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Family Matters: The Society Book 4 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 22556

Updated: 2019-06-11 14:49

Chapter 5

Ivy resisted the urge to rejoin Alex in the library, knowing that he would let her know if he found any information on golems and that she needed to be easily found as she was the adhoc hostess of their group. Russell disappeared to complete some task of his own and promising to be back soon. She had no worry that he would avoid the kitchen as he found Nick oddly fascinating.

Nicos, or Nick as he was now called, had been friends with Ivy for years. He was, among many things, a gifted hacker. He could stroll through the electronic ether more easily than Ivy could stroll through a path in the park. He delighted in bypassing security codes, sneaking into places others thought were impenetrable and of course making sure his actions left not even a whisper of a trace behind.

Most of his skills were honed as he spent ears watching the people his father set to find him and his grandmother, keeping them safe and at least a few steps ahead of them. Ivy knew he took other jobs as well although he was very picky about who he worked for. She also knew he occasionally sold information as well, or at least traded it for information he needed. Ivy knew he had some sort of internal code however and trusted him not to give away her secrets. Occasionally, she asked him for assistance. Lately, however, he was the one needing her to find information for him.

Most of The Society, favored magical rather than technological means to achieve their ends and with the exceptions of electricity and central heat, tended to bypass most modern technological gadgets. Occasionally they could be convinced to use cell phones or e-mail, but the preference for rotary dial desk phones and letters by post remained the standard. It meant that most of their files were kept in an underground archives guarded by scary looking golems like Crush and Stab rather than in electronic databases protected by firewalls. This put them out of Nick's reach.

'But well within mine, ' Ivy thought. Winston waved away her offer of assistance with his early dinner preparation and Ivy poured herself a cup of coffee from the constantly filled pot and after fixing it the way she liked, sat down at the kitchen table.

Before her research was derailed by the recent attacks, Nick gave her a couple of names to look up. One was Irina's original name, which understandably changed after they went into hiding, and the name of his long dead grandfather. Ivy copied out the information, sent it along and hid the files before someone attacked her research assistant and began messing with her files and setting the vampire guard Vlad to attack her.

'I wonder if they figured out the details of Vlad's being set loose, ' Ivy mused as she sipped her coffee.

As Alex reminded her, golems tended to be held together by earth magic. While neither Alex nor Max, her two earth mage brothers, specialized in golems, Theodore apparently had as did Hamilton. 'In fact Hamilton's biggest source of pride are his life like golems.' Ivy thought.

She remembered her encounter with the receptionist outside of the council chamber the last time she was called to appear before them. He was so proud that she didn't immediately recognize that the receptionist was a golem and not a real flesh and blood person.

'Well flesh and blood, ' Ivy thought, remembering the disintegration of Marilyn and various fluids and unidentifiable lumps of meat she became. 'But not a person.' Ivy resolutely steered her thoughts away from the elements that went into creating a golem and where they came from. Some things she didn't need to know.

'The point isn't what they are made of, ' Ivy thought. 'It's that Hamilton is an expert. I am most decidedly not an expert on golems. So what problem could he want me to address? It makes no sense to call me.'

Knowing she wouldn't be able to figure that out until Thursday, Ivy's thoughts once again returned to Vlad. The golem was set to guard the entrance to the Vampire's archives. Its orders prohibited it from leaving its post. Yet leave it did.

'Someone tampered with it, ' Ivy thought. She tried to control the panic of her thoughts. The golem was designed to look like an extra-large version of the vampire in the old black and white film, Nosferatu. It was a film that gave Ivy nightmares as a child. Having an oversized version hissing the words 'Kill Ivy' while chasing her through the dark, underground halls of the archival level didn't dim those nightmares any. While that fear didn't visit her when she slept, it would occasionally creep up on her in her waking hours. One of the reason she stopped taking the pain killers is that they made the thoughts and fears harder to shift aside. The lack of control she felt while taking them left her feeling vulnerable. The pain was preferable.

She tried pushing the fear away, reminding herself the creature no longer existed, regardless of who controlled it and that she was sitting safe and sound in her kitchen, listening to Winston chop vegetables and sipping coffee. Her internal tremors retreated and she took a sip of coffee, letting the warmth of the up fill her.

When their group fought in the underground atrium, one of the people killed was an earth mage. He tried to fill her brother Danny's lungs with dirt while Danny, a water mage, tried to dehydrate him by causing all the water in his body to seep out of his pores, leaving him a dry desiccated husk. Danny won but she knew he still had nightmares about the fight. Ivy figured their mental injuries would take longer than their physical ones to heal.

Ivy wondered if Hamilton was just chalking Vlad's reprograming to a rogue earth mage with an unfathomable personal plot or if he was looking into a connection with the vampires. Three of them died that day as well. 'I wonder if it is coincidence that they tried to enact their plot on the same day as the Brotherhood invaded.' In general Ivy didn't believe in coincidences, but she couldn't really see the two groups working together. 'Maybe they were taking advantage of the same thing.'

Ivy sighed and took another sip of coffee. This wasn't a new thought. It circled many times through her mind as her body healed from its exertions. The only problem was that the only thing she knew that they had in common was her. While she didn't know why, the golem Vlad was sent after her she knew it wasn't attempting to kill the others. They were just in the way.

It kept repeating 'Kill Ivy' and coming after her barely paying attention to the others. She thought that was sort of a clue. The Brotherhood as well seemed to think she had their fearless leader Ron Corwin stuck in a dungeon somewhere and was trying to extract him from her clutches. She was fairly certain her presence had something to do with the timing of their attack.

'I hope they now believe I don't have him, ' Ivy thought. She also hoped they would stop their attacks. After Ron was killed and Nick siphoned their money away, making it look like Ron embezzled and fled, the organization seemed to crumble. Ivy didn't think they would disintegrate completely, hate groups tended to take a long time to die and this one, at least this version of this one, was going for at least a hundred years at this point. She doubted a little cash flow problem would take them out completely.

'But hopefully it will be someone else's problem for a while, ' she thought.

Even thinking about Vlad, Ivy's thoughts started to circle back to what sort of problem Hamilton was having with the golems and why he thought she could help. She nearly sighed with relief when Irina and Nick walked into the kitchen. Her brain was more than ready for a change of focus.

Ivy got a cup of coffee for Nick, and refilled her cup while she put on the electric kettle for Irina's tea. "We are going with straight black tea for the moment if that's okay with you, " she asked.

Irina chuckled. "I can see the wisdom of the precaution, " she said. "And I can only repeat that the effect was unintentional. I forgot the reaction the two natured can have to the herbs used to open a person for enhancing the sight. I hope I am not the reason that there is a decided lack of Shifters lurking about."

"They'll be back soon enough, " Winston said as he placed a plate of tea cakes on the table. "Tomorrow we refill the cookie jar so they'll be here bright and early."

"It is good to know I haven't caused any permanent damage, " Irina said. "Even if it is quieter this visit." She sighed heavily. "It was nice having so many men fighting over me."

Ivy smiled as Nick shook his head. The fighting was less over Irina and more over the fact that she was able to enter the property despite the shields. Once assured that the shields weren't broken, things settled down. Ivy also knew neither she nor Nick was going to point that out to the older woman.

The kettle reached a boil and Ivy prepared Irina's tea, taking the cup and saucer back to the table with her. Winston returned to his vegetable chopping while the three of them settled themselves at the table.

"Russell claimed the Shifters wanted to give us time to socialize, " Ivy told them. "In case you are wondering what the official reason for their distance is."

"Ah, " Irina said as Nick's face crinkled in amusement. "So should we postpone business until later?"

"We can or we can get it out of the way, whichever you prefer, " Ivy told her.

"Business first, " Irina decided. "Then there is no more reason to worry." She gestured to Nick and Ivy say he had a file placed on the table next to his coffee mug.

"I suppose that's my cue for the mundane, " Nick said. "And to be honest, it is pretty mundane." Nick opened the top folder. "I checked all their records. Neither Lee nor James has any sort of police record. Both worked in retail, their resumes' matching what I could find out on them. There were no major issues at their places of employment although they did both quit their jobs at the same time, citing a family emergency."

"That would be when the Seers retreated to their strongholds?" Ivy asked as Nick handed her the top page from his file.

"It seems to match up with the dates that I was given, " Nick said nodding.

"Which was a guess I made from BB's gossip, " Ivy said as she looked over the page.

Shortly after Ivy's apartment was invaded by Walter Garett, Ivy went to the local greenhouse to restock on supplies. There the proprietor Benjamin Birmingham, who was always referred to as BB, shared the gossip about the Seer's retreat from the regular world. As the Shadow Council was disbanded shortly thereafter, everyone assumed the Seers saw it coming and left.

The action was similar to the one taken by their clan during what the Society referred to as the Chaos Years. During that time each clan fought the others for dominance. The Seers stayed out of the way and let them all fight, keeping themselves apart in their strongholds until the clans united enough to form the Shadow Council. Then they rejoined the world and became a part of The Society once again instead of standing apart.

Their attempt to replicate history when th

e council disbanded ignored one simple, but crucial fact. Prior to their initial retreat, the Seers worked with the other clans, predominantly mages. The strongholds they retreated to were reinforced with mage shields, adding more than just thick stone and heavy timbers to their defense. It was a facet of their history they forgot and when they retreated this time, they didn't have any extra shielding placed on their strongholds.

Personally, Ivy wasn't sure that 'strongholds' was even the correct word for their retreats. Instead of stone battlements and medieval castles, the Seers used farmhouses and country estates. If there were walls surrounding the property, they were meant to be decorative or to simply mark a boundary, or keep a goat from running away. While they stockpiled food as though preparing for Armageddon they prepared no defenses, assuming no one would come looking for them.

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood led by Ron Corwin did. Many of these modern day strongholds were burned to the ground and the inhabitants slaughtered. The slaughter was the reason Lee and James were both seeking shelter within her House.

"The only blip I saw on the radar came from their bank accounts, " Nick continued.

"Bank accounts?" Ivy asked. She set the information of their employment history aside and looked at Nick.

"While they each had a modest savings, each of them made monthly payment to a company called Carlson Incorporated. I found the incorporation papers and it seems to be a Non-profit that deals with wildlife refuges. The amounts are higher than I would have guessed if they were donations, nearly half of their annual income."

"Well, I know that the current head of the Seers is a Howard Carlson, " Ivy said.

"It is a tithe, " Irina said.

"The Seers have a clan tithe?" Ivy asked. "Like the mage tax?"

As a mage, Ivy's income not only had the regular governmental taxes, but an additional tax that went to pay for things the clan needed as a whole. To keep resentment of the tax low, the percentage was kept low. It was also kept standard. There were no exceptions or exclusions. There were no tax breaks, everyone paid the same percentage of their income. Ivy knew there were things way worse than jail time and fines inflicted on those who tried to cheat the Clan out of its due. So did everyone else, which is why mage tax fraud was hardly ever attempted.

Each year the head of the clan, Hamilton Bridges at the moment, posted a report on how those funds were allocated, including what went into the treasury for future concerns. Some things were standard like their clan's percentage of the property tax for the space they used in the building that housed the offices for their clan and the archival space below.

Other non-standard items were voted on. If anyone had concerns, they could be raised and put on the agenda for discussion. The concerns could even be sent in anonymously if the person questioning the expenditures didn't want to be known. Every mage over the age of eighteen had a vote they could cast when votes were taken. For most things a two thirds majority was needed to change anything or to accept amendments. The percentage was one Ivy knew had Hamilton worried when it came time to reinstate the Shadow Council. Ivy pushed thoughts of her own clan's politics aside for the moment to focus on the Seers.

"From what I understand it is more burdensome than the mage tax and is collected monthly, " Irina said.

"Half of your income sounds quite burdensome to me, " Ivy said. "That certainly wouldn't fly with the mages."

"The lives of Seers are more regulated. They are a more or less closed community, " Irina told her. "If they live in an apartment building, chances are every other apartment in that building has a Seer and their family in it. The clan would more than likely own the building. The Seers have their own schools and do not send their children to public schools."

"They don't like mixing with the rest of us then?" Nick said.

"Not unless it is necessary. They have a …board, I suppose you would call it, headed by their leader, in this case Carlson. The board decides educational and career paths, sometimes placing people into jobs. Their jobs are designed to put the Seer into contact with a broad spectrum of people. The more people they mix with, the wider the field of vision for their sight. It is more a consideration than income. That is the only reason they mix with the rest of humanity."

Irina paused and took a sip of her tea, her eyes gazing off into the distance. Ivy caught the fact that Irina referred to the Seers as they and them and doubted she considered herself a part of the clan anymore.

'Which would argue well for her sight, seeing the future of the clan as Carlson suspects, ' Ivy thought.

"Is that where you lived?" Nick asked.

Irina blinked and shook herself. "We had houses, but each house was full of extended family and the houses were clustered together. I was young so I am not certain if the deeds to the houses were held by individuals or by the clan as a whole."

"I'm not sure I could live like that, " Nick said.

Irina smiled and patted his hand. "It was what we knew, what we grew up with. It was normal. And it wasn't all bad. Things tended to be shared, even homes. If someone lost their family, another family would find space for them in their home, calling them cousin, uncle niece, or whatever fit the situation regardless of blood. You were taken care of and knew you would always have a place. You would always have food in your belly and a roof over your head. For many this was enough of a trade for the relinquishing of certain personal freedoms."

"Like the freedom to marry who you wanted?" Nick asked.

Irina's smile became tinged with sadness. "To marry requires permission, " she said nodding. "You ask for it and if it is given, you marry. If not then you are forbidden to marry. If you go against the wishes of the clan and marry anyway, you are shunned. You leave the clan and it is as though you never existed. Your name is struck from the records and you are never mentioned. If they see you in the street, they walk by you as though you were less than a ghost."

Ivy knew the Seers didn't approve of Irina's marriage to her Shifter husband and she faced the shunning of her Clan. She could barely begin to comprehend what that felt like. When her family was split by the Council, they sought secret ways to stay in touch, and even though they went long stretches without talking, she knew they still cared about her and would be there when she reached out for them. It would have been very hard to have them cut her off. Ivy didn't want to intrude on a memory she suspected might be painful, but still needed information.

"Will Lee and James face…exile for joining with me?" Ivy asked. She knew Carlson didn't approve of her protecting Irina. She doubted the head of the Seers would take kindly to two more Seers slipping into her House.

"I do not know if there is anyone left to shun them, " Irina said. She sighed and appeared to pull herself back from her memories. "While they might be officially exiled from the Seer Clan by Howard Carlson, all of the Seers live in smaller clusters. They would really only know their particular community. Keeping the communities sequestered from each other helps preserve the sight." She explained. "Large things, like the fate of the clan as a whole, can not be seen because they all see themselves as a part of the clan. But if it is a problem faced by one community or even all communities in a particular country or region someone outside that community or region can see for those who consider themselves a part of that region."

"So if there was one community in California that was having trouble they could ask a community in New York to see for them?" Ivy guessed.

Irina nodded. "Exactly. Even though they are in the same country, they would see the communities as separate entities instead of one. And if you get enough sight, you can weave them together to form a broader picture, which is done by the board, headed by the clan leader."

"So if you got the communities in New York to use their sight for the communities in California, and the Communities in California to use their sight for communities in Wisconsin and Wisconsin to look at Georgia and so on, you could patch together a somewhat centralized vision for the continental US?" Ivy asked.

"Exactly, " Irina said. "And you could compare it to more outside sources. You could get neighboring parties, like the Canadian or Mexican communities to look at the US ones and compare it to the patch work one created within the country. Then you could get visions from communities in South America to compare to North America, or Old World to look at the New World and visa versa."

"And each section has its own clan leader and its own board?" Nick asked.

"There are districts, " Irina said. "Like Hamilton Bridges in the clan head for all of the Mages in his district, Howard Carlson is the clan head for all of the Seers in his district and sits, or sat rather on the Shadow Council. When they need to weave together larger visions, the clan heads contact other clan heads and a course is determined. Then assignments are given."

"While I appreciate knowing how they function, I think we might be drifting a bit off topic, " Ivy said.

Irina laughed and refilled her tea cup. "I suppose we have, " she said. "I have gone years without even thinking of this. One thought just led to another. And you are right, very little is going to affect them. At least not at the moment. If the Shadow Council is re-instated then the Seers will more than likely make the same request that Seers are not allowed to be part of Mage Houses as part of their agreement."

"I think that even then they may be grandfathered in, " Ivy said. "I've been looking over the book of laws that Hamilton gave me and some of our history books, specifically in regards to Seers." Ivy didn't mention the book about the Seers that Albert loaned her after he found out about the requests of the two to join her house. "Even when the Shadow Council and the new laws went into effect those Seers located in Mage houses were allowed to remain. The mages simply couldn't recruit new Seers."

"What happened when they had kids?" Nick asked.

It was a natural enough question and obvious once Ivy heard it, but it hadn't occurred to her during her research. "I don't know, " she said. "Children weren't mentioned."

"Something to look into then, " Nick said. Ivy watched as he pulled out a pen and scrawled a note on the inside of his file folder.

"Your husband will be around when the Seers arrive?" Irina asked.

"Russell? Yes he wants to meet the people who may be moving to the area where his pack is based, " Ivy said.

"Good, " Irina said. "It will be better if he is there. I will ask questions about their community and their ties to it. He will be able to tell if they are telling the truth or not and then you can make the decision about whether they stay or not. Simple."

"Yeah. Simple, " Ivy repeated.

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