Janet and Andrea filed into a small conference room with a group of strangers. They spotted Jagathy and Daksha across the room but weren’t able to sit near them at the large table dominating the room. The sisters sat side by side across from them.
In the event that some unforeseen occurrence cut their training short, Jagathy wanted them to have some facts about the target at their disposal. To that end, he had arranged for an abbreviated mission briefing. He felt it would also give them ample time to mull things over and get their questions answered.
Janet leaned forward with her elbows on the table, eager to finally see this elusive target. Andrea sat back in her seat, arms crossed, looking bored and gazing distractedly around the room. She failed to see what those people could possibly say that would be helpful.
In her experience, you just sort of thought fast on your feet because people were unpredictable. Going into a fight with a lot of preconceived notions made you overconfident. She had only decided to attend the meeting in order to see what they guy looked like.
Andrea and Janet sat in silence, listening to snatches of the conversations buzzing around them. All at once, the room got quieter. They looked up as a distinguished looking tall, dark-suited man with salt and pepper hair took his place behind the podium on the small raised platform at the front of the room. He surveyed the room momentarily, waiting for a few remaining conversations to subside.
“Good evening doorkeepers, As most of you know, my name is Thomas. I am the resident spiritual psychologist here and I will be conducting the target profile portion of this mission briefing. We have a lot to discuss, so I’m just going to get right into it. Feel free to interrupt with any questions that come to mind. Will someone please dim the lights?”
The lights went down and Thomas activated a laptop projector. A photograph of an affable looking, bespectacled, middle-aged man was projected upon the screen on the wall. Janet was surprised. She wasn’t quite sure what she expected him to look like but this wasn’t it.
He looked so…so…harmless. Janet imagined him smiling benevolently at a group of intent college students bent over their notebooks. He looked too mild-mannered to pose a threat to anyone.
“His name is Charles Sheffield. He is a professor in the department of near eastern languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago in Illinois. I interviewed many of his former co-workers and students while creating this profile. The general consensus was that he is a privileged, self-indulgent and manipulative predator who is completely lacking in empathy for others.”
Thomas paused and scanned the audience for raised hands before continuing, “some of his former students expressed concern that he developed inappropriate relationships with some of his more worshipful students, gathering after hours to discuss the dark arts. There are rumors circulating about off campus ritual sacrifices.”
Thomas moved on to the next slide, “his thirst for knowledge about Egyptian magic is quite voracious. Hence, his fevered acquisition of and search for Egyptian artifacts, most notably the talisman which is in our possession. Charles dabbles in the dark arts and has a very specific purpose in mind for the talisman. As always, the seven deadly sins are key to building your forensic profile. Anyone care to take a stab at which one drives his behavior?”
Someone from the back of the room piped up and said pride.
Thomas’ solemn expression was momentarily cheered up by a boyish grin, “Correct. He sees himself as superior to others. As you have probably surmised, compliments and criticism of his abilities are key to verbal sparring with him. Overblown confidence in his knowledge and abilities is both his strength and his Achilles heel. Overconfidence makes him immune to most psychic attacks since most are only as effective as their ability to capitalize upon the target’s fear.”
Another audience member spoke up, “if psychic attacks are out then what can be done?”
Thomas held up a restraining hand and clarified, “Psychic attacks can still work but you must be creative. His overconfidence is Achilles heel in that it is often a blind spot which prevents him from recognizing his limitations. He may initially underestimate the threat you pose but he is cunning and will quickly switch tactics once he discovers his mistake. Any questions? No? Well, you know where my office is if something comes to mind later. At this time, we will move on to discuss the potential forms of opposition which may be encountered.”
Thomas turned the podium over to a lanky, long-haired, scruffy looking man of indeterminate age. Janet and Andrea exchanged doubtful looks. Even in the dimness of the room, they could see he had the look of a stoner who was still a little baked. The man stayed slouched in his seat with both hands folded over his stomach. He merely nodded to Thomas and swiveled in his seat, near the head of the table, to face the rest of the room.
“Can everybody hear me? Cool. I’m Sage. I have been tasked with giving you all a quick overview of the various entities which you will likely come up against in your encounter with Charles. Jagathy here tells me that you all have already had a run-in with shadow people. Let me see if I can break it down for you. Most scientists believe that there are multiple planes of existence. There are very thin uh…boundaries, for lack of a better word, between these planes of existence. As such, it is possible to open portals which enable one to jump from one plane into another, often manifesting on these other planes as shadows. Now some shadows beings differ from the ones you encountered because they are mere energy imprints of individuals who died as the result of some traumatic event and for one reason or another have not departed from this plane. Like an echo, they engage in repetitive behaviors and are not conscious of their surroundings. These would be the ghosts that people often see in old houses and abandoned buildings. What we’re talking about in this situation is a supernatural entity or the essence of someone engaging in astral projection. There are also spirits that can possess the living. Seeing as how Charles is a practitioner of Egyptian magic, he is probably using akhs which are spirits allowed unrestrained travel in this plane and akhu who appear as ghosts or shadows. Any questions? None? I know this is a lot to absorb so, if you wanna chew on this for a bit and have a little pow wow with me later on that’s fine. I’m a night owl so just stop by my digs as late as you want. Um, be forewarned, if you plan on stopping by during the day then it’s best to wait ’till after lunch. I’m not even conscious before noon. That’s all she wrote for me so, I’m gonna hand this presentation off to Rob.”
A stout, middle-aged man stood and bustled up to the podium. He briefly scanned the room and nodded curtly by way of greeting. Andrea took in his bulging arms and soft middle, guessing that he was probably an ex-military something or other.
“My name is Robert and I am the tactician on this campaign. We want to stop Charles Sheffield but we also want to identify his agents and seize any artifacts and talismans he has collected. Rather than a blitz, we want to infiltrate his circle and gather intel. It is important to determine if he is operating independently or as part of a larger group. If he has allies then we need to know about them. To that end, we will send a warrior and seer to pose as college students enrolled in the oriental institute who will become his most ardent admirers. Securing invites into his circle of initiates will provide the best vantage point for gathering intel. Given the relative inexperience of the team on this campaign, we will station a contact person on campus among the maintenance staff to provide support and oversight. This is a preliminary plan and as such, it will be subject to changes as new intel comes in. I will meet with the team prior to the date of departure to nail down the plan. Okay folks, that’s a wrap. Thank you all for coming.”
The lights came back up and the room slowly emptied. Janet and Andrea remained in their seats watching people file out. Janet felt overwhelmed with all of the information that had just been presented. It was high school all over again; she recognized the familiar panicky feeling she experienced in school after zoning out during a lecture and then learning that there would be a pop quiz on it. Everything they said had seemed terribly important but she was having trouble remembering it all let alone figuring out how to make use of it. She looked over at her sister and was surprised at how relaxed she appeared to be. Janet touched her on the arm and leaned over to murmur self-consciously.
“How can you be so calm? I’m scared I’ll forget something important.”
“All you need to remember is what the guy looks like.”
“But all that stuff about entities and spirits. I’m the seer. I feel like I need to memorize that stuff.”
“Relax Janet, this isn’t some midterm exam we’re preparing for. They just wanted to give us some idea of what we’re up against. It’s impossible to anticipate everything. These people don’t have a crystal ball. Jagathy will teach you how to use your talent and defend yourself. We’ll figure out the rest together.”