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In Due Course
<td>[Image: Declan_zps21f9023c.jpg]</td>
<td>"Baron" Declan Darius Ashlan Cooper Gregory



Before Declan's career as a museum curator began, he'd worked on projects around the world. In Indonesia, he studied traditional fight-choreography as part of religious festivals of Hari Idul Ad'ha, Hari Idul Ftri, and Muharram. In Northern Sudan, he spent 18 months at a cemetery excavation side by side with a hundred of his peers from the British Museum. But his doctoral work, during the five years he met Soren, was conducted on the Dannish island of Samsø. The island was featured prominently in ballads, known as the site of a famous battle of the berserks, and said to have been the place where Óðinn learned a special form of magic.

Only in his wildest dreams did Declan imagine himself traveling to the Himalayas. Nepal and the Himalayas were in the middle of the world's largest landmass, yet they were the most difficult to access. There were even portions of the mountain ranges unclaimed by any country in the world due to their sheer inaccessibility by humans.

India was familiar to Declan as beloved folklore to any child. The history of the British Raj left boys like him with a mixed sense of pride and shame. All of it was in the past, however. Gone were the days of colonial invasions and the paramountcy of the British Crown. When Declan deboarded in New Delhi, he was glad to be out of the confines of a nine hour flight from London. First class was never fine enough for nine continuous hours.

He was to meet Soren at the Leela Palace Hotel to finalize arrangements. When Declan arrived, he was known to the front desk and greeted with the best in customer service. A faint smile touched his lips when the worker addressed him as Baron Gregory. He paid for the hotel with his own funds, as nothing like this could be afforded by the museum, but the price of the flight cost more than a night in a two-bedroom suite.

"When my colleague arrives, you may send him up."
He signed for Soren and went to shower.

Sören peered into the thick ridge of ice, brushing clear layers of crystalised snow. Nothing stirred the grey depths. It was frustratingly impenetrable; a mocking abyss. He sat back on his haunches, surveying the tundra. There were no casual dreamers here, not in a place so remote. He'd studied maps and photographs the entire night before the flight just to find the lake, but found no answers when his spirit ascended his body. He lingered against better judgement; his body could use true rest, not itinerant wandering. But instead he brooded over answers as yet denied him.

He woke when a flight attendant gently shook his shoulder to bid he lift the cover on his window in preparation for landing. New Delhi sprawled below, glimpsed beneath sparse tendrils of cloud until the wing tilted up and the cloud fogged as thick as a slab of ice. Thankfully for his withering patience, Sören travelled light; only a single bag crested his shoulder as he departed the plane, and he had nothing to pick up from the luggage carousel.

A taxi cut through the crowds to his destination. Great stone elephants hefted the height of the hotel's entranceway, and he was greeted within by grandiose white pillars and gilt, paid smiles and a polished floor. Sören generally made some effort to blend with his surroundings, but fresh from impromptu travel and a night of fevered study, he did not make an easy fit with the luxurious surroundings. The receptionist eyed him with polite wariness before he dropped Declan's name.

Once in the suite he abandoned his bag in the nearest chair. "Reaping the luxury while you may?"
He sounded mildly amused. There'd be no five star in the mountains.
When Declan heard someone enter, he hurried to pull his sweater over his head and straighten the ensuing dishevelment of his hair.

As soon as Soren dropped his bag, Declan grappled him into a hug. "Good to see you, Sören. How was your flight? I hope the seat was to your liking for such a last minute purchase."
He pointed out the bar. "Can I get you a drink?"
Declan poured them both a small scotch, on the rocks for himself.

"You are right. About the room. There was little available in terms of a standard hotel. It seems the city is full of middle-class travelers. The choices were two-stars or five,"
his look spoke volumes, "and I'm not that hard-up yet."
Sören was aware of his financial troubles. It was how they really came to work together anyway. The relationship between a museum curator and an antiques dealer was a lucrative one.

He offered Sören the drink, leaving it up to him whether or not he wanted it.

"First thing I did was shower when I arrived. Would you like to do the same? We can talk after. Its difficult to be comfortable covered in airplane grime."

He'd spent half his life travelling from one place another, in varying states of comfort or discomfort, and accepted the bad as easily as the good. Most of the time his wanderings were ignited by a need strong enough to tunnel out those extra details; he'd hike through desert plains bare-backed if he gained something worthy at the end of it, and never even think to complain of skin peeling red-raw. "Slept for most of it."
He accepted the scotch, swirled it absently. "And I'm not complaining."

Sören shrugged off his coat, dropping it over the back of the chair that currently housed his bag. His lips hitched up into a smile; Declan might guess the answer. Sören was not a creature of comfort, but a slave to the pursuit of knowledge. He'd find no enjoyment in the soothing heat of a hot shower before his curiosity had been sated. He walked the path of vagabond as comfortably as the slick suits of Custody elite anyway; the grime of travel was less an irritant to him than impatience. "No. We plan first. Have you learned anything new?"
He claimed a chair, sliding his Wallet out from his pocket before he sat and setting the slim piece of tech on the arm.
Declan shrugged. Each man was due his own preferences, but Declan could not imagine not taking advantage when the opportunity was present. Shortly enough they would be far from such fineries.

"Suit yourself,"
he said, seating himself nearby. "There has been some news. It seems that Noah and his team hired a trail guide to lead them to Roopkund lake. When the five men did not return, a small group was dispatched to investigate. They confirmed their demise, collected valuables and returned to the village where the personal affects await us."

Declan forwarded a set of pictures, ill-quality, but evidence nonetheless, of the scene on to Soren. Mounds, fluffed white with fresh snowfall, indicated the bodies. "I asked if the guides had been able to determine cause of death. They refused to say, but it must have been a weather disturbance. I suggest we wear some sort of protective head gear when we near the lake."

There was nothing to indicate the lure of undiscovered property in the water itself. To that end, the guides knew nothing. Declan had seen the ferocity of impending fame in Noah's eyes, though. Something drew the wanderer there.

"Do you have the hiking gear you need? Or will we need to make a few purchases before tomorrow's train ride?"
Declan had a second suitcase of just such gear waiting in the other room. By the sole bag Soren brought, he doubted his friend was as prepared.

A swish of fingers brought up the images, hovering in perfect clarity over the Wallet on the arm of the chair. Sören leaned forward a little to scrutinise them, unperturbed by their content. Dead bodies meant little when he was caught on a mystery - even if the men had been colleagues of Declan's, with grieving families left in their wake. A second gesture opened a series of meteorological reports, which offered nothing to elucidate the theory of freak weather, though it was a volatile and mountainous area, so it did little to rule it out either. Still, the explanation just didn't wash.

The network had been strangely quiet on the matter of the lake, which tested Sören's curiosity. Either it meant nothing of interest - possible - or else there was a reason for the delay. The balance of possibility was still flimsy enough to allow doubt; they might find nothing at the lake but the frozen bodies and an enigma with nothing to say for itself. For now he was trusting Declan's judgement, but that did not stop the ring haunting in the back of his thoughts; it was potentially more promising of a lead - more certain, anyway - but lost to him now. He had to remember that.

His gaze drew back to his single bag, well-worn and much used, evidenced by the curled remains of old luggage labels and a few equally battered keepsake talismans looped through various zips and handles. To Sören's eye, it also glowed dully with the impressions of old magics. But Declan was right; it contained no hiking gear. "To be arranged on route,"
he agreed somewhat ruefully. Sören's sense of fore-planning did not always include such trivialities; he was more cerebral than practical. Not that it had escaped his mind entirely; rather, he'd not wanted to delay the outset of his journey from Moscow.

"Freak weather? If your man really did find something, what makes you think it was coincidence he never got to tell you what? What reason would villagers have to keep their lips sealed about a few fatally dropped hailstones?"
He flexed his fingers, but did not hold a fist. Currents of energy raged beneath the veil in his mind; he would be able to protect them both. Probably. But they ought to consider more mundane methods of protection, in case Noah's team had fallen ill of more human evils.
Declan was staring off into space while Soren browsed the images. The explanation for weather did not sit comfortably with him either. "What else could it be? Falling rocks perhaps, but geological versus meteorological amounts to the same sort of disturbance in my mind."
Those from the British Museum had yet to consider foul play, and Declan was uncomfortable considering it now. He shifted in his seat.

"There are legends about the area being holy to the natives. You know how fanatical religion and ill-education makes a man. Perhaps the guides were offended that Noah wanted to disturb the lake itself. Their offense turned deadly? It is true that previous digs at the site remained landside. The purity of the water keeps it clear, even when frozen solid. All it would require is to look at it to know there's nothing worth investigating beneath the surface. Something must have changed to suddenly draw Noah's attention."

In other parts of the world, they might have sent a drone flying over to investigate the scene with their own eyes. But drones required operators and equipment: both of which were lacking in such a remote location. "I suppose we will find out for ourselves."
With that, Declan finished the last of his drink and shifted like he might rise for retirement. "I'll order us dinner, unless you'd prefer to go out?"
Unlike his old friend, he was far more practical; gear, showers, dinner, but if Soren asked, he would accompany him out into the strange streets of New Delhi.

Sören shrugged at the offered explanation; it was as good a suggestion as any, and they simply would not know until they'd had the chance to investigate for themselves. Personally, he was more inclined to believe the answer lay in the darker nature of people than in the anomaly of weather. Or perhaps he just didn't want it to be banal coincidence. Life, the way he saw it, branched and connected into a complex but purposeful tapestry. Accidents did not happen frivolously. There would be an answer here. The very possibility of denial spiked only irritation. There would be an answer.

He shut down the Wallet and rubbed idly at the stubble on his cheeks, contemplating for a moment. Without focus, Sören was apt to wander, and India a time-time jewel worthy of appraisal. But tonight the lure was dry, his thoughts tuned too closely to the destination ahead rather than the curiosities offered by a foreign city. "What I'd prefer is to shove the moon from his lofty perch, the sooner for the sun to rise and allow us to be on with the damned journey."
He grinned and downed the amber liquid of his glass, discarding it some place ornamental as he stood. Declan was long used to his lofty language. And impatience.

"Order away. I guess I'll take that shower."
He hooked his bag by a strap, and twisted it over his shoulder.
Soren's poetry was tolerated by Declan in the form of a slight smile and head shake. It had been too long since last spending any significant amount of time with his old friend. He had forgotten the other man's idiosyncrasies. Soren certainly added some spice to his otherwise bland life.

Which was not to say it was dull. He had a comfortable job and a better living than one might expect in this day and age. His family was dear to him, and although he and Elizabeth were divorced, they remained amiable. Then of course, his beautiful little darling daughter was a bright joy in a grim world. He was having a tea party with her on-screen when Soren was finished showering. On her side of the screen, his daughter hosted a stuffed-animal guest list and clearly perched the view of her father at one end of a tea-set laden table. On his end, Declan had tied an extra button-down shirt around his neck, mimicking a white cape. He'd also wrapped a tie around his forehead which dangled down one side of his face like some strange headdress.

He looked up, smiling behind the rim of his own teacup, steeped with heavy mint, when Soren passed. He shrugged and silently pointed to his portion of their meal waiting on a table near the door without disturbing the grand tale being related to him from home.

The next day, Declan had a thorough inventory of his supplies ready to be duplicated for Soren. He also had a list of stores to ready to acquire just such an inventory. The basics would be easy to find and Soren already possessed adequate technologies to ensure communication. After that, it was time to take the train north. Despite the anticipation over what they might find on this journey, Declan wasn't nervous. He sent his daughter goodnight kisses like he always did and the idea that he might never see her again did not cross his mind.

Sören didn't consider himself superstitious, but he did understand the world to be far vaster and more complicated than a single man could understand. Prophecy had a grip on his soul, sparking in him an obsession with the unfurling of the future and the rare eyes that might glimpse some manner of the patterns ahead. He'd have liked a reliable divination, but was loathe to spare the time to find a trusted source amongst all the hokum. Nothing in his gut was off, except the mysterious manner of the deaths, and that not so much a concern as just a curiosity. Still, he did not like to feel blind.

The water stung his skin, head bowed and dripping as he considered the situation, examined it from all angles a dozen times and more. Futile and obsessive, but it soothed him nonetheless to devote the energy. By the time he dried off, dressed and returned to the lavish main room, his mood had begun to lighten. An amused glance in Declan's direction, though of course he did not interrupt, and Sören fell upon the food. For a man so seemingly gaunt, he ate well enough, and mostly ignored the tea party in his peripheral in favour of skimming through his wallet.

That night he forbade himself to enter the world of dreams; likely, he'd need the energy and clear head for tomorrow and the days to come, plus he'd uncovered little of use while still airborne. Not that the temptation did not thrum in the back of his mind, but control was the greater incentive. He slept.


Declan could be counted on to arrange all the practicalities, and Sören was more than content to let him handle the organisational aspects of the expedition (quite a measure of trust, considering Sören's nature), though he did cast a keen eye over all the equipment and new requisitions as they made them. He acquired new clothes on route too, having both the preference and the flair for blending to his surroundings.

After the frustration and impatience of last night, he was more amenable the following morning; enough to belatedly inquire as to Declan's family, work and other trivialities, and answer questions in kind. They caught up on the intervening years, coaxed back into friendship like the donning of an old and comfortable coat. The scent of adventure enlivened his spirits, the unfamiliarity of their surroundings as they made their way to catch the train that would take them north.

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