Chapter 2


The first Thursday of the month was the day set aside for a status report meetings at the Protectors of Antiquity headquarters. Ath'ran had originally intended for it to be a serious function in which everyone would give a report on their respective projects, make requests or list findings related to their primary concerns, but that had never been the case. With only himself, Du'shan and Riyad in the beginning, their business meetings had degenerated quickly into off topic conversations and a light shared meal.

When Jin had joined them, they'd made a vain attempt to be serious, but within a few months it was back to joking and good times. Once a pack of playing cards had somehow found its way onto the table, and the tradition of a monthly poker game began where the meeting had once been. Though he knew he was as much at fault as his employees for letting things get out of hand, Ath'ran was determined to take a stand and get things back on course. This was a legitimate business, after all, and their objectives were coming closer than ever to being realized, not that anyone but him seemed to realize it. Sometimes he wondered if the others even remembered why they were there at all.

Du'shan, always at his left side, would probably say he was there because Ath'ran told him to be there. Riyad, to his right, would perhaps make light of the question and ask where else he should be if not where Ath'ran himself was. Ever the mystery that he was, Jin's response was easy to gauge: he'd arch his brows, plaster on a large smile, and point out the benefits of a paycheck and roof over his head. At least Nyr, the newcomer, would understand the words for what they were and mention the search for the Surge. It wasn't just the Surge they needed to find, though, it was the Shards in general; proof of Gaigulos and its pantheon of deities and proof that some stories were true. Sometimes Ath'ran felt he was the only one who believed in them, especially when his wife, Lisa, angered by something or other, felt it more pertinent to call the Protectors of Antiquity a band of grown men chasing fairytales. They were his band of grown men, though, and, fairytales of not, they had a purpose to fulfill.

"You going to sit there looking at us or can I deal out the first hand?" Jin asked eagerly, shuffling a deck of playing cards with an impish grin on his round face.

Ath'ran gave him a disapproving stare, hoping he'd take it seriously. "This is a business meeting, Jin, and as such, we'll discuss business first."

"But we're still going to play, right? Since we're all here? I still need to win my creds back from Du'shan after last month's game."

Ath’ran could see Du'shan smirking out the corner of his eye; if there was one thing his cousin had going for him, it was an excellent poker face. "If you want to play cards afterwards, fine, but we're here for a meeting." Ath'ran leaned back in his chair. "Since you were the first to speak, you can give your report first, Jin."

The Chinese man sighed and laid the cards down on the table. "Same thing as last month. I enter numbers, I answer phones, and Riyad takes a look at stuff. We haven't gotten any new information since Nyr and since he's kinda here, it's silly for me to update you on him."

"Alright. Any concerns?"

"Is there the part where I ask for a massaging desk chair and you turn down the request again?"

"Yes. I'm still not authorizing luxuries like that as a business expense," Ath'ran explained for what seemed like the millionth time. "Any pain in your ass is your own concern, not mine."

"You ain't kidding." Jin blew his bangs from his face and ignored them when they settled back into their original position. "Well, that's all I've got then. Until next time. Eventually I'll wear you down on this massaging chair issue."

Not likely. Ath'ran turned to Riyad, the only other person with any real business concerns that needed to be addressed by the group.

Riyad shrugged. "Nothing much from me, either. None of the stuff I looked at last month was linked to anything pre-historical--it was just the standard lot. You can't really be surprised, though. Anything that might be a clue would have had to have not only stood the test of time but at least two cataclysmic events. If everything we know about Gaigulos is from folklore, maybe we need to start looking for books again."

"I already searched the city database," Jin reminded him. "With as many keywords as you gave me, we got nothing that was useful."

"Well, Alan's got old books that wouldn't be in the city’s database. Maybe if we ask real nice he'll let us look through them."

Jin looked crossly at Riyad. "And who do you propose is going to read through them all?"

Ath'ran rubbed his face. "No one said you had to do it, Jin. I understand you have a life. I'm sure one of us can find the time to look them over if Alan permits." Though who exactly would, he wasn't sure. He certainly didn't have the time for it, with a wife and three kids on the side. It fell well within Jin's job description but the man already had enough on his plate with his normal tasks and a sudden social life that now gave him an excuse to step out at night. Ath'ran couldn't help but resent the trip to No Town he'd let his associate take that had spurred the sudden desire to socialize; he'd been much more productive before. He could hardly blame him, but it didn’t make the situation at hand any easier.

"I'll do it."

Ath'ran blinked out of his thoughts and stared at his cousin with mild surprise. "You?"

Du'shan shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I don't have much else to do. No one's really that eager to drop in and steal from us. It'll give me something to do." He looked almost sullen as he added, "I can read Standard, you know."

"That's assuming Alan's books are even in Standard. But alright. Thank you, cousin." Ath'ran kept his face impassive, though he was quite pleased inside. "That just leaves you, Nyr. Any further ideas yet as to whom the Surge is?"

The medic looked at him nervously, hands fidgeting under the table. "Um...that is...no...no, sir. I'll keep thinking about it, though."

If there was one thing their medic was, he was a terrible liar. Ath'ran eyed him cautiously but decided not to mention it, especially not in front of the others. Something was definitely up; the other man had been ducking out for long periods of time without explanation. It seemed quite out of character for the quiet homebody he appeared to be. Whatever reason he had for lying, though, and whatever truth he felt the need to conceal, was better discussed in private.

"What about you, oh captain, my captain?" Jin inquired. "What important information do you have to impart on us?"

Ath'ran sighed, looking over some notes he'd scribbled down. "Not exactly the kind of note I wanted to end this on, but we're at a deficit this month. 1,560 creds for general maintenance fees on the headquarters and payroll. Combined with last month’s total, that puts us in debt 9,794 creds."

Jin whistled in awe.

Ath'ran continued. "I know it's not fair of me to ask this, but if I could have the permission of those of you living here to deduct an extra percentage from your pay to help cover the electricity and cooling costs, it would help us to profit marginally this month and we can start to try and whittle down the debt."

"Or I can just pay it off and we can start at zero," Riyad offered. It was yet another statement Ath'ran was far too used to countering at meetings.

"This is a business, not a charity," he reminded his friend, though it would only serve to pacify him until the next time it was brought up. "Other than the money though, I'd say we're doing well. The advertisement continues to bring in clients and I have no doubt that this coming year will be a good one for the Protectors of Antiquity. Thank you all for your hard work."

"And now I can deal?" Jin asked, the deck of cards back in his eager hands.

Defeated, Ath'ran nodded and let his chin rest in his palm. At least they had managed to stay on task for more than ten minutes this time. "Alright. I'll be double blind first round. We're capping at twenty, though. Last thing I need is a brawl between you and Du'shan over a game of cards."

"Only a complete idiot would pick a fight with a dead man." Jin smirked. "Besides, he's going down this time."

Du'shan looked pleased as he leaned in to receive his hand. "You could spare yourself the humiliation and just buy me the liquor now."

"Ha! You'll be buying booze with your own money this month!"

Ath'ran listened to them talk big and toss veiled insults at each other with mild amusement while Riyad helped explain the rules of the game again to an intimidated Nyr. It was almost like being home with his children, watching them grow and interact together as a family. Even if it wasn't the way he’d ever intended the first Thursday of the month to go, it was never really a disappointment. This was his other family after all, and sometimes he had to leave room to play.