Deirdre, Sylvia, Jean, and Johann had moved into a basement after their building had burned down, which they pooled their scant resources to rent and furnish. Jean often brought home money from out on the street, along with grievous wounds that would be gone by morning. Deirdre still worked as a maid for the Jansons, which wasn’t very profitable, and Sylvia still did something by night that made a lot of money every few weeks. Johann worked odd jobs, tending to wounds, doing autopsies, treating illnesses. He refused to deliver babies, though, and Deirdre didn’t blame him. It had been a week since the fire, and she still woke screaming every night, imagining that she was still trapped in those flames that were ultimately her fault.

At one point, when Deirdre returned, tired and irritable, from her job, she found Sylvia sitting at their small table with another young man.

“Who’s that?” Deirdre asked.

“Ishmael Carter,” said Syliva.

“Monty,” Ishmael Carter said. He stood up so that Deirdre could get a good look at him. He was tall and wiry, a youth of about twenty, with an unremarkable round face, short, flat brown hair, and pale skin. He had a face that could have blended so easily into a crowd that even if Deirdre had known him for years, she was sure she would have been able to lose him in public within seconds. He wore a weatherbeaten tricorn hat, the kind that mariners wore, tough seaman’s boots, a long leather coat, and had bound up his arms with dirty fabric scraps for some reason. 

“How did you get Monty from Ishmael Carter?” Deirdre asked. 

“It’s from when I was a whaler.” His accent was English, but overly exaggerated to the point where she wondered if he was faking it.

“You were?”

“Yeah, I was.”

“Is that where you got the hat?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“Are you wanting to live here with us?”

“Yeah, I am.”

Sylvia took a swig from a bottle of laudanum. “”E has a job and everything. Can pay ‘is rent, too, right? And he doesn’t like girls, do you, Monty?”

“Em, no. I like boys.”

“And you’re not a bad person like Tate and Deirdre’s father, are you?”

“A what?”

Deirdre fidgeted with the hems of her sleeves. This was going to be awkward to tell him. “A, um, a vampire.”

Blessedly, Ishmael Carter didn’t laugh, but instead shook his head. “Not a vampire.”

Deirdre looked at Sylvia, who shrugged. “I think you’d be able to tell if he was, wouldn’t you?”

“I think so.” She’d been able to tell in the past, but there was always a nagging doubt that someday she would mean one that she wouldn’t be able to identify. “You aren’t anything else, are you? No inhuman creature?”

“Who, me? An inhuman creature? Hm, what makes you think that?”

“Are you?” Deirdre asked again.

“Me, inhuman? Well, everyone else here is, and I should think it would be bad to discriminate against me for being so. You’re inhuman, ain’t you?”

“Answer the question,” Sylvia said coldly. “Are you or are you not inhuman?”

“Well, I’m not an angel, or a demon, or a vampire, or a faerie, or a werewolf, you can be sure of that. I’m ain’t ghoul either, unlike your friend Richard. He’s the one who introduced us, you know that?”

Deirdre could see a natural American accent slipping through the cracks of his over-the-top English one. “I don’t care what you are, as long as you’re not a vampire. Do you want to be called Monty?”

“If you please.”

“Of course.” Deirdre flopped down on the bundle of blankets that she and Johann slept in, and sighed. “We’ll get you some bedding tomorrow.”

“I have a hammock I can rig up.”

“I’d rather you not put holes in the wall.”

“I can sleep anywhere, then. In a hammock. On the ground. On top of a mountain of bodies.”

Deirdre looked at him sharply, and saw that the smile had never left Monty’s face. She smiled back nervously, and said, “yes, um, you’ll have to sleep on the ground tonight.”

“I can do that.”

“Good.” Deirdre laid down and closed her eyes. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she must have, because when she opened them she was alone, the basement was much darker, and the thing that tapped outside her window was sitting at the end of her bed.

Deirdre sighed. She would have been afraid, but the last week had been so tiring that she didn’t have the energy. “Hello.”

The thing did not respond. Deirdre shifted to get more comfortable in her pile of blankets, and closed her eyes once again. Predictably, she couldn’t fall asleep, not with that thing there in front of her, so she sat up and went to the door. It was easy to ignore the monster when she just walked past it, not sparing it a second glance. Deirdre opened the door and peered out.

There was no one outside, so she walked out and down the street. There was a boy selling roast almonds, though he had become distracted from his work and was talking with his friend about some story.

“For me,” the almond boy said, “the most shocking thing was that Marcinia really killed her husband.”

“And she really thought about it beforehand,” said his friend. “And then she framed poor Tamar!”

“What are you talking about?” Deirdre asked the first boy, a black haired lad with dark brown skin.

The friend, a smiling boy with mousy hair and oversized seaman’s boots of suspiciously good quality, handed her a packet of cheap paper. It was a penny dreadful titled Flame and Steel, with an image of a redheaded boy fighting an enormous black dragon on the cover. 

Deirdre flipped through it and started to read the first page of what was apparently part ten.

 I awoke to my warm bed, (again) but this time Tarquin was curled up beside me, and my brother Aleck was in the middle of a chess game with Caitlyn at the foot of my bed. When they saw me, the two jumped up and started yelling enthusiastically.

“JOTHAM, WE THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!” Caitlyn shouted.  “IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!”

I gave a weary smile. Maybe the whole ‘Bound’ situation had just been a bad dream, and everything was normal.

Awake at last, the ancient voice said inside my mind. Human bodies are so feeble.

I tore back the sleeve and flipped over my left arm to see a stark white bandage. I unwrapped it, and moaned when I  saw that the curved right triangle was still there, looking more like a tattoo than a scar.

You’re Bound, Tarquin informed me. This is really, really bad.

“No kidding,” I muttered.

“What was that?” Aleck asked. Caitlyn had left, presumably to go tell other people that I was awake.

“Nothing,” I responded. “Just talking to Tarquin.”

Deirdre knew nothing about the story, or who these characters were, but she already hated the writing style. 

The friend shoved another booklet into her hands. “Here’s the first one, miss! It’s real good. It’s about dragons and knights at a magic school in fairy land.”

She opened the booklet and read the first few paragraphs.

It was uncanny, really. That the needed events should line up so. The very night this child had reached four months old, there was a lunar eclipse, known to the people of Alendorn as a Red Moon. And, it just so happened that the day was February twenty-ninth, the best day of the year for casting spells of all kinds. A day like this wouldn’t occur for another millenia.

“Ansger, time draws short,” one of the travellers hissed, identifying itself as female. She drew the bundle containing the child closer to her. They’d stolen the infant right out of his cradle, but they most certainly meant to put him back. His family would never allow them to do what they were about to do, but it had to be done. If they got it right, the baby would save the world from an evil that had stalked it almost since time began.

“Aye, that it does, Emmoly,” the second traveller, a male, agreed. “Rest a moment. Let me see the baby.”

Emmoly pulled back the wrappings, exposing the infant’s thin face, framed by wisps of red hair. He had brilliant green eyes, and a light dusting of freckles.

“Not a blemish on him,” Ansger observed. “You chose well, Emmoly. He’s a prince, an’t he?”

Emmoly nodded.  “The seventh prince.”

He whistled. “Seventh of a seventh! I’ll never understand how you got things so perfect, Em.”

Deirdre shoved the penny dreadful in her pocket. Even if she hated the writing style and had a feeling the plot would be terrible, she hadn’t had something to read in so long. “Thank you. Should I pay you for this?”

“Nah,” the friend said. “I’m rich off jewels now.”

Deirdre bought a cup of almonds off the other boy and resumed her walk down the street. It was late October, so it was cold out, and the thin dress she wore didn’t do anything to keep her warm. Deirdre stopped to look in the window of a bookstore. Already, someone had put out a book titled Christmas Tales.

Someone tapped her shoulder, and she turned to see Monty Carter, holding a paper bag from a pharmacy in one hand and dragging a seaman’s chest with the other. He was breathing ragged and hard, and tapping his feet in a way that suggested that he was trying to ignore the fact that his legs were in a lot of pain. Deirdre’s stepmother had done that. A shiver ran down her spine when she thought about that woman.

“Monty?” Deirdre asked.

Monty Carter grinned. “Hullo!”

“Are your legs alright?”

“Huh? Oh, no, they’re not. They feel like someone set them on fire. I have a whole roundup of medical conditions, you know, including something funky in my joints. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know why I have it, but I do, and sometimes walking is just pain.”

“Do you need me to support you? Here, you can lean on my shoulder.” Deirdre slid her arm under his. “I can help you back to the house if you need me to.”

Monty shook her off. “No, thank you, I’m just fine on my own.”

“Oh. Okay, then.” Deirdre stood up straight again and held out her almonds. “Would you like some?”

Monty took a handful and tossed them into his mouth. “These are good. Where were you headed?”

“I wasn’t sure.”

“We could go see some of my friends.”

“Your friends? How far away are they?”

“Not too far. It’s just Alice and Brownie and Barrorah and Mary Roan, really, not too many people. Are you nervous around a lot of people? I know that sometimes I am. Sometimes I get agitated when there’s too much noise and commotion. Do you know what I mean? When you just feel overloaded from too much activity and you turn into a total ass. I don’t like it when that happens. I don’t like it at all. Anyway. How are you doing today, Deirdre? I’m in a really great mood right now, and it’s not unhealthy. I know a lot about whales, did you know? I can tell you some whale facts. First fact: a whale is a fish and it loves you specifically. Actually, even if it loves you, did you know that a whale is one of my primal fears? They’re just so damnably big. Imagine when a whale dies, too. It falls silently hundreds of thousands of feet through the water until it comes to rest on… the bottom? Does the ocean have a bottom? I don’t know. Whale fact the second: whales are scary and the bane of my existence. I hate working, did you know that? Hate it. I also hate capitalism. I’m a faceless anarchist. Did you know that whales support capitalism by creating a worldwide industry that employs lots of people and makes lots of people rich? Third whale fact: whales are filthy supporters of the western capitalist regime. When were you born, Deirdre? When’s your birthday? I was born in the year 1785. I know I don’t look that old, it’s because I’m immortal. Whale fact number four: whales cursed me to be immortal because they hate me specifically. I’m a poet, too. I write poems about whales. Whale fact number five: whales don’t like my writing because they know I’m telling the truth about their support of capitalism and their secret magical powers that they used to curse me to be immortal.”

Deirdre nodded along with Monty’s rant, even though he sounded like he was absolutely insane. He was so excited, enough that she could hear a New England accent slipping through his over-the-top fake English one. She decided to give the contents of Monty’s impromptu speech the benefit of the doubt for now, because half of the things that had happened to her would sound similar when put together as a single speech and taken out of context.

Monty was still talking. “Personally, I think all people should have rights. All of them! Liking someone else romantically or sexually, being a different gender, being a different ethnicity, it’s all just details. We’re all human, and we should all unite against our common threat. Whales. To hell with those things. Listen, I don’t hate animals, so don’t get angry at me for that. I don’t even hate all fish, or all birds! But if I saw a whale walking down the street right now, I would kill it. No questions asked. Whale fact number six: whales are among us, and they’re out to get us. That guy over there might be a whale. That lady might be. You might be one. I might be one. We have to kill them, but that’s really hard. Whale fact number seven: whales can’t actually breathe in water, so you have to drown them and then harpoon them to kill them. Get it? Yeah, I think you do. Kill all whales, Deirdre. Kill them all and make the world a better place.” 

“So…” Deirdre said. “You don’t hate people, do you? You wouldn’t kill people without question?”

“Oh, absolutely not! All people deserve to be treated the same. Whales, on the other hand-”

“Oh, I know what you think of whales.”

Monty straightened his tricorn hat. “Good.”

“Are you doing anything these next few days?”

“Going to a wedding.”

“Oh, who invited you?”

“No one, but I’m going anyway.”

“You’re just going to crash a wedding?”

“Nothing else to do.”

“Do you even know the people who’re getting married?”

“Sure. Sam and Mary, old shipmates of mine.”

“They didn’t invite you to their wedding, though?”

“Oh, no. My old shipmates don’t like me.”

“Why not?”

“Because the whales don’t like me.”

Monty did not elaborate, and Deirdre did not ask.

Notes:

I’m not sure if I need to say this, but please everyone remember that any opinions expressed by characters are made to be the opinions of the characters, and are not necessarily shared by me. I’m not trying to start any fights, and I won’t debate politics on the internet, so just keep it in mind that any political opinions expressed in this story are not always my own.

Thank you for reading!

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