Bijou Dashwood sat apathetically in front of the chalkboard, staring at her two lecturers.
The one to her left was a twelve year old boy. The lower half of his face was covered in dusty, yellowed bandages, slightly rustling as he breathed in and out. A small mop of brown hair topped his head, unkempt and windswept. His sharp green eyes moved back and forth across Bijou Dashwood, silently appraising her.
He was Rogues Kant, Retainer of Ciphers, First Decrier of the Hidden Chantries, Shadow Warden of the Worshipful Company of Arbitrators, and Flesh Patron of Seven Eyes.
He was the one writing.
The one to her right was a fifteen year old girl. Her long, red hair flowed past her shoulders, dangling around her waist. She wore a leather jacket over a pink t-shirt and denim jeans; a pair of knife scabbards were strapped to her sides.
She was Scarlet Ninth, Orchestrator of Decryption, Second Decrier of the Hidden Chantries, Shadow Warden of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, and Flesh Patron of Nine Eyes.
She was the one talking.
"Time for a history lesson."
Rogues scribbled a diagram on the board, white chalk scraping off onto black.
"The Livery Companies of the City of London. That's our modern name. Before that, we were the Livery Companies of Great Britain. If we move back past the Protestant reformation, we were known as the Livery Guilds of England. And then, if you kept going all the way back before the Norman conquest in 1066, we were known as The Redeemed Freemen And Liverymen Guilds Of The Kingdom Of England. A bit wordy, that one. Before Æthelstan's unification of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, we were the Liverymen Of Wessex And Mercia. All records from before 648 were destroyed; the reason for their destruction was documented, but that documentation was also destroyed. Unfortunate, but there you go."
Bijou stared as Scarlet paced back and forth. Rogues had sketched a complex timeline on the chalkboard.
"Suffice it to say, we have a rather long and well-documented history. Should you wish to learn more, our files are available on request."
Bijou sighed, Scarlet frowned.
"But of course, you probably don't."
Rogues wrote faster, scratching white columns of incomprehensible runes; he snapped his fingers, and the chalk on the board vanished into nonexistence with an audible pop. Scarlet placed her hand on Rogues' head, lightly ruffling the quiet boy's hair.
"Moving on, then. In 1979, a man going by the name of Archibald Mirum was elected our head by the previous Shadow Alderman of the Livery Companies. Mirum was, at the time, known to be a senior member of three other Hidden Chantries: The Foundation, The University of Alexylva, and the Chaos Insurgency. Upon his election, he began to fold the Insurgency into the Liveries, resulting in the modern incarnation of both organisations."
Bijou raised her hand; Scarlet turned to her.
Scarlet sighed, turned, and resumed pacing.
"I was getting to that. The Liveries were useful to the Insurgency as a covert information net, and the Insurgency had always been a group of concern to the Liveries. With the Insurgency being a subset of the Liveries, we could better restrict their actions. We reformed them into their current incarnation: a global terrorist network for the purpose of stress-testing the other agencies under Mirum's control. The Foundation, Mirum thought, needed an opposing force to thicken their skin. When he rose to power within the Global Occult Coalition, he saw similar flaws, and diversified our goals. Conveniently, we are also an attractive employment opportunity for the more dangerous and subversive elements of Hidden society. This allows us to, unbeknownst to them, heavily limit their reach and potential for harm."
Rogues drew a large diagram on the board, drawing the two points of tangling the arms of the Livery Companies with those of the Chaos Insurgency.
"In our current form, the Liveries and Insurgency are heavily interconnected. Unified, the Livery Companies compose the most diverse conglomerate on the planet. We have people on every street corner and sidewalk; whether they realise what they are a part of or not. When we strike, the origin is never clear; where we infiltrate, a source of the leak is never found. From our side, the Livery Companies are very ordered, albeit an intricate and tenuously-maintained alliance. From their side, there is no origin, no endgame, no rhyme or reason to the seemingly random actions. All they can see of us is the ensuing chaos. And just as Mirum planned, this means that other Hidden Chantries now plan for almost anything."
Scarlet smirked faintly at Bijou, who was again holding her hand in the air.
"So, before they got folded in with the Insurgency and everything, what did the Livery Companies actually… do?"
Rogues snapped his fingers and the chalk from the Chaos Insurgency side of the board disappeared; he started to draw further tendrils out from the central node of his diagram. Scarlet continued her monologue.
"Since their origin, the Livery Companies have been guilds of tradesmen. We oversaw the operations of our constituents, ensuring that all workers were given free and equal treatment… or, at least, as close as could be obtained in a given cultural climate. At the present time, the public overseers of the Livery Companies are the Court of Aldermen of the City of London; people who also organise the administration of the entire city. The Court of Aldermen has existed in its current form since 1227. The position of Shadow Alderman, however, is a lot older."
Rogues completed his diagram, silently turning to stare again at Bijou.
"While our public face has always been that of a trade guild, we also operated confidentially as… guardians, of sorts. The old legends of pagan rituals in the British Isles were embellished stories of our operations. The title of Shadow Alderman equates to the ancient position of the 'Evil Elder;' the ones who would spend their lives placating the impossible. Modern groups such as the Foundation and GOC are under the faulty impression that the anomalous and the impossible have only started to proliferate within the last few centuries. That's because we've been taking care of the impossible for the last few millennia. The lofty goals of these organisations - to contain, or destroy - were not possible thousands of years ago. All we could do to protect the common man was satiate the desires of twisted monsters, hoping and praying their efforts would be enough. We were the ones who served immortal demons. We were the ones who killed children in their sleep, trickling their blood across sacrificial steel. We were the ones who worshipped evil gods."
Scarlet spun around, smiling.
"So that was what the Liveries did, way back when. Such operations aren't necessary any more. Any more questions?"
"Just one. Why am I in charge, again?"
Scarlet moved closer.
"Because, Miss Dashwood, for better or worse, the previous Shadow Alderman decided that the best way to determine a successor was by lottery. It has long been tradition that no consecutive Shadow Aldermen can ever have met. Your independent resistance to our subversive operations earned you the respect of Archibald Mirum, earning you a place on the shortlist. And above all, Miss Dashwood, because when you were mailed a sewing needle and a purposefully deceptive letter, you willingly shoved it straight through your cornea."
Scarlet looked into Bijou's left eye, staring at the steel glinting from within.
"Good job on that, by the way. Very clean. The guy before Mirum just ended up popping his eyeball open."