The curious case of Arturo Nihm
William saw Inez for the first time in two years at an estate sale.

When he had met her, he had been entranced with her. He had been impressed and drawn in with all of those shitty moth-to-flame metaphors that he hated. Lambs to slaughter but not naïve enough. Cows to processing but not docile enough and not with the connotation of stupidity. William Holmes was an intelligent young man, yes, but he was one who lacked so long the ability to really understand what was good for him and what was bad for him. The centers of his brain understanding the risk/reward were, perhaps, not the most developed. Or perhaps he was a hedonist at heart. That was almost two years ago.

William Holmes is not the person he used to be, not entirely at least. He is, at least, a creature prone to nostalgia, prone to giving opportunities where there were not any that should have been given. She’d grabbed his wrist on the dance floor of a pop up rave and it was the feeling of raw hunger and flame. All flame, fiery heat and ravenousness. He knew what these things were now, wasn’t puzzling over who or what she was- still thought her possessed of some salamander while she thought of him more as an undine. Water and fire, these two, but they are neither a calm stream nor a warm fireplace.

A hurricane. An inferno.

He hadn’t been the one to seek her out, she came to him amidst a pair of tables holding some older books. He had inherited a library, or had the misfortune of becoming the caretaker of a fairly impressive one at Henry’s house. The old Jerbiton had taken the more interesting pieces with him- the pieces that William had been interested in but knew he probably shouldn’t touch on account of potentially being cursed or being actually cursed or being rare enough that some unscrupulous figure knowing that some no-name initiate was the only thing guarding them along with some fading wards would do little to deter would-be thieves.

Henry valued his student more than a few paltry trinkets. If William understood the value of those trinkets, he wouldn’t fault Henry Calliergi if he did value them more than his own life. Mr. Holmes understands the value of history, understands the value of artifacts and their power less but he would value preserving a history over himself any day- perhaps still unwilling to believe that he is part of that history. That he is destined for greatness by virtue of having a pulse and a steady beat in his being that insists I will not, I will not, I am more than this. I will be more than this.  But it was that desire to become more that had him frequenting every estate sale and mundane outlet in hopes of finding something that, perhaps, would be of some worth to him. Something worth having that he could barter away for a chance at a greater reward.

A popsicle for a Porsche, if you will.

It had little to do with Inez, of course, save for the fact that she can spot her own from a mile away (not Willworkers, but those who are hunting.) Save for the fact that she knew the look of combing through stacks only to find the scraps of a more experienced and privileged seeker.

“Elijah,” she called, perhaps too close to be calling so readily.
“William,” he corrected as he turned, found a familiar smirking face. Eyes still dark. Frame still honed for war.
“You told me a fake name?”
“Told you the one that I had at the time. Names change,” William replied with a grin.
“So I see,” she looked about for a moment before idly rubbing a rather simplistic silver bracelet whose inscription was nearly worn off. Muttered something under her breath and the world went quiet. The necessary security for them to have a frank conversation. “I wish I’d known you were with the Order before we had our last meeting, it may have gone a little differently.”
“What do you think pegs me as a Hermetic?”
“The importance of Names. The fact that I’ve seen you at these things for three months solid and we’re drawn to the same reading material.”
“Stalker, much?” he laughed, “what’s your house? Should I be making good with my best of introductions?”
“I’m a free agent,” she replies. Seems calm enough but he can see that it’s a sore spot. The way she says it clipped- William knew that not everyone made the cut during their apprenticeships, makes him even more surprised that he did and she- all war and infernos and intensity- did not. Would have pegged her as a Flambeau a mile away. “But I would like a working title to call you by.”
“Holmes,” he replies.
“William Holmes, very telling.”
“So’s Inez. Never planning on letting Garcin free?”
“Men will stay in Hell itself if it means getting the respect of a disdainful woman. I don’t abide by cowards.”
“It’s playing next month at a little theatre in Pueblo if you’d like to go,” William offers.
Inez laughs and, for once, it’s not as derisive as her namesake’s laughter. For once, she seems almost human and humane and he was unsure if he could trust it. Unsure if this was in her nature or some ploy. She smiles though, and he considers calling it genuine. Considers and decides to take her at face value.

He was a charming little bastard, she would give him that. She’d been watching, waiting. He was unaware that she had been waiting for an opportunity to make her proposition and she had been waiting to speak with him on a matter most important- the matter of a broken dagger that had gained her interest. He had no idea of how much she had grown to despise the young man and his crimes that led to her current predicament. That he had led to her utter shame by being nothing more than what she had intended for him to be. Something to be used and discarded like so many other sleepers save for one problem: he had not been a sleeper at all and her then-mentor had not looked kindly on the exploitation of an awakened mind of questionable stability.
Inez has prepared her whole life to be part of the Order like her father before her and his father before him and his mother before him for generations as long as she could remember. Surely, she’d soothed her wounds with trinkets and knowledge and a hoard fit for any dragon and yet the interactions with the young man- who she knew damned good and well was not worthy because he was fucking crazy and-
It was over shots that she decided to broach the topic lightly.
“Will,” she said, nearly drowned out by the hum at the bar, “how’s the hunt going?”
“It’s shit, I’ve hit a wall,” he grumbled. Knocked back the tequila and bit into an orange. Oranges and cinnamon instead of salt and limes, “only so far that you can trade up before people stop acting on nostalgia and I’m out of leads.”
“You know that you aren’t going to find ancient and forbidden knowledge in a shitty bar, right?” Inez teased.
“Doesn’t even get the job done these days, what’s the fun of punishing your liver if you can fix it?”
“Right?” she laughed, the comfortable sharpness that he’d come to appreciate, “how do you feel about charity?”
“Comes with strings and isn’t really charitable?”
“Smart lad, I see why they let you in,” Inez takes a second to sip her drink (she sips shots, who does that?) “there’s a guy- Arturo Nihm. I hear a rumor that he’s the owner of a pretty impressive collection. Bit of a recluse. On his last leg. Doesn’t even know half the things that he has.”
“You’re suggesting a bit of grave robbing?” William teased, doesn’t seem averse to the idea though. (Good.)
“It’s not grave robbing if you put it back,” she grins, “knowledge isn’t supposed to be holed away by some aging hoarder. It’s how we lost centuries of ancient knowledge. You don’t have to have the originals… but if you did bring something back, I’d be willing to pay for it.”
“How much?”
“There’s a silver dagger that the old man has. They’re something of a cultural icon that I wouldn’t mind having in my possession- I’d get it myself but me and Ars Spirituum don’t mix well. You bring it back? I’d be willing to pay thirty grand.”
William coughed, looking at her with wide eyes.
“You’re fucking with me, right?”
“No sir, I am not.”
“Where did you get thirty thousand fucking dollars?!”
“You’d be doing me the favor if you brought it back. The silver alone in the dagger is worth that- I’d be the one getting the deal.”
He looked at her for a moment, had to get his head screwed on straight because thirty thousand was a life changing amount of money. People don’t just throw around thousands of dollars unless it’s important. He’d picked up the subtle signs of wealth about her. The tendency for designer clothes. The nice car. The star ruby around her neck that was more red than the blood in his veins. He knew a natural gem when he saw it, he knew the subtle impressions people tried to give when he encountered them. There had to be some catch.
His silence was met with a hard look. A flare in temperature, the intensity that he remembered and the ire he had never seen- the fearsome nature of a woman built for war.
“You’re scared aren’t you?”
“It’s not that-“
“I knew it. I trusted you with something and you’re just too afraid to reach for it. I thought you were like me, I thought that you wanted better-“
“-I do want better than this-“
“-than those penny mystics in this Podunk city-“
“I just don’t have a good feeling-“
“It turns out that you’re just a coward like the rest  here-“
“I am not a coward,” he snapped. Hard, harsh, filled with the force and insistence and the power that said simply that this was enough. That he was speaking a fundamental truth, and being called a coward…
Inez slowed, regarded him distantly before she stood.
“Thirty thousand. Be more than words and be actions. You won’t be seeing me until you can back up that claim.”
She left the bar after that.

The gauntlet was thrown.

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