Content warning: This chapter features a lot of drug use.
Sylvia Sapping laid down in the padded compartment. She had a pipe and a pill of opium, which she lit off a match the young man next to her held. He smiled and lit his own pipe, then put the match out on the pad Sylvia lay on. This young man wasn’t a faerie, demon, angel, or werewolf, so he would get intoxicated quickly, and sober slowly. Sylvia couldn’t do that. Her faerie blood prevented her from getting intoxicated for the most part – after one had been to Faerie itself, nothing seemed mind-altering anymore.
The young man smiled and drew in smoke from his pipe. “What was your name, again?”
“Yeah, and faerie.”
The young man smiled. He probably thought it was a joke.
“You?” Sylvia asked.
“You have an accent. American?”
“Yeah, and monster from beyond the void.”
Sylvia hoped he was kidding, but wouldn’t have been surprised if he wasn’t.
“You ever feel like your brain just jumps from really happy to really sad at random moments? You’ll be depressed for the longest time and then all of the sudden the complete opposite.”
“Absolutely hate that.”
“It’s not fun.”
Neither of them said anything for the longest time, or what the longest time felt like on opium, before Monty opened his mouth again.
“My real name’s Ishmael Samuel Carter.”
“I’m Sylvia Marie Sapping.”
“I hate working.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“I know a lot about whales.”
“I think I’m attracted to men.”
“I don’t have time for being attracted to anything but opium and working.”
“Yeah, I hate working.”
“You already said that.”
“I’ll say it again.”
Sylvia’s mind was beginning to feel clouded, but not as much as she wanted. She thought about also getting out the bottle of laudanum she had in her pocket, when the door burst open and three beefy sailors came in. They stumbled over a prone form, which got a groan from the unfortunate fellow. The first sailor, a tall fellow with dark skin and a thin face, hauled Monty to his feet and physically dragged him out of the opium den. The other two, a blonde with a broad face and a redhead who looked like a weasel, followed behind him.
Sylvia stretched her arms. She could do with some entertainment. She stood up and followed the sailors outside.
Monty was in a bad scrape. The redhead was holding him against the wall, with a revolver pressed against his head. The blonde was busy rifling through Monty’s pockets, probably looking for money.
Sylvia pretended to walk past them idly so that she could get to the other side without seeming weird.
All three men stopped to stare at her. Sylvia nodded to them. “Gentlemen.”
“Do you know this harpooner?” the tall one asked.
Sylvia shrugged. “Why?”
“He’s in a lot of debt.”
“Forty-five thousand dollars.”
“Maybe somewhere around thirty thousand pounds.”
“Holy Debt, Monty.”
The tall sailor looked sharply at Monty. “Hold it just a moment. What’s your name?”
The sailors looked at each other, and slowly, the redhead let go of Monty.
The tall one looked him in the eyes. “You’re not Ishmael Carter?”
“What? No, I’ve never met him.”
“And you aren’t a harpooner.”
“No, I’m a sailor on a merchant ship who’s on shore leave.”
“And an opium addict.”
“Yeah, that too, I guess.”
“Ishmael Carter wasn’t an opium addict,” the redhead said.
“No, he wasn’t.” The tall sailor slapped Monty on the back. “Hey, sorry about that. You see anyone who looks like you, tell us because that’s Ishmael Carter. We’re on the ship Black Galley, got it? It’s a big whaling ship from Nantucket. Can’t miss it. Oh, and here, take this for another pipe of opium.” The tall whaler threw a fistful of money on the ground in front of him.
Monty nodded eagerly and grinned at him. “Thank you.”
The three whalers headed off down the street. Monty knelt down and started collecting the coins, while Sylvia stood and watched him.
“You can have some of this,” he said. “You saved my hide.”
“If you hadn’t called me Monty, they never would have believed me.”
“But you were lying.”
“How’d you get into that much debt?”
“Boy, I don’t even know.”
“Forty thousand dollars is a lot of money.”
“Oh, tell me about it.”
“You’ll never be able to pay that off.”
“Why else would I be asking everyone to call me by a nickname?”
“What else would I do?”
“Get a job?”
Sylvia couldn’t argue that working held no appeal at all. “You could maybe work for Johann.”
“Dr Faust. He does backalley doctor things like not delivering babies and getting buildings burned down, but he also gets paid, he has a wealthy patron, and also I’ve seen him doing drugs as part of his job.”
“Oh, that sounds good. He wouldn’t be averse to someone with a lot of debt, would he?” Monty picked up the final few coins and jingled them inside his hand.
“Will you show me to his home?”
“Yeah, I can do that, but…”
“Oh.” Monty looked over to where the sun was sinking fast. “Dangerous to be out here at night.”
“You buy me laudanum and I’ll sleep at your place, so that I don’t forget about you come morning.”
“A job for a single bottle of laudanum?”
“It’s a deal.”
They shook hands, and walked until they found a drug store. Monty bought several bottles of laudanum, and Sylvia followed him home to a tiny closet-like room where the only furniture was a sofa and a flimsy table at its side. Monty sat down on the sofa, wrapped a ratty blanket around himself, and took a long drink from his bottle of laudanum.
Sylvia sat down next to him, and let him wrap part of the blanket over her. They laid down with their heads on opposite sides of the sofa, so that their legs were entangled but their upper bodies didn’t touch. Sylvia wasn’t sure how much laudanum she drank, but it was enough that when she finally closed her eyes to sleep, long after Monty had passed out into a drug-induced stupor, she immediately descended into a vivid opium dream.
She stood in a featureless desert of roiling sand dunes. In front of her was a strange monster she had seen in several of her dreams, dubbed a sandstriker. They looked a bit like giant lobsters, but were the color of the sand they lived in, and had a huge mouth of sharp, gnashing teeth. Sylvia knew from experimentation that almost nothing could defeat them, except a well-placed sword or spear thrust to the back of the head.
Well, she wasn’t very good with a sword or a spear. Coming into contact with a sandstriker was enough to have her shaking in her boots, especially since she’d already died gruesome deaths in multiple opium dreams of the same kind.
Sylvia turned and ran. The monster roared and struck at her with its pincers, grazing her back. Sylvia kept running, thankful that she wore a shirt.
Angry that it had been thwarted, the monster went after her, showing that it could run at surprising speeds. The sandstriker pinced, only to be met by Sylvia’s waiting sword. It howled in pain as Sylvia ran up its arm and stuck her blade into its left eye.
Sylvia ran after that, fast enough in the dream that the monster couldn’t catch her. When it was out of sight, she laid down and fell fast asleep.
When she woke up she walked along a trade route to an oasis, where everyone was welcome. It was against desert law to deny someone water when they did not have any, and Sylvia didn’t have anything of the sort, as far as she knew.
Still, many people in positions of power chose to bypass that law, and you sometimes had to mention it to them to jog their memory. Of course, only an idiot would deny Sylvia, the goddess of this universe, water, so she strode openly into the oasis.
The oasis was like a little city. It had palm trees that hugged close to the water, and grass that grew a little further out. There were many pools of water, some clear and blue, and some brown and dirty from people bathing in it. Lots of traders were set up there, ready to sell travelers anything they had conveniently forgotten. Merchants sat in the cool shade of the trees, or their tents, having low conversations with their neighbors.
Sylvia went immediately to the nearest pool, and dipped her canteen into it. She took a long drink, then topped the waterskin up and got to her feet.
She casually surveyed her surroundings, seeking the person she needed. There was nothing to fear here, because in this wonderful fantasy Sylvia had created she was the goddess and nothing bad ever happened to her. It was a subconscious world of adventure that she frequently visited when she dreamed, though it had been a while since her last visit. Sylvia took a deep breath of the desert air and continued her search for Akaj, the nomad who could sharpen her sword. After the fight with the sandstriker, she knew this was a necessity and had to be addressed immediately.
Akaj was the finest weapons master in the Realm of Araria, and having made Sylvia’s sword, he would know how to make it so razor sharp it would cut through just about anything. If only she could have a sword like that in real life!
Akaj was over in the corner, talking with a stranger. Sylvia sidled over to join them.
The stranger had straight brown hair, and skin tanned from constant exposure to the sun. He wore a simple brown shirt and white baggy pants, and looked to be about twenty five. He spoke with Akaj in a low, secretive tone.
As Sylvia got closer, she could hear small snippets of the conversation.
“… bandits again, I believe,” the newcomer was saying. “If they attack one more caravan… I will tear their heads from their… ” Suddenly he noticed Sylvia.
Akaj grinned, teeth contrasting against his tanned skin. “If it isn’t Sylvia Sapping! Need another sword sharpening?”
Sylvia smiled. “Why, yes, I do. Got in a… well, I wouldn’t call it a fight exactly, but a… spat, with a sandstriker.”
The newcomer’s mouth fell open. “You did what?”
“I fought a sandstriker.”
Akaj pointed to the newcomer. “This is Mikal, commander of a battalion that protects caravans from danger.”
Sylvia flashed a grin. “Sylvia Sapping.”
Mikal nodded. “Bandits have been attacking caravans left, right, and center. I can’t keep track of how many have died at the hands of these murderers.”
A smile worked its way onto Sylvia’s lips, and she forgot all about getting her sword sharpened.
“I’ll take them,” she said.
Mikal stared at her.
“You don’t think I can do it, do you?” Sylvia asked.
Mikal shook his head slowly. “How old did you say you were?”
“I didn’t, but I’m twenty.”
Mikal laughed. “Do you honestly think you can do what the guards of twelve caravans couldn’t?”
Sylvia grinned. “Totally.”
Akaj smiled. “Mikal, I do not doubt that Sylvia can, indeed, defeat those bandits. No problem. You should consider at least letting her try. Now, Sylvia, how about that sword sharpening?”
Sylvia nodded, and handed her sword to Akaj, who took it into his tent and began to use his sword sharpening machine.
Mikal turned to Sylvia and said, “Will you really do it?”
“Yes, I will.”
Mikal looked like a tremendous burden had been lifted from his shoulders. “Thank you.”
Soon, Akaj returned and presented Sylvia with her razor sharp sword. She took it, gave Mikal a grin that made him hope he was never on the wrong end of her weapon, and said “Can you lead me to the place where the bandits are attacking?”
Mikal shook his head. “You really think you can defeat them, don’t you? Well, there’s nothing wrong with confidence.”
Sylvia was next awoken rudely in the middle of the night to the uncomfortable reality of October in London in the year 1860, which was not the warm, arid paradise of the invented fantasy world of Araria. She shivered violently and clutched at her blanket, angry that Monty had the audacity to use even some of it.
Sylvia groped for her bottle of laudanum. Blessedly, there was some left for her to drink, and that made her a little warmer. She curled into a ball, and stared at the door, which was slightly ajar. Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep.
The door creaked open more. A pale hand with fingers of all the same length curled around the inside of the knob. Sylvia rocked back and forth. Go to sleep, dammit! Sleep!
Something was breathing down Sylvia’s neck. A sob shook her. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.
Nothing worked, so Sylvia screamed her lungs out into the fabric of Monty’s sofa. Fingertips brushed the back of her neck and she heard ragged breathing right next to her ear. She remembered that her father had once said to face her fears whenever they came, so Sylvia turned over and opened her eyes.
Monty was bending over her from the side of the bed. “Hey, are you alright?”
“What?” Sylvia asked.
“You were screaming like mad.”
“Yeah, you woke me up. I was having such a nice dream…”
Sylvia huddled down into the sofa. “Sorry.”
“S’fine.” Monty laid back down, flipped over, and put a distinctive tricorn hat he had with him over his face. He was out cold in seconds, and Sylvia was left lying in the dark pondering a question that paralyzed her. The desert had been a dream, of course, but if she’d really been screaming, had the part after it been waking or nightmare?
Welcome to part two! If you didn’t know, the epilogue of part 1, which was mostly wrapping up loose threads such as the fate of Ransom and Mark’s siblings, was published last Saturday. There’s also a new chapter index with both parts one and two, and since the ‘Dominic’ prologue is now the prologue for the whole series, a new prologue for part one that details police captain Gabriel finding Dominic’s body is coming out this Saturday.
Also, if anyone reading this story has any favorite mythological creatures who they would like to see feature as characters, leave a comment and I’ll incorporate them.
Thank you for reading!