.” The man answers. When he blinks the room seems to grow dark. His eyes open soon enough. “And you are playing with something you have no idea about, Jonah Magnus.” His predictions turn out to be true. It has been a scowl twisting those lips for all those years.
“It would be easier if I knew the rules which as you have mentioned change too often to be followed.”
The Archivist’s brow furrows. “You are as infuriating as I expected you to be.”
“I didn’t know I occupied your thoughts often.”
“You have been stalking me for 28 years. It would be hard not to notice.”
Jonah smiles. “Ah, so you have noticed.”
“Once again, it has been hard not to. But I can’t give you what you want. I don’t have the answers that you want.”
“And yet you are here. Why?
“To stop you. The thing you are planning, it won’t work.”
“What should I do to make it work?”
“Nothing. It is simply impossible.”
“According to my knowledge…”
“Well, your knowledge is wrong!” The Archivist interrupts him rather rudely.
Jonah can see how this man became an enemy of an African tribe he was apparently trying to help.
“Are all of the rituals wrong then?”
“They aren’t wrong. They just won’t work. Never. It is a rule that doesn’t change. It is the only constant. They fail time and time again.”
Jonah nods. He tries not to panic, not now when he has the Archivist right there. He must use this to find the answers and be scared later.
“If this is the case how can I achieve immortality?”
“I don’t know.”
“You are a bad liar, Archivist.” It flusters the creature, a blush showing beautifully across his skin.
“I am not lying. I don’t know how to achieve the immortality you want.”
“What about other kinds?”
“I don’t have to explain to you how children are made, do I?”
Jonah shakes his head undeterred. “We both know that’s not what I am talking about. And as you have mentioned there are different kinds of immortality.”
“I haven’t said that.”
“You have implied that.”
The Archivist groans. Suddenly he looks eager to leave, to be anywhere else than near this overbearing human.
“Fine. If I tell you will you stop pestering me? I don’t need additional eyes following me.”
The Archivist doesn’t look convinced. Yet he moves closer to Jonah. He brings out a knife, the same one he used back in America. It has a wicked-looking blade and Jonah is sure it is sharper than anything he has ever touched.
“Alright then.” The Archivist reaches out. He cuts his right palm with a quick move. “Give me your hand.”
Jonah gives him his left hand slowly. He has a vague idea where it is going and the sting he feels proves he is right. The cut is shallow, only there to bring blood out. The Archivist clasps their hands together, letting the red fluid mix. The moment their hands touch Jonah knows. He knows how to use the power gathered during the coming ritual to pluck his eyes from the current body and push them into an other. He can feel the Eye watching him even closer than it ever did. For It he used to be a mare grunt. The Archivist pulled him to the rank of another priest of the impossible power.
The knowledge burns its way into his brain. He can feel the heat at the back of his eyelids and he has to keep himself from crying out. Once it settles it is like a switch being flipped. A new connection is created in his brain. The information it brings appears obvious like he should have thought of it ages ago. He feels born anew.
The touch of another’s hand grounds him in reality even though his thoughts are running so fast he can’t even focus on one of them. He knows so much but is stuck knowing nothing particular. After all, knowledge isn’t for his benefit. It is there to feed the Eye watching over them. The awareness of being watched, the discomfort it brings sends a pleasurable shiver down his spine.
He opens his eyes to thank the man, to tell him how grateful he is.
He is alone in the room. There is blood on the floor and his stinging palm proves that it wasn’t a dream. He looks over the picture standing where he left it and to his amusement, it is no longer smudged. From the old paper an ideal portrait of the man that has given him a recipe for immortality stares at him. His full lips scowling just as the original did.
In the coming years, he acts in accordance with the promise he has made that afternoon. He makes sure the Institute stays within his grasp and makes a temple out of it. He knows its halls intimately. His original body slumbers hidden in the labyrinth and he gathers more and more knowledge.
Other workers come and go. The Lucas family stays one of the few constants in his world. With time the Fairchilds join them, its offspring sometimes too perspective for his liking.
He stays in London during the wars, during the famine. He hides his books underground, guards the knowledge. He rebuilds the Institute after the peace comes. He hunts down books that do not concern the paranormal and soon his library is well known across the world. He continues to gather the letters of people who have encountered the Fears and names the one responsible for cataloging them the Archivist.
He waits. He has made a promise not to go looking, but nothing has been said about creating a trap.
He changes bodies each time the silver in the hair of his current one turns too much to look at. His search for more stable immortality doesn’t stop. The ritual that will work turns out to be something he dreads will have bigger consequences than he can fathom. It doesn’t deter him. Gertrude Robinson, his last Archivist wasn't a perfect candidate to wear a crown, but he watched her closely so he didn't miss any possible chance. There was nothing. She was too careful and too aware. She treated the Eye like a weapon.
It irked him. It was their god and it was their role to worship it. He has enough self-awareness that for him the worship of the Watcher entails the worship of the one bearing it on his skin.
It is Peter Lukas who asks him about the drawing standing on his desk.
“It seems like an awful risk. No matter who sits in your chair the drawing stays there. Maybe you should get some family photos instead.” He proposes during their business meeting.
“Thank you for your kind advice, Peter.” Elias Bouchard answers smoothly. “I will take it into consideration.”
“Don’t go all pissy at me. It is just a suggestion. After all pinning for someone for this long? It can’t be healthy.”
“Once again, thank you. If we could move to the oncoming expenses the Magnus Institute will be facing.”
“Yes, yes. I will be sure to pass on the message that you are keeping the money flowing. He will be happy I think. This palace apparently makes his job easier.”
Peter smirks. His beard doesn’t disguise how happy he is at the reaction he got. Elias tries to school his expression into something passive. He knows he fails. The mirth in Peter’s eyes tells him as much.
“Ah, I haven’t mentioned, have I? I have had the pleasure of seeing these eyes in person. Quite a small lad, but you couldn't have guessed by the amount of spite that can leave his mouth. Truly, I can see why you are so taken with him.”
“He has traveled with you.”
“Why yes. It’s not like we have met in a bar. Even if we did I don’t think it would have mattered. No chemistry here. I even have a feeling he doesn’t like me.” Peter’s eyes crinkle.
“I cannot fathom why.”
“Thank you. I always knew you were on my side.”
Elias thinks about his options. He weighs them carefully, all too aware of Peter’s gaze.
“Let’s make a wager.”
Peter couldn't have looked more eager. “What about?”
“I will be able to make you come here with one message.”
“A message you expect me to pass on.”
“Yes. Are you in?”
“Well, I don’t feel it’s fair. You either win or just don’t lose anything.” Peter sits back in his chair. “But don’t say I haven’t done anything for you. What am I supposed to tell him?”
“Tell him I am planning to bring on the Watcher’s Crown.”
“Sounds ominous.” Peter chuckles. “I will be sure to pass it on when I see him. Now those expenses.”
Elias doesn’t have to wait long. As his luck would have it it is Sasha who comes across the Archivist first. She is checking on the Archives to make sure Gertrude hasn’t come back. Accompanied by Tim and his stream of comments she almost doesn’t notice the change at first. A desk unused for months because of its occupant's death is filled with papers and books. One next to it is also covered by paper. So is the next one.
Amid the chaos, a thin man stands. His eyes look at the pages gathered in front of him, yet both Sasha and Tim feel his gaze upon them. Tim moves forward, to stand between Sasha and the intruder. He looks ready to fight him.
“This mess is useless.” The man tells them. His voice echoes like no one’s ever done in this room. “It only makes the truth stand out more.”
“Excuse me.” Sasha moves around Tim and gets closer to the strange man.
The light over them flickers. For a second she sees not only the eyes looking at her from his skull but a pair observing her from over his head. She blinks, the light becomes stable again and the mirage is gone.
“She wanted to obscure the information you have gathered.” The man answers slowly like he is talking to a child. “It won’t work. We know all.”
“And who are we?”
The man sighs. He looks impatiently at her. Like he is trying to share knowledge by just staring intently into her eyes. For all, she knows he may be capable of that.
“Me and the god you are serving. We are serving. In our own ways.”
“Lord Jesus?” Tim stands next to Sasha, still ready to defend her.
He scowls. “No. The Eye. The Ceaseless Watcher.”
“Who are you?”
“Huh? What? Like the new Head Archivist?”
The scowl deepens. “He took my name and turned it into a function. Just because I wanted to do my job in peace.”
“Lord Jonah Magnus.” The amount of spite in his voice could kill a man.
“You two have met?” Sasha presses.
She hears a tape recorder clicking on. It doesn’t startle her as it should. The tape recorder has a weird way of appearing whenever she is in the Archives.
“Once. I made him promise he won’t go looking for me again. And yet here I am.”
“You are here because of him? The guy is dead.” Tim looks confused at the Archivist.
“I wish.” He murmurs under his breath.
Before he can say anything more a sound of steps interrupts their conversation. Tim grinds his teeth down, ready to face another weird creature. When it is Elias Bouchard that comes into the light he deflates. The perfectly average bureaucrat isn’t that scary. He turns to the Archivist and is taken back at the way the scowl has deepened.
“I take it that my message has been received,” Elias says instead of a greeting.
“Loud and clear. Did you have to pass it through Peter Lukas? He is insufferable even without that smug smirk.”
“Unfortunately it seemed like the only possible way of contacting you.” Elias looks at Sasha and Tim. “If you would excuse us, I would like to talk to the Archivist in my office.”
He turns on his heel, sure that the Archivist will follow. He isn’t wrong.
Back in his office, the Archivist is livid.
“Why would you want to try it? You have what you wanted. It isn’t perfect, but nothing is? Your greed could destroy it all.”
Elias lets him rage. He is beautiful. His hands move with his words and stray hair not caught in a bun fly around whenever he tosses his head. And the eyes. He looks at Elias with his green ones, yes. But they aren't the only ones that take Elias's breath away. The eyes surrender him, plucked from someone's scull and watching over the Archivist. He can count at least three pairs floating over the man, some of them perfectly round others still dragging a cord of nerves after them. Blood drips down one of them but never reaches the carpet. It evaporates into small particles.
The Archivist stops his monologue. He is watching Elias, his face contorted in another scowl.
“So tell me. What do you want ?”
The pressure feels wonderful. Like the gaze of the Eye trailing down his spine, like a gentle touch on his cheek. He doesn’t even wonder about not answering.
“What?” The Archivist startles.
“I think I have answered your question. I want you.”
“I am not a thing to be had.”
“No, not a thing. You are a being to be worshiped. Placed upon the altar as one of the idols.”
“Neither am I a gold statue.”
“You are fear itself personified.” Before the Archivist can stop correct him again Elias moves. He crowds the Archivist against his desk. He is taller and broader. Still, he presses his hands against the desk to make sure the Archivist won’t flee.
“You have shown me a way. And for that, I have honored your wish. But I have also readied a gift. With each year the gift has grown.”
“Is this some kind of a riddle?” The Archivist looks him up in the eye.
He doesn’t look intimidated. His jaw is set. With sudden clearance, Elias knows that if he wanted to break free his bones would be fractured in mare seconds.
“No. I would prefer to call it foreplay. This whole Institute, this library of fears and terror is my gift to you.”
The Archivist freezes. His mouth opens and closes again. Elias feels the need to kiss him so strongly his chest aches. But he waits.
“You did this all for me?”
“I won’t lie and say it has been only for your pleasure. I have also decided it makes a good pastime for the time I have to spend without you.”
A blush travels up the Archivist’s neck and blooms over his cheeks. He looks at loss.
“Because I want you here. I want you to teach me how to worship our god, but more importantly, I want you to show me how to worship you.”
It doesn’t make much more sense for the Archivist. He tries to look anywhere else than Elias, but his gaze is pinned. He thinks about going back on the road. He forsakes that idea. He has learned from his mistakes.
Each fire that took a great library had taught him another lesson. And watching from the same place on the desk has grown rather boring with years.
Elias doesn’t wait any longer. This deal he seals with a kiss.