Johann – 2.18.7

Content warning: Something kind of like drowning

Johann laid a wet cloth across Leonard’s bruised forehead. 

“Get this goddamn fish off my eyes!” Leonard shouted.

Johann laid another wet cloth across Leonard’s bruised forehead.

“I’m serious!”

Johann laid a third wet cloth across Leonard’s bruised forehead.

“Damn you!” Leonard tried to struggle, but he had many heavy blankets on him, and he was as weak as a little baby right now.

“It’s not a fish,” Johann said.

“Yes it is! I hate you!”

“It’s a wet cloth, and it’s going to help your concussion.”

“Why would a fish treat a concussion?”

“It is not a fish, Leonard.”

“You’re a quack German fish doctor.”

“I am not, and this is not a fish.”

“Yes it is, and you’re only treating me because you’re irreparably attracted to me.”

“No- Well, yes, I kind of am, but that’s not why I’m treating you, and this is not a fish- stop struggling, dammit, I’m trying to help you!”

“Damn you!”

Johann held Leonard’s arms down. “Leonard, you have to stop struggling.”  

“Get the fish off my eyes first!”

“Leonard.”

Leonard fell silent for a moment, which disturbed Johann slightly. Still, it was nice to work in peace for once, especially since he had to turn around to get things several times. 

When he was done making Leonard as comfortable as he could be with his severe concussion, Johann sat down on the end of the bed. “Leonard?”

“Where is Serena?” Leonard asked.

“Serena?”

“Yes, my wife. Where is she?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you ask her to come here? Please?”

Johann sighed and stood up. “I will try to find her.”

He went downstairs and pulled on boots and a raincoat. Rain was coming down in sheets outside, and enough fog had rolled in off the harbor with the storm that a ship carrying Enoch, who had left for the twenty-third and should have been back today, could not dock. Johann imagined Enoch grumbling and groaning on the ship, and smiled. He could be hilariously dour sometimes.

Johann stepped out the door, and his glasses were immediately both fogged up and covered in water droplets. He cursed and took them off. There was actually no reason to keep wearing them.

Upon taking several steps along the sidewalk and realizing that people would be able to see him, he took the glasses back out and put them on again. 

Johann walked down Broad Street first. He stopped a worker outside the Hadwen & Barney Oil and Candle Factory, because the man seemed to be headed in the same direction he was.

“Have you seen a woman named Serena somewhere around here?” Johann asked. “Long black hair, dark brown skin, on the shorter side in terms of her body?”

“Nah,” the man said.

“Alright, thanks anyway.”

“Any time, my friend.”

Johann tipped his hat to the man and continued walking. There were docks at the end of Broad Street that made him slightly nervous after the events of Thanksgiving day, but he figured that was where he was most likely to find Serena. 

A fisherman was calling out the daily catch of shellfish. “Clams! Lobsters! Crab! Bay Scallops!”

“Have you seen a woman named Serena?” Johann asked.

“I haven’t,” said the fisherman. “Are you going to buy anything?”

To appease him, Johann bought a clam, shucked it, and ate it raw right there. The fisherman went back to calling out his catch.

“Have you seen a woman named Serena?” he asked a pair of young girls playing in the street.

The girls looked at each other and shook their heads.

Johann walked out to where some people were jumping off the docks. It was still pouring rain, but they didn’t seem to have any fear, especially a petite dark-haired woman who was swimming further out than anyone else. Johann grinned and took off his hat and coat. He dove into the water and swam out to where the woman was. “Serena!”

The woman turned around, and Johann saw that she was distinctly not Serena. He immediately felt bad, and would have apologized, if he hadn’t instantly been pulled down into the dark water. 

Something was clamped around his leg. Johann tried to pry it off, but he dropped his hands away when he saw that it was some kind of seal… thing. He tried to swim for the surface, but it dragged him down, and down, and down, into a cave at the edge of the land. 

Fortunately, it then threw him up inside of the cave itself, which was above the water line. 

It was a small, featureless rock cave, with nothing in it except for an oil lamp which lit it. How had that gotten down here?

The seal-thing flew up out of the water, momentarily scaring Johann out of his skin. It landed on the rock on two human feet.

It was Serena, wearing only a sealskin frock coat. She grinned at Johann and tossed her wet hair back behind her back. “Dr Faust! How are you doing today?”

“Well, you might have taken three years of my life away just there. I didn’t know you were a selkie. I must confess, I thought you were just Scottish.”

“That’s right, a Scottish selkie I am, and a Scottish selkie I’ll always be.” 

Johann stood up and ruffled his wet hair. “Good to know.”

“What brings you here today, Dr Faust?”

“Your husband.”

“Aye, my husband?”

“He has a bad concussion.”

Serena instantly went from happy to concerned. “He does? How? Who? Where is he?”

Johann pointed. “He’s up there. In Monica Carter’s house.”

“Take me to him. Please.”

Johann dove back into the hole. She followed him, and when he poked his head up above the water he found that it was raining even harder, enough that the youths at the docks were no longer there. Johann climbed up onto the dock and put his raincoat, which was now soaked inside and out, back on.

Serena followed him, still wearing only her frock coat, back to Monica’s house. When Johann came inside, he was barely able to step over the threshold before Joseph, Monica’s son, screamed “Mama, someone’s coming inside all wet!”

“Sir, you are committing a crime,” Monica said from the study. 

“Sorry,” said Johann.

“Go upstairs and change your clothes immediately.”

“That’s what I’ll do.”

“Oh, and don’t get any mud on my hallway carpet.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“There’s some half-naked woman with him, Mama,” said Joseph.

“Johann, I don’t care if you want to fraternize with a woman, but please refrain from teaching my son the birds and the bees several years too early.”

“This is Leonard’s wife,” Johann said.

“Oh. Carry on, then.”

As Johann led Serena up the stairs, he heard Joseph ask, “Mama, what are the birds and the bees?”

Johann opened the door to Leonard’s room and let Serena inside. She went up to him and took his hand in hers, murmuring something too soft for Johann to hear.

“Tell that goddamned doctor to get this fish off my eyes,” Leonard said.

“That’s not a fish,” said Serena.

“Yes it- Oh, who cares. Thank you for coming to see me, dear.”

“Of course.” Serena kissed his cheek and smiled at Johann. “Would you mind giving us a few minutes alone?”

Johann shrugged. “Take as long as you need. Just don’t do anything too straining, if you know what I mean.”

Serena laughed. “I do.”

Johann closed the door and went up to the room he had been sharing with Deirdre. Monty had moved back into his old farmhouse, but otherwise, all of his other friends still lived with Monica full-time. Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind. Johann checked on Deirdre, who was passed out asleep in their bed, then went up to the attic.

He almost tripped over Sylvia, who was clearly high as a kite on laudanum again. Wilhelm and Alice were playing a dice game, and Richard reclined on a pile of blankets, reading by the gray light of a small, circular window. 

Johann sat himself down between Wilhelm and Alice, purposefully interrupting their dice game.

“What?” Alice asked.

“We’re going to steal the body of Mrs Fuller,” Johann said. He turned back to look at Richard. 

Richard turned the page of his book calmly. “Yes?”

“We are stealing a body.”

“That’s nice.”

“You’re expected to help with this.”

“And so I will.”

“Good.” Johann turned back to the others. “Sylvia-”

“Asphsyibfhifvjnbhsuj.”

“When you’re sober I’ll expect your help as well.”

Sylvia groaned. “It’s already happening.”

Johann turned to Wilhelm. “Wilhelm, you stay by me.”

“Okay, Dr Faust! I love working with you anyway.”

Right. He’d forgotten how irritatingly happy Wilhelm was. “Alice, Richard, you can-”

“I’ll do whatever,” Alice said. She unwrapped a candy and popped it in her mouth. “This candy is really good, by the way.”

“You’ll do whatever, and Richard will make the plan.”

Richard nodded and went back to his book. Johann took that as a sign of assent. 

Johann sighed and flopped back against the wall. “Nothing to do now but wait for Mrs Fuller to die.”

Notes:

Fun fact #1: the whaling museum that spoiled the entire plot of Moby Dick for me is in the Hadwen & Barney Oil and Candle Factory today. It’s an interesting place, if very spoiler-y.

Fun fact #2: This is completely unrelated, but:

  • The words homosexual and heterosexual were first used in a letter from Karl Maria Kertbeny to his fellow gay rights activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, in 1868.
  • The word bisexual was first used by Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s in his book Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886. The book was translated into English in Charles Gilbert Chaddock’s translation in 1892.

Just some random fun facts!

Thank you for reading!

Monica – 2.17.4

Content warnings: Death, gore, some very weird imagery, near-drowning, discussion of slavery

The Speaker sat on the sofa across from Monica and Leonard. They were a short, stout figure that looked an awful lot like jellified Bird’s Custard in a suit, thanks to the fact that they were only an imitation of human form. Their skin was sallow and stretched too tight, their eyes were like glass marbles that had been dropped into pits slightly too big, and their shoulder-length hair was the dull color of the dead leaves that skirted across the paving stones in fall. All over, they looked like the imitation of a person, like a human created from scratch from someone who had only ever had humans described to them by unobservant people who were bad at describing things.

“Good morning,” the Speaker said. “Duke Mephistopheles. Senator Monica.”

“Good morning,” said Monica. She shook the Speaker’s hand. “What should we call you?”

“Speaker Delta, thank you.”

“Are you… male or female right now?”

“Neither, thank you.”

“Good morning, Speaker Delta,” Leonard said.

Speaker Delta shook his hand, then sat back against the cushions of the sofa. “I understand that Senator Monica has invited me here today to speak with you on the aims of the Shaw-Captains during wartime in America.”

“Do we have confirmation for this war yet?” Leonard asked.

“Yes,” said Monica. God Himself had told her. 

“Alright, then.”

Speaker Delta pulled a folio out of their jacket and took out some papers. “Here I have the general logistics of the proposed strategy among the Shaw-Captains in the event of a civil war in America. We mostly rely on southern plantations for the production of cotton and tobacco, both in very high demand in Faerie, and on the North for the manufactured goods of textiles, leather goods, and firearms. Slave labor also drives most of the South’s economy – they have a deep economic investment in this war. The North does too, of course, because their merchants’ exports to Europe account for so much of the national income from exports. Who was it that said a few years ago, ‘cotton is king?’ He wasn’t wrong there.”

“It was James Hammond, a Southern senator,” Monica said. “What he really said was ‘What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? I will not stop to depict what everyone can imagine, but this is certain: England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king.’” Monica prided herself on having an almost picture-perfect memory. She could memorize whole speeches having read them only once or twice.

Speaker Delta looked impressed with her. “Well, I see that you keep up to date on politics, then, Senator Monica.”

“Yes, I do.”

“That’s very good. Continuing with what I was saying, there have been several proposed solutions to the issue of slavery, such as the federal government buying out all slaves – which would take an incociveable amount of money, by the way – complete emancipation, sharecropping, et cetera, but I don’t see any of them as feasible, and looks America agrees with me, because war is presumably the direction America is going in.

“So, what does this mean for our trade? Well, we expect the borders of the South to be tight in particular, because we expect that if and when war happens, it will be fought on Southern soil. The North will probably be consumed with manufacturing goods for the war, which means we won’t be able to purchase many things for our own trade. The Shaw-Captains intend to stay out of this mortal war, as they always have, and are at the moment considering buying from sources other than America for the goods America would normally provide. We expect trade to be slower for a while, though I can’t even dream of a day where trade among the Shaw-Captains halts entirely. In fact-”

Caro threw open the door to the parlor. “Mama, a murder, a murder!”

Monica and Leonard both stood up at the same time and spoke simultaneously. “A murder?”

“Yes, yes, Mrs Phebe Fuller, the ole’ widow who lives on Silver Street, she’s been attacked, maybe killed! You know Ca’pin Fitzgerald? The old man?”

“Yes,” Monica said. She was deeply confused by the entire turn of events – especially the part where it was Caro who somehow knew what was going on.

“Well, see, one of Mrs Fuller’s friends came in to see how she was, since it’s Thanksgiving, you know, and well, she found her knocked out with an old whalebone fid. She got Ca’pin Fitzgerald, and the doctor, Dr Sherman, and this other guy, Mr Macy, and I followed them, and because I’m very small I got to see what was what, and, oh, Mama! Blood everywhere! I never knew that a human head did such a funny thing when split open!”

Monica practically ran Caro over running for the door. She was out on the street in an instant, shoving past the gathering crowd to get to the front, where Mrs Fuller’s front door was thrown open. 

“Doctor,” Monica said, seeing Dr Sherman coming out of the house. “What happened?”

“I told you-”  Caro began to say.

“Hush, Caro. Doctor, what happened?”

“Mrs Fuller has been attacked.” Dr Sherman wiped off his bloody hands with a rag. “She’s still alive in there, though. Barely.”

Doctor Johann Faust, one of only two of the people in the crash who had been able to move out of Monica’s house for the time being, shoved past her to speak with Dr Sherman. “Sir, I have medical training. I attended several prestigious schools in Europe and I know- well, let’s just say I know a trade secret that you don’t, shall we?”

“I have this under control,” said Dr Sherman.

“I think you should let me help you,” Faust said.

“No,” said Dr Sherman.

“Please, Dr Sherman, let me give you a second opinion on-”

“No, and if you don’t stop asking, then I’m afraid I’ll have to remove you.”

“No police force on Nantucket,” Faust said.

“No, there isn’t, but don’t think I won’t beat the living daylights out of you if I have to.”

Monica should have stopped this conflict. She wasn’t supposed to let the humans fight each other. But, she did sort of want to see Faust get punched in his smug, atheistic face, and she also had Caro with her, and she should get Caro home and away from the scene of the muder. Caro… where was Caro?

“Caro?” Monica asked. She’d slipped out of her grip, and Monica didn’t see her anywhere in the crowd or along the street. “Caro?”

Down the street, at the edge of the dock, she saw a flash of golden hair. Caro and another boy were pushing each other back and forth at the edge of the water. Cathy the doll was abandoned on the ground. Monica’s heart just about stopped. 

“Caro!” She shouted. The boy she was fighting with looked like he was Maxwell, the blacksmith’s son. They were good friends, weren’t they? Why were they fighting?

Monica made her way as quickly as she could through the crowd to the side of the dock. Caro had the boy’s wrists in her grip, and she was slowly shoving him off the side of the dock.

“Caro!” Monica shouted. She grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back, trying to get both her and Maxwell away from the water. Instead, she made Caro overbalance, and Maxwell flew backwards into the harbor.

Monica shoved Caro backwards and jumped off into the water without a second thought. She cut through the water easily, swimming down, down, down, much deeper than she should have been able to under the dock. The bottom, where the boy lay prone, was eternally right in front of her, just outside her grasp. Too late, she realized that she wasn’t going after a human boy. 

Monica tried to swim for the surface. She wasn’t sure exactly what had taken up residence under this dock, but she knew it was hungry for anything it could get its teeth into, up to and including one of God’s own angels.

Walls of darkness closed in. Monica’s lungs were about to burst. Why weren’t angels able to breathe in these human vessels? She cursed this fallen world and tried to keep swimming, but found that her limbs were sluggish, and she couldn’t think straight.

The surface was right next to her. The surface was there with its green – no, blue, remember your numbers – sky. Monica should flap her arms up because that would propel her to the sky. Or, she could stay here and let the blue blackness of the ocean swaddle her forever. 

There was a long pole above her. Monica grabbed it inquisitively, and found herself being ripped out of the ocean and thrown onto the dock, where she promptly lost consciousness for a few seconds.

When she awoke, it was because Leonard was pumping her chest up and down to get the water out. Monica vomited up more seawater than she would have thought her lungs could hold and sat up.

“Th- tank you, Duke Mephisto,” Monica said.

“Actually, you have Miss Sylvia to thank for your life,” said Leonard.

Sylvia Sapping waved from behind him. She was on crutches, because it was her leg that Monica had taken a broken piece of wood out of, and her chest was bound up from her broken ribs. She must have stuck one of her crutches in the water to pull Monica up.

“Thank you, Sylvia.”

Sylvia shrugged. “I only put my crutch in the water.”

“We have to kill whatever that was in the water,” Monty said. “I’ll sail out on the the water to find and kill it. Who will-”

“It’s off the dock, idiot,” said Sylvia. “We can kill it right from here.”

“What is it?” Deirdre asked.

“Bad,” said Monica. “Leonard, would you take Caro home?”

“I had Johann take her so that he wouldn’t fight with Dr Sherman.”

“Thank you.” Monica groaned and vomited up more seawater. “Ugh. I hate this.”

“Don’t worry,” Deirdre said. “We’ll kick that thing’s arse for you.”

Sylvia gave her a shocked look. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you swear!”

Deirdre shrugged. “I thought the situation deserved it.”

“Clear the area,” said Leonard. “Anyone without combat abilities needs to leave. Someone get the civilians out of the way so that we can deal with whatever the hell this thing under the deck is.”

Monica stood up, shaky at first, but getting stronger. She wasn’t supposed to harm anything in God’s creation, but something told her that this thing was outside of the Lord’s jurisdiction. She walked home, only to get her flaming sword out of the attic and strap it to her waist. 

“What’s going on?” Clarissa Janson asked.

“We’re going to fight a nightmare beast,” said Monica.

Clara’s eyes gleamed. “Let me get my shoes.”

The two of the walked back down to the dock, where Monty, Sylvia, and a huge man with auburn hair were standing around sharpening their weapons. Monty had a whaler’s harpoon, Sylvia a small knife, and the other man… nothing, apparently. He must have been very confident in his hand-to-hand combat abilities. 

Leonard came loping down the street a few minutes later. He had a massive medieval greatsword, the kind typical of demons, who were seemingly stuck in the middle ages. He also had a crossbow slung over his back, and a row of bolts across his chest. 

“Is this all?” Monica asked.

“There’s no police force,” said Leonard. 

“Is anyone else coming?”

“Yeah, one more person.”

“Who?”

Leonard shrugged and murmured, “I don’t know when she’ll get here.”

“We should walk along the beach and wade over to under the dock,” Monica said.

“That’s a good idea,” said Leonard. “Do you want to lead?”

“I’ll hang back. Defend the flank.”

“Alright.” Leonard turned back to wave at the others.  “Everyone, we’re going to wade down under the dock.”

He led them down off the dock, down onto the dark sand. Monica’s shoes sank into it and wet her feet a little, since they were so close to the waterline. She hiked up her skirts and followed the small group into the water. When they were all waist-deep and Monica had given up trying not to get her clothes wet, Leonard stopped and whispered back, “We’ve only got a little ways left to go, so listen to what I say when I say it. This might be quite dangerous, so keep close.”

With that, he started moving again. Monty seemed to dawdle for a moment, before Monica nudged him with her elbow and he jumped back into motion.

“Duke Mephisto,” Clara said, moving up to the front. “What exactly is this thing?”

“I don’t know,” said Leonard.

“You don’t know?” Clara asked.

“I think it might be a Thing,” said Leonard.

“What’re Things?” Sylvia asked. 

Monica sighed. Ah, the innocence of humanity and not knowing what a Thing was. 

A pale white tentacle burst out of the water, grew a face, and screamed at them. At least twenty more around them followed suit.

“Well, the Things usually defy definition,” said Leonard, “but I would say that that’s a Thing for sure.”

There was a moment of presumably horrorstruck silence as more and more tentacles burst out of the water, grew faces, and joined the cacophony of otherworldly screams. Monica tried to stay calm, reminding herself that this Thing could not kill her in any way that mattered, and that she had successfully fought and killed Things before. 

However, the humans presumably had not. They stood there facing these horrible monsters, as the moments drew past impossibly slow, probably waiting to be eaten alive. Even Monica herself was feeling the oppressive emptiness of the Things, and beginning to doubt that she really could win against this Thing. She struggled to silence that part of herself, wrestling the Thing’s mental attacks back away from her mind. If only there was some sound to distract her! The screaming had gone disturbingly silent as the tentacles wove back and forth hypnotically. There was no sound but for the quiet lapping of the small waves, and the silence was crushing.

That is, until Monty began to shout.

“Great hammerheads are an ocean fish. They are four feet long from head to tail tip. They live in warm, shallow seas all over the world. Great hammerheads eat stingrays, squid, other sharks, crustaceans and octopus. They surprise stingrays hidden on the seabed by crushing the stingrays onto the seabed with their “hammer”. All hammerheads use their “hammer” to fight and defend but the great hammerhead is the most aggressive (and the biggest). Great Hammerheads have a large number of ampullae of Lorenzini. They also have very small mouths.”

“What in God’s name?” Sylvia asked.

“Do you hear how quiet it is?” Monty asked. “I have to make some noise!”

“That’s a good idea,” Leonard said. “It isn’t attacking us yet because it’s waiting to see if it can possess any of us. Keep up the distraction, Monty.”

“I- uh- Oh! On April 18, B.C. 100 a cheese fight broke out. Many types of cheese were thrown. It wasn’t a very effective war though: most people just ate the cheese that was thrown at them. Some types of algae would agree that “it was a very tasty fight”.  Even though they couldn’t see it, because they were underwater. The fish  agree with the algae. The astoundingly large number of casualties: -1,000. A riot was started to collect more ammunition (cheese) and many shops were raided. The horrible criminal who started it all is Tarf McTam, [23] captured by detective Whodunnit last night. A picture of Tarf Mctam can be seen above.

What in God’s name?” Sylvia asked again.

“He’s just-” Clara began to say, but was cut short by the screams beginning again and reaching a crescendo. The first tentacle to reveal itself threw back the upper section of its head, flipped itself inside out, and revealed that the tentacle was full of teeth.

Leonard drew his longsword. “Kill it!”

Monica threw a splash of water enhanced with angelic strength that way, and knocked the tentacle back. Almost instantly, she threw her left arm wide, and twisted her sword around to bring up a barrier of holy fire to block a toothy tentacle that was reaching for her head. She held her sword in her right hand, holding it up and ready while keeping up the fiery barrier. If Monica held the sword at the right angle, she would be able to keep up the barrier of fire. If not, that side of her would be defenseless.

Monica twisted her wrist, and chopped at the bottom of a tentacle. She leaned the other way and stuck again, lopping the root off. It flew off to the side, and there was another crescendo of pained screams. A toothy tentacle swung down to knock her head off, but she matched it with her sword, and cut it in half with one clean swipe. That got her more screaming.

For a moment it looked like Monica might have been winning, and she allowed herself to feel a bit of elation. This wasn’t so bad! 

Then the bloody stump of a tentacle flew down and slammed her in the side of the face.

Monica saw stars. She was thrown into the water, sword knocked right out of her hand, which made her fire shield gutter out. Monica rubbed the spot where she’d been bruised, watching how the sky spun and how the two bloody tentacles in front of her swapped sides, in and out of focus, mirroring each other. Vaguely she registered Leonard screaming something as he cut a tentacle in half, but then the image of him was blocked by a toothy tentacle slamming into her arm. It was strangely painless, warmth spreading from that point onward to her entire body. 

Monica swore and rolled away. That was poison.

She heard someone yelling something at her, but she ignored them and dove her head under the water to retrieve her sword.

That was when she had what seemed at the time to be a fantastic idea. Some Things had some kind of heart in their material forms, which was a strange weakness in what were otherwise beings of complete strength. If she could find that, Monica could root it out, and dispatch this mortal form.

Monica grabbed her sword and crawled along the bottom, only coming up for air when she was about to pass out. The tentacles didn’t seem to see her crawling under there even when she slid past the tangle of pale flesh into the center of the monster, where there was a pulsating, throbbing hole that she immediately knew she had to climb through.

Crawling through the hole was disgusting, but when she got to the other side, she was in a room made of living flesh. It was only big enough for her to stand and possibly lay down at full length – which she wasn’t going to do – and in the middle sat a sort of pedestal, with an eye sitting on it.

Monica picked the eye up. She cocked her head and smiled at it, watching as the pupil turned to watch her.

She was not supposed to kill anything in God’s creation. Did this eye count? It looked like something the Lord would create, but it felt distinctly like it wasn’t – but it looked like something He might create. She hefted it and tossed it from hand to hand. Had God made it? Had He not?

They should have sent someone with less limitations to destroy this thing. Monica realised that one of her arms was numb. The poison the teeth had given her was taking control. 

She couldn’t destroy the eye if it was something God had made. Monica crawled back out of the hole, pulling it behind her. Why did it seem so much heavier?

The only person she saw was Clara, slashing and cutting at toothy tentacles like a woman possessed. Where were the others?

“Leonard?” Monica croaked. He had been fighting for sure, because there were crossbow bolts sprouting all over the monster’s tentacles. She spotted a form lying in the water, holding something long and skinny. Was that Leonard? Ishmael?

Suddenly, every tentacle turned towards her.

“Destroy the eye, Monica,” Clara said. “Please.

“I- I can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because-”

A tentacle slammed into her stomach and sent her flying. The eye flew out of her grasp, but a harpoon shot out of the water and skewered it mid-air. 

Thank God for Ishmael.

The monster screamed louder than it ever had before. Monica slammed her hands over her ears and shook her head, trying to drown it out. Her head began to pound, until it felt like it was about to explode. She fell to her knees and plunged her head into the water, seeking some release. It did nothing.

Then, as soon as it had begun, the screaming stopped. Monica tentatively lifted her head above the water and saw Clara and Ishmael picking up an unconscious Leonard. 

In front of them was the bloated corpse of a dead whale. Monica and Ishmael locked eyes, and suddenly something clicked. She knew why he hated whales so much. She knew why he had gone whaling.

“We’ll take him home,” Monica said, pointing to Leonard. It was time for her to play the leader. “Get yourselves home, too. Have Faust attend to you.” 

“And you?” Clara asked.

Monica swallowed hard and turned back to the bloated corpse. It was already starting to stink, as if it had been dead for weeks. “I’m going to take care of this dead whale.”

Notes:

Fun fact! The whole thing with Mrs Fuller actually did happen on November 22nd, 1860 (apart from Johann and the Carters, of course). The murderer turned out to be a woman named Patience Cooper, and the case ended up being a big deal because Ms Cooper was African-American, and a judge was called in from mainland Massachusetts to give her a fair trial, which was huge in a time when slavery still existed. Ms Cooper was still imprisoned, because it was really obvious that she’d done it. At this point, however, Mrs Fuller was still alive, and had not woken from her coma to incriminate her attacker yet.

Thanks for reading!

Leonard – 2.16.6

Leonard was good at taking care of people when they were ill. In fact, when he’d been a small boy, he’d had to take care of Lavinia for five weeks after she’d nearly died of pneumonia because her caretakers were gone. He would take care of Richard, too, until Richard’s concussion had healed and he was back on his feet, even if that mostly meant sitting in a dark room reading by the light of a candle or simply being alone with his thoughts, while Richard slept off the medicines he was given for most of the day.

By November 22, which the Americans celebrated as Thanksgiving, Richard was much better, sitting up in bed with the windows open. He and all the other victims of the wagon crash were staying in the home of Monica Carter, the angel, because she was trained as a nurse. Leonard had also been staying over, though he avoided Clarissa and Ernest Janson like the plague. Serena came to call sometimes, but Leonard knew that she was spending most of her time in the sea, which was her natural home. He didn’t hold it against her at all, in fact, he was happy that she was getting to be in the place she loved so much.

On November 22, Leonard had been sleeping on top of the covers of Richard’s bed – with his permission, of course, having a pleasant but bizarre dream that somehow involved the French Revolution, which he had been reading  about before bed. He was torn from this dream by Mrs Carter practically breaking down the door and kicking him awake. 

“What the hell?” Leonard asked. He immediately winced, because making any reference to Hell or damnation on an angel’s property was physically painful, similar to the way that making any references to the Bible or prayer was on a demon’s. He had also sworn in front of Mrs Carter, who was a woman, but he figured she wouldn’t mind.

“That probably hurt,” Mrs Carter said.

“It did.” 

“Look at the paper.”

Leonard skimmed the first section of the newspaper that had been shoved under his nose. His eyes caught a few words in particular – Lincoln, President’s Message, Congress, secession, Union, compromise, Cabinet, and dissolution. A stone of dread hit the pit of his stomach. “Oh, no.”

Mrs Carter slapped the paper with the back of her hand. “Nothing’s happened yet, but I see foreshadowing for what’s about to happen. I think the South is about to secede.”

Leonard sat up and cracked as many of his aching joints as he could. He yawned, and looked out Richard’s window into the gray evening. His sleep schedule had suffered greatly, as evidenced by the fact that he had evidently slept the day away. “You can’t possibly be sure of that.”

“Do- do you remember what happened just before the Fall?”

He glared at her. “This is nothing like that.”

“I disagree.”

“They’re humans.”

“Which means they will kill each other.”

“But-”

“Do you follow American politics, Duke Mephisto?”

“Not really.”

“Slavery has been a debate since this country was formed. Some people think it’s great, some view it as a necessary evil, some people – myself and everyone on this island included – think it’s just evil, and some people don’t care. However, I’m sure you can imagine the friction between people who love slavery and people who hate it.”

“Yes, I was there to witness it in England,” Leonard said. “I was a staunch abolitionist, myself.”

“That’s good, you’ll fit right in here.” Mrs Carter paused. “Did you pay attention to the election?”

“I paid as much attention as I could without leaving this room.”

“That’s good.” Mrs Carter sat down next to him on the bed. “Who did you support?”

“Lincoln, I suppose. I want slavery gone worldwide, and I follow anyone who has that as their goal.”

“Us too.” Mrs Carter handed him a piece of paper with a lot of numbers on it. “The election results. Lincoln united the Republicans and won most of the North, though his win was mostly through the electoral college. It’s odd that he didn’t get any votes from several Southern states – Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, or Tennessee. He only got one percent of the votes in Virginia, as well. Do you know how the electoral college works?”

“No,” Leonard said.

“It’s a thing that’s a big part of the election. No time to explain further. In any case, these are the states that have been supremely angry about slavery, and now that Lincoln’s president, they’re even angrier. I think they’re going to secede over it. Though, Texas might not join in if they do secede, because their governor, Samuel Houston, says that it’s folly to leave the Union or, God forbid, start a war over it.”

Leonard looked at her paper of election results for a moment longer, then looked back up at her. “I’m glad to know all this, but why are you telling me this now?”

“Because you’re in America at present, and it’s a big deal. You need to know about it.” Mrs Carter sucked in a breath. “If the South does secede… it’s going to impact everyone. Think about how much of England buys cotton from them, and how important their ports are to international trade. Or, think about what’s going to happen if America fights a civil war. Think about how that might impact politics.”

“The Shaw-Captains buy cotton from the South,” Leonard said. “But Hell is for the most part self-sufficient. We have sinners to do our work.” 

“A kind of slavery in itself,” said Mrs Carter. 

“They put themselves there, and they could leave at any time. Besides, they do get paid for it. And we have straight feudalism, unlike America.”

“It’s still slavery.”

“We pay the sinners, and we don’t own them.”

“We can agree to disagree, but we still need to talk about how this might impact both of us, Above and Below. One of the Shaw-Captains sent a Speaker to talk to us about how they’re dealing with the high cotton prices and the possibility of the industrial production in the North being halted for the war. We also need to talk about… um…”

Leonard knew what she was about to say. He had had this exact conversation with Harriet and Tecualt through letters, and he knew how they were handling it. “The possibility of an influx of souls in the case of a war.”

Mrs Carter nodded. “Yes, that. What are you doing about it?”

“Tecualt has mobilized a force specifically for escorting the souls through to my land, and taking them to Heaven if they manage to redeem themselves. He has another force ready to keep things under control in the case of the soldier souls making trouble when they get down there. Other than that, Tecualt is fighting off the rebellion, which the possibility of a war up top should quench entirely.” Leonard ticked things off on his fingers as he spoke. “Harriet has families lined up to adopt any dead children who might need to spend time being punished in purgatory, or, unfortunately, children who might have to be condemned to Hell. She also somehow managed to find people to help soldiers with any psychological problems they might have gained. She’s offering extra food and days off work for anyone who stops their usual work to build new housing for the soldiers and anyone else who might have died. She’s rearranging who gets what jobs so that the slave owners are punished more harshly, and the people who died as young soldiers or civilians get easier jobs. She has people ready to train said soldiers for multiple of these jobs depending on what they did in life. She’s also asked people to open their homes to the possibility of new souls needing housing.”

Mrs Carter nodded along with him. “Good. We’re not expecting as many new arrivals in Heaven, but we’ve still prepared in much of the same ways you have, building new housing, mostly high towers into the clouds, finding positions for new arrivals, getting together psychiatric help for the people sent to their deaths by the war, mobilizing a militia of souls who were soldiers to get people from Hell and Purgatory if they’re sent there mistakenly in the chaos, buying the few things we can’t instantly make from the Shaw-Captains in bulk, getting people together to adopt dead children, building new schools for the education of anyone who didn’t get it in life – especially the children. The democratic assembly has issued multiple statements on what it’s probably going to be like, so that the souls are generally prepared for the chaos and know the protocol to deal with it. Some of them are also prepared for new additions to their families should a soul with no family arrive, and a lot of souls are pooling resources for the souls that will go to purgatory.”

“I should buy up what I need from the Shaw-Captains,” Leonard said. “That’s a good idea that I hadn’t thought of.”

They fell silent for a moment, before Leonard said, “What if there isn’t a  war?”

Mrs Carter sighed. “At this point, I can’t see there not being one. Besides, our orders to prepare for the war came from on high – literally.”

“Oh. Everyone in Hell is mostly just doing it out of panic.”

Mrs Carter laughed.

Richard sat up. “Mrs Carter. Good morning. I see I missed a party.”

“Not quite,” Leonard said. “We were just talking about the possibility of an American Civil War.”

“Oh. Is it very likely?”

“It would seem so,” Mrs Carter said.

Richard pulled his legs close to his chest. “Well, I suppose it’s a good thing I can’t be drafted, then.”

There was a heavy knock at the front door. Mrs Carter stood up. “That’s the Speaker. I’m sorry, Richard, but we really do need to go talk to this person.”

“It’s alright. I hope you enjoy yourselves.”

Leonard laughed at how dark that now-humorous statement was. He followed Mrs Carter downstairs and into her parlor, where the Speaker waited for them.

Notes:

Sorry that this chapter is basically just another infodump! The action picks back up again soon, I swear. In the meantime, there’s a new drawing of Monty on the art page that you can go look at! Fun fact: That needle-like thing on his jacket that you’ll see is called a chockpin, and it’s something used on a ship. Harpooners would wear them to mark themselves as having killed a whale, which was a major and laudable feat back before humans realized that whaling is really, just, not good at all. And, I mean, if I killed an enormous animal with a bit of iron from a fragile wooden boat, I too would probably want to brag about it. You can see them having chockpins to mark themselves as harpooners in In the Heart of the Sea (2015), a very good movie about the Essex, the real life tragedy that inspired Moby-Dick.

Monica – 2.10.2

Monica was eating breakfast with Howard and Angelica when a servant ran up to her with a calling card. 

Lady Clarissa Janson

Woman of the gentry and unicorn of the Seelie court

Monica handed the card back to the servant. “See her in. I’ll meet her in the front parlor.”

“Janson?” Howard asked. “I know that name.”

“He’s an important duke from England,” said Angelica.

He was also the demon Mephastophilis, which put Monica on edge. However, Clarissa Janson claimed to be a faerie, and no faerie who was allowed to refer to themself as such would align themself with anyone who worshipped or honored any kind of superior force. That was sometimes the only way to tell faerie from werewolf: the werewolves honored the Things. The faeries honored nothing and held nothing sacred.

So, hopefully, Mrs Clarissa Janson wouldn’t be serving Satan now. Hopefully.

Monica went to the front parlor, a small room with two sofas facing each other and a fireplace on the back wall, and sat down on the sofa facing the window that looked out onto the street. Caro wandered in a few minutes later and sat down on the sofa next to her. She had her doll Catherine, and was busily sticking pins into its arms.

“Aren’t you hurting her?”  Monica said.

Caro shrugged. “Wanna see something funny, Mama?”

“Alright.”

Catherine the doll had a hard head made of plaster and wood. Caro threw the doll across the room and laughed gleefully when its head thwocked on the hard wooden floor.

“Caro!” Monica said.

“What?”

“That wasn’t very nice to poor Catherine.”

“She’s only a doll.”

“But you threw her across the room!”

“So?”

“You wouldn’t like it if someone threw you across the room.”

“My head doesn’t make as funny a sound when it hits the floor.”

That was a relief to hear, at least. 

A servant opened the door. “Mrs Janson here to see you, ma’am.”

“Thank you, please let her in.”

“Do I have to leave, Mama?” Caro asked.

“No, you can stay, dear.”

The door opened again, and a young woman with platinum blonde hair came in. She was a handsome young woman, with a round face, button nose, and sparkling eyes. She wore a red dress in the latest fashion, which contrasted against her pale skin and hair.

“Mrs Carter,” Mrs Janson said. “Good morning to you, and to your… daughter?”

“Yes, Caro is my adopted daughter. Say good morning to Mrs Janson, Caro.”

“Good morning, Mrs Janson!”

Mrs Janson smiled. “Good morning, Caro. How are you today?”

“Very good! Do you want to see something funny?”

“Alright.”

Monica knew exactly what she was going to do, but Mrs Janson presumably didn’t, which was probably why she had such a horrified look on her face when Caro threw her doll across the room again.

“You mustn’t be so cruel to your doll,” Mrs Janson said. “They have eyes and ears, you know. You should be careful or it might just take you away while you’re sleeping.”

What kind of a comment was that? ‘Be careful with your doll, little girl, or it might abduct you while you’re sleeping.’ Monica stood up and led Caro out of the room. “You go play with your siblings, alright? Go see what Charlotte is doing.”

Charlotte was her second youngest daughter, and Caro’s constant companion, especially during the summer months. Caro bounced off, and Monica went back into the room with Mrs Janson. “Sorry about that. Caro is a bit of a wild child.”

“Oh, no, it’s just alright. You’re Monica Carter, right?”

Monica sat down on the sofa, unsure why this Englishwoman would be so interested in who she was. “Yes, that’s my name.”

“Well, Mrs Carter, you see, I… erm…”

“If you’re about to say something related to the Seelie court, know that I, as an angel, am ready to believe you.”

Mrs Janson looked shocked, but relieved. “Oh. That’s good.”

“What did you want to tell me?”

“I was raised by King Oberon and Queen Titania on the border of the Unseelie court, but I am not their biological child.”

“No?”

“No. In fact, I am told that I belong to this family.”

That was unsurprising, given the faeries had a history of stealing babies from their cradles. Monica went and got the family Bible, with the family tree in it. It took her a moment to find anything promising, but then she spotted a baby girl named Clarissa who had ‘died’ just after being born in 1814. Monica handed the book to Mrs Janson and pointed to the child. “I think that this might be you.”

“Yes, that looks right.” Mrs Janson craned her neck to get a better view. “Oberon said that my father is Percy Carter Sr.”

“That’s my grandfather,” said Monica. He was also possibly the father of her adopted daughter, but she didn’t say that.

“It’s nice to meet you. Are any of my brothers and sisters still alive?”

“Yes, there’s my uncle Joseph and his wife Josephine, and my aunt Emily, and her husband my uncle Robert, but he’s bedridden and likely won’t be with us much longer.”

“I want to meet Robert before he goes,” Mrs Janson said.

“You will.” Monica stood up and rang for a servant. “Why don’t you come with me and I’ll get a bed prepared for you and your husband to sleep in tonight? It’ll be a lot better than a hotel.”

“I would like that.”

Monica led her upstairs. There was an empty bedroom with a double bed right by the staircase up to the third floor, which she didn’t have any plans for in the near future. It was a good sized room, with an adjoining closet and bathroom, that she figured Mr and Mrs Janson would find quite adequate for their needs.

“Thank you, Mrs Carter,” Mrs Janson said. 

“You’re very welcome, Mrs Janson.”

“Please… I know I’m older than you, but I still feel younger. Please call me Clara.”

She wasn’t older than her, since Monica was an angel who had existed since time itself was created, but it would have been rude to correct her there, so she didn’t. “Alright, Clara, I can call you whatever you want.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Would you and your husband like to dine with us tonight?”

“We would love to.”

Monica smiled at her. “Very good.” She took Clara’s hand and led her upstairs to the room where Addison lay abed. “Addi?”

He looked up from the whale book he was reading. “Mama?”

“This is Mrs Janson. Say hello to Mrs Janson, Addison.”

Addison smiled politely. “Hullo, Mrs Janson.”

“Hullo, Addison,” Clara said. She shook Addison’s hand. “What’s that you’re reading, there?”

“It’s a book about cetology.”

“Do you like cetology?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“What’s your favorite whale?”

“The right whale. It has all the right things.”

“That’s a good choice.”

“Thank you, Mrs Janson.”

 Monica felt Addison’s head to check for a fever. Luckily, he seemed like he was just fine. She kissed his forehead and led Clara down to James and Joseph’s room. 

Joseph was fiddling with something small and wooden rather than doing his schoolwork. Monica gently took the thing out of his hands and put it in her pocket. “Joseph, darling, you need to focus.”

He was obviously angry. “I’m sorry!”

“Joseph.”

He glared at her and pointed to the door. “Close it!”

“Say hullo to Mrs Janson first, Joseph.”

“Hullo, Mrs Janson.”

Monica closed the door and went downstairs. “There’s also James and Mildred, my eldest, and Charlotte, Joseph’s twin sister. They’ll be there at dinner tonight.”

“That’s nice to hear. I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of your family.”

Monica smiled. “I’m glad to hear it. I was going to go take a little nap. Do you mind if I do that?”

“Of course not.”

Monica left Clara with Angelica, and went upstairs to her bedroom. She slipped out of her dress and undid her hair, then climbed into bed and shut her eyes.

She wasn’t physically in her home in Heaven, but she could have information from there given to her when she dreamed. She saw an ancient library with a well that contained something terrible, watched over by a figure in a red monk’s outfit who had served as sentinel for ages beyond counting. He was reading when she arrived, but he was quick to talk.

“I would assume you know what the antichrist is?” the Man in Red asked.

“Yes, I know what that is.” 

“And you know what the Things Without Faces are?”

“…Yes.”

The Man in Red bookmarked what he was reading and closed the book. “Gods will have their prophets.”

“They are not gods.”

The Man in Red shrugged. “They might be.”

“They aren’t.”

“They have a prophet all the same.”

“Who is it?”

“Someone visited by one of them regularly.”

“That’s too vague.”

“Someone baptized by death in liquid. Seawater, maybe, or blood.”

“Does the person know?”

“They might. They might be a person who does and says odd things because they know. They might be someone who represses memories of their death in liquid. They might not have returned yet.” The Man in Red lit a candle. “They might be dissatisfied with their lot in life, or they may have a reason to live. In any case, they’ll be ready for change, and even if they don’t know it, they’re doing that by heralding the Things in.”

“It’s not Doctor Faust, is it?” Monica knew about that. Everyone who was anyone knew about that, and the ripples it had created. 

“It’s not. He’s still on his first life.”

“You’d love to see your kin back,” Monica said.

“Alas, I admit it.”

“I’ll bet you created the prophet yourself.”

“Maybe.”

Monica stood up. “You’re giving your enemy an advantage.”

The Man in Red laughed in a low voice. “Ah, angel. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch.”

Deirdre – 2.7.5

Content warning: Implied abuse and cannibalism

They arrived in Nantucket on the Fifteenth of October – four months before they had left the harbor in Hell. Deirdre asked Duchess Mephisto about it, but was advised not to think about it too deeply.

Monty was there as they coasted into the harbor with a myriad of information about his birthplace.

“Nantucket, looked at from an aerial view, is in the shape of a whale, which is fitting considering its history. The harbor of Nantucket is worn out in curves, like the top of a scallop’s shell, and in this harbor is Great Point Lighthouse, which is the second oldest lighthouse in America. Think of that! Second-oldest! Built in 1769!

“Once upon a time, Nantucket was the booming center of the whaling industry. Once, it was a thriving gem, and a person hailing from it could conquer most of the world – or, at least the part where the whales were. Trust me, I was there. But, having been ravaged by a fire in 1846, and thanks to the gradual buildup of sandbars, it’s in decline. This talk of war seems like it’ll lead to the final blow on whaling in Nantucket, at least by my reckoning.”

“That’s very interesting, Monty,” Duke Mephisto said. “What’s all this smoke?”

“Whale oil refineries and candle factories. Whaling ain’t dead yet.”

“You were born here, right?”

“In 1793.”

“Right, right. How old are you, Monty?”

“Twenty, when I died.”

“You were born in 1840, then.”

“Impossible. I was born in 1793.”

“I’m not arguing with you about this.”

“That’s just alright, because you’re wrong.”

Deirdre stifled a laugh, and fortunately, Duke Mephisto chuckled.

Sylvia had been seasick for most of the voyage, but she was up on the deck now. She was much better than she had been, since she wasn’t throwing up anymore, but she maintained that she still felt ill most of the time and would spontaneously get much better when she set foot on land.

Monty pointed to a whaling ship in the harbor, the presence of which seemed to contradict what he’d been saying earlier. “I’ve whaled on that ship. She’s been retooled.”

“Why did you go whaling, Monty, if you have such a hatred of the sea?” Serana Mephisto asked. Deirdre rolled her eyes. They all knew much about Monty’s hatred of the sea.

“Precisely because I hate whales, and I wanted there to be less of them on this planet.”

“Are you being serious?”

“I am.”

“Wonderful.”

The ship grated to a stop, and a sailor threw down the gangplank. It was cold, and the island seemed very desolate with the freezing fall wind blowing across it, stealing peoples’ hats and making skeletons of the trees lining the cobblestone streets. Deirdre shivered, and pulled the thick blanket she’d been carrying around her shoulders. 

The Shaw-Captain, a tall shadowy figure wrapped in scraps of black fabric, came up from below deck to bid them all farewell. This was the first they’d seen of the Shaw-Captain, which did not bother Deirdre because of how much she’d been seeing the thing at the end of the bed, since setting off.

The ghostly sailors unloaded their luggage. Those Deirdre was afraid of, because of something deep in her memory that told her that she could have ended up like them, had she not been able to do something that she wasn’t able to consciously remember. She took her small bag when it was handed to her and then got away from them as fast as possible.

Duke Mephisto handed Johann a wad of money. “Get a hotel, or something like that.”

“Why can’t we stay with you?”

“You find a Carter who invites you, you can stay with Janson. You find an important person who invites you, you can stay with me.”

“Oh- alright.”

Monty hooked his arm around both Johann and Deirdre’s, putting himself between them. “I’ve got a house to my name somewhere around here. We can go stay there!”

Deirdre was nervous about going to a new house on this island, but maybe the sea all around would keep the thing that haunted her away. She put on a brave face, and followed Monty, Sylvia, Johann, Jean, Richard, and Alice down the street, hopefully to a warm house.

The house was not warm. It was furnished, but that was the only thing it had going for it: it had probably been a farm, once, but now vegetation covered the front, vines climbed the cobblestones of the house, and the fields had been overgrown with tall grasses and sharp, curling thorns. There were two fields, a large one off the side of the house, and a smaller one behind it. Both were overgrown into thorny nightmares. There was also a field of grass  in front of the house that was not used for planting, and at its center was an oak tree that looked like it had been there since before the birth of Jesus. There was also a forest in the back, behind a back field and small lake, and the darkness of its trees unsettled Deirdre greatly. 

The house itself was made of stone and brick, with two stories. The house was mainly a simple rectangle, but there was also an extension to the right side that was only on the first story, and a mirror one on the left that was exactly the same from the outside except for the fact that it went up to the second floor as well. The house and all the land around it gave off a general aura of great age, so that when Deirdre stepped onto the property she was immediately aware that this house had been there long before her and would be here long after her, too. It was unsettling, and made her uncomfortable even before she went inside.

Obviously, it hadn’t been cleaned for a long time, but all the furniture was there. The first room was a simple entryway, with doors going off to the cellar, the hallway to the kitchen in the right extension, the dining room, and the parlour, which was at the back of the first floor. Off the kitchen hallway was a room with a toilet and bathtub. There was also a set of stairs in the entryway, which had a door to the master bedroom at the top, another door to another bedroom at the right, and a hallway to the left. There were two more bedrooms along that hallway, another bathroom, and a last, larger bedroom at the end of it.

Last but not least, the house had a ladder to a widow’s walk. Deirdre and Johann climbed up there to survey the land, and realized they could see the sea from there.

Deirdre enjoyed herself up there until she saw a dripping figure in a tricorn hat standing in the back field. Then she started to sweat, and hurried down the ladder before she had a full-on panic attack.

“What did you see?” Johann asked.

“Someone standing out back.”

“I didn’t see it.”

“You can’t. Only I can.”

The back door slammed. “I fell in the damn lake!”

Oh, it was just Monty. Better safe than sorry.

Despite the fact that she and Johann got a beautiful front-facing bedroom with a double bed pressed up against a wall of windows, the house was still bad to be in because it was freezing cold. Jean lit a fire downstairs, and they dug up blankets to sit huddled in on the sofa, but it was still cold. 

Sylvia was drinking laudanum to keep herself warm.

“Amen to that,” Monty said, accepting a bottle from her.

“Our host should not be getting high,” said Richard.

“Oh, I’m the host?”

“This is your house.”

“…Oh, right. I kind of thought you might continue with that role”

Richard looked annoyed for a moment, then he smiled. “Alright, I can do that, if it makes you feel better. I just think you should-”

“What?”

“Drugs are trouble.”
“Well, sorry.”

Richard had a copy of the Bible, and Johann The Iliad, written in Ancient Greek. Deirdre couldn’t read that, so she read The Canterbury Tales instead, which she had found on a shelf upstairs. Sylvia and Monty were both too high to do anything else, but they seemed happy.

Monty broke the silence after it had gotten dark. “I’m a prophet, I think.”

“No one’s a prophet any more,” Richard said.

“But I think I am one.”

“You’re wrong.”

“But I talked to God once.”

“No you didn’t.”

“I did.”

“What did he say to you, then?”

“‘Can a man curse and deny a god?’”

“As if that makes sense out of context.”

“I’m a prophet.”

“Fine, then, you are. What do you say, O mighty prophet?”

“Whales are evil and we should avoid them at all costs.”

“I’m hungry,” Jean said.

“Starving,” said Deirdre. “Yet unwilling to move.”

“I’ll eat a bird, but not a whale,” Monty said. 

“You’re in luck,” said Richard. “We haven’t got any whales.”

“Do you know my favorite food, Richard?”

“I don’t, but my curiosity is aroused.”

“Wigs. I mean eggs.”

“Wigs are really good, to be fair,” Sylvia said. “I eat wax.”

“Actually, I used to do that, too,” said Monty

“You what?” Richard asked.

“When I would find molten wax I would just… stick my hand in it and eat it.”

“Are you being serious?”

“Deadly so.”

Richard shook his head and laughed. “You’re really strange, you know that?”

“In a good or bad way?”

Richard paused for a moment. “A good way, I think.”

“That’s good.”

“I do think you should slow down on the drugs.”

“Shut up.”

Jean stood up. “I can’t take it any more. I’m going out for food.”

Everyone else went back to reading, even though Deirdre was more on edge without the biggest, strongest person there. She tried to settle down and read her book or listen to Monty and Richard’s quiet conversations, but it wasn’t easy. She imagined she heard someone tapping on the window. Deirdre buried her head under the blankets and closed her eyes.

When she awoke, it was late at night, but Jean was giving out plates of meat. The meat looked like beef, but when Deirdre bit into it it tasted like pork. It was delicious all the same, and she ate it all up.

“I know what this is,” Monty said.

“Yeah, it’s pork,” said Jean.

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t, this is human meat.”

Jean laughed. “You have quite the imagination while on drugs, my friend.”

“I highly doubt this is human meat,” Sylvia said.

Monty held his stance a moment more, but then shrugged and bit back into his steak. Deirdre hadn’t stopped eating even for a moment. Even if it was human meat, it was delicious all the same.

Deirdre managed to fall asleep almost immediately once her and Johann were in bed. Her dreams were strange, vivid visions of an endless sea, so mindbendingly incomprehensible that they woke her up on their own. Either that, or she’d been woken by the thing that sat at the end of her bed.

“Johann,” Deirdre whispered.

He groaned. The thing didn’t move.

“Johann, wake up.”

Johann sat up. “What?”

“Look there.”

“Where?”

“At the end of the bed.”

“Why?”

“Do you see it?”

“What?”
“The thing.”

“Deirdre-”

“What?”

“There’s nothing there.”

“There is. It’s a monster.”

“I can’t see it.”

“You can’t?”

“No, I can’t.”

“You might be lying.”

“I swear I’m not. I just can’t see it.”

Deirdre was silent. Was she out of her mind? Probably so. Her father had convinced her that most of the things that she thought had happened in Ireland hadn’t really happened, so why should this be any more real? She was just crazy.

“Why don’t you go get some water?” Johann asked. “Come back and we can talk about this more. Maybe it’s just the light. Or maybe I can’t see it because it doesn’t want me to.”

That reassured Deirdre a little. She went downstairs and drank a cup of water, ate a slab of bread, and sat on the counter waiting for it to be alright to walk up the stairs again.

The Man in Red walked into the kitchen. “I don’t like the milk here.”

“Shut up,” said Deirdre. She didn’t know how or when he’d gotten in, but she decided to accept it.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

“Are you alright?”

“Johann says that he can’t see it.” In fact, she was glad he was there. The Man in Red would know exactly what she was talking about.

“He can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Too rational.”

“What?”

“It’s a gap in reality, Deirdre. You have to be a little disconnected in some way to be able to see it. Johann has his head all full of science and math and heaven and hell. He’s too rational to see something right in front of his face because it doesn’t match up with any of that.”

Deirdre was silent for a moment. “You mean I’m too irrational to not see it?”

“No, you… um… Deirdre, how much do you remember about Ireland?”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Then I can’t answer your question.”

She took a deep breath. Talking about it was good. Talking about it was healthy. She needed answers. “Fine. I want to know why. Why can I see these things?”

“Your father. Do you remember him?”

He had been tall, with iron muscles and flaming hair. “Yes.”

“Do you remember what he was like?”

“Bad.”

“Right. Do you remember how he kept a room that you were never to go in?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember going into that room?”

“No.”

“You did.”

Deirdre swallowed and tried to focus on where she was. “And after that?”

“You ran. He followed you. Him and his wife, the woman who wasn’t your mother.”

“Did they- did they catch me?”

“Yes, Deirdre, they caught you.”

“And they hurt me?”

“They didn’t just hurt you, Deirdre.”

“What else did they do?”

“They killed you, Deirdre.”

“Killed me?”

“Yes. They drowned you in the sea.”

Deirdre looked down at her hands, not fazed in the slightest. They were dead hands. Dead dead dead. “I knew that.”

“You did?”

“Yes, I knew that.”

“So I suppose you know that you’re alive because I stole your soul and put it back into your body? But, it took me a long time to find it so you were trapped in your gravestone for several hundred years?”

Deirdre sighed. “You’re the reason I can see them, are you?”

“I’m sorry.”

“But I saw them as a child.”

The Man in Red frowned. “I can’t explain that.”

“Didn’t think so.”

“I can explain everything else, though.”

“Is Monty a madman or a prophet?”

“Ishmael Carter is… hm… a very strange personage, I should say.”

“A prophet.”

“Maybe in another life, a mad prophet.”

Deirdre stood up. “I want to see how bad this milk is.”

“You do that. Goodnight, Deirdre.”

“Goodnight.”

Notes:

Fun fact: the thing about the lighthouse is true, and if you go to Nantucket today and happen to go past the lighthouse at all, people will tell you. Every single time, they will tell you. Every. Single. Time.

Whaling was also in steep decline in Nantucket even in the 1850s, (though it was stronger in New Bedford) which means that by the time Herman Melville published Moby-Dick in 1851, the height of whaling on Nantucket had more or less passed. It’s still a cool place, though, so expect for a few notes with random facts – like the thing about the lighthouse – over the next few weeks.

Leonard 2.6.5

Leonard had gotten exactly no sleep while in Hell. Tecualt had found him almost immediately, and had given him a full report of the chaos and rebellion in his dukedom. Leonard felt like an awful person for not realizing just how bad things were down here, but in his defense, Lavinia Avnas exaggerated a lot, and how was he supposed to know that she wasn’t just exaggerating more?

In any case, Leonard was getting out of Hell as fast as possible to get away from the chaos of his dukedom. He’d come down by obligation for Albert Janson’s funeral, not to put down a whole rebellion. 

“But, sir,” Tecualt said as Leonard threw his clothes into a travel trunk. “You can’t just leave.

“Tecualt. You have never let anyone who broke the law in any way get away from you, have you?”

“No, sir.”

“Then you won’t let these revolutionaries get away with it, either, will you?”

“No, sir.”

“Then I see no problem. Is the rebellion serious? Have they taken over much?”

“No, sir, but…”

“What?”
“Their complaints are legitimate, for the most part.”

Leonard grimaced. He’d expected something like this. “How so?”

“Can you blame them for wanting, I don’t know, more?”

“They sinned in life, they don’t get to go to paradise after death. There’s nothing I can do about their current situation, Tecualt. I would love them to be able to have some kind of better life, but I’m tied up in legal ramifications that won’t let me do anything. Besides, these are the scum of the Earth. Unrepentant murders, serial killers, rapists, terrorists, pedophiles…”

“Pagans,” Tecualt said.

Leonard scoffed. “No good person ever went to Hell, Tecualt, Christian or otherwise.”

“So you say I’m part of the scum of the Earth.”

“You were… but you’re one of the very few people here who are willing to change. Anyone in Hell can redeem themselves and be bumped up to purgatory, Tecualt, but very few choose to.”

“So what you’re saying is, I just happen to be one of the very few good people in this accursed place?”

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

“Well, I think I can be proud of that.”

“Pride is a sin, Tecualt.”

“He says, while he packs his bags to run away out of pride.”

Leonard rolled his eyes, but that remark cut deeper than it should have. Deep down, Leonard knew that that was true, but he would do anything to avoid admitting it. Maybe him and Johann Faust weren’t so different after all, in that regard. Maybe they were both just overly prideful pigheaded men doomed to Hell forever.

Someone knocked on the door. “Come in!” Leonard said.

It was Serena, lugging her own suitcase. “Nantucket Island, huh?” She opened her dresser and started throwing clothes into her trunk. 

“No sarcastic comments, please,” said Leonard.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve actually always wanted to see New England. Do you remember when you courted me, and I told you about my mother? She was trapped by a whaler in Massachusetts.” Serana stopped for a moment to ponder this point, then resumed. “Speaking of, have you seen my coat?”

“Yes, it’s under the bed.”

Serana dropped what she was doing and crawled under their bed. A few minutes later, she reappeared with her selkie’s coat in hand. It appeared as a regular pale leather frock coat, spotted like a seal’s skin, but in reality it was the thing that allowed Serana to go between the sea and land, between her human self and her true self as a seal woman. 

Leonard smiled to see her with it. When he had first fallen in love with a selkie, some of his friends had advised him to steal her coat so that she would have to stay with him forever, but the idea of trapping someone who would never love him in an unhappy relationship like that disgusted him. Instead, he had courted Serana normally, and five years later, they had married. Even after two hundred years, he still almost never touched that coat – and in the case of Serana herself, there was no almost – without her consent. 

“Sir,” Tecualt said.

Leonard had forgotten he was there. “Oh, yes?”

“I would like permission to ask Stolas for help.”

“Fine by me. Talk to Harriet about it before you make any major decisions, she’s the steward.”

“Sir?”

“Something else?”

“Yes, sir. I would suggest that you call a meeting of your officials.”

“Call your own meeting. I have a ship to catch.” Leonard sat on his suitcase to latch the bulging thing shut. Serana finished her packing, and shouted for someone to come take her bags.

A young woman sailed into the room from down the hall. Leonard was immediately bothered by her extreme resemblance to Dominic Sapping, with the same skin and hair color, and an almost identical face. There was something wild and fey in the young woman’s face that set her apart from Dominic, though, something that made Leonard think that she had a considerable amount of fey blood in her. 

The young woman tossed Seranas bags out into the hallway with remarkable strength, then turned to Leonard’s and dragged them out beside Serana’s. She was about to walk off, but Leonard caught her arm before she could.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“You are excused,” said the young woman.

“Are you perhaps related to Dominic Sapping?”

“Yeah, he’s my dad, why?”

“You look very much like him.”

“Thank you.” 

“What’s your name?”

“Why?”

“I was only wondering.”

“Sylvia Sapping.”

“Have a good day, Sylvia.”

“You too, Duke Mephisto.”

Tecualt followed her out. Leonard pulled on his coat and hat, and offered Serana his arm. She took it, and they walked down the stairs and to the door together.

Sinners from all over the city had turned out to see the whole crowd of people getting on the ship. They lined the streets around the carriages waiting for Leonard, Serana, and the others, dressed as medieval peasants and eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of their overlords.

Leonard’s demonic valet, Wilbur, announced them at the door. “His grace, Mephistopheles, Grand Duke of Hell, Commander of twenty-thousand legions of demons, Watchman at the West, commander of the Order, The Red Anointed One, the Dealmaker, Son of Lies, Oathbreaker, Son of the West Wind and the Eyes of the North, Banisher of the Faceless Ones, Knight of the Broken One, Knight of the Liar, Prime among the Devils, and Lord to the Father Below.

“Her grace, Serana, Grand Duchess of Hell, Commander of twenty-thousand legions of demons, Lady of Salt and Sea, One with Blindsight, the Rock Watcher, Selkie of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Daughter of Brine and Dark Water, Eyes that Face Westward, Spawn of the Faceless Ones, Keeper of the Dark Waves, Prime among the Others, and Lady to the Father Below.”

They followed Wilbur down to where there was a carriage waiting for them, and climbed inside.

Of course, they then had to wait for Duke Janson to be announced.

“His Grace, Mephastophilis, Grand Duke of Hell, commander of forty-thousand legions of demons, Father of the Fallen, commander of the Order, The One who Watches Silently, the Tempter, Son of Lies, Oathbreaker, Son of the Scream of the North and the Red Eyes of Glory, Banisher of the Faceless Ones, Knight of the Broken One, Knight of the Liar, Prime among the Devils, and Lord to the Father Below.”

After that, Leonard blocked out everyone else’s overly long titles. Why couldn’t they simply be introduced as ‘Duke Mephisto’ and ‘Duke Janson?’ 

Wilbur finished with Richard’s party. “Mr Richard Golson, Ghoul Duke of the Decayed, of London, England. 

“Deirdre, Soul-in-Limbo, of Ireland. 

“Jean Gévaudan, Bastard Prince of Fey, the Changeling’s Cub, Wolf among Faeries, and Beast of Gévaudan. 

“Doctor Johann Wolfgang Von Faust, son of Wolfgang Paul Von Faust and Juliane Eva Von Faust, Dealmaker, the Bargainer, and Soul-entrusted-to-Hell.

“Sylvia Mary Sapping, Bastard Princess of the Fey, Daughter of Queen Titania and Dominic Sapping, of London, England and Gévaudan, France.

“Ishmael Samuel Carter of Nantucket, Monty, Son of Salt and Sea, harpooner aboard the Essex, St Jerome, Redwood, and Black Galley, and High Priest of the Faceless Ones.”

At that last title, Leonard felt a jolt in his stomach. The Things without Faces, also known as the Faceless Ones, were undefinable monstrosities that simply didn’t make sense in this reality, but seeked to consume it all the same. They were things of darkness whose only driving force was fathomless hunger, and who would sink their teeth into anything they could find to consume and warp and make impure. They had normal Priests, also known as vampires, but Leonard had never once heard of a High Priest of the Faceless Ones. He looked up at Ishmael Samuel Carter again, and saw that this was no more than a fresh-faced boy who was unremarkable in every way. There was nothing sinister about him, or any of the unnatural hunger. He just seemed… normal. That simple fact, that this unremarkable young man was a High Priest of the Faceless Ones, frightened Leonard more than anything in Heaven or Hell ever could.

Could such things be? Was this young man what Wilbur claimed he was? Leonard went over the few facts he knew about Ishmael Samuel Carter from Richard. He was young, had been a whaler… and he was an opium addict. Suddenly Leonard realized that Wilbur would have asked him for those titles, and that an opium addict was not exactly the most reliable source on his own credibility. That was reassuring, and Leonard decided that since opium could sometimes transport people’s minds accidently into… other places… Ishmael Samuel Carter had probably somehow seen something he shouldn’t have and  decided that he was High Priest of the Things. Either that, or he was a vampire, which didn’t really bother Leonard, a Grand Duke of Hell.

Johann Faust, Deirdre, and Ishmael Samuel Carter climbed into the carriage and sat down across from Serana and Leonard.

“Hello,” Serana said. She was resting against the cushions, perfectly at home. “Mr Carter’s to ride with the servants and Sylvia.”

Ishmael Samuel Carter left to join them, and Deirdre laid against Johann’s shoulder and closed her eyes. Johann looked much the same as he had the last time Leonard had seen him up close, at the duel. After the fire, he’d searched and searched, but hadn’t been able to find a trace of Johann until he turned up at Albert’s funeral after following Richard there.

“How have you been?” Serana asked.

Deirdre shrugged and muttered something about how she was fine. Serana obviously picked up on how untrue that statement was, because she proceeded to keep a steady discourse going about the unfair price of certain scientific ingredients which had to be imported from the US, and the fact that someone had been using up all of her chemicals. 

“I don’t know who the thief is,” Serana said, “but when I find out I’ll smash their kneecaps in.”

She talked like that most of the way to the docks, describing things that were missing and the various violent things she was going to do to the person who’d stolen them when she found them. Leonard listened intently until it became clear that she was just talking to make noise and ease the tension, though he wasn’t sure that voicing her desire to smash a hypothetical thief into a pulp was the best way to do that. Either way, it seemed to calm Deirdre down, and Johann was at least slightly interested in it. Leonard focused on his surroundings instead. 

The harbor was always hot, but today Leonard felt like he was being boiled alive. He wore a crimson suit, and under that a waistcoat, shirt and underclothes, all of which felt like they were sticking to him like a second skin, and he longed to peel the thing off. His hair was so wet with sweat it felt like he’d dunked her head in the sea, and he could feel sweat running down his back. Hell, being what it was, was known for its high temperatures, but this was pushing the limits of what Leonard was willing to put up with. There was a reason he was trying so hard to avoid going to his dukedom. He remembered how once, when he was a little boy, he’d cracked an egg on the street just outside his house, and it had fried to a crisp in about thirty minutes. He also remembered the beating he’d gotten from his rotten tutor for wasting an egg.

Leonard sighed at the memory. Today he could no doubt fry an egg in the same manner if he had one. 

Duke Janson and the rest of the passengers arrived slowly, and when everyone was present they all stood at the docks awaiting the ship. Leonard had heard that it was due in any minute, so they all had to wait for it here, outside, in the boiling heat. It was nearly unbearable, and Leonard wanted nothing more than to cannonball off the dock into the ocean. Unfortunately, being dripping wet was not the best way to greet a group of sailors he would be spending months with.

Just when Leonard had decided he would jump into the harbor, since a Grand Duke of Hell could do whatever he wanted, white sails appeared on the horizon. As they drew closer, he could see the American flag flying above the ship, slightly darkened and askew, clearly an imitation of the real thing. So it was one of those ships. The souls of sailors, especially whalers, who had died at sea, were doomed forever to sail under the flags of the Shaw-Captains, strange shadow men no one could explain. 

The ship coasted up to the dock, and one of the sailors threw down a gangplank. The Shaw-Captain of this ship, a tall figure wrapped all in dark fabric, stepped down onto the dock and bowed to Duke Janson, who had apparently decided he was the leader of this group.

The Shaw-Captain didn’t say anything, but instead merely stood there while the Jansons, the Mephistos, the faeries, and Richard’s party walked across the deck and onto the boat. After that the Shaw-Captain followed them back up and disappeared down into what was presumably the captain’s cabin. A bored-looking demon who was probably the first mate came up out of the bowels of the ship to bark orders at the ghostly sailors. 

“Good morning, Duke and Duchess Janson, Duke and Duchess Mephisto, King Oberon and Queen Titania, Doctor Faust, and others.” The demon wore a white-collered shirt, which meant he was probably in middle-management. “This voyage is bound for Nantucket Harbor, in Massachusetts, USA. If this is the wrong boat, get off now.”

No one moved, so the demon, who had probably had this job for years beyond count, gave a long-suffering sigh, and continued. “Thank you all for choosing to travel on this ship. The Captain hopes that your voyage will be pleasant, and requests that you report any and all problems to him.”

The demon bowed, turned, and walked toward the side. He kept walking until he couldn’t any more because he had fallen in the water. Johann flinched, and Sylvia obviously repressed a laugh, but no one else batted an eye. Hell was a strange place.

“Is anyone here interested in hearing about whales?” Ishmael Samuel Carter asked. “They’re the most evil of fish.”

Leonard leaned down against the rail, folding his arms under him. This was going to be a long voyage.

Clarissa – 2.5.4

Content warning: Themes of death and grief

Clarissa had recovered from her illness and immediately been drafted into tending Albert’s. As soon as the doctors were sure she was no longer ill, whatever their definition of that was, she’d been told to go help Albert with his fever. Of course, when she first entered his room, she was instantly told by the patient himself that it was not a fever, but that he had the consumption, and he was dying of it. 

“And have you verified this?” Clara asked.

Albert shrugged, and coughed. He was deathly pale and very thin, though he’d been refusing food for the past few days. He claimed to not be hungry.

“Well, if you haven’t verified these claims, how can you know them to be true?”

“I know.”

“Well, that’s helpful.”

“It really is.”

Albert continued to grow thinner, and hack up more and more blood. At one point so much filled his mouth that he swallowed it down the wrong pipe and couldn’t breathe, so Clara had had to smack him on the back and give him salt water both to wash out his mouth and hopefully unclog his throat. It didn’t really help, but Albert didn’t die, and instead leaned back against the cushions of his bed and said that he wished he had.

“Does your stomach hurt?” Clara asked him one day.

Albert threw a pillow at her. She took that as a yes.

Clara wasn’t the only one taking care of Albert; Emma, Hugh, Ernest, and even Mr Holland sometimes did as well, but as a young married woman with no occupation, children, or house to keep Clara was the only one who was almost always free. Emma had to look for a husband and help take care of the missing Sarah’s children, Hugh was in the navy, Ernest was dragged about by his father now that Albert was ill, and Mr Holland had all sorts of concerns of his own, but Clara’s only cares were for Ernest, who liked to do most of his book-keeping and chores himself. So, Clara had been automatically assigned to taking care of Albert, which wasn’t as thankless a job as it could have been.

When he’d been sick for a while, Albert demanded opium. Clara’s response was an immediate no, even though she knew he was in tremendous pain. She didn’t have authority to administer drugs to him, being someone who knew absolutely nothing about medicine.

“Call for the doctor,” Albert said.

Clara did, and when the doctor arrived an hour later, the man administered Albert painkillers that left him in a semi-sleep for hours afterward. 

“Give him a few drops of this every morning,” the doctor said.

Clara did, but they didn’t really seem to help beyond putting Albert in an almost comatose state. A month or two into the use of the painkillers their effectiveness declined dramatically. He coughed blood almost constantly now, and Clara could see the bones poking out through his skin.

It was the fifteenth of October when Clara entered Albert’s sickroom and found him cold. She shook him once or twice, but already knew what had happened. A few hours later, the doctor made it official: Albert Janson had died during the night, stolen from his youth by consumption. 

Clara felt numb. She watched as they took Albert’s body out of the house for it to be quarantined, and burned everything in his room. A doctor asked her all kinds of questions about if she’d caught it or not. Clara did her best to answer them, but she was in such a state of shock talking with anyone was nearly impossible. 

The Janson household mourned. Albert’s body was carried back to his father’s dukedom, where his funeral was held. It was hard for Clara to get out of bed in the mornings, and all the more harder for her to go to the funeral of the young man she’d tended to for so long. She didn’t even cry anymore, she just felt hollow and sad, like this death had left a hole in her. A point was driven into Clara’s mind: she would die. Sure, she’d known that before, but it was always just an idea, expressed by the vague feeling that she might die at some point. Now it was a piece of sobering knowledge that she carried around with her, a sentiment that one day, she and everyone else she knew would have the consciousness stolen in an instant, with no idea what to expect beyond.

Few people attended Albert’s funeral. There was the Janson family, all except for the missing Sarah, but including her children and husband. John Amon, his wife, and daughter were present, as well as Duke Mephisto, his wife, and Lavinia Avnas and her husband. Albert’s friends Camilla, Cesare, Daiyu, and Richard were there too, but off to one side. Most sickeningly, Dr Faust was there, looking pristine and well-groomed. Clara wanted to scream and throw out this man who practiced such a perverted art related to death. Why was he here at a funeral?

A demon took the pulpit that was set up to the side of the hole Albert would be lowered into. “Dear friends. We are here today because this young man has been stolen from the prime of his life by a vicious human disease. He was a good young man, a kind young man, who will be missed dearly by his friends and family alike.” 

Apparently that was the eulogy. The demon stepped down, and went over to stand next to Duke Janson.

Someone else stepped up to give a rite of some sort, which Clara couldn’t focus on. Instead, she focused on the other details of the funeral, trying to soak it all up so she could remember it forever.

It was raining, and water dusted Clara’s hair and coated the land in a fine layer of precipitation. Everyone else was distant, like they’d withdrawn within themselves and shut everyone out. She could sympathize. Looking around, she couldn’t help but wonder if it was her fault. Had she not nursed Albert well enough? Had she done better, would he still be alive today?”

Dr Faust approached her, and Clara’s stomach did flips. How was she to react to this? She hated and feared the man, but she could hardly say that here. 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Dr Faust said with a grim smile.

“I know,” said Clara, though she didn’t mean it. “I just feel bad. I mean, who wouldn’t? And we’re going away tomorrow, so I won’t have time to be here with his grave.”

“I know how you feel. I had to leave for seminary right after my father died. I didn’t even get to go to the funeral.”

Clara was silent. This man brought people back from the dead, which Albert Janson was. Perhaps…

No. No, absolutely not. How could she even think that? Clara bit her lip as hard as she could. “Dr Faust,” she said. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Hm?.”

“H- have you brought any more humans back to life?”

“Yes, of course. Dominic Sapping is one.”

That was like being told that the sky was blue.
They didn’t talk any more for the rest of the service, except when Clara went up to pay her respects to the corpse. Albert lay there in the casket, his arms crossed over his chest, hands clenched together. His dark brown hair had lost its luster, his skin was pale and drawn, and his eyes were sunken into his head. He was a shadow of himself.

After that Clara couldn’t handle it any more. She had to leave, and luckily Oberon had just made his appearance at the funeral.

“Father?” Clara asked. She was still getting comfortable calling him that, in the same way she was still getting comfortable with the revelation that her entire identity was wrong.

“Yes?”

“I don’t think I can stay much longer.”

“Oh?”

“I need to get out of here.”

“I was going to take you with Titania to meet your relations in Nantucket.”

“Oh, thank God. When?”

“Whenever. Bring Ernest, will you?”

“I don’t know if he’ll want that.”

“Try to convince him.”

Clara stuck with Oberon for the rest of the service, then wandered off on her own until dinner, after which she went straight to bed. She wanted to cry, she should have cried, but she felt that she’d already drained her tear ducts, so instead Clara just lay there silently until Ernest came in and laid down next to her.

“I’m going to Nantucket with Oberon,” she said.

“I’m coming with you.”

“You don’t have to. I know your family-”

“As if any of them are even grieving. I just need some time away, Clara. Please.”

“Oberon told me specifically to get you to come.”

“Did he?”

“Yes, he did.”

“I’m glad.”

Somewhere in the ensuing silence Clara fell into sleep. She had a series of nightmares, all of which involved blood and doctors in some way. In the middle of the night, she woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep for the longest time because of the constant oppressive heat in Hell. When she did get back to sleep, it was just in time for another nightmare about a man who projectile vomited blood into her bed. 

In the morning, a commotion downstairs woke her. Clara sat up, incredibly irritated, and opened the door to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. 

A young man in a tricorn hat and a woman with hair that reached to her waist were at least partially the cause of the commotion, because they were tossing pieces of luggage downstairs while loudly singing a French children’s song about a lark. 

Alouette, gentille alouette,

Alouette, je te plumerai.

Je te plumerai la tête.

Je te plumerai la tête.

Et la tête!

Et la tête!

Alouette!

Alouette!  

A-a-a-ah

Alouette, gentille alouette,

Alouette, je te plumerai.

Clara stepped out into the hallway and slammed her door. “Hey, hat and hair!”

The two of them stopped what they were doing.

“Shut up and let me sleep.”

“Apologies, mademe,” said the girl, tipping a pretend hat.

The boy put on a thick New England accent for no discernible reason. “Aye, apologizes to ye, ma’am, but ye better thinketh before insultin’ me hat again.” He swept his hat off his head and scowled at her, lurching forward in an exaggerated manner. 

“Let me sleep,” Clara said. “Or you’ll regret it, I swear.”

“Oh?”

Clara groped around behind the door until her hand curled around her sword. It was a long bastard sword, with a blade of pale metal and a handle carved from white horn. She drew it and brandished it in the boy’s face. “Listen here.”

The boy didn’t budge. His face grew into a grin, and he opened his mouth to sing again. “Alouette-”

Clara swiped her sword at him, and he slid backwards. The grin never left his face.

The girl came up to him and stood in front of the sword. She went to touch the blade, so Clara yanked it out of her reach. The girl shrugged and, to Clara’s neverending shock, did a flip over the blade, landing on her feet on the other side. The boy took her arm, and they walked off in the direction of a group of servants bringing luggage down from the upper levels.

“I’m sorry, are more people going to Nantucket than I thought?” Clara asked.

“The whole Janson family,” the girl said. “Oberon was smoking opium last night, and he got high and told Duke Janson that he was taking Mrs Clarissa Janson and Mr Ernest Janson to Nantucket to meet her ‘mother’ there. Duke Janson’s coming along, and Richard Golson, mostly because he’s hitching a ride, I think, so we’re coming along with him, too.”

“And I suppose Duke Mephisto’s coming, as well.”

“Wow, how’d you guess?”

Clara rolled her eyes. “Guess I’d better pack, then. You, who are you?”

“Sylvia Sapping, at your service.” Sylvia made an elaborate bow.

The boy swung around the corner and jumped up in the air, sliding a meter or two when he landed. He swung his hat off with a flourish. “Ishmael Samuel Carter, of Nantucket. Call me Monty.”

“Carter?” That was the name of the people Clara was related to. Could this boy be one of her nephews, or nieces?

“That’s right, I’m a scion of that family.”

“Really? Who are your parents?”

Monty Carter looked nervous all of the sudden. “Dorothy Carter, daughter of Henry Carter.”

Those names meant nothing to Clara. She had been told that her father was Percy Carter Sr. “Did you know a Percy Carter Sr?”

Monty laughed. “Percy Carter Jr, sure. Not Sr.”

“Oh.” Presumably, that was the son of her father. He would be middle aged by now, wouldn’t he? “Son of Percy Carter Sr?”

“Son of James Carter III.”

“Oh. and was he the son of Percy Carter Sr?”

“I think so. I met him a few years back on a whaleship.”

“Oh, he’s a whaler?”

“No, an academic who was studying the stars while on our voyage.”Clara frowned. Having an academic as a relative wouldn’t be so bad, would it? She wondered what the rest of her family would be like. With luck, they would all be peaceful academics and whalers.

Notes:

I’m going to go back on what I promised again by not releasing the promised short stories until November 1st. This is because I’m going to be going on a hiatus with for all of November, but I’ll still be releasing content in the form of art and short stories on Wednesdays and Saturdays. After November, the schedule will resume as normal.

Thank you for reading!

Letters

Extra content #1: letters between Leonard and his friend Lavinia.

Dear friend, Duke Leonard Mephisto,

You must come back. The dukedom is in a state of outward riot, and the rebels have taken over two of the outer cities near the realm of Duke Gusion. You asked in your last letter when this began, and why I did not notify you. The answer to your second question is rather plain: I was under the impression that you already knew. All rulers should know the goings-on in their area of rule! 

As for when it began, I believe it was back in December. It was just after Christmas – you know how they get after that – and the people were complaining because a certain someone, I’ll leave it to you to work out who, was inside your borders again, and taking all of the extra stuff (for lack of a better word) that we gave them to keep them down during Christmas. Well, they didn’t like that very much, which is understandable, and when they went to the steward you put in charge, he didn’t have anything to give them, which they liked even less. He directed them to go to one of your neighbors, Prince Stolas, and they did go, but it turned out that he has even less than they originally did, and wasn’t going to give any of it over. That made them even angrier, so they went back to their homes and demanded more things from your poor steward, who had almost nothing in the first place. 

I’ll bet you can imagine where this is going. That captain you have commanding the militia – who is really a diamond, I have to say, and I’ve always wondered where you found him – got everyone back in their homes alright that time, but a few days later a woman’s adopted child starved and moved into the second circle, and all the people fit to fight showed up at the door of the hall and, well, I’ll spare you the details, but it wasn’t pretty, and your steward is dead.

The captain’s in charge now, but he’s a military man, and is doing a hack job of ruling the dukedom. After all, he can’t fight the rebels and rule, and so they’ve taken the towns. I went to survey them myself, along with your captain. They’ve barricaded the outer walls with stone and wood and all sorts of things, so that it’s near impossible to break through. They have a lot of guns, too, and hostages. 

In short, you had better come quickly if you want to have any dukedom left.

Regards, 

Duchess Lavinia Allocer

Dear friend, Duchess Lavinia Allocer,

The captain’s name is Nicolás Tecualt, and I found him after he was just a bit too overzealous in putting down Texan rebellion in the ‘30’s. You can see why I would put him in charge of something like this, and why I am confident that someone with his experience can have the job done, though if what you say is true you should give him leave to ask someone else for help. Sallos, perhaps, he never says no.

Do remove Tecualt from being the steward. Some men were made to rule, some were made to serve. Tecualt is of the latter camp, as he himself will attest. 

I am yet unable to return to my dukedom, as I am engaged with a current project. I have met a man named Johannes Moth, who seeks certain knowledge that only I am able to bestow upon him, and who wishes me to be his patron. I seek to enlighten him, bring him into my service, and… patron him? Whatever. In any case, I am as yet unable to return. Please have someone else take charge, or take charge yourself, if you have so many good ideas about how my dukedom should be run.

Yours truly,

Duke Leonard Mephisto

Dear friend, Duke Leonard Mephisto,

Please stop ending your letters with ‘yours truly.’

As per your request, I have removed Captain Nicolás Tecualt from his position. The current steward is a capable woman named Harriet, who I believe is a former slave from America. She’s good friends with Tecualt, I believe, and have since been working well together. Still, the rebels are inching closer into the dukedom, conquering various towns and burning everything they can’t eat. It’s rather violent and counterproductive of them, if I do say so myself. They’ve delivered a list of grievances to the steward, saying things they want changed, which I’ve included with my letter. I am sorry to say that most of them seem to be things that we are unable to change, without the consent of the prince, which he can’t give which we probably will not be able to get. 

I apologize that my letter is so brief, but I have problems with my own dukedom (duchessdom?) that dearly require my attention.

Regards,

Duchess Lavinia Allocer

Dear friend, Duchess Lavinia Allocer,

Do you remember the last time you sent me desperate letters about an uprising in my dukedom? And I arrived and found that you had blown them so far out of proportion that the issues were hardly recognizable?

What about the time before? When you said there was talk of rebellion and I got there and discovered that they had been talking about how best to celebrate the steward’s birthday?

Before that? When you thought that they’d murdered the steward, stirred everyone into a frenzy, and he had to come home from his vacation to prove you all wrong?

Understand, Duchess Lavinia Allocer, that after all these happenings I am less than inclined to believe that there is truly an uprising in my dukedom. 

I highly approve of your choice of Harriet as the new steward. The woman has real leadership qualities, and I do think there’s something about her that makes people want to follow her. I trust her judgement in whatever is going on down there, and if there’s really any sort of rebellion she will be able to sort it out.

See that Tecualt is restored to his post, and that he gets as many soldiers as he should require. Make sure that the pair of them know they have my leave to take any action they should need to. 

Yours truly, 

Duke Leonard Mephisto

Dear friend, Duke Leonard Mephisto,

I tried to warn you that it was best to nip this in the bud. Half of your dukedom is under the control of the rebels, and the prince has taken notice. I am afraid that I am unable to stop him in any action he should take. I will have to return to my own concerns. Best of luck with the letters and the prince. 

Regards,

Duchess Lavinia Allocer

Leonard – 1.16.4

Richard had dragged himself out of bed to show up at the duel, something Leonard was eternally grateful for. He was jittery that morning, and he had barely slept a wink the previous night. It was absurd, since he’d fought duels before, and the idea of him dying in any meaningful way from a mortal gun was preposterous. He was a much better shot than Janson was, anyway, and he had spent the evening before practicing with Serena. There was nothing to fear from this duel, that much was true, so why was he so nervous?

Leonard cracked as many bones in his hand as was possible for the fiftieth time that morning, and looked down at the paper bearing the address.

“Are you sure this is it?” Serena asked.

They stood in front of an abandoned factory, which was falling apart but was completely empty. Richard was loitering outside, and Titania had jogged up a few minutes ago and gone inside.

“Why would both of them be here if it wasn’t?” asked Leonard.

“That’s a fair point.”

“Well, I suppose we should go inside.” Leonard shoved the paper in his pocket and called out, “Richy Richard!”

Richard looked up. “Oh! I’m so glad you’re here. They’re beginning to think that you’re not showing up.”

“Here we are,” Serena said. 

They followed Richard into the factory shell. A boulder coming up to Leonard’s knee had been placed in the middle, with two lines sloppily painted in the dirt on either side. Duke Janson stood with his wife and sons behind one of the lines, berating Duchess Janson about something. Clarissa stood off to one side with Oberon, Titania, and some other girl, who Oberon was flirting with.

On the other side was Johann, Deirdre, Richard, and Camilla. Leonard had told the bare minimum of people about this duel, so that he hopefully wouldn’t be smeared by the press. There had already been an obviously untrue scandal last year accusing him of having an affair with Camilla, and he wasn’t eager for a repeat, especially since this time he was doing something to cause him shame.

Oberon and Johann approached the rock in the center.

“Doctor Faust,” Oberon said.

“King Oberon,” said Johann.

“Has Duke Mephisto apologized or backed down from the challenge?”

“He has not. Has Duke Janson apologized or backed down from the challenge?”

“He has not.”

“In that case, I suppose we should go on with the duel. Who’s officiating?”

Richard came forward. “I am.”

“Very impartial,” Camilla said.

“Why is that woman here?” Janson asked. “Everyone here knows she’s-”
“I will also fight you, if you insult anything so shallow about Camilla Chambers again,” Serena said. “And don’t think I’ll have you in some honor bound duel, either. I’ll jump you in the middle of the street, and you won’t come out of it unchanged, I promise you that much.”

Janson tried to look like he wasn’t bothered, but Leonard drew great satisfaction from seeing how he moved away from them, and that he didn’t finish his accusation. 

“Are we going to do this?” Richard asked. 

“We’ve come this far,” Leonard said. He tried to crack his hands again, but he’d done it so many times that he only hurt himself. “Who has the pistols?”

Oberon came forward and placed two duelling pistols on the rock. “Loaded with one bullet each. You each have one shot, and you can shoot at any point, but you may not cross the lines in the dirt.”

Leonard and Janson took their pistols and went back to stand in their places. Their respective supporters stood well back, and Richard himself also took several steps backward. “Alright, load your guns, now. On my count.”

Leonard loaded his gun and cocked it. He lined it up with Janson’s face, and put his finger on the trigger. Janson had done the same, and there was an awkward pause of several seconds while they waited for Richard to count.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”

Janson fired his gun immediately. Leonard had a split second to think about what a stupid move that was before he became aware of a hot wetness at the top of his leg, and he realized that the shot had struck. 

The blinding pain hit him several seconds afterward, and he realized what an idiot he must have seemed, standing there with his gun in the air and a bullet in his leg. His hands were beginning to shake, and the chance was slipping away from him. He centered his gun again, and pulled the trigger.

Janson’s head rocked backwards, and Leonard realized that he must have got him, too. At least both of them would die of infected wounds, and not just him.

Leonard slid to the ground, gritting his teeth against the pain. There was blood everywhere, and people were yelling around him, though it seemed to him strangely calm. He peeled a strip of bloody fabric off of his bullet wound, and saw that the bone beneath it was probably shattered.

Serena was leaning over him, talking faster than he could keep up with in his current state. Leonard nodded along with her, acting like he understood exactly what she was saying, and took her hand when she held it out to him. The edges of his vision darkened, and he felt her touch his face as he slipped away.

The next thing he was aware of was being on a stretcher, and that he was deathly thirsty. He reached up, but saw a surgeon above him and realized that he was about to be operated on, so he rested his head back on the straw pillow beneath it.

“Duke Mephisto?” the surgeon asked.

“Water,” he groaned. “Duke Janson?”

“Duke Janson sustained severe injuries, including several broken ribs. He is being operated on as we speak.”

Water flooded Leonard’s mouth, and he nearly choked. He licked his parched lips, and tried to sit up. 

The surgeon pushed him back down. “Not right now, Duke Mephisto. We have to operate quickly, or your condition will worsen.”

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” Something was put over his face, and everything went black once again.

After that, he slipped in and out of consciousness for what might have been hours, or days, or weeks. There was always blinding pain when he awoke, and worried faces, and the rank smell of sickness in his room. He was feverish, and often delirious when he woke, but mostly he slept.

His fever dreams were incredibly vivid. The only one that he could remember was a memory of swimming in a lake as a boy, with some of his friends. It was deep water, and a young Oswald Janson was tossing coins in for the other children to dive for.

One of his other friends, Lavinia Avnas, managed to get a rather large coin of solid gold after jumping off the rock into the deepest part of the lake. John Amon climbed up on the same rock, but when he tried to jump, he slipped, screamed, and fell face-first into the water. Leonard and Lavinia were certainly laughing when they pulled him out, and John himself took it like a massive joke. That was how he took everything in those days, after all.

“Let’s see what Allocer can do,” Janson said. “A gold coin, into the deepest part of the lake. If the handmaiden can do it, so can you.” ‘Handmaiden’ being his teasing nickname for Lavinia, in the same way that ‘the drunk’ was what he called John later in life.

He tossed in the coin and Leonard dove in after it. He was a strong swimmer, due to the broiling hot summers where one only went outside to go swimming that he’d lived through his whole life in his dukedom. He slipped through the water like a knife, making hardly a splash, and kicked his way down to the bottom. Twelve feet down, Leonard’s ears began to hurt, fourteen and his lungs felt as if they would burst. He pushed some bubbles out his nose and kept going, down to the bottom where the coin glinted in the mud. He scooped it up and swam for dear life toward the surface. His lungs burned, but he struggled to keep calm, knowing that panic would just make it worse. Leonard’s ears made an odd noise like they were letting out bubbles, and his head broke the surface.

He climbed out onto the rock, held up the coin to Janson, and shoved it in his pocket.

A crafty smile came onto Janson’s face. “Alright, very good, Allocer. Let’s see if he can do it.”

He tossed another coin into the water, in the part where the bottom was rocky and uneven, then pointed to another boy, who Leonard didn’t recognize. The boy plunked himself in the water and began to swim towards where the coin had landed, slowly, like he had all the time in the world. He went under when he got to the point where the coin was, and Leonard expected him to come up a few seconds after.

He didn’t.

“Where is he?” John Amon asked, after a few more seconds of the boy being under. 

Janson shrugged. “There’s turtles in that water. I don’t want to jump in to get him.”

Always eager to outdo his rival, Leonard catapulted himself into the water. He swam over to where he’d seen the boy go under, confused as to why so much of the red mud at the bottom of the lake had been stirred up in this particular area. He got his answer moments later, when he saw what had become of the boy.

A snapping turtle had seized the boy’s foot in its jaws, and was holding him underwater. Leonard, who knew next to nothing about turtles, reacted in the same way young boys react to everything – he slammed his fist into the turtle’s jaw. It released the boy’s foot, and Leonard managed to pull him to the surface. The turtle whipped around, and crunched into his toes, which made him scream, flooding his mouth with water. He and the boy went back under, the dead weight of the boy dragging Leonard down. He kicked, and knocked the turtle off.

He swam for the shore, coming up to breathe not nearly often enough, with the boy dragging behind him. Leonard was mere meters away from the shore when he sank down, unable to keep going.

Three more pairs of arms reached down into the water and pulled him up. Leonard was thrown onto the grass, where he coughed for a long time before being able to speak.

The other three children were silent, standing around the unknown boy, whose wet, bloated body was splayed out by the lake.

“He’s, erm,” Lavinia said. “He’s dead.”

“How do you know?” Leonard asked.

“Not breathing.”

“Not breathing?” Leonard had heard that there was something or another that you could do when someone wasn’t breathing. He crawled towards the boy, and put his hands on his chest. He pumped once, twice, three times, then stopped for a moment. He repeated the process several times, but there was no change.

Leonard stood up, and joined the other children in staring silently at the boy’s corpse.

John Amon was crying. Well, he was the youngest there, that was to be expected.

“Did anyone know his name?” Lavinia Avnas asked.

No one did.

“Where did he come from?” Lavinia Avnas asked. “Did anyone know him?”

“No,” Janson said. “He was just some village kid.”

Just like that, the dream ended, and Leonard was awake, and no longer a child. 

He sat up in bed, feeling feverish and weak, but better than he had for however long he’d been ill. He was in a guest room that had large windows on the wall of his right, alone in a queen sized bed. Leonard picked up a bell on his nightstand and rang it, assuming it would summon a servant.

Instead, it summoned Serena, who came in and threw her arms around him.

“We thought you were going to die,” she said.

“How long has it been?” Leonard asked.

“You’ve been in a fever for two weeks,” said Serena. “Your leg’s healing well, though, they say that much. You probably won’t even have a limp.”

“That’s good.” He’d limped for much of his boyhood, thanks to his cloven right foot, but a brace and much practice walking in a certain style had made it so that his limp was hardly detectable. 

“There’s further good news, too. You won the duel, and I do believe you’ve gained a supporter in Titania.”

“And Oberon?”

“Oberon never shows up to anything.”

“That’s a fair point. Has anything else of note happened while I’ve been ill?”

“You shot Duke Janson in the side, and he’s been recovering badly. Albert Janson’s condition has also worsened, to the point that he’s locked himself in his rooms. He’s composed music, though, and seems to have become instantly famous. Do you know who else has become instantly famous? Two people, actually. Cesare Sabia and Camilla Chambers, almost at the same time. They’ve been trying to out-do each other in terms of… fame, I think? It’s not clear, but they’ve become vastly more competitive, as if such a thing were possible.”

A servant came in, and said, “your grace, you mustn’t lay so close to Duke Mephisto. You’ll catch his fever.” 

“Sorry,” Serena said. She moved away, though Leonard wanted her to stay pressed against him. He needed the physical contact badly after so many days alone. 

The servant put down a breakfast tray in front of him. “How are you feeling, your grace?”

His head had begun to pound again. “Not well, but much better. I’m not hallucinating Satan, or rather, my boss, in the corner anymore, but I feel like hell.”

“That’s good. The doctor recommends that you stay in bed until you’re completely better.”

“I will gladly do so.”

Serena stood up. “I should go. I hope you feel better, my love.” She kissed him and left the room.

Leonard was only able to eat part of his breakfast before his headache became so bad that he had to lie down in darkness and put a wet towel over his eyes just to bring it to a bearable level. He shivered and sweated simultaneously, and began to hear things that weren’t there. He could hear his mother, asking him if his foot felt alright, and when he tried to answer he found his tongue so thick from dehydration that he could hardly speak. He heard people moving about the room, as if he were trapped in a crowd that he desperately wanted to escape, but when he tried to sit up his arms were so weak he couldn’t push himself into a sitting position. 

The commotion grew, and Leonard pulled a pillow over his head to drown it out. Someone removed it, saying, “you’ll suffocate yourself like that, your grace.”

“Let me suffocate, then!” he said. “I have to stop this damned noise.”

“There’s no noise, your grace.”

“Yes, there is. Can’t you hear it?”

The person left the room, and a few minutes later a thermometer was being stuffed into his mouth, and someone he assumed was a doctor was going about the room, propping him up with pillows and lighting a fire.

“Get him out of that nightshirt,” the man suspected of being a doctor said. “Has he been eating? Drinking regularly? Make him some tea out of willow bark, that helps. Quickly, now!”

Leonard groaned at being jostled into a sitting position. He felt like he had been run over by a train. Suddenly he remembered Dominic Sapping, and what poor taste the comparison was in, and he laughed.

Someone peeled the wet rag away from his eyes, and he brought up an arm to block the light. The man in front of him was indeed a doctor, the man who worked as his personal physician, whose name he couldn’t remember at the moment. 

“Let me sleep,” he hissed. “Please.”

The doctor held up a cup. “Here, your grace, drink this.”

Leonard grabbed the cup and took a deep drink, if only to get the man off his back. He immediately spat it out. “This is broth!”

“Yes,” the doctor said.

“You could have warned me.”

“My apologies, your grace. Drink the broth, please. It’ll help you feel better, I promise.”

Leonard drank as much as he could before he started to feel sick to his stomach. The doctor urged him to continue, but Leonard didn’t want to throw up all over himself in front of… anyone, really, but especially not a doctor. He put the cup of broth down, and picked up a tin cup of water. He’d heard that water would help settle the stomach.

A servant brought him a cup of tea, which he accepted. Another servant brought him a stack of newspapers, which all had his duel with Janson as the front page story. Leonard sighed and began to read the first one.

“Your grace, should you not rest?” The doctor asked. “Can’t the media wait?”

“It can never wait, I’m afraid, and I’ll have to get better as soon as possible so that I can deal with it.”

The doctor pulled the newspaper out of his hands. “No, you must rest.”

Leonard sighed and leaned back against the pillows. His leg throbbed and his head pounded. He curled up into a ball and wished for all the pain and fever to disappear. Moments later, he was asleep.

Johann 1.15.3

“This is a terrible idea,” Johann said. “Why did you agree to this?”

Leonard rapped on the carriage window. “This is good glass, you know.”

Focus. Why did you challenge Duke Janson to a duel? It’s a dreadful idea!”
“Bold words from you. I don’t accept accusations of my ideas being dreadful from anyone who routinely brings people back from the dead with no plan for what to do afterward.”

“Well, you-”

“So, are you saying that my bad idea should be condemned, but yours shouldn’t?”

Johann scowled. Why wouldn’t Leonard listen to him when he said that he had everything under control? “What do I have to do when we get there?” 

“You said you’d been a second in a duel before. Talk to him. Decide the make of the pistols, when, where, all of that.”

“Actually, that wasn’t what I said. I said that I’ve fought duels before, which I did, in medical school, but I’ve never acted as a second. What do we even talk about? ‘Hello, it is I, Dr Faust, and I need to know what kind of gun Duke Janson wants to use when he tries to blow Duke Mephisto’s brains out.’”

Leonard cracked the first smile Johann had seen in days. “I dare you to say that.”

Johann laughed, feeling awkward that Leonard’s only reaction was a small half-smile. He knew that things had been difficult for Leonard lately, with the fact that one of his friends was deathly sick, the constant battles he had to fight every day in the government, the vague drama going on in his dukedom, and the duel he was about to fight. His tension was palpable, and it made Johann uncomfortable to even be around him.

But friends were supposed to support each other, weren’t they? Johann wouldn’t call Leonard a friend, exactly, but he still was vaguely sure he had some kind of duty to help his fellow man as best he could. The years in seminary were unclear memories, but he was pretty sure that that idea had been mentioned at least once. 

“I’ll just try to be natural,” Johann said. 

“Do that,” said Leonard. 

They were silent for a few minutes, before Leonard said, “I never got a chance to ask you the other night, but was that girl you brought to the dinner party your significant other?”

Johann sighed. “That’s Deirdre. We’re not together all the time, or most of the time, really, but-” He shook his head. Things with Deirdre were complicated. He thought he might have loved her, and if he did then he loved her more than anything on the Earth, but it might have just been a passing infatuation… or a way to prove that he did have control, and that he was not a puppet. She might have loved him, too, but she always acted so weird, and whenever they started talking like maybe they wanted to have an actual relationship, she went back into her shell, which she wouldn’t come out of for days at the minimum. There was just too much left unspoken for it to be a real relationship, or one that had any meaning. Johann barely even knew anything about her, other than the fact that she was Irish, she lived with the Sappings, and she was friends with Richard.

“So you aren’t seeing each other?”

“Well, we sort of are. Sometimes we are, sometimes we aren’t. We’re close, either way, and we’ve-”

“I don’t need gritty details, thank you. Does this mean that you’re romantically inclined towards girls?”

“Umm…”

“No? Well, keep it to yourself, if that’s what you want. I found you an assistant the other day.”

“Who?” 

“His name is Monty Conray, and he lives in your apartment building. He’s working as a sailor, but he wants a second job as your assistant, so long as you pay him. Can you?”

“Umm…” Johann had been having some financial troubles lately, mostly because he’d been too focused on his work to get a real job. “I think I can pay him. Does he have any training in… anything?”

“Probably not, but he has supreme listening skills. You can teach him.”

“Medicine is delicate! I cannot teach him!”

“Yes, you can. Do you accept him as an assistant?” 

“Fine.”

The carriage stopped, and the door opened. They were in front of Oberon’s enormous mansion, which was quiet despite the fact that it was past noon. Johann nervously stepped out of the carriage, and the door slammed shut behind him. There was no going back now.

He walked up to the door and knocked. It opened a few seconds later. 

“Yeah?” The maid asked. “Oh, it’s- oh, you’re Dr Faust, are you? Yeah, come in.”

Johann entered, and was led into a sitting room. Oberon emerged several minutes later, looking disgruntled, like he’d just been awoken. 

“What do you want?” Oberon asked. A servant brought him a pipe, which he lit. 

Opium? At this hour? Here? Johann straightened. At least it would be easier to deal with the man if he was high on opium. “I’m here to negotiate for the duel.”

“Ugh,” Oberon said. “Folly, you know?”

“Yes, folly. I agree.”

“Well, unavoidable. What did he say to talk about?”

“To figure out the make of pistols, the time, the place…”

Oberon grunted. “Pistols. No, we’ll use cannons.”

Johann stared at him. He reminded himself that Oberon was on drugs. “We can’t use cannons.”

“Actually, we can. It would be merely a small addition to this tomfoolery. See, it’s like this: I send a letter to Janson and Mephisto with the message that we’ll be using cannons. I forage your signature at the bottom so that they think you agreed to this. They think you did. They blow each other to smithereens with cannons. My problems are over and I get both their houses.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works, Lord- excuse me, but I have to ask. What exactly is your rank?”

“Me? I’m a king. Why do you ask.”

Johann rolled his eyes. “You are not the king of England.”

Oberon smiled. “Where did I mention England?”

The light reflected strangely off of his face as he said it, and his smile seemed more sinister than welcoming. His black curls blew back, even though there was no wind inside the building. Johann had the sense that he was trapped in a maze, and that he had somehow signed some contract he shouldn’t have by merely entering the house. Suddenly, Johann was deeply unsettled by this house and its occupant, and he moved to the other side of the sofa he sat on to distance himself from Oberon. His smirk deepened, and the room seemed to flip so that suddenly Oberon was across from Johann again.

“Are you hungry, Dr Faust?” Oberon asked. His voice had deepened, and was quieter. His French accent was less pronounced, replaced with something Johann couldn’t quite place.

“No,” Johann said. Best to stay confident, so that Oberon would not notice his inner distress. “I am here to discuss the details of the upcoming duel between Dukes Janson and Mephisto.”

“We’ll speak of that later,” said Oberon. “Have some fruit, Dr Faust. Or some wine, try that.”

Though Johann had not seen the servant come in to deliver it, there was now a platter of fruit and wine sitting on the table between them. Johann’s head spun, hopefully from the opium.

“I am not hungry,” Johann said. Asserting himself had always worked before. “We have to decide the make of pistol that will be used in the duel.”

Oberon leaned back into the sofa. “Alright, then we will. What about flintlock duelling pistols?”

“Flintlock? Aren’t those a little outdated?”

“Yes, but it’s tradition to use flintlock duelling pistols. Besides, they come in a set, and where Mephisto and Janson come from, it’s doubly tradition to use flintlock duelling pistols.”

Johann took out a notepad and wrote that down. “Do you have a set they can use?”

“I do.” Oberon clicked his fingers, and a servant rushed in with a box. Oberon whipped the top off, revealing two ordinary duelling pistols.

Johann picked one up. They seemed perfectly sound and ready to use in a duel. “Alright, let’s use these.”

“Very good. Now, Dr Faust, something has suddenly come to me.” Oberon smiled, and held out a hand. “Your first name?”

Something was deeply, deeply wrong here. Johann cleared his throat nervously, and smiled. “Why do you want my first name, L- I mean, King Oberon?”

“Well, I suppose I’m curious.” He was still holding out his hand, like he was waiting for a handshake.

“Well, my name is-” All his instincts screamed at him to stop, which he found quite ridiculous. He set his jaw and pushed down the panic inside of him. There was nothing to fear from this lazy, drugged nobleman! “My name is Johann Wolfgang Faust, why do you ask?”

Oberon’s smile remained for a moment, before it turned into a scowl. “That’s it?”

Johann was beginning to get impatient with his strange statements and requests. “Well, technically, it’s Johann Wolfgang Von Faust. I think my family was noble, or something, once.”

Oberon glared at him, and his face suddenly looked frighteningly wild. “Listen, you don’t want to lie to me. Do you understand? Good. Now, I ask you again: can I have your name?”

Johann stood up, having had his fill of this game. “My name is Johann Wolfgang Von Faust, the son of Wolfgang Paul Von Faust and Juliane Eva Von Faust. Do you want the names of my brothers and sisters, too, or are we done here?”

Oberon sat back, looking like a petulant child who had just been told ‘no’ for the first time. “I suppose we are. Sit down, Dr Faust, and have something to eat or drink. Please.”

Johann was beginning to catch on to this game. “I don’t think so. We need to talk about the-” He was distracted by a book sitting on the shelf behind Oberon. The Exploration of the Veil, by an unnamed author. He’d been looking for that book, and had discovered that it was illegal in many places, including Germany, Italy, France, Spain, America, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Why, he couldn’t say, but the fact that it was illegal only made him want it even more.

“Yes?” Oberon asked.

“I’m sorry, but could I borrow that book behind you?”

“What, this?” Oberon hefted the thick tome. “Oh, sure. My friend, Lord Howard, left that here when he stayed with me for several weeks.”

“Why did he stay with you?”

“Some drama between him and his mother, or him and his wife, or him and his son. I can’t remember.” Oberon poured a thick purple substance out of the ‘wine’ bottle and into a goblet. “Want some?”

Johann’s heart skipped a beat. He knew exactly how that would taste, exactly where it had come from, and exactly what King Oberon was. Suddenly, everything about the names and about the fruit made sense. “N- no. I don’t want any.” That drug he had taken and the liquid he had drunk afterwards had caused him no end of trouble. There was no way he was going to repeat the experience here, and there was no way he was going to accept strange gifts from a faerie.

“No?” Oberon asked. He lifted the goblet to his mouth and swallowed most of its contents in one go. “Are you sure? It is quite good.”

“No,” Johann said. “That is my final decision. Now, hand over the book to me, if you’re really going to let me borrow it, and let’s discuss the time and place of the duel.”

“Tomorrow,” said Oberon. “Dawn.” 

“Why dawn? And why tomorrow?”

“Dawn is the time I will have the most control over the duel, and tomorrow is the soonest we can get it over with.” Oberon finished his glass of purple sludge and replaced the pill in his pipe of opium. “Can you mobilize Mephisto that fast?”

“I can.”

“Good.” Oberon lit the pipe again. “By the way, you live on Temptation, don’t you? In that big apartment building?”

What did that have to do with anything? “I do.”

“My stepdaughter lives there, too. Her name is Sylvia. Do you know her?”

“Well, sure. She’s taking care of Mr. Golson right now, who I’ve had to attend several times in the past few days.” He’d also spent time in her flat, either when he was spending the night with Deirdre or when he was too frightened to sleep in his attic alone. Sylvia hardly slept; she rose early in the morning to watch the sunrise, and she went to bed past midnight. She also ate very little, and went through dramatic mood swings that Johann thought were due to an undiagnosed mental illness. He had learned this term from Duke Mephisto, and had found that it applied to more people than he had expected. 

Oberon sighed. “I haven’t seen her in years. Do you think you could take her a message for me?”

“What kind of message?”

“I have it written down here.” Oberon took out a letter, and handed it to him. “Deliver it to Sylvia, and bring me her response tomorrow. Please. Here, take the book, as well.”

Johann figured that since the book wasn’t technically Oberon’s to give, accepting it wouldn’t be considered accepting a gift from Oberon, but instead Lord Howard, whoever that was. “Thank you, and please thank Lord Howard when you see him again. I’ll give the message to Sylvia.”

Oberon sat back down on the sofa and waved him away. Johann left the room, but this time there was no one to lead him back out of the maze-like house. He was vaguely sure that he was supposed to walk forward, and he had an idea that sticking to one wall was good for getting out of mazes. He walked until he ended up at the end of a hallway, with a set of large double doors in front of him.

Johann opened the doors and found himself in a cavernous room lined completely with mirrors. The walls, floor, ceiling, and even the other side of the door were glass, and the door that was closed was nearly invisible against the wall. There was no furniture, except for a table at the very center with a locked black book on it, and no obvious light source despite the fact that the entire room was brightly lit.

“What on Earth?” Johann asked aloud. Could there be lights embedded in the ceiling? The light was harsh, and he felt that it might burn his skin if he stayed for too long. 

He walked forward, meaning to see what book was on the table, and thought he could hear someone else’s footsteps mimicking his own, but there wasn’t anyone else in the room. There was a sound like someone running on all fours, with no obvious source, until Johann looked up at the far wall.

There were footprints on the glass above him, like someone was walking there. As he watched, more appeared, until he was right under the newest ones. Johann felt that spreading emptiness that he’d felt after bringing Dominic Sapping back, and he realized the complete lack of color in the room. 

He smiled nervously, as if that simple motion could dismiss the monster that was probably right above him. Johann held the smile as he left the room, closed the door behind him, and locked it from the outside. 

Duke Mephisto’s carriage was gone, so he jogged home. Ransom Egerton, the teenage thug who lived below him, was outside, smoking.

“Hey, Doctor,” Egerton said.

Johann stopped. “Hm?”

“You got poisons ‘n stuff up it that trunk u’ yours, right?”

“… Yes, I do. Why?”

“Well, ‘s a bit of a hazard, dontcha think?”

“Having poisons up in my rooms, as a doctor. No, I do not think.”

Egerton shrugged. “Whatever. Do you know Mark?”

“Mr. Murphy? Yes, I do.”

“I don’t like him very much. Do you?”

“I confess, I haven’t had much interaction with him.”

“He’s a problem, and I need to take care of him.”

“Well, he works for some important people now, so you hold off on that.” Specifically, Mark Murphy worked for the Faerie King, but Johann didn’t say that for fear of being taken as insane.

“Eh,” Egerton said. “I don’t think so. Anyway, it don’t matter. Have a nice day, Doctor.”

Johann went to walk inside, but Egerton stopped him by putting a hand on his coat sleeve. “You have to come attend my mum when she gives birth to the baby in her belly, got it?”

“Can you pay me?”

Egerton’s face darkened. “I can pay you in life, Doctor.”

“I don’t accept blood money, and nor do I accept threats.”

“I’ll pay you, all right.”

Johann nodded and tipped his hat. “Have a good day, then, Mr Egerton.” He dashed up the stairs, and went into Sylvia’s apartment. Sylvia and Deirdre sat at the table, gazes fixated on Jean Gévaudan, who looked uncomfortable, for once.

“What’s this?” Johann asked.

“They seem to think I know where Mr Johnson has gone,” Jean said.

“And do you?” asked Johann.

“No, I don’t,” Jean said. “It’s propaganda to say that I do.” 

Johann sighed. “Here, Sylvia, I have a note for you.”

“From?” She looked to be doing better than she had been a day prior, when Johann had come to tend Richard. The dark bags under her eyes had been reduced, and she smiled rather than looking afraid.

“Your stepfather, King Oberon.”

Sylvia didn’t seem to react, but Deirdre looked nervous and Jean turned his head sharply towards her. She opened the letter and read it with a neutral expression on her face, then turned it over to check if anything was written on the other side.

“Ha!” Sylvia said, with a happy shrug. “Was that all?”

“Yes, but he wants me to bring your response to the duel tomorrow.”

“Oberon is fighting a duel?”

“No, Duke Janson is, and- you know what, I’ve said too much already. This is technically illegal, after all. Just give me your response.”

Sylvia took a pen out of her pocket and wrote in French on the back of Oberon’s paper: I won’t.

What was that supposed to mean? Johann pretended that he hadn’t read it, and surreptitiously flipped the note when he picked it up so that he could see what Oberon had written. 

It was written in some alien language that he didn’t speak, and that he was sure wasn’t something that any mortal on Earth spoke. Johann sighed, and stuck it in his pocket. He said his brief goodbyes, and went upstairs to spend the rest of the night alone and go to sleep early. It would be an early morning tomorrow, and a stressful one. He needed the rest.