Deirdre – 2.7.5

Content warning: Implied abuse and cannibalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You were born here, right?”

“In 1793.”

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

“Twenty, when I died.”

“You were born in 1840, then.”

“Impossible. I was born in 1793.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you being serious?”

“I am.”

“Wonderful.”

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

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

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

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

“Why can’t we stay with you?”

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

“Oh- alright.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you see?” Johann asked.

“Someone standing out back.”

“I didn’t see it.”

“You can’t. Only I can.”

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

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

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

Sylvia was drinking laudanum to keep herself warm.

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

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

“Oh, I’m the host?”

“This is your house.”

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

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

“What?”

“Drugs are trouble.”
“Well, sorry.”

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

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

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

“But I think I am one.”

“You’re wrong.”

“But I talked to God once.”

“No you didn’t.”

“I did.”

“What did he say to you, then?”

“‘Can a man curse and deny a god?’”

“As if that makes sense out of context.”

“I’m a prophet.”

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

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

“I’m hungry,” Jean said.

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

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

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

“Do you know my favorite food, Richard?”

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

“Wigs. I mean eggs.”

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

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

“You what?” Richard asked.

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

“Are you being serious?”

“Deadly so.”

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

“In a good or bad way?”

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

“That’s good.”

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

“Shut up.”

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

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

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

“I know what this is,” Monty said.

“Yeah, it’s pork,” said Jean.

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t, this is human meat.”

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

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

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

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

“Johann,” Deirdre whispered.

He groaned. The thing didn’t move.

“Johann, wake up.”

Johann sat up. “What?”

“Look there.”

“Where?”

“At the end of the bed.”

“Why?”

“Do you see it?”

“What?”
“The thing.”

“Deirdre-”

“What?”

“There’s nothing there.”

“There is. It’s a monster.”

“I can’t see it.”

“You can’t?”

“No, I can’t.”

“You might be lying.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

“Are you alright?”

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

“He can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Too rational.”

“What?”

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

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

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

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Then I can’t answer your question.”

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

“Your father. Do you remember him?”

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

“Do you remember what he was like?”

“Bad.”

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

“Yes.”

“Do you remember going into that room?”

“No.”

“You did.”

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

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

“Did they- did they catch me?”

“Yes, Deirdre, they caught you.”

“And they hurt me?”

“They didn’t just hurt you, Deirdre.”

“What else did they do?”

“They killed you, Deirdre.”

“Killed me?”

“Yes. They drowned you in the sea.”

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

“You did?”

“Yes, I knew that.”

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

“But I saw them as a child.”

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

“Didn’t think so.”

“I can explain everything else, though.”

“Is Monty a madman or a prophet?”

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

“A prophet.”

“Maybe in another life, a mad prophet.”

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

“You do that. Goodnight, Deirdre.”

“Goodnight.”

Notes:

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

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

Leonard 2.6.5

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

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

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

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

“No, sir.”

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

“No, sir.”

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

“No, sir, but…”

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

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

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

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

“Pagans,” Tecualt said.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

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

“Pride is a sin, Tecualt.”

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

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

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

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

“No sarcastic comments, please,” said Leonard.

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

“Yes, it’s under the bed.”

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

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

“Sir,” Tecualt said.

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

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

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

“Sir?”

“Something else?”

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me,” he said.

“You are excused,” said the young woman.

“Are you perhaps related to Dominic Sapping?”

“Yeah, he’s my dad, why?”

“You look very much like him.”

“Thank you.” 

“What’s your name?”

“Why?”

“I was only wondering.”

“Sylvia Sapping.”

“Have a good day, Sylvia.”

“You too, Duke Mephisto.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Deirdre, Soul-in-Limbo, of Ireland. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How have you been?” Serana asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarissa – 2.5.4

Content warning: Themes of death and grief

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

“And have you verified this?” Clara asked.

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

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

“I know.”

“Well, that’s helpful.”

“It really is.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Call for the doctor,” Albert said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hm?.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?”

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

“Oh?”

“I need to get out of here.”

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

“Oh, thank God. When?”

“Whenever. Bring Ernest, will you?”

“I don’t know if he’ll want that.”

“Try to convince him.”

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

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

“I’m coming with you.”

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

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

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

“Did he?”

“Yes, he did.”

“I’m glad.”

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

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

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

Alouette, gentille alouette,

Alouette, je te plumerai.

Je te plumerai la tête.

Je te plumerai la tête.

Et la tête!

Et la tête!

Alouette!

Alouette!  

A-a-a-ah

Alouette, gentille alouette,

Alouette, je te plumerai.

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

The two of them stopped what they were doing.

“Shut up and let me sleep.”

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

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

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

“Oh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow, how’d you guess?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Really? Who are your parents?”

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

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

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

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

“Son of James Carter III.”

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

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

“Oh, he’s a whaler?”

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

Notes:

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

Thank you for reading!

Richard – 2.4.4

Rain drummed down on Richard’s roof. He was in his living room, once again painting a study of the seashore. His father and mother were not there right now, but he had another guest in Alice Egerton, Scarecrow, a girl from his resurrectionist gang. She was real and alive, so she was more work than the ghosts, but she slept on a cot in the basement and she mostly kept to herself, except at mealtimes. Richard had been writing less, but he painted constantly, mostly to distract himself from the stress of the destruction of the building on Temptation.

Ransom Egerton, who Alice had confessed was her brother, had been arrested, which was good because he had been a violent young criminal who threatened Richard’s operations. He had attacked a young woman for speaking with Barrorah a few weeks ago, so Richard, consumed by guilt, had anonymously given the young woman money for a better life. Her and her brother had died in the fire, which made Richard feel even more horrendously guilty. Why hadn’t he been able to help them? Why did they have to die?

Richard needed someone else for his gang, and he might have found them in Doctor Johann Faust. The man was usually a customer, but Richard had nothing against actually bringing him into the gang. Better to have Dr Faust with his patronage and under his control than with his patronage but on his own as a wildcard.

A sudden, violent knock at the door startled Richard out of his reverie of guilt and anxiety. He stood up, taking hold of his cane, and started pulling on a long black coat to protect himself from the sun. He kept the glasses that hooked over his regular ones in his coat pocket now, so he could put them on quickly. It took him several minutes, but when he was finished with the assembly of his attire he went to the door and opened it.

Outside stood Deirdre and Dr Faust. Speak of the devil. Richard smiled as well as he could through the covering he had wrapped about his face. “To what do I owe this visit?”

“Well, sir,” said Dr Faust.

“It’s, um,” said Deirdre, “It’s complicated.”

Richard held the door open wider. “Why don’t you come in?”

They hurried inside and sat down on his sofa. Richard put on tea and sat down on the other sofa, perpendicular to them. He started taking off his protective clothing as surreptitiously as he could.

“Is there something wrong?” Richard asked.

Deirdre shrugged, and Dr Faust copied her. 

“Listen,” Richard said. “I know that your building burnt down. I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a while, but I live in this house alone – except for Alice, who’s been staying in my basement – and I have a lot of extra beds and rooms. If you and whoever lives with you now would like to come stay with me for however long you need, my door is always open.”

Dr Faust and Deirdre looked at each other, then Deirdre’s face broke into a nervous smile. “Y- yes, that’s actually what we came to ask you about. Can we stay here? Me and Johann and Sylvia and Jean and Monty?”

That was a lot of people. Richard mentally went through the beds he had in his house. On the second floor there was a room with a double bed right off the stairs, and another with two single beds. There was his room, of course, with a double bed, but he didn’t want to share that with anyone unless he absolutely had to. After that was a room with a single bed and a sofa, which could both be slept on if they needed to be. Dr Faust – Johann – and Deirdre could have the single beds, and Jean Gévaudan and whoever Monty was could share the double, while Sylvia Sapping could take the single bed in the room with the couch.

“I think I can take all of you,” Richard said. He briefly explained his idea for a sleeping arrangement and the situation with Alice, who was estranged from her family.

Deirdre looked again nervous to tell him something. Johann had his arm around her. “Actually, Mr Golson, we can take the double bed.”

Oh. Richard mentally kicked himself for not seeing their romantic involvement. He was terrible at that kind of thing. “Alright, well, how about Monty and Jean Gévaudan-”

“Monty likes boys, Mr Golson.”

“Then Jean Gévaudan and Sylvia, who are related, will share the room with two double beds, and Monty will have the room with one bed.”

Richard pulled a pen from his waistcoat pocket and wrote this down on his arm. “Alright, that’s what we’ll do. I have storage for whatever you need to bring with you. And, Dr Faust, I have a- a place in my basement. For your tools.”

“Thank you, Mr Golson.”

“Come back with Sylvia and Jean and… Monty?” Richard had never met him, and he couldn’t think of anyone he’d ever heard of with that name.

“We will,” Deirdre said. “Really Richard, this means so much. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You’re so selfless, you know? I need to find a way to repay you.”

“You’re welcome. Any time.” Oh, she had no idea how selfless he had to be. Richard was immediately embarrassed to have had a congratulating thought, and swatted it away. He was only doing what every decent person did. 

Deirdre smiled at him as she and Johann left. Richard tried to go back to painting, but it felt empty now. He didn’t find as much joy in it. An hour or two later, Deirdre and Johann were back banging on the door with a whole host of people behind them. Richard suited up and opened the door.

Deirdre was at the front, with her small frame, stringy red hair and round, pale, face. Johann followed her, a tall dark-skinned man with a bony, angular face and short, flat black hair. Sylvia, a young woman with olive skin, a sharp face, and long dark hair that came down to her waist was next. Richard could tell immediately that she took opium in some form or another. After her was Jean Gévaudan, a big, tall Frenchman with puffy auburn hair streaked with black and a toothy smile that set Richard on edge. The last person was the only one Richard had never met, a tall young man with brown hair and the most average face he had ever seen. The young man, presumably named Monty, also wore a weatherbeaten tricorn hat that made Richard do a double take because for an instant he was sure it was the same one his father had.

The group filed inside. Richard looked everyone over again, noticing the little details this time, the things that would have stood out to him in a painting. Deirdre had a silver cross around her neck that shone in the light, and calluses on her hands from her job as a maid. Johann kept squinting through his glasses, like he didn’t really need them, and the jacket he wore had a chemical stain on one arm that just barely blended in with the fabric. The dark circles under Sylvia’s eyes and the way her shoulders slumped looked like she hadn’t been sleeping much, but she had a sly smile that hid it. Jean’s eyes darted back and forth, like a predator assessing the situation, and he held his mouth slightly open so that Richard could see his teeth. Monty’s gaze was vacant, like he was lost in thought but also exhausted, and he wore both a cross and a St Benedict medal around his neck on a leather thong.

“Mr Golson,” Jean Gévaudan said. “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” said Richard. 

There was an awkward silence, before Monty held out his hand and said, “Good evening, Mr Golson, please call me Monty.”

“Good evening, Monty,” Richard said, shaking his hand. “Oh, wait a moment! I have met you before. It’s good to have a name to pin to your face. Did you ever get that cane?” There was something else familiar about this young man, but he couldn’t quite pin down what it was.

“No, I didn’t. I forgot.”

“Ah, that’s too bad! I have a few extra you can borrow.”

“Oh, good. Thank you, Mr Golson.”

“Call me Richard, we’re going to be living under the same roof.”

“Address me as Queen Sylvia Titania Sapping the first, you peasants,” Sylvia said.

Johann smirked and Deirdre cracked a small smile. Monty pretended to crown her, and Richard chuckled at that. “I should introduce you to Alice, as well. Alice? Where are you?”

The door to the basement opened, then shut, and Alice Egerton came up the stairs. She had the watery blue eyes, small stature, and short blonde hair shared by the entire family, including her young arsonist brother.

“Hullo,” Alice said.

Deirdre sucked in a breath, and Johann, who obviously tried to pretend to be unbothered, pressed closer against her. Richard realized that they might still have Ransom Egerton’s physical appearance fresh in their minds, and he inwardly kicked himself for how insensitive he had been to not warn them that Alice was Ransom’s sister. 

“This is Alice Egerton,” Richard said. “She’s part of my gang, as Scarecrow. She’s staying with me because, um, because her, well, you all know what happened with Ransom…”

Monty flourished his hands like he was wiping something from the air in front of him and approached Alice. “You’re not an arsonist, are you?”

“Me? No, no, of course not. I don’t burn things down. Don’t have a malicious bone in me, unless I’m working.”

“Well, I too become malicious when forced to work, so we have something in common. You won’t burn down the bed I sleep in?”

“I’ll try not to. How irritating are you?”

Very.”

“No promises, then.”

“Alright, I’m satisfied.” Monty hefted a sea-chest he’d been dragging behind him. “Can I put this down somewhere now?”

“Yes, let me show you to your rooms,” Richard said. He led everyone upstairs, and opened the door to the first room off the stairs to the right. It led to a room with a four-poster bed pressed against the back wall, a dresser across from the door, and a fireplace facing the end of the bed. “This is for Johann and Deirdre. There’s ample storage space in the dresser and under the bed.”

The room directly across the hall was his study, but the door next to it led to another bedroom. It contained two beds side by side against the back wall, each with a bedside table and a dresser at their end. There was a window between the heads of the two beds. “Sylvia and Jean will sleep here. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who gets which bed.”

The last room was on the right again, right next to the wall at the end of the hallway. It had a single bed against the left wall, with a dresser at its foot and a table at its side. On the right wall was a blue sofa with another end table at its arm. “This is Monty’s bedroom. If worst comes to worst, someone might have to sleep on this sofa.”

Monty dropped his sea-chest on the floor and jumped onto the bed. “Oh, a feather mattress. God, my joints hurt so bad.”

Richard’s curiosity was aroused. He knew leg pain, so maybe he could help alleviate Monty’s pain. “Do you have a medical condition?”

“Yes, arthritis, and my lungs are affected badly, I might have asthma, and my heart is affected somehow, and sometimes when I stand up I black out for a few seconds.”
“That means you have low iron,” Johann said.

“Really? Wow, I had no idea. Thanks, Johann, I’ll eat some coins and clear the problem right up.”

“Taking opium would be more likely to solve your problems. You’ll just choke on the coins.”

“Oh, boy, I have a doctor’s permission to do drugs! Move aside, everyone, I have to go out and buy laudanum.”

Johann smacked his palm against his head. “I was being sarcastic.”

“Damn it.”

“I wish doctors would tell me to do drugs,” Sylvia said.

“You can just go to the hospital for that,” said Richard, who had been repeatedly advised to take laudanum by all manner of people.

“Oh, really? Better break an arm. Who will beat me up so I have to go to the hospital?”

“You can buy laudanum at a drug store. Why would you go to the hospital first?” Alice asked.

“Why are we even having this conversation?” asked Johann.

“I’m hungry,” Deirdre said. “Richard, can we have dinner?”

“Yes!” Richard was happy to get away from this conversation. “Dinner’s all ready downstairs. It’s all-” There was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, and Alice just about jumped out of her skin.

“Scared of lightning?” Monty asked her as they went downstairs.

Richard was privy to the information that Alice was afraid of just about everything that wasn’t the sewers or his basement, from storms to crowds and especially the ocean. 

Alice laughed. “You’d be hard-pressed to find something I’m not afraid of, Ishmael.”

“Excuse me?” Richard said. “Ishmael?”

“My name is Ishmael Samuel Carter,” Monty said. “But, I would prefer to be called by my nickname.”

“How did you get Monty from Ishmael Samuel Carter?”

“It’s from when I was a whaler.”

“Monty was some kind of whaling nickname?”

“Let’s not talk about it, alright? Name’s Monty. End of story.”

Richard nodded, feeling bad for demanding an answer from him. “Alright, I won’t call you by anything other than your nickname.”

The dining room was off the back wall of the living room, with the door into it right next to the stairs. The others sat down at the table, while Richard stood up to get the food he’d prepared earlier. There was chicken and potatoes and an assortment of vegetables, which Richard piled onto plates in the kitchen and took into the dining room. Each person had a placemat, as well as real silverware, and they ate off of blue china plates. After he’d delivered the food, Richard himself sat down to eat.

“Wait,” Deirdre said. “We should say a prayer over the food.”

Richard wasn’t particularly religious, though he did go to church a few times each year, at Christmas and on Easter, and he prayed vehemently whenever his legs started to hurt badly. Deirdre was also Catholic, unlike him, but prayer was prayer no matter how it was said. He shrugged and bowed his head for the prayer.

Deirdre said a quick grace, after which she, Sylvia, Monty, Jean, and Johann all crossed themselves. Richard copied them, thinking it was probably the right thing to do.

“I thought you didn’t believe in God,” Monty said to Johann.

Johann shrugged. “I’ll still say the words. Besides, I’m not going to dissent when my girlfriend’s praying.”

“This food is really good,” Sylvia said. 

“Thank you,” said Richard.

“I haven’t eaten like this since I was out whaling last,” Monty said. “I remember someone shot down some bird once. It was delicious, even though we had to split it fifty ways.”

“Tell me it wasn’t an albatross,” said Alice.

“Wow, you’ve read a poem?” asked Monty.

“Yeah, I’m not stupid.”

“Good to know.”

Jean was looking around like he was confused. Richard cleared his throat. “Is there something you need, sir?”

“Salt,” Jean said.

Richard went to stand up to get the salt from the kitchen, but Deirdre, who was not only closer to the door but who didn’t use a cane, beat him to it. She put the pot of salt in front of Jean, who promptly poured most of it all over his chicken while Richard watched in horror.

“Can I have sugar?” Alice asked. Richard rolled his eyes because she would eat anything with sugar on it.

Deirdre got the bag of sugar, and looked disgusted as Alice poured sugar over everything on her plate. When she bit into the chicken Richard could hear the grinding sugar crystals from where he was sitting. Fortunately, he was used to this by now and was able to watch it without feeling sick to his stomach. The first night Alice had stayed at his house had been rough.

Monty barely ate anything at dinner, so he kept a running dialogue going, mostly with himself. It was remarkably entertaining to hear what he thought about every species of whale he could think up, and his personal retelling of the story of Jonah, and why whaling was an industry that had to be stopped. Clearly, the man had a single subject he wanted to talk about, and he wasn’t going to let the fact that the crowd he was talking to didn’t particularly care about whales stop him.

“Humanity should fear the ocean,” Alice said once Monty finally stopped for a breath.

“Why?” Monty asked. “It’s wondrous.”

“And also opaque and unfathomably deep and full of creatures we can’t even begin to imagine.”

Monty chuckled. “Oh, you have no idea.”

Alice glared at him. “And what do you mean by that?”

“The ocean is the reason I’m here today.”

“Oh?”

Richard thought he saw his father standing in the corner of his eye, and he started to feel intensely uncomfortable. He didn’t want to know how the sea had saved Monty, but he also didn’t want to be rude and ask him to stop talking, so Richard decided to suffer in silence.

“I was a whaler for a long time,” Monty said. The way his voice had gotten low, Richard could tell this was going to be a long story. “Hunting whales is no easy task, as I’m sure you know. We go out for years, all alone with your crew on a ship in the middle of the open ocean, trying to catch animals bigger than your ship and much bigger than you yourself. It’s not easy, not easy at all. Well, we did catch whales, usually sperm whales, and being a shrimpy boy with the lowest lay, I was often made to crawl into the headcase where the spermaceti is and bail it out. Have you ever done that? Ever been lowered into a small, dark space made of organic matter that reeks or blood so you can bail out golden liquid for the people up above? No, I wouldn’t think so. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done, and that’s saying a lot. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that again, and funnily enough, I wasn’t even really getting paid at the time. More like putting myself in more debt, but that’s not something to dwell on.

“In any case, I got away from that job as soon as I could, and I eventually learned how to become more or less handy with a harpoon. That’s right, I taught myself to be a harpooner, so I could get out of the whale’s head. I had muscles, once upon a time, and even though I lost the look I didn’t really lose the strength. It takes a lot of force to kill a whale, especially a sperm whale, and you gotta be strong as hell to take one out. I could do it, though.”

“So you were a whaler,” Deirdre said. “Was it fun?”

Monty laughed. “I hate those years with every scrap of my soul. They were the worst of my life. Every day I cursed the sea from morning till evening, but it never did any good. The sea didn’t understand me or heed me. At least, I didn’t think it did.”

“Until?” Deirdre asked.

“Until I killed a particular whale. How was I s’posed to know that that whale was special at all? It didn’t look like it, but maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know. Either way, I killed it, and we tried to get it back to the mothership in a storm, and the storm knocked me over the side of my boat. I fell down, down, down, and when I was down there, I saw some of the things you should be afraid of down there in the ocean. They-”

Richard couldn’t take it any more, especially since his father was standing right behind Monty as he told his story, dripping seawater down his shirt and gripping his shoulders. Richard stood up. “Monty, please. I really can’t hear any more.”

“Alright, I won’t say any more, then.”

I want to hear the end to his story,” said Jean.

“Then you can. Anyone who doesn’t want to, it’s getting late, we’ll go to bed.”

Everyone except Jean stood up and ran upstairs. As Richard followed them at a slower pace, he heard Monty make a comment that shook him to the bone. “Now, Jean, if our lovely guest will just follow his son upstairs, we’ll continue with this story.”

Richard undressed quickly and picked up the first book that his hand touched. Emma by Jane Austen. Richard tried to slow his breathing down and focus on the love related shenanigans in the text, but he couldn’t get his mind off Monty and Jean downstairs. This was ridiculous. He was a horror author who painted the ocean for a living, and he couldn’t handle part of a superstitious whaler’s story? What kind of logic was that?

It was logic that prevented him from focusing on Emma. Richard put down the book and methodically put out the candles and gas lights that lit his room. He closed his eyes and crawled under the covers of his bed. 

He fell asleep quickly, and dreamed of a deep ocean abyss full of nameless things that had been put there long ago and desperately wanted to escape.

Johann – 2.3.5

Content warning: On-page drug use

Johann Faust slammed his hands on the table, and screamed, because the table was metal and it hurt. Ishmael Carter, who liked to be called Monty for some reason, looked up from where he was pinning up a sheet to close off part of the basement they lived in now, and grinned.

“That hurt, didn’t it?” Monty said.

Johann snarled at him, and he grinned and shrugged. Johann turned back to his makeshift table, where his medical tools were spread out. He was taking inventory, making sure that he had plenty of clean, usable tools, chemicals to last him through any problem that might come up, bandages, and any store-bought medicines that he had deemed safe to use. There wasn’t enough of anything, of course, and he didn’t currently have the money to buy more. He should have asked Duke Mephisto for money!

Monty looked around the sheet he was pinning up, and went to the door. Johann heard him open it and start talking with someone, but he was too focused on ways to make quick money for medical supplies to try to identify who it was. He was already selling his services as a doctor, but he could start charging more, or even get a job as an actual doctor, at a hospital. That seemed like a good idea until he thought about the \ time Mr Lister was having getting hospitals to institute hand washing. Johann would never work for an establishment like that. What other skills did he have? He’d been in seminary for a long time when he was younger, and his father had been a pastor, so he still knew how to give sermons and speeches. Could he do something with that? There were a lot of illicit operations he could perform that he hadn’t been, and he could charge more for those. He could get a factory job, but the mere idea of a man such as him, who was destined for so much more, working as a simple factory worker, made his blood boil.

“My good doctor,” Monty said. “There’s someone here to see you.”

“Did they send a calling card ahead?” Johann’s words dripped with sarcasm.

“I don’t think so. Oh, there’s a few people, actually. Say, sir, where did you get that cane? I could use one.”

“At a shop down the street from a drugstore near my house,” Richard Golson said. “Here, let me write down the address for you.”

Johann put down the instruments he was fiddling with and stepped out from behind the curtain. He wasn’t sure if Richard, also known as the Ghoul, also known as the man who delivered him bodies to operate on, would recognize him these days. Johann had grown a neat beard and had started styling his hair differently, not brushing it at all so that it gave him a wild but intelligent look. He had also found his old spectacles, and he wore them now even though Duke Mephisto had fixed his eyes. It made him look more learned.

“Ah, Dr Faust,” Richard Golson said. “That’s you, isn’t it? You look different.”

“Yes,” said Johann. “I’m aware.”

“I’m so sorry that your building burnt down. Truly. If there’s anything I can do to help you, you need only ask.”

Johann hesitated. “I need connections.”

“Connections of what kind?”

“Connections to criminals. Do you know anyone who needs illicit surgeries performed? Anyone who might need the services of a man who knows all there is to know about medicine?”

Golson shook his head. “No one can know all there is to know about anything.” He sat down at the small table.

“Actually, that’s where you’re wrong. I do know everything there is to know about medicine.” Johann sat down next to him.

“Oh? Well, do you know anything about drowned ghosts, Dr Faust?”

Johann laughed, and remembered how he’d declined to go to the afterlife. “No, I don’t.”

Golson looked disappointed. “What about people who give apocalyptic tidings? People I’ve known from a long time ago, some people who are already dead. They tell me that you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing, and that there’s some kind of god up there that’s sleeping and wants to wake up. They say you’re waking it up.”

A chill went through Johann’s body. Richard Golson didn’t know what he was saying. He couldn’t. This had to be a coincidence. Golson was mad, he had to be, he had to be a madman who had in his madness accidentally made connections that most sane people couldn’t. Johann smiled nervously, and reassured himself that whatever Golson might think, he was wrong, he was stupid, he had no idea what he was talking about. Nothing that Johann did would have lasting consequences for the human race. In fact, it was progress, and progress was always a good thing. “No, Mr Golson, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you feeling alright? You know, if you’re seeing things you should-”

Golson sighed and rubbed his temple. “You know, maybe you’re right.”

There was his chance to get Golson to leave. “As a doctor, I know I am.”

“Alright, thank you. I’m sorry for bothering you, Dr Faust, it looks like you have quite a lot of work to do today.” He took a wad of money out of his pocket and put it on the table. “Here, take this. It’s to find somewhere better to live. I’ll contact you in a few days with news about connections, alright?”

Johann was staring at the money. That was an obscene amount for Golson to be simply carrying around. He managed to tear himself away from looking at it, and look Golson in the eyes. “Yes, that’s alright. Do get some more sleep, Mr Golson, I think it would be beneficial to stop your hallucinations.”

Golson tipped his hat and left through the front door. Johann let out a shaky sigh, and stood up. “Monty.”

Monty bounced out from behind the curtain. “Right here!”

“I’m going to inject myself with something.”

“Oh! Morphine?”

“No, not morphine. It’s… erm… something else.”

“What is it? Can I try it, too?”

Johann paused. Should he let someone else come to the place beyond death with him? Was that a good idea, or a bad one? Monty looked hopeful and excited, and Johann felt a little bad telling him that he wasn’t allowed to try the drug that took him beyond. He sighed, and took out the bottle that held the drug itself. There was probably enough in there for two doses. “Alright, fine.”

“Oh boy! What drug?”

How to answer that question? “Um… it’s something I developed myself.”

“Very well. Hand it over.”

Johann prepared the syringes, and handed one to Monty. He took a moment to unwind the bandages around his arm which didn’t seem to cover any visible wound.

Johann disinfected his arm, and would have done Monty’s as well, had he not shied away from the cloth. He then sat down in a chair at the table and injected himself. Johann closed his eyes, but not before seeing Monty doing the same across the room.

When he opened his eyes he was sitting on a golden throne in a cavernous medieval throne room. The roof was of glass, and the walls of gilded tan stone that were painted with murals of great battles. The wooden floor was carpeted with red silk leading up to the throne. Bells rang a pleasant music, the seat was very comfortable, and the air smelled of rose petals. A heavy crown rested on Johann’s head, and he held a scepter. His throne was on a raised dais with stairs leading up to it, and Monty, dressed as a fool in motley, sat on the steps.

There were mobs of people standing all around the room, from the guards that stood next to the dias, to the courtiers crowded on either side of the carpet, to the servants who scattered rose petals on the floor. Johann shifted in his seat, feeling like something important was about to happen.

Two women blew a pair of trumpets in unison, drowning out all the other commotion with the thunderous noise of their instruments. Monty stood up and danced over to the carpet in front of Johann.

“My good king,” Monty said. “Hark, a visitor at the door, announced by trumpets and fanfare! Do you care to let them in? They come bearing gifts and change!”

“Should I let them in?” Johann asked. “Would that be wise?”
Monty’s smile was more sinister than it should have been. “Why, a man is no one to curse and deny them.”

Well, if they came bringing gifts, that was a good thing, right? An advisor with Leonard’s face tapped his cane. “My good King. Remember when I gave you the throne, and you promised to listen to me? Do not let these visitors in.”

Johann pointed at the man. “You can’t control me now. Off with his head!”
Leonard screamed and struggled as a group of guards pulled him to his knees and took his head off right then and there. His black blood pooled on the ground and soaked through the carpet, but no one seemed to care.

“What kind of methods did he use to get you on the throne?” The question was asked by a child with Richard Golson’s voice. “Perhaps if you don’t know their nature, or the nature of the visitors, don’t let them in.”

“I say go ahead and do it,” said another advisor, with the face of Duke Janson. “Let them in. This power is yours to wield.”

“You monster,” said his daughter, Clarissa Janson. “You can only ever make the situation worse.”

“Quiet, woman,” Duke Janson snarled.

Deirdre walked out of the crowd, Sylvia trailing behind her. “Don’t do it, Johann, please. I know that this is a bad idea because- well, because-” she wrung her hands and disappeared back into the crowd.

Sylvia shrugged and chugged a bottle of laudanum. “Whatever.”

Johann surveyed the crowd, and saw a smirking Jean Gévaudan standing next to an equally smug Albert Janson. Edmond Oberon and Helen Titania glared at him, vines twisting threateningly under their feet. An emotionless little ghost girl he vaguely recognized from a trip to Nantucket many years earlier grinned at him, then up at her fierce, defiant mother. A woman he knew as Camilla Chambers was nodding eagerly for him to let them in. 

It was a hard decision on who to listen to, but eventually Johann stood up and pointed his scepter at the door. “Let the visitors in!”

The doors opened, and the hall instantly became black and white. The throne dias disappeared beneath his feet, and Johann fell backwards into an inky void. He struggled to breathe, clawing at his throat desperately to try to escape the horror he had just willingly let in. It wasn’t his fault, was it? He had been led into it by Leonard and Monty and Camilla, right? Right?

Right?

Johann fell without an answer, and when he looked up he realized he could see stars above him. He reflected on his choices in the past year. He had gambled away his soul, he had reversed death, he had gone beyond and talked to incomprehensible godlike beings… and he had ruined a marvelous dreamland by his own bad decisions. Hopefully this wasn’t a premonition of anything. He wouldn’t make any decision so blatantly bad in real life, would he? He’d be able to see the signs there, right?

There were no answers here. Johann reached up, and realized he could scoop the stars from the sky in the palm of his hand. He smiled. That was some relief, at least, that was some beauty.

And then he was still falling, but this time out of his chair and onto the ground of his basement home, onto the hard packed-dirt floor. Johann hit his nose when he hit the ground, and it started bleeding almost instantly. He pressed a handkerchief to his face and eased his aching body back into his chair. That seemed like it had been a lot less time than before, but when Johann went to the door he saw that it was dark outside. If he had taken the drug at noon, then hours and hours must have slipped through his fingers.

Monty was lying on the floor with his distinctive hat pulled over his face, either still in a trance or fast asleep. Johann went to his workbench and started cleaning his scalpels again. They didn’t need cleaning, but he did it anyway, if only to get his hands moving. He thought about the marvellous court he’d ruined and told himself over and over that it wasn’t really his fault. He’d been pushed into it, he told himself. He hadn’t known the consequences.

There was a knock at the door that startled Johann out of his frantic cleaning. He went to see who it was, and was horrified to see Camilla Chambers.

“Where’s Monty?” She asked.

“Monty?” Johann gestured to where the man was in a heap on the floor. 

Camilla pushed past him, another woman he’d seen but never been introduced to trailing behind her. Granted, he’d only ever met Camilla once, at the dinner where Leonard had challenged Duke Janson, but after the dream he felt like he’d known her his whole life.

Camilla and the other woman pulled Monty to his feet. He groaned, and they shoved him forward so that he had to support himself. 

“Really?” Monty asked. He was standing on his own now, but hunched over significantly, and rubbing his arms like they were sore. “Couldn’t you have waited? Let me sleep just a little little bit more?”

“You’re going to be late to the meeting,” Camilla said.

“I don’t care. Let me sleep.”

“No, you have to come with us. We need you there for support.”

“What would you need me there to support? What can I do?”

“You’re good at public speaking and making things up on the fly. Come on, Monty, we need to get to the meeting or we’ll be late.”

Johann tapped her shoulder. “Excuse me, but what kind of meeting?”

“A meeting of the Faceless.”

Johann had heard that name whispered before in the shadows. It was some kind of society of people who wanted to radically change the world, how, he didn’t know. They were dangerous, he’d heard, and would bring about the downfall of society. Those facts only intrigued Johann more, and made him want to find out more about them, even join them if he could. He nodded excitedly when Camilla mentioned them, and said, “ah, the Faceless. You’re part of this group?”

“Yes…”

“Would you let me come to your meeting? Please? I’ve been so curious for so long.”

Camilla looked at the other woman, who shrugged. She looked back at Johann. “Listen, you come to this meeting, you don’t repeat a word of what you hear there. Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes, I understand.”

“Good.” She hauled Monty out the door, Daisy trailing behind. Johann followed them more slowly, so that he could lock the door behind him. They went down an alleyway, across a street, into another alley, over a wall, out onto another street, down that street, made several more turns, and finally went into a club called The Winded Bird.

The club was dimly lit and smelled of smoke. Johann followed Camilla into a back room, where a group of people were clustered around a large oval table.

Johann was surprised by how many of the people he recognized. There was Jean Gévaudan, and Emma Janson, sitting next to Tate Johnson and Hai Daiyu. There were more people who he didn’t recognize, too, such as a tall African man with sharp, intelligent features and yellow eyes, and a young woman with blonde hair and big, watery blue eyes.

Camilla took her place at the head of the table, with Monty and Daisy on each side of her. Johann sat next to Monty, fascinated and ready for anything.

“People in attendance?” Camilla asked.

Daisy read off a list. “Camilla Chambers, Daisy Pickman, Alice Egerton, Jean Gévaudan, Emma Janson, Tate Johnson, Hai Daiyu, Barrorah, Johann Faust, and Ishmael Carter.”

“My name is Monty, not Ishmael!” Monty shouted.

“It’s for official records,” said Daisy.

“Yeah, a secret anarchist meeting in the back of a club, really official.”

“Ishmael Carter-”

Monty shot out of his chair. “My name is Monty!” 

“God, sorry. Calm down and sit, Monty.”

Monty slowly sank back down into his seat. 

Daisy looked around for any more dissenters, and saw none. “Good, now, can someone tell Faust what we’re doing here? I don’t think he knows.”

Johann was glad they were finally paying attention to him again. “I’m content to sit and watch.”

Daisy ignored him. “This is a meeting of Faceless, the underground society who seek the radical change of society and government at the current day… as well as the return of the Things Without Faces. Do you know what those are, Dr Faust?”

“Not really.” Something in the back of his mind told him that he had met them before, in some place that he had forgotten, but he wasn’t sure how to tell her that without sounding like a lunatic.

Daisy smiled. “Would you like to learn?”

Johann shrugged. What could they teach him that he didn’t already know?

Camilla Chambers grabbed his arm and straightened it out. Daisy approached with a needle. Johann sighed and let her inject him for the second time today. He closed his  eyes and sat back in his chair, waiting to slip away.

“Just relax.” Camilla’s voice sounded distant and hollow. “You’ll see something eventually.”

Johann opened his eyes, despite them still being closed in real life, and saw that he was standing in the middle of a pitch black void. There was something here, something dark that knew his name. He swallowed hard and boldly reached his hand into the void, absolutely sure that nothing could hurt him in this dream. He smiled triumphantly, and held his hand up to see the black gunk dripping off it. Johann flicked his fingers, and some of the stuff splashed into his eyes.

There was no describing what he saw next, and no remembering it. It was gone in an instant, but it was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his life. 

Johann tried to open his real eyes, but found it impossible. He was trapped here, inside his mind or in whatever place he was at the moment. There was no escape until he had learned what they wanted him to.

Notes:

I accidentally published this on Monday because I thought that Monday was Tuesday (it wasn’t, unfortunately). The publication schedule will stay the same.

Deirdre – 2.2.4

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

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

“Who’s that?” Deirdre asked.

“Ishmael Carter,” said Syliva.

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

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

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

“You were?”

“Yeah, I was.”

“Is that where you got the hat?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“Are you wanting to live here with us?”

“Yeah, I am.”

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

“Em, no. I like boys.”

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

“A what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you?” Deirdre asked again.

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

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

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

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

“If you please.”

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

“I have a hammock I can rig up.”

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

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

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

“I can do that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No kidding,” I muttered.

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

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

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

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

She opened the booklet and read the first few paragraphs.

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

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

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

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

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

Emmoly nodded.  “The seventh prince.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Monty?” Deirdre asked.

Monty Carter grinned. “Hullo!”

“Are your legs alright?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I wasn’t sure.”

“We could go see some of my friends.”

“Your friends? How far away are they?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monty straightened his tricorn hat. “Good.”

“Are you doing anything these next few days?”

“Going to a wedding.”

“Oh, who invited you?”

“No one, but I’m going anyway.”

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

“Nothing else to do.”

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

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

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

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

“Why not?”

“Because the whales don’t like me.”

Monty did not elaborate, and Deirdre did not ask.

Notes:

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

Thank you for reading!

Monica 2.1.1

Content warning: The death of a child

She’d always had trouble with her youngest two, especially the girl, Caroline. Addison was easier, because he didn’t yell as much, or say strange things, or seem to act on a different moral compass from everyone else. Addison was a normal, well-adjusted child, as far as Monica knew, but he was often sick, and hardly ever went outside. That wasn’t good, but at least he had Monica’s brother Percy to stay with him and tell him stories. Percy was a walking bundle of issues in most other ways, but at least he made sure Addison was happy.

Caro, on the other hand, had had a completely normal childhood, but was one of the most unhinged people Monica had ever met. She ran feral around the island, causing all sorts of problems and angering all sorts of people, and all attempts to rein her in had been futile. She was only eight years old, too, so there was no telling what she would be like when she was older. 

Well, Caro was allegedly only eight years old. Monica was holding a small portrait of a Mr Percy Carter Sr, with his son James and daughter Caroline, if the back of the frame was to be believed. The man looked like all the other paintings Monica had seen of her grandfather, showing a thin man with a toad’s face who was balding even in his thirties. The boy, James, looked enough like the other paintings and photographs of her father when he was young, illustrating his long face, dramatic widow’s peak, flared black hair, and round glasses even at the age of five and a half. They were both exactly what she’d expected to see from a painting of her grandfather and father.

However, the girl was the spitting image of Caro. She had the same bouncy blonde hair that shouldn’t have appeared in a family of people with black and dark brown hair, the same bright green eyes that sparkled with mischief and knowledge beyond their years, the same nasty grin, and the same chubby, childish arms. 

Monica didn’t know what to make of the painting. Caro wasn’t her child, she was a girl who was somehow connected to the family that had been dumped at her door a few years ago. Monica already had five children, and an enormous house she shared only with them, her husband, Ambrose; and occasionally one sibling or another, so she wasn’t going to turn out a poor girl who needed a home. She’d accepted Caro as her own, and told most of her children that she was a cousin who’d come to live with them permanently. In fact, that was completely false, and Monica had no idea where Caro came from or who she was. She had written to her brother Enoch a few months ago, demanding he find out who this girl was, after a particular incident Caro was implicated in somehow that had involved one boy drowning in the ocean.

Enoch had just arrived on Nantucket Island from Boston yesterday, and he had shown up after breakfast to present Monica with his findings.

Enoch Carter was one of the two middle children of the Carter family. He was tall, with neat gray-brown hair that came to his long, pale face in a widow’s peak. There was an intelligent sparkle in Enoch’s eyes, and a tilt to his mouth that made him always seem like he was about to say something profound. He hardly ever smiled, but when he did it always seemed fake, like he was only smiling because he knew something everyone else didn’t, and that simple fact made him instantly superior. 

Enoch was the one who had handed Monica the portrait, and was the one who was sitting across from her at the table right now, his face unreadable.

“How about that?” Monica asked. “This girl looks exactly like Caro.”

Enoch handed her a birth certificate. “I found this in my attic, in a box of Grandfather’s. I’m sure I went through it when he died, but this must not have seemed important at the time.”

The birth certificate was for one Caroline Carter Warren, who had been born on Nantucket Island in 1806, and whose parents were Elizabeth Warren and ‘blank.’

“The father is almost certainly our grandfather, Percy Carter Sr, or Percy Carter the first, after the birth of our brother dear. I did some more digging, found out where the baby was born, that kind of thing, to back up my hunch, and discovered that Caroline Warren spent a suspicious amount of time here, at our house, with our grandfather. Hence this painting, which was probably painted in honor of her fourth birthday, if the dates match up correctly.” Enoch took out another paper, which was a sketch of Caroline Warren. “Here she is again. This was drawn by our paternal uncle, Joseph, when he was fourteen, which means that Caroline must have been with the family at least until she was five years old. Unfortunately, these dates also validate this, which is from a few months later.” Enoch handed Monica a death certificate and a newspaper clipping. Apparently Caroline Carter Warren had drowned in the harbor at the age of five and a half, having been pulled down by a rope off a whaling ship. Her body had washed up a few days later, and she’d been buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave somewhere on the island by her mother.

“Well, that’s upsetting, but doesn’t tell me anything about my adoptive daughter,” said Monica. “I already know that people go to Heaven or Hell when they die, and I know that outliers are few and far between.”

“I found something else,” Enoch said, “that might prove you wrong. It’s another newspaper.”

He slid it forward, and Monica picked it up to read it. It was from 1857, the year Caro had appeared on Monica’s doorstep. The heading image was a picture of a tree that had randomly uprooted after being struck by lightning in a storm. That was extraordinary enough, but there was also the fact that whoever had discovered it had also found a small skeleton tangled in the roots, where it had evidently laid since burial many years earlier. The article itself mentioned Caroline Carter Warren as a child who had died many years earlier, and entertained the idea that this could possibly be her skeleton. 

“It’s a skeleton,” Monica said. 

“That was torn from the earth by lightning mere days before Caro showed up here. Look, Monica, I’m not asking you to believe that you’ve been housing a ghost… but look at the evidence and tell me you haven’t been housing a ghost.”

Monica sighed. “Alright, I’ll entertain the idea that I’ve accidentally adopted one of the few outliers in the Heaven-Hell system. What do you want me to do about it?”

“Well, keep her here, maybe. She could use a second shot at being a child, don’t you think? She came straight to you, Monica. You should be honored that a dead ghost girl thought immediately to become your daughter.”

She sighed again. “I should try to raise her as correctly as I can, shouldn’t I?”

“Yes,” Enoch said. He was fond of being right. “You should.”

“That’s what I’ll do, then. Are you going to stay on Nantucket for a while, or are you going straight back to Boston?”

“I’ll stick around as long as I can, if that’s not too much trouble. I’d like to look at the bay scallops around here, and document their shells.”

“Very well, would you like to stay at the house, or at a hotel?”

“I’ll stay here, if I can.”

“I gave your room to Thom, but I can have one of the guest rooms made up for you.”

“I thought Addison had my room?”

“No, Addison has Percy’s room.” Monica paused. Percy was a sensitive subject with Enoch especially. “They’re very close. He isn’t here right now, though.”

Enoch huffed. “I can tell.”

One of Monica’s older children, James, came running in. “Addison fell and hurt himself in the yard.”

Monica stood up. “Show me.”

James gave her the full story as he led her outside. “Howard’s there with him, but he’s crying, and I don’t know how bad he’s hurt. He fell out of the tree in the back, and he might have broken his ankle when he landed.”

Enoch had followed them, apparently. “I’m a doctor.”

He was indeed a doctor, and had studied abroad in both France and England, at some of the most pretentious universities in the world. Monica let him follow them into the backyard, where they found the other children standing awkwardly around Howard and Addison.

Howard Carter was a slightly overweight man of average height, with neat black hair, a thin face, round glasses, and bright gray eyes that were permanently shadowed with a lack of sleep. He had a lazy, tired smile, and a slow, thoughtful way of moving that denoted a man who spent a lot of time thinking. 

Howard was a philosopher of sorts, someone who did a lot of thinking and learned a lot about a lot of different subjects so that he could talk about them. He believed in things that you couldn’t feel or see, which put him at constant odds with Enoch. They shouted at each other about what was real and wasn’t real, what was worth studying and what should be ignored. Monica tried to remain neutral, preferring to hear about the mysteries that Enoch wrote on the side to pay the bills, or see the sketches of birds Howard had done. Conflict was a part of life, but these men often took it to an extreme. 

Addison, a small boy with shaggy black hair and round glasses, was laying on the ground clutching his leg. He’d evidently stopped crying, but he still sniffled when Monica crouched down next to him.

“Show me where it hurts,” she said.

Addison half-heartedly lifted his leg, and winced. 

Monica could see that the ankle was twisted, so she picked Addison up and carried him up to his room, which was on the top floor of the house. His room was small but cozy, with a bed, dresser, two stuffed arm chairs under a large window, a desk, and several bookshelves. There were exposed rafters, which he sometimes tried to climb on, to little success. Monica laid Addison down on the bed, and went for the bandages that were kept in the cabinet behind a bathroom mirror. 

Enoch was bent over, holding Addison’s ankle when she returned. Monica crossed her arms. “And what’s your professional opinion on this patient?”

“It’s only a sprain. We’ll elevate his leg, wrap it with bandages, and I’m sure it’ll heal.” Enoch stood up. “He’ll need to stay in bed until it does.”

Addison groaned. “I don’t want to!”

“Too bad. Look, why don’t you read something while you rest? You have so many books.” Enoch picked several books off the bookshelves at random. “The Swiss Family Robinson? Sleepy Hollow? Classic Fairy Tales? A Collection of Stories of the Unknown? That’s an adult book. Why is it here?”

Monica shook her head and took the book from him. “Sometimes Addison takes books from my room to read. You’re too young for this, Addison.”

“But Mama, I want to read it. I can handle it, I swear. I was already reading the first story, and I like it. The ghost boy reminds me greatly of Caro.”

Monica shivered, but quickly composed herself. Enoch shot her a meaningful look, which she ignored for Addison’s benefit. “Alright, but Addison, darling, books like this are usually full of things little boys like yourself are too young for. Not to mention how scary they can be. I know you don’t like being scared.”

“I like being scared!”

“No, you don’t, and I can’t have you crawling into my bed late at night when you have a sprained ankle.” Monica kissed Addison on the temple and handed him his copy of The Swiss Family Robinson. “Here, why not read this instead? I know you love adventure tales.”

Addison grumbled, but he took the book. “Will you buy me a book of whales when you go out? I want to draw them.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, Mama.”

“You’re very welcome. Ring a bell for the servants if you need anything.” Monica led Enoch out of the room, and downstairs. “I’m taking the rest of our siblings, as well as James and Mildred, to see a play tonight. Care to come?”

“No, thank you,” Enoch said. “I’ll stay in to observe the stars from the widow’s watch.”

“Very well, have fun.”

“Thank you, I will.”

Monica went downstairs to her bedroom to get ready for the play. Ambrose, her husband, was away on business at the moment, so she was meeting up with Percy and Angelica on her own. She put on a blue dress, powdered her face, and brushed and did up her long black hair. Monica then left her rooms to go and find the children. James, who shared a room with his brother Joseph, had been in the bath, so he was in his room in front of the mirror, playing with his curly brown hair instead of getting fully dressed. Monica cleared her throat from the hallway, and James smiled guiltily before shutting the door and reaching for his jacket.

Millie was waiting in the front hallway downstairs, making a doll move for a delighted Caro. 

“My name is Catherine,” Millie said, moving the doll like she was talking. “I like to play games? Do you like games?”

Caro giggled. “I like games. Don’t you? Of course you do. Everyone likes games, after all.”

Mille moved the doll closer to her, moving one half of it at the time so that it seemed to be walking. “Let’s play a game, then!” She tossed the doll to Caro, who jumped up and ran off with it.

Monica watched the entire exchange from the stairs. Caro seemed solid and normal enough. She didn’t look like a ghost, but then, ghosts usually looked just like normal people did. They normally had serious trauma, as well, especially attached to the event of their death. She would have to ask Caro some questions later, see if she was afraid of the water. That would help to prove Enoch’s hypothesis either right or wrong. 

James came down the stairs, dressed in a new suit, and hooked his arm around Millie’s. James was fifteen, Millie fourteen, and both of them were tall for their age, with straight black hair, extremely pale skin, and long, bony faces. Millie took after Howard in that she tended towards being more flesh on her bones, whereas James was so stick-thin that it was a little distressing. Millie was beautiful, too, in a way that James, who had a weasel-like face, simply wasn’t.

Monica held open the door for them, and followed the two out to the front of the house, where her siblings were already waiting for them.

First, there was Angelica, Monica’s elder sister. She was short, with long brown hair that was the same shade as Enoch’s, and a face that was an unfortunate echo of their grandfather’s. She wasn’t noticeably fat or thin, though the dress she wore and the light set off her face to look more plump than it actually was. Angelica, despite her constant frown and looks of displeasure, was one of the sweetest, most innocent people Monica had ever known, though some of that innocence had been shattered by the loss of one of her children. 

Monica had lost three children in her long lifetime. She knew exactly how that void you could never fill felt, how it was to bury the children who you had birthed and held and cared for. They were always there at the back of your mind, even on good days, even when you had been living for thousands of years and this was your fifth incarnation. It still hurt, and it hurt like nothing else ever could or would.

The other sibling who was present was her third brother, Percy. He was also remarkably short, with a shock of shaggy black hair, a long, gaunt face, and an uncanny smile that made him always look like he was holding something inside his mouth. Percy had a variety of facial expressions that he would make, but there was never anything behind the eyes. You could always tell that despite the sadness or joy or disgust on his face he didn’t actually feel any of them, except maybe that last one, when staring at a plate of peas. 

Percy was a sensitive subject with their family. He had always been sort of strange, what with the fact that he hardly ever slept, he inhaled new knowledge like a lesser mind might inhale air, he isolated himself on purpose, and he had never seemed to feel much of anything. Monica knew that his hair was gray, too, even if he was only twenty-three, and that he colored it to fit in better. There was always just something fundamentally wrong about Percy, something that made her skin crawl and made her want him gone, even if he was her brother and she did love him. Sort of. He had run off to college in Europe on a scholarship after a childhood that was eventful in all the wrong ways, and promptly dropped out to do as he pleased with his friends, including a girl Monica had known when she was a girl named Camilla Chambers. After that Percy had seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth for a little while, only to come back without a trade but with a lot of experience that he shouldn’t have had, and no intention of changing any of that any time soon. Their father resented him for the wasted opportunity, and though Monica knew a man judging another man was wrong, she sympathized.

Percy smiled at Monica as she came out, and took her hand to help her down the stairs. “Did I hear that someone was hurt earlier today?”

“Addison,” Monica said. “He fell out of a tree and broke his ankle.”

“Oh no! Well, I’ll send a book to your home to speed his recovery. He likes whales, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he requested a book of whale drawings just today.”

“Good, that’s what I’ll send him.” Percy hooked his arm around Monica’s, and walked by her side down the street, the two of them leading the small group.

A short man and a tall woman, the man with darkish skin and curly black hair, and the woman with long blonde hair and pale skin, were running down the street towards Monica’s group. They came to a stop in front of them.

“Excuse me,” the woman said. Her accent was Scottish. “Can you show me how to get to this address?” She showed Monica a paper that had Monica’s own address written on it.

“Um…”

Percy intervened. “Just keep walking straight. You’re almost there.”

The woman saluted her, and she and the man resumed their run. Both of them were dressed like they ought to have been in the French Revolution rather than Nantucket in the year 1860, and had strange, fey looks about their faces. 

“What a strange couple,” Monica said.

Part two prologue

Content warning: This chapter features a lot of drug use.

Sylvia Sapping laid down in the padded compartment. She had a pipe and a pill of opium, which she lit off a match the young man next to her held. He smiled and lit his own pipe, then put the match out on the pad Sylvia lay on. This young man wasn’t a faerie, demon, angel, or werewolf, so he would get intoxicated quickly, and sober slowly. Sylvia couldn’t do that. Her faerie blood prevented her from getting intoxicated for the most part – after one had been to Faerie itself, nothing seemed mind-altering anymore.

The young man smiled and drew in smoke from his pipe. “What was your name, again?”

“Sylvie.”

“Oh. French?”

“Yeah, and faerie.”

The young man smiled. He probably thought it was a joke.

“You?” Sylvia asked.

“Monty.”

“You have an accent. American?”

“Yeah, and monster from beyond the void.”

Sylvia hoped he was kidding, but wouldn’t have been surprised if he wasn’t.

“You ever feel like your brain just jumps from really happy to really sad at random moments? You’ll be depressed for the longest time and then all of the sudden the complete opposite.”

“Yeah.”

“Absolutely hate that.”

“It’s not fun.”

Neither of them said anything for the longest time, or what the longest time felt like on opium, before Monty opened his mouth again.

“My real name’s Ishmael Samuel Carter.”

“I’m Sylvia Marie Sapping.”

“I hate working.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“I know a lot about whales.”

“Oh?”

“They’re fish.”

“Nice.”

“I think I’m attracted to men.”

“That’s nice.”

“Are you?”

“I don’t have time for being attracted to anything but opium and working.”

“Yeah, I hate working.”

“You already said that.”

“I’ll say it again.”

Sylvia’s mind was beginning to feel clouded, but not as much as she wanted. She thought about also getting out the bottle of laudanum she had in her pocket, when the door burst open and three beefy sailors came in. They stumbled over a prone form, which got a groan from the unfortunate fellow. The first sailor, a tall fellow with dark skin and a thin face, hauled Monty to his feet and physically dragged him out of the opium den. The other two, a blonde with a broad face and a redhead who looked like a weasel, followed behind him.

Sylvia stretched her arms. She could do with some entertainment. She stood up and followed the sailors outside. 

Monty was in a bad scrape. The redhead was holding him against the wall, with a revolver pressed against his head. The blonde was busy rifling through Monty’s pockets, probably looking for money.

Sylvia pretended to walk past them idly so that she could get to the other side without seeming weird.

All three men stopped to stare at her. Sylvia nodded to them. “Gentlemen.”

“Do you know this harpooner?” the tall one asked.

Sylvia shrugged. “Why?”

“He’s in a lot of debt.”

“How much?”

“Forty-five thousand dollars.”

“Speak English.”

“Maybe somewhere around thirty thousand pounds.”

“Holy Debt, Monty.”

The tall sailor looked sharply at Monty. “Hold it just a moment. What’s your name?”

“Montgomery Starbuck.”

The sailors looked at each other, and slowly, the redhead let go of Monty.

The tall one looked him in the eyes. “You’re not Ishmael Carter?”

“What? No, I’ve never met him.”

“And you aren’t a harpooner.”

“No, I’m a sailor on a merchant ship who’s on shore leave.”

“And an opium addict.”

“Yeah, that too, I guess.”

“Ishmael Carter wasn’t an opium addict,” the redhead said.

“No, he wasn’t.” The tall sailor slapped Monty on the back. “Hey, sorry about that. You see anyone who looks like you, tell us because that’s Ishmael Carter. We’re on the ship Black Galley, got it? It’s a big whaling ship from Nantucket. Can’t miss it. Oh, and here, take this for another pipe of opium.” The tall whaler threw a fistful of money on the ground in front of him.

Monty nodded eagerly and grinned at him. “Thank you.”

The three whalers headed off down the street. Monty knelt down and started collecting the coins, while Sylvia stood and watched him.

“You can have some of this,” he said. “You saved my hide.”

“Did I?”

“If you hadn’t called me Monty, they never would have believed me.”

“But you were lying.”

“Yeah.”

“How’d you get into that much debt?”

“Boy, I don’t even know.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Forty thousand dollars is a lot of money.”

“Oh, tell me about it.”

“You’ll never be able to pay that off.”

“Why else would I be asking everyone to call me by a nickname?”

“Seriously?”

“What else would I do?”

“Get a job?”

“Ugh.”

Sylvia couldn’t argue that working held no appeal at all. “You could maybe work for Johann.”

“Who?”

“Dr Faust. He does backalley doctor things like not delivering babies and getting buildings burned down, but he also gets paid, he has a wealthy patron, and also I’ve seen him doing drugs as part of his job.”

“Oh, that sounds good. He wouldn’t be averse to someone with a lot of debt, would he?” Monty picked up the final few coins and jingled them inside his hand.

“Nah.”

“Will you show me to his home?”

“Yeah, I can do that, but…”

“What?”

“Opium.”

“Oh.” Monty looked over to where the sun was sinking fast. “Dangerous to be out here at night.”

“You buy me laudanum and I’ll sleep at your place, so that I don’t forget about you come morning.”

“A job for a single bottle of laudanum?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s a deal.”

They shook hands, and walked until they found a drug store. Monty bought several bottles of laudanum, and Sylvia followed him home to a tiny closet-like room where the only furniture was a sofa and a flimsy table at its side. Monty sat down on the sofa, wrapped a ratty blanket around himself, and took a long drink from his bottle of laudanum.

Sylvia sat down next to him, and let him wrap part of the blanket over her. They laid down with their heads on opposite sides of the sofa, so that their legs were entangled but their upper bodies didn’t touch. Sylvia wasn’t sure how much laudanum she drank, but it was enough that when she finally closed her eyes to sleep, long after Monty had passed out into a drug-induced stupor, she immediately descended into a vivid opium dream.

She stood in a featureless desert of roiling sand dunes. In front of her was a strange monster she had seen in several of her dreams, dubbed a sandstriker. They looked a bit like giant lobsters, but were the color of the sand they lived in, and had a huge mouth of sharp, gnashing teeth. Sylvia knew from experimentation that almost nothing could defeat them, except a well-placed sword or spear thrust to the back of the head.

Well, she wasn’t very good with a sword or a spear. Coming into contact with a sandstriker was enough to have her shaking in her boots, especially since she’d already died gruesome deaths in multiple opium dreams of the same kind.

Sylvia turned and ran. The monster roared and struck at her with its pincers, grazing her back. Sylvia kept running, thankful that she wore a shirt.

Angry that it had been thwarted, the monster went after her, showing that it could run at surprising speeds. The sandstriker pinced, only to be met by Sylvia’s waiting sword. It howled in pain as Sylvia ran up its arm and stuck her blade into its left eye.

Sylvia ran after that, fast enough in the dream that the monster couldn’t catch her. When it was out of sight, she laid down and fell fast asleep.

When she woke up she walked along a trade route to an oasis, where everyone was welcome. It was against desert law to deny someone water when they did not have any, and Sylvia didn’t have anything of the sort, as far as she knew.

Still, many people in positions of power chose to bypass that law, and you sometimes had to mention it to them to jog their memory. Of course, only an idiot would deny Sylvia, the goddess of this universe, water, so she strode openly into the oasis.

The oasis was like a little city. It had palm trees that hugged close to the water, and grass that grew a little further out. There were many pools of water, some clear and blue, and some brown and dirty from people bathing in it. Lots of traders were set up there, ready to sell travelers anything they had conveniently forgotten. Merchants sat in the cool shade of the trees, or their tents, having low conversations with their neighbors. 

Sylvia went immediately to the nearest pool, and dipped her canteen into it. She took a long drink, then topped the waterskin up and got to her feet.

She casually surveyed her surroundings, seeking the person she needed. There was nothing to fear here, because in this wonderful fantasy Sylvia had created she was the goddess and nothing bad ever happened to her. It was a subconscious world of adventure that she frequently visited when she dreamed, though it had been a while since her last visit. Sylvia took a deep breath of the desert air and continued her search for Akaj, the nomad who could sharpen her sword. After the fight with the sandstriker, she knew this was a necessity and had to be addressed immediately.  

Akaj was the finest weapons master in the Realm of Araria, and having made Sylvia’s sword, he would know how to make it so razor sharp it would cut through just about anything. If only she could have a sword like that in real life!

Akaj was over in the corner, talking with a stranger. Sylvia sidled over to join them.

The stranger had straight brown hair, and skin tanned from constant exposure to the sun. He wore a simple brown shirt and white baggy pants, and looked to be about twenty five. He spoke with Akaj in a low, secretive tone.

As Sylvia got closer, she could hear small snippets of the conversation.

“… bandits again, I believe,” the newcomer was saying. “If they attack one more caravan… I will tear their heads from their… ” Suddenly he noticed Sylvia.

Akaj grinned, teeth contrasting against his tanned skin. “If it isn’t Sylvia Sapping! Need another sword sharpening?”

Sylvia smiled. “Why, yes, I do. Got in a… well, I wouldn’t call it a fight exactly, but a… spat, with a sandstriker.” 

The newcomer’s mouth fell open. “You did what?” 

“I fought a sandstriker.”

Akaj pointed to the newcomer. “This is Mikal, commander of a battalion that protects caravans from danger.”

Sylvia flashed a grin. “Sylvia Sapping.”

Mikal nodded. “Bandits have been attacking caravans left, right, and center. I can’t keep track of how many have died at the hands of these murderers.”

A smile worked its way onto Sylvia’s lips, and she forgot all about getting her sword sharpened. 

“I’ll take them,” she said.

Mikal stared at her.

“You don’t think I can do it, do you?” Sylvia asked.

Mikal shook his head slowly. “How old did you say you were?” 

“I didn’t, but I’m twenty.”

Mikal laughed. “Do you honestly think you can do what the guards of twelve caravans couldn’t?” 

Sylvia grinned. “Totally.”

Akaj smiled. “Mikal, I do not doubt that Sylvia can, indeed, defeat those bandits. No problem. You should consider at least letting her try. Now, Sylvia, how about that sword sharpening?”

Sylvia nodded, and handed her sword to Akaj, who took it into his tent and began to use his sword sharpening machine.

Mikal turned to Sylvia and said, “Will you really do it?” 

“Yes, I will.”

Mikal looked like a tremendous burden had been lifted from his shoulders. “Thank you.”

Soon, Akaj returned and presented Sylvia with her razor sharp sword. She took it, gave Mikal a grin that made him hope he was never on the wrong end of her weapon, and said “Can you lead me to the place where the bandits are attacking?”

Mikal shook his head. “You really think you can defeat them, don’t you? Well, there’s nothing wrong with confidence.”

Sylvia was next awoken rudely in the middle of the night to the uncomfortable reality of October in London in the year 1860, which was not the warm, arid paradise of the invented fantasy world of Araria. She shivered violently and clutched at her blanket, angry that Monty had the audacity to use even some of it. 

Sylvia groped for her bottle of laudanum. Blessedly, there was some left for her to drink, and that made her a little warmer. She curled into a ball, and stared at the door, which was slightly ajar. Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep. 

The door creaked open more. A pale hand with fingers of all the same length curled around the inside of the knob. Sylvia rocked back and forth. Go to sleep, dammit! Sleep!

Something was breathing down Sylvia’s neck. A sob shook her. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

Nothing worked, so Sylvia screamed her lungs out into the fabric of Monty’s sofa. Fingertips brushed the back of her neck and she heard ragged breathing right next to her ear. She remembered that her father had once said to face her fears whenever they came, so Sylvia turned over and opened her eyes.

Monty was bending over her from the side of the bed. “Hey, are you alright?”

“What?” Sylvia asked.

“You were screaming like mad.”

“Oh. Sorry.” 

“Yeah, you woke me up. I was having such a nice dream…”

Sylvia huddled down into the sofa. “Sorry.”

“S’fine.” Monty laid back down, flipped over, and put a distinctive tricorn hat he had with him over his face. He was out cold in seconds, and Sylvia was left lying in the dark pondering a question that paralyzed her. The desert had been a dream, of course, but if she’d really been screaming, had the part after it been waking or nightmare?

Notes:

Welcome to part two! If you didn’t know, the epilogue of part 1, which was mostly wrapping up loose threads such as the fate of Ransom and Mark’s siblings, was published last Saturday. There’s also a new chapter index with both parts one and two, and since the ‘Dominic’ prologue is now the prologue for the whole series, a new prologue for part one that details police captain Gabriel finding Dominic’s body is coming out this Saturday.

Also, if anyone reading this story has any favorite mythological creatures who they would like to see feature as characters, leave a comment and I’ll incorporate them.

Thank you for reading!

Letters

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

Dear friend, Duke Leonard Mephisto,

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

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

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

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

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

Regards, 

Duchess Lavinia Allocer

Dear friend, Duchess Lavinia Allocer,

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

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

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

Yours truly,

Duke Leonard Mephisto

Dear friend, Duke Leonard Mephisto,

Please stop ending your letters with ‘yours truly.’

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

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

Regards,

Duchess Lavinia Allocer

Dear friend, Duchess Lavinia Allocer,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly, 

Duke Leonard Mephisto

Dear friend, Duke Leonard Mephisto,

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

Regards,

Duchess Lavinia Allocer

Epilogue – 1.21

Content warning: This chapter continues the death and destruction of the previous one.

Puck followed Oberon dutifully to the site of the fire. He had first heard about it in the papers, under the headline of Fire on Temptation Street! Cause unknown!, but Oberon had heard about it through the death of his loyal manservant.

He told Puck as much as they walked to the ashy remains of the apartment building.

“His name was Mark Murphy,” Oberon said. “He lived on the uppermost floor with his family, and he died of smoke inhalation.”

“Last Saturday?” Puck asked. 

“That was the time of the fire.”

“Did anyone survive the fire?”

“Of Mark’s family, two younger brothers did, his niece, and his brother-in-law. The niece and brother-in-law are in Faerie right now, where I suspect they’ll stay. Maybe the brother-in-law will even remarry, who knows? I sent the older brother off to a boarding school that Rowland’s been going to for the time being, and the younger one’s at my house in the city with Gloriana. I don’t know what will become of him. I think perhaps I might adopt him like I did with Rowland, but I’m not sure.” Oberon paused. “The rest of his family’s dead or dying. His youngest sister, Martha, she’s holding on the strongest, but something’s infected. I could tell when I went to visit her in the hospital the other day. I paid for the funeral costs of the others, and I’ll pay for Martha’s when she does die.”

Puck was silent. Death and mortality had always fascinated him, being things that he could not and would not ever experience. What was it like to die, to pass beyond this realm and into the afterlife? What was the afterlife like? He’d debated it with Oberon many times, but he didn’t think this was the right time to bring up their shared fascination with death. His lord seemed particularly affected by this death. Instead, he said, “Is there anyone else there we should care about?”

“Duke Mephisto’s side project was caught in the fire, but he survived, along with his girlfriend and her two friends. Johann Faust, remember? He didn’t suffer any wounds, apparently.”

“Anyone we should care about?”

“They caught the one who did it. Some kid. He was mad about something, he said, or something like that. His two little siblings survived, and I need you to go find them, too, so that I can take care of them. I talked to Faust and he said it was them who Mark died trying to save. I’m not letting that sacrifice be in vain.”

“Now?” Puck asked.

Oberon shrugged. “If you can. I just want to see the wreckage. Thought it might be interesting. Mortals are doomed to die, I suppose. Anyway. Off with you! Go find the Egertons!”

“And what are their names?” 

“David and Elizabeth. Davey and Eliza, or maybe Davey and Betsy. They’ll have blonde hair. Remember that boy in the paper who did the burning? They’ll look like him.”

Puck was dressed in a full human suit, which meant that he had a hat to tip at Oberon before he ran off. He refused to wear shoes even in the human realm, but otherwise he had pants, a shirt, a waistcoat, a coat, the works. His messy auburn hair was hidden under his hat, and he wore gloves to cover the various scars and cuts on his hands. All in all, Puck thought he looked like quite the gentleman. 

He ran along the side of the street, looking at the urchins and beggars that waited there to see if he could spot two Egertons. There were plenty of blonde people, plenty of children, and plenty of couples, but no one that he thought looked like the boy from the papers, Ransom Egerton

Puck stopped and tapped a wayward brown-haired child on the shoulder. When the boy turned around, he saw that there was a distinctly fae look in his eye.

“What’s your name?” Puck asked.

“Brownie,” the child said.

“Have you perchance seen a brother and sister with blonde hair that look like the arsonist from the papers? You know, Ransom Egerton, the boy who burnt down that building on Temptation and broke his leg jumping out a window to escape the fire.”

Brownie shrugged. “Not really. Names?”

“David and Elizabeth. Davey and Eliza, or Davey and Betsy.”

“How old?”

“Younger than fourteen, older than eight.”

“Pretty big window there. Yeah, I’ve seen a lotta kids like that. Maybe try-” Brownie paused. “Ransom Egerton might have been called Nuck on the street. I know where a criminal named Nuck that matches what Mr Mephisto showed me used to stash his money. C’mon, I’ll take you there, they might have gone that way.”

Puck followed the boy down several backroads and alleys, passing all sorts of people along their way. At last, they arrived at an alley with a tall iron fence at its back. A woman sat at the mouth, holding a baby and a begging cup.

Puck handed her a faerie flower that he’d stuck in his hat, which would bring her luck and charisma. He regretted not having brought any money. 

At the end of the alley, sitting against the fence, were two small blonde children, counting money they had in a bag.

When Puck approached, the boy clumsily picked up a pistol and held it up. “Better not come no more closer, mister.” 

“Are you David Egerton?” Puck asked. He saw now that it was a boy and a girl, sitting by a pile of random things and several bags of money. Hopefully there were the children he was looking for.

“Davey,” the boy said. “Rans- Nuck’s brother.”

“Need a better nickname,” Brownie said.

Puck pointed to the girl beside Davey. “Your sister? Eliza? Betsy?”

Libbie.” Davey straightened his shoulders. “Only Da called her Eliza.”

“I didn’t like it,” Libbie Egerton said. “Not at all. You aren’t taking us back to him, are you? To Da and to- to Ransom?”

“No,” Puck said. “I’m taking you to live with my employer. He’s a nice man, you’ll see, he’ll take care of you.”

“That’s what Ransom said he’d do, too,” Libbie said. “After Mumma died.”

“And did he?” 

“The opposite. He tried to kill us. What will your employer do for us?”

“Well, I suspect Davey will go off to a fancy boarding school with Rowland – Oberon’s adopted son – and Morgan Murphy. Oberon doesn’t like having little boys as his servants. You’ll be given the education of a high-class young lady at home. How would you like to be educated by a queen?”

Libbie screwed her face up in confusion. “Queen Victoria?”

Puck laughed. “Not quite.”

“A foreign queen? Isn’t that treason?”

“Not really. You don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to, but once you meet her I suspect you will. They can hire someone else.”

“Will you keep us safe?” Davey asked. “Really safe? No horrible brothers, no thieves, plenty of food, and doctors?”

“Of course,” Puck said. 

Davey jumped up, and Puck noticed how ragged his clothes were. “I’ll come, sir!”

Libbie got to her feet more slowly, nodding quickly. “Yes, yes, oh, yes!”

“Go wait for me at the end of the alley.”

They ran off, and Puck turned to Brownie. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Can I keep this stuff they left behind, maybe? As payment, ya know?”

Puck pulled another flower out of his pocket and handed it to him. “Take this, too. For good luck.”

Brownie tucked it behind his ear. “Thanks!”

Puck walked to the end of the alley and led the children back through the winding streets, until they found Oberon sitting at a table in a restaurant. 

“I found the children,” Puck said.

“Very good,” said Oberon, sipping his tea. “I’ll have need of you in the next few weeks, Puck.”

Puck sat down at the table across from him. “Why?”

“Well, for one thing, I’m taking Clara to Nantucket Island.” 

“Hmm.” Puck took a drink of sweet faerie wine from his flask. “Well, I’ve always wanted to see New England sober.”

Notes:

And that’s a wrap! Thank you all for reading, and I hope that you’ll stick around to read the next part, the first chapter of which will be released on Monday. Since this new part will come with a few new characters, if any readers have any favorite mythological creatures they would like to see make an appearance in this story, leave a comment with the name and I’ll incorporate them in some way. If you’re confused about why I’m talking about mythical creatures, check out the ‘sources’ page for a full explanation.

Today I also released an ‘extra content’ page, which is mostly for a series of short stories I wrote, but has a few other things on there, too. The short stories haven’t been released yet, but there is one thing already there.

Thank you for reading!