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Chapter Five: Story Eight

“Are you ready for this?” Gideon asked Eudora before knocking on the door of the mansion hosting the demonstration by “Noted Scientist Basil Higginsworth”. He looked at her, on his arm, ready to act the part of a newly-wed besotted enough with her husband to endure the “boredom” of mens’ business. Her gown was of Nile-green silk, trimmed in beadwork and embroidered in white, with puffed sleeves about her shoulders. Her hair had been set up in curls, accented by a string of pearls loaned by Mrs. Valentine, and opera-length white suede gloves completed the outfit.

Gideon himself was dressed in a tasteful and well-tailored dinner coat, a white shirt with gold buttons and a three inch collar, a single-breasted waistcoat, full, wide trousers, and a silk hat. We make quite the dashing pair, he thought.

Eudora took a deep breath. “Why of course I am, darling! I can’t possibly think of a more pleasant way to pass the evening than at your side.” She smiled up at him. “Are you ready for your business, Elric dear?” she asked, using the name of his cover identity.

“Why yes, Mary, I do believe I am. Shall we go in, Mrs. Wilson?” he responded in kind.

“Please let’s do,” Eudora said cheerfully.

Gideon knocked on the door, and shortly it was opened by a footman. “Good evening, sir, madam, please come in,” he said, stepping aside to allow them to enter. “Who may I announce to Mr. Pardekopper?

“Mr. and Mrs. Elric Wilson,” Gideon told him.

“Very good, sir. Please may I hang your hat for you?”

“Yes, thank you,” Gideon said, passing the silk hat to the footman.

Eudora was already looking about the foyer for hints as to its owner’s dealings. She knew from their preparations for this mission that his name was Oliver Pardekopper. He was the wealthy owner of two silver mines near Treddon, a few hours’ train ride southwest of Carelon, where her maternal grandparents made their home. Accordingly, there was quite the showing of his route to wealth in the foyer, always calculated to impress visitors. The room was lit by a silver chandelier, accented by silver wall lamps, a black and silver colored carpet, and on the table a silver calling card holder in front of a silver vase of flowers.

Gideon took Eudora’s hand and caught her eye, then tilted his gaze upward, in the direction of the second floor. Eudora paused and listened. Ever so faintly, she could hear a conversation.

“Oh my, I do believe I need to find the powder room straightaway,” Eudora said. “Won’t you please make my excuses to Mr. Pardekopper for being so rude?”

“I’m sure it will be no trouble, my dear. Catch up to me when you can.” Their expressions were spot-on, and Eudora made her way upstairs.

She went down the second-floor hallway as quietly as she could until she found herself near a closed door from which the conversation was emerging, and the voices certainly did not sound as if they were entertaining pleasantries. Eudora stepped closer and listened.

“I’m telling you,” one man said emphatically, “this is what we need.”

“And suppose it doesn’t work?” another man replied, with a lower voice.

“It doesn’t matter whether it works or not,” said the first, “so long as it’s believable. That’s all it will take to motivate them.”

“Suppose you’re right. Suppose this grows our numbers. What then?”

“Numbers only add to our strength. They will have to take notice.”

“Wait—did you hear that?” the lower-voiced man said.

“Hear what?” the first speaker asked.

“I think I heard someone in the hall,” the lower-voiced man said, and Eudora jumped back as she heard a hand on the doorknob.

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Chapter Five: Story Seven

Gigi sat in a wicker chair in the garden, under the shade of an obliging tree, writing in her diary with a fine hand. It was one of the more evident traits she had inherited from her father.

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 here, Gigi stopped, for a familiar tentacle was tapping gently upon her wrist.

“Inky, darling, what brings you here?” she asked.

Inky’s tall, squid-shaped body was longer than Gigi herself, not to mention the tentacles. He typically hovered so that his eyes were close to Gigi’s eye level or lower, and as she was seated now he had lowered himself nearer to her.

Gigi extended her hand and gently patted the tentacle Inky had laid on her wrist. He seemed to find physical contact of any kind reassuring, and Gigi realized that she was also reassured by it.

“What’s on your mind?” she asked, holding up her arm with a questioning look. Inky bobbed, and Gigi stood up to allow him to Interface, his size comparable to her own being far too great to accommodate a seated Interfacing.

Inky situated himself against her back, wrapping his frontmost tentacles about each of her arms. They connected in an instant, and Gigi heard the familiar mental conversation that constituted her awareness of the other tentaclebeasts.

Something was off about it today, though. Gigi couldn’t quite put her finger on it. The others seemed subdued, not as chatty as usual.

Is something wrong? Gigi asked.

Inky sent an image of his apology to her some time before, when he had hovered submissively low outside her bedroom, asking to be dominated by her to be accepted back into her good graces.

No, Inky, you don’t have to worry about that. That was awhile ago, and Father is going to be alright. Besides, I’ve already forgiven you. You’re good, she thought emphatically.

Inky simply sent the memory of his apologetic pose again, and she felt his tentacles tighten on her arms, his body heating up against her back in distress.

Inky, I promise, I’m not mad

That was all the more Gigi could think before her thoughts vanished.

 

Chapter Five: Story Six

After a lot more walking and wondering where the market might be, Edward found himself at a familiar landmark—the train station.

Maybe Eudora came through here when she left, Edward thought. Maybe someone has seen her. He was getting awfully tired, and rather wishing he could go home again, but how could he return without his sister?

Edward wandered the train station looking for conductors or other employees to stop and ask, but all of them seemed terribly busy. He found himself buffeted about by the streams of people flowing through the station, quite overlooked. The trains roared and squealed as they arrived and departed in an ongoing dance.

It was from one such train that a group of gentlemen disembarked quite near to Edward, unnoticed as he was by a bench. There were three of them: one short and stout, with salt and pepper peeking out from under his top hat and adorning his whiskers, and the other two a good bit taller than him, looking rather similar with their brown hair, well-groomed mustaches, and smartly-tailored travelling suits. Edward guessed they might be brothers.

The stout man waddled over to the bench and dropped onto it with all the grace of a sack of flour. “It’s a good day, gents, a good day indeed,” he declared to his two companions.

“Aren’t you counting your chickens a trifle early?” one of them asked. He wore a burgundy waistcoat, so Edward thought of him as “Red”, to differentiate him from his companion, whose waistcoat was blue.

“Not just before they’ve hatched, but before the hen has laid them,” Blue added with a snicker. Red chuckled in response.

“I don’t think it hurts to indulge a bit of optimism,” Stout answered, a bit miffed. “Besides, if the two of you think it’s so hopeless, whyever did you make this journey?”

“Now, now, don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Blue said dismissively. “Neither of us declared things to be hopeless. There’s no need to be so dramatic.”

“What I think he’s trying to convey,” Red began, “is simply that we have no idea what we’re about to encounter. Let’s simply visit the demonstration, without expectation, and see whether there might not be an opportunity for us to take advantage of.”

“I’m perfectly agreeable to that,” said Stout.

Edward pushed his way forward. “Begging your pardon, kind sirs, but I was wondering if you might help me.”

Red gave Edward a once-over. “What sort of help, young chap? You don’t look as if you’re in need of coin.”

“No, sir,” Edward said in the respectful voice he was raised to give his tutor. “I’m hoping one of you may have seen my sister.” He held up his picture.

“Are you lost, little fellow?” asked Stout. “Was she to fetch you from your train?”

“Well, not exactly,” Edward began.

“I can’t say as I’ve seen her before,” said Blue.

“Did you ask the conductor to help you?” Red asked.

Stout cut in before Edward could answer. “We should help him find his family. It’s not as if we have to be there straightaway.”

“I’d rather prefer we find something to eat before we’re expected,” Blue said.

“His family is probably looking for him. We should send him on his way.” Red said.

“I bet this young man is hungry too, growing boy like you,” Stout said, patting Edward on the shoulder, as if Red had not spoken. “Would you like to join us for a bit of dinner, son?”

Edward hadn’t had more than his apple and hunk of bread, and he’d walked very, very far. “I should like that very much, sir.”

“I suppose that settles it then,” Red said, arching a brow at Stout. “We’ll find some food and then reunite the boy with his family. And then,” he said with a tone that brooked no argument, “we continue with our plans.”

“Quite right,” Stout said, “once he is reunited with his family.”

“Here, make yourself useful,” Blue said, handing Edward a piece of luggage.

“Yes, sir,” Edward said, because he’d been raised to acknowledge adults in this way.

“See? He’s quite an agreeable little fellow, isn’t he?” Stout said, ruffling Edward’s hair. The group made its way from the train station in search of dinner.

 

Chapter Five: Story Five

Michael held out his arm under the pattern of sunlight and shade that came through the window in his quarters, and watched it take on a mottled appearance. Except of course, for the purple-black scars running from hand to shoulder and upward. Shirtless, the extent of the scarring on his chest and torso was also visible.

He moved his arm back to the bed. Slowly, it turned white to match the sheet on which he lay. Still, he couldn’t get the scars to shift with it. He stood and walked across the room. Soon his skin shifted to the shiny, grained texture of the wood paneling on the walls.

He dashed to a nearby boulder, taking on its lumpen shape and yellow-brown color. Wait, a boulder? Why is there a boulder in my quarters?

But he wasn’t in his quarters any longer, and the very thought of the room faded like a distant memory. He hovered over the landscape, tentacles rippling under him as his skin shifted with his surroundings. It felt good to truly stretch out and move, to enjoy the speed available to him.

He dove into a nearby lake, folded himself through it, and emerged on the other side. The lake he had entered was now upside down beneath him. Indeed, the entire landscape he had hovered over was now upside down beneath him. This seemed to be only the most natural possible state of affairs, and he was quite untroubled.

The landscape he had emerged to, however, was not as he expected it to be. The trees were blasted, snapped in pieces and still smoking. The ground was marked with craters and shattered stones. And then there were the bodies.

His mind called out in despair to his fallen comrades, but he could not feel a link to any of them. Their bodies were strewn over the ground, tentacles outstretched, blue blood and worse dripping from their broken forms, all most terrible to see. He extended a tentacle to one and then another, but all were beyond saving. His hearts tightened while his skin turned a livid red, and he flailed helplessly.

Then he came across a curious shape. It too seemed to be a body, but it was not of any creature he’d ever seen before, and he could not tell if it was living or no. It was possessed of pale skin with many very fine tendrils emerging from its surface. It too seemed to be bleeding, but a deep red instead of the blue of his comrades.

I’m looking at myself, Michael thought. Am I dead? Did I die in this battle?

He woke up in his bed, shirtless, with a white sheet covering him. What happened? he asked himself, not expecting any reply.

I want to go home, a voice in his mind answered.

 

Chapter Five: Story Four (Part Two)

SPOT Fans: Here’s part two of the holiday double-post! Enjoy!

*    *    *

Edward had continued on the same street, and saw nothing but houses. Maybe if I turn somewhere? He opted for the right turn this time, and continued past several streets of houses before he found himself amongst buildings that held something else, though he wasn’t sure what. They towered over him with long columns and curlicues, but no one seemed to be in them as the sun began to glint off of their windows.

This must be the sort of place Father went to do business, he thought, though he wasn’t certain what Father’s business had been. It wasn’t part of his coaching towards becoming the new “head of household”. That thought reminded him, with a pang of guilt, of his place at the breakfast table, and how he wouldn’t be there to preside as his mother wished him to. But this is more important. I have to find Eudora.

With that thought, he started looking for people in earnest. He had walked a long way now, a lot farther than he would normally, even if he had been escorted. They rarely left the house, and when they did, it was almost always via carriage. The long country walks they used to take at their summer home ended after Father passed.

The first person he came across was a boy not much older than himself standing next to an enormous stack of newspapers. He had yet to begin selling his wares. Edward took out Eudora’s picture and walked up to the boy.

“Hello,” Edward said.

“Allo…you the new boy?” the paperboy asked, eyeing Edward suspiciously from under the brim of his cap.

“Um, I’m uh…new around here,” Edward said.

“Right then, you can stay off my turf. Find your own corner.”

“I was wondering if you might have seen my sister,” Edward said, holding up the picture.

“Why on earth should I have seen her? She’s your sister,” the paperboy pointed out dismissively. “Now off with you; I’ve papers to sell. Don’t you try to take any of my customers neither.”

“I won’t, um, sorry,” Edward said, but the boy was ignoring him to arrange his papers.

Edward continued down the block, and came across a courtyard leading up to a magnificent domed building that he recognized from his tutor’s lessons as the Thorthrope courthouse. He paused a moment, then turned his steps to the large building. Surely a place of law was a good place to report a missing person?

A clerk was ascending the marble staircase when Edward approached. “Excuse me, sir, could I please have a moment of your time?”

The clerk turned, surprised. “Uh, yes? How may I be of service?”

Edward held up the picture. “I wonder, sir, if you have seen my sister? There’s a reward in it for you,” he remembered to mention.

“And who is your sister? For that matter, who might you be?” the clerk asked, adjusting his glasses as he looked at the picture.

“I’m Edward Wright, and this is my sister, Eudora.”

“Where are your parents, Edward?”

“Father passed away,” Edward said quietly.

“I’m very sorry. But what I meant was, who is here with you? Surely you aren’t searching for your sister on your own?”

“Ah…my mother is uh…waiting for me…” Edward half-lied. She’s waiting for me at home, right? “I’d better go now.”

He headed off, and the clerk thought to call after him, but thought better of it. “It’s not my problem,” he said as he entered the halls of justice.

 

Chapter Five: Story Four (Part One)

SPOT Fans: Today, it’s a holiday double-post! Enjoy part one of today’s story, and keep a lookout for part two, coming later today!

*    *    *

It was a fairly easy thing, far easier than Edward expected, to stray out from under his mother’s roof in the early morning hours. Of his family, only Sarah was a light sleeper, and the servants’ quarters were in a different part of the house entirely than the family’s bedrooms. The only tricky parts of his plan involved being awake before the servants began their morning chores—easy enough when one is excited—and finding a way out of the house that wouldn’t immediately give him away.

The back door, facing their lawn as it did, allowed him a discreet exit towards the hedges that separated them from their neighbors. He put the strap of his satchel across his body and over one shoulder, balancing its precious cargo on his hip: bread, apples, his father’s silver flask filled with water, and most importantly, a picture of his sister and five schen, saved up from assorted holiday gifts, to pay for information on her whereabouts. He remembered when father’s hunting dog, Waldo, had been lost, and he’d offered a reward for its return, and decided there was no reason a sister could not be similarly reunited with the family.

No matter what, he promised himself, I will bring my sister home. He thought of his mother’s crying, his sisters’ fighting, and the tense cloud of sorrow that had hovered over their home since their father’s death and then Eudora’s departure. I’m going to make it better, he told all of them in his mind.

Edward opened the back door and started when it gave a creak. Did anyone hear that? he wondered. Frozen in place, he waited a few long moments, but when he heard no movement from upstairs, he continued, closing the door carefully behind him. Then it was into the yard, through the thin spot in the hedge, and onto the neighbor’s lawn. Edward had often come this way to play with the Victrolsy children, or at least, he did before Mother forbade him and his sisters to leave the family’s own property. Now, he used it to be sure he wouldn’t be seen by any early risers in his own home.

He hadn’t, however, given any thought to early risers in the Victrolsy home. A servant was on their back porch, enjoying a few minutes of pre-dawn peace before beginning his work for the day. He stared at Edward and seemed about to speak. Edward smiled, waved, and dashed out the garden gate.

“Children these days,” the servant muttered to himself. “Shut the gate!” he called to Edward.

Edward turned back and shut the gate, then raced across their front lawn and out to the street…and stopped.

Now where do I go? he thought, looking from right to left. He had no idea where Eudora might have gone.

Maybe to the market? he wondered. The servants often spoke of going to the market. But he had no idea where it might be. Giving it a guess, he set out to the left and started walking.

He walked for some time and eventually pulled out an apple to eat as he went along. There wasn’t much of anyone up and about yet, so there was no one he could show the picture of his sister to. Edward meandered along. It’s quite nice to be on an adventure, he thought, reminded of a storybook he’d read with his tutor, where a noble prince set out to rescue a fair maiden locked away in a tower. He found himself feeling quite brave

*    *    *
That’s all for part one of today’s story, but be sure to come back later today for part two of our holiday double-post!

 

Chapter Five: Story Three

Michael was walking, and yet not walking, through Thousand Candles. He drifted along, his sight blurring, his arms burning.

In time he understood he was looking for something. He couldn’t say what it was, but he was of two minds about it. One train of thought had him longing, for something or someone, and the other had him hunting it, like a wolf to a doe.

Perhaps it wasn’t even a single thing. Perhaps he searched for two things, or nothing at all.

No, definitely something. Otherwise, why was he wandering the halls in the middle of the night? Or, it must be the middle of the night, because no one else was about. His arms and face burned, and he longed to lay down.

“I’m not sure, Albert,” a disembodied voice said.

Albert. Hadn’t he just been talking to Albert?

No, I’m searching. He continued around and around the manor, but it was oddly empty. No, not oddly, he told himself, it’s nighttime. Everyone is sleeping.

“Michael,” a voice called.

Ah, that must be who I’m looking for, he thought. That’s…well, that must be the person I’m looking for, he decided, shaking his head.

“Michael, come on, pal,” the voice continued.

The burning in his arms, face, and chest intensified, and he found himself starting to have a tremendous headache as well. The voice called his name a few more times and it was painfully loud, as if the person in question were shouting from within his own head. He stopped his progress toward the sound and grabbed his head, not wanting to go closer to the unbearable noise.

“Stop, stop,” he begged the voice. But it continued, and his pain deepened.

If only I could find…but the thought trailed off, and he did not know the answer. The fire in his flesh and the throbbing pain in his head were bringing tears to his eyes. They streamed freely down his cheeks. He ran down the corridor, but his legs did not move. He was floating, but now at great speeds.

“Michael. Michael. We just need you for a moment, just to take a little medicine, then you can sleep. Come on, wake up, just a little.”

Michael’s eyes fluttered open, and he found himself looking into the kindly face of Doctor Hardale.

“There, there, that’s a good lad. I know it hurts,” Hardale said quietly. “Just a little of this, don’t want you to choke.” He pressed a pill to Michael’s lips, and Michael obediently took it into his mouth. It was followed by a cool glass of water. He swallowed, then shut his eyes.

“Michael,” the doctor continued, “it would help if I could look at your eyes for a few moments. Can you look at me?”

Michael forced his eyes open with difficulty and looked at the doctor.

“Thank you. I know it’s hard.” The doctor looked him over. “Alright, lad. One more medicine, and then it’s back to dreamland. Here you are.” He held a spoon of syrup to Michael’s lips and tipped it down for him.

“You’ll be back asleep soon. Just relax. Let the medicine do its work.”

Michael was profoundly grateful when the doctor stopped talking. Even his soft and kindly bedside voice hammered nails through his skull. Still, he had to ask.

“What…happened?” he groaned out, his eyes still shut.

“A fit,” Hardale answered. “You’re going to be fine, Michael. Rest now. Questions later.”

Michael found that he didn’t have much choice in the matter. He slept.

 
 
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