It didn’t take him long to figure out where to go next. The conversation Joachim had had with Hannah’s mother had given him some useful keywords to navigate the vastness of data the team had left him.
Berlin. That was where he needed to go next. That was where he’d find the people with answers.
When Joachim reached the city, it was the middle of the night. Unlike Munich, Berlin was full of dark, monolithic skyscrapers. It was covered in graffiti, trash and industry. It was covered in people who looked like human garbage. It was Joachim’s kind of town.
He knew where he wanted to go, but he took his time. He drove the scenic route, circling in on the historical like a vulture. In Munich, the poverty was contained like in ghettos. The poor people either lived in cramped honeycombs or they didn’t live there at all, with all the hip and pricey areas vast, clean and presentable. In Berlin, rich and poor blended effortlessly. Glittering malls stood surrounded by dirty gray apartment buildings. Large historical sites with pompous half-globe roofs were redecorated with torn concert posters, as if the city were reaching out to them, clawing at them, preventing them from flying off back into the dream world where they had been born.
The Embassy of Flesh didn’t advertise. Among several brass plates announcing medical practices, lawyers and accountants, was a single sign labeled Carnis. There was nothing else, just those words. Still, when Joachim rang the bell, the door was opened for him instantly.
He took the elevator up. It didn’t look high-class or anything. It was one of those steel-colored ones with the square buttons like a million others. Built 1992. In case of malfunction please call this number.
Joachim hadn’t expected a Gothic cathedral- On second thought, no, that was exactly what he had expected.
The door’s opened on the third floor of a ten-story building. One glass door and he stood in front of an office. A large front-desk with an older woman in a suit and T-Shirt combination sitting behind it. The reception area had a living room suite and a ficus tree. There was a huge steel sign bolted to the wall.
Well it was technically true, even if it omitted most of the details.
“Good evening, sir,” said the woman behind the counter. “How may I help you?”
“My name is Joachim Schwartz,” said Joachim. “I have an appointment.”
“Ah yes, Herr Schwartz,” said the woman. “Why don’t you take a seat. Herr Lieprecht will be with you shortly.”
Joachim took a seat. There was nobody else in the office and he didn’t hear any noise of phone calls or meetings or… typing going on. Still it took twenty minutes before a man with a black tie came out who wore the whitest shirt Joachim had ever seen outside of commercials. His silver hair was trimmed short, his wrinkled features looked sort of like an angry owl.
He didn’t say anything, but just sat down next to Joachim, looked ahead and steepled his fingers. It seemed to occur to the woman behind the front-desk that she urgently needed to be somewhere else right now and left.
Shirt-man took a deep breath, followed by a sigh.
Joachim would have to do gymnastics to just look at him and then he would have had a very intimate moment with the man’s ear. He opted to look straight ahead instead as if pretending that they were both just waiting for somebody.
“You have no standing,” said shirt-man – Herr Lieprecht? – as a way of greeting.
“You told me that on the phone,” said Joachim. “At least I think it was you. I called you two hours ago?”
“Yes, that was me,” said Lieprecht.
He stayed silent after that. They were both just staring ahead now, like waiting for a bus.
“I was hoping we could have a polite conversation,” said Joachim.
“Politeness is how we express our respect to those around us,” said Lieprecht. “I have no respect for you, because you deserve none. All I agreed to was a conversation.”
“You are a member of the Fleshcrafter’s Guild, are you not?” said Joachim.
“That seems to be what you think,” said Lieprecht.
“I would like to ask you some questions,” said Joachim.
“You have no standing,” said Lieprecht. “It is the be all and end all of answers you are going to receive. Our secrets are sacred, the trust put into us never invalidated.”
“Andrej Zayenkovic,” said Joachim.
Lieprecht took another one of his deep breaths punctuated with a sigh. When Joachim didn’t say anything more he said: “I can neither confirm nor deny any name you will bring forth. Trying to elicit information from me will only be trying my patience.”
“Maybe that is not his real name,” said Joachim. “Say do you remember somebody escaping with a piece of your handywork. Say, somebody wrapped in chains, running away from you or some House a couple of decades ago?”
“Wait here,” he said.
He got up and walked over to the front-desk. Then he picked up the receiver and punched a number into the phone. Lieprecht had a conversation in what sounded like Russian he kept glancing at Joachim, saying da.
Then he put his hand on the receiver.
“Herr Schwartz, would you mind coming over here?” said Lieprecht.
Joachim got up and did just that. Lieprecht handed him the receiver. Then he made himself scarce as well.
“Herr Schwartz, was it?” said a man with a… foreign accent on the other side.
“It is a pleasure,” said the man. “My name is Magnus Ivinius Crutas. I am in charge of the European continent.”
“Charmed,” said Joachim. He was about to ask if he meant in charge of the guild operations on the continent or literally the continent, but then didn’t. He wouldn’t have liked the answer either way.
“We have been looking for the man you have been describing. Do you know where he currently resides?”
“I am surprised you can even talk to me,” said Joachim. “Seeing as I have no standing and all.”
“Herr Schwartz, our organization is in a delicate position and has been for as long as it existed. You will have to excuse the discourteous remarks that might have been made by my subordinates.”
Joachim’s hand was shaking. Every single word the man spoke exuded power. And all it had taken to speak to him was mentioning Andrej’s name. Was he going to walk out of this place alive? Somehow Joachim had the impression that it depended on the end of this conversation.
“I know where he is,” said Joachim. “This information has a price though.”
“Yes of course,” said Magnus Ivinius Crutas. “I can see to it that you are well compensated for your troubles. Provided you remain discreet and exclusive in your dealings.”
“Agreed,” said Joachim. “I am not interested in money though.”
“Then what are you interested in?”
Faust’s head on a pike.
“Information,” said Joachim. “Secrets.”
There was a pause on the other line.
“Please be specific, Herr Schwartz. Time is a precious commodity, even among the immortal.”
Was he sure he wanted to ask this? He had come here with a different question. Background info on Faust. Anything that could be used for blackmail or discern his motives. Now though…
A bone inscribed with symbols.
Andrej didn’t age. He had spent decades looking like a roughed-up kind of thirty. Why?
“Multiple questions. I will give you information depending on how much I like your answers.”
“How come Andrej doesn’t age?”
“A complex questions with many answers. For you it might be enough to know that he had taken an old vessel, from back when aging was more of a hindrance than a necessity. How do I know you have actually seen him?”
“He spent a lot of time in Munich, driving a white BMW. There is a man who had been buried in an unmarked grave in a forest in Thüringen about a thousand years ago. The grave is now empty. Many people are very interested in this grave and similar ones. Why?”
“They all belong to the same person. A person much similar to Herr Zayenkovic, but far older and far more dangerous. He had been hunted to the end of the earth and lives still. Your answer seems to imply that Herr Zayenkovic no longer resides in Munich. Do you know where he is now?”
Was there a connection somewhere?
“Yes on both counts. In how far are Herr Zayenkovic and the individual in question similar?”
There was silence on the end of the line.
“Those are dangerous questions, you are asking, Herr Schwartz. Perhaps I can make you another offer? I have a substantial amount of funds at my disposal. There are five million Euros inside the very office you are standing in. That is how much this answer is worth to me.”
That was how much he wanted to avoid telling him what was going on, thought Joachim.
“Pass,” he said. “What is there about those two that is so valuable that somebody would spent a lot of time and resources in securing it?”
“The end of peace,” said the voice on the telephone. “The end of order. The end of a truce that has remained uneasy and fragile for millennia. Herr Schwartz, if I told you this, I would violate the Covenant of Eden itself. I am prepared to do it, but please do not ask this of me lightly.”
“Do you want to have Andrej or not?” said Joachim. “Do it.”