The elevator door pinged as it opened into Barbara Cunningham’s Park Avenue apartment. He stepped forth, the
heels of his dress shoes slipping on the checkered marble floor as he met himself in a large mirror. An elegant dresser stood before it, a bouquet of tulips upon it emitting a pleasant fragrance.
‘’Aiden!’’ Barbara Cunningham’s voice came over the din of conversation in the background. She extricated herself from
a small group that stood at the entrance to her sitting room and clickity-clacked across the floor to him. They met under the crystal chandelier as she gave him a restrained hug and a single kiss
on the cheek. ‘’How good of you to join us,’’ she smiled when she pulled back. She wore a deep green evening gown with a red ruby brooch on her chest, her blonde hair pulled up in a bun.
‘’Thank you for inviting me,’’ Aiden murmured, aware of all the people trying to steal glances at him over Barbara’s
‘’But of course,’’ She gave a hungry smile. ‘’Come, there’s so many people you simply must meet.’’ She told him and
led him deeper into her apartment.
Guests mingled about with flutes of champagne in their hands, moving about her long sitting room, the tables swathed
in white linen holding every treat their hearts could desire; caviar and oysters, macarons and small cakes, olives and steak tartare.
He tried to place the faces of the people he passed. Calypso gave him a list that held the who’s who of Manhattan’s
elite. She thought up the exercise because Aiden had been driving himself in anticipation of tomorrow's engagement and after an entire week of fretting and anxious pacing, Aiden did not fight too
hard when she commanded that he get out of his apartment and give his worries a rest for the evening.
They navigated the little groups of guests and the waiters that slalomed among them straight to the man Aiden
remembered from the Initiation Ceremony. Christopher Lancing, one of the Three Priests. His tuxedo only exacerbated his gaunt appearance. The suit looked as if it hung off a hanger and
combined with the thin strip of grey hair combed back, the man looked terribly sick.
‘’Christopher,’’ Barbara caught his attention. ‘’Look who I’ve found.’’
‘’Ah, young Mr. de Clare!’’ he smiled, showing two rows of cigarette-yellow teeth. ‘’How are you, my boy?’’
‘’Very well, sir, thank you.’’
‘’And June I believe you know.’’ He gestured to the young woman next to him.
‘’Yes – Of course, hello, June.’’ Aiden gave an awkward nod.
‘’And you, Mr. de Clare.’’ A slight smile played upon her lips, as though she was privy to a joke Aiden had missed.
Barbara leaned towards her and whispered, ‘’Doesn’t he look dashing?’’
June nodded but her expression suggested she reveled in his embarrassment. Aiden had never looked dashing a day in his
life. His pointed nose and non-existent lips did not permit it, though a tailored tuxedo and a two-hundred-dollar haircut brought him close.
‘’Nervous about the engagement tomorrow?’’ June plucked a glass of champagne from a waiter’s tray without ever
taking her eyes off him.
‘’A little bit,’’ he
‘’I’m sure. I was a wreck the night before my first time.’’
Barbara spared him the hassle of coming up with an answer when she said, ‘’Oh, the Dilcom’s are here,’’ and sped away.
Mr. Lancing gave June a side-long glance and she followed, though with some reluctance.
‘’I heard you dealt with Wilshire most decisively.’’ Lancing mused as he walked to the back of the room, where a group
of bankers sat before the fire and talked in low voices.
‘’You could call it that, yes.’’ He lied as Lancing opened the door to the balcony and they stepped into the cool
evening air. A gentle breeze glided through their hair and the stars shone in the sky above them. Lancing walked to the corner of the balcony where a statue sat upon a stone banister.
‘’One of your father’s old friends, I wager?’’ he turned back to Aiden.
‘’Father took over his family company in the eighties. Fired everyone and sold it off in pieces.’’
‘’That’ll get you an enemy for life,’’ Lancing huffed in understanding. ‘’Your father would’ve been proud to see you
fend him off.’’
‘’Have you ever employed methods like that?’’ Aiden asked, running his fingers over the rough stone of the banister.
His eyes, dark in the night, turned away from the view of the city. ‘’Early in my life, yes. Right after I inherited.
I thought I needed to prove I was willing to slit a few throats to keep others at bay.’’ He grimaced as he rubbed his chin.
‘’Do you regret it?’’
Lancing gave him a thoughtful look. ‘’Tell me, Mr. de Clare, if Louis the Fourteenth, the Sun King of France himself,
returned to life right here before us and learned of the kind of lives we lead, what would he say?’’
Aiden laughed. ‘’That he was born too early.’’
‘’At the very least,’’ Lancing chuckled. ‘’We fly around the world at will, own everything a man could ever wish for,
and don’t even have to fight wars to keep it. It’s a mark of how civilized the world’s become that billionaires aren’t getting gunned down in the streets every week by their hungry competitors.’’
‘’The world might not be as brutal as it used to be, but we still have to show our fangs every once in a while if we
mean to survive.’’ He put his hand on Aiden’s shoulder. ‘’I can see you are a very conscientious young man, but I’m afraid there are certain realities you will have to
‘’And this engagement tomorrow that the Archon told me about? Is that one of those realities?’’ He cocked his head.
‘’I’m afraid that’ll be barely the beginning,’’ Lancing said and patted him on the shoulder.
He left Aiden alone with his thoughts, his footsteps sounding his retreat back inside. He’s not wrong, he
thought as he faced the view. Aiden didn’t know a thing about managing money. He’d run a pseudo-company before, but that had been a small operation and all its advantages came from his willingness
to break the law. He knew nothing about the New York Stock Exchange or its pitfalls. When Calypso first slid his billion-dollar portfolio across the table to him, he decided to play it safe; it was
his only chance of preserving the fortune ten generations of de Clare’s had built up. He hadn’t abused drugs in years, refused to use his money to chase girls on principle, and had no great love
for expensive toys. I’d say the odds are about fifty-fifty.
In the years before he came to New York, he chased his satisfaction in achievements, in cheating the system. He’d
started off dealing coke to all the rich kids who didn’t want to deal with shady characters to get their hands on the powder. He used a bar on a popular promenade in the city center as his base of
operations and bought a share of it when the owner’s gambling problems got him in trouble. Gambling problems Aiden himself exacerbated.
It had taken off from there. He and Jason had sabotaged all their competition in any way they could; paying off health
inspectors to declare other bars unsanitary, hiding drugs in their back rooms, and calling the cops with anonymous tips. They even burned down their main competitor; the man who owned it proved
impervious to all other measures. And that’s when it all went to shit.
They messed with the wrong man. The owner of the bar was the cousin of a local gangster. Despite everything that
happened afterward, Aiden still thought back on those times with some fondness; he had never felt more alive than when they’d gone after what they wanted, spitting in the face of law and order.
The law was made to handicap the wimps, they had laughed. They weren’t wrong, but they weren’t right either.
The ruthless, by-any-means necessary approach to life resulted in what anyone but Aiden could have predicted. Blood on the concrete.
‘’So you’re the new Prince of New York?’’ came a voice from behind.
He spun around, an acidic remark at the tip of his tongue. It died a quick death when he saw the face of his would-be
victim. She wore a form-fitting black dress, her brown hair cascading down her back in thick curls. I’ve seen that face before. The full cheeks, the smooth features, and the red lipstick
that shone in gentle contrast to her brown skin. ‘’What?’’ He breathed and took in the scent of her lavender perfume.
‘’And so eloquent...’’ she chuckled as she glided to him. ‘’The girls must be going wild.’’
Aiden chuckled and scratched the back of his head. ‘’Uh, not quite.’’
‘’Oh? Such a pity,’’ she held out her hand, clad in long gloves that stretched to her elbows. ‘’Myra Rollins, a
pleasure to meet you.’’
‘’The pleasure is mine,’’ he shook her limp hand.
‘’I expected you to kiss it.’’ she smiled. ‘’Has the age of chivalry truly come to an end?’’
Aiden ducked his head to hide his burning face and shrugged, his hand scrambling to find his champagne glass so he
might hide behind it. ‘’I suppose I’m not its greatest champion.’’
‘’Something to work on, I think,’’ she nodded to herself. ‘’So what brings you to this balcony all alone? Pondering
the mysteries of life? Or merely escaping the hungry eyes of the trust-fund babies?’’
‘’Saying stuff like that must make you popular.’’ He murmured as he watched her move.
‘’Oh, I only say that to you. You’re not one of them – not yet, anyway – so I’m trusting your discretion in this
matter.’’ She bit her lip to keep from laughing.
Why is she talking to me? ‘’That’s quite a risk,’’ he replied after a period of silence that stretched a
second too long.
‘’I like to take risks,’’ she ran a hand through her hair. ‘’Otherwise I get bored quickly.’’
‘’So, what are you planning to do with your money?’’ she asked, tapping her chin with her finger as she examined him.
‘’You say that a lot, don’t you?’’ she walked around him, her eyes glued to his face. ‘’You heard what I said. Most
expect you to drown in prostitutes, drugs, and booze, but I’m guessing if you meant to do that, you’d have gotten started by now. Others think you’re some radical with great political aspirations,
and so on, and so on. I got tired of guessing so I decided to come and ask.’’
‘’Uh...’’ What did he plan to do with his money? Give some of it away, sure, but what else? ‘’I don’t know.’’ He
hadn’t thought about money since the day he learned of the Order and the Methods.
‘’You don’t know?’’ she repeated. ‘’Well, that’s disappointing.’’
‘’What did you expect?’’ he drained the last of his drink.
‘’Some grand plan, I suppose. Something dramatic.’’
‘’Oh, so he does have a tongue!’’ she exclaimed in delight. ‘’Welcome to the party, so kind of you to join us.’’
Aiden nodded with a blank look. ‘’Anything else?’’
‘’Oh,’’ she pouted. ‘’you’re no fun.’’
‘’I guess not.’’ Aiden crossed his arms. ‘’So how did I come to deserve so much attention from the great Myra
‘’Curiosity, I suppose.’’ she straightened out and turned to him. ‘’And I wanted to see if you figured it out yet.’’
‘’Figured what out?’’ He frowned.
She sighed and made a show of her disappointment. ‘’I’ll take that as a no.’’
Creating a bit of mystery in the hopes that I’ll keep digging? Aiden’s shoulders eased then and a patronizing
smile came onto his face. ‘’Fine, then, keep deflecting.’’ He said, grabbed his empty glass and made to go back inside. ‘’Just know it encourages me to assume the worst.’’
He kept his ears pricked in case she called him back, but she did nothing of the sort. Rather retreat than reveal
her game. That was fine by him. She’d have to circle back to him sooner or later if she had a plan in mind. So he opened the glass door and stepped back inside Barbara’s drawing-room; his eyes
passed over the guests in search of a familiar face.
‘’Aiden!’’ he heard Eddie’s voice. He drew a lot of eyes, and the murmur conversation paused for a second as people
watched him cross the room to the youngest of his new friends.
‘’Eddie,’’ he grinned as he shook his hand. ‘’How are you?’’
‘’Good, good,’’ he tugged at the collar of his tux, his hair combed back and shining with oil. ‘’You?’’
‘’Well enough,’’ he grabbed him by the shoulder and led him to the side, away from prying ears. ‘’What do you know
about Myra Rollins?’’
‘’The Instagram influencer?’’ Eddie frowned in thought. ‘’You met her?’’
‘’She’s on the balcony outside. Why?’’
‘’That one’s dangerous, Aiden. You should be careful.’’
It only piqued his interest; he’d never heard of an Instagram influencer being referred to as ‘dangerous’.
‘’Anyway,’’ Eddie continued and looked around the room. ‘’I’ve never asked you; what made you want to become a history
Where did that come from? ‘’I like history, there’s nothing to tell.’’
Eddie hummed. ‘’Because you love books, or because you wanted to hide behind them?’’ At Aiden’s impatient look, he
smiled and said, ‘’Want to do something worth reading about?’’
‘’Depends,’’ he replied in a voice of caution, though he itched to know more. Surely if Eddie’s doing it, it can’t
be too bad.
‘’They say Barbara keeps a little treasure hidden in this apartment,’’ he said and took a sip before he continued. ‘’I
want to find it.’’
‘’What kind of treasure?’’
But Eddie was already moving and Aiden followed. Too many of the guests showed signs of a planned approach, and I
want to see what he’s talking about. They exited through the side door and came into a dimly lit hallway that ran along the sitting room. Aiden saw the entrance into the dining room next to
the staircase leading to the second floor, but Eddie took them to the right. ‘’Here,’’ he said as he approached the door on the left side of the corridor.
He fished a keychain out of his pocket along with a diamond ring. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and Aiden
felt a stirring in the air along with a faint whiff of an aroma he couldn’t quite place. Eddie pressed the diamond against the door, but nothing happened.
‘’That’s strange.’’ He brought out the key chain and tried half a dozen keys before he found the one. The lock
clicked, and the door swung open.
‘’Eddie, what was that?’’ he glanced back down the hallway, unnerved. ‘’Why do you have that ring?’’
‘’It’s not what you think,’’ Eddie murmured as they stepped inside and Aiden closed the door behind them. ‘’Just a
little trick I thought I figured out.’’ He gave a sheepish grin. ‘’I guess not.’’
The confusion gave way to barely concealed glee as he looked about the office. Then he remembered himself; Eddie
rushed to Barbara’s dark table and threw open one drawer after another. He went on to attack the bookshelves behind the desk and came up empty again. Barbara had a couple of cabinets on the left
side of her desk, but Eddie went for the closet in the right corner.
‘’Bingo,’’ he breathed. Aiden went to stand behind him and looked over his shoulder. A thick book sat open upon a
stand like some religious text, a piece of embroidered cloth beneath.
‘’What is this?’’
‘’The Book of Battles,’’ Eddie murmured, snatched the book from its stand, and carried it to the table where he could
examine it in the light.
‘’Why’d you bring me here?’’ Aiden asked as Eddie pulled out his iPhone, turned the book to page one, and
started taking pictures.
‘’To see if you’re a wimp or not,’’ he murmured, taking one picture after another. He looked up only to shoot Aiden a
grin and say, ‘’Glad to see you’re not.’’
Aiden cracked a smile. ‘’Tell me what this book is about, or I’ll scream.’’
‘’It’s the Book of Battles, Aiden,’’ Eddie chuckled as he kept taking pictures. ‘’Every battle between Order members
that’s been fought in the last two hundred years since the Cunninghams started keeping records, and some stories that go even further than that.’’
‘’They keep records... to learn from their mistakes? To remember winning strategies others forgot?’’ Aiden took an
involuntary step closer.
‘’You’re going to send all the pictures to me when you’re done.’’ He demanded.
Aiden walked back to the door and peered through the crack to see if anyone stood close by. ‘’If Barbara comes, we’re
screwed either way,’’ he murmured to himself. Maybe they could hide the book in time, but entering the office without her permission would be bad enough. They needed a second way out.
‘’How long do you think you’ll need?’’ he asked Eddie.
‘’This is a big book, man.’’ But he didn’t stop taking pictures for a moment. Good.
Vibrations can do a lot of interesting things, and while members of the Order don’t have the power to influence solid
matter, they can use vibrations to detect it. It is said a master could sit down in Times Square to meditate and become aware of every person and every object in New York City. From the Empire
State to the pin laying on the dusty floor of some apartment in Brooklyn.
Aiden hadn’t quite gotten that far yet, but he could scan his direct environment. He snapped his fingers once.
Barbara’s office sat in the northeast corner of the building. The wall behind the table and the wall to his right had nothing beyond them but empty air, so he focused on the other two. He snapped
his fingers again. The water flowing through the pipes, the static charge of the electrical wiring, and the steel beams that held the building together sang in his ears, but nothing beyond that.
‘’What’d you plan to do if Barbara caught you here?’’
‘’Say we stumbled into the room by accident.’’
‘’And that’s why you have her keys?’’
‘’I copied them one by one ages ago. If I said the door was unlocked, she’d have to believe me.’’
‘’Do you know what page the book was opened on?’’
Bolder than I thought, but not a complete idiot. He went to the window to see if they could use a ledge to
move around the outside of the apartment back to the balcony. That’s ridiculous.
‘’Don’t worry so much, Aiden, nothing will happen if we get caught,’’ Eddie told him, clicking away on his phone.
‘’Every Order member has the right to hoard information and every Order member has the right to steal it.’’
‘’What happens if you get caught?’’
‘’Barbara will discover she needs to update her security and thank us for it. But if we get away with it...’’ he gave
Aiden a sly look, full of promise.
‘’Sounds like we need a diversion, something to keep her from noticing we’re missing from the party.’’
‘’If you mess with the people to get them to do something crazy, she’ll know something’s up when they won’t be able to
explain it.’’ Yes, Eddie had a point. Forcing one of her guests to go ape-shit would give away the game.
But some things in life require no explanation. If one of her guests were to throw up over her Persian rugs,
that would be self-explanatory. Not one that’d be spoken out loud, but Barbara would know the reason when her guests took a collective step back from the food. That might piss her off,
though. A fainting spell could be another option.
No, I need an accident. And if it provided him with an alibi, all the better. ‘’You stay here, I’ll go start
some trouble.’’ He returned to the door and cracked it open. He peeked through the slit; a waiter crossed the hallway and hurried into the kitchen. The coast was clear. He slipped out and returned
to the sitting room. He spotted Barbara at the other end, by the entrance, still waiting to welcome the late arrivals.
He welcomed the approach of other guests this time. An older woman in a silver dress to match her hair came to speak
to him. She had an impressive collection of historical artifacts; she teased him with various pieces, though he couldn’t divine the reason why.
‘’Aiden!’’ Barbara approached him. She sent his companion a polite smile. He’d completely missed her crossing the
room. ‘’Where’d you lose Eddie?’’
‘’He went to the bathroom. He should be back soon.’’
‘’Oh, maybe I should go check on him,’’ she said. Suspicion clouded her brow, not concern.
Here we go. His eyes followed Barbara to the door. When she stepped through the threshold, he tapped his
finger against his thigh. A waiter carrying a tray of drinks lost his balance and slammed straight into a woman Aiden’s age.
A groan went through the guests as the glasses shattered on the floor. The girl looked down in shock and gasped for
breath as she staggered back.
Barbara returned in the blink of an eye. ‘’Catherine!’’ she exclaimed in dismay, and now Aiden moved forth with the
rest of the guests to surround her. ‘’I’m so sorry.’’
‘’It’s quite all right,’’ Catherine replied. She flicked her hands and sent drops of champagne flying across the
floor. ‘’But if you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to go home and change.’’
‘’What the hell happened here?’’ Eddie appeared at his side as Barbara offered a stream of apologies.
‘’Bit of clumsiness, I think.’’
‘’Such a shame,’’ Eddie murmured and looked at Aiden with a slight grin.
Aiden nodded in agreement. ‘’I expect you to mail me the photos before we leave.’’ He whispered.
Eddie ducked his head and rushed forth to offer his assistance to Barbara. Checking in. Clever. The woman
staggered from the room, and the party resumed. Aiden bit his lip. He’d forgotten these affairs could be quite fun.
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