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Chapter Five: Story Fifteen

Suddenly all the room was to its feet, save Eudora and Gideon, who hastily rose so as not to be conspicuous.

“Remain calm!” Basil shouted. “Everyone remain calm!”

“What shall we do?” asked Oliver.

“We must seek shelter,” Basil ordered.

“I agree,” said Roland. “Mr. Pardekopper, show us to your cellar. Everyone, line up at the door, single file. No trampling your neighbors. Move it!”

Eudora looked around warily as the others in the room scurried to comply with Roland’s orders. She felt Gideon’s hand tap her shoulder and allowed him to herd her into the line while she looked about for any evidence of impact. Nothing had changed in the room except the seats being abandoned as everyone took to the door. Scattered nervous exchanges overlapped one another, but flittered away as single file wasn’t conducive to conversation.

I am ready for you this time, Eudora thought, clutching her reticule. Its weight was comforting in her hands as she thought of Mary’s “first mission gift” within the silken pouch.

They shuffled out of the room in a line as Roland brought up the rear, directly behind Gideon and Eudora. Gideon slowed his pace just enough to find himself closer to side-by-side with the surly man than directly in front of him.

I don’t like how he’s controlling things either, Eudora thought. We need to investigate somehow. They filed down the hall, through the kitchens, and down a narrow stairway into the cellar.

As soon as they arrived, Aaron spoke up. “The alarm’s stopped.”

“Does that mean the danger has passed?” asked Finnegan.

“It may simply mean we’re out of range,” Basil said almost indignantly.

“We need to judge that for ourselves,” Aaron replied.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Gideon chimed in. “I shall scout the area myself. Darling, stay here where you’ll be safe,” he added, this last directed to Eudora.

“You shouldn’t go until the danger has passed,” Basil whined.

“You should take the device to protect you,” Eudora said, with as much anxiety as she could project into her voice. “I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you, my dearest.”

Gideon turned to Roland. “If I may?”

“What will warn those of us tra—those of us remaining here?” Oliver asked, his voice quivering.

“I won’t be gone long,” Gideon said. “We must know if we’re safe again.”

“The man has a point,” Aaron said. “Give him the device.”

Roland shrugged, unbuckled the device from his wrist, and thrust it at Gideon. Gideon began to apply it to his arm, and Eudora took the chance to come forward and assist him.

She looked it over. It doesn’t look any less like a watch here than it does from across the parlour, she thought. Gideon caught her eye and discreetly mouthed the words: Don’t wait up, dear.

I won’t, Eudora thought, surprised that a hint of amusement made its way through her determination.

Gideon left the cellar to search for invisible monsters.

 

Chapter Five: Story Fourteen

“If you’ll all kindly take your seats,” Oliver Pardekopper announced, “Mr. Higginsworth is nearly prepared to make his demonstration.”

The assorted guests in his parlour, including Eudora and Gideon, made their way to the chairs and sofas that were arranged in a semi-circle, allowing for a staging area for the demonstration.

Eudora took note of the assembly. There was the blunt man she had encountered in the hallway, sitting next to another, who must have been his counterpart in the earlier discussion. Across the semicircle from them sat Finnegan, Aaron, and a third man in a blue waistcoat. She hadn’t have much opportunity to assess their particular interest, but from what she’d heard so far it seemed to primarily consist of a desire for profit.

Just then, she noticed a man glaring at Gideon from her left. She herself was seated to Gideon’s left in this rather informal arrangement of persons, and he seemed to be attempting to bore his eyes directly through her so as to better access him. Gideon, for his part, was staunchly ignoring the man, looking directly ahead or to his right, and avoiding the grey-eyed stare entirely. Eudora noticed the man’s attire was even more formal than that of the other attendees to the demonstration, almost to the point of being out of place, but impeccably tailored and arranged. A very precise sort of man, then, she mused to herself. I wonder what Gideon has done to earn his glare? Unless they’ve met before?

Finally, a tottering old man made his way into the room, wearing clothes a size or two too large, and carrying a box that was clearly a bit much for him. Oliver moved to assist, and while the short, bent man would not yield his precious cargo, he did permit Oliver to grasp it from the bottom, and thereby boost it somewhat. Thus, walking backwards, Oliver dragged the box and the man attached to it up to a side table that had been placed in the center of the room for this purpose.

“Gentlemen, and um, lady,” Oliver said, acknowledging Eudora with another blush, “thank you for joining us tonight. It is my pleasure to introduce to you the distinguished inventor, Basil Higginsworth. He can speak far more knowledgeably on his creation than I ever could, so without further ado, I shall leave that to him.”

The assembly applauded politely.

“Thank you,” Basil said in a loud, abrupt, and nasal voice. “What I have here in this box will change the future. Imagine! A future safe from invisible attacks. Friends and family alike warned far in advance to seek shelter. You don’t have to imagine it. The future is here!”

Basil unbuckled latches at strategic points about the box and flipped back the lid. The sides fell to reveal what looked for all intents and purposes like an oversized table clock attached to two wide leather straps, with an unreasonable array of dials and gears protruding from it at all angles.

“I will now require a volunteer,” Basil announced solemnly. “A brave man of good character. Come now, who will volunteer?”

“I will,” said the surly man from upstairs, coming forward.

“Excellent, most excellent. And your name, good sir?”

“Roland Ives.”

“A pleasure, Mr. Ives. Please hold out your arm, sir, and I shall fit the device upon you.”

Roland held his left arm out and waited. Eudora tried to gauge his interest. He had an almost perpetual angry look on his face. It’s habitual, rather than fueled by passion, Eudora thought.

Basil began fastening the leather straps by means of buckles. “Now as you can see, this device has brought both form and function to new heights.” He fidgeted with a strap as the heavy clockface pulled the device this way and that about Roland’s wrist until finally Roland stuck out a meaty hand and slammed down upon the device to hold it still.

“Careful now, careful…that’s the latest piece of progress you bear upon your arm sir…now tell me, isn’t it quite stylish and yet comfortable?”

Roland stood waiting and arched a brow at Basil, unimpressed.

“As you can clearly see,” Basil began again, undaunted, “this device combines the best of form and function, fashion and usefulness, into one streamlined tool of the future!” He finished fastening the device upon Roland’s arm.

“There you are now. Show everyone how lovely it looks. Would you say, then, that it is a good fit?”

Basil paused, and it became something of a mental showdown. Finally, Roland shrugged his shoulders. “It’s fine.”

“Indubitably it is, my friend, quite fine workmanship,” Basil said, clapping him upon the shoulder. “Now, allow me to illuminate for those assembled the myriad benefits of this device. As you all know, the threat that has plagued our fine country these past years has been an invisible threat—undetectable and unstoppable. It may shock the tender sensibilities of some members of our audience”—and here he paused for too long, looking at Eudora—but there have even been fatalities as a result of this frightening series of events. You may have thought that there was no way to fight back. You may have thought that you and your family could not evade these incidents. But I’m here to tell you that there is a way!” He beat his chest proudly and stomped his foot to emphasize this high point in his speech.

Has he any concept, whatsoever, of how ridiculous he is making himself? Eudora wondered, her face a mask of impassivity while she laughed internally.

“This system, my invention, is one of subtle ingenuity, that will allow you, the user, a distinct advantage over this invisible threat: that of advance warning!” he continued, his voice rising as his presentation became more impassioned. “How can you flee a threat you cannot see? Only with a device that can alert you to the problem, before you encounter it! Simply wear this device at all times, and you will find yourself prepared! Forewarned is forearmed!” He threw his arms out and stomped again, waiting in that pose until the audience belatedly realized he was seeking applause, and complied, albeit with some reserve.

“Now then!” the man said, pleased that he had obtained a response, “Which of you would like me to answer his question first? Or hers?” he added, leaning towards Eudora in a most exaggerated fashion.

“I have a question,” said Aaron from across the room. “What does your device actually do?”

“Why, it warns you, my good man. Whenever an invisible threat is in range, the alarm sounds, providing you with ample time to escape.”

“In range?” said the man who had been glaring at Gideon. “At what range can this device detect a threat?”

“Well, that uh, that hasn’t been precisely determined yet…more tests are needed, you understand,” Basil began. “But I promise you that, given the right funding, such tests could be conducted!”

“How do you propose to do that?” the man asked, pressing on.

“Well, you see, we would have to—” At that moment, a bell within the device chirped out five times.

“Oh heavens,” Basil said. “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm, and take shelter immediately. The device has just detected a threat!”

 

Chapter Five: Story Thirteen

Oliver Pardekopper prepared to escort Eudora and Gideon—as Mr. and Mrs. Elric Wilson—around the lavish, nautical-themed parlour. But before he could do so, a footman entered the room.

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Pardekopper, but more guests have arrived. Mr. Greer and Mr. Huxous are here.”

“Very good. If you two will be so kind as to excuse me for one moment?” Oliver said to Gideon and Eudora.

“Quite alright. I’m sure Mary and I can mingle just fine until your return,” Gideon said graciously.

“Thank you. Duty calls!” Oliver said, leaving the room with his footman.

“Fancy a drink?” Gideon said, turning to Eudora.

“Yes, thank you.” Eudora replied. As Gideon left to fetch her a cup of punch, she turned and scanned the room. Various potential investors were strewn about, having conversations in groups of two and three. Before she could pick out much about them, however, she was approached by a short, stout man with yellowing hair.

“I say, ma’am, have you a younger brother?” he said to her.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” Eudora asked. “Have we met before?” she went on, knowing they had not.

The man turned around and gestured to a taller, younger companion in a red vest. “Come here. I tell you, she’s the sister!”

“Why are you hassling that poor woman, Finnegan? Haven’t you caused enough trouble for one day?”

“Sorry, miss,” Finnegan said, turning back to Eudora. “This must come as quite a surprise to you, but I’ve met your younger brother today. A little boy by the name of Edward Wright.”

“What’s all this then?” Gideon said, returning and handing Eudora a cup of punch. She used the moment to regain her composure, unsettled by the mention of her brother’s name.

“We found a boy this morning when we came in on the train. He’d been wandering all about the station looking for his sister. Name of Edward Wright.”

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, sir,” Gideon said. “My wife hasn’t any younger brothers. She’s the youngest of her family.”

“I could have sworn you were the one in the picture,” Finnegan said. “Aaron, doesn’t she look just like the girl in the picture?”

“I think you’ve lost your wits trying to help that boy. Besides, we returned him home safely. Surely he’s found his sister by now,” Aaron said.

Eudora took in all the details, reeling. Her brother, wandering a train station, showing her picture to strangers. What happened? Why on earth would Mother allow him out? Unless—has something happened? Are the children alone? She pushed away the cold lump of worry in her chest only to have it settle in her stomach.

“How curious,” Eudora said, affecting an air of casual interest. “You say you found this boy at the train station and reunited him with his family? I’m sure his mother was happy to see him.”

“Oh, heavens, she was beside herself with tears of joy and frustration,” Finnegan said. “Quite a sight to see.”

Eudora breathed a quiet sigh of relief, and felt Gideon’s fingertips rest gently on her wrist, in a subtle gesture of comfort.

“That’s a good deed done, then,” Gideon said. “It’s always a pleasure to meet someone who does the right thing. I’m Elric Wilson, and this is my wife, Mary.”

“I’m Finnegan Blatsley, sir, a pleasure, a pleasure,” Finnegan said, first shaking Gideon’s hand, then taking Eudora’s free hand in his own and kissing its gloved back.

“A pleasure to meet you,” Eudora said. “And you, Mister…?” she asked of his companion.

“Aaron Myers,” he said, politely kissing her hand, and then shaking Gideon’s.

“If you gentlemen will excuse my wife and I, Mr. Pardekopper said he wished to make us another introduction,” Gideon lied smoothly. The men nodded and moved on as Gideon put an arm around Eudora’s shoulders and escorted her out of the room. He turned into a nearby sitting room and strolled up to the bookcases as if they might inspect the titles together.

“Can you manage?” Gideon asked, pitching his voice very low, and not turning his head from the books.

“Yes. I was just startled a moment, when he said his name.”

“They said they took him home again. I’m certain he’s fine,” Gideon said, sympathy in his voice.

“Thank you. For covering for me.”

“I rather expect you’ll have opportunities to return the favor. It’s the nature of this business.”

“Quite.”

“Shall we return?” he asked.

“A few more moments, to give our story credence. The ones upstairs were discussing something about the demonstration and its object increasing their numbers of supporters, whether it functions or not.”

“Interesting. You didn’t hear what it was they hoped to have supported?”

“No. One of them heard me in the hallway and poked his head out. Rude fellow, gruff, very tall, grey about the temples. He seemed to be in charge, of whatever it was.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” Gideon said. “Anything else?”

“Not yet. Alright, are you ready?”

“Yes. Let’s head back in.” Suddenly, Gideon pulled Eudora to him and kissed her full on the lips. Eudora froze in shock, hearing footsteps behind them as someone started to enter the room and thought better of it. It wasn’t her first kiss—she had shared a few with her suitors after her debut ball—but it certainly wasn’t a common event.

Gideon released her and whispered, “I’m sorry. Someone was coming and it was the best excuse I could think of for wandering the house without permission.”

“Right then. I mean, it’s alright. I mean, let us return before we’re missed,” Eudora said, unsure which of the events in question that evening had startled her most.

 

Chapter Five: Story Tweleve

Mary entered the common study to find Albert absently gazing at the fire. “Good evening,” she said as she stepped into view, a curved piece of metal held in her hands.

“Good evening,” Albert returned.

“What work have I interrupted this time?” she asked with a smile.

“None at all, I’m afraid.”

“Not working? Not my big brother,” Mary said. “You must have yourself confused with some other girl’s older brother.

Albert chuckled. “Sorry to disappoint.”

Mary took a seat in an upholstered hardwood chair next to him, and followed his gaze to the flames. “How is Michael?” she asked quietly.

“Sleeping. Which Hardale reckons is best for him.”

“He’s rather become one of the family, these past years, hasn’t he?”

“Haven’t they all?” Albert asked.

“I have to ask something,” Mary said.

“I thought you might have had a purpose to this visit.”

She handed the piece of metal to him for inspection. It was silver in color, but when Albert looked more closely, he noticed very faint streaks of blue.

“It’s no ordinary metal, is it?” Albert asked, turning it over in his hands.

“Not one found in this world.”

“Awfully light.”

“But strong. And I need to find out how strong.”

“You need them to take it across?”

“I’ve done all I can to test it here. It will withstand a great many weapons of human devising. But there’s no way to know over here how well it will do over there,” Mary said, gesturing in the direction of their mission room on the opposite side of the mansion, where SPOT members made their Crossings.

“Have you asked the tentaclebeasts to take a whack or two at it?”

“I’m avoiding that for the time being. I’m hoping to have them forge a different sort of relationship with it.”

“Tell me more.”

“So far, we’ve had difficulty taking anything across that isn’t native to the beasts. The blue you see comes from metals we brought across from their side. It’s like the material we spun into thread for within the uniforms. But I think it goes further than that. I believe it’s an actual obstacle in the minds of the beasts themselves. Remember how much difficulty we had building a platform there?”

“Back when Michael was still captain. Everything they brought just seemed to lose its shape.”

“Exactly. I believe the structural integrity of the object is something the tentaclebeasts can’t understand properly, because they’re not inside it, the way they’re inside our minds when we Interface. So the idea of the object comes over—as the tentaclebeasts understand it,” Mary explained. “The form…but none of the substance.”

“How do you propose to help the tentaclebeasts “understand” your metal?”

“I’ve been building a sort of jointed armor, intended to mimic the tentaclebeasts themselves. But, when you gather a quantity of that metal together, even as light as I’ve made it, it becomes…well…a great deal heavier.”

“Surely it’s not all that bad? The agents do train for strength and endurance.”

“That’s not quite what I mean. The metal from their world, that I used to create this alloy…it’s…well…odd. There’s no other way to put it. It’s almost as if it…magnifies itself, when it’s near to itself…oh, I’m not making any sense,” Mary said, putting her hand to her temple and resting her elbow upon her knee.

“So this metal you’ve used, which is of the tentaclebeast world, to help them Cross with it properly…it amplifies its own properties when used in abundance?”

“As nearly as I can tell…yes. But I can’t explain it.”

“Some things can’t be explained, sister dear.”

“You’re wrong, brother. If we can’t explain something, it’s only because we have not investigated thoroughly enough, or accurately enough. But the tools of scientific inquiry will yield the truth, when applied with diligence and care.”

“Perhaps that is true in this world, but can the same be said of every world?”

“You know what I would say to that,” Mary said, smiling ruefully.

“I do. However, I do not believe you would have come to me if that was all you had to say on the matter,” Albert said, settling back in his chair.

“Quite right.”

“And,” Albert added, “you anticipate I won’t like the solution.”

“This is why you manage the people and I manage the machines,” Mary said with a wink. “What I propose is this: we create a much larger suit of armor, with more than just a human being and a tentaclebeast to bear the weight. I can build us automatons, with steam engines to carry the load.”

“Mary. You know how I feel about steam engines.”

“I know, I know, but—”

“What I fail to understand is why you don’t feel similarly.”

“Albert, a machine is just a machine, in the wrong hands it—”

“What makes you think you’ll be able to get a steam engine across anyhow? How is a tentaclebeast going to understand an automaton?” Albert said, cutting her off angrily.

“Because to them, that’s what we are.”

Albert sat in stunned silence.

Mary sighed. “Albert, I know you don’t like to think of it that way, and I know you see Numose as a partner—”

“They’re our allies. On the battlefield.”

“I know. But how do you think they take us across, Albert? To them, we are vessels that move. We are transportation. They can understand that concept.”

“And you want to expose our boys on the field to the dangers of—of those—contraptions!” Albert said, clenching his fist as he grasped for the term.

“And you want to expose them to combat without armor of any kind?” Mary retorted, her voice rising. “You want to expose my children—your nephew and niece—to beings the size of a house in the bare skin they were born in?”

“Confound you, Mary! Why do you have to be so damned persistent?”

“Because you’re such a blockhead!” she said, leaping to her feet. “And if there wasn’t someone here to drag you out of your endless rut, you’d—you’d—”

“What, Mary?” Albert said, rising to his own feet. “What would I do?”

“You’d…you’d…eat kippers three times a day!” she sputtered.

Albert blinked a couple of times. “I am rather partial to kippers,” he said wryly.

They both burst out laughing at the same moment.

“Mary,” Albert said, taking his sister’s hand. “Please. Be careful.”

“I can do this, Albert. You know I’m the best.”

“That’s what I was afraid you’d say,” Albert said, shaking his head.

“You only say that because you know you’ve been bested.”

“Don’t push it. I daresay I can still chase you up a tree.”

“That was aeons ago! Do try to keep up with the times, older brother,” Mary said, patting his shoulder.

“On with you! Let Charles deal with your nonsense.”

Mary laughed as she left the study. Albert turned the piece of metal over and over in his hands.

 

Chapter Five: Story Eleven

“So do you ever think about it, Bri?” Gigi asked her twin brother, Brian, over tea. She spoke not in Aldershire’s common tongue, but in a homemade dialect she and her brother had been using to communicate with each other for as long as they could remember, even before they learned to converse with others.

“Think about what?” he asked, smearing lemon curd on a scone with a silver spreader that had a scalloped edge. It looked delicate in his hand, which was now even larger and stronger than their father’s own hand.

“What will happen, later…I mean, legally, we’re grown already. Are we always going to be here, with Mother and Father and Uncle and the tentaclebeasts?”

“Well of course I’ve thought about it. But do we really have any other options?” Brian seemed a little more snappish than Gigi thought the situation merited.

“Why shouldn’t we?” she returned somewhat petulantly.

“It’s not as if we’re exactly well-groomed for life outside Thousand Candles. We haven’t been schooled with other children since we were little. We almost never leave the grounds anymore.” He chomped down the scone in three mouthfulls. “Why are you asking anyhow? I thought SPOT was the summit of your ambitions, just like Mother and Father.”

“I don’t know, really.” She sipped some tea—not her favorite peppermint, but instead a simple black tea, which was a more tentaclebeast-friendly option. For some reason, the absence of her favorite mint was more frustrating than usual at that moment.

“In all honesty, Gi, can you truly imagine yourself as a housewife? A mother? After all this?” Brian asked pointedly. “Could you really just set it aside, stop travelling to other worlds, forget about tentaclebeasts, ignore the deaths around you?”

“Of course not while people are still dying! I would never do that.”

“Then does it really matter? We’re here until we see it through, and Uncle and Mother and Father are all with us, just as committed as we are, if not more.”

“I don’t think they expect to see this end in their lifetimes,” Gigi said quietly.

“Gi,” Brian said, patting her arm gently, “what’s brought this about? It’s not like you, to be so morose. You’re my sunshine sister, remember?” The gesture vividly reminded her of Inky, and the comforting presence of other tentaclebeasts, when she was Interfaced.

“I don’t know. It’s almost as if…as if it weren’t even my own feeling. As if it were someone else’s feeling, coming from my own mind.”

Brian looked at her carefully, taking in her words and weighing them in that quiet way of his. “Have you been Interfacing more than usual?” he asked after a moment.

“No…not really.”

“Not really? Or no you haven’t?”

“Well, Inky and I were out on a walk, but not Interfaced. It’s been awhile since I did more than just training.”

“Hmm…What I think is this. We feel things, from the other tentaclebeasts, and from each other, when we Interface, as if we were all in the same pool and we felt ripples from all of them. You’re right—it’s not your own feeling, or at least not entirely. I think someone else didn’t feel so good about being here, and that feeling latched on to doubts in your mind, and magnified them.”

“That’s quite insightful…but still…” Gigi trailed off.

“But still?” Brian asked, after waiting silently for a time.

“It just makes me think all the more that we don’t know what we could try, if we weren’t here. What we’d be like.” She shook her head. “But you’re right. Neither of us is going to leave while there are still attacks. We can’t.”

“I’m with you,” Brian told her firmly. “So let’s chin up and enjoy our tea already, before it gets cold!”

Gigi smiled and they proceeded to do just that.

 

Chapter Five: Story Ten

The door opened in the hallway of the Pardekopper mansion, second floor, and Eudora had already stepped past it, looking about her from one doorway to another.

“Can I help you, miss?” a less-than-helpful seeming fellow asked gruffly from the now-opened portal.

“Oh, begging your pardon, sir, but I’ve become quite turned around. Do you know where I might find the powder room?”

“Two doors down, on the left,” he said, seeming not quite satisfied.

“Thank you ever so much, mister…?” Eudora asked.

“Ives,” he said, returning to the room and shutting the door behind him.

Rather ungentlemanly for a gentleman, Eudora thought, stopping in the powder room to lend credence to her tale. And what do you want at this demonstration, Mr. Ives? She reviewed the snippets of their conversation in her mind. They want to motivate a group, and grow their numbers—but to what end?

She returned downstairs and in short order was reunited with her “husband” for this mission, Gideon, or, as he was introducing himself, Elric Wilson. He turned when she entered the foyer, where he had just been speaking with a man about the age of Eudora’s father when he passed, with small, soft features, capped by a strawberry-blonde comb-over and ample mutton chops. The silver theme of the house was continued in his clothing, including buttons, cufflinks, shoe buckles, and silver thread embroidery elaborating across his waistcoat.

“Ah, there she is now. Come my dear, meet our esteemed host,” Gideon said.

“Elric, now, don’t give her an inflated notion of my standing,” the man said, pinking at the cheeks.

“Nonsense,” Gideon continued. “Mary, may I present Oliver Pardekopper, the Silver Man of Aldershire!”

Oliver blushed further as Eudora extended her hand. “What a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Pardekopper.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Wilson,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it respectfully.

“Elric did say you two would be doing such exciting things tonight,” Eudora continued, beaming at him while ruefully noticing that her cheeks were already sore from her assumed personality.

“Mary dear, there’s no need to flatter the man. Don’t pretend you’re interested in men’s business; I’m sure it’s frightfully boring for you,” Gideon interjected.

“Oh, I’m sure a bit of flattery couldn’t hurt,” Oliver said with a smile, and they all had a good chuckle.

“So, where do we find the main proceedings? I can’t wait for the presentation to begin,” Gideon said.

“Right this way, right this way. Mr. Higginsworth is giving his presentation in the parlour, but he has not quite readied himself yet. All the better; it gives us more time to sample the hors d’oeuvres!” Oliver said, laughing at his own joke while Gideon and Eudora followed suit.

They soon found themselves in a revival-style parlour that took its inspiration from the ancient ocean-faring cultures of Nomark, home of Eudora’s father from before her parents were married. The abundance of silver continued, sculpted into a fish-shaped clock on the mantle, with more patterning in the carpets and even the wallpaper. The curtains and cushions on the chairs were an ocean blue accented in silver foam, and the ceiling had been spectacularly painted to depict the night sky. Eudora marveled at this, despite having grown up surrounded by wealth.

“Mr. Pardekopper, what a brilliant mural,” Eudora said with genuine admiration.

“Do you like it? It was painted by Manuel Wilcox.”

The Manuel Wilcox?” Eudora said, recognizing the name of a prominent artist from Miakensburg. “I didn’t realize he did private commissions.”

“The very same. Ah, but here, let me introduce you to your fellow guests!”

Eudora caught Gideon’s eye and they shared a look. Time to meet our enemies, she thought.

 

Chapter Five: Story Nine

Gigi sat in a wicker chair in the garden, her diary in her lap. She blinked her eyes a few times, wondering if perhaps she’d dozed off for a moment. Her diary sat open to the page she had been writing just a minute or two before:

Dear Mr. Diary,

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever live in a house of my own. I suppose it just never occurred to me. I grew up at Thousand Candles, and Uncle doesn’t have any children, so I suppose Brian will inherit the manor. Will he inherit SPOT operations one day as well? Where does that leave—

But there the entry left off. Gigi closed her diary, and stood up to stretch. As she did, she noticed Inky nearby.

“Mm, I do believe I’ve been less than vigilant just now, Inky. You shouldn’t let me sleep like that, if you want something. Just give me a little tap, hmm?”

Inky hung his body to the side in an apologetic pose.

“Oh, no, no, Inky dearest, I didn’t mean you should be sorry. Come here you silly boy.” Gigi put an arm around Inky and patted his side. “There, there. You can’t be expected to remember all our human habits, now can you?”

Inky brightened a little, but still seemed bothered.

“I tell you what. Why don’t we have ourselves a nice stroll about the grounds, just you and me? It’s been awhile since we’ve done that, eh?” she said, nudging Inky with a winning smile. She put a hand on her hip and Inky laced a tentacle lightly about it. Gigi set off across the garden, starting onto the route through the fields that SPOT Special Services agents normally took for their daily run. Instead, however, it was a comfortable walk, as if Inky were a dear friend who had called upon her, and they were catching up on each others’ lives.

Despite the fact that they could not properly speak when not Interfacing, Gigi was pleased to carry on her end of the conversation, and Inky seemed pleased to listen, squeezing her arm periodically as if in response to a point she’d made.

“Isn’t it a lovely day we’re having? The sun is shining, the sky is blue…it’s a day to be happy, you see?” she said, still hoping to cheer him from their earlier misunderstanding. Inky gave a pulse to her arm.

Suddenly, Gigi bumped into something soft, which gave way immediately as if moving back. She looked up, surprised. It was Sky, her twin brother’s tentaclebeast counterpart.

“Sky, my humblest apologies, I didn’t see you there. Are you quite alright then?”

Sky eyed Gigi and Inky from under his fuschia fin, with what seemed like hundreds of thin tentacles rippling silently below his bright blue body. He moved quickly off towards the nearby strand of woods without acknowledging either of them. Inky squeezed Gigi’s arm twice in succession.

“What was that all about, then?” she wondered aloud. Not that the other tentaclebeasts typically bothered with human customs, such as those of greeting and departure. Inky was exceptional in that regard. Gigi shrugged it all off.

“Why don’t we find some refreshment then? Won’t that be nice?” Inky simply pulsed against her arm, and Gigi led him towards the kitchens.

 
 
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