The Things Without Faces introduction and drawing #2

The following is an ‘excerpt’ from an in-universe book Johann reads about the Things Without Faces, called Lordwood Signs.

Introduction 

The Things Without Faces are an ancient group of entities who have enormous power. They’re not quite gods, but they certainly aren’t mortals, and they’re not related to God or Satan. They’re more like gaps in the creation that those two fight over, like cosmic glitches that will exist as long as normal reality does. It’s assumed that they simply willed themselves into existence, and inserted themselves into creation just like that.

Some people think that the supposed everlasting battle in the heavens might not really be between God and Satan, but between them and God, who creates a reality, only to have it eaten by the Things, over and over again. 

Either way, the Things are outside of normal reality. They obey no laws. They have no collective motives other than hunger and want. They might all have different wants, but that’s their only defining characteristic – they all want, and what they want they will eventually get. However, they’re imprisoned beyond death, which keeps them out and away from those things for as long as possible. In a worse case scenario where they do break out, the faeries are supposed to keep them at bay until God can imprison them again, but the chance of the faeries actually doing that is extremely slim.

However, even imprisoned, the Things have agents on Earth. These are immortal beings who have tremendous power that makes them essentially gods in human form, except for a selection of weaknesses that makes them distinctly not Things or mortals, but something in between. These beings are called vampires. There are also corrupted, besital faeries who have many of the same powers as the vampires, but without immortality. They’re called werewolves, and they’re not as powerful as vampires, but they can be just as dangerous.

The Things have a very loose structure, because they are overall a bundle of barely restrained chaos. It’s unknown how many there really are, since the Things are all technically undefined entities without anything close to a real material form, but most scholars consider there to be eleven:

  • The Thing in the Well 
  • The Queen of the Birds
  • The Hanged Man 
  • The Thing With No Mouth
  • The Thing in the Cave
  • The Things in the Wall
  • The Thing Forgotten
  • The Thing That Is Not
  • The Thing That Decays
  • The Mother Over All
  • The Thing That Watches

 There are also a few others whose status as Things is debated. They are:

  • The Man in Red
  • The Changeling
  • The Thing in the Room

Each of these is explained in detail below, including the ones of debatable status.

(further posts will include the rest of the ‘excerpt’)

Also behold this drawing:

From left to right: Sylvia, Leonard, and Delta.

Huge shout-out to my IRL friend who will henceforth be known by their initials AB for coming up with the “chad reunion” joke in reaction to this photoshopped Enlightenment salon:

That’s Thomas Paine on the left and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the right, two Enlightenment philosophers, if you don’t recognize them.

And, if you’re realizing that you don’t recognize the name ‘Delta,’ that’s because they are the new narrator for part 3 of Pact. I’ve already started writing about them, which is why they’re in the drawing, but haven’t published anything with them in it yet, which is why no one on here is going to recognize their name.

If you didn’t know, this is a reminder that hiatus posts come out on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Thank you for reading!

Deirdre – 2.22.8

Content warnings: death, gore, and mildly bad language

It was late at night, and Deirdre was beginning to worry. Neither Johann nor Rustyn, who had gone to look for him, were back yet, despite the fact that it had been almost a whole day. Deirdre didn’t know exactly what was in these mountains, but it couldn’t be good. Perhaps Stolas had gotten wind of them and was out in the mountains looking for them. Maybe he had brought a legion of demons with him. Or worse, what if the Things had followed them here? Deirdre took a deep breath. Johann and Rustyn were fine. Better than her, even. 

A sudden scrabbling noise of boots on rock echoed up the mountain. She leaned over the cliff and gasped because Rustyn was climbing up the rock face.

“Little help?” Rustyn shifted and almost lost his grip. “I’ve been doing this all day!”

Deirdre threw down a rope she’d had sitting beside her. Rustyn climbed up slowly, and gasped for breath as soon as he made it to the top.

Deirdre immediately began talking far too fast. “I thought you died! Where’s Johann? What about Monty and Richard? Did you see them? Are they safe? Where were you?”

Rustyn waved the questions aside. “All in good time.” 

He walked over to the cave entrance and shoved aside the blanket that had been hung up as a makeshift door, Deirdre right on his heels. 

Sylvia stood up from the fire they’d lit in the middle of the cave. “Rustyn!” 

Wilhelm turned and gaped at him. 

“Where’s Johann?” Sylvia asked. 

“Safe.” Rustyn said. “I mean, I didn’t see him unsafe.”

“Not unsafe?” Deirdre asked. “Where the hell is he?”

Rustyn sucked in a breath. “Listen, I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come up with a better plan than Johann did. We’re going to go by Stolas’ tower anyway. We need to go straight to Stolas when we do, because-”

Sylvia grabbed the front of his shirt. “Tell me where Johann is.”

Wilhelm rubbed his chin. “Well, I think we should simply not go to Stolas.”

“We should,” Rustyn said, ignoring Sylvia. “He’s the only one who can help us.”

Deirdre frowned. This was odd. From what she’d seen, Rustyn would normally want to sneak around Stolas’ place, and try not to attract any attention. Perhaps being out there in the cold looking for Johann had changed his mind. Or, possibly, he had weighed all the options, and thought that this was the best course. She had never trusted this guide, and this was just more fuel for the fire. Realizing that Rustyn was speaking again, Deirdre focused back on the present.

“We should just march right in there- no one will stop us. Then we can-”

“Absolutely not,” Sylvia said. “Where’s Johann?”

“I didn’t find him tonight,” said Rustyn.

“Let’s talk about this in the morning,” Wilhelm said.

“We can’t, because Rustyn’s going to be out as soon as the sun rises looking for Johann,” said Sylvia. “Aren’t you, Rustyn?”

Rustyn shrugged. “Whatever.”

Sylvia glared at him for a moment, then let go of his shirt, turned, and stalked off.

The others seemed content with that ending, so when they all went off to their separate bed rolls, Deirdre did, too. She lay awake in her bedroll for a long time, trying to sleep but silently hating Rustyn and thinking about Richard and Monty, and how confused and alone they must be. She lay perfectly still in bed, save for her fingers, which she tapped as fast as she could against the floor. Richard and Monty, all alone. Johann, all alone. Deirdre and Sylvia and Wilhelm, stuck with a person who was by no means trustworthy.

Sitting by the fire, Rustyn was keeping watch, staring into the flames. What a normal thing to do, and yet, Deirdre was suspicious of him for it. She chewed her lip to slow her fingers down, until it bled and she had to go back to tapping. When that didn’t do anything to calm her nerves, she looked up at the fire, watching Rustyn stare into the flames. Deirdre studied the dancing blaze, seeing the way the flames devoured any wood offered to them, leaping up eagerly, tasting the air like a snake. Then, she turned her attention to the demon in front of the fire. 

She didn’t trust him. That was plain and simple. He was a snake, a slippery monster that was deceiving them somehow, and so well that no one else noticed it, and Deirdre herself wasn’t even able to put her finger on it.

Maybe that meant there wasn’t anything untrustworthy about him. Maybe Deirdre needed to calm down and the only reason she distrusted him was bad experiences in the past. Her father had always called her biased when she was nervous about something because of that.

There was a commotion outside the cave, and Deirdre started. She flipped over very slowly to see what it was, and discovered… an owl, sitting on a rock right outside the cave.

Deirdre didn’t know much about the demonic, but she knew owls were associated with Stolas. That did it for her. She had to get out of here. Luckily, Deirdre was something of an expert at escaping watchful eyes in bad situations. 

She stood up and went over to Rustyn. “Do you think you could pretend to be asleep?”

Rustyn gave her a disgusted look. “Why?”

“It would make me quite a bit more comfortable.”

Rustyn scoffed, but stood up and went over to lay on the ground facing the wall. Deirdre pretended to go back to her bedroll and fall asleep, but about thirty minutes after she’d gotten up, she got up again and went to tap Sylvia’s shoulder.

“What?” Sylvia asked. Apparently she hadn’t been sleeping either.

“We’re leaving,” said Deirdre. “Do not talk above a whisper.”

Sylvia shrugged. “How are we gonna escape hellboy, here?”

“Get Wilhelm up.”

Sylvia crawled out of her bed and over to where Wilhelm was passed out asleep. He wasn’t too hard to wake up. She motioned to the door, and Wilhelm followed her in a crouch-run to the door of the cave. Now Deirdre was the only one left.

“I heard them leave,” Rustyn said. “Where did they go?”

“They went to piss outside.”

Rustyn grunted. 

Deirdre drew the dull, blunt knife from the floor of the mill. She picked up a smooth, heavy rock from the floor of the cave and stood poised over Rustyn’s head for but a moment before bringing the knife down hard on his temple.

He screamed, of course, but Deirdre hammered the knife in with the rock, and his screaming soon stopped.

There was gore everywhere, too, but Deirdre wasn’t coming back to the cave. She pried the knife out of Rustyn’s temple, stood up calmly, and walked out of the cave. When you were in a bad situation, you did what you had to to survive, and that was that, and you waited until afterwards to feel bad about it.

“Where is he?” Sylvia asked. “Rustyn, I mean.”

“Dead,” said Deirdre. Her tone invited no questions. “I think we should head to Wolf Icefall to look for Johann. That’s probably where he went.”

“We need the map,” Sylvia said.

“I’ll-”

“No, I can get it.”

Sylvia went back in to get the map, then came back out and handed it to her. “Holy hell, Deirdre.”

Deirdre shrugged. “Wolf Icefall is here. Let’s go, everyone.”

They walked in silence until Deirdre couldn’t bear it any more. “Wilhelm, would you play us something on your pipe?” She sort of regretted singing in that cave. It was like giving a piece of her soul away.

Wilhelm began to play softly. Somehow, he managed to ask, “When were you born, Deirdre?”

“1321.”

“I was born in the year 0.”

“I’m younger than both of you,” said Sylvia. “I can’t believe this.”

“You’re older than Johann,” Deirdre said.

“Hoorah.”

They soon came upon Wolf Icefall. To get into it, it was a lovely choice between a frightening slope of molten rock and jagged obsidian, or a sheer rock wall that would have been death to fall from. 

Deirdre pointed to the rock wall. “We’re going down that.”

Sylvia shrugged. “Doesn’t seem too terrible hard.”

She led the way over, and was the first one to start the treacherous climb down. Wilhelm was next, and Deirdre last. She wasn’t afraid of heights, though the climb, with the jagged rock walls pressing in on her, was more than a little triggering of her claustrophobia. She closed her eyes, which might not have been the best idea, but it was the one she chose, and eased herself down the rock wall. It was just one foot over another, one handhold at a time, slowly but surely, until she was at the bottom and the danger was past.

Sylvia pointed to a rock ledge. “Behold, a man!” She began laughing hysterically.

“I’ve no idea why that’s funny,” Deirdre said.

“It’s actually a quote from ancient Greek philosophy. Diogenes. You see-”

“Not now,” said Deirdre. “Is Johann under there?”

“Oh. Yes, he is.”

“Someone go and get him. Please.”

Wilhelm crawled under the ledge and dragged the sleeping Johann out.

“How is he still asleep?” Sylvia asked.

“I don’t know. Someone has to carry him, though.”

“I wish Monty were here,” said Sylvia. “He could do it.”

Wilhelm put his hands under Johann’s arms and lifted his upper body up. “I can drag him along like this.”

“Sylvia, get his feet,” said Deirdre.

Sylvia grabbed his feet, and they awkwardly carried Johann up the steep part of the icefall. Really, it should have been called a rockfall, and Deirdre didn’t know why it had the word ‘wolf’ in it, either. The name was entirely inappropriate. 

That had her thinking about names. People had the same first names a lot of the time, so they were often told apart by their last names. What was her last name? Deirdre strained herself to remember. Surely she’d had one, she just couldn’t remember what it was. For the longest time, she’d just been Deirdre. Had she ever had a last name? Surely. But she’d already come to that conclusion. She would have had a last name, and she would have shared it with her father and mother. Her father’s face was a blurry silhouette in her mind, and she didn’t remember what he’d sounded like, or his name. She only remembered his actions, and one extremely clear scene from her early childhood, when she had found him butchering a rabbit and asked why he was leaving the foot attached. That was because a dead and skinned cat was indistinguishable from a rabbit until you’d already bought it, so a foot was left on to identify it as a rabbit.

Apart from that memory, where the smell of blood and metal and rabbit flooded her senses too much to think of her father, Deirdre hardly remembered anything about what he had actually been like. That had faded, and only memories of what he had done remained.

“What the Hell?” Sylvia asked.

Deirdre looked up. They had crested the steep part of the icefall, and could see the further land spread out beneath them. A perfectly flat road cut through the mountains, and seemed to lead off forever in either direction. There was a wagon rumbling down the road, they could see it in the distance.

“Well?” Wilhelm asked.

“That’s not a well, it’s a road,” said Sylvia.

“We’ll see if we can hitch a ride on that cart,” Deirdre said.

They made their way down to the road. Deirdre hailed the cart, and the driver, a nasty-looking old man, stopped.

“Where are you going?” Deirdre asked.

“Eligos’ stronghold,” said the man. “You might know him as Duke Janson.”

“Can we ride with you?”

“Whatever.”

Wilhelm and Sylvia hefted Johann up into the cart and climbed in. Deirdre was the last in before the old man started the cart again.

The wagon was rickety, the horses were old, and the driver seemed to hate all his passengers. Deirdre closed her eyes to sleep, or something like that, but was snapped out of her reverie almost immediately by the driver. 

“Damn picking horse, won’t go any faster,” he said. “Won’t go any faster. Hauling too much of a picking load. Picking human. Making my picking horse go slower because of their picking plans at Eligos’ picking stronghold.”

“We can hear you, you know,” said Sylvia.

“Shut your picking mouth, little picking girl!”

Wilhelm was obviously confused. “He does realize he isn’t hauling anything you pick, right?”

This was true. They were squashed uncomfortably between sacks of potatoes, not berries or fruit.

“I know I’m not hauling picking pickable things, picking devil boy!”

“So are you swearing at us, or what?” Sylvia asked.

“I thought I told you to shut your picking mouth, picking girl!”

Sylvia looked a little insulted.

“You know the old man will just call you picking again,” Deirdre said. 

“Which may or may not mean the same thing as the you-know-what-word,” said Wilhelm. 

“Picking road,” the driver said as the wagon rumbled over a pothole. “It’s those picking workers. Spend too much time in the picking bar instead of fixing the picking road.”

A bird squawked off to the side of the road, startling Deirdre.

“Goddamn picking bird!”

This was going to be a long ride.

Johann – 2.21.7

Johann had paid a demon guide to take them to the graveyard from the docks. Apparently, due to Hell’s bizarre geography, they were going to have to somehow cross a mountain range to get to Duke Janson’s fortress, where Albert Janson’s body was interred in the vault. Johann spent a very angry night in an inn near the mountains, because the demon, Rustyn, wouldn’t let them attempt a crossing until the morning. They entered the Border Mountains early in the morning, with Rustyn in lead, then Johann, Deirdre, Sylvia, Alice, and finally Wilhelm.

The mountains were odd. No one had to wear warm clothing because the mountains actually got hotter as they went up, but they had to wear heavy-duty boots because the ground was made of sharp black rocks that were vaguely like obsidian but much denser and more opaque. They seemed to go on forever, but Rustyn insisted that they actually bled into a rainforest at some point, which was equally unpleasant to go through. Having walked even part of the way through the mountains, Johann doubted that such a thing was possible.

Fortunately, Rustyn knew the terrain quite well, because he’d evidently been there several times. He knew where the avalanche hazard areas were, so Johann followed him for the most part without question. Sylvia had made disapproving noises at several points, but that didn’t really mean much, because she disagreed with most things that didn’t have opium in them. Either way, Rustyn led his charges along the narrow mountain passes for most of the morning, never once stopping or even pausing for a moment. This was necessary, Rustyn claimed, to reach the fortress before the demon who lived in these mountains, Stolas, discovered that they were in his territory.

By noon, Johann was drawing on his last reserves of strength, because he had been clambering over hot, sharp rocks for the past five hours, and his limbs were beginning to feel like dead weights that had been tied to their bodies. 

“Can we stop?” Wilhelm whined.

“No,” Rustyn said. 

“Please?”

“Not yet.”

Johann wanted to throw back his head and groan, because he was also exhausted, not that he would ever admit it.

He was quiet for some time after that, staring angrily at Rustyn. The group crested a hill and were met with an amazing view of the surrounding area. Black tipped mountains surrounded them on all sides, as if to flaunt the full majesty and terrifying power of nature. The valleys were bluish in color and so far-off that they seemed wholly another world. Far in the distance, at the top of a mountain, a huge black observatory rose into the sky. That was probably Stolas’ tower, and possibly his place of command. 

“Please tell me we’re almost there,” Wilhelm said.

Rustyn glared at him. “Not even close.”

“Well, can we still stop now?” 

Rustyn turned around. “Look, do you want to get caught by Stolas in this hellscape? Because I certainly don’t. So get moving.”

Johann was ready to kick him in the crotch, but he stayed silent, because he would rather walk the whole of the mountains again then admit that this demon might not have been the best choice.

They resumed traveling, but hadn’t been walking for more than twenty minutes when Sylvia suddenly stopped. “Hold on just a second. Where’s Wilhelm?” 

Johann swung around and was about to give Sylvia a piece of his mind for making excuses for Wilhelm’s whiny little ass, when he realized Wilhelm actually was gone. Johann scanned the area. Heat rose off the ground in waves and made everything shimmer. “I noticed he was lagging behind, but didn’t really think much of it.” 

Sylvia looked around. “Well, where the hell is he?”

As abruptly as he had disappeared, Wilhelm’s slim form appeared from behind a rock. He had an absent look about him, and was moving so slowly, Johann wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d collapsed right then and there. 

“Are you alright?” Johann asked. It was a rhetorical question, really. He could tell pretty well when someone was sick.

“No,” Wilhelm said. “My head hurts, and my nose is bleeding, and I’m more tired than I’ve ever been before. Can we stop?” 

Rustyn was about to open his mouth, probably to say no, but Johann shot him a venomous look.

He backed down immediately. “We have been going for a while. Probably be good to get a few hours of rest.” He waved his arm to follow him “C’mon, there’s a cave a few minutes from here we can rest in.”

Sylvia nodded in his direction. “I think the altitude is starting to get to wilhelm.”

They stumbled up the mountain a few paces, then came to Rustyn’s promised cave. Johann practically fell into the small cavern, pressing his tired, hot body against the cool sandy floor.

Deirdre leaned down to speak in Johann’s ear. “Rustyn has a map.”

Johann groaned and crawled over to where the others sat in a circle. Wilhelm, Rustyn, and Deirdre leaned over an extremely confusing and disorganized map of Hell. 

“Listen,” Deirdre said, “if we were to go this way,” she indicated a spot with her finger and traced a line, “We would all be dead in seconds. I’m telling you, the Pass of Eagle is the way to go.”

Rustyn shook his head, his puffy brown hair flopping back and forth. “No, there’s going to be a storm, and a big one at that. The entire Pass of Eagle will be blocked for days.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Johann asked.

Rustyn glared at him. He had the appearance of a rugged man in his thirties, with a goatee that made him look cartoonishly evil. “Do you want to stay around here when it’s raining ash and hellfire?”

“But how do you know-”

“Because Stolas’ weather predictions about his mountains are always on point, and I was issued a pamphlet a few days ago warning that there would be a storm. Is that good enough justification for you?”

Johann shrugged. “What about Emperor’s Pass, here, in the opposite direction? It won’t be blocked, will it?”

Rustyn shook his head. “Emperor’s Pass is a bad idea.”

“Why?”

“Why do you have to question every goddamn thing that comes out of my mouth?”

Johann shrugged. “I’m paying you, remember?”

“Well, shut up so that I can do my job.”

Deirdre pointed to the map. “Look, this leaves Wolf Icefall.”

Rustyn groaned.

Sylvia, who had been helping Wilhelm stop his nosebleed, dragged herself across the cavern on her stomach. “Alright, so, I only heard that last comment. What’s so bad about Wolf Icefall? Sounds alright to me.” Sylvia brushed some dust off the map. “Where are we?”

“At a rough guess we’re here,” said Rustyn, pointing to a spot on the map that wasn’t too far away from any of the three routes they’d been discussing. “Wolf Icefall is one of the most dangerous places around here.”

“Why is it called that if there’s no ice?” Sylvia asked.

“Molten rock acts the same way ice and snow does,” said Rustyn.

“Holy Hell,” Sylvia said.

“I know my way around Wolf Icefall.” Rustyn pointed to it on the map so that any of them who had forgotten where it was in the five seconds that they hadn’t been looking right at it would now be reminded. “It’s a bit hard to get to. You can either do what’s basically skiing on molten rock, or climb down a treacherous rock wall. Once you’re actually in the Icefall, there’s huge mounds of crystal and rock that you have to climb around. I think that if we make something a bit like mountain climbing shoes, with grips on the bottom, we should be able to make better time climbing over the rocks.”  

“And, how do you know all this?” Johann asked. He’d been led astray by guides who only knew the land hypothetically before. 

“I’ve done this route before, idiot,” said Rustyn.

Wilhelm, who had been laying down, stood up, stretched, and sat back down. “When are we doing all this?”

“After we rest,” Johann said immediately. He wasn’t going another centimeter without at least twenty more minutes of inactivity.

“We have to pass the time,” Sylvia said. “Someone start singing.”

Can anyone here sing?” asked Johann.

“I can,” said Deirdre.

He hadn’t known that about her. “Are you comfortable singing for us?”

“I guess I can try. I only know medieval songs, though.”

“I can play the pipe,” Wilhelm said. “I know lots of tunes.”

“I’ll sing, then,” said Deirdre. “Do you know that old lullaby that was probably about Rome or something?”

“I think I do.”

“That’s what I’ll sing. Are you ready?”

Wilhelm took out a bone pipe. “I’m ready.”

He started up a slow, haunting tune that echoed off the walls of the cave and seemed to fill up the whole world. The music was beautiful enough, but Johann was shocked by Deirdre’s voice when she opened her mouth to sing.

My ship’s a-coming in after all the months

sailing the sea

No matter how far I go, there’s always the castle

waiting for me.

The Red City’s on the horizon, I see it

in the dying light.

The Red City’s there, 

they’re losing the fight.

Cursed be thee, Red City’s Bane,

Bred in a place where things have no name.

Lay down your head, Beloved, you’re safe under lock and key,

Fall asleep to the song of the sea

She was far, far better than anyone he’d ever heard before. Her voice was incredible, unearthly, even. Johann listened in a happy stupor from the music and the atmosphere and the good company as Deirdre sang the song twice more, and Wilhelm played along in the background, before they both slowly fell silent. Johann didn’t want to speak for a moment afterwards, wanting to preserve the magic of the moment, but at last he did.

“You’re incredible,” he said. “Both of you! Why are you trying to be a doctor, Wilhelm, when you should be a musician?”

Deirdre had flushed red, but there was a tentative smile on her face.

“Thank you,” Wilhelm said. “I suppose being a doctor is knowledge I want, and it’s harder than being a musician. Nothing can ever be difficult about being a musician, but being a doctor, now…”

This was an odd burst of arrogance from the usually normal and humble Wilhelm. Johann gave him a look that was meant to scrutinize him, but probably just looked like he had indigestion. 

“You should sing something else,” Sylvia said. “Or play another song.”

“I want to get moving again,” said Johann. His muscles were rested for the most part and he was ready to go.

Sylvia laid back with her backpack for a pillow. “You do that.”

“We should stay here, actually,” said Rustyn.

“I’m not going to,” Johann said.

Rustyn looked down at his grubby nails. “Then you can go out and scout.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Have fun,” said Wilhelm.

Johann glared at him, but did step out of the cave into the open. He immediately remembered how hot it was, and regretted being alive. However, he was going to keep moving, because going back in would include admitting he was wrong, and Johann would never admit that he was wrong. 

The first order of business was actually getting down into the Icefall, and Johann would apparently need skis to do that. Rustyn had said that there were two ways to get it, but Sylvia was the only one who could reliably climb a wall of sharp rocks down into the valley.

Rustyn wouldn’t be dumb enough to suggest skis and not have any, would he? Johann poked around the rocks, moving some of them and feeling under others, looking for skis. He found none.

“Well, skis would have been useful,” Johann said. He wished he had some.

Suddenly, a pair of planks with leather straps on them were lying on the ground in front of him, next to two wooden poles. What was this? Where had these skis come from? Johann wracked his brain for an answer, and soon came up with the fact that, since he had sold his soul, he might be allowed to have whatever he wanted in Hell.

“I wish I had Albert Janson’s body,” said Johann.

Predictably, that didn’t work.

Johann sighed and slung the skis over his shoulder. He had a pretty good idea of where Wolf Icefall was, judging from the look he’d had at the map, and thought that he could be there within an hour. Walking was monotonous, so Johann defaulted to going through his inventory of supplies back at the house. He would need to buy more purgatives soon.

As soon as he came to the edge of the Icefall, Johann unslung his skis and strapped them to his boots. He leaned down to feel the ground that he was going to be on, but found that it was almost too hot to bear as soon as he had his hand a foot away. Johann felt a twinge of annoyance as he brought his hand back up.

Either way, it was malleable enough that he would be able to ski down it, or so Rustyn said. Johann knew how to ski well, since he’d vacationed in the alps many times during his childhood. The slope was steep, and he would have to make wide turns to keep in control. Mercifully, there were no bumps, which would have been a problem not only because they were hard to ski, but also because they would probably be spitting molten rock. 

Johann grabbed his poles and shuffled forward. He looked down into the slope, and, after a moment’s inspection, let his skis dive into the Icefall.

He didn’t make a sound as he slid through the rock. He stuck his poles in the ground every time he turned, which pierced the film over the molten rock and made magma bubble up where he’d been. Avoiding the “wedge” shape that would be deadly on this steep of a slope, Johann skidded smoothly down the mountain, at last coming to the bottom of the dreaded entrance to the Icefall. 

He unstrapped the skis from his feet and slid them under a rock. It would really be a nice place if there was any vegetation. Johann took a moment to try to imagine the valley as it would have looked if it was on Earth, and has all the greenery that entailed. 

Johann caught himself in a daze of imagination, which he shook off. Too much time devoted to only imagination was dangerous, he thought. Everything in moderation.

Johann could not forget where this hole was, because if he did, he would be stranded at the bottom of an Icefall all alone. So, he took off one of his socks and tied it around the rock. He pulled on it once or twice to make sure the knot was tight, then walked through the narrow entrance to Wolf Icefall and ran his hand along the smooth wall. It was so different from the rest of this godforsaken place.

Suddenly, he had a funny feeling that something was in the process of going horribly wrong, and that he would pay for his unseen stupidity. Johann smiled at the bizarre urge, and kept walking.

Johann remembered the last time he’d ignored a feeling like this, and how it had led to the wagon crash. Maybe he should start listening to his feelings more. Reluctantly, he turned around and saw that the sock he’d tied around the rock was gone. 

Oh no. Johann ran back and skidded to a halt right in front of the rock. He suddenly realized that the ground under the rock where he’d hid his skis was molten and bubbling, which meant that the skis had been eaten and burned.

“Goddamn it!” Johann threw his hands up in the air. “Someone come help me!”

Unfortunately, his friends were all cozy in a sandy little cave kilometers away.  He screamed until his voice was hoarse all the same, until all the hiking caught up with him, and Johann’s eyelids began to droop. Before long, he had dragged himself to a spot somewhat out of the way, underneath a rocky overhang, and fallen into a deep sleep.

Notes:

Fun fact: Rustyn is lifted from the same story from when I was eleven that I talked about in my last post. He was supposed to be the stock ‘cool guy rebel who doesn’t listen to anyone, plays by his own rules, and is the absolute best at everything’ character. The only problem is, in the original story, he was eleven years old and still acting in the same way you might expect a Mary Sue straight white cis male wish-fulfillment character from a bad action movie might.

This is a prime example of why reading my old writing is such an experience. Anyway, thank you for reading!

Deirdre – 2.19.7

Content warnings: Beheading, death, panic attacks

Deirdre woke up at two in the morning because she heard noise and was certain something was crawling through her window. She stayed completely still, heart racing. Don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t even breathe.

After what felt like an eternity in a state of utter panic, Deirdre realized that it was probably not someone climbing through the window to kill her, because if it was, they would have done it by now. She opened her eyes and sat up slowly. The room was indeed empty except for her and Johann. She stood up, feeling the coolness of the floor against her feet, which were hot from being under the blankets.

There was the noise again! Deirdre jumped and tried to stop herself from running back to bed like a frightened child. She tiptoed to the door and out into the hallway, where she stood frozen for several minutes, until she was absolutely sure that it was safe to go downstairs. 

When she did creep down the stairs, she was startled by the sound of a child playing. Deirdre considered what that might be and arrived at the conclusion that it was probably a ghost. 

That was hilarious because she was technically a member of the undead, and it made her laugh so hard she had to stop for a moment so that she wouldn’t fall down the stairs.

After Deirdre was finished laughing, she climbed down the stairs and went into the parlor, where she was doubly surprised to find Caro sitting on the ground playing with her dolls.

“Caro?” Deirdre asked. “I thought you were a ghost.”

Caro giggled. “Not entirely wrong.”

“Oh?” Deirdre sat down on the floor next to her. Was it possible she was like her? “Why?”

“I was dead for a long time. But Dr Faust brought me back.”

“Oh.” She’d have to be displeased with Johann later.

“I think I might have been brought back for a reason.”

“Really?” Deirdre had always had a nagging suspicion of that as well. Sometimes, she had dreams about things she was supposed to do. In fact, lately, she was having dreams about the abandoned church in the woods.

“Yeah, I think so. I think maybe I’m a prophet.”

“Really?”

“Sure, that’s what the people in the walls said. I trust them.”

‘I trust the people in the walls’ was a funny thing to say, but Deirdre trusted the Man in Red entirely, and she wasn’t going to judge if Caro had her own Man in Red. “I have a man who I trust as well, but he doesn’t live in the walls.”

Caro walked one of the dolls, a man dressed in a powdered wig and cravat with glasses, across the floor. She looked down at it and very suddenly threw it across the room. Deirdre jumped as it crashed into the grate in front of the fire.

“Do you hate that doll?” Deirdre asked.

Caro shrugged and picked up another of the dolls. “Can you get something for me?”

“What?”

“A little blade from the kitchen.”

Deirdre shrugged. “I guess. Why?”

“Because I want to play with it with my dolls.”

“You want to cut your dolls?”

“I have this little doll of Robespierre and I want to be able to behead him if I want.”

Deirdre looked over at the doll she’d just thrown across the room. “Was that him?”

“Yea.”

“Why do you want to behead one of your dolls?”

“Because I do hate that doll. His head is hard so he’s bad to cuddle but he’s too big to play with properly. If I had another doll his size I might like him more, but I don’t. And it’s what happened to him in real life, and I want my dolls to be just like real life.”

Deirdre got up and went into the kitchen. She located the knife rack immediately and went through it until she found a small, sort of dull knife. After that, she went back to where Caro was and presented her with the knife.

Caro ran the blade along her hand. “It’s a little bit dull, you know.”

“I don’t think Monica would want me to take a sharper one.”

 Caro shrugged and picked up a featureless cloth doll. She held the doll’s legs down and cut the head off with a sudden and frightening chop. Seeing that it worked, Caro seemed pleased with what she had, and pocketed the knife.

Deirdre stood up. “I think I might go back to bed, Caro.”

“That’s alright.” Caro pointed. “Will you get Robespierre for me, please?”

Deirdre went to pick up Robespierre from behind the grate, and found that there was an eye etched in the stone of the fireplace. A chill went through her and she remembered Johann’s description of the dream with the eye and the weird poem. Eleven will come

“Well?” Caro asked.

Deirdre threw Robespierre at her. “I’m going to bed.”

“Alright, suit yourself.” Caro paused for a moment, then picked up a small doll of mismatched fabrics and rag stuffing and handed it to Deirdre. Its tin button eyes shone in the light, and its mouth was stitched into a cheerful smile. “This is for you.”

The doll was strangely wet to the touch, which disgusted Deirdre, but she took it anyway out of politeness. “Thank you, Caro.”

“It might talk to you. It talked to Ishmael. That’s why he gave it to me.”

“Ishmael? You mean Monty?”

“We call him Ishmael, dummy, because he’s related to us.”

“Oh, right. Well, I’m going to bed now. Goodnight.” 

“Goodnight.”

Deirdre slid the wet doll into the pocket of her nightgown and slunk very slowly back upstairs. She stopped dead in the hallway, mostly because she heard someone crying very softly somewhere in the house. Her immediate instinct was to find the person and help them calm down, so she went up to the first bedroom door and cracked it open.

Sylvia was lying awake on the bed. “Deirdre? I’m glad you’re here. I have something to tell you.”

She wasn’t the one crying, but she seemed distressed all the same. Deirdre shut the door and went to sit on the bed with her.

Sylvia shifted and wrung her hands. “Em… well… you know how most people, most people are, well, they’re attracted to people who are… the opposite of what they are?”

Deirdre felt a jolt of anticipation. Was Sylvia about to reveal something very important to her? “Yes?”

“Well, I, um, I don’t.”

“You like girls,” Deirdre said.

“…Not exactly.”

“Oh?”

“Well… I mean, I like girls and boys as friends. And I do like being romantic with both girls and boys. Just romance, though. I just… don’t really feel any need for it to go any further.”

Deirdre was a little confused. “You don’t want sex?”

Sylvia sighed. “No, I don’t.”

Deirdre paused to try to understand. She certainly didn’t know what that felt like – her activities with Johann were proof enough of that – but she understood not wanting something that everyone else seemed to, like physical contact from everyone. Would it be so different to not want sex? Deirdre thought about how she felt at the moment in regards to that. Was that how Sylvia felt all of the time?

Sylvia looked anxious, and Deirdre suddenly felt bad for putting her on edge by being silent for so long. 

Deirdre reached out and touched Sylvia’s arm. “I don’t see any problem with that. Everyone wants something different. If that’s how you feel, it’s just… how you feel. You can’t change that.”

Sylvia tackled her with a hug. “Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.”

Deirdre smiled and squeezed her. Sylvia was her oldest friend. They had known each other ever since the Man in Red had brought her out from under that stone. There was no way Deirdre could not love Sylvia, no matter how she felt in regards to sex an romance.

“You should go check on Johann,” Sylvia said. “I think maybe I heard him crying.”

Deirdre stood up and left the room. She stood in the hallway for a moment before going into their bedroom. “Johann?”

He was sitting at the end of the bed, eyes obviously red from crying. “My brother is dead, Deirdre.”

She felt something like a stone hitting the bottom of her stomach. “What?”

Johann handed her a letter.

“I can’t speak German,” said Deirdre. 

Johann sighed. “I wrote it out in English on the dresser. I didn’t believe it until I wrote it with my own hand.”

Deirdre went over to the dresser and started to read what he’d written on a scrap of paper. 

My dearest son, Johann Faust,

I am writing to you with regret. Only days before we received your letter asking after Wilhelm, we had received another, more shocking letter. Wilhelm was serving as a priest in a small church in France, when he was brutally attacked by a doglike creature said to be as big as a horse. He hung on for a few days afterwards, but his wounds were infected by the poor conditions, and there was nothing they could do save-

Deirdre had to stop reading, because she was close to throwing the paper in the fire. There was only one huge canine from France she knew of, and he had disappeared for several weeks with Oberon and Titania, before returning.

“Well?” Johann asked.

Deirdre wanted to say, Jean Gévaudan killed your brother, but she didn’t. Instead, she said, “I… don’t know what to say.”

“Some goddamn monster killed my brother.”

“I don’t know what to say, Johann.”

“Don’t say anything at all, then. I need to be alone right now, please.” Johann rubbed his temple. “My head is killing me.”

“Cold water,” Deirdre said.

“I want to be alone.”

“I’ll go into Sylvia’s room.”

“Thank you.”

Deirdre nodded to him and went back to Sylvia’s room. Before Sylvia could even get anything out of her mouth, Deirdre said, “Jean killed his brother.”

“Jean said that he killed a man in France,” said Sylvia. “A priest.”

“Johann’s brother Wilhelm.”

“I’ll kill him.” Sylvia paused. “Jean, not Johann or his brother Wilhelm.”

Deirdre wanted to scream and throw something, but she restrained herself and simply asked, “so, can I sleep here, now?”

“I guess. I won’t go to bed for a long time, and I might get up to kill Jean.”

“We should think more about it in the morning.”

“Yea, okay.” Sylvia moved over to create more space for Deirdre. Her room was small, and her single bed was against the wall, under a small, single window. It was covered in a soft and colorful quilt, which seemed to cradle Deirdre when she slid under it.

Sylvia put her arm over Deirdre, so that she could curl up against her. Deirdre closed her eyes and imagined how good it would feel to sleep here, in this bed, with her friend right there to protect her. She was beginning to feel a little less anxious facing away from the door, especially with Sylvia awake and able to see if anyone came in.

Just then, a tap-tap at the window began. Deirdre clamped her hands over her ears and tried to tune it out. She went spiralling backwards into the past, and felt as afraid as she had when her father had hunted her in the woods of 15th century Ireland. She was sweating, and shaking badly, and probably whimpering, because her mouth was open, but she didn’t know what was coming out. 

She had to stop this. It wasn’t really happening. She wasn’t back there. She wasn’t back there and it wasn’t really happening. She was on Nantucket Island in the year 1860. Nantucket Island in the year 1860. Nantucket Island in the year 1860. Nantucket Island in the year 1860. 

Deirdre was watching herself from above, she was watching herself freaking out in that bed, and Sylvia cradling her and speaking softly and saying that everything would be alright. It wouldn’t be, though, because she was- she was on Nantucket Island in the year 1860. That was where she was. Deirdre pulled herself back into her body, felt the shaking and the sweating subside, and slowly went still.

“Calm down,” Sylvia said softly. “Just calm down. Everything’s going to be alright. See? You’re already feeling better.”

Deirdre shifted. Her mouth was dry. She swallowed hard and reached out for the glass of water on Sylvia’s nightstand. “Can- can I drink this?”

“Of course.”

Deirdre drained the glass of water. She felt shaky and weak. “Sylvia-”

“It’s alright. You got through it, right? Just lie back down and try to fall asleep.”

Deirdre curled back up like she had before, only this time, she was certain to pull a blanket over her head so that she couldn’t hear that accursed thing at the window.

Notes:

Three more posts until I go on a hiatus for November and December! I have several short stories lined up to publish, as well as a lot of art, (particularly some art of the major romantic pairings in the story) and I’ll be redoing pretty much the whole website when I have more free time in late December over the holidays. The archives will still be open, and I’ll still be publishing twice a week, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and they won’t be chapters. The first chapter after the hiatus will be at some point in early January, which I’ll have the exact date for later this month, hopefully.

Thank you for reading!

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!

Monica – 2.14.3

Content warning: graphic description of injury

Monica had been trained as a nurse when she was little, which was probably why Caro woke her up in the middle of the night instead of someone else. 

“Mama, mama, mama,” Caro said, shaking her.

Monica groaned and sat up. “What is it, dear?”

“There’s some people who need you to nurse them.”

“Where?”

“Out there on the side of the road. I woke up Duke Mephisto, too.”

“Where are they?” Monica stood up and threw on a dress over her nightgown. “Why were you out on the road, Caro?” 

“I was getting water. Someone bought it from me and gave me money from England.”

Monica pulled on her boots and picked Caro up. She went out into the hallway, where Joseph and Millie were standing around looking confused.

“What’s going on?” Joseph asked.

“Some people are hurt,” Monica said. “Come with me if you have to.”

Joseph grinned and ran back into his room, presumably for proper clothes. Millie went more slowly, but she went all the same.

Duke Mephisto, a tall man with a flaming red beard and an angular face, was standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Mrs Carter. I apologize for waking you.”

“No, it’s fine. Where do I need to go?”

“Your girl told me they’re somewhere along ‘the road.’”

“That’ll be one of the roads out of town. I know where she goes to get water.” A servant handed Monica her bag of medical things, and her and Duke Mephisto set out walking, Caro in tow. They’d walked a ways when the other two children, Joseph and Millie, ran past them, evidently racing. After that it was uncomfortable silence the rest of the way, because Monica knew she was walking with a demon lord. What was she supposed to say to him? 

At last, Duke Mephisto broke the silence. “I can carry that bag for you, if you want.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“Your home is nice.”

“Thank you.”

They were silent again. There were things Monica wanted to say, like do you regret it and would you like to become an angel again and what is hell like, but she didn’t say any of them. How did she start that kind of a conversation?

“You know…” Duke Mephisto said. “I had a dream last night.”

“From the Man in Red.”

“Yes.”

“Who do you think the prophet is?”

“I have a few guesses. It could be anyone who’s died in any way related to liquid.”

“Which are your guesses?”

“Erm…”

Monica stopped walking. “Listen. If the Man in Red sends both angels and demons concerning messages, then…”

“You think he means for us to sort of… unite.”

“Maybe. I mean, neither of us want to utterly destroy creation, do we?”

“Negative.”

Monica held out her hand. “Then how about, if only you and me, call a truce?”

Duke Mephisto shook her hand without hesitation. “Yes.”

“Then tell me your guesses.”

“You tell me yours as well.”

“Deal.”

“Deirdre, the Irish girl Johann’s with. She drowned and she’s a dead banshee, but she might not know it.”

“This girl Caro, right here. She drowned, too, and came back as a ghost without explanation.” 

“Mama?” Caro asked.

“We’re talking about grown-up stuff, dear.”

Duke Mephisto smiled. “Well, Caro? Are you a herald of the apocalypse?”

Caro grinned. “Yes.”

Duke Mephisto laughed. Evidently, he had a very strange sense of humor.

“Any more guesses?” Monica asked.

“Ishmael Carter. He died at sea and has said he’s a prophet.”

“My opium addict relative?”

“…Yes.”

They had to stop the conversation there, because Monica heard commotion up ahead. They must have looked very strange coming down the road like they were. There was Duke Mephisto, impeccably dressed in a crimson waistcoat over a pressed, pale red shirt, black pants, and shoes that looked like they were made of polished coal. There was Caro, with her curly, messy, blonde hair, green dress, and giant pink bow adorning her head. There was Monica, black hair tied up into a loose bun, wearing a simple dress that was tied at the waist, and carrying a medical bag. They looked like all three of them were going to a different engagement: Duke Mephisto was going to a ball, Caro was going to a playdate, and Monica was going to a battlefield.

“Mama!” Joseph shouted from the ditch at the side of the road. “Look what I found!” 

Monica climbed down into the ditch, and saw an upturned wagon. A young woman with a broken piece of wood going straight through her calf lay half under it, unconscious. “Joseph, Millie, Duke Mephisto is going to lift the cart, then you’re going to pull her out gently. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mama,” Millie said.

Duke Mephisto was barely able to lift the cart, even with demonic strength, so it took the children a moment to get the young woman out. Joseph held her leg up, while Millie did most of the work.

When they had gotten the young woman out, Millie turned to her brother. “Can you do that?”

Joseph glared at her. “Maybe I can,  booty.”

“Booty.”

“Booty.”

“Booty.”

“Booty booty booty booty booty booty,” Joseph said. “Booty booty booty booty booty booty booty booty booty.”

Millie pushed him back. “Quit it.”

“You quit it,” Joseph said, shoving Millie.

Millie pushed him again. “You started it.”

Joseph ran forward, his head down like a battering ram. He crashed into his sister and she laughed. 

“Do you actually think you’re hurting me right now?”

Joseph roared, and backed up for another strike. 

“Children,” Monica said sharply.

They glared at her, but stopped fighting for the moment. Monica looked down at the young woman and did a quick analysis of what was wrong with her. She probably had several broken ribs, as well as a lot of surface lacerations that didn’t look very deep, and of course, the piece of wood going through her leg.

“I’m going to look for other survivors,” Duke Mephisto said.

“Wait. What’s her name?”

“The girl? Sylvia Sapping.”

“Alright, thank you. You may go. Children!”

Joseph and Millie came running. Monica took several bottles out from the medical bag, and began to pick at Sylvia Sapping’s leg wound. She pulled the cut open, probing it for complications or broken arteries that would be hard to repair. Luckily, she found none, and was now satisfied that she could safely remove the branch from the leg. 

“Millie, you get on that side,” Monica said, pointing to the other side of Sylvia Sapping. “Joseph, you get this side.”

The two of them got into position, each taking a part of Sylvia’s leg. “Lift on three,” Monica said. “One, two, three!”

They both pulled upward at once, lifting the leg and the stick in it off the ground. Monica saw that the stick didn’t actually go all the way through, just very very deep into the flesh. That was a relief. Monica slowly slid the stick out of Sylvia’s leg, then said, “Alright, every lower her leg to the ground. Gently.” 

Luckily, they listened to her. Joseph stood up and threw the offending stick into the tall grass at the side of the road.

“Bad stick. Bad.”

Millie had turned back to Sylvia. “Will she be okay, mama?”

Monica shrugged. “Sadly, I’m not sure yet. She may live, but I need to check her over and assess the damage before I tell you anything for sure. Why don’t you kids go home and get the real doctor? Take Caro with you.” She shouted to Duke Mephisto. “Is that quite alright with you?

“Whatever!”

Millie and Joseph went over to where Caro was twirling around in the grass clearing and singing nonsense words to her doll.

“Hey, Caro, we’re leaving now,” Millie said.

“Where is Mama?” Caro asked.

“Mama’s going to stay here to help the people you found,” said Joseph.

“Oh.” Caro paused. “I want to stay with Mama, thank you.”

Millie shook her head. “Come on, Caro, we need to go.”

“I want to stay with Mama,” Caro repeated.

“No, Caro, we need to go.”

“Yeah,” Joseph said. “It’ll be fun.” He grabbed her hand and tried to lead her off, but she yanked her hands away.

“I want. To stay. Here.” She smiled at him, then turned around and went back to playing with her doll. Monica applied antiseptic to Sylvia’s wounds.

Joseph jumped back, eyes wide. “Oh dear.”

“Caro, put your shoes back on,” Millie said, pointing to Caro’s abandoned pink boots, lying over in the shade of the silver birch tree. “We have to walk back.”

“No, I want to stay with Mama!”

Millie sighed, then went over and picked up Caro, throwing the girl over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. 

“NO! Mama! Mama!”

Monica looked up. “Oh- Millie, would you put her down?”

Millie ignored her. “Get her shoes, will you, Joseph?” 

Joseph ran and grabbed Caro’s shoes. 

“I want to stay with Mama!” Caro shouted.

Millie,” Monica said sharply. “Put her down.”

Millie did not listen. Caro whacked and punched her sister’s back, to no avail. Apparently seeing that punching was futile, Caro went on to kicking, and eventually landed a solid kick in Millie’s stomach. She dropped her with an oof, and Caro ran over to where Monica was.

And then, the worst possible thing happened.

One of Caros’ obsessions was milk. She would often drink nothing but milk, and didn’t really care where it came from. So, when Monica poured milk from a flask into a bowl so that she could soak the iron instruments she was about to use on the faerie Sylvia in it, Caro suddenly forgot all about wanting Mama.

She crawled over to Monica, and looked up at her with large, innocent eyes. 

“That’s milk.”

Monica looked at her and smiled. “Not right now, sweetheart. I’m using this to help the girl here.”

“Hmph. Please, Mama?”

“Maybe later. You drank nearly an entire cow at breakfast.”

  So, Caro walked up to Millie.

“Can you ask Mama for some milk?”

Millie raised an eyebrow. “What did Mama say?”

“Mmm… Go ask her for milk?”

“No.”

“Ask!”

Lilia shook her head. 

“ASK!”

“Hey, Caaarrrooo! I have miiiilk,” Joseph said, sloshing around what was obviously water inside a canteen.

“MILK!”

Joseph was laughing as Caro went running after him, trying to get the ‘milk.’ He ran off down the road, sisters in hot pursuit.

Hopefully, they would find their way home, and hopefully, Millie would remember to get the real doctor. Monica focused back on Sylvia.

“Is there anything more you can do for her?” Duke Mephisto asked.

“I don’t think so, no. Not here. We have to wait for her to wake up.”

“I found another girl back along the road, but I think she’s dead.”

Monica followed him back to where a young woman with short, choppy blonde hair lay. Her throat and chest were badly scratched by some unknown blade, but she was still breathing. Barely. 

“What should we do?” Duke Mephisto asked.

Monica felt for a pulse and found the girl cold and clammy. Her pulse was slow and sluggish, and her breathing was slow and shallow. “Severe blood loss.”

“What do we do?”

“Stop the bleeding.”

“Right, I probably should have figured that out.”

Monica grinned. “Here, take some of the bandages from the bag. Do you know how to dress a wound?”

“Not really.”

“We need water.”

Duke Mephisto got up for a moment and returned with a heavy iron bucket full of water. “I have no idea what this was doing by the side of the road, but here it is.”

“I’d like to bless whoever put it there.” Monica dipped a rag in the water and showed Duke Mephisto how to wash a wound, add antiseptic, and place a gauze dressing over it.

“Seems simple enough,” Duke Mephisto said. “I can already bandage a wound.” 

“Good. There’s bandages in the medical bag. You work on her arms. I’ll do her throat and chest.”

They worked on the girl for a long time before she was all bandaged up, and the bleeding had stopped for the most part. When they were done, Monica went to attend to a young man with a broken collarbone, a young woman covered in dirt and scratches and bruises, a boy with a broken leg, and lastly, her relative Ishmael Carter, Monty. He had a broken shoulder, and the other young man he was laying next to had a head injury that would probably result in a concussion.All of the victims of the crash were covered in long, shallow scratches that seemed like they had been inflicted by an animal’s claws. What could have done this to them? Was it a demon, or a faerie, or a werewolf, or something else entirely? The thought of something else on an island that she had long ago claimed as under her protection made Monica angry. This was her home, and she would protect it.

Notes:

Sorry I forgot to update yesterday! Something came up and I unfortunately didn’t have time.

Fortunately, I had time to update today, and I have several edited versions of the first few chapters (which are… rough, to say the least) that will be released as part of the extra content released during November and December.

Richard – 2.13.7

Content warning: Violence, including a traumatic head injury

Richard heard the howls first. He was just about to get his cane out from under the seat and go out to see what was taking the others so long, when a noise like the scream of a soul suffering in Hell split the air, and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. It also made him jump out of his skin and fall off the carriage seat to the ground, where he landed on his head. 

He blacked out for a split second, and when he opened his eyes Alice, extremely blurred, was standing over him. 

“I thought you had died,” Alice said.

“Sorry,” said Richard.

“Please don’t apologize.”

“Sorry.”

“What did I just-”

Sylvia came flying out of the wood, and slammed into Alice.

“What the f-”

“Shut up,” Sylvia hissed. “Get down.”

“What are we waiting for?” Richard asked. He was still seeing spots, and his voice sounded slurred and hollow.

Sylvia gave him an odd look. “You alright?”

He smiled deliriously at her for a few moments before he realized she had asked him a question. “Yeash, I’m just. Hit my ‘ead.” His tongue felt thick in his mouth and his ears rang. He felt like he was in a fog, with only the dull ache in his head to remind him that, oh, right, he had a human body. “What are we waiting for?”

“We got in trouble in the woods. The others are coming.”

“Oh.” The trees were blurry blobs of green and brown, even with his glasses on. Richard, still smiling, took off his glasses to see if that would help. It didn’t, and he still didn’t know what they were doing. “What are we waiting for?”

“I told you, we’re waiting for the others. You know, Johann and Deirdre and Monty and possibly Wilhelm?” Sylvia looked shifty, like there was something she didn’t want to say.

“Oh.”

Johann suddenly appeared. “Richard, your hair has blood in it. Did something happen?”

Richard watched mesmerized as the stars swayed back and forth.

“Richard?”

“I’m. Hit my head.”

“Richard, I think you have a concussion.”

Richard was incredibly dizzy. He groaned and put his head in his hands. What was all this sticky stuff coming off his head? He flicked his hands to get it off. He went to stand. Johann tried to help him up, but Richard threw him off and stood up on his own. He stumbled several feet, before almost falling on his face again.

“Richard, how do you feel?” Johann asked.

Richard furrowed his brow. How did he feel?

“Richard, I think you have a concussion.”

“Stup using. My name.”

“Richard, we have to get you home.”

Someone with a tricorne hat did a flying leap out of the bushes and landed on his back next to the girl with long brown hair whose name Richard couldn’t recall. 

“Ow,” said the person with the hat. 

Johann pulled him up. “Monty, you have to help me get Richard-”

Someone else, a young man with blonde hair, was next to Johann. “I can help you, Dr. Faust.”

“Right. Wait, Wilhelm?” Johann recoiled in shock.

“I ran away from the monster.”

“I thought you-”

“I crawled through the grass. I was almost struck by lightning!”

“We saw that,” said the long haired girl. “Only, it looked like you were struck.”

“I almost was!”

Richard struggled to count everyone there. He had a vague idea of how many people there were supposed to be, and he was pretty sure there was someone missing. 

“Deirdre,” he said. 

“She’s… um…” Sylvia wrung her hands. “She’s coming, Richard.”

Everyone went quiet. Monty whispered something to Alice, who looked immediately concerned. “Erm… Richard? Deirdre’s-”

“Don’t tell him the truth, he isn’t in his right mind,” said Sylvia.

“Deirdre’s leading the faerie in the woods away from us,” Johann said. “She volunteered.”

Richard tried to stand up again to go get Deirdre. She was in danger!

“Sit down, Richard,” said Johann. “Please.”

Suddenly, Deirdre was there, breathing hard, with flushed red cheeks, skin scraped by a thousand thorns, and wild eyes. 

Johann threw his arms around her, but he was only able to do that for a few seconds before the girl with the long hair shoved him aside and did the same. 

“We have to go,” Deirdre said, speaking between heavy breaths. “Go now!”

The man with the tricorn hat was surprisingly strong – he hefted Richard into the back of the wagon, where he was nestled among a few burlap sacks that were back there for some reason. Johann started the horses going, and the girl with the cap and short blonde hair that made her look like a boy perched on the back with a scythe to strike at something that might have been following them. 

The wagon took off, with Sylvia running after it. She did a flying leap and landed in a roll in the wagon bed, where she collapsed on her back.  

“How did you do that?” Deirdre asked.

“I used to be a circus performer, believe it or not.”

“What? When?”

“In the 1790s.”

“Are you telling me that you spent the French Revolution in the circus?”

“Yeah, basically. I met George Washington there.”

“Who?”

“George Washington, Deirdre.”

“Who?”

“The general of the continental army during the American Revolution?”

“The American what?”

The girl with long hair stared at her indecorously. “Have you been living under a rock?”

“Maybe. I was actually trapped in my grave from 1345 until 1850.”

“Jesus Christ. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“The Man in Red gave me an overview of what went on. I thought it was good enough. He didn’t tell me that America had a revolution, though. Pray tell, who did they revolt against?”

“Oh my God, Deirdre.”

The wagon jolted, and Johann screamed. A thing with black skin and long claws darted out of the forest, leaping onto the side of the wagon. It jolted again as the thing rocked it from side to side, screeching the whole time. In an instant, Johann was screaming, Sylvia was screaming, Monty was screaming, Deirdre was perfectly calm, Wilhelm was screaming, and Richard was screaming because he was busy hallucinating a horde of pink rats that his rational mind, which was being held captive by the other side of his mind, told him weren’t really there.

Alice stood up and jabbed at the monster with a scythe. It knocked one of its hands off, but didn’t do much otherwise, especially because the monster immediately launched itself over the side and into Alice. She went flying off and landed on the side of the road. 

The monster was back an instant later, crawling out from under the cart and jumping up on Johann’s lap. He screamed again, and dropped the reins. Sylvia dove to the side and grabbed them, but Richard’s head lolled back, and that distracted Deirdre, who went to pull his head back up by dangling her arms over the side, which hit Sylvia and made her overbalance. She fell backwards off the wagon, leaving the reins unattended, just as they were going around the curve, which completed the whole fiasco by flipping wagon, horses, and all off the road and into the ditch that ran alongside it. 

Richard must have hit his head again, or something like that, because the last thing he heard before he blacked out again was Deirdre screaming at someone passing by. “Go and get your mother! Hurry! Go!”

Notes:

Apologies for the short chapter today! I am, however, aiming to get two new (and much better) versions of the header drawings up by 10 pm today, which might hopefully help make up for this chapter being much shorter.

Thank you for reading!

Deirdre – 2.12.6

Deirdre was full of apprehensive energy that kept her going through the woods ever after she’d tripped repeatedly, torn her clothing, and had to scramble through so much foliage that she ached all over. They’d gone on a little walk through these woods yesterday, but they hadn’t gone too far, certainly not to the old mill, or the dry river that she’d done a header into.

“It’s much harder to navigate in the dark,” Johann said as he helped her up. “Are you quite alright?”

“I think so.” Her hands were scratched up, but she wiped them on her pants and trusted that the blood wouldn’t show through the dark fabric.

Johann went to check Monty, who was lying on his back in the dirt. Deirdre clambered back up to ground level and stood to look at the old mill. It was decrepit and rotting, and it felt like something that had been thrown aside casually by its owner when they got their hands on a shiny new one. Deirdre squeezed through the broken entrance, and found that there was still quite a lot of room in there. The ceiling, which formed the floor of the second story, looked like it was about to collapse any second, but Deirdre didn’t feel like she was in any danger. In fact, she felt a strange calm. Something half-buried in debris glinted in the slight moonlight, and attracted her eye. She went up to it and picked it up. It was a thick, heavy knife that might have been used for sawing rope or thick parts of plants. Deirdre tossed it from hand to hand and ran her finger along the blade. It was very dull, but she thought she could still do some damage from the sheer weight of the thing, or maybe use it to dig, or as a hammer. 

“Deirdre?” Johann called from outside. “Where are you?”

She slid the knife into her belt and squeezed back through the door. Sylvia and Wilhelm had the sacks, and they were making Monty drag the blades for cutting the grass. Johann clicked his fingers for everyone to follow him, so they did.

The trees began to thin, and soon ended altogether. They were in an open field of long grass, maybe an acre wide, that looked like a rippling sea in the moonlight. There was a church in the middle of the clearing, and it was silhouetted against the sky like something off a postcard. 

“It’s abandoned,” Johann said.

“Shame,” said Sylvia. “I would have loved to absolutely almost die in the woods every Sunday on my way to service.”

“Monty, where are the blades?” Johann asked.

Monty jumped back and threw a scythe at him in the same way he would hurl a harpoon. Johann leapt out of the way, and the scythe sailed through the air to land in the grass, which obscured it completely.

“Nice job, idiot,” Sylvia said.

Monty shrugged and held out another scythe for her to take.

Deirdre took a different scythe and started poking through the grass, looking for the missing one. Johann was busy verbally abusing Wilhelm, trying to teach him how to cut grass and shove it in one of their sacks. Deirdre swept her scythe to the side in front of her, moving it from one side to the other in one fluid motion. It did the trick, cutting the grass low enough that it looked convincingly like some kind of product.

Johann gave up on trying to teach Wilhelm to cut grass, and instructed him that he was to join Monty in getting the grass into the sacks. He then moved on to micromanaging that task. Deirdre lent half an ear to what he was saying, focusing mostly on her own work, and the satisfaction of cutting the grass so smoothly and so evenly. 

The wind rustled the trees, and blew Deirdre’s hair into her face. She took a moment to brush it away, but it had tangled in the chain her crucifix was on, so she had to take an even longer moment to untangle that. 

“Having some trouble?” Johann asked.

“No,” said Deirdre.

“Alright.” Johann reached down into the grass and came up with the missing scythe. “Look at that. Monty, do you want to help us with the blades now?”

Something about that set off alarm bells in Deirdre’s mind. Johann grinned and held the scythe out to Monty, not putting much pressure on his grip on the handle, acting like it was the most simple and natural thing in the world. He was just going to give Monty the scythe. There was nothing wrong with that. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong

She turned away from the exchange. It wasn’t her business what they did. Deirdre was close to the tree line now, so she turned around to go back to the field. As she did, she bonked into something with her head. Deirdre looked up, and an entire noose fell off the tree onto the ground in front of her.

“Hey, Monty?”

He looked up from what he was doing. “Yeah?”

“Did they hang witches in these woods?”

“Yeah. Why?”

The words stuck in Deirdre’s throat. “B- because-”

Johann scoffed. “As if witches really exist.”

“What is wrong with you?” Sylvia asked. “You’re still in denial that Heaven and Hell exist, even though you’ve seen them with your own two eyes.”

Johann shook his head. “I have seen a man who claims to be a demon, and I have seen the place beyond while under the influence of drugs. Neither of those offer conclusive proof on-”

A bloodcurdling howl split the air. Immediately, Deirdre’s instincts kicked in, and she ran for the holy ground of the church. She didn’t know if it would help, and she didn’t know what the danger she was running from was, but there was a foggy memory in the back of her mind that told her that holy ground would help.

Sylvia grabbed the back of Deirdre’s shirt so hard that it jerked her back and almost choked her. “The church isn’t going to help. C’mere, help me with this.” Sylvia bent down and picked up a stick. “Here, put this in your pocket.”

Deirdre shoved the stick in her pocket and continued her run for the church. Something burst out from the woods behind her, and gave an unsettlingly humanlike scream. Deirdre turned around, and saw a woman whose neck hung at a bad angle levitating at the edge of the wood. That was the witch, wasn’t it?

“That’s one ugly witch,” Monty, who had crawled on his stomach through the grass, said. 

“Oh, that’s not a witch,” Sylvia said. “Most witches are innocent women mistaken for what they are. Trust me, if they really had satanic powers, or the kind of faerie powers most witches have, they would not be able to be hanged.”

“What the hell is that thing, then?” Monty asked.

“An unseelie faerie.”

“Why?”

“Someone insulted her, I guess.”

Rot and dead grass spread from the faerie’s feet. Sylvia handed Monty a stick. Johann, Alice, and Wilhelm were missing. 

“Where are the others?” Deirdre asked. She slowly lowered herself to the ground, trying to calm down. 

“I don’t know,” said Sylvia.

“They’re just gonna get magically kidnapped, right?” Monty asked.

“That’s the seelie court. Unseelie faeries kill people.”

“Dammit.”

Someone tried to run away across the field. The faerie levitated over to her, and with a bolt of lightning, the unfortunate person was gone.

Deirdre turned around and saw that Johann had somehow snuck into the church. That must have been Wilhelm, then. 

Monty was crawling on his stomach like a snake through the undergrowth. Sylvia was running awkwardly in a crouched position, so that her head was beneath the grass. Deirdre went down to her hands and knees, which was uncomfortable and felt cowardly but did the trick.

The three of them managed to sneak in through the entrance to the church and join Johann behind the door. 

Sylvia smacked Johann in the face.

“Hey!” Deirdre said.

“It’s his fault,” Sylvia said.

“How do you know?”

“I can tell. Who else has been out far enough into the woods to annoy a faerie? What did you do? Did you drop hawthorn on a sacred spot?”

“Um… yes, I think I did.”

Sylvia smacked him again. 

“This is no time for fighting,” Deirdre said.

“Au contraire! Let’s beat the snot out of each other!” Monty snapped a stick over his knee and brandished the broken end like a knife.

Sylvia raised an eyebrow, apparently unimpressed.

Deirdre snatched the stick out of his hands. “We have to get out of here. Is there any way to barter with this thing?”

“Yes, let it hunt us for sport,” said Sylvia.

“That’s useful,” said Johann.

“What if we let it get its hooks in one of us, then that person led it on a wild goose chase away from all the others?” Monty asked. “Then that person could take an alternative route to safety. That’s what the whales did.”

“That’s a fine idea,” said Sylvia, “except for the fact that one of us has the suicidal task of leading the faerie away from the others.”

No one volunteered. Deirdre hesitated for a moment, then raised her hand. “I’m good at running and leading danger away from people that I care about.”

“You don’t have to,” Johann said. “Really, you don’t.”

“But I want to.” Deirdre took a deep breath. “I really do.”

Johann gave her a hug. “Please be careful.”

“Don’t worry.” She’d run from monsters in the forest a lot during her childhood. This was something she was prepared for.

The four of them crawled back out into the field. Deirdre got a good look at the faerie for the first time, and saw that she was female, but horribly ugly, with skin like ebony, empty eye sockets, long, sharp teeth, and claws as long as Deirdre’s arm. If it caught her, she would be dead.

“We’ll do it now,” Monty said.

“Good luck, Deirdre,” said Sylvia.

All four of them stood up at once. The faerie’s head turned around three hundred and sixty degrees to stare at them.

“Go!” Sylvia shouted.

Deirdre took off running.

Richard – 2.11.6

Richard sat on the front porch of Monty’s house, enjoying the feeling of the cold night air on his face. The farm had a certain smell about it, an old, musty smell that he liked more than he would have thought. Just ahead of him, on the road up to the farm, Johann and Wilhelm were fixing a wheel on the cart they were going to use to steal corpses. There was a lot of yelling and swearing in German, but it looked like they might have been making progress. Richard had tried to help them, but Johann insisted that they didn’t need any help. It made Richard feel worse with every passing minute.

However, he also had Monty leaning against his side, which he liked a great deal, and Deirdre, Sylvia, and Alice were having fun poking around the dilapidated stables to one side of the house.

Monty was quiet and slow in his movements tonight, for no discernible reason. Richard didn’t want to bring him because of that, but Johann insisted that he should come.

“The stars,” Monty said.

“They are beautiful tonight,” said Richard. 

Monty pulled something out of his pocket and placed it in Richard’s hand. He looked down and saw with a jolt that it was the strange doll who he’d conducted a conversation with. 

“I talked to this doll,” Richard said.

Monty smiled faintly. “Me too.”

“I don’t like what it has to say very much.”

“Me neither.” 

Johann approached and roughly pulled Monty to his feet. “Get in the damn wagon.”

Richard whistled to the girls, which sent them running to get in the wagon. He climbed up to the seat, beside Johann, and pulled the map of Nantucket out of his pocket. “We have to go down the road and around here to the graveyard. We’ll need to disguise ourselves as some more legitimate operation.”

Sylvia’s head popped up from the bed of the wagon. “We have all these old empty sacks in the stable. Seems a shame they should go to waste. Why don’t we fill ‘em with dead grass so they look like some kind of grain or something, and we can pour out half and then hide the bodies in with the grass? These are really big sacks I’m talking about here.”

Johann shrugged and looked to Richard. Apparently, he was by default in charge of this mission. 

“That’s a smart idea,” Richard said. “Wilhelm, go help Sylvia with getting those sacks. Alice, get some blades from the shed. Johann, look at the map and see where we can get dry grass. Monty, make sure we have enough shovels for everyone.”

Deirdre raised her hand. “I’m going to go inside and get oil and matches.”

That was slightly disturbing, considering they were going to be working with dry grass, but she might have wanted it for some reason other than setting the grass on fire. Richard waved his hand to signal that everyone should go off to do their separate tasks. 

Johann wasn’t looking at the map. “Richard?”

“Yes?”

“Through the woods there’s a huge clearing with a lot of long grass in it. According to this map, if we went there and continued through the woods we’d come out onto a graveyard for poor quaker farmers around this end of the island.”

Sylvia and Wilhelm returned with a wheelbarrow full of empty burlap sacks, which they dumped into the bed of the wagon. Sylvia jumped up on them and leaned back to lounge back on the pile. 

Richard had a feeling he knew what Johann was getting at. “Sylvia, are you completely comfortable with leading a group through the woods?” 

“I’m sorry? No.”

“Wilhelm, are you completely comfortable with leading a group through the woods?” 

Wilhelm shrugged. “I don’t know these woods.”

“Monty, are you-”

“For God’s sake, I’ll do it,” Johann said. 

Alice threw a selection of blades onto the wagon’s back and crouched on them so that no one would lie on top of them and cut themselves. Deirdre returned and held her cask of oil in her lap. 

“What are we doing?” Sylvia asked.

“Here’s the new plan,” said Richard. “I’m going to take Alice on this wagon to the target graveyard here.” He pointed to the place on the map. “Everyone else will follow Johann through the woods to a clearing full of long grass that you’re going to cut and fill these sacks with. You’ll then continue through the woods to the graveyard, where you’ll meet me. We’ll dig up the bodies there and hide them in the sacks of grass. Does everyone understand?”

“Isn’t the idea that the sacks will help to disguise us before and after?” Deirdre asked.

Oh, right. Richard took a moment to reconsider before speaking. He pointed to a new spot on the map. “Okay, we’ll meet you here, instead. That’s near enough to the clearing, and near enough to the graveyard. Is that better?”

Johann looked at what he was pointing to. “That’s sort of close to the clearing. Maybe to the right of the church.”

“Church?”

“There’s an old church in the clearing.”

Richard shivered. The concept of old churches lost to the woods scared him. “Alright, that’s where we’ll meet you.”

“Do I have to go?” Monty asked.

“You know this island the best,” said Richard. “You’re the guide.”

Monty groaned and rolled off the wagon, somehow landing on his feet before he hit the ground. Johann, Sylvia, Deirdre, and Wilhelm followed him as he walked back towards the woods. Richard watched them until they were all but out of sight, then he signaled to Alice that she should climb up on the seat. “Listen, Alice. You’re my maiden daughter who’s engaged to your dear sweetheart Wilhelm, and we’re going to meet him across the island.”

Alice pulled a bonnet out of her pocket and tied it around her neck. Richard put a top hat on his head and cracked the reins of the wagon. They had only a single horse, a big black stallion named Thistle, but he pulled the wagon well enough. 

The plan went off without a hitch until they had to take a detour through town past the local Catholic church, which the deacon was loitering outside of. He hailed their carriage to stop, which Richard reluctantly did. 

“Where are you going?” The man asked.

Richard opened his mouth to talk, but Alice cut him off. “We’re going to meet my dear sweetheart Wilhelm. He’s a right brave young man, and devout, too. I love him! Have you met him, good deacon?”

The deacon’s brow furrowed. “Not that I know of. What does he look like?”

“He goes to the broken church across the way, in the woods. Oh, love! I cannot wait for a moment of apprehension!”

Richard pushed her away, acting annoyed. His fake American accent was less good than hers. “Sir, we’re going to meet the young man she’s t’marry. Excuse us, if y’will.”

“Oh- Yes, sorry. Best of luck to you.”

Richard and Alice continued on their way, until they were stopped again by an old man.

“In my youth,” the old man said, “A pair of able-bodied young men like you would be out on the sea, catching whales for the glory of Nantucket, not hiding on a wagon dressed as a woman.”

“I’m a girl,” Alice said.

“Oh,” the old man said. “Well, you’re still nothing compared to people in my youth. A strong young man like your friend-”

“I use a cane,” said Richard. “I’m disabled.”

“They’d still find plenty’a use fer you on a whale ship. They don’t care if you got noodles fer legs, you go on that ship you’re put to work. I knew a young man once… Ishmael, he was called. That boy had some problems like you, but he didn’t let that stop him. He was a magnificent young man… we were together, fer a time. Y’know what I mean. Then he died on a whaleship. The noblest way to die!”

Richard nodded along with his story, wanting both to be polite and to get the story over with as soon as possible. “Seems correct.”

“The noblest way! No one has any respect for whaling any more, but what do they know? Anyway, where are you two boys headed?”

“I’m still a girl,” said Alice.

“Where is this boy and this girl headed?”

“To the little quaker graveyard on the other side of the island,” said Richard. “Not the main one. The one for farmers.”

“Good luck, boy and girl.”

Richard tipped his hat to the old man, and cracked the reins to get the cart going again. It wasn’t long before they were stopped a third time by a small girl with bouncy blonde curls who was carrying a heavy iron bucket along the road. 

“I got this water for my mama back in town,” the girl said. She had a strange, cruel smile. “Can I ride with you?”

“We aren’t going that way,” said Richard.

“Please?”

“We aren’t going towards town.”

“But could you turn around?”

“We have to meet someone.”

“Would you buy this water, then?” The girl asked.

“Why would I do that?”

“Because I won’t go away until you do.”

Richard didn’t have any American money, but he threw her a few pence as payment for the heavy bucket of water. This seemed satisfactory, because she put the coins in her pocket and bounced away. 

Alice put the bucket of water down by the side of the road, and they continued on their way.

When they got to the place beside the woods, they positioned  their wagon slightly out of sight so that they would be able to surreptitiously wait for the others. However, after half an hour of waiting, the others still hadn’t shown up. Richard began to feel uneasy. Where were they? 

“Is there some kind of problem, I wonder?” Alice asked.

Richard shook his head. “I don’t know. Nothing to do but wait, I guess.”