First Bank of Terminus
In Terminus, the further north one went, the older and more established the buildings and people became. It was in the northern reaches that the earliest survivors took shelter, where the archaeological remnants of Old Terminus still stood. Well, north and toward the west, at least. Following the Cataclysm, society had been reborn there.
The Arcanum revived religious worship and teachings. With the Dioecesis, law and order. Sapientia Coetus brought back learning and study. Then, of course, came the Ouroboros.
Properly named as the Temple of the Arbiter, but better known as Ouroboros, the ancient edifice had been built from part of Old Terminus. Serving as, quite literally, the First Bank of Terminus, and the first bank of Araevis' rebirth, the Ouroboros came into service exactly one hundred years after the Cataclysm. It was, by all historical accounts, responsible for much of the massive growth in Terminus, giving away far more than it took in.
Of course, charity like that was not ideal for business. The generosity of the original owners eventually caused the bank to fold, and new ownership took over. While it never regained its stature as the biggest bank in Araevis, it still held clout as the oldest, and members of the bank were carefully curated. More importantly, it was said that not a single exa had ever been stolen from the bank.
Naevius Squalidus looked up at the bank from the foot of the wide stairs leading to its three sets of double doors. The front of the bank was plain, clean grey stone, carved with symbols of Serpens and the 'saints' of Arbiter faith. Smiling, the wild-crested enlil climbed the steps, entering the central set of doors. Conexus members stood guard, but made no move to stop him. Inside, the floor was red marble and there were four pillars of solid green marble. Naevius was mildly surprised that the pillars didn't have snakes climbing them; instead, they were plain, faintly swelled in the center. A heavy silence filled the lobby within, every step echoing as Naevius made his way toward the back of the room.
Behind his dark glasses, Naevius let his eyes roam around. He counted six guards, noted they were each armed with a firearm. No halberds or spears. The far side of the room was a wall of pale granite, with a massive portrait of a velen man -- one of the original owners, Naevius presumed -- and many smaller portraits, mostly of other velen men or women, with a handful of laicar. There were no chairs or tables, no employee there to wait on customers.
Within moments, however, a young woman dressed in sober black business attire came out of a side room and gestured for Naevius to follow. Platinum feathers were carefully preened, reaching midway down the woman's back, and she had wide, wire-frame glasses perched on a thin nose. Naevius didn't quite catch her eye color before she turned away. Red? Perhaps she was albino?
The room he was led into was a simple sitting room with thick rugs laid over the cold marble. He took a seat on the leather couch and looked around. More paintings, several framed documents, and an empty fireplace. The center of the room was dominated by a desk, with an array of office supplies laid out on it. Everything in the room, in the bank as a whole, spoke of age and decorum.
"Mister Sekbrin will be with you shortly," the pale enlil said. Naevius looked up at her and confirmed her eyes were red, but the complexion of her skin seemed too dark to be a true albino. Silently, he applauded her ability to keep her obvious disdain out of her voice and expression. Briefly, he considered resting a heel on the desk in front of him, but decided against it. That could very easily get him thrown out for real.
"Thank you, madam," Naevius said, trying to at least sound like he belonged there.
Sekbrin… Naevius closed his eyes and considered the name. That would be a name originating from southern Copiae, near to Paludis. Most likely a thin man with dark grey scales, perhaps a hint of green. Firm ridges atop the head, no ribbons or anemones. Horns, maybe. Thin lips but a broad nose. Except, if he remembered correctly, there was a marriage some years ago. If Mister Sekbrin was a young man, he might be paler in skin and scale.
No, Naevius decided. He'll be middle-aged, and with eyes the color of seaweed.
"Thank you for waiting, sir." Naevius opened his eyes. Bingo; just as he'd predicted, except the tall, slender velen had barely a nose to speak of, just nostrils, almost skeletal. "I am Wosoul Sekbrin, and this is my assistant, Miss Cotepa Nude." The woman's surname was two syllables, but Naevius imagined it got a lot of attention from those unfamiliar with eloian. "What can I help you with today?"
Like Cotepa, Naevius had to applaud the man for not giving any outward signs that Naevius did not belong there. He was clad in his lab coat, unbuttoned, and canvas pants cinched with rope. His chest was bared, showing his chestnut feathers and the curious grey diamond patch in the center. The crest atop his head was wholly disheveled. Certainly, he didn't fit the appearance of their usual clientele. "Good afternoon, Mister Sekbrin, Miss Nude," he said, making certain to pronounce both names correctly. "My name is Naevius, a humble chemist here in the city of Terminus. I was looking to open an account with your fine establishment. How would I go about that?"
"Of course," Sekbrin said, maintaining a professional air. He sat down at the desk, opening a drawer and withdrawing a document of some kind. He began filling in notes. "If you don't mind my asking, have you already considered Safe Bank and Trust or perhaps Leonidas' Savings and Loan?"
"Yes, actually, as well as Turnis Financial. However, they lack the history and reputation of Ouroboros."
There was a faint wince from Cotepa but Sekbrin remained calm. "We prefer not to use that unfortunate nickname."
"My apologies. I realize one can read into negative meanings, but I've always admired the philosophy of the ouroboros, not as a serpent which devours itself, but as a symbol of infinity and immortality."
"You did say you were a chemist," Sekbrin remarked with a small smile. "Be that as it may, I'd consider it a personal favor if you refrain from using the name in here."
"As to your application, I'm afraid it has been denied, Mister… Naevius."
One feathery eyebrow lifted but Naevius didn't cause a scene. "My, my, that was fast. I didn't think I'd even filled an application to be denied."
"Here at the Temple of the Arbiter, we cater to a particular clientele, sir. While we would certainly like to work with the common citizens, particularly one as polite as yourself, we much also consider the reputation of our institution. As you, yourself, have noted, it is that reputation which sets us apart from the other financial institutions in Terminus."
"Mm, I see. It's because my appearance screams, 'poor' and 'beggar.' However, I assure you, I am well endowed." Naevius leaned forward and casually dropped aurit coins on the desk until he had formed a circle, adding a few more to vaguely form a head: an ouroboros.
Instead of his eye lighting up greedily, Sekbrin looked flustered by the gesture, and his cheeks colored with indignation. "Sir, it is not a matter of money, but of propriety. Please, gather your… belongings."
Plan B, then, Naevius thought to himself, allowing a broad, toothy grin to spread. "Excellent! You truly have earned your reputation!"
Expecting a different kind of reaction, Sekbrin tilted his head. "Sir?"
Naevius collected his coins and dropped them in a pocket, laughing. "Well, I had to know if you'd let in just any old fool off the streets before I could trust my business with you. Please bear with me a moment."
The chemist stood and turned around, flaring his white coat out wide. There was a shocked gasp from Cotepa as his canvas pants and the rope belt were thrown to one corner of the room. "Sir!" Sekbrin shouted out. A guard almost immediately opened the door with the commotion but by then, Naevius was turning back around.
The lab coat itself still rested on his shoulders, but it was as if they were looking at an entirely new person. He wore a royal purple tunic with black accents cinched with a gold chain, black pants and short black boots. Over the tunic, he had a black doublet with gold embroidery. White belts held the lab coat in place and as he turned around, Naevius produced a silver comb from a pocket, already glistening with water or some hair product, and combed his unruly chestnut crest back. Naevius plucked the dark glasses off his face and tucked them into a pocket in his doublet, smiling and meeting Sekbrin's eyes directly. His orange eyes were clear, no longer bloodshot after a few simple eye drops.
"As I said, Mister Sekbrin, my name is Naevius… Naevius Squalidus, that is." He had hoped to avoid invoking his family's name, but he supposed he would have needed it anyway. "I apologize for the play-acting, but I had to be sure, you see."
The guard looked to Sekbrin for direction, but the dumbfounded velen waved him away, and then shared a look with his assistant. "Mister… Squalidus. Of course, I understand. Please excuse our misunderstanding. In fact, I believe we have another member…"
"Argentatus, my father," Naevius supplied with a nod.
That, it seemed, was good enough for the man. "Indeed. Very well, let's get this taken care of and make you official!" Now that the shock had worn off, Sekbrin was eager to move ahead. The Squalidus family were wealthy in their own right, although not quite a household name.
The application process moved along swiftly, almost too swiftly. At times, Naevius asked unnecessary questions to stall for more time, keeping a wary eye to the clock on the wall. Finally, once everything was said and done, and Naevius had made a sizable deposit -- more than he initially intended, but he had to live up to that family name -- he asked one more thing. "It has been a pleasure, Mister Sekbrin, Miss Nude. My last piece of business for the day, I have some important documents that I'd like to place in a safe deposit box, if possible."
"Certainly, sir. I believe Miss Nude and a pair of our guards can escort you down there. Here is the key." Sekbrin pulled a key from a locked drawer in the desk, handed the key itself to Naevius, and a piece of card stock to Cotepa. "As you are likely aware, for security reasons, each deposit box is tied to a single key, not to a name. You are the sole responsible party for the key, Mister Squalidus. Be sure that you do not lose it."
"Of course. Thank you for your time." Naevius pulled a small bottle from a pocket, putting a dollop of gel on his talons and wringing them together before shaking the velen's hand. The pleasant smell of oranges filled the air. "Sanitizer," he explained with a smile. "Hope you don't mind. Now, shall we, my dear?" Naevius smiled warmly at Cotepa, but the woman only offered a tight, professional smile in return.
"This way, sir." As they exited the room, two guards stepped up to join them without a word. Cotepa led the way through a heavy doorway and down a long stairwell. Past the lobby, the bank immediately transformed from opulent to utilitarian, flat grey stone and plastered walls. The lighting was more than adequate, but otherwise Naevius wouldn't have been surprised to find he was being taken to a dungeon cell.
Every now and then, they'd pass another guard, seated in an alcove. All of them seemed alert, but the echo of their footsteps would give more than enough advance warning. At last, they reached the bottom of the stairway. By Naevius' estimation, they had to be four or five stories underground.
The expansive room was lit with faerie fire of a pale blue. There were metal bars separating the rear half of the floor from the front, not so unlike the dungeon Naevius imagined. Rows upon rows of small, locked metal boxes were behind the bars, each with a number.
Not far off, another group was walking. "Well, wouldn't you know it?" Naevius said with mock surprise. Ignoring Cotepa's shocked protest, Naevius waved cheerfully and headed over to greet the other group.
Another employee of the bank, a laicar woman with red hair, stood next to two robed men and two more Conexus guards. Naevius walked right up to the older of the two robed men and bowed his head. "Father Piadoso, I certainly did not expect to see you again so soon. Good day to you and your companion, as well as your most-lovely escort!"
Piadoso, a monk of Saint Juno, bowed his head respectfully, though he did not immediately recognize Naevius.
"I hope the foreign youth has not caused too much trouble..?" Naevius supplied. He had brought Chara'nira to the temple of Saint Juno, asking if they could house the angry young man. Since he could not speak common, he couldn't contradict anything Naevius said about his situation, and the monastery was known to take in the outcast, at least for a time.
The hint clicked and Piadoso smiled. "No, no trouble at all, master alchemist. His coughing fits are much subsided thanks to your remedy, but he has not yet regained the power of speech. He tries so hard and still, only gibberish." Piadoso sighed and lowered his head, offering a quick prayer for the unfortunate soul.
"I see. Please do have someone let me know if his medication runs out and I will of course mix together a new batch. I only wish I could heal maladies of the head as easily as those of the lungs." He mimed a mournful sigh. "Ah! Well, my apologies, I did not mean to delay you, gentlemen. I was just so shocked to see someone I know in a place like this." He started to hold a hand out, then pulled it back. He produced his bottle of 'sanitizer' once again and scrubbed his hands quickly. "A much more pleasant aroma than most of my reagents," he explained letting Piadoso sniff the orange-scented concoction. Then he held his hand out.
Piadoso took a moment to gather himself, but the kindly old monk took the offered hand and shook it vigorously. "Good heart to Saint Juno and have a fine day, Father Piadoso," Naevius said with joviality.
"May Serpens guide your path, Master Alchemist," Piadoso offered in return.
The rest of the group started to move, but Naevius offered his hand to the other monk. "And to you, sir..?"
The younger monk smiled and bowed his head respectfully. "Serpens guide you, Alchemist," the man offered, shaking the enlil's hand gently.
Tell me your name, jackass! Naevius shouted silently, but outwardly he smiled and dipped into a deep bow. "And to you as well, madam!"
"Of course, sir," the redhead offered before dancing away. To the guards, Naevius offered a simple nod and smile, which they both returned.
A muffled cough drew his attention and Cotepa, his own guide, scowled up at Naevius. "That was extremely inappropriate, Mister Squalidus!" she hissed at him in hushed tones. She sighed and pushed her glasses higher up her nose. "Please save pleasantries for the lobby. In the vault, it is important to maintain confidentiality. You should not be going around, shouting the identity of other visitors for all to hear."
"I did not realize, my dear," Naevius lied, trying to look genuinely repentant. "It is my first day, remember. Everything has been so informal that I had thought us all part of a brotherhood!"
Cotepa responded with a huff and led the way to the deposit box matching his key. One of the guards took it out, carrying it as Cotepa led them toward a sealed, locked room. The box was smaller than Naevius anticipated, but more than large enough for the paperwork he sought to obtain. He smiled as the employees closed the door on the small lighted room, allowing him privacy to deposit whatever he wished.
Here was something he hadn't considered. The guard carried the box, meaning he would know, and might mention, that it felt no heavier than when he carried it out. There was blank paper in the room, though, and Naevius smiled to himself.
He had told the man upstairs that he had valuable documents to secure. It had been a tongue-in-cheek reference to the object of his actual intent, but why not part of the ruse, too?
Naevius folded a dozen blank sheets into thirds and then on the inside of the outer fold, he etched out a simple enchantment. Nothing fancy, just a burst of stored heat and energy. Satisfied, he produced a spool of thread and wrapped the papers, tossing the sheaf into the back of the box. If anyone actually opened it, the enchantment would go off, disintegrating the papers. He would be within his rights to be outraged at the bank for snooping, no suspicion could rightly fall on him.
One eyebrow raised, and he made a note to check for similar traps on the target documents.
Naevius added a few paperweights from his lab coat and sealed the box, hoped he would remember his own trap if he ever opened it again, and opened the door.
"All set, lady and gentlemen," he announced with a smile. One guard retrieved the closed box while Cotepa and the other guard began escorting him away.
It was time to track down Kincaid.