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In Necropolis, a ritual was being prepared. The Occultist had assembled an association of his acolytes to make sure it was successful. As the rest of the Fear's eldritch council watched, they drew unearthly symbols on the cobbles, sacrificed their own blood to eldritch beings, and lit candles with a blasphemous flame. When all preparations were finished, the Occultist waved them away and began his unholy sacrament, performing deft hand movements, and chanting profane incantations. This went on for minutes, and all the while, the rest of the Fears gathered to the site to observe, and to see their colleagues return from the alternate universe. After hours of such a sacrament, there was a flash of red light, and they all appeared.

All but one.

Chapter 1: The Return

There was silence for a long while. It was a loud silence. Normally, Necropolis was a bustling city, but due to recent events, it seemed nearly deserted. The silence lasted for several minutes, before Cedar, the Fear of Control, asked "Where's Johann?" At that point, the rest of the Fears began to mutter amongst themselves. The Collector straightened his tie, stepped up, and responded "He is here with us." He then signalled to Vidalia come to him. "Vidalia, show them." Vidalia reluctantly pulled a small jar from her coat, and showed it to the crowd. Within this jar was an entity comprised of teal light. The Fears recoiled in horror to see what had become of the Blind Man. The Occultist whimpered to himself "Old ones save us all" while the other Fears went in uproar. Fears have died before, but they were usually degenerates that had it coming. They were never well-liked, like The Blind Man was.

But there was his soul, trapped in a jar.

The Collector, tried to calm them, but flustered a little, saying "P-please, calm down, it's not too big a problem-" But the Fears were having none of it. They cried things like "We're all doomed" and "He was our only hope" and other such Nihilistic rants. Soon, other residents of Necropolis began to come out of their houses to investigate the commotion, and joined in after hearing of what happened. After a few minutes of this, The Collector looked to Vidalia for help. Vidalia sighed, and handed him the jar, though in reality she was looking forward to showing her new powers. She walked up to the rioting crowd and began emiting purple vapours from her palm. When she saw that they did not take notice of this. She cracked her knuckles, loosened up, and began firing purple sparks from her fingertips, which soon grew to great magenta flames that exploded with a deafening bang and an icy, putrid blast of wind. Everyone looked on in a mix of respect and terror, save for the Occultist, who was amazed at such magic.

Vidalia, smug at herself, said to the Collector "all yours, Mr C." The Collector addressed the Crowd and began his speech. "Yes, I am afraid that Mr Solomon is dead," He began, solemnly "But, we have found a way to solve the current problem at hand." The people of Necropolis asked him how such a thing was possible, for the Problem was the Lamb, a most terrible abomination, that cannot be rightly seen. To mankind, it appears as a vaguely quadrupedal shadow with seven horns and eyes. The Fair Folk see It as a pillar of blinding light and a horrid screech. To the Pelagic Ones, It appears as an undulating mass of flesh and offal. The Avians comprehend It as a violent whirlwind of meteoritic debris and green fire.

What the Fears see, when they look upon the terrible Lamb, cannot rightly be said. Describing it drives listeners mad.  Recording it burns paper, shorts out electronics, and ruins writing instruments. Illustrations of it, wherever possible, completely destroy and derange the minds and bodies of those who look upon it. Even remembering it causes the Fears a severe migraine. All they can do is forget it, and even that isn't completely possible.

"I will hold a town meeting" The Collector responded "Head to the city hall in two hours time, and all will be revealed." The crowd, satisfied, dissipated. The fears then began to discuss funeral arrangements and other such tedious things with the Collector. Vidalia, not wanting to get pulled into such a boring conversation, snuck away to find something to do. As she was looking in a shop window full of esoteric items, she heard a voice behind her say "Nice light show." When she turned around to see who was talking to her, she was greeted by a handsome young man with grey hair and shabby clothing. Vidalia became completely infatuated with this mysterious stranger. She attempted to ask who he was, but could only say "huuuh.." The stranger, know what she was trying to say, answered "The name's Anthony. You must be Vidalia, right?" Vidalia was shocked by this. "Yeah." Anthony continued "I have a message from your-"


They both turned to see Jill walking towards them. Antony looked puzzled at the sight of her sister. "Jill?" Vidalia was confused by the fact that Jill knew this stranger. She asked "You know this guy, Jill?" Jill looked at her and said "I should do. He's my brother." Vidalia was lost for words. She wondered how many children the Collector actually had, or at least, how many he knew about. Anthony then asked his sister "How do you know her?" Jill responded, confidently "She works for dad." Anthony was mildly shocked by this. "Huh. Small worlds after all" He muttered to himself. "Well, as I was saying, Diptera, I have a message from-"

"Bloody Hell, Is that you Anthony?"

The trio looked to see Jack, cleaning a pair of scissors. Anthony, rather miffed at being interrupted for a second time, said to Diptera "I presume you know my younger brother, Jack." Vidalia nodded in confirmation, still quite speechless. Jack noticed his brother's shabby clothing, and said to him "You still wearing those old things?" Anthony told his brother "Where I've been these past few decades, I couldn't really find any new clothes. Or afford them." "Well," Jack said "You should come 'round to our establishment, and Jill and I will hook you up with something a little... less... dusty, and torn." Anthony was pleased. "Thanks" he replied "Now as I was saying, Vidalia, I have a-"

"By Dooling's Demons... Anthony?"

"OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!" Anthony shouted in exasperation. The Collector looked upon his eldest. "It is you!" He exclaimed in joy. "By God, your clothes look terrible. You should have Jack make you a-"

"Yes, yes, it's all been arranged, after I give this message to your lackey I'm going to go down to Jack and Jill's place to get a new suit, now can you PLEASE just let me do it?" The Collector and his other two children complied, and Anthony handed Vidalia a wax-sealed envelope. "This is from your mother." He said, and then he walked away with his siblings.

Vidalia, for the third time in less than a minute, was completely lost for words.

She opened the letter, and read the contents.

"That's mom alright" she muttered to herself. The Collector then snatched the letter from Vidalia, read a little, and asked Vidalia a series of questions:

"Is your mother Spanish, by any chance?"

"Uuh... yeah."

"Does she have a penchant for gold and other precious metals and gemstones?"

"No doubt about it."

"Final question, does she have a peg leg?"

"She has a missing leg, if that's what you mean."

The Collector drew a breath, and said "Vidalia... I know your mother." Vidaliawas awestruck. "You know my mom? When were you going to tell me this?" The Collector defended himself, saying "Look, this is a shock to me too! I didn't even know your mother was fertile!"

He woke up about a few minutes later later, lying face first on the gutter he was smacked into. "That's not at all what I meant." he admitted. "Whatever, man. Now what can you tell me about my mom that won't get you whacked?"

"Well," The Collector began, as he wiped himself off "Your mother, and by relation, yourself, is descended from a long line of pirate captains." As he finished saying this, a cannon could be heard in the distance. "In fact, that'll be her now."

Chapter 2: Pirates!

"So what else do you know about my mom that I might not?" Vidalia asked as they ran toward Necropolis docks. The Collector thought a while, and said "Well, your mother worships Hastur the Unspeakable, and has a slight case of elriphobia."


"Fear of the eldritch, Vidalia. She always carries an elder sign with her, for protection." Vidalia knew her mother was a little strange at the very least, but she didn't know she was this... weird. "Tell me more" she asked, ever curious. The Collector hesitated for a second, and said "There is some more information I have on her, but it's may be a bit overwhelming... so I shall let your mother tell you." Vidalia sighed, and noticed they had arrived at the dock. She knew this because she was nearly smacked in the head with some airborne flotsam. "Holy crap!" She exclaimed, as a barrel almost smacked her in the gut. "Your mother did have a taste for chaos!" The Collector stated as a cannon ball nearly took the skin of the end of his nose. "Speaking of which, where the Devil is she?"

"Right here, Salvadore!" A woman bellowed.

It was Delfina Asturias.

"Now, Salvadore," Delfina continued, as she walked right up to the Collector's face "Where is my daughter?" The Collector, standing his ground, replied "She's right here, beside me." He gestured at the confused and slightly angry Vidalia, who was now staring at her mother coldly. "Hello, mother. Long time no see." She said, bitterly. She was upset with her mother, for taking so long to find her. Delfina's grin was replaced with an expresion of guilt. She only wanted to put things right with her daughter. "Adrianne, I-" she began, but before she could apologize, Diptera said "Vidalia, Mom, it's VIDALIA- I'm sorry, I- I just can deal with this right now." She then stormed off towards the local pub. Delfina was distraught.

"My... my only daughter... hates me..."

She then turned her attention to the Collector, who was backing away slowly.


Her crew stopped looting and pillaging, and turned her attention to the Collector as well.

The Collector stuttered "N-now, now, D-Delfina, there's no reason t-to point any f-fingers..." But his plea fell on deaf ears. Delfina uttered a single command.

"Grab him."

"You 'eard the cap'n!" commanded first mate Andy Seight "GRAB 'IM!" The crew complied, rushing towards the poor Collector, grabbing his arms, and lifting him off the ground. "N-now, gentlemen" The Collector pleaded "I w-would greatly app-preciate it if you co-could let let me go" But they refused to listen, awaiting orders from their infuriated captain. Delfina grabbed the Collector's jaw, and hissed "If you don't tell me what you did to my daughter, I swear to El Rey de Amarillo I will slit your throat EAR TO EAR!" The Collector stared at her, not in fear, but in confusion. "I haven't done anything anything to her." He said, bemused. "What she does is of her own volition. You'd be proud of her, she's very much like yourself." Delfina let go of the Collector, and commanded her crew to do the same. Though bewildered by this, they complied. Delfina turned to Collector, and asked "Where is my daughter? I must make things right with her." The Collector pondered this for a moment, and then said "She seemed quite upset. She'll no doubt be trying to find some happiness at the bottom of a tankard at the Lion of Judea." He then looked at Delfina's crew, and said "You lot will love it. Daytime drinking and everything." Andy Seight, upon hearing this information, turn to his crewmates and roared "T' THE LION, LADS!!!" The pirates cheered in response, and rushed toward the general area of the establishment.

"Right then," The Collector whispered to himself "What next?"

Artemis suddenly appeared from nowhere in particular and grabbed his arm, tugging him towards the center of town, "You gotta see this, Collector," She said "They've finally come back!"

"What? Who's come back? What are you talking about?"

"The King 'n' Queen, o'course!"

"Oh. Them."

Chapter 3: King Quartz and Queen Opal

As Artemis and The Collector approached the centre of the city, the sound of revelry became louder. This day had been long awaited, and perfect timing, as well. Necropolis needed something to raise its spirits, and what better than the return of the beloved King and Queen? When they eventually reached the city centre, they saw that almost the entire city was there, all to celebrate. There were streamers, fireworks, and confetti. Choirs sang songs of rejoicing, and various wizards and alchemists of varying species and livingness were performing tricks. Feasts were being held in the middle of the street, and the fountains were filled with wine and other alcoholic drinks. "At least we're rid of the pirates" The Collector muttered to himself. Then he saw them.

They both looked rather ragged and scruffy; dormancy had not treated them well. King Quartz's robes were nearly brown with filth, and the helmet and chains he usually wore were rusted and corroded. Queen Opal, whose dresses were usually vibrant and as bright as her burning hair and flaming skin, had become drab and dirty, and her crown and jewellry had lost several of their gemstones. Their appearance was almost pitiful, but today was a day of celebration, and the smiled for their subjects, their children, and themselves.

The Collector straightened his tie, and approached his former employers. "Good afternoon, your Majesties." He said, bowing in respect. "So glad that you returned safely. Would you like me to escort you home? You must be tired from your travels." But Quartz raised his hand to decline the offer, saying "Not necessary, Mr Darkest. My wife and I simply desire to share a meal. I heard there was a tavern that caters around here?" The Collector, knowing that the current patrons probably wouldn't take kindly to royalty, replied "I'm not entirely sure that's a good idea, your Majesty. After all, the current patronage is composed of a crew of pirates-" But Queen Opal did not care. "Pirates Schmirates!" She cried "All the merrier to drink with, really!" The Collector, knowing that he would lose this argument, finally backed down, saying "Alright. If it is as you desire, I will take you there." Quartz chuckled softly, saying "No need to look so worried, Mr Darkest. We can look after ourselves quite well!" And then, he revealed a great mace, nearly as big as a man's head, and covered in small, pointed studs. As it was raised aloft to the sky, a thunderbolt hit it, causing it to glow with a singular aura of strength. "Impressive." The Collector remarked, as the crowds applauded. "And does her majesty have a weapon?" Opal responded by drawing her blade, a massive executioner's sword, with the end broken off to create a sharp point. The Collector could see that even a glancing blow could take off a sizeable chunk of flesh.

"I actually fear for the pirates health, now." Said the Collector, chortling. As they approached the pub, sounds of brawling could be heard. "Is it usually like this?" Opal inquired. The Collector whispered "Oh for fucks..." Then turned to the King and Queen and asked "Ready to test your mettle?" The King and Queen looked at each other, nodded in agreement, and responded "Yes." The Collector said "Good. My apprentice is in there, and either she or her mother caused the brawl going on in that pub. Unfortunately, this means you will have to use stunning blows..." Upon hearing this, they sighed in disgruntlement. "But," The Collector continued "If you do kill anyone, for Zion's sake, make it look like an accident. And don't kill my apprentice! Or her mother." Opal raised her hand gingerly, and asked "Hang on, what does this apprentice look like?" The Collector replied "She's the one wearing engineering PPE, and she's probably beating someone's face in with a monkey wrench. And her mother is Delfina Asturias, y'know, the feared pirate Captain Delfina Asturias, that one. Now then, let's get messed up.. or rather, let's not!" As they ran into the pub, the Collector was knocked out cold.

Chapter 3.5: The Dre​am

As the Collector lie unconscious, he dreamed.

"Good Day, Collector." An animate statue said- actually, no- not a statue, but a Gargoyle. "Not often you go to sleep at this time." "I didn't go to sleep" The Collector responded "I got punched straight in the jaw, and fell uncouncious because of it." The Gargoyle winced "That's gonna hurt when you wake up!" He mockingly remarked. The Collector sighed. "Look, I know why you're here, so just tell me already!" He snapped. "Ooh, tetchy much! Alright, then," The Gargoyle said "I'll tell you what I've come here to tell you. The Lamb must be weakened before you go sticking nukes or whatever in it's eyes." Before the Collector could ask, The Gargoyle continued "The answer to its incapacitation lies within the first four seals, but only the Lamb or the Lion can open them." The Collector pondered this for a few seconds, then asked "The Lion of Judah?" The Gargoyle rolled his eyes and said "No the lion in Chester friggin' Zoo- OF COURSE THE LION OF JUDAH, YOU TIT!!" The Collector was taken aback by this outburst. "Look, just find the Lion and the Book before the Lamb does, or else we're all fucked." The Collector inquired "But where is the Lion? How can I find her?" The Gargoyle gave the Collector a mischievous look, and said "You already have." He then showed the Collector a vision, a blind girl. "Hang on... I know that girl! Yes, she's Solomon's great-great-granddaughter, works for The Foundation! Her name..what was it..."

And then he remembered

"Charlotte Solomon."

The Gargoyle said "It's time to wake up, Collector."

Chapter 4: Tavern Blitz

The Collector woke up with a start. He was panting heavily, and covered with sweat. He surveyed his surroundings. He was in the Lion, specifically behind a barricade made from broken tables and broken planks. He saw he was not alone withing this makeshift stronghold. He could see a tall-ish, wiry figure with icy blue skin, and messy white hair, dressed in fine clothing, peering out into the surrounding chaos. 

It was Prince Larimar Stonefire, Son of King Quartz and Queen Opal Stonefire, and brother of Princess Amethyst. Most days, he prefered to just be called 'Larimar'.

The Collector called out to Larimar, who jumped as if he was stung by a wasp, and shot a beam of frost toward the Collector, freezing his beard solid. "Oh, it's just you," he said. "I thought some rotter had gotten in. Sorry about the beard." The Collector gave The Icy Prince a stern grimace, and removed the ice from of his beard with a single punch, restoring it to it's glorious volume. "I'm going to ignore the disgrace you nearly caused me, and get straight to the point" The Collector said in a sour tone. "Where's the rest of your family?" Larimar sighed, and explained "My sister, in her infinite wisdom, decided to leave the barricade we set up. My parents went to find her, and are probably still beating the living tar out of all these drinkers. Also, where did all these pirates come from?" The Collector told him "Delfina Asturias, who happens to be Vidalia's mum." Larimar was silent for several seconds. The Collector asked "Actually, where is Vidalia?" Suddenly, Amethyst jumped over the barricade with a blunderbuss in hand and Delfina's unconscious, bleeding chef, and answered his question; "She's standing on a table with he mother and a few pirates, defending themselves against angry alcoholics, and a few mutineers."

Suddenly, the chef woke up, and pulled out her own flintlock, pointing it at the Collector and The Royal children. "Stay back" She demanded "Stay back or I'll blow your heads off!" The Collector was about to make a gesture showing that he meant no harm, but Amethyst placed the muzzle of the blunderbuss to the temple of the chef, and said softly "It would be within your best interests to put your gun away, elf, or else it'll be your pretty little brains all over the floor." The chef dropped her gun, fell to her knees, and sobbed, pleading "Please don't kill me!!" Amethyst immediately dropped the act and, feeling terrible for her actions, said "Oh no, please stop- I didn't mean to- I wasn't actually going to- I'm so sorry!" She soon started crying herself, and Larimar, finding the whole situation quite hilarious, began laughing uncontrollably. The Collector almost started laughing, but he managed keep his composure. "Larimar," the Collector said, stifling a smirk "I think it would be appropriate to stop laughing." He then looked at his pocket watch, and realised he had one hour and 45 minutes until his meeting. "Goodness! Larimar, can I trust you to handle the situation for the time being?" He requested. "What, why? Where are you going?" Aiso asked. "I have to prepare!" He said. "I have to set up the meeting, prepare a presentation, find the Lion of Judah! Cheerio!" and before he could explain any more, he jumped over the wall of the barricade, and ran towards Vidalia, who was smashing violent drinkers away from her and her mother with her wrench. "Vidalia!" He called, but she was rather preoccupied with grand slamming her assailants across the room. When the Collector saw the King and Queen, he suddenly had an idea how to get Vidalia's, and everyone else's attention, and stop this brawl.

He pulled out a horn and blew hard, so that it was heard by everyone. Everybody looked a the Collector expectantly "Everyone stop fighting," he exclaimed, as he gestured toward Quartz and Opal "For today is a joyous day, as your King and Queen have returned!" The Brawlers began laughing, Delfina laughing  the hardest, but as they saw the King raise his mace alloft and summon a bolt of thunder, they soon stopped laughing, and bowed low.

Except, of course, Vidalia. Her tencacity overruled her intelligence, and she stood tall.

King Quartz saw this, and walked over to Vidalia, who he picked up by her jumper, and said "Do you know what happens to those who do not bow?" Vidalia smirked, and said "Nope." The King leaned in close to Vidalia, and said "You have... to finish your drink." Vidalia, tenacious as she was, picked up a drink, as she had lost hers in the brawl. She then raised her eyebrow, and downed the lot. The bar was then filled with cheering, and the raucous laughter of the King. "You, my friend," he said, putting his arm around vidalia's shoulder "Are going to fit in perfectly."  He then asked "What's your name, girl?" Vidalia answerd "Vidalia... Asturias" Delfina Asturias beamed with happiness. Quartz then asked "Darkest, old chum, when does Vidalia get off work?"

But the Collector had already disappeared, leaving only a note for Vidalia. She picked it up, read it, and groaned. "Yo, your majesty," She adressed The King "You mind doing me a solid? I got all this stuff to do ASAP, and I could use some help." The King answered "Alright, but you owe me a beer."

Chapter 5 : The Blind Man's Successor

The Collector stood on the shore, soaking wet. He had hoped to teleport himself on dry land, but teleportation is an unpredictable method of transportation. He pulled out his communcation device, which consisted of an old voxola radio with a microphone and number pad attached. No one really knows why he doesn't just buy a phone. After a moment of hesitation, he put in a number, and held the microphone up to his face.

"Aye?" Asked a casual female voice.

"Hello, Charlotte, it's the Collector. I need to-"

"Can't hear you, mate. Too much static."

"Oh, I see. One moment." The Collector said. He turned a knob on the voxola. "Is that any better?"

"Eh? Whazzat? I can hear you a bit better, but I still don't have a clue what you're saying."

"Hang on!" The Collector shouted, twiddling the knob on the voxola. "How about now!"

"Loads better."  Charlie said, irritated. "Now buy a fucking smart phone, for God's sake! They're not that expensive, SCP-" The Collector interupted the voice. "Please, Charlotte," he said "I insist you refer to me by my name or as the Collector, not by my Foundation designation." There was a sigh. "Fine then, Collector" Charlie grumbled "Buy a smart phone, and throw away that bloody radio thing."

"I will not!" The Collector clamoured, aghast. "This is an exceptional piece of technology! I made it from scratch, and i've had it for over one-hundred years!" Charlotte was snickering over the, for lack of a better word, phone. "If you want" she offered as sincerly as she could while chuckling "Us lot at the foundation could catalog it as an anomalous object." The Collector paused for a second and said "That would be nice. Also, we need to communicate face to face. Are you at work at the moment?"

"Not at the moment" Charlie responded. "Boys at the foundation don't really need some Ethics Committee pencil pusher considering what's going on. Come by the local library, I'm there." She then hung up. The Collector put his communication device away, and headed for the library.

As he continued on his merry way, he saw the deterioration of the world he once knew. Buildings were crumbling, or were outright demolished. Many banners and vexillums were put up around the street, decorated with nihilistic doomsays, calamitous prognostications and blasphemous symbols. The Collector's way became a lot less merry. As he walked towards the library, three rather ragged looking figures limped towards him. The largest and most brutish looking one keeled over and passed out, or possibly simply expired. The medium sized fellow, pointing a dagger towards him, threatened "Oi mate, gi's' yer fuckin' money." The Collector, compleltely unwavered by these thugs, simply stuck up two fingers and walked straight into the library.

In the library, the Collector saw that it was much larger than the building that contained it, but just as big as he expected. Vast amounts of literature and information, when contained within books, can alter reality in minimal ways. The effect is increased when the text is supernatural in nature, but that's another story for another time. The Collector knew it would have been an arduous task to find Charlie... were she not at the front desk.

"Ah, You finally arrived" Charlie said, not looking up. "I take it you've seen my handywork." The Collector was confused for a second, but then remembered the ragged brigands so close to death. "You mean YOU did that? I thought it was one of those twisted man-things that beat them to a pulp!" Charlie smirked. "Not too bad for a blind girlie, eh? Now, you said we need to talk, yes?" The Collector cleared his throat and said "Yes, it's about your great-great-grandfather. He, um... passed away."

Charlie looked in the general diection of the Collector as if he had three heads. Mockingly, she said "...Yes, that tends to happen when you're over one-hundred years old. And, depending on the great-great andfather, I'm pretty sure he died in a concentration camp." The Collector responded "Actually, he escaped the camp with the help of the Fears, and, despite his blindness, joined their number, and contributed to the end of World War 2 in Europe. You've never met the Fears, have you?" Charlie was dumbstruck. Her ancestor helped bring an end to the Nazi regime, and was blind all the while. "I think... I need a moment." The Collector complied, watching her as she took it all in. "And... he only died recently?" She inquired. "Yes," the Collector responded "which brings us to why I'm here. Well, on of the reasons. You see, his last will and testament stated everything he has goes to you."

Charlie didn't know what to say. "Everything, huh?" She asked, gingerly. "Now, don't get your hopes up." The Collector warned. "Johann wasn't a particularly rich man, but he had a great wealth of knowledge. He knew that you valued that." Charlie realised that she never met Johann, or any of the other Fears for that matter. And the Collector, or his children or apprentice, never talked about them. Then again, these Fears were outside of Foundation responsibility, let alone the Ethics Commitee. "How did he even know me? I never even met the guy." The Collector scratching his beard, explained "After the War ended in Europe, Johann kept a tab on his son, your great-grandfather, who had recently come here. Made sure he, and the rest of his family, was looked after by the Fears and myself. I actually knew your great-grandfather personally." Charlie was intrigued. "What was he like?" She asked. The Collector chuckled. "Your great-grandfather? Absolute prat." He responded. "Now then let's get going shall we?" "Where?" Asked Charlie. As the noise of rapturous yelling and feverish chanting grew ever louder outside the library, the Collector responded "Right now, not anywhere."

Chapter 6: The Escape

"What is it?" Charlie asked. "More bandits? I bet I could take 'em." The Collector shook his head. "Afraid not. Appears to be desciples of The Order of the Lamb's Wrath. In fact, their Templar Cardinal is here as well." Standing tall above the many sorcerers and champions was an abomination of a man. He... no, 'he' is not a word that fits that thing any more... 'it' would be more appropriate. It's face was concealed, save for a maw of sharp fangs, by a black cowl. The similarly coloured robes it wore did not conceal it's body, or what it had become, quite as well. It's ribcage was exposed, and from beneath it, tendrils of putrifying flesh, organ and sinew errupted, squirming and acting as legs, for it's original had grew vestigial, and hung down like rotten beef in an abbandoned meat locker.

And then, it spoke, it's voice booming.

"COME OUT, GIRL," the Templar Cardinal said, with a voice like the howling of dogs and braying of horses. "COME OUT, AND WE PROMISE THAT YOU WILL BE TREATED WELL." Charlie asked the Collector "Does he mean it?" The Collector responded "To an extent. The Order's idea of treating a non-worshipper well is sacrificing them to the Lamb." Charlie asked "That all?" The Collector responded "No, actually. They could turn you into an inchoate jumble of protoplasm, effectively transforming you into a shoggoth." Charlie raised her eyebrows in shock. "Right then."

The Templar Cardinal grew impatient. "WE DON'T WANT TO HURT YOU," He said unconvincingly "WE JUST WANT TO HELP YOU ASCEND TO DIVINITY, AND YOU CANNOT VERY WELL DO THAT WHILE YOU STILL RESIDE IN YOUR VESTIGIAL HUMAN COCOON." Charlie was terrified by his words, not because of what he was saying, but because she was starting to believe him. "Collector, it's starting to sound like I'm getting a fair deal!" she said, but the Collector was too busy with his ear on the floor. "Just don't think about it, now be quiet, i'm trying to listen for a way out." But it was too late. She was already enthralled by his words, and was walking towards the door.

She couldn't bring herself to stop walking towards the Cardinal's words. She tried to pull herself away, and attempted to scream, but she could do neither. She was about to die a horrible, horrible death, or worse, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Then she felt something pulling her away.

"Good thing I got you just in time!" The Collector said. "You were about three meters from certain and painful death!" Charlie was dazed. "What... were are we going?" She asked, her head throbbing. "You'll know the smell when we get there. Trust me." The Templar Cardinal realised that his spell on Charlie had broken, he cried "AFTER THEM! DO NOT LET THE GIRL GET AWAY!!!" The Collector commented "Well that's our cue to skedadle!" He grabbed Charlies hand, and made a bolt for the library basement, dodging fell energies generated by warlocks 'blessed' with eldritch tumors with eyes and teeth, and narrowly missing the claws of brawlers with the same 'gifts'. When he got to the basement door, he found that the door was locked. He muttered a small incantation to temporarily unlock the door, then in one swift motion, grabbed Charlie, entered the basement and slammed the door on the cult and right in the face of the now enraged Templar Cardinal.

The Collector rushed to a manhole, taking off the cover. "Quickly, Charlie, come here." She complied. "Now, I must remind you that you're about to step on a ladder, so please be careful." The Collector helped Charlie onto the ladder, taking care that she didn't slip. When she had climbed down the manhole, the Collector began to climb down himself. When he had reached the bottom, Charlie commented, with her nose and mouth covered with one hand "Stinks of shit down here." The Collector responded "Wouldn't be surprised. We are in a sewer, after all." Charlie looked horrified. "Are you fucking joking?! I just got these high-tops!" She yelled, gesturing at her shoes. "Keep your voice down!" The Collector insisted. "Remember, the Order might be just above us, so we must exercise caution." "Sorry, Collector." Charlie apologized. "Lead the way." The Collector walked on, Charlie following the sound of his footsteps.

"Where exactly are we going?" Charlie asked, trying not to breathe through her nose. "We will be surfacing in the nearest cemetery." The Collector responded. "Hopefully it has a crypt or masoleum, or at least some shovels." Charlie was a little concerned by this. They walked mostly in silence, save for Charlie asking the occasional question, the Collector answering it, or the Collector squealing at the occasional rat.

"So what are they like?" Chalie asked. "The Fears, I mean." The Collector answered "Well, it's best if you meet them for yourself. They're a lively bunch." Charlie shrugged. "Better than doing Ethics Committee Orientation" She commented.

After a few miles of walking, the Collector stopped at an exit. "This is it." He climbed up the ladder to take the manhole cover off, climbed down the ladder to help Charlie up, and then climbed back up again.

They were, indeed, in a cemetery. And one with a burial vault, to the Collector's relief. "Are we here?" Charlie asked. The Collector, surveying the area, responded "Hm? Oh, yes, absolutely. This way!" He walked towards the enterance to the burial vault, leading Charlie with him. As they approached the great iron door, Charlie's nose wrinkled up in disgust. "Fuckin' hell, what that stink?" Charlie asked "Smells like death." The Collector reminded Charlie "We're in a graveyard, Charlie. Of course it smells like death, especially with your sensitive nose." As they entered the vault, Charlie almost immediately puked, spraying a little on the Collector's Oxfords. He sighed, muttering to himself "I'll have to get Vidalia to give these a good scrubbing later." He then gave Charlie a rag to wipe her mouth with, and a perfumed handkerchief to block the smell of rotting cadavers. After this, he cast a minor phosphor spell, lighting his way in the dark as they continued down into the dark tomb.

After walking for a while, Charlie's curiosity arose yet again, asking "Why are we wandering around in a tomb, Collector?" The Collector responded "If you must know, all graveyards lead to Necropolis." Charlie felt she had heard that name before. Then she remembered. The Collector often spoke of Necropolis. "Isn't Necropolis that place you always talk about, with the' wonderful markets' an' 'fine arts' an' all that crap?" The Collector said "You ask a lot of questions, Charlie." Charlie responded "I'm a scientist, mate. Asking questions is what we do."

A few twists and turns later, they came to a niche containing a statue. It was carved from a strange blue stone striated with red minerals, and it resembled a skeletal figure. It was covered with a dusty, hole riddled, black shoud, and it wore an wrought iron crown encrusted with garnet and jet. In its left hand it held a hourglass, and its right held a scythe. The statue was a memento mori, a remider of death.

The Collector deactivated his phosphor spell, and uttered the words "Dona nobis transistum."

The Memento came to life, emmiting a reddish-orange glare from the streaks on its body and out of its eyes, nose and mouth, as if its body was filled with fire. It spoke with a rasping, harsh voice, saying "Turn back, while you still can." Charlie was frightened by such a terrifying voice, but the Collector remained calm. After all, it was his daughter's invention, and Jill taught him how to deal with it. He repeated his initial demand, to which the Memento responded "Leave now, or face the consequences." Charlie was terrified. "I have no idea what's saying those words, but I think we should heed it's warnings" she said before trying to hightail it, but the Collector grabbed Charlie, and remained steadfast himself. One final time, the Collector asked his demand.

"Dona. Nobis. Transistum."

There was a long pause, filled with tension. Charlie was sweating profusely, praying to whatever gods were left that the Collector hadn't just killed them both. The Collector remained a calm image, afraid he might have messed up quite badly. The Memento stared at them, unmoving, calculating.

Then, the light emitting from its body turned from flaming red blaze to a soft glow of green. It spoke once more, but with a calmer tone. "Even in the face of death, you have requested passage. You are either brave or foolhardy. Commencing face recognition procedure." The Memento focused the crimson light that was contained in its eyes on the Collector's face, scanning him. After a moment, it said "Procedure completed. Hello, Mr Darkest." It then went to scan Charlie's face, but after scanning her, was quite puzzled. "Hmm" it said, shiftily "You are unknown to our world. May I take a blood sample?" Charlie, still shaken up at this point, said "Uhm... yeah, go ahead." The Memento took the very edge of his scythe, and made a small nick on Charlie's hand, enough to get some blood. The Memento then tasted the blood, and became quite suprised. "Very interesting..." It muttered in astonishment, before saying "Well, everything seems to be in order. I shall open the gate for you."

It unlocked the niche behind him, which swung open to reveal the Grandeur that was Necropolis. Charlie could not see this, not that she needed to, as she could smell and hear it instead. And she knew that she was home.

Chapter 7: The Black Mantra

Vidalia was there to meet them. She was holding a clipboard, wearing an earpiece and looking positively frazzled "Is this the girl?" Vidalia asked. The Collector nodded in confirmation. "Great," she said, Taking Charlie by the hand "You come with me. Oh and Mr C, the Occultist wants to talk to you about some problem he's got." The Collector was intrigued alarmed by this. "Problem?" He asked nervously. "Look, Mr C," Vidalia said, mildly exhausted "I don't have time for chit-chat, I got a shit-ton of stuff to do." She then wandered off with Charlie, going over her role in the meeting, according to the Collector's instructions.

The Collector then went to the Occultist's Workshop, where the Occultist was sitting at his desk, face buried in his hands, apparently under extreme distress. He then noticed the Collector and rushed towards him. "Thank the Gods you're here," he said in desperation "there's a problem, quite a big one, actually, very significant, really puts a spanner in the works-" The Collector grabbed his shoulders, reasurring "Abbadon, my friend, whatever the problem may be, I'm sure we can fix it." The Occultist looked at his friend, and said "Well, Vidalia told me what you had instructed-"

"About bringing the Seven-Sealed Book here."

"Precisely. Now, I've tried summoning the book according to the ancient prophecy, but it just couldn't be conjured! I've measured everything out carefully, used the proper tools made out of the proper materials- and it wasn't cheap, an orichalcum blade exactly 7 inches long is pretty fucking expensive-and I even used the proper kind of blood-

"Type O from a virgin, as instructed?"

"Yep, straight from Sinclaire himself."

"But Jill has the same blood type."

"There is a specific reason I didn't use her blood."

"What exactly are you trying-"

"Whoah, hey, calm down Sal! I'm not saying anything like that! It's because she's a vampire, and vampire blood won't work. Now put down the shillelagh."

"My apologies, now what was it you saying?"

"Yes, as I was saying, I was doing everything as it should be, and it wasn't working, so, I looked into it a bit more, and..." He then pulled a strange-looking star chart from... somewhere, and exclaimed "The stars aren't in the correct position!" The Collector thought about this for a while, and said, "There is one way..." The Occultist realized what the Collector was talking about about, and protested "No, no way, not on your life. I refuse to do that spell." The Collector shrugged, grabbing his coat. "Very well," He said "I'll do it." The Occultist's eyes widened. "Are you insane!?" He yelled "The last time you did that, you nearly died!" The Collector gave the Occultist a knowing glance, saying "'Nearly' being the operative word, my near-faceless friend. Must dash! I'll be in the City Square if you need me, providing I'm not in a pool of my own blood and sweat." He then promptly left. The Ocultist then scrambled for his phone. He called the Necropolis emergency services, saying "Send an ambulence to the City Square as soon as you can. The Collector is about to do something very dangerous." He then sat down, took a bottle of unspecified alcholic fluid, and drank.

As the Collector made his way to the Town Square, he called Vidalia. "Vidalia" he asked "I neeed you to do something." Vidalia sighed over the phone "Can't you get your kids or something to do it? I'm tired from all the other stuff you had me do." The Collector then persuaded Vidalia to humor him by saying "I'll raise your pay to 8 Sovereigns an hour." Vidalia piped up, asking "What d'ya need me to do, boss?" The Collector answered "I need you to evacuate the City Square. Get everyone inside or away from the area." Vidalia, who was already there, said "Looks like the Good Doctor is already doin' that for me." And indeed he was. He was telling everyone to get inside, and not in a calm manner. He was screaming at the top of his voice, into a loud hailer "GET INSIDE NOW, ALL OF YOU!!! GET INSIDE, GET AWAY, MON DEIU, GET AWAY FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY!!!"

Vidalia pushed through the panicking crowds towards the exiteable Doctor Peste, and pulled him aside by his gown, spitting "What the HELL do you think you're doing?!" The Doctor answered, rather loudly "I AM EVACUATING THESE PEOPLE BECAUSE YOUR BOSS IS ABOUT TO ATTEMPT SOMETHING QUITE DANGEROUS." Vidalia snatched the loud hailer from him, threw him aside, and got to the centre of the crowd. Raising the loud hailer to her mouth, she vociferated "Everybody stop what you're doing, and listen to me!" Nobody listened to her, as they were too preoccupied with panicking. She appeared to clear her throat, while she was in fact focusing her magical energies on her vocal cords. She then yelled, at exactly 20,000 Hz "I SAID EVERYBODY STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, AND LISTEN TO ME!!!" After the crowd had stopped holding their ears in pain, she bagan using the loudspeaker again, saying "Now that I have your attention, I need you all to evacuate the immediate area, and get indoors, in a calm and collected manner." They followed her orders, and the area was quickly evacuated, save for Vidalia, the Doctor, and the recently arrived Collector.

"Ah, perfect!" the Collector proclaimed, looking at the evacuated town square. "Vidalia, hold these," he said, handing her his bowler and jacket, "And you two might want to step back by a few yards." They both complied, and as they they did, the Occultist joined them, muttering "By the Dark Princes... he's actually doing it." Vidalia looked at him, confused. "What? What is it he's doing?" She asked, a tad worried. The Occultist begrudgingly explained "He's performing 'The Black Mantra'. It's a spell, a very dangerous one, and one that may not even work. If it does work, we're saved. It it doesn't, then he'll try it until it does." The Doctor hissed "Or until it kills him, the damné fool." Vidalia remained silent.

The Collector rolled up his sleeves, revealing the swirling tatoos on his hands and wrists. He held his hands together, and raised them aloft. He then began chanting, but the three onlookers couldn't focus on the words he was saying. He spoke, over and over again:

"Voluusz sakaash nol Ska'egiir,

Alsast lonte pulo-sor jenaro,

Truumis leyr-saato sk'utonte

Hevor-riish'ka nol oprintiiro,

Raat, raat, Ska'egiir."

Stormclouds began ligering above, booming ominously, as if to issue a warning. But the Collector continued to chant his mantra. Even when lightning struck in front of him, he continued. The ground around him began to quake, cracking the setts that paved the city square. Fire of reds and greens and blues began errupting from the faults in the ground, threatening to roast him alive, but he still chanted. Then, something began to happen to him. He began to bleed fom his nose, and the scars around his left eye began to open, blood seeping from them. His skin began to pale, and he began to tire. Then, with one last burst of energy, he screamed his mantra, but the final line was changed:






One last lightning bolt struck in front of him. On the scorched, cracked ground lay a single, black tome, with seven grey, wrought leather seals, each with a steel insignia of seven apocolyptic terrors.

The Occultist looked absolutely astounded. "By the Princes... he did it." The three onlookers went over to congatulate him, but they noticed he looked... unwell, perturbed even. Vidalia approached him, asking softly "Mister C... are you okay?" The Collector turned to her... and keeled over, spilling blood over the setts. Vidalia jumped back in shock. "Help me get him to the ambulence," she pleaded desperately "NOW!!"

Chapter 8: Reunion

The next couple of minutes for the Collector were blury at best. As he faded in and out of conciousness as he was rushed to the hospital, he half-hallucinated the Gargoyle, talking to him. "Well, you did it." He said. "You got the book, and now you're in the back of an ambulence, talkin to someone banished from the waking world. I hope it were worth it." The Collector didn't respond. "Whasamatter, too tired to talk?" the Gargoyle mocked. The Collector still didn't resspond. The Gargoyle, miffed that he didn't get a reaction from him, simply said "I'll let you get some rest. You'll need it, especially considerin' you'll likely be gettin' a visit from Archie." The Collector's vison faded to black, as he lost conciousness.

Vidalia paced in the hospital waiting room nervously, biting her nails. She was scared. If the Collector died, she could be out of a job. Either that, or she would have to become the new Collector, as she was his apprentice. She found both prospects equally terrifying. Suddenly, Anthony burst in to the waiting room. "I got your call," he said to Vidalia, "Is everything alright?" Vidalia explained to anthony "It's your dad, he... he did some weird spell, the 'Black Mantra' or something like that..." Upon hearing this, Anthony appeared distressed. "That old fool..." He whispered under his breath. Vidalia asked "Are you alright?" Antony took a deep breath, and said "I'm fine. Did you call my siblings?" Jill responded "Oh, you mean Jack and Jill? Not yet. I wanted to see how you reacted first. I'll go call them-" But Anthony quickly stopped her "But what about the twins?" Vidalia was puzzled. Antony simply said "Ah, I see. I'll go make some calls." Before he left, Vidalia ask Anthony "Just for the record, how many brothers and sisters do you have?" Anthony smirked and said "Just those four, I assure you."

A few minutes after Anthony had left to call his siblings, Doctor Peste came into the waiting room. Vidalia asked him, fearing the answer "How is he?" The Doctor replied "Stable, thank whatever Gods may be. We've managed to stop most of the bleeding, and we've managed to repair most of his ruptured organs." Anthony returned, asking the Doctor the same question. "As I've said to your girlfriend here-" Vidalia and Anthony, upon hearing the word 'girlfriend', they then proceeded to profusely deny the accusation, adding the fact that they barely knew each other. The Doctor, rolling his eyes in disbelief, said "Yes, yes, whatever. Anyway, your father is critical, but stable. He's just through here." He then led them to The Collector, who was a sorry sight to behold, and gave them privacy.

He was extremely pale, and flecks of blood stained what was left of his beard, which had to be shorn off to get as his chest and abdomen, now were now covered in bandages to protect the incisions beneath and soak up most of the blood. He was attached to a great many drips and machines, all of them keeping him alive in some way or another, and was surrounded by many magical artifacts doing the same. He did not look himself in thge slightest.

Upon seeing the Collector, Vidalia's hands fluttered uncharacteristically up to her face, and Anthony almost collapsed, catching himself on the door frame. Vidalia murmured "Oh God" Anthony responded "I know... he spent centuries growing that beard, and now..." He couldn't bear to finish the sentence. Vidalia gave him an odd glance, but respectfully kept quiet.

After a while, two foreboding figures entered, one of a towering posture, the other discreet and tenebrous.

The towering one wore black robes of arcane authority and a black, glistering chestplate with matching pauldrons, and an exceptionally fearsome helm with terrible horns from some grand beast that hid their face. This being was quite clearly immensly powerful, though it leaned upon a staff which it apparently needed to walk, which it did with a limp. The staff itself was not just a walking stave or badge of office, but a powerful magic artifact, as Vidalia could feel the magic from it throbbing on her skin. This person, whoever it was, was an immensely formiddable battlemage.

The other figure was hunched over, as if trying to keep a low profile. They also wore a cloak with a hood, and the face was concealed by a black scarf and a pair of shaded goggles. The person wore black leather armour, which revealed a feminine figure, and she also had a series of belts and straps fitted with several pouches and purses and a dagger on the shoulder. She also had a dagger in a sheath at her waist, and likely had one or two concealed elsewhere, such as up her sleeve or in her boots, or in unsavoury places that are impolite to mention. Other than the daggers, the only other weapon she had was a crossbow of duergar make, with bolts tipped with adamantite. Whover this person was, she was clearly a roguish character.

Vidalia began to feel a sense of dread around both of these characters, when Anthony approached them and said "You got here quicker than I expected." Vidalia then quickly realised these were the aforementioned 'Twins'. The battlemage took of its -or, rather, her- helm, revealing a neatly combed head of blonde hair and explained "I was actually on my way here when you called." The roguish one lowered her hood, revealing a shock of long black hair, took off her mask and goggles, and asked "How's father doing?" Anthony responded "He's pretty worse for wear, but Peste says he'll be alright." They both sighed with relief, and then noticed Vidalia. "Who's she?" the battlemage asked. "Hmm? Oh, this is Vidalia," Anthony explained "She's dad's apprentice." Vidalia meekly waved. Anthony then introduced Vidalia to his sisters"Vidalia, these are my twin sisters, Millicent and Elizabeth." Millicent hobbled towards Vidalia and shook her hand. "Millicent, as in Archmagus Millicent of the Magicians University of Storm Rock?" Millicent smiled. "The very same." She said "I feel magical prowess within you. If you ever wish to hone your skills to a razor's edge, come to Storm Rock. We always have a place for any novice magician." Diptera nodded in thanks, and her hand was quickly grabbed by Elizabeth, who shook it vigourously.

"Pleased to meet your aquaintence, Vidalia. Heard plenty about you from dad" said Elizabeth enthuisastically, who then leaned in and whispered "If you ever need anything doing that's... well 'less than legal' shall we say, just give me a ring, and we'll talk business." She then slipped Vidalia a business card. "Word of advice;" she said, smiling slyly "Don't call the cops on me. Won't work." Vidalia was unsure if that was a threat or a word of advice, and decided to keep it that way. She- and everyone else, for that matter -then noticed the abscence of Jack and Jill. Vidalia was about to mention this, when they heard a commotion from the hospital waiting room, only to find Jill pinning Dr Peste to the wall by his throat while Jack and several nurses attempted to pull her away.

Jill was quite visibly upset. Her face was twisted in a grimace of sorrow and rage, her eyes were blazing with misdirected anger, and tears were streaming down her face. She screamed at the doctor "Give me one reason why I shouldn't drain you of blood right here, ONE FUCKING REASON!!!" The doctor, who was currently being choked out by one of the most powerful vampires on Lucem, was unable to answer, so Jack said "Because he's the one who's stopping dad from being put six feet under!" This answer seemed to suffice for Jill, who dropped the gasping doctor, and then turned her attention to Vidalia.

Without so much as a warning, Jill ran up to Vidalia with unnatural speed, and held her aloft by her throat. Vidalia could feel Jill's nails digging ino her throat. "Why didn't you stop him?!" Jill asked, sobbing profusely. Vidalia found herself unable to answer, partially because her windpipe was being crushed, but also because of the immense guilt she now felt. Jack, Anthony and the twins rushed to Vidalia's aid, but Jill proved impossible to pry off. She only removed herself from Vidalia's throat to collapse into jacks arms. Vidalia's guilt increased immensly, and began tearing up herself.

A few minutes later, everything had calmed down significantly. Jill was asleep in a chair, her face still stained with tears. Vidalia had recovered from the strangulation she had endured. Anthony approached Vidalia to sk if she was alright, to which she responded "Yeah... I'm fine. Is Jill okay?" Anthon smiled weakly. "She'll be fine" he said. "I gotta ask," Vidalia enquired "why was Jill so... y'know..." Anthony sighed "Well, you how my father performed the Black mantra once before?" Vidalia nodded "Yeah... why'd he do it the first time?" Anthony was hesitant, but eventually said "He... unsuccessfuly... tried to ressurect our mother."

Vidalia din't really know what to say, but she eventually said "I'm sorry." Anthony merely shrugged, saying "I can't see why. After all, it wasn't you that killed her." Anthony than realised he was being somewhat rude, and said  "But... thanks anyway, I suppose." He then continued with his story. "Anyway, my father tried to ressurect my mother for Jill's sake. She was only fourteen at the time, and she was affected by her death the most. Father couldn't bear to see my sister in such a state, and nearly drove himself mad looking for a way to ring her back. He then stumbled upon that mantra, those horrible words in that ancient toungue..." Anthony choked back tears. Vidalia asked "Are you alright?" Anthony wiped his eyes and said "I'm fine... I'm fine." He continued with his story. "Back then, medical sciences weren't as advanced, and healing spells occasionally come at a cost to the caster..." Vidalia, surprised, said "I didn't know that." 

Millicent, who was eavesdropping on the conversation, said "Oh, you needn't worry. Most times, when a spell backfires, it only causes a rash or burn, but near death..." Millicent glanced at Jill, specifically her mechanical arm. Vidalia was mortified. "You mean... an entire arm? Just like that?" Millicent shook her head. "Not quite..." she said, revealing her horrifically festering leg, which came with a most horrendous smell "It festers something terrible." Vidalia and Anthony almost puked at both the sight. "That's the last time I test a spell created by a first year. Anyways, as you were saying, Tony." Anthony glared at his younger sister. "Don't call me that. You know I hate it." He then directed his attention back to Vidalia, so he could finish his story. "Anyway, Jill realised that one parent was better than none, and she didn't particularly want to lose any more limbs, so she did her best to get over mother's death."

"Ah my little Jill," The Collector said, who had since recovered from his near-death experience, "She's a real trooper."

Jill rose from her slumber, rubbing the sleep and tears from her eyes. When she was fully awake, she saw her father, bloody and broken...

But drawing breath.

She got up, and gave her father a hug, slamming into him with much force, sending immense pain through his body, not that he showed it much. Anthony was about to scold his sister, but the Collector raised his hand, as if to say 'not now'. After a few minutes of hugging, the Collector said "Alright, sweetie, that's enough, daddy has some important things to do." Vidalia scoffed "Yeah, I don't think so, Mr C." The Collector vehemently denied "I have no idea what you are talking about! I'm perfectly fine, I've never felt so good in years!" Millicent looked at her father and said "Dad, I'm in better shape than you, and my leg is rotting away." The Collector responded "Millicent! It's been too long. Is Elizabeth here too? What's the matter with your leg?" Millicent chucled "Never mind my leg, you've got to get some rest! Go on, back to bed!" But still the Collector refused, saying "Absolutely not! We have things to, do we not, Vidalia?" Vidalia was about to tell him to go back to bed, but then she remembered.

"Oh crap." She said to herself "The big meeting." "Precicely!" Exclaimed the Collector "And now I've got even more to do! I have to wash up, get dressed, comb my- oh wait, my beard's mostly gone, but nonetheless, I must *cough* get to *splutter* that-" The Collector fell into a violent coughing fit, which ended with him saying "Well, shit."  Anthony then had an idea. "What if I went in your stead?" He asked. The Collector sighed, and responded "That's a fine idea, my boy, but I very much doubt you know what the meeting is about." Vidalia piped up, saying to Anthony "I know pretty much everything about the meeting, so I could get you up to speed." The Collector sighed, again, and said "Well, that's that, I suppose. Shame, I was really looking forward to meeting Oberon again."

Anthony looked intimidated. "King... Oberon? High king of the Avalonic Kingdoms?" He asked meekly. "Oh yes, and King Ephrimus of the Moonscar Confederation, likely to be accompanied by his daughter, Salirus." Said the Collector, who continued  "And of course, our great King Quartz will be in attendance. Not to mention a great many other nobles" Anthony gulped. "I... see" He said, his voice almost visibly trembling. "I suppose I'd better get cleaned up, have a wash, get that new suit from Jack... Where is he, by the way?"

"Right here, with your sister." Said a peeved off Dr Peste, dragging with him a very guilty looking Jack, and a poker-face Elizabeth. The Collector rolled his eyes and asked "What did they do this time?" Dr Peste explained "I caught them swiping pudding cups from the canteen." Jack simply looked down, while Elizabeth vehemently defender herself and her brother, saying "Absolute slander! Utter fabrication! Absolute falsification! Total lie! You have no proof!" A pudding cup then fell from her pocket. "Alright," She admitted "Fair cop, I guess. Take us away." Jack looked at her in horror, and began struggling, exclaiming  "I am not going to fucking prison!" Anthony then got the attention to the Doctor and said "Look, I'll pay for the cups, how much is it?" The Doctor said "They took 7 dollars worth of cups." Anthony gave Doctor Peste a dirty look, partially because he didn't particularly like the Doctor, but mostly because the doctor was upset over 7 Necropolis dollars worth of cups. Nevertheless, he shelled out the money.

"Cheers for that, Anthony." Jack said. "We owe you one"  Anthony replied "Yeah, you bet your arses you owe me. Oh, by the way Jack, is that new suit ready?" Jack nodded. "And a bunch of other outfits, too" He added. "Perfect," Anthony said "I'll pick them up in a bit. Right now, I need a wash, and to brush my teeth, and do various other things to improve my hygene." Jack looked at his brother, and said "Only problem is, you don't have a place to do all those things, do you?" Anthony shook his head. Vidalia quickly said "You can crash with me, if you like." Anthony, who was a little out of touch with the modern world, was confused by Vidalia's choice of words. Jack quickly whispered to him "She's saying you can stay with her." Anthony replied "Cheers, Jack." He then turned his attention towards Vidalia and said "You're much too kind. I can't thank you enough-"

Vidalia raised her hand. "No need," She said "Now, come on, meeting's in 45 minutes, and we've a LOT to go over."

Chapter 9: The Meeting of the Three High Kings

Vidalia and Anthony were walking down the street, discussing the meeting.

"So, to recap;" Anthony said "This Seven-sealed book, which is somehow the key to stopping The Lamb, can only opened by The Lamb itself, or by this Charlie girl, because she's the so-called 'Lion of Judah'?" Vidalia nodded and said "That's just about it." Anthony then said "So, how do I convince the three most powerful royal families, along with many other high ranking nobles, that I'm not a frothing lunatic?" Vidalia looked Anthony up and down, and said "Well, first, you gotta get cleaned up. Come on, my place is just ahead." They soon found themselves at the entrance of a ritzy apartment building known as 'Erebus Suites' which was famous for it's high cost, and being home to many celebrities, and even the Collector once lived in the penthouse suite. "You live here?" Anthony asked in clear disbelief. "Don't get too exited, I don't have such a great view." As they walked in, the doorman, an ogre with a pleasant disposition by the name of Thorstan greeted Vidalia, you returned the greeting in the form of a casual salute. Anthony simply nodded.

"So, which floor are you on?" Anthony asked. Vidalia responded "The basement." Anthony was slightly taken aback by this comment. "Come again?" He asked in shock. "I said I didn't have a great view!" Vidalia said, chuckling. "Now come on, you ain't gonna get washed by standing there. My place is down here." Vidalia then led Anthony to a rather unassuming looking door. "Home sweet home" Vidalia muttered, partially to herself, as she unlocked the door. The doorman then came to Vidalia, and handed her a flat, rectangular package with a maroon fleur-de-lis design. "Delivery  for you, miss Vidalia" The doorman said. Vidalia turned to Anthony, and said "Feel free to make yourself at home, bathroom's first on the left." Anthony replied "Thanks" and made his way inside. Vidalia redirected her attention to the Doorman and asked "Who is it from?" The doorman then looked for a return address on the package, and failing to do that, said "Not sure, but some shady feller delivered it, asked for it to go straight to you." Vidalia looked at the package and instantly realised who it was from. "Thanks, Thorstan." Vidalia then handed the Doorman a generous tip. "Oh, very kind of you miss!" He then put the tip into his pocket and went back to his post.

Vidalia went into her apartment with the somewhat large package. "It's for you." She said to Anthony, who shouted from the bathroom "What's for me?" Vidalia answered "The package, it's from Jack and Jill. Contains all your clothes." Anthony shouted "Ah, wunderbar. Just leave it outside the bathroom door, I'll be out in a bit." Vidalia left the package outside the bathroom, and went to watch some TV. After a couple of minutes, Anthony came out of the bathroom, clean and wearing a bespoke, three-piece suit. His hair, once grey with ash, was now black, save for a streak of white. He asked "How do I look?"

Vidalia glanced at Anthony, and fell of the couch in astonishment. She then quickly got up, and said "I- uh- You look good- I mean nice- I mean-" Anthony finished her sentence, saying "Ready for a meeting?" Vidalia said "Uh, yeah.. yeah." Anthony then clasped his hands together and said "Well then, let me just find somewhere to the rest of my things, and then we'll be off." Vidalia said "Hey, I have a spare trunk, you can use that." She then went into her room and, after making sure the door was closed, pulled her hat over her face and screamed into it. After a few seconds of this, she regained her composure, and found the medium sized trunk.

"Alright," Said Vidalia, carrying the trunk over her shoulder "I have the trunk right here. Should be big enough to- are you alright?" Anthony sat cross-legged on the floor, wearing a sombre expression. He was holding a very familiar looking billycock.

"This is dad's hat." He said. "Came with a note." Anthony handed Vidalia the note, which read:

Anthony, by the time you read this, I will likely have fallen uncounscious, possibly even fallen into a coma. Do not worry, it's not my first time, and it shan't be the last. Do not fret, my boy. Since you will be going to that meeting in my stead, I wish for you to have this hat, as a symbol of your own inate strength. Until I get well, or my demise, however long that takes, you and you alone will be the Collector.

Yours truly,

Salvador Darkest

P.S. No, Vidalia, you cannot wear the hat

Vidalia was shocked to read this. The Collector barely acknowledged his own pain, so reading that he could possibly die unerved her. She looked at Anthony; he looked even worse, his face an expression of terror, hopelessnes, and a hint of melancholy.

"What am I to do, Vidalia?" Anthony asked, his voice barely above a whisper, and trembling ever-so-slightly. "How am I to take up my father's mantle? We haven't even talked in nearly 100 years!" At this point Vidalia was getting a tad annoyed. She had little patience for whining, but as she had only known Anthony for less than a day, she wasn't comfortable for punching him in the face yet. Instead she got him a drink of something alcoholic. "Here," She said, handing Anthony a tankard of dark-coloured, strong smelling liquid. Anthony, clearly hesitant to drink the substance, asked "What... is this?" Vidalia merely smirked and said "That don't matter right now. What does matter, is that you drink it." Anthony, figuring that it's probably not going to get much worse, downed the stuff in one gulp, and immediately regretted it as the alcohol burned his throat as strong alcohol tends to do.

After he had stopped coughing, Vidalia snarkily asked "Rough, ain't it?" Anthony, his face covered in sweat and tears, in a tone of someone betayed, asked "Why?" Vidalia answered "Two reasons: Reason one, you were whining, and I HATE whining; Reason two, If I were in your position, I would need a drink as well." She then pulled Anthony to his feet and told him "Look, I know everything seems pretty shitty right now, and truth be told, it is. But if there's one thing your dad taught me, it's that when you're faced with a bad situation, with no way out, the best thing to do is have a stiff drink, and go into that situation face-first." She poured herself a small shot of the store-bought homebrew, downed it, and then picked up the Collector's bowler hat, offering it to Anthony. "So, you wanna make your old man proud?" Anthony let a smug, audacious grin take over his face, and he took the hat from Vidalia, placing it upon his own head.

"You know it." He said. "Now, let's go to a meeting."

When they reached the hall, Vidalia almost lost her nerve. There were many nobles, royals, aristocrats and VIPs from all over Lucem had gathered here, mostly because they had nothing better to do. The Fears, that is, the ones that weren't missing, in hiding, or dead, had also congregated outside the city hall. As Vidalia and Anthony approached, the chattering coming from the VIPs stopped, and the Fears, who were silently waiting for the two, turned their heads towards them in tandem. "I hate it when they do that." Vidalia said, trying not to look any of them in the eye, or the space where eyes should be. "You get used to it." Anthony replied, as thay walked past them and onto the steps to make an announcement to the croud.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention please." They already had his attention, so he continued "I'm afraid I must ask you to wait some time longer. My associate Vidalia will tell you when the meeting is ready." Anthony then went into City Hall, to make sure that everything was set up. As he entered the meeting room, he saw three figures, staring out of the window, onto the City of Necropolis.

They were Quartz Stonfire, Oberon Avalaas, and Ephrimus Brinnemagus, the Three High Kings of Utima Thule.

They turned around, and Quartz said "Ah, about time." Oberon and Ephrimus both looked confused, as they were expecting The Collector's son, not this spindly, pale, almost unnatural looking fellow. Ephrimus said "I thought we were expecting Sal's boy." Quartz pointed at Anthony and said "There he stands." Anthony bowed respectfully, knowing full well that it wouldn't alter their opinion of him. Anthony then asked "So, are we ready?"

Anthony was about to answer, but then there was a loud... noise, or something that sounded like a noise, from outside, followed by a lot of screaming and yelling. Vidalia and Charlie ran in, and Vidalia said "I think we're gonna have to cancel the meeting." Anthony sighed and said "Damn. Where is it all kicking off?" Vidalia responded "The docks, I think. I saw these weird... freaks... down there." Charlie said "Oh great, the Order's here." The Kings, who were completely perplexed as to what the hell was going on, simply stared at the three. Charlie turned to them and said "I'll explain on the way, m'lords."

Chapter 10: The Final Battle, Finally!

The streets were abandonned. The entire city, really. Most of Necropolis had been temporarilly relocated to Mount Duervon, at the request of The High King. Those who remained, remained to fight. The combined armies of The Necropolis Dominion, The Avalonic Kingdoms, and The Moonscar Confederation, fighting against a nihilistic, body horror inflicting, apocolypse cult. They did not focus and the thing on the horizon. They knew what it was, but they did not focus an it.

The three High Kings stood at the front line. They saw the Templar Cardinal, the leader of this abhorrent religion.

[To be continued]