Drawings 1

First post during the hiatus! I have three pieces of ship art to share for three of the six ships that I consider to be the main canon ones.

First, there’s Johann and Deirdre.

Second, there’s Leonard and Serena

Thirdly, Daisy and Camilla.

Also, Happy Halloween to anyone who celebrates it!

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!

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.

Richard – 1.9.2

Richard’s group of writer friends were the only people he had ever been truly comfortable around. He’d never had many friends, thanks to his skin condition, and his only sibling had died in the cradle after taking his mother with her. His father was distant, to say the least, often shutting himself up for long periods of time to avoid talking with his sister, son, or his own aging father. The sister, Jane Redmond, was a widow whose husband had died of typhus just after she’d given birth to her twins, Elizabeth and Owen. Jane had raised him, and Richard had played with her children in his youth, until Owen was sent away to be an officer in the army and Elizabeth eloped with a woman. Richard’s grandfather had died when he was thirteen, and Aunt Jane had helped him get into painting as a way to cope with the isolation and grief. She’d died, too, in a shipwreck with Richard’s ever-distant father when he was seventeen. After that he’d gone to study at university for two years, before returning to London.

He had met Duke Leonard at university when he was twenty, and through him he’d met Leonard’s wife Serena, Camilla Chambers, Cesare Sabia, Elijah Wade, Hai Daiyu, Veronika – Vera to close friends – Nikitovna, and the ever-mysterious friend he’d only met in person once, a few years ago in Italy, Enoch Carter. 

All of them were writers in some fashion, except for Leonard, who tagged along because he was such a dear friend and because he had obscene amounts of money. Richard wrote horror, Camilla wrote romance (and horror, apparently), Cesare was a poet, Elijah a poet and philosopher, Daiyu wrote science fiction, Serena studied fish and wrote papers on them, Vera was a playwright and poet, and Enoch wrote mysteries.

Apparently, his outing to draw dancers and quick conversation with Serena and Cesare had transitioned into a full get-together. Once the opera ended, he was swept up by the rest of the group into a carriage, then to Leonard and Serena’s house for dinner. 

“I’ve composed another poem,” Cesare said.

“Congratulations,” said Camilla. “I wish I had the motivation to write anything.”

“You’ll find it. Did you finish that last novel about the man falling in love with the fish?”

“Excuse me?” Serena asked. “You wrote about what?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Camilla. “I finished it, but I haven’t published it yet.”

“What exactly was that about a fish?” 

Camilla shrugged. “Really, it doesn’t matter.”

“I study fish. I want to know if you wrote a book about one.”

“Oh, I did.”

A servant arrived with drinks. Richard took out a pencil and started idly sketching the bizarre hat a man in one of the paintings on the wall was wearing. 

“And the fish was…”

“The love interest,” Camilla said.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand,” said Serena.

“He fell in love with the fish woman.”

“Was she more of a mermaid?”

“Sort of. She had a fish upper half.”

“This sounds more like surreal horror than romance.”

“I suppose it could be considered such. The man does die at the end. Falls off his balcony after giving a long soliloquy.”

“That makes no sense.”

“You don’t have context.”

Serena sniffed. “Well, I can say with scientific authority that fish people are impossible.”

“That you know of.” Camilla rejected silverware a servant tried to put down in front of her. “I don’t eat.”

Richard finished his drawing and stuck it in the pocket of his coat. Hopefully, Deirdre wouldn’t come looking for him tonight, because gatherings like this often ran quite late.

A few minutes later, Vera, Daiyu, and Elijah showed up in quick succession. Richard was already between Leonard and Camilla, so he wasn’t sitting next to any of them.

They were a diverse group, in both appearance and personality. Nearly none of them came from the same place. Leonard and Richard himself were English, Serena was Scottish, Camilla was a Native American, Elijah an African-American, Cesare was Italian, Vera was Russian, Daiyu was Chinese, and the never-present Enoch a New Englander. Their various personalities often led to conflict, specifically between Cesare’s arrogant hedonism and Camilla’s intrinsic need to make fun of everything on the face of the Earth. It was all in good fun, though. Probably. Hopefully. 

Vera was Russian, a woman who had been born a lucky peasant and was now somehow engaged to the rich American philosopher Elijah Wade. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a round, nearly perfectly symmetrical face. Richard had done a portrait of her a few months past, which, come to think, he needed to have framed. It was still leaning against the wall in his studio.

Elijah was African-American, a philosopher who had made his money with his radical ideas and utterly nihilistic worldview. He’d written lots of books, most of them philosophical but some composed of poetry. He had dark brown skin, curly black hair cut close to his head, a short beard, a blocky face, and inky eyes. Elijah was rather handsome, at least in the sense that classical artists understood the word. He would not have been out of place as a statue in a ruined Greek graveyard. 

The last of the newcomers, Daiyu, was a science fiction writer who wrote mostly about aliens and the unknown. She was Chinese, and had short dark brown hair, brown eyes, and round face, which Richard thought was just average enough in terms of classical beauty that she might have been painted in as a background character by some great Renaissance artist. Not ugly, per se, but not a great beauty, either. Just rather average. 

Leonard and Serena stood to greet each of the three as they arrived. They took their seats, and conversation started anew.

“I mislike Duke Janson’s new laws,” Elijah said. “Workhouses and prisons are not my idea of a solution to poverty.”

I mislike politics,” Daiyu said. “They make me feel sick. Let’s talk about something else. Did you know that in America they’re developing-”

“A war?” Camilla suggested.

Elijah gave a long, suffering sigh. “I’ve heard quite enough about the war in America for an entire lifetime.”

“And to think, it hasn’t even started yet!” said Cesare.

“It’s all just war this, war that, I heard you’re American, can you tell us anything? As if I’ve been home in the last year.”

“Didn’t you take a vacation there?” Serena asked.

“I am sad to say that the trip to Italy soured me to vacations forever, my friends.” Elijah paused for a moment. “And, let me add, all of you are to blame. I don’t divide between individuals. When a group does nothing to stop troublesome individuals the entire group is held guilty.”

Richard sighed. The whole group of them had gone to Italy a few years ago, only to be promptly quarantined in their house for much longer than anticipated due to an unexpected outbreak of typhoid in the small town they’d stayed in. Richard had spent nearly the entire trip indoors, except for when he went down to the beach at night. That had been the only thing keeping him sane, mostly due to his housemates at the time.

Enoch had been there. He was in his thirties, with brown hair flecked with early gray. His face was thin, his skin pale, and he had a very serious disposition. He had talked at length of his family, especially his younger brother, Percy. 

“Very profound,” Camilla said, draining her glass of what was presumably red wine in a single swallow. “What do you think of the war?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“You don’t care?” Richard was indecorous. How could someone simply not care about something so terrible as war?

Elijah scoffed. “Of course not. Why should I? Does it affect me at all? Does it interrupt my way of life? Render anything impossible for me? I’ll answer my question for you: no, no it doesn’t. I care little about anything that does trouble me, and even less for things that do not.”

“You’d be saying differently if the war was here,” Serena said.

“I highly doubt that. If there was a war here, I would simply survive for as long as I could on nothing and then die. What else do humans do, anyway, but that?”

“You’re speaking hypothetically,” said Richard, who was desperate for a reason to believe that this philosophy was a simple front. “If there really was a war here, or a war breaking out in America-”

“My philosophy wouldn’t change,” Camilla said. “It’s much the same as Elijah, here.”

“What would you know about war?” Cesare asked. Richard was wondering the same thing.

“Plenty, my good friend. I know enough to have developed a philosophy like Elijah’s. It’s like this: Everything dies. People, animals, plants, buildings, philosophies, even words, sometimes. Everything dies, and once it dies, it can’t come back. Ever. So, if everything dies, and doesn’t come back, then nothing you do can ever matter, because it will all be forgotten and rendered pointless someday. However, consider this. If nothing you do can ever matter, because it will all be forgotten and rendered pointless someday, then there’s no reason to do anything good with your time alive. Anything considered good will be torn down someday, anyhow. It’s all for naught, so you might as well enjoy it. And, if nothing good matters, then logically nothing bad matters, either. If anything considered ‘good’ will be torn down someday, then so will anything ‘bad.’” Camilla smiled and drank more of her wine. “It’s a game with no rules, Richard. Why do you still try to play the good guy?”

Richard stood as fast as his weak feet would allow him. “Because being bad makes me feel terrible.” How could they consider basic morals to be pointless? He grabbed his cane, turned on his heel, and left the room. 

He was only going to the toilet, but it was a good dramatic exit if he did say so himself. His blood still boiled as he entered the toilet. It’s a pointless game with no rules, Richard. Why do you still try to play the good guy? He bit his lip. There was a reason he could come up with beyond ‘it makes me feel bad,’ and it was the fact that he had had instilled in him from a young age a deathly fear of being a ‘bad person.’ To be a bad person was to fail someone else even once, to not sacrifice everything you had for your fellow man. To not put yourself second always. Richard clenched his fist around his cane. 

After he was done, he came out to find Serena standing in the hallway.

“Richard-”

“It’s alright, I’m coming back,” he said. “I was just a bit angry in the moment, that’s all.”

Serena put her hand on his shoulder. “Camilla’s drunk, Richard. She probably didn’t mean any of what she said, and even if she did, she hasn’t the courage to act any of it out.”

Richard made no response. Why do you still try to play the good guy? He played the good guy because he had to. It was how he covered everything up, neatly in a bow, with kindness and compassion and empathy. Without that, he would have to face everything inside him, and that wasn’t something he ever wanted to do. 

“Elijah said he apologizes. He didn’t mean to upset anyone, he was only trying to answer Camilla’s questions. Well, he claims. It isn’t difficult to tell that he’s not only lying, but also a godawful liar.” Serena patted him on the back. “I don’t think it was you he was trying to upset. I think he just wanted a reaction out of Camilla.”

Well, he had gotten one. “I know he did. And really, it isn’t bothering me anymore.” What a lie. Richard smiled, but it came out looking more like he was about to cry.

Serena raised an eyebrow, clearly seeing right through him, but she didn’t say anything further. They reentered the dining room and took their seats.

“I would be completely willing to eat an entire meal fit for hundreds just now,” Cesare said. 

“Or, you could just eat a horse,” said Camilla. “That, too, is an option.”

“I detest horse meat,” Leonard said. “I’ve had to eat it involuntarily many times before, and… eurgh. Never again.”

“Why did you have to involuntarily eat horse meat?” Richard asked, eager to participate in the conversation. He had to act like he didn’t care about what had just happened. He had to act like it didn’t bother him deeply. 

“Putting down another damned rebellion,” said Leonard. “Tecualt was late with the supply train, so we ate the dead horses. I very nearly fired the man.” He left something unsaid at the end of that sentence, Richard could tell. 

“My husband is a very brave warrior,” Serena said. “He puts down a lot of rebellions in his dukedom.” She twisted his wrist under the table as she said this.

Leonard looked supremely uncomfortable. “Why, look, it’s the food. Why don’t we eat?”

The subjects of war and rebellion were not brought up again for the rest of the dinner, nor when they went into the parlor to continue their conversation. Richard was not the last to leave; Camilla and Cesare were still there when he did, but it was late when he began his trek back home.

Some strange urge compelled him to take a detour through the docks. He didn’t like them very much, at least not on most days, when the cold and wet would sometimes seep through his shoes and make his feet hurt, and his cane would occasionally slip on the wet wood. It had been hot, though, so maybe the walking areas would be a little drier. 

They weren’t. In fact, they seemed even more damp, and slippery, almost as if it had poured rain for days without letting up. Richard made an irritated noise and did his best.

A piece of paper flew through the air, carried on a chill night wind. Richard caught it before it went into the water and held it up to read it:

Someone here to see you, sir.

Perhaps it was a fragment of a message? Part of a letter that had been lost? Richard shook his head and tossed it away.

Only a few seconds later it flew back into his face. He glared down at it again.

Someone here to see you, sir.

Had it been underlined before? He didn’t think so. Richard turned around, looking for a young ruffian who might have thrown it back at him, and that was when he saw them.

There were four figures, standing at the end of a dock. The first one was a woman with dark skin and black hair, wearing a white nightgown soaked through with blood at waist-level. She held the hand of a child, a sickly looking little boy whose entire front was also bloody. Richard didn’t recognize either of them, though there was an odd familiarity in their eyes. The little boy swayed back and forth, a nasty, bloody grin on his face, and Richard realized he could hear his ragged, shallow breathing from several meters away.

The other two had their faces obscured. The first was probably a woman, judging by the fact that she appeared to have breasts. She was dressed in dark clothing made darker by the fact that it was soaking wet. The clothing seemed to be for travelling; her dress buttoned up the front, it was devoid of frills, and she had a white shawl instead of a collar. Her bonnet was pulled down to obscure her face, but her mouth was slightly visible, and Richard could see a small trickle of water coming down from the side of it. The last figure stood beside her, illuminating the whole group with a lantern. It was probably a man, since he didn’t have breasts, dressed in a soaked suit of dark fabric. He had hidden his face with a tricorn hat, but the lantern shone down to show that water flowed freely from his mouth, as well.

There was a disturbing sense of familiarity here. Richard wanted to run, he wanted to leave the unnatural wraiths at the docks, but something seemed to compel his feet forward.

“D- Do I know you?” Richard asked.

The man looked up and gave a rattling cough, causing salt water to spray from his mouth. His eyes were still hidden. “Barely.”

“What?”

“Barely, I said. Who am I to judge your memory? I can say that you may have known me, once, but you hardly know what’s left of me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You sure are thick, for a writer.”

“How do you know that?”

“I know everything about you.” The cough came again, and Richard realized why he couldn’t see the man’s eyes: they were gone. There was a strip of canvas fabric where they should have been, splotchy with blood and salt.

“You can’t,” Richard said.

“Maybe not.”

“Are you a sailor?”

“Hah! Hardly. I wouldn’t be here if I had been.”

“I still don’t understand.”

The man laughed, drawing his hands up as if he was grasping at something, then coughed into his lantern-less fist. “You’re a blind idiot.”

“What?”

The man pointed to the sneering boy. “Henry, the son of my body. Eldest. He caught the consumption when he was three, he lived with it until he was five.” He gestured with his lantern towards the blood-soaked woman. “Cathy, show him the baby.”

She moved her arm to reveal that she had been carrying a bundle Richard had taken for another part of her bloody dress. Richard shook his head and stepped back. “I don’t want to look at it.”

“Look at it or don’t, makes no difference to me,” the lantern man said. “Jane, after her aunt.”

Jane was the aunt that had raised him. Richard’s palms were clammy with sweat, and his head began to ache. He felt dizzy, and he felt outside of his body, like none of this was real. He hoped it wasn’t.

“My sister,” the lantern man continued, gesturing to the woman beside him. “Her name’s Jane, she’s the one I should have listened to. ‘Don’t go on that ship,’ she said. ‘It’s a bad idea to leave the boy.’ Yes, at least I might have taken him with me. With us.” The man coughed again, and fell to one  knee. When Richard ran forward to help him up, he realized that the man was as pale as a statue, and as cold as a corpse. Surely there should have been some redness, somewhere on his body? Some redness to prove that blood still flowed through his veins?

The man looked up, and his hat blew away, taking the eye covering with it. Those two bloody, empty sockets were a pair of twin voids, and the sneer fixed on the lantern man’s face matched to them perfectly. 

“Not such a blind idiot now, huh?” The lantern man said.

“Oh, Christ,” said Richard.

“My name is Peter Henry Golson,” his father said. “I’m not such a blind idiot now, either. I didn’t believe in God, you know that? Of course you do. I never took you to church, that was her responsibility. Well, I can tell you, son, that I was only half right. There’s something up there, that’s for sure. Something that craves worship and wants followers. But you know what? It’s asleep, son. It’s asleep and it wants to wake up.”

Richard was stumbling back. He had lost his cane. Had his father always been so tall? The world was spinning. He wasn’t in his body. This was fake, it was a dream, it was something he would see inside his head. His head was about to explode with built up pressure. Peter Henry Golson’s face twisted into something that was threatening and inhuman. He drew back his arm and threw the lantern. It hit Richard square in the chest, and he knew nothing more.

Leonard – 1.7.2

Content warning: a brief scene involving cruelty to animals, though nothing is shown on-page.

Duke Leonard was enjoying burning letters from the prince enormously when Brownie came to tell him that there was a child outside waiting for him. He scoffed at first, and said, “what does he look like?”

“Kinda poor. He hasn’t got good clothes on, and he’s real dirty.”

“Why the hell would a street urchin be asking after me?”

“I dunno, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir, Brownie, I can tell you hate it. Did he give a name?”

“Will.”

“Will what?”

“Will Volac.”

Oh no. Not Volac the grand president. How terrifying he was, especially when dressed up as a child. Leonard was shaking in his shoes. He sighed, and put the letters down. “Tell him…” An idea entered his mind. “Tell him he has to bathe and wear a suit to have the privilege of seeing me. I don’t want his filth in my house.” That would be a good way to get him out of his element, and teach him who was in charge on the surface.

Brownie shuffled his feet. “Er…”

“What?”

“Pardon, lord, but I don’t want to talk to him again. I’m scared of him.”

Leonard was sympathetic. He’d been frightened of the others before, back when he’d still cared what happened to him. “Get someone else to tell him, then.”

Brownie ran off, and it was another half-hour before Volac appeared. The grand president, personification of pride and malice, stood before him in the form of a small child, no more than twelve years old. The boy’s curly red hair was usually left to go free, but it had been combed back after his bath. His rags had been exchanged for a nice shirt, jacket, and pants, and his usual smirk had turned to a glower. 

“Good morning, dear president!” Leonard said.

Volac glared at him. 

“Did you have a nice bath?”

Volac sat down in the chair opposite him, still staring daggers. He lifted a hand slowly, and snapped his fingers. A mere moment later, he was back in his original clothing.

“Would you like something to eat?”

“You have to come back,” Volac said. “He says so.”

“What’re you going to do, drag me there yourself?” Leonard sat back in his chair, smiling.

“No, but he will.”

“Will he?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll have to convince me. I don’t see anyone with you, so I’m rather unconcerned that you’ll drag me kicking and screaming back to my dukedom.”

Volac stood up, looking extremely petulant. “You have to!”

“I don’t think I will.”

Volac stomped his foot. “Yes!”

“No.” Leonard turned, and rang a bell for his servants. “Please escort this young man back out onto the street.”

“Should we leave him with anything, m’lord?”

“Oh, no, he won’t need anything. He has a talent for finding what he needs.”

Volac kicked a servant when the man tried to grab his arm. “I’m not leaving until you come back!”

“Hell no,” Leonard said. He chuckled, realizing the pun, and waved the men coming to restrain Volac away. “Don’t make me call the police, dear president, because I will.”

“What could the police do against me?”

Leonard stood up. He towered over the boy, and was able to glare down at him. He smiled, put his hand on Volac’s shoulder, and whispered, “they can do more than you would think, especially with me helping them. They have a new captain, did you know? One Gabriel Arch.”

There was no more struggle after that, and Leonard was able to peacefully sit down in his chair again. There were more letters to burn, but that would be no fun now that he was on edge from meeting that over-inflated child. Leonard scowled, and rang the bell again.

“Fetch my hat and cane. I am going out.” 

The servant looked uncomfortable. “Well…”

“Is there someone else to see me?”

“Yes, m’lord.”

“Who?”

The woman handed him a calling card, which Leonard regarded with suspicion. 

William D Sallos

Matchmaker

666 Rue Des Devil

“Absolutely not.” Leonard threw the card over his shoulder, put on his hat, took his cane, and took the back stairs out of the building. 

666 Rue Des Devil. Not obvious at all.

He would call on Johann, who unfortunately did not live at 123 Madscientist Avenue, though the fact that the name of his street was Temptation didn’t help things.

The building was only a swift walk away, and Leonard made quick time. The thought of Sallos sitting in his parlor put him in an even better mood, even made him whistle. Perhaps he would call on Richard, as well, or even invite him out tonight.

Leonard tipped his hat to the landlord as he climbed the stairs of Johann’s building. Johann lived on the very top floor, in what was essentially the attic, due to the fact that he didn’t have much money to rent out a better room. Leonard knocked on the door, which opened almost immediately to reveal Johann.

Johann Faust was a slight man, with darkish skin, darker hair, black eyes, and a blacker set of morals. He beckoned Leonard into the dimly lit ‘room.’ “Sit down, my l- I mean, Leonard.”

Leonard crossed the threshold and sat down in an armchair under a small, grimy window. “Have you been making good use of your powers?”

Johann bounced across the room and held up a cage. “Look at this!”

Inside was a monkey that seemed alive, at least except for the fact that its neck was twisted at the wrong angle, and its beady eyes had no light behind them. “That’s… very good?”

“I tried to buy it when it was alive, but the salesman refused to sell it to me. When I went back to, ahem, dig through his trash looking for empty glass bottles, I found that someone had wrung its neck and tossed it in the back. It doesn’t eat, it’s loyal to a fault, it scares off unwelcome visitors – it is, I should say, the perfect pet.”

The monkey chittered at Leonard, who grimaced. “Are you sure it’s safe to keep this creature around?”

Johann gave him an irritable look. “Did you miss the part when I called it ‘loyal to a fault?’”

“Yes, but how do you know that it’s loyal to a fault? Have you done research, tests, controlled experiments, that sort of thing?”

“Do I look like someone who had the time for that? Besides, it’s only a monkey, Leonard. I could throw it across the room with little exertion.”

“Alright, I’ll give you the monkey. But, what about the people you bring back? Are they loyal?”

“No, they-” Johann gave him a dirty look. “You know they aren’t. I wrote to you and told you about it.”

Leonard swallowed hard, and pushed his various concerns to the back of his mind. It was time to change the subject. “Of course. I was only making sure you had told the truth. What else have you been doing?”

Johann put down the monkey cage and went to stand by the other window, so that he was silhouetted against the light. “I have grand plans, Leonard, grand plans. I’m going to release some of my knowledge to the general medical community, see how that goes over, and then I’m going to claim myself as the long-lost son of some dead noble. It’s not true, of course, but with everything I know it shouldn’t be too hard to lie. I’m going to manufacture my own medicines, too, medicines that will actually help people. And besides all that, consider my work here. I can draw anyone back from death itself!” Johann grinned. “That alone will be sure to make me one of the most celebrated men ever to have lived.”

“A fine job you’ve done with those plans so far.”

“I have! I have discovered the secret to life, haven’t I? Besides, men like me can afford to wait to achieve our goals.”

“Men like you?”

“Great men! Men who have already done great things despite their unfortunate circumstances.”

“You’ve resurrected a monkey.”

Johann scoffed. “And twenty-four people. By tonight, it will be twenty-five.” He paused, and looked at Leonard strangely. “You already know that.”

Right. He was supposed to already know that. “But other than that, you’ve achieved none of your grand plans.”

“So? You gave me this power to do with it what I will. You said that I could do whatever I wanted, no strings attached. If I want to do nothing, then you can’t stop me!”

Leonard sighed. “I can stop you in less than you would think.”

“Shut up! You’re trying to tell me what to do. In the contract, you said specifically that you wouldn’t do that.” Johann drew a paper out of his pocket. “See? I have it here.”

“I don’t need to see the contract.” Actually, that would be most useful, but he couldn’t let Johann know that. “Clearly, I’m impeding your great plans. I’ll be going now.” He stood, giving Johann one final glare, opened the door, and walked down the stairs. He needed to talk to someone, to confess what he’d done. 

Luckily, one of his good friends was outside waiting for him. 

“Duke Mephisto,” Camilla Chambers said. 

She was American, from Massachusetts, with a mother who was a member of a Native American tribe that Camilla had named once and then never again. Her dark hair was long and wavy, often unbraided, and her skin was light brown. She had a mocking smile, a high voice, and a habit of deliberately trying to get a rise out of people with her antics. Camilla was romantically inclined to members of her own sex exclusively, and could therefore sympathise with Leonard’s own preferences – he liked both. 

Leonard hooked an arm around hers. “My dear friend.”

“What happened to you today? You didn’t look very well when you came out of that building.”

“I messed up so badly.”

“I want to hear the whole story. Spare no detail.”

“Can we go somewhere?”

“Mrs Elizabeth Baker’s strange theater opera house hybrid is putting on a performance just about now.”

“Ah, well, it would be fitting for me to tell you how my arrogance has led to an utter mess to that backdrop. I read a penny dreadful the other day I wanted to show you, too. It’s trash.”

“Delightful!”

They hailed a carriage and rode to Mrs Baker’s theater, a grand building of marble in one of the better parts of the city. The opera had not begun by the time they took their seats, so Leonard had time to take out the copy of a badly printed penny dreadful he’d taken from Brownie that morning. The cheap ink was smudged, but they still had a good time looking at it. The hero was one ‘Enoby Darnkess,’ a vampiric schoolgirl, and the plot line involved gratuitous sex, violence, gothic youths, some kind of time travel, and chewing. There were spelling mistakes abound, too, some of which made it hard to read but most of which added to the hilarity.

It was edition 15 of the series, and they hotly debated whether or not it was satire.

“Surely someone wouldn’t unironically write something that terrible,” Camilla said.

“You’d be surprised by some of Richard’s friends.”

In the background, the opera began, so Leonard put away his penny dreadful and turned to half-watch the beginnings of the show.

“So,” Camilla said before the second aria had begun. “How did you mess up this time?”

Leonard sighed. “Well, I’ve told you about the, er… deals… that me and my ilk make?”

“Taking souls in exchange for some kind of petty power? Yes, you’ve told me.”

“Have I ever told you about the specifics?”

“No, not really.”

“Well, a deal generally goes like this: you have a mortal who really, truly desires something. They don’t just want it, they don’t just covet it, they desire it, and they would do anything to get it. Someone like me contacts them, usually in a letter or through a dream, and we get them to agree to a deal that gives us as many souls as we deem worthy in return for granting their wish.”

“Back up,” Camilla said. “Souls?”

“Well, yes. Depending on the enormity of the wish, we sometimes ask for multiple souls. You’ve heard of Napoleon, right?”

“What? Of course not. I’ve never heard of the man who was becoming the Emperor of France when I was born, who fought half of Europe and nearly conquered Russia. I share his birthday, Leonard, of course I’ve heard of him.”

“You share his birthday?”

“Yes. I was born on the exact same day as him, in fact.”

“Impossible. You don’t look any older than I am!”

The two of them stared at each other for a few moments, then burst out laughing. When they’d regained composure, Leonard resumed his speech. 

“As a child, Napoleon Bonaparte sold his soul and the souls of every man who would ever fight under him in exchange for greatness and military success. And, do you know what eventually stopped him?”

“What?”

“A general gave the souls of every man Napoleon had ever killed or ever would kill, as well as his own and those of every single person who had ever even vaguely assisted Napoleon’s rise to power.”

“Brutal.”

“Indeed, but it did the trick. Understand this, though: to sell one’s own soul is a grievous sin, something almost impossible to come back from. Almost. However, to sell the soul of another, to knowingly condemn another person, no matter how foul, to an eternity of damnation to further one’s own goals, is the worst.”

Camilla was nodding. “That seems right. After all, it’s impossible to consent to having your soul stolen if you don’t know that it’s happening to you.”

“Precisely,” Leonard said. “Now, back to my original point. We have the mortal sign the contract. After that, we still retain complete control over the powers and the mortal – we can take the powers away, reverse the effects, amplify them, add on to them, and do nearly anything to the mortal. At least, the one who made the contract can.”

“Oh no.”

“It was a bookkeeping error, I swear. I didn’t do it on purpose. Just a bookkeeping error. My earthly name, Duke Mephisto, is too close to Oswald Janson’s true name, Mephastophilis. Some idiot thought that it was I who made the pact with Johann Faust, and I’ve been trying to avoid going back down to my dukedom anyway, so when they contacted me and asked ‘is this you?’ I said ‘of course it’s me! And, by the way, that means I can’t be coming back.’ It’s a free pass of sorts. I don’t have to go back for two years. Well, twenty-three months now, but let’s not dwell on semantics.”

“So, you’re officiating the deal, but you have no control over the power or the mortal?”

“Yes.”

“Dear God.”

Leonard lit a cigar, something forbidden inside the opera house. “But, you see, Camilla, he cannot know this.”

“Why don’t you just tell the bureaucracy from Hell that they made a mistake?”

“I can’t do that! Janson is my rival, he would never let it go if I admitted to such a mistake. Besides, I still believe that this is very much a sound decision. So long as Faust doesn’t find out, he’s still completely under my thumb.”

Camilla shook her head. “You can never be dissuaded in anything, so telling you off is pointless, but I still think this is a monumentally dreadful idea. Oh, look, here comes your wife with your lover and his weird friend.”

Leonard rolled his eyes. “Duchess Emelia is not my-”

“At what point did I mention her?”

Leonard turned around. Coming down the hallway were artist, scientist, and fish lover, his wife, Serena, and his two best male friends: painter, horror writer, and grave robber Richard Golson, and poet, madman, and extreme hedonist Cesare Sabia.

“Who were you referring to as my lover?”

“The black haired one.”

“They all have black hair, Camilla.”

“The one wearing black.”

“Still not narrowing it down at all.”

“The one with the hair.”

Camilla.

She grinned.

The newcomers took their seats. Leonard kissed Serena as she sat down next to him, nodded to Richard, who was busy taking off all of the various clothing that protected him from the sun, and shook Cesare’s hand. 

“I see the celebration has already begun,” Cesare said.

“It’s not a celebration until you bring the lover of the week,” said Camilla.

Cesare glared at her. Richard untangled his scarf and sat down. Leonard threw his arm around Serena and sighed to see his friends quarrelling again. 

“If I don’t eat something soon, I may die,” Cesare said.

“Quickly, Cesare, I don’t think you’re being dramatic enough. Maybe spice up your speech with a few threats to faint. Ooh, or actually faint, that would do nicely to prove your point that you’re on your deathbed after having not eaten for a full hour and a half.”

Cesare glared at her. “I hate you.”

“I aspire to be hated. Being liked by an idiot is my worst nightmare.”

“I’m not an idiot, and that’s not profound.”

“Oh, shut up. Go write a poem or something.”

Richard, the eternal peacemaker, broke up the argument by leaning over to the two of them and saying, “Would anyone like to see the dancer sketches I made earlier?”

“It’s in preparation for a painting, is it?” Serena asked. She had a light Scottish accent, since that was the country of her origin. 

“Yes, one of a ball that’s going to go along with my latest story. I need to paint dancers, and a grand, domed ceiling like this one.” Richard pulled out his sketchbook and showed them a page full of charcoal drawings of ballerinas. He pointed to one in the middle of the page. “This one’s my favorite, here. She’ll work as the main character of my story.”

“Don’t the main characters of your stories all die in horrible, gory ways?” Camilla asked.

“Well, yes…” Richard paused for a moment. “Don’t yours do that, too?”

“Absolutely not! I write romance!”

“Except for that one random horror novel.”

“Well, yes, except for that. But, remember, I was as high as the moon when I wrote it and had also spent several weeks locked in a house with you four, Elijah, Vera, and Daiyu.”

“That’s a fair point. Is that why almost all of the stories feature some kind of an artist or writer dying in a horrifying way?”

“It was an expression of my hidden rage against all of you.”

“Even me?” 

“No, not you, Richard. Though your moping did sort of tick me off after a while, you had nothing on Cesare and Daiyu.”

“And Serena,” Cesare said. “She made the entire kitchen constantly smell of fish.”

Serena sniffed indignantly, and Leonard laughed. He pulled part of her coat that was falling off of her shoulder back onto her. That coat was very important to Serena. In fact, they’d met when he’d shown up at her house the night after a wild party he’d hosted to return it to her. 

Leonard shifted in his chair. Camilla seemed to have forgotten about the situation with Johann, though more likely than not she’d remember it later. Still, as long as Camilla didn’t go straight to Johann and tell him everything, there was hardly any danger. Johann wasn’t exactly an expert on this kind of thing, after all, and there wasn’t anyone who would easily tell him. With luck, the danger was past.

Besides, mortals were easily corrupted. Should Johann try anything, Leonard would simply tempt him back into obedience.