This story is by Robert Leigh Hunt and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“And you, Alina. You will be a great matriarch. You, like your name, will never wither away or grow old. Do you accept?
“Imperium in bonis. Imperium in eternum.”
Alina Babanin remembered with perfect clarity Drake’s outstretched hands bringing down an unseen, numinous power unto her. “Power for good. Power for eternity.” They had all repeated it. She had watched with the others, each gifted with their new capabilities, a ritual slaughter. Alina could still feel the animals hot blood on her skin. Now she watched the world pass by via the window of a limousine. She was used to watching the world pass by.
The Order of International Liberationists had sent for her. Alina was on her way to the grand chateau, the motherhouse, in France. She had only been permitted inside just once before a very long time ago.
Another girl was there, so she had learned. She was convinced she wasn’t supposed to know.
Alina needed to be there. She had her winning ways.
Alina would be met by Aldous Wexler, the outgoing Patriarch. Kindly Aldous had aged and for the most part, aged well like the chateau’s chimney stacks that continued to billow as much smoke as they always had. Yet, the man possessed of an almost obscene vitality all his life, had become frail.
At a hundred and ten, he was allowed to be frail, but he was no longer suitable.
Alina had suggested as much in a series of council meetings as idle chat before and after and with the right people. Aldous had directed the order to accept a new matriarch. Alina believed it would always be her.
Alina had met Aldous when he had been a mere boy of eleven years. Alina was retained as his teacher for a while in all things mathematical. Alina was the natural choice for Aldous since she had known his father, his grandfather and great grandfather when he, another patriarch of the order, visited Moscow. The fact that Alina remained and appeared to have aged not a day out of her twenties was just one of the reasons the order would continue to reach out to her even if it was from a distance. She had a sharp mind and frightening intellect matched only by a monstrous strength that would allow her to work without sleep for days. Forever on the periphery, in the wilderness, she became a myth.
Only the patriarchs knew the truth about her, that Alina had been there at the inception of the order when she met its founder, Lucian Drake. Drake had confided to Alina his master plan before he’d laid his hands on her in the middle of a clearing in a Russian forest in the middle of summer. She should be allowed to come out of the shadows and receive her reward. After so long being on the periphery, she was now to take centre stage and how the world would gawp and gasp. She deserved to be queen.
In the beginning, no one, including herself, had noticed her agelessness. Her timeless beauty, as described by many, was always of a girl in the full flower of her youth. Her husband at the time thought nothing of it. As the years went by, however, people began to talk and whisper among themselves behind closed doors. In echoing stairwells and in parlours she heard them and the urgency of the question which only increased with every passing year.
They grew old and died while she never knew a day of sickness. Alina left Russia and moved to Germany. Then she escaped to France and then England.
From then on, Alina measured her life not in years but decades. Ten years was the maximum Alina could stay in one place before the same hushed tones of secret suspicion could be heard. Green invidia betrayed with a sneer or a sideways expression of disbelief, gave way to the black stare of lower animal wariness and curiosity.
After enough time, everything appeared transient. People came and went. Even her dearest friends had seemed as passing clouds. Her ability to love was the only thing about her that lessened and faded over time. Her peripheral existence in other people’s lives also made her less inclined to engage anyone more than superficially.
The end of one epoch and the beginning of another saw Alina close to being regally detached and indifferent to the fearful hopes of limited humanity. The dementing babble and rush of finite minds and bodies that eddied and swirled in their tiny societies succeeded only in nauseating her.
Yet she studied them with morbid fascination.
Alina no longer loved so much as she thrilled. She had traded understanding for savouring as new blood entered the order with hot eagerness. The latest fraternity membership boasted a president, a prince and several bishops as well as the CEOs of nearly every communications network in the world.
However, the centuries in the wilderness taught Alina that the best councils were not made of the brightest and best; those creatures had a way of formulating diversions to the plan. She prefered the useful idiot with enough status to be listened to when willing to repeat what was uttered in secret.
Subtlety and hiddenness were the keys to the kingdom. Alina had become quite adept at knowing how to influence and suggest without the listener having any idea of coercion. Alina could derail a whole plan or set a new one into motion with a word, like a velvet hammer striking single notes that made up a concerto, or as a queen sitting upon a gilded throne, governing with a disapproving look. Ambition became a reality at the hands of they who had never been party to any council. Decisive actions came from an idea heard like a song on the wind.
There was nothing to link anything to any organisation secret or otherwise. That was power not wielded by a coterie of jackbooted thugs. Ultimately they might execute the plan but could not be accused of formulating it.
Imperium In Bonis. But what is good for a world that sees innocent life as something to treat with disdain? A grand era of chastisement was needed. The world needed a lesson in valuing its existence. That was the heart of Lucian Drake’s plan. Alina knew what was required to bring that plan to fruition. That new girl was in there somewhere. Perhaps Aldous had another scheme in mind and was practising a subtlety of his own.
The limousine thundered past the gates of the chateau, and the long approach to the door was long enough for Alina to decide how she would proceed. Aldous, waiting on the steps greeted her warmly as she climbed the old stone steps. He shuffled through echoing corridors, and Alina followed him into the chamber of the inner sanctum of the order.
She recognised some prelates of the church and one nation’s president in their robes. She could not see the girl, though. Then, in the middle of the chamber and lying on the red cloth-covered table was a baby. It kicked and squirmed next to a large ornate silver hammer. “What is this? Alina asked almost stammering.
“This is the blood sacrifice that will mean no courtroom will be closed to us. No campus off-limits and no network resistant to the plan,” said Aldous, his grey eyes becoming wide and bright, that vitality still alive.
“Wait for what? It is time, Alina to accept the great mission that has always been set aside for you,” said Aldous picking up the hammer.
“Do you believe in the mission of the order to bring new illumination to the world, to be queen at last? He asked, his breath coming in gasps.
Alina gazed down at the tiny form that was clearly a threat to no one. “I do,” she muttered.
Alina and the order watched the hammer twitch and nod as Aldous held it high above his aged head and above the child on the table. “And you, Alina. Are ready to receive your destiny? He shouted.
“Imperium in eternum! shouted the others.
Alina and the order watched the hammer fall.