May 17, 1883
ATTACKS IN CARELON! 3 More DEAD and dozens injured or missing as charming Aldershire town is devastated by additional tentaclebeast attacks. Officials urge calm as citizens demand action. Citizens live in fear as Carelon, the scene of so many an idyllic picnic on a Summer’s afternoon, meets with the threat of strange creatures and curious invisible attacks. One man was found, apparently crushed to death, despite the decided lack of any visible creature able to cause such injury. Witnesses to the event state that the man collapsed on Ash Street in Carelon this Saturday evening last, as if pressed to the ground by a great weight. The man in question has not yet been identified, as a number of persons are still reported missing at this date.
* * *
After a grueling night of the Physical Skills Battery, with no sleep and nothing to eat, Eudora was all too grateful when Captain Drury offered to escort her to the dining hall for breakfast before her assessment continued. No mention was made of sleep, but she was certain tea and food might fortify her in her efforts.
They arrived in the hall to find it empty of people. Captain Drury excused himself to find breakfast for the two of them, and Eudora glanced about the room. As all the rooms in this building went, it was both spacious and luxurious, with lush carpets, tall windows, and handsome wood paneling on every wall. A great feast table, perhaps able to serve some three dozen at once, dominated the center of the room, and it had been cleared except for the far end. Eudora walked over to investigate.
Several teapots were strewn about, as if a very thirsty group indeed had come to tea. But there was only a single tea cup, and then a very large bowl, of the sort one might use to serve punch at a party. How curious, Eudora thought, noting that the serving ladle was not present. She peered into the bowl. It was about three-quarters full with tea, and when she touched a hand to the side of the bowl, it was still warm. They left in a hurry, then. I wonder why?
“Hello,” a cheerful female voice said from behind her, as Eudora jumped up from her inspection of the tea. She turned to see an attractive young woman, perhaps of her own age, with loose, shimmering honey-brown curls, porcelain skin, and bright green eyes.
“We’re not supposed to talk,” the young woman continued in a hushed tone, “but I wanted to tell you—” and here she paused, grabbing Eudora’s wrist rather tightly in her hand and looking directly into her eyes, “No pain, no fear. Remember that. Bye!” Releasing her wrist just as quickly, she ran off the way she had come before Eudora could utter a single word.
Eudora rubbed a little at her wrist, contemplating the cryptic statement, when Christopher returned with a tray.
“Will you please join me, Miss Wright?” His polite demeanor had returned after the Physical Skills Battery ended, and Eudora gave a sigh of relief at the familiar responses and forms of address.
“It would be a pleasure, Captain Drury. Perhaps, ah, somewhere such that we will not disturb the…tea party.”
Chuckling under his breath, Christopher shook his head and and brought the tray a little further down the long table, until they sat near its centerpiece, an ornate vase of flowers. He began setting out plates for each of them and they helped themselves to poached eggs, toast, butter and jam, and their own hot tea, ignoring the bowl at the end of the table. They passed breakfast largely in silence, due to the great fatigue both felt, and Eudora was grateful that no more questions were forthcoming for the time being.
When they had finished, a serving lady came forth to clear the dishes, and Eudora blinked again in surprise, not sure where the woman had appeared from. Maybe I’m more tired than I’d thought. She stifled a yawn, all the more sleepy now that warm food did its work on her stomach.
“It is time for the next phase of your assessment. Would you permit me to escort you to the main study?”
“Certainly, thank you,” she replied, taking his arm.
They returned to the room with the bookshelf walls that they had passed on the way to the gymnasium.
“If you’ll please be seated, I am certain they will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you, Captain Drury. I appreciate all you have done to continue my evaluations.”
“My pleasure, Miss Wright. Good day, and best of luck to you.”
Eudora settled into a high-backed leather armchair with a sigh, wondering how long she might be kept waiting this time.
The answer was 58 long minutes by her father’s watch. She shook herself out of a half-doze as Albert Hedley entered the room, carrying a hatbox.
He sat down in a chair opposite hers, placing the hatbox on the coffee table between them without speaking for a few moments. Eudora straightened her spine and waited.
“Miss Wright. You have spent several very long days participating in the Special Services application process. Why are you here?”
“I like to see things through.”
“No. Why are you here at all?”
“I want to protect our homes.”
“There are those who believe this is not the best way.”
“What they are trying is not working.”
“Are you always so selfless, or do you just have a taste for punishment?”
Eudora stared at him in stony silence. Albert soon continued.
“Your application has been discussed by SPOT’s board. They want you to join us. I disagree with their decision.”
“In what area of my assessments do you find fault?”
“We haven’t seen you, Eudora. We’ve seen a carefully crafted mask, able to take on any task, shoulder any burden, answer any question with ten more of her own. But we haven’t seen what manner of woman you truly are, and I believe that once we do, it will be at a time that costs lives.”
“Are you saying I am the manner of woman that would allow others to die?”
“I’m not saying anything, any longer. Take the box. You’ll find your letter of acceptance and more formal instructions as to what you’re to do next.”
Eudora picked up the box and took it into her lap. It was far heavier than she expected for a letter and something triggered in her mind a hairsbreadth of an instant before she removed the lid. Adrenaline fired through her veins as her body tightened like a spring.
A tentaclebeast jumped up and hovered in front of her like some morbid jack-in-the-box who’d learnt levitation. Shaped like a lumpen octopus, it sported three pairs of iridescent black eyes and a number of thick red and peach tentacles with tiny discs running up and down their length.
Eudora was on her feet, staring into its middle pair of eyes, every nerve on edge, every hair on her body standing on end. The air felt thick and tense with some force she had no reference for, something warm and cold at once.
The creature advanced on her, and she leapt back, never losing sight of those odd, intense eyes. Slowly, it extended a tentacle towards her, hesitating when she drew back. She watched the creature warily. When it made no move to harm her, she carefully extended her hand. The beast once again raised its tentacle, wrapping it around her wrist. As the discs attached themselves to her skin, Eudora felt a painful suction when she remembered the strange warning at breakfast. No pain, no fear, she thought, masking all emotion from her face as the creature continued.
The tentaclebeast swung itself around her body and wrapped its far tentacle around her other arm. There was one tense moment, and then it landed on her head—
—and suddenly she was plunged into a dizzying collection of sensations, from all directions, from all organs, every breeze in the air, every sight in the room, the sounds of so many voices talking all at once, and yet somehow distinct, very very distinct, as if each were fondly remembered from childhood and speaking in an empty room to her alone—
—and then it was gone. Eudora found herself kneeling on the flowery carpet, its swirling designs much closer to her face than they likely should be, her breath ragged, her head spinning, as Mr. Hedley carefully examined her eyes, face, hands.
“There now. Steady. Breathe slowly. Brenton!” he called to one outside Eudora’s field of vision. “Water, quickly!”
“On my way,” was the reply.
“Easy, Miss Wright. You’ve made your Passage. It will sort itself out in a moment.”
“A final assessment. The hardest one of all.”
Eudora blinked hard several times, trying to gather some semblance of wits, or conversation. “Passed?”
She heard Arthur laughing as he pressed a glass of water to her lips, and she drank a few grateful gulps.
“Is she going to be alright?” the voice from earlier asked. Eudora saw it was attached to a man she had not yet met, a handsome fellow in a burgundy vest, white shirt, and black pants, whose knee was roughly level with her eyes at this point.
“How should I know?” Arthur said, still chuckling and supporting Eudora on one arm. “Truly, how should any of us know anything at all?”
* * *
Found pasted to the front door of the Mayor’s office, Chambers Street, Thorthrope, Aldershire