artwork by callmeplisskin
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Chapter 3: The Interview
I took a seat in one of the plain guest chairs across from Marcus’ desk as he indicated, while he sat in the fancy leather chair behind it. I don’t know if his chair was somehow elevated over mine, but I suddenly felt much smaller sitting before him. I nervously smoothed the hem of my dress, trying to keep it past the halfway point to my knees.
After a few moments of pleasantries, he took a pause and stared directly into my eyes. Once again I had the feeling of him looking right into me, and I felt vulnerable as if there was nothing I could hide from him.
“Miss Lucksworth, let’s not waste any more time over idle chat about my company’s history or it’s utter dominance over our competition. Let’s get to your true questions.”
“My true…sorry?” My throat seized in sudden alarm. My heartbeat quickened as he proceeded to strip away the facade of my cover story.
“Oh my dear, don’t be sorry. I’m well aware you’ve been asking questions around the city–and I know what you’re after.”
My eyes flashed wide in worry. “You are? I was just…” Oh no! Did he know who I really was?
He waved his hand, as if to dismiss my concerns. “I know what you want. You have been asking questions about the beast. And about the fate of the girls who…offer themselves…to him. It’s quite obvious to me why you’re here in my office now.”
Now I was feeling real panic. “It…it is?” I tensed, ready to jump up to fight or flee.
“Of course! You wish to learn of the inner workings of our secret order–The Order of the Red Rose. You have heard by now that we control the beasts. And…” He paused, for dramatic effect. “You wish to know how you can join us.”
“Join…I…uh…” My voice trailed off. What?? He thought I was there to join their cult?!?
“Miss Lucksworth, you could learn all this and more when you join us. Our order would be made stronger by a scholar such as yourself. You would surely be a valuable member in no time. Once you are formally a member, of course.”
Was it possible my cover story was still intact? Join them?
I could make this work, I thought. Join them, learn what I could about their next ritual, get close enough to the beast to kill it, save the girl…I can do this! There were still two days before the full moon, one day until the next girl would be taken. If I was careful, it would be plenty of time!
I realized that he was still staring at me, waiting expectantly for my answer. I cleared my throat and summoned up a voice I hoped would sound steadier than I was feeling.
“Yes, sir. You have seen through me, I do wish to join your order. Forgive me my ruse, but you are, I’m told, a secret society? I assumed some discretion in approaching would be prudent.”
“Indeed it was prudent, Miss Lucksworth. I’m most pleased to have you confirm your interest. And–I assume–your willingness to submit yourself to our evaluations for prospective initiates? As a secret society, we can’t be too careful, you understand. You must prove yourself worthy.”
“Yes, of course, Sir, I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way. I will gladly take on any test or trial. I wish to serve The Order of the Red Rose in every way I can.”
“Excellent!” he exclaimed. “In a moment I shall gather my associates and we shall begin your induction. And begin some rather intense trials to test your commitment and allegiance.”
“Right away?” I exclaimed–then caught myself. “I mean, that is great! I’m honored that you would want to begin right away. I won’t disappoint you.”
He stood and walked around the desk to stand before me, his hand extended for mine. I took his hand and he led me to an open area beside his desk with my back to the door. There, he turned to face me.
“First, Miss Lucksworth…your allegiance. Please kneel.”
I’d been given this command so many times that not only did I immediately sink to my knees, my face didn’t show the slightest hint of surprise. The truth? I really wasn’t surprised.
But his next move did surprise me. He simply extended his hand again, this time palm down. For the first time I noticed his signet ring with the shape of a wolf’s head upon it.
I glanced up at him, but he was only looking back down at me, an impassive look on his face. It took me another moment to realize what he wanted. I reached forward and took his hand with both of mine, lowered my head, and gave his ring a quiet kiss.
“Excellent,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I can see you have the correct disposition for a prospective initiate. Please wait here while I go and gather the leadership council of the order.”
There was a palpable tension in the conference room.
“Marcus, what are you up to now?” asked the tall spindly man beside him. “It’s a simple thing, we take a rival’s wife or daughter or some peasant girl, we bring her to the beast kicking and screaming, the beast does our bidding. Why do you want to complicate this?”
The company president sat forward in his chair at the head of the table. “Gentlemen. What if our tribute didn’t have to be kicking and screaming? Wouldn’t the ceremony be more enjoyable if the tribute was there of her own accord? Would not the beast enjoy one that would give herself to him?”
“You’re saying this girl, this ranger, would willingly give herself to the beast. Really.” The man scoffed at his boss.
“Yes, Louis. That is what I believe. Or at least, I believe I can convince her to. Wait until you meet her before you dismiss the idea. She is, as you might say, quite eager to please.”
The shorter man across from Louis spoke up. “The ranger is posing as a scholar from Rith, and came here this morning claiming she was researching our company. Marcus told her that she could learn everything about us, about the beast, the ritual, and the so-called ‘missing girls’…IF she pledged to join us as a member of The Order.”
“Join us?” The tall bearded man beside him sputtered. “No woman can become a member, it’s preposterous!”
“Of course not!” Marcus said with disdain. “An empty promise to occupy her while she thinks she has infiltrated us. She now thinks that she has us fooled into believing her silly cover story, and that becoming an initiate to the order is the surest path to success on her mission.”
“And how do you plan to keep her occupied until it is time for the ritual?” Louis asked.
“I propose that the five of us perform a brief induction ceremony to welcome her. At which time, I will put the collar for the ritual upon her, and she will wear it until she has proven herself worthy of initiation. She need not yet know that her initiation will be her own encounter with the beast.
The man beside Louis, quiet until now, spoke up: “The collar? Now? We usually wait until the tribute is dressed for the ritual. Why now?”
“Consider it a test. As I said, she is eager to please. If she accepts it now as a condition of becoming an initiate, then we know she will willingly wear it later. And in the meantime…we might have some fun seeing what else she will agree to.”
A round of low laughter rippled around the table.
“I have told her that a prospective initiate must endure certain…trials…to be considered for induction. She has agreed to submit to any trials we may put to her. As I said…eager. And if she survives the ritual with the beast, I’m sure we can find some use for an ex-ranger to do our bidding.”
“What trials do you have in mind?”
“I don’t know, actually,” Marcus laughed. I made that up on the spot. But once you meet her, I’m confident a few ideas will come to mind. We have three days and two nights to fill before the ritual.”
“Very well, Marcus. I support your little experiment. Let’s see how far you can take it. So where is your ‘pet’ project now?”
“I would expect she is where I left her. In my office. Kneeling on the floor beside my desk, waiting for us. Another little test.”
The men around the table exchanged surprised looks. A couple made moves to stand.
“Relax, gentlemen. Finish your coffee. I don’t think she is going anywhere.”
To be continued–