Sir Ando drew his cloak around him as he prepared to leave the monastery. The large, cobblestone building stood behind him, towering above him and his horse as he saddled it up. Hastily, he threw the scroll and his rations into the pouch on the side of his mount, backing it up through the stable until he was in clear sight of the road.
Farther down the path, far from the prying eyes of anyone who might bring news to enemies of the Church, he brought the horse to a halt. Grabbing the scroll from his pouch, he broke the wax seal bearing the signet of Dom Maski of the Abbey of St. Bright. Unrolling the document, he read the decree;
The bearer of this document—Sir Ando Le Roche, Knight Errant of the Order of Kondraki—is hereby authorised to enlist from within the borders of County Reaforten six and twenty knights of the same order, thereby to locate and apprehend the person or persons in possession of the demonic item known as "the Yellow Book" and any persons giving aid and comfort to the same, and to deliver them unto the custody of the Holy Foundation for judgment and sentence. By decree of the archcanon of the Abbey of St. Bright and the Duke of Westmont, in accordance with the Groups of Interest Act 437, said knight is empowered to…
Sir Ando rolled the scroll up and slid it back into his pouch and gave the horse a nudge to set it on its way.
"What is the Yellow Book?"
"I think it was a skip, Cardinal."
"Why have the Children of the River devoted themselves to finding it?"
"Hell if I know. What do you know about it?"
The old man sighed uneasily. "Er, Lord, what we know is mostly conjecture—bits and pieces from surviving encounters, which are rare enough in themselves—but they say the Yellow Book rewrites the past."
The D-Caste's eyes opened wide as the man controlling it made the connection.
"I beg pardon, Lord?"
"Yeah, oh I know what you're talking about. SCP-140. Don't let 'em bleed on it and you'll be fine. Keter class, real nasty thing."
The Cardinal rose an eyebrow as he gestured for his servant to find the relevant section of the Holy Containment Procedures. Little was known of the cult, but the Synod had gathered that they had split off from the Seventeenth Chapel after the Great Breach, and had been in search of the Yellow Book ever since. The group had proven next to impossible to penetrate, but from what descriptions of their secret ceremonies had made it to Foundation ears, it seemed inevitable that if they found it, they would 'bleed' on it profusely. He pondered in silence for a long second.
"Hey, you guys got any booze?"
It had been four days of riding, and not a single tree had been in view for three of them. It would take another two to reach the city of Reaforten in order to enlist more knights to aid him in his quest. He knew the fables, the stories, the legend of how the Lord Bright had addressed the problem over 300 years before. To his dismay, Sir Ando also knew about the Children of the River.
As a knight of the Order of Kondraki, his entire life was training for events like these; pre-Breach demons rising again. It was his duty to stop them wherever they threatened the Holy Foundation. Though experienced in fighting, and at the ripe age of 39, Sir Ando had never actually encountered a demon like those described in the Scripture. He had once witnessed the Ceremony of the Clockworks, but that was his closest to a truly supernatural circumstance. How would he fare when he stood face-to-face with the Children of the River and the monstrous things that had been known to fight alongside them - men, animals, monsters, great creatures of steel that supposedly rose fully-formed from cauldrons of blood like an unholy homunculus? Reaching under his tunic, he caressed the St. Dmitri's medallion he wore. St. Dmitri, prince among soldiers, he prayed to himself, grant me courage to face the trials ahead. Grant that my hand be quick and steady, that my sword strike true, and that my shield be as steady and resilient as my heart. Guide me to victory as you guided your knights against the Chechan hordes in ancient times - and if it is my appointed time to fall, then grant me a quick, honorable, and noble death, and in death, grant me satisfaction and rest. Amen.
Sir Ando grabbed the reins tighter, pulling his head down as dust flew up around him as he rode towards Reaforten.
"You believe they wish to prevent the Great Breach through the use of the Yellow Book, Lord?"
"That's one way of putting it."
The First Cardinal shifted uncomfortably in his seat, sweat soaking his undershirt. Even the patron, founder, and Overseer of all the Holy Foundation, Lord Bright Himself, expressed fear at the notion of the Yellow Book re-emerging.
"I'm afraid the Holy Foundation does not… currently… have the means to search for the Yellow Book, and the Scripture is incomplete on containment, Lord," he said hesitantly. "However, the Children of the River are not to be trifled with. Their leaders are masters of summoning hellish beings, and the rest of the Council has yet to recognize them as a serious heathenish threat worthy of a Holy Crusade."
"The people who made the Yellow Book are worse than that. Even when everything they touched had been destroyed, One-Forty made more. If you let them get a hold of it, holy water and kissing a crucifix won't do shit."
"We believe it is lost to the ages, Lord, or else hidden beyond our reach. There have been rumors that the Children of the River have been conducting activities in County Reaforten—perhaps they have knowledge of its whereabouts that we do not. We have dispatched the Order of Kondraki to search the county, and to take action if they hear any news of it. However, we unfortunately do find this scenario quite unlikely."
"Well, when you find it, let me know."
"I would be honored to."
A guard entered cautiously from the side of the room. Approaching the chained man, he bowed, keeping his head down as he outstretched his hand with an ornate goblet.
"Here is your drink, my Lord," the guard said. "I fear that the keeper of the cellars was unfamiliar with the 'vodka' you requested, but he assures me that this is the finest of this season's ale."
"It'll have to do."
There were more of them now; twenty-seven in all, all knights of the Order of Kondraki, the best of County Reaforten. It had only been hours since they rode in formation through the gates of the city away from the sun as it rose behind them, the western foothills, their destination, looming ominously in the distance. From what Sir Ando had learned, a freeholder of the county had seen strange men coming and going from an old mine near his farmland and crept into the cave after dark to investigate. He stumbled upon a demonic altar within, slipped on a rock, and cut himself. He claimed to witness the final page turn without being touched as the blood drained from his hand and flew to the book. He ran screaming from the tunnel, hastily informing the nearest pastor. In accordance with the Scripture, he was sanctified with Class-A holy water by Father Ires and released. Disappointingly, none of the Reaforteners he had encountered were able (or willing, perhaps) to impart his location to Sir Ando, so an interview was out of the question.
It was past noon when they arrived at the entrance to the mine. A crude palisade had been erected around the entrance. Men wearing green and white, the colors of Duke Augons of Reaforten, watched from above the barricade, training their bows as the horsemen drew near. The knights trotted their horses in a circle surrounding Sir Ando, and he called to the men.
"Open these gates, in the name of the Duke!"
Sir Ando quickly showed Dom Maski's decree to the guard, who obligingly opened the barricade. The knights dismounted and tied their horses up as he informed them that none had come or gone from the mine since they began watching the entrance a fortnight ago, but that strange sounds had been heard emanating from below and none of his men were brave enough to enter.
"This is what we train for, men," Sir Ando said. "The Yellow Book might be in there—and who knows what else. Stay on your guard, keep your weapons sheathed unless absolutely necessary, and if you so much as stub your toe or scratch your knuckles, fall back and don't touch anything. Let's get in and out as fast as we can. For Kondraki!"
The gruff men raised their swords high in the air. "For Kondraki!" Sir Ando kissed his crucifix, muttered a prayer, and walked determinedly towards the opening. Taking in hand the torches the guardsmen had prepared, they descended into the mine.
"You ever wondered why we're here?"
The Cardinal sat silent.
"I don't either. By all means, we should be dead. Gone. Kaput. Not a single soul left. And yet, we're not. Somehow, some way, humanity is still chugging along, against the odds."
"Ye-yes, Lord Bright, it appears so—"
"It clicked with me the day I heard that Site Four's nuke had gone off, minutes after Fifty-Eight got out. It was the middle of the day, and not a single person was evacuated. Too little time. There wasn't enough time."
"In my moment of clarity, I realized whyyyyy there was never enough time. We had used it up! It's not an easy feeling to deal with, knowing that you're living on borrrrrrowed time, because it means that the Universe has every right to rip your life from you and you should be grateful, damnit. Your sisterrrr's dead, and the next day she's not? No! She's good as dead, because we've aaaall made a cruel deal with God to give her extra time, and there's no knowing when, or why, she'll die. All you get is connnndolence that it happened later than it 'should' have. It's a damn miracle we're even here, but we're scared to death of nnnnnot being."
"You know most of what happened durrrring the Breach; the universe was truly falling apart. Debris was crushing us, destroying us and itself in the most… pure… moment of chaos. And yet, we didn't die. Crazy! I know."
"Lord Bright, if I may, we had God on our side, aiding us during the Great Breach."
"I sure think so. But we're on borrowed time! One-Fortttty, the Yellow Book, if someone blew their brains out right on top of the thing, and the world was pllllunged into darkness, I'd think 'Damn! At least it didn't happen earlier!' Haha, wow! Is that really what the worrrrld's given to us? We spent centuries safeguarding, protecting, studying the screwups that God left to hang out in our yard, and they nearly destroyed us! Centuries. Just, to say 'We ever-so-slightly avoided dying, guysssss. Good… fucking… job!"
With the final effort of the last sentence, the D-Caste slumped over, descending into a drunken unconsciousness. The guard entered a second time, removing the amulet and carefully placing it in its container.
They had explored the whole mine, and there was no altar. Nothing unusual at all. Not a single sign of the Yellow Book, or the Children on the River.
"Maybe they already got to it?" asked one of the knights.
"If they did, we'd know," Sir Ando replied despondently. "It's likely that our witness was drunk, or delusional, or both." Worn out, he trudged back up towards the light. The other knights followed suit.
It was not until six weeks later that Augons, eighth Count of Reaforten, was lead from his manor in shackles by Sir Ando and his men. From an anonymous tip, knights rushed into Lady Emile Lament's mansion, discovering files of payments from known Chaos Insurgency leaders, as well as the names of over two hundred spies on the payroll within the city. The captain of the guard, when put to the question, gave the names of dozens who had been ordered to carry strange objects into the mine under cover of darkness, and let themselves be seen taking them out the next day. Even Father Ires was executed.
Of the Yellow Book, and the Children of the River themselves, no sign could be found.
Vos tantum currere in circulis donec te trinus.