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Category Archives: Chapter One

Chapter One: Stories in chronological order.

Chapter One: Story Eight

Eudora accompanied Albert to the west wing of Thousand Candles, which had been expanded to accommodate the gymnasium, as well as additional living quarters. Once again she was struck by the enormity of the place. If Mr. Hedley indeed funded SPOT independently, she thought, he is very wealthy indeed. Or, was. They proceeded to the living quarters opposite those with nameplates that Eudora had seen earlier.

“Miss Wright, I would like to formally introduce you to your new allies. Just beyond this hall is their living quarters. Are you ready to meet with them?”

“Yes, I’m actually quite eager.” Eudora felt a bit of surprise even as she spoke the words. That’s not something I would have expected even a few short months ago, she thought.

“Excellent. This way, then.” He led her down the hall lined with doors very similar to the other living quarters she had seen, excepting that these sported no nameplates. She noticed open entryways ahead and also to the right. It was to the right they went, which led them to a large common room, not unlike the large study Eudora had made her passage in. This one had very tall windows and a pair of glass doors that led outside to a large, walled garden. And all about the room, in various attitudes of interaction and repose, were tentaclebeasts of all descriptions.

“Good day, all,” Albert called amiably. “May I present Miss Eudora Wright.”

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” Eudora said as she offered a curtsy. The tentaclebeasts around the room alternately bobbed up and down, waved tentacles, or came slightly towards her in what she surmised were various forms of greeting.

“While there is no direct understanding between humans and tentaclebeasts without Interfacing, we do our best to communicate with one another at such times as we are not merged,” Albert explained.

Eudora looked around the room, amazed to see so many of the creatures at once. They ranged in size from roughly comparable to a man’s head all the way to larger than Eudora herself. One particularly large tentaclebeast came forward. He was long and oval-shaped, much like a squid, with a fin on top, several sets of tentacles, and a pair of round, mitten-looking appendages at the end of the foremost set. His skin varied from deep blue to purple to black, and his eyes were a dark and vivid purple. Approaching Eudora slowly, he bobbed in the air. Eudora thought for a moment, and then returned the gesture with a curtsy. The beast came closer and held out its clasper appendages. Eudora held out a hand, and the beast gently laid a clasper on top of it.

“How do you do?” Eudora asked, looking into its enormous, shining eyes. Its clasper was dry, cool, and smooth upon her hand. She was surprised at how soft its skin felt.

Unable to truly continue the conversation, they stood this way for a time, exchanged another bob and curtsy, and then other beasts came forward to greet Eudora. Some had long suckered appendages like the one Eudora had made her Passage with, and some, such short tentacles as to resemble catfish with extra whiskers. They came in almost every color of the rainbow, though most were darker shades. The overall tones favored seemed to be black, blue, charcoal grey, brown, and burgundy. Some looked like squid or octopuses, some like shortened, tentacled fish, and some even like anemones and sea urchins and other such oddities. In fact, the only two things they seemed to bear in common were that they had tentacles, and that they were all different. That, and their odd mode of propulsion—floating above the ground, completely silent, with no motion to aid their movements. They could readily change the height, speed, and direction of their movement, apparently by thought alone.

I see why they’re called tentaclebeasts, she thought. What other descriptor could you possibly apply?

After she had “met” a number of the creatures, Albert announced their departure. “Thank you for welcoming our new guest. I’m certain you’ll be seeing more of each other soon.”

As they stepped into the hallway, another tentaclebeast floated towards them. Despite the group she had just encountered, Eudora’s hand tightened on her skirt as she stiffened. It’s one thing to be prepared, quite another not to be. She willed herself to relax, and realized, looking at the creature, that it was the one with which she had made her Passage.

“Good day,” Albert was saying to the beast. “I am sure you remember Miss Eudora Wright.”

“Good day,” Eudora said, curtsying once more as she looked at its six eyes, its bright red and peach tentacles with their disc-like bumps. The creature came quite close, perhaps some two inches from her body, and examined her closely, circling her as it did. Eudora shivered slightly and waited. It returned to face her and extended a long tentacle, brushing across her hair and down her cheek several times. It waved a tentacle, turned, faced Albert and waved again, then proceeded towards the common room from which they had just come.

“Let us continue, then,” Albert said. They walked in silence for a few minutes back towards Albert’s study. “I asked you to come meet the tentaclebeasts for a reason.”

“I doubt there is much you do without planning, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

Albert chuckled. “You would be right about that. You’re faced with a rather serious decision, Miss Wright. While service with SPOT is completely voluntary, at all levels, Special Services or no, there are some…obstacles…for those in Special Services in particular. Not only do you face unique and strenuous challenges in the field, but returning to larger society is not so easy as simply declaring it to be so.”

“Because of the opposition you face?”

“Because of the opposition from society, yes. But also because of how the experience itself changes you. If you join with us, you will be travelling to another world, one about which we understand virtually nothing. Oh, you’ll be “trained”, but your training is only so good as our understanding. I won’t deceive you into believing that understanding is in any way valid or thorough. We make our best guesses as brave young men—and women—put their lives on the line for a cause they may never see won. And even if you return, alive and unharmed, and choose to leave this service, you will be forever changed.”

“Changed in what way?”

“You will see things, do things, that others have never imagined. You will find yourself facing creatures and situations that challenge both your sense of reality and all of your abilities to their utmost. You will regularly Interface, mind and body, with creatures many cannot even see without losing their memories, or even their sanity. You will be no less than a soldier, going into combat, fighting, killing, destroying, rescuing, aiding your team, becoming closer than family, pursuing a mission our society does not condone, understand, or even acknowledge.”

“I understand. I—”

“I’m going to stop you now, Eudora Wright, because I do not want your answer today or even tomorrow. I want you to stay with us, for one month. Live with us, work with us, begin learning what you need to learn. At the end of that time, if you still wish to give yourself to SPOT Special Services, you will be admitted, and your formal training will begin. If you do not, you may return home, no worse for wear. Think on it. Get to know the others. See for yourself what this life is. Make a conscious choice…rather than having one thrust upon you.”

She looked into the kind but worn face. “The choice you weren’t given.”

“The choice that is your right to make. Good day, Miss Wright,” he said as he entered his study.

Eudora sighed thoughtfully as Albert closed his door. There is much to learn, before my training, she told herself.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

That concludes Chapter One! I hope that you’ve enjoyed the story so far, and I look forward to bringing you the first entry from Chapter Two on Monday. In the meantime, please join me on Google+ or Facebook and share your thoughts on the story. Can’t wait to hear from you! —Stevie

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Chapter One: Story Seven

“Good morning, Miss Wright,” Albert greeted Eudora as she walked into his personal study two days after her Passage.

“Good morning, Mr. Hedley.”

“I trust you have recovered from your ordeal? Insofar as is possible, at least?”

“I am quite well, thank you. How are you today?”

“I am also well. However, I suspect you have a great many more inquiries to make aside from those stipulated by polite conversation.”

“Very true.”

“If you will permit me then, I would like to attempt to pre-emptively answer a good many before you must give voice to them.”

“Please, I am most eager for any information you can provide.”

“Very well, let us settle in for awhile.” Albert tugged on a tasseled cord near his desk. “Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable. I’ve summoned someone to fetch us refreshments.”

“Thank you,” said Eudora as she settled into a velvety upholstered chair near the wall. She sat opposite Albert, but on the same side of his massive desk as he did, making the somewhat imposing room seem a little more cozy.

Momentarily, a maid appeared in a long brown dress and white apron, her hair gathered into a neat bun. “Sir, Ma’am,” she said, offering a curtsy.

“Sally, dear, would you be so kind as to fetch us some lemonade, and a bit of whatever cakes or cookies you ladies have prepared?”

“Yes sir. Anything else I can bring you, sir?”

“For you, Miss Wright?”

“Lemonade and cakes sound splendid, thank you.”

“That will be all for us, Sally.”

“Sir,” she acknowledged with another curtsy before departing.

Albert turned to Eudora. “Would you mind telling me your personal feelings regarding the events of the last several days?”

“I must admit now that it’s something of a blur. So many questions, so many papers, so many new faces and experiences. It’s a bit much to sort out.”

“Quite understandable. And what of your Passage?”

“I…I truly cannot compare it to anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Eudora admitted.

“I understand Mr. Brenton and Mr. Drury informed you that the particulars of your Passage were not typical?”

“Indeed. I have been wondering why the creature chose to take such an unexpected action.”

“We wonder about everything they do, even when we have the ability to communicate with them directly. If I may, before I begin my tale I would like to ask you some questions. How old were you when the attacks began? You must have been a child, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Not at all. I was quite young, just an infant.”

“And your parents, what did they tell you of the attacks?”

“At first, nothing. It didn’t even enter my awareness until I was perhaps 8 or 9. My mother didn’t want us to play outside as often. She would give reasons, which I accepted, but over time it wore thin. Then when more people died, it was unavoidable. We all heard what was happening. People dying, invisible attacks, buildings collapsing for no apparent reason. My parents sat us down and explained that these people were in fact dying of natural causes, but that the ignorant and fearful were interpreting it as “invisible monsters”. They told us not to be afraid, and that we were to stay away from crowds of people who might panic.”

Sally returned to the room with a tray of refreshments. “Sir, Ma’am.”

“Ah, Sally, thank you,” Albert said as he accepted the tray.

“My pleasure, sir. May I bring you anything else for now?”

“No thank you, dear, this looks like it will do the job nicely.”

“Thank you, sir.” She curtsied again before departing. Albert served them both lemonade, finger sandwiches, and cakes on lovely china with a rippled edge and a floral pattern painted on it.

“Pray continue, Miss Wright. What happened after your parents asked you to stay close to home?”

“Even at that age, I felt a certain responsibility toward my family. I was the eldest, after my brother passed away when I was 7. My mother took that with particular difficulty. So I thought it best that I should learn what I could. I would steal into my father’s study to see the newspapers, and eavesdrop on the servants when they thought no one from the household was about. Both things, of course, were against my parents’ teachings, but with the logic of childhood I thought these to be lesser offenses than leaving the house on my own as we had been previously forbidden to do.”

Albert chuckled and Eudora joined in before continuing.

“The newspapers, of course, were full of wild speculation, nothing terribly useful. Everything from a strange disease to murderers to wild beasts on the loose, and those were just the plausible tales. And then, one day, there was news of an organization,” she said, gesturing to Albert.

“An organization headed by one crazy man claiming to know the cause of the deaths in the streets?”

“Painted as only one story out of many. Though eventually it garnered quite a bit of attention.”

“Would you like to know what was happening behind the newspaper stories all this time?”

“Very much.”

“About 16 years ago, when you were only an infant, people did indeed begin to sustain injury and even death from unknown causes. At first, these instances were only sporadic, and while they were odd, no one drew them together. This continued for years, and no one knew the cause.” He paused and sipped some lemonade.

“Nine years after the attacks began,” Albert continued, “a man was walking home from town on a Saturday afternoon, when he saw a most extraordinary sight. A group of creatures appeared before him, as if from the very ether, and they were beyond anything that man had even imagined. Similar to sea creatures, yet appearing in fantastic colors, they possessed more limbs and eyes and other features than he could explain with his knowledge of the natural sciences. Floating above the ground and transporting themselves without any visible means of propulsion, they defied reality as he knew it. But that was only the beginning.”

“You were that man, then?”

“I was. And I was the first human being to see the tentaclebeasts without losing my wits or my life in the process. But I did not simply witness them. They approached me most deliberately. One of them Interfaced with me, just as a tentaclebeast Interfaced with you during your Passage.”

“Interfaced? Forgive me, I was under the impression it was called Riding.”

Albert shook his head. “Those boys,” he grumbled. “That is the more, shall we say, colorful term they employ when I am not about. It is more properly referred to as Interfacing.”

“I see. Thank you for enlightening me.”

“Think nothing of it.”

“Please, continue your story.”

“A tentaclebeast Interfaced with me, and as you can imagine from your experience, it transformed my world. But this was not a momentary happening or even an hour. When the Interfacing began it was daylight, and when it ended, night had fallen. In the time that elapsed, the tentaclebeast told me a tale of its own. His words, however, were not language such as we employ. He made himself understood to me only with difficulty. He and his fellows had come from another world, completely unlike our own, and yet tied to it, overlapping it. Invisible to us, the objects and occurrences of their world influenced ours, and ours influenced theirs.”

“Astonishing,” Eudora murmured.

“Just as there are nations of human beings, there are nations of tentaclebeasts—groups, affiliations. These groups were engaged in a great conflict, a sort of civil war.”

“Is that why they attacked humans then? Did we interfere, unknowingly?”

“That is what is even more curious and humbling from the entire scenario. They had been unaware that they had done us any harm whatsoever. We were mere collateral damage in their battles, given no more thought than the rats or birds that die in the midst of human wars.”

“Was theirs then a peace mission?”

“Not as such. It was more of a negotiation. The tentaclebeasts that approached me were on the losing side of this conflict. They were outclassed by creatures of their kind far larger and more powerful than themselves, and desperate for a solution. Where could they gain resources, reinforcements, something of help? You must forgive my grasping for terms, but I am trying to the best of my ability to give the impression of the experience I had, which was not words but ideas given directly into my mind.”

“I believe I understand. It felt, the other day, as if a chorus of voices had entered into my mind, but I did not know what they said.”

“Ah yes, they can all hear one another, within certain groups. Not exactly families, not exactly comrades, but something else. When you Interface, you are drawn into that group.”

“Is it always so…confusing?”

“After your training, no. But that is why my initial Interfacing took so long. There were no guidelines for making humans and tentaclebeasts understood to one another.”

“And this one, he had come to you for help?”

“Yes. He and his comrades had come to the human world to offer a bargain. Now that they were aware that human beings had been harmed in the course of their own conflict, they would do their part to prevent that, if we would in return help them to win their war.”

“How could we possibly help with that?”

“At the time, we did not know. The tentaclebeasts hoped that we might have resources unknown to them. It turns out that we did. Weapons. Tentaclebeasts fight with their natural abilities—you and I might call it magic, but in their world it is the equivalent of brute force. But they have no weapons, no technology as such. They’ve never required it. We humans, on the other hand, have had centuries upon centuries of development and advances, notably in the realm of slaughtering one another.”

“And our weapons can make an impact in their world?”

“If they’re gotten across, yes. But that solution did not come until later. At that time, I knew only this: more and more people were dying, and this was the only actual intelligence anyone had received about the problem. These tentaclebeasts had approached a number of other individuals before myself. Most could not rationalize what they had seen, and forgot the encounter entirely. Others went mad. I alone had survived and understood the encounter, wits intact. I alone was forced to make a decision that would affect all of Mankind. I accepted their bargain. We would find a way to assist them, and they in return would attempt to win the war and enact policies among their kind to prevent any further damage to our world, or deaths among our people.”

“But you were not believed. I remember that in the newspapers.”

“Sadly no. No, I was not. I went immediately to the government, certain they would rejoice that finally, some true information had come to light. But I was derided and shamed, and called many things that cannot be repeated in polite conversation. There was no help to be had from that quarter, and none from the public. And so I devoted my own resources to the project, which is why this organization is housed in my very own home.” He took up his cane and stood. “Miss Wright, there is something I’d like to show you, if you’ll come with me.”

 

Chapter One: Story Six

Letter from Albert Hedley, SPOT, Thousand Candles Manor, Thorthrope, Aldershire handed to the messenger of John Carollton, Mayor, Chambers Street, Thorthrope, Aldershire, May 17, 1883

Dear Mr. Carollton,

I am saddened to hear that your property has been defaced, but as you are well aware, my agents have no connection to any fear mongering or illegal activities. Far from making “public appearances”, my agents have been simply exercising their right as free citizens of this capital to enjoy its entertainments before their all-too-brief holidays are at an end. It was neither their intention nor desire to garner public attention of any kind, and if some members of the public did indeed recognize SPOT’s agents, they can hardly be faulted for it. Furthermore, I sincerely doubt the theater attendance of a few of SPOT’s number “some two weeks past” has any bearing on a protest arriving upon your property today, regrettable though it may be.

Regards,
Albert Hedley

* * *

Diary of Georgiana Valentine
May 17, 1883

Dear Mr. Diary,

A most exciting day indeed, for our mystery applicant has made her Passage, and so is, at least in some small part, less of a mystery! Her name is Eudora Wright, and she appears to be somewhat older than myself, but at least closer to my age than to Gertie’s, or even Uncle’s. Beyond this, I know very little, save that she faced her Passage with the calmest demeanor I ever witnessed, and, even more remarkably, merged with a Rider during her very first encounter! I don’t know what to make of it, but I do intend to ask Inky if he might inquire as to his comrade’s thoughts.

I’ve noticed that Father is on the schedule to come with us next go, in order to chart more of the tentaclebeast territory. I’m glad to have him along. Mother always frets so when he joins us, but then, she frets at every mission. It’s a shame that she is unable to handle a Rider herself. I think she would understand better, if she had been there to see it with her own eyes. But she must content herself with Father’s maps and models, which only make as much sense of an alternate world as such things may. That, and of course, making new weapons for us to try. I believe she channels all of that fretting into ever-more devastating models!

I shall have to try once more tomorrow with the tea, as we were most suddenly interrupted today, and after all the excitement, the servants had cleared it away—and anyhow, Inky had returned to his own quarters, it being so imperative for the other tentaclebeasts to stand clear during a Passage. Cups certainly don’t work but I believe there is hope for a bowl, provided it be large enough to accommodate him comfortably.

Love,
Gigi

May 18, 1883

Dearest Diary & True Friend,

Why must I always forget? No peppermint!

I do so miss it, though. Have some for me, won’t you?

(Here a little paper packet is pasted into the diary. It contains a bit of peppermint tea leaves.)

I am trying not to sulk,
Gigi

* * *

Dreams of Captain Christopher Drury, Night of May 17-18, 1883

Christopher slid into his uniform, met with his Rider, and reported to the Portal room. They crossed, and Christopher found himself in a most peculiarly ordinary landscape. It seemed a simple meadow leading towards a mountain, as he might find in his own home world. The team was not with him. He knew intuitively that the mountain peak was his goal, and that he was searching for something. He seemed to make it to the mountain much more quickly than he should have and began to climb. And climb. And climb. Onward he climbed, with aching muscles and a growing sense of unease from his Rider. Still he had no idea what he could be searching for, only that he must reach the top of the mountain. He climbed, and climbed, and climbed.

Night of May 18-19, 1883

Christopher was at the National Theater, watching The Comedy of the Merry Widower, when the crowd began to curse and shout, and throw all manner of objects at the stage. He then found himself upon said stage, with the other actors, being pelted by glass bottles, hunks of metal, clocks, and bits of wood, as a tremendous din arose. He fled from the stage, only to be pursued by the furious crowd. He ran out of the building, the crowd close at hand, and the noise growing into a loud, grinding roar. Christopher turned to see what could make such a noise and found himself pursued by an enormous tentaclebeast made of metal, its long tentacles full of articulated joints, and steam erupting from its center. He awoke suddenly, heart pounding, his body unable to move, nor make a sound—though he was certain he had been screaming only an instant before.

Night of May 19-20, 1883

Christopher was in school again, though he retained the shape and memories of a man. Those around him, however, perceived him as a boy. He wrote thick, clumsy letters across the parchment, struggling with cramped hands to bring them to order. His teacher rapped his cane against the floor, an incessant, steady banging.

* * *

Richard Eckman prowled about the halls of Thousand Candles restlessly. His pacing led him to the conservatory, and beyond it, the gardens. He stared at the stones under his feet, remembering his childhood game of hopping from stone to stone to cross a stream.

“Having fun?” It was Michael, kneeling in the dirt, yanking up weeds.

“Didn’t expect to see you there. But I suppose I should have.”

“Can’t get my fill of fresh air and greenery. It’s good for the soul.” He looked at Richard knowingly. “What’s the matter then? Out with it.”

Richard sighed. “It’s just that…I never know what to do with myself…between missions. Where do I fit in with…all of this?” He gestured helplessly at the grounds, and ran a frustrated hand through his sandy blond hair. “The rest of you seem so comfortable here. I don’t feel like I live here, I feel like I’m just…waiting.” He paused a moment, suddenly taken aback as he realized who he was pouring out his complaints to. The one person who’s suffered the most for this life.

“What is it that you’re waiting for?” Michael asked patiently.

“I don’t know. Forget it. How’re the posies?”

“Bright. Alive. Able to withstand the wind and rain and weeds.”

“Virtuous little fellows.”

“I wouldn’t ascribe it to virtue. I would say they have found what they need, and they are content to be what they are.”

“You’ve a way with words, Michael.”

“Thank you.”

“You joining us for tea? I’m famished.”

“I’ll be along shortly.”

“Right then.” Richard stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned his steps towards the dining hall.

About halfway there, he heard what sounded like an entire cavalry unit galloping madly through the halls. There was a shriek, followed by laughter, and more galloping. He stepped into the hallway only to see Brian rushing towards him, followed closely by Daniel and Gigi. Brian and Daniel ran past, and Gigi dashed up and clapped Richard on the arm.

“Tag!” she shouted. “Catch if catch may!” She ran in the direction Daniel and Brian had taken.

Richard laughed, shook his head, and chased after them. “You’d better hurry up! You lot are too slow for me!” he called.

 

Chapter One: Story Five

Above the main study, Gigi looked through the one way windows over the bookcases, watching with the other members of SPOT’s Special Services division as Eudora Wright made her Passage.

“She’s done it!” Gigi clapped her hands together delightedly.

“Shhh,” Brian, her twin brother, hushed her, “keep it down.”

“It’s not soundproof glass too, you know,” Richard added, tapping on the window.

“That’s enough, the lot of you,” Christopher ordered in his best Captain’s voice, though he did so quietly. They were silent for a few moments.

“Do you think Uncle meant it, about not wanting her in?” Richard asked softly.

“Who can truly tell, with him?” Brian answered.

“What matters is that she’s made it. She is among our number now, and all of you know what challenges she met with on her journey.” Christopher turned from the window. “Alright, back to quarters before Uncle’s ears in the wall tell him we’ve been spying.” He gave a wry grin as they all scurried from the alcove like so many mice.

The others gone from the alcove, Christopher made his way down to the study. Michael and Albert were helping Eudora into a chair as he approached.

“Gentlemen, Miss,” Christopher said, to announce his entry more than anything. “May I be of any assistance?”

Albert turned and acknowledged him with a nod. “Christopher, I believe Miss Wright will be needing quarters. Would you be so kind as to have Gertie make up a room?”

“Straightaway. Is there anything I can bring you in the meantime?”

“A blanket, if you could,” added Michael, his gaze on Eudora a thoughtful one. Eudora herself seemed still a bit beyond speech at that moment.

“I’ll return shortly then,” Christopher said as he took his leave. On his way out of the study, he nearly collided with Gertie, who carried a silver tray of letters.

“So sorry, sir, but it’s most urgent, most urgent.”

“Please, think nothing of it, Gertie, are you quite alright?”

“You’ve not hurt me any, Sir. Oh, Mr. Hedley!”

“Yes, Gertie? What’s the matter, dear?”

She pushed forward with the tray. “Personal letter from the Mayor, sir, brought ‘round by his messenger. He says he’ll not leave without a personal response from you, directly.”

“I see. And did this self-important fellow happen to mention what has caused the Mayor to be in such a demanding mood?”

“No, sir, he’d not speak of it, save to say it is of the utmost urgency. And I told him you’ll not receive visitors today, and that you are occupied with the business of running this institution, but he simply won’t depart without word from you.”

“Never fear, I shall attend to the Mayor’s demands in short order. Michael, would you please assist Miss Wright in her recovery?”

“Certainly.”

“And Gertie, once you have quite calmed yourself, would you please ready a room for her?”

“Of course, sir.” Gertie handed him the letters.

“I’ll fetch that blanket,” Christopher added, before making his exit a second time, sans obstacles.

The three departed to their various errands, leaving Michael to tend the increasingly lucid Eudora.

“Sorry to…cause such trouble…” she said softly, steadying herself as she slowly sat up in the chair.

“Not to worry. Your encounter was just a little more intense than expected. You see, most applicants don’t merge with a Rider when making their Passage.”

“Merge with—you mean, the tentaclebeast, on my head?”

“Correct. The Passage is typically a simple test of whether or not you can tolerate the presence of a tentaclebeast. Many cannot.”

“What happens to them?”

“Usually, nothing long-term. They scream like raving lunatics, or cry like young children. They try to run away, or hide. And once it’s all over…they forget.”

“Everything?”

“The tentaclebeast itself. Their minds simply cannot contain what they’ve seen, the terror they’ve felt, the otherworldliness of it all.”

“You said usually nothing long-term…what of the other cases?”

“Those ones are not so lucky as to forget what’s happened. It’s part of why you’re subjected to such rigorous exams before your Passage. Soundness of mind, soundness of body, ability to endure trials and hardships. Ideally, the ones who aren’t prepared for this moment never make it here.”

“Why make it such a shock, then?”

“There’s really no way to lessen that shock. Tentaclebeasts are not of this world. We recognize that on a primal level, deep within our hearts, our minds, our bodies. As far as the Passage, we need to see how you’ll react under unexpected circumstances.”

“Forgive me, I’ve asked you so many questions, and we haven’t even been properly introduced. I am Eudora Wright,” she offered, holding out her hand.

“Michael Brenton. A pleasure, Miss Wright,” he said, shaking her hand as seemed to be the custom among SPOT agents.

Christopher returned to the room, a large blanket in his arms. “Forgive my tardiness.”

“Thank you for going to the trouble, Captain Drury,” Eudora said, taking the blanket and wrapping herself in it. “I hadn’t realized how cold I was.”

“It’s a symptom of Riding,” Christopher explained. “Depending on your length of contact with the tentaclebeast, your body can become quite chilled.”

“Even after only a moment?”

“Ah, that’s the other hazard,” Christopher continued. “Time lapse.”

“The tentaclebeasts are from a world where time works differently. I hate to provide you with such a poor descriptor, but to be honest, we’ve never properly determined the correlation between their time and ours,” said Michael.

“But then, when they come to this world from…from their own…do they not fall under the same natural laws?”

“Well, you’ve seen how they defy gravity,” Christopher pointed out. “We’ve never quite understood that one either.”

“When a tentaclebeast Rides you, you…take on a bit of its unique reality. It’s much easier to experience it than to explain it. Which we don’t normally need to do until much later,” Michael chuckled.

“How long was the tentaclebeast Riding me then?”

“Well, I didn’t check my watch,” Michael said, “but I’d estimate perhaps a quarter of an hour.”

“It felt to me as if only an instant had passed. Then suddenly I was on the floor and the tentaclebeast was gone.”

“They have their own quarters here,” Christopher explained. “He departed, to allow you to recover.”

“If tentaclebeasts do not typically Ride applicants during a Passage, why did this one choose to do so with me?”

Christopher and Michael looked at each other for a moment, before Michael spoke. “That, we do not know. It’s never happened before.”


* * *

Letter from the Mayor’s Office, Chambers Street, Thorthrope, Aldershire
To Mister Albert Hedley, SPOT, Thousand Candles Manor, Thorthrope, Aldershire
May 17, 1883

Mr. Hedley,

It was most unappreciated this morning when one of the more visual protests of the populace found its way to my office door. If this sort of activity continues, I’ll have no choice save to make an example of your organization. You are to at once restrain your associates from public appearances such as were made some two weeks past at the Thorthrope National Theater. Such behavior will not be tolerated. Indicate your understanding and agreement to my messenger and do your part to quell the fears of the populace, as I must do mine.

Sincerely,
John Carollton

 

Chapter One: Story Four

Aldershire Gazette
May 17, 1883
Front Page

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.”

“Passage?”

“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

Anti-SPOT Propaganda Poster

 

Chapter One: Story Three

Eudora sat in the questioning room, her application long finished, the pen laid neatly at its side, her hands folded in her lap. Her father’s pocket watch told her that it had been over six hours, nearly six and a half, since Mr. Hedley had flung her application unceremoniously to the floor and taken his leave.

She ignored both the pricks of hunger and the increasing need to relieve herself as she sat in stony silence, waiting for them to return. With another test, another round of questions, more poking and prodding and wanting to know if there were any diseases on her mother’s third cousin’s side, or if anyone in her acquaintance may have, at one time or another, committed a misdemeanor. Certainly there might be something they hadn’t yet asked?

Just as she was wondering for the hundredth time when or if anyone might return to collect her application, she heard several voices down the hall. Male and female, by the sound, chattering on about something cheerfully enough. She turned her head, but did not allow herself to stand, uncertain whether or not she was still being observed.

The conversation continued long enough for Eudora to determine that they were readying themselves for tea time. Upon thinking of tea her stomach growled in a most unladylike fashion, and she gave a frustrated sigh. Damn that Hedley and his tests, she thought, wondering what her mother might think had she voiced the thought out loud.

The chatter faded into the distance, and Eudora was once again completely alone. She debated again the idea of searching out someone. Perhaps this is not a test of patience, but one of resourcefulness? Still, the idea of relenting to Hedley and his taunts in any fashion galled her. He might take any movement as a sign that she had given up, that she wanted to go home after all. I couldn’t stand the look on that man’s face, were I to go.

Some time passed, and she did her best to suppress any thoughts of Family or Home with rage: at Hedley, at the tentaclebeasts, at her own circumstances, at the lack of tea or supper, at the whole state of the world and anything she might think of within it.

At half-past forever, or about three hours later by her pocket watch, there was a knock on the open door. “Miss Wright?” a voice called.

“Yes?”

A tall man in perhaps his mid-twenties entered the room. She noticed that he wore some kind of uniform, devoid of insignia, but of a piece, and a deep navy blue. She looked more closely and noticed that it was dotted with very tiny and odd white specks, almost as if salt had been spilt upon it.

“Miss Wright, I am Captain Christopher Drury.” She stood and he extended his hand, then shook her hand as if she were another man, rather than kissing it as would be done for a lady. She noticed he had thick hands and muscular arms, as well as a firm grip. His brown hair and eyes were a fair match for her own, but his skin had seen more sun.

“Eudora Wright, though I can see you’ve been told.”

“Quite right, Miss. I’m here to conduct you to your physical skills battery. You’ll be wearing a uniform like this one, and required to accomplish a number of tasks before advancing in consideration for Special Services. Please come with me.”

“Right now?” Eudora asked with just a hint of plaintiveness.

“Is there a problem, Miss Wright?” She could tell from his tone and his arched brow that the question was not a sincere inquiry, but a challenge.

“None, Captain. Please lead the way.”

He nodded and proceeded out of the room, with Eudora close behind, feeling an ache in her legs from sitting for so long.

“The physical skills battery is a test of your strength, endurance, and determination.” He led her past a series of lushly furnished studies, then across a large common room that looked somewhat like a library, its walls lined with shelves of books, and a rolling ladder to access the top levels. “Appropriate attire will be provided for you. You will complete a number of individual tests according to my instructions, and then you will navigate an obstacle course. From now on, you are to call me “sir”, and speak only when spoken to. Is that clear, Wright?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. This way.” They turned left and she noticed a number of wooden doors with bronze plates on them. Upon the plates were inscribed a number of surnames: Livingston, Valentine, Prescott, Drury, Brenton. Bedrooms? Eudora wondered, but did not ask.

After a few more turns, they came to what seemed to be several rather Spartan bedrooms, but with large, single-panel windows replacing a wall on each side. Past these, Christopher opened a swinging door, and they entered an enormous gymnasium. Eudora observed a wide array of equipment, including weights, benches, balls from different games she recognized, overhead bars, ropes for climbing, a variety of weapons, and items that she could not categorize at all.

Christopher took a uniform from its folded place on a bench and thrust it into her arms. “Changing room’s over there, Wright,” he said, pointing. “I expect you back here in appropriate attire in 90 seconds.” He pulled out his stopwatch. “Go!”

She blinked a moment before rushing headlong in the direction he pointed. It led to a large room with wooden benches built into the walls. She tore off her dress and began frantically unlacing the stays of her corset, a skill she had only recently acquired, seeing as how leaving home meant leaving the servants as well.

Somehow she managed to wrestle the clothing from her body in record time, but the new uniform itself was confusing. It covered the entire body and had a device in the back Eudora had never seen before: a sort of metal strip with a tab in the center. She turned it over a few times, confused, and heard Christopher call from the gymnasium, “I’m waiting, Wright.” Tugging on it a few times, she finally determined that it slid down the back of the garment, splitting the back into two pieces. She pushed her feet into it, hoping it was going on in the right direction, and pulled the garment into place. Reaching for the metal tab, she yanked a few times before it slid cooperatively upward and she dashed back to the gymnasium.

“Wright! That’s three minutes, ten seconds. Unacceptable!” Christopher barked.

“I’m sorry, sir, I was—”

“Did I ask you for an explanation, Wright?”

“No, sir.”

“Then don’t give me one. I’m about to introduce you to your new best friend.” He stood with his arms straight out to either side, then jumped into the air, raising his arms to meet each other with a clap of the hands, before leaping back to a standing pose. “This is called a jumping jack.” He strung several of the movements together. “At any time that you are not otherwise following my orders, you are to be performing jumping jacks. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Begin now.”

As Eudora began the exercise, a bit awkwardly at first, but soon with more fluidity, Christopher continued.

“Your first challenge will be this rope,” he said, gesturing to a rope hanging from the ceiling. “You will climb to the top, retrieve the flag that is hanging there, and return with it, as quickly as you possibly can. Your task is not complete until that flag is in my hand. Do you understand your instructions?”

“Yes, sir,” Eudora affirmed over her jumps.

“Your time begins…now!”

Eudora dashed to the rope, a pang in her stomach from missing both tea and supper. It was going to be a long night.

 

Chapter One: Story Two

Diary of Georgiana Valentine
May 12, 1883

Dear Mr. Diary,

Stomach cramps from going through the portal again! Ugh! I’ll never live it down if they send Brian over without me. Inky seems to have taken a bit ill as well, though I haven’t had the chance to ask him. Decontamination and all that fuss. This always is the most boring time. I mean really, what is there from that side that waiting it out is going to solve?

It’s hard to believe that something as simple as gunpowder can affect these creatures, and that they have no such device of their own. I thought about that, yesterday, while we placed the explosives. The tentaclebeasts…some as large as elephants, some larger…laid low by simple gunpowder, by collapsing rocks. It makes one wonder why things have to be this way. Isn’t there some Tentaclebeast Consulate that we can speak with and negotiate a treaty? All these hotbloods ever talk about is how many marks we’ve taken down, & I believe they would be bored to tears without the killing. I want to see more of this other world. It’s all one giant unknown…no guidebooks, no maps. Am I the only person who’s fascinated by that?

I don’t want to talk to the others about it though. Hard enough being the only girl here. I don’t need them thinking I’ve gone soft on top of it all.

No sense in rambling on here when I’ve got reports to file. Always with the reports. More later.

Love,
Gigi

May 14, 1883

Good day, Mr. Diary,

There’s another girl making her application! Richard said so at breakfast and I didn’t believe him, but then Brian came back from post-battle psych and told me she was there for evaluations. I can scarcely believe it. I mean, it’s nothing to get excited about until she makes her Passage, but still, I can’t believe it!

Nobody can tell me anything useful about her. Tall? Short? Pretty? Smart? It seems that they’ve all noted her sex only to speed off in the opposite direction & sound the alarm. And most importantly, how old is she? Will I finally have someone else to talk to, or will she be taking garden walks with Uncle Albert? Don’t get me wrong, Brian is great, but there are certain things a brother just cannot understand, even if he is your twin. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t need you, Dear Diary, would I?

I shall simply have to investigate & see what I can discover about this mysterious female applicant. I would just ask Uncle, but he can be so tight-lipped about the really juicy things, even when I am sweetness itself.

I’m off, then!
Gigi

May 16, 1883

Salutations, dear Mr. Diary!

The quest for information has been a little more difficult than anticipated. I’m beginning to think the woman in question is crafted from mists & fancy. Helped Cpt. Drury polish gear for 2 whole hours & got scarcely enough information to fill a thimble, though we certainly discussed her long enough. Will she make Special Services? What will she be like? How will she react to her Passage? Speculation abounds. What was interesting is that while Cpt. Drury and I were polishing & discussing, Mr. Brenton came round and collected the good Captain “on Uncle’s orders”. To be certain, it could be follow-up from the last mission, but it could be something to do with the new applicant.

When I saw Mr. Brenton, what with his scarring & all, I could not help but be moved to pity, and I felt I must go at once to see about Inky. He was attended upon by their own medic, a tentaclebeast not much of my acquaintance, and so I’ve no name for him. His center was shaped more like that of an octopus than a squid, and he had two short sets of tentacles near his three eyes, then four longer sets along his body. However, like Inky, his tentacles were smooth, and two ended in those sort of oval-shaped claspers that Inky has. I saw him cradling Inky between two tentacles, and then gently turning him this way and that as if to see what might be the matter. But Inky must have been well enough, for he backed away as if satisfied with his work, and Inky came forth to greet me.

I held out my arms to him, and he wrapped his two front tentacles about them in a reverse of normal Riding. The luster had returned to his big purple eyes & I was much satisfied at his improvement. He seemed concerned about me as well, and I assured him in confident tones that I was quite recovered. I’m not certain how much he can gather of my words when not Riding, but I hoped that the sound of my voice would be reassuring to him.

He patted my hand with his clasper and then released my arms and gave a little bob, which is his way of making a bow. It is of course not the tentaclebeast custom to make a bow, but being in association with ourselves, and having no hat to tip, it is what some of them have devised to join in polite society. I find it admirable that Inky has made such a go of it.

Well I suppose I had better go to tea. Rumbly tummy and all. I wonder if Inky and his kind take tea?

Yours most sincerely,
Gigi

 
 
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