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Category Archives: Chapter Two

Chapter Two: Story Three

Michael opened his eyes and he was not in his own world, nor even in his own body. At one moment, he had been following Eudora to the common study, and at the next, he had returned to the world of the tentaclebeasts from which he had been absent for so long.

He hovered above the ground, his long tentacles curling and unfolding beneath him as he slowly floated forward. I have tentacles? Who am I? When he thought of “I” the mental image of Michael Brenton was replaced by that of a tentaclebeast, but even that word evaporated into meaninglessness in this new identity, this new “I”.

The landscape that stretched out before him was mountainous and craggy, with dark unforgiving peaks, and valleys that appeared as if the ground had been torn open and filled with stars. The old “I” stared in wonder while the new “I” settled into familiarity.

Another tentaclebeast approached him, though he felt its coming long before they saw one another. Sight was rather irrelevant to communication when one could feel the thoughts of one’s companions.

They’re coming, the messenger thought simply.

How many? Michael thought back.

A dozen, maybe more.

How large?

Dukes, at least, maybe a Prince.

Michael felt the messenger’s fear, but instead of allowing his own to echo back and amplify it, he kept his feelings in check, and sent back a thought of steadfastness.

We will stand here.

As you will it to be.

* * *

Richard was first to the common study when Eudora began shouting, and saw Michael having one of his fits on the floor. He whipped off his belt and folded it in his hands, then knelt beside Michael and held the belt between his teeth.

“He’s going to be alright, Miss. This is what happens, from time to time.”

“Is he hurt?”

“No, he’s just taken one of his fits. He never remembers them, after.” He steadied Michael’s head as best as he was able.

Sally rushed into the room, followed by Albert.

“You rang, ma’am? Sir?” Sally asked, casting a worried eye on Michael.

Albert assessed the situation and patted Sally’s shoulder. “It’s alright, dear. Would you send for Doctor Hardale to look in on him?”

“Straightaway, sir.” Sally departed.

Albert approached Michael, whose fit was subsiding, the scars he bore returning to their normal color as Richard removed the belt from his mouth.

“Anything different this time, Richard?”

“No, sir. Not a terribly long one, I’d wager.” He had let Michael’s head rest on his leg, to keep it from banging on the floor, and Michael started to turn it a little as he came around.

“Can you see to him while Miss Wright and I give him some privacy?”

“Not a problem.” Michael groaned a bit and Richard patted his shoulder. “Hang in there, fellow. You’re alright.”

“Miss Wright, would you please accompany me?” Albert graciously offered an arm to help her from the floor.

She accepted, her hand steady despite the shock of the situation. “Thank you, Mr. Hedley.” She cast a nervous glance over one shoulder as they left the room. Michael was groaning a bit as he came to.

Albert guided them to his study and pulled out a chair for Eudora, which she accepted with thanks. “I’m sure you’re wondering what that was all about. I apologize; I should have provided you with some kind of warning. Out of respect for Mr. Brenton, his ailments are not something we discuss.”

“I understand. He’ll be alright then?”

“It’s funny, sometimes, how the simplest questions are often the most difficult.” Albert sighed and ran a hand through his greying dark brown hair. “I wouldn’t ordinarily discuss the private lives of our other members. However, considering the decision you have before you, I feel it’s important to be frank with you. We have no more idea whether Michael will be “alright” than we do for ourselves. His injuries were sustained in battle, as I am sure you have already surmised. He and the tentaclebeast he had Interfaced with were struck by a type of energy from another beast, something that resembled a bolt of lightning. The tentaclebeast was killed instantly, and Michael sustained serious burns.”

“How was he able to return, if his tentaclebeast was killed?”

“One other member of Michael’s mission survived: Christopher. He hid Michael’s body in a safe place and returned here to fetch another tentaclebeast to bring him back. Interfacing after that injury was…excruciating…for Michael…” Albert trailed off, and Eudora did not press for more details. An uneasy silence hung in the room as each contemplated Michael’s plight.

“Recovery took a long time, and even Michael understood he could never return to the field, even before we knew about his fits. He accepted that with a certain grace, although I’m certain it must have been a crushing blow. But his expertise was far too valuable for us to lose. He agreed to stay on with us. To see it through.” Respect and gratitude were as evident on Albert’s face as they were in his voice. “Soon after his recovery, the fits began. From what we can tell, they do no direct harm, though we try to protect him from injuring himself when they occur.”

“They’re so…dramatic…for something that does no direct harm. What causes them?”

“We don’t know. We can only assume that they’re tied to his injuries, but beyond that there appears to be no specific trigger.” And no cure, he thought with frustration.

“Thank you for your forthrightness, Mr. Hedley.” Eudora was reminded, briefly, of her brother’s death, when she was only seven years old. She had the image in her mind of holding her weeping mother’s hand, and puzzled for a moment over why that felt so similar to this moment.

“I only hope that it served a purpose. You understand, of course, that this conversation goes no further.”

“Of course. I will be better prepared, should something like this occur in the future.”

“Of course you will. I daresay even otherworldly sparks leaping from a man’s skin could not surprise you more than once.”

He’s probably right about that, Eudora thought, arching a brow.

 

Chapter Two: Story Two

Brian Valentine looked carefully about the gymnasium to ensure it was empty before gesturing to the tentaclebeast behind him. “This way, Sky.” Sky had a bright blue body shaped like the top half of a sphere, with many long, slender tentacles hanging down. Atop the sphere portion of his body was a blue fin with a rippled fuschia edge, resembling a mane or comb. He glided smoothly behind Brian, matching his steps by swaying his tentacles around his body, as if a wave were continually passing around him, circling again and again.

Brian moved quickly to the back of the gymnasium, where doorways led to several practice rooms. He opened one, a wrestling room with canvas pads laid out on the floor, and waited for Sky to float inside before quietly shutting the doors. Taking a jump rope from a corner, he used it to tie the handles together.

“Alright. Let us begin.” Standing in the center of the room, he held out his arms. Sky moved behind Brian and rested against the back of Brian’s head, extending two thicker tentacles to wrap many times around his right arm, ending by the wrist, and two likewise on the left. Then he settled his weight against Brian’s head, neck, and shoulders, and allowed their minds to join.

Brian shut his eyes, taking in the cacophony of tentaclebeast communications and untangling that mass into individual threads, distinct and quieter, then quieter still. He felt as if he were an extension of Sky, and Sky an extension of him, all at once. When he opened his eyes, he saw from his own pair, as well as from Sky’s four—Sky’s being two in front, and two behind. Even after a year on Special Services, it was an odd sensation. Though sometimes, it seems more strange to see less, he thought.

To Us, yours is strangeness, Sky added. Sky thought of a sort of box, in darkness, with only one side opened to the light.

Brian thought of a horse wearing blinders as it drew a carriage.

Is a horse like a bird? Sky asked Brian. Brian realized that he had been thinking of a horse “flying like the wind”.

No. But we will be like a bird, Brian thought, trying to show Sky the difference between the two in his mind.

Begin? Sky asked, tensing his tentacles around Brian’s arms in a sort of pulsing motion.

Brian concentrated on the part of his mind that was Sky’s thoughts, trying to see his own body as additional tentacles that swayed and rippled like Sky’s did. He felt the air around him as if he were naked, rather than feeling the fabric of his clothing.

Sky tensed, pulling on Brian’s arm’s and hair. The spherical part of his body contracted, squeezing Brian’s head like a hat a size or two too small.

They moved forward, Brian’s feet rising up on tiptoes and starting to drag along the floor instead of walk. Faster, smoother, Brian’s feet just started to leave the floor, and as he noticed it, the moment he felt that sensation, they hit the wall. Losing concentration all at once, they tumbled to the mats on the floor.

Brian blinked from the sudden loss of vision in their rear eyes, currently blocked by the floor mat. They struggled, but it wasn’t clear at first whose body was supposed to get them off the floor. Sky eventually pulled back to a normal Interfacing, and Brian was able to bring them upright.

Sky! You got my feet off the floor! Astonishing! Brian thought his congratulations to Sky.

Quietly, Sky cautioned, sending Brian a thought of the other tentaclebeasts in the background. They both paused in their thoughts, listening, but none of the other creatures seemed to have taken notice of Brian’s exultation.

Again? Sky asked.

Begin, Brian thought.

* * *

“This, of course, is the main dining hall, which you are already familiar with,” Michael said to Eudora as he led her on a tour of Thousand Candles. “We try to take meals as a group, but the reality of our commitments tends to mean things are done in shifts. For holidays and such, we dine together though. Uncle insists.”

“Uncle?” Eudora asked.

“Ah, yes, it’s the custom around here to call Albert “Uncle”. I wouldn’t say it to him personally though.” Michael looked for all the world like a schoolboy caught in a prank, and Eudora couldn’t help but to chuckle.

“That’s an unusual nickname. How did he acquire it? He seems to me to be more the father of this group.”

“Well, Albert is actually Gigi and Brian’s uncle. But I don’t think you’ve met them just yet, right?”

“No. Mr. Hedley wants to introduce me to the team formally at supper tonight.”

“You’ll understand, once you’ve met Gigi, why everyone would take on her names for things. She has such a great enthusiasm for everything; it’s hard not to be affected by it.”

“It’s difficult to imagine Mr. Hedley with relations at all.” Eudora flushed. “That didn’t exactly come out how I meant it.”

Michael laughed. “It’s alright, I understand just what you mean. Albert can get rather wrapped up in his own seriousness sometimes. The work we do affects each of us differently.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what is your role here?”

“I once was Captain of Special Services, as Christopher is now. These days, I’m more of a planner…sort of an assistant to the “big general”,” Michael winked, “and a mentor to the kids on the team. Albert and I confer on mission planning, and then I work with Christopher to train the team, ensuring they’re prepared to accomplish those missions.”

“Sounds like an awful lot of responsibility.” I wonder at his calling them children, Eudora thought. He doesn’t look so old as that.

“Truly? To be honest, I never viewed it in that light,” Michael said thoughtfully. “Now before I take you on to the conservatory and gardens, let us return to the common study. It’s a nice central landmark to help you find your way about the rest of the manor.”

“I think I might be able to find it from here, if you’ll allow me to make the attempt.”

“By all means. It’s the only way to learn.” He stood aside, gesturing for Eudora to take the lead.

“Hmm, turn here…and here…now straight back this hall…” In short order they emerged in the common study, where Eudora had made her Passage. “I’ve found it!” she said with pride, as the first real, full smile crossed her face, that she could recall, since her arrival at Thousand Candles. Beaming, she turned to Michael—

—as he collapsed to the floor, stiff as a board, the purple scars that covered half his face and body lighting up as if they concealed flames within. Sparks flew off of his body as he convulsed, his whole body shaking and contracting in fits.

“Help!” Eudora shouted. “Somebody, please, help us!” She dove to the carpet by Michael’s side, kneeling over him, with not even the faintest idea of how to assist. She noticed one of the tassels such as Albert had used to summon servants hanging near a bookcase, and she dashed over and tugged on it several times, then ran back to Michael, still convulsing on the carpet. “Help! Please, help us!” she shouted.

 

Chapter Two: Story One

Dietary Requirements for Members of SPOT Special Services

The following common items must not be consumed by members of SPOT Special Services, as they will cause difficulties with the Interfacing process. These items are in the pantry for the common enjoyment of such SPOT members who are not themselves part of the Special Services division, so it is necessary that you attend to your meals carefully to ensure that you do not consume such items as are listed here.

Pork, bacon, ham, and any other meats derived from swine
Mint, including raw, cooked, teas, and candies
Ginger, including gingerbread and other baked goods
Peppers
Lemons
Limes
Special Note: Oranges are acceptable, despite their being a citrus fruit.

The list of restricted items may change at any time, so if in doubt about a food, consult your division leader.

* * *

Eudora read over the list of restricted food items, wondered at it for a moment, and set it aside, another mystery to be pondered and questioned as she grew accustomed to life at Thousand Candles.

There wasn’t much to arrange in her quarters, since she had brought so few personal belongings with her. She had a single trunk with her, into which was packed two dresses, a night shift, a set of undergarments, two pairs of slippers, a few pieces of jewelry, a hat, a bonnet, her winter cloak, gloves, four pairs of stockings, and some personal mementos, including a small album with pictures of her family. There was also her needlebook and a small selection of threads and buttons for mending her clothes. Aside from this, she had only what she had worn on her person, including her boots, and a small purse of money that she had earned herself from the sale of needlework. Only what is mine, Eudora thought as she put her clothes away in her new room, and nothing else. No claim that can be laid on me by Mother, nor anyone.

She thought back to her family, to the house on Winter Street, her sisters and baby brother, her mother, her fa—must not think of Father, she told herself, hanging her stockings with determination. She set the picture album carefully on her bedside table, and in its drawer placed such jewelry as she had.

I wonder what they’re doing right now, she thought. Probably readying themselves for breakfast. She pictured her tall, regal mother pouring the tea with her own lily-white hands, and her sisters carefully passing the cups. The breakfast table was covered in a lace tablecloth crocheted by their grandmother, Virginia Dreesman, then carefully placed in her daughter Caroline’s hope chest with lavender sachets, for the day that she married Edward Wright. Eudora remembered running her hands over it as a girl, feeling the ridges and holes formed by the thread, and remembered how impeccably white the servants kept it under her mother’s direction.

Then, the snow-like white of her imaginings was stained with blood, and her father lay dying over the breakfast table, rather than where he’d actually died, the angry red spoiling both tablecloth and Mother’s hands alike. Eudora’s chest grew tight and tears welled up in her eyes. She sat on the bed and pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. It was smooth, unused, perfectly folded. She pressed it delicately to her eyes, trying not to redden her face or mar her ladylike demeanor, as she’d been taught. Going to the washing table, she poured a little water into the bowl, splashed it onto her face and hands, and dried them with a towel. She smoothed her hair and her dress, and then, satisfied that everything was in order, proceeded to breakfast.

* * *

After he had taken his breakfast, Christopher Drury walked over to the workshop of Mary Valentine. He found her, as usual, hard at work, drawing on a stack of very large sheets of paper, her eyebrows knit together in concentration under dark blonde hair which was swept up in a fetching and sophisticated twist. Handsome and witty, Mary could turn many a young man’s head, despite her eccentricities. Could, that is, were she not already taken, and if she ever left her work.

Christopher knocked politely at her already-open door. “Good day, Mrs. Valentine. You asked to see me?”

“Splendid! Christopher, come right in. And haven’t I already told you to call me Mary?”

“At least several times, ma’am.” Christopher chuckled at their usual exchange.

“Well then, please do!” she said with a winning smile, still bent over her work. “Come see this.” She waved an arm to gesture him into the room.

Christopher smiled as he entered the room, full of Mrs. Valentine’s peculiar blend of workstuffs. All about the room there were bits of metal here, tools and drawings there, books lining the shelves—anything that might aid in her work. The room wasn’t disorganized per se—Christopher had seen Mary lay her hands on anything at a moment’s notice—but it was certainly her own personal blend of organized chaos.

He looked over her shoulder. The drawings seemed to be of  a sort of star-shaped device. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Personal armor. I’m trying again.”

“You think we might actually be able to get it across this time?”

“The key is Interfacing it with the tentaclebeasts. I think the problem is that they don’t have a mental concept for clothing, so it’s difficult for them to hold onto when they cross. If we can devise something that seems more natural to them, more in tune with their style of thinking, I believe we’ll be able to bring it over.”

“So we’re to wear this?” Christopher turned his head, trying to see how it could be worn.

“Yes. I’ve added joints here, here, here, and here,” she said, gesturing with her pencil, “so that you can retain flexibility. Think of it as a sort of case that turns you into a tentaclebeast—one that can walk.”

Christopher looked at the joints with a sense of unease he couldn’t quite place. Almost as if I’ve seen them somewhere before

“I’ve asked you here because I was hoping you’d do me the honor of modelling the prototype,” Mary continued. “You know best what you and your team need, and you can give me the most valuable insights. Do you have some time free to work with me on the pieces as they’re constructed?”

“Certainly,” Christopher said, shaking off the odd feeling. “I couldn’t turn down an invitation tied so closely to my own interests.”

“Splendid, splendid. I was fearful that training your new recruit might take up all of your spare moments.”

“No, she’s not quite ready for that yet. Uncle wants her here for a month before she begins formal training.”

“That long? What is that brother of mine thinking this time?”

“I’m not certain. If he has reservations about her, he hasn’t confided them in me.”

“Like as not he’s just being a cautious old fool, as he always is. Mind you,” Mary continued with an impish grin, “he was a cautious old fool before he was ten years old.”

“I’ll be certain to tell him you’ve said so,” Christopher said with a wink.

“Oh, you ruffian!” Mary batted at Christopher with a roll of drawing papers. “Out, out with you, scoundrel! I’ve work to do.” They both laughed.

“Good day, Mrs. Valentine,” Christopher said with an elaborate bow.

“On with you, then, you silly boy,” Mary laughed, already back to her drawings.

 
 
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