Archivist note: This article is from an older recovered archive and might be obsolete or in need of updating.
Most recent revision is shown below, by Verlia.
Our weltanschauung: that the entire universe operates with machine like regularity. It is a precision bored into the stars, into the sea, into the framework of our world. It is something that none of us can escape, not even those who feign ignorance to science and it’s methods.
Despite her knowledge, or lack thereof, Lia Bilavio would always be tied to her father, not only by his reputation as a respected scientist, but because she possessed a secret vital to Professor Bilavio’s research. She heard it mentioned, even when she eavesdropped outside of her father’s office at an early age, the whispers, the hushed tones, all speaking: “She is the key.” Never knowing what it meant, or how it could pertain to her, the words lingered at the back of her mind, a faint voice calling her as if it was something important but she had forgotten what.
Little did she know the key lay deep within her mind, dormant for years. It was the safest place that the professor could find for this startling bit of powerful research. Yet, when this secret chose to find it’s way our of her mind and into the world, Lia began to understand the precise clockwork of the universe. Everything was connected. Every moving part had it’s place and purpose, and every part of her life had a significance that drew it’s place from protecting her father’s secret.
And thus, when we returned to Singapore (after arguing with Phin about being lost in the middle of who knows where and him being persistent that we were just taking the long way back), there were still some matters to attend to. Namely, my father’s inability to keep himself out of trouble. It would be a few days until Phin and I could catch the next airship back to New Babbage and I was concerned that my father didn’t exactly know what to do. His two previous forays into magnetism had resulted in failed conclusions, the research of which could not be published in any scientific journal nor presented to the Scientific Academy.
After Phineas muttered something about finding a decent cup of coffee and excused himself, I prepared to have a talk with my father in the hotel cafe. But after waiting nearly half an hour for him to come down, I grew impatient.
Bursting through his door, I was about to give him a taste of my sharp tongue once again but as I opened my mouth I saw him holding a letter, a strange sorrowful and pained look on his face.
“What.. what is it father?” I asked, shutting to door and approaching him. He abruptly looked up at me, folding the letter and placing it back on the desk.
Smiling reassuringly, he said, “Oh nothing, just more business. Nothing to trouble you.” I couldn’t believe it. He was lying to me again and by the looks of it he was trying to protect me and keep me from worrying. What good that did me the last two times. “I’m sorry Lia, I hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”
“Yes.” I said sterning, crossing my arms over my chest. “Yes you did. Nearly thirty minutes too!”
He simply smiled again. “I must have lost track of time. Business can do such things sometimes, you must understand.” I wondered if he really thought he was going to talk his way out of this.
“Look, father. I’m sure you know what I wished to speak with you about. These little adventures, the going away for months and not even sending word of your safety, getting involved with the worst sorts of people, driving me to worry like mother did, OH and not to mention dragging Phineas into this. It must stop. I know you have a glorious time traveling the world, but I cannot tolerate any more thrill seeking. Aren’t you getting a bit old for all of this anyway?” I started. I didn’t want to mention that he, most of all, scared me when he went off like this.
“Ah, just like your mother, you are,” he said, “Although I’m sure you wouldn’t want hear that.” I nodded briefly. “Wouldn’t she have said something similar to you when you persisted in letting her let you go after me? It was her way of showing she cared I suppose.”
I drew in a sharp breath, noticing the similarities. It was disheartening that the last conversations I ever had with my mother was over me leaving.
“You selfish girl!” my mother yelled. “What do you hope to accomplish by following after him? Do you wish to get yourself killed because, I can assure you, that is exactly what you are intending to do by leaving.”
“I’m not a girl anymore mother!” I protested, standing up from the settee and slamming the novel I had been reading, on what had been a pleasant October day in the parlor, down on the floor. “I’m nearly twenty one. Do you expect to keep me as a prisoner in this house until you have found a suitable husband for me? Do you wish to keep me docile and subdued as Olivia? Is that why you took away easel and paints?”
My mother scoffed, “I would hardly call Olivia docile, Verlia.” She calmly took a sip of her tea, setting it back down on the serving table, hardly acknowledging my argument. “After all, she’s already engaged.”
“Face it mother, you could never stand to see me successful on my own out of the presence of any man,” I continued. I heard the teacup clatter as her hand trembled. I wondered if it was because of what I said or if it was because of her condition.
“I’m sorry Verlia but it’s just not proper. No man would take you if they felt their superiority challenged by your success, and judging by your lack of offers, I fear it’s already had an effect.” My mother’s voice showed no sign of weakness.
“You’re living in the past mother. Any proper man would be happy to have someone as creative and successful as myself. Besides, what does it matter? Is that really your only concern? Marriage?! Mother, you must know it’s far from my mind. I AM going to find father. I AM going to resume painting, and I AM going to see to it that you will not keep me as a prisoner in this house any longer. I’ll go with or without your consent.”
“Verlia, I do not think that this is the–,” my mother tried to take a breath. She was always good at keeping her emotions from revealing her true nature. I was a bit shocked that my words would pierce her so. “The wisest…” My eyes grew wide as she slumped over on the couch.
“Help! Someone help!” I cried out, rushing towards her. It was only a few days later that she died.
I tried to wipe a stray tear from my eye, not wanting my father to catch me getting upset over my mother. “I’m sure she wouldn’t have been as emotional as I am.” I sighed, realizing that I was asking a lot from my father. “It was difficult, you know, living with her.”
He walked over to me, wrapping his arms tightly around me. “Oh Lia, you definitely didn’t make it easy for her. You’re such a demanding young lady.”
I nodded. “It was difficult watching her suffer. She tried not to show it in the last few weeks, but you could still tell something was… wrong.”
My father let out a breath and let go of me, crossing the room again back to the desk. Picking up the letter, he said, “I think you should read this. I’ve learnt my lesson that keeping secrets from you is dangerous to all of us. Perhaps you can find a bit of comfort in at least knowing.” He handed the letter over to me.
I opened it slightly, glancing down at the ink. “What is it father?”
“After we returned from the Arctic I had an investigation started on the nature of your mother’s death. They’ve finally returned the results to me. I’m sure you’d like to read the report for yourself,” he explained, beckoning me to take a look at the letter.
I scanned the summary, looking for the right words. There was no way I could wait to know. And there, in the third paragraph, the word stood out: poisoned. I looked up shocked at my father. “Mother was…” I stopped, noticing my voice trembling, “She was poisoned? But by who?”
My father shook his head as I handed the letter back to him. “I have a few suspicions. The fact that she was poisoned slowly makes me think it had something to do with my previous colleague and research and that they had been planning this for some time now. Lia, I know you’re going not going to like this but the Scientific Academy has requested that I come back to teach.”
I shook my head, wondering how this could be happening. I never suspected anything, and she was around me the whole time. “No, no… you musn’t father.”
“I’m sorry Lia but I must. I cannot rest until I find out who is behind this. I won’t let her death rest.” He then gave me a stern look. “But you must promise that you’ll return to New Babbage. With the secrecy of this information, I just can’t trust anyone at home.”
“Father, no,” I protested. I bit my lip. “I’m… I’m afraid of what will happen to you.”
“I know, I know. Please just give me the comfort of knowing that you’ll be safe far away from home,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. Even I knew that I’d be safer in New Babbage, especially surrounded by friends that would protect me. “Yes, I promise. I won’t come looking for you. But if I may, I’d like to make one request. If there’s any way to do so, please inform me of what is happening. It’s the long stretches of not hearing from you that get me the most worried.”
“Of course Lia, of course.”
==Lia’s Journal: Father’s Words, Mother’s Ghost: May 14th==
Posted by Verlia Bilavio on May 15, 188x at 7:41pm
I had been dreading this moment ever since I left father back in Singapore and he absolutely forbad me to follow him back home. I knew it was for the best, but since I returned, my thoughts throughout the day (and even in my dreams) have been of my mother.
The courier must have thought I was a bit strange, standing in my studio over a blank canvas, clutching a small piece of charcoal in my hands, my eyes blank and lost. It’s strange that after a lifetime of hating someone you can come to an understanding about them and fear losing them even if they’re already lost.
“Miss Bilavio?” The courier asked. I jumped at the sudden intrusion, the charcoal falling from the hands onto the floor. I shook my head and turned around, walking towards the courier, my outstretched hands shaking as he handed me the letter. I knew who it was from. I knew what it would say. I had been over this many times before, but the moment never got any easier. There were just some things I couldn’t stand, and my father putting himself in danger ranked high on my list.
When I looked back up from the note, my hands still shaking, I blurted out a soft thank you, realizing that the courier had already left, the door to my studio standing firmly in place. The more I mulled over the events of my life for the past eight months, the more unreal it all seemed. I would have never imagined my father’s work would put us all in danger, nor that it would be both the best and worst deviation from my stoic life.
I unsealed the note, slowly opening it in my hands, both prepared for the worst situation that my father could have thrown himself into and the possibility of nothing having happened at all. I took a breath and started to read:
As I have promised, and with the ease of communication permits, here is the news from home. I arrived only a few weeks prior from Singapore to take up my position on the board of the Scientific Academy. I have sent a small stipend along with this news as I have understood you have taken up painting once again. I only hope that you have been able to make an honest life for yourself in New Babbage despite our complications and quandaries. You know that it was your mother’s dream for you to be a spectacular and strong woman in whatever endeavors presented to you even if her ideas for your future were less extensive than your own.
Unfortunately, I have returned home to a less than ideal environment. The state of my personal laboratory was worse than I expected. Unkempt, it appeared to have been sorted through several times, most likely by the drones from the Scientific Academy, searching for the plans to the magnetic conversion mechanism along with the my notes from our recent discoveries in magnetic weaponry in the Malaysian peninsula. I am sure now, after spending only a few weeks in Arenka, that they are looking for a way to develop some sort of weapon based upon magnetic principles and recent scientific discoveries.
I am relieved that we destroyed the machine and the plans when we were in the Arctic, however I am extremely anxious that they may try to force these plans out of my mind, where I have locked them away hopefully never to be accessed again. Or worse, they may even attempt to come after you and Mr. Frakture in order to extract any information necessary to aid them in their malicious endeavors. For now, I urge you to stay in the background as to not draw any attention to yourself and, if you cannot manage this, I must demand that you not return home. Olivia, I believe, is safe for now under the care of her husband and his family. However, you do not have the same security and I regret it is something I am unable to provide for you.
I will send you any news indicating a change in my situation at the academy, or if I uncover any news about who was involved in your mother’s death. Wait for my word and be safe.
Your Loving Father,
I clutched at the letter. There was no news as to how mother had really died and who poisoned her. All of this time I had been worried that I would face the same fate as my mother, that I too would be poisoned to spite my father and leave him all alone. However, now I was even more concerned not for a possibility of my death, but that I could be harmed for information I barely knew about.
I cringed. There was only one person besides myself in New Babbage that knew of my mother’s poisoning and that was Sky. Despite other close friendships I had made, and how desperately I wanted to leap into someone’s arms and reveal my hardships, my distress, and my failings, there was no one I could feel comfortable enough with to do so.
In some ways, I wished for my life to return to the way it was before mother died, before father rushed off, and I understood now why she struggled so hard to keep me in that life I found abhorrent. My mother strived to protect me all this time and she failed, all the while keeping my father’s secrets. I thought I would never understand her. I thought that her death, while sad, would not be distressing. I thought that I could leave her in the ground and move on. Yet here she was, the memory of her, haunting me, haunting me with my agitation for weeks and months ahead.
==Lia’s Journal: Distress for the Watched==
Posted by Verlia Bilavio on May 23, 188x at 1:42am
It was a brief glance, perhaps a second more than that, that I took out the first floor window of my studio out across the empty lot towards the port. When I turned away, lingering in the back of my mind was that image of the man in the corner of my eye. And while it was only a second or so, I could still see him clearly in my mind, a half of a cigar in one hand, his head tilted up towards my clocktower intently gazing even from a distance. And while that alone might not have been cause for alarm, it was the fact that I knew, somehow, that I had seem that man before.
The fact was, that even if I had thought I had seen a man watching me, I couldn’t be sure of it. There was something about my father’s letter than made me worry more than normal. I hardly left my studio except for the occasional cup of cocoa and my dreams were constantly plagued with images of my mother worrying herself sick and then dying. Even though I knew now that she had been poisoned, I couldn’t help but have that thought in the back of my mind that I would turn out exactly as she did. That I would end up worrying myself to death over my father and the secrets of his research that we kept.
What if they really were here looking for me. What if they had already done something to my father. What if they took me and no one knew why I was gone and then they searched for the information but couldn’t find it or worse, tried to get it out of me when they knew I hardly knew anything about science. What if it all didn’t matter. What if I was I really was simply the spoiled girl Phin thought I was. What if this was the end and… and…
With all the what ifs swarming in my head and having this strange notion that I could feel that those evil mean at the scientific academy would come into my studio at any moment and I would die the next day, I started to panic. My knuckles grew white around the brush I was holding and my legs became utterly useless as the floor came crashing up into me. I couldn’t breath. I leaned over, lying my head on the floor, trying to take deep breaths, but they wouldn’t come. All I could think about was how much of a fool I had been worrying so much about my father and how I really was going to end up like my mother–dead for nothing. I clutched at my chest, my eyes wide, trying to remember, trying to forget.
And then suddenly, as if some sort of spark in my mind had intervened at just the moment I was ready to exhaust myself up to the aether, I thought about how horrid it would be if Phin were to find me here, dead over my easel and how I had come so much closer to death in that heroic jump I made off that airship. I let the tension ease from the shoulders and sat back up deciding that a cup of cocoa and a walk might do me good.
So after wandering over to Cocoajava and finishing another mug once again, I decided to let my feet take me around the streets trying to forget about this whole mess that I shouldn’t have been caught up in. Who’s secrets I shouldn’t have to keep. I really didn’t know how long I walked nor how long I had been standing outside City Hall nor how exactly I got there, but suddenly I looked around, wondering if perhaps someone had said my name. I honestly have no recollection of the time between leaving the cafe and ending up in here. I can’t actually remember having walked anywhere.
But strangely, in my half dream-like state, I had recognized Michael’s voice. I, of course, apologized for being a bit lost in my thoughts (yes, that’s what it was, wasn’t it?) and tried my best to convince him that I was indeed alright. Yet, something was clearly wrong and there was no way a girl like me could ever conceal that. I was a still a bit troubled Moses Mureaux arrived as well, seemingly appearing in front of me. It was clear that the both of them, and later Sky, would not let me go without me letting on to what was wrong.
It was my nerves, wasn’t it? I kept repeating it, trying to reassure them, and possibly myself, that I was simply worrying too much. And then I let it slip about the man I had seen watching me. But had I really seen him? I couldn’t be sure. That brief moment seemed overshadowed by my strange memory loss and my worrying. I resolved not to mention the panic attack to them. I shook my head, trying to figure out what I had really seen and what I had been dreaming. I couldn’t figure it out. I simply couldn’t be sure that there had been other strange occurrences either.
I let it slip about the missing books that I had taken from my father’s library on my last trip back home and put up on my own bookshelves here in New Babbage, and the missing letters, the missing pages from my journals. No, no, it was misplaced, wasn’t it? All I could really think about as I tried to stand somewhat confidently was that I was making a fool of myself. I almost let slip from my lips that they were looking for the plans for that damned machine and the notes my father had made in regards to it’s magnet properties.
In my state of confusion and unrest, I agreed to let Moses take a look into it, to see if there really was a strange man watching me. I didn’t know if it was the best thing to do, but somehow I felt a lot safer knowing that there was another person around to keep an eye on me, especially considering that I didn’t even know where I had been for the past few hours.
I looked strangely at Michael as he suggested I stay away from cocoa for the time being, especially from my usually source. I didn’t want to ask why yet I didn’t want to question him either. I nodded silently as both him and Moses reassured me that if I had any trouble to let them know. Not too long after, they left me with Sky.
All I could think about was how I didn’t like being so much of a bother. It was my nerves, wasn’t it? I didn’t like worrying everyone about my mental and physical well being when I should just calm down. The stress, the panicking, well, it was still troubling, yet as the time drew on, I felt more and more like myself. I smiled weakly, reassuring myself that they didn’t need to know, that I shouldn’t be troubling them with all of this. Yet, in the back of my mind, I wondered if I was right to worry. Turning to Sky, I whispered, “I hope Michael isn’t right about the cocoa.”
==Lia’s Journal: The Things Lost==
Posted by Verlia Bilavio on May 25, 188x at 9:30pm
Sky wouldn’t let me see it.
I didn’t know what was worse, being held up in my studio, feeling the same pressure and stress I felt right before I thought I saw that man and panicked, or actually seeing the sight of the explosion and collapsing under the sheer magnitude of my sorrow. I was sure now, someone had it out for me, and they wished to make both my life and my father’s miserable in one way or another.
With all the people watching me, I still didn’t feel as though it was enough. I was both afraid of what came to me in my dreams and the things I couldn’t account for when I was awake. My mother’s death, all of my father’s troubles, my memory loss, the missing things, that familiar man I thought I saw, and now this… this explosion, not knowing if Phin was dead or alive. I couldn’t take it.
I just didn’t understand why anyone would want to place an explosive device in his house. Nor why anyone would want to poison my mother. It didn’t make any sense and I still had no clue if either event was indeed connected to my father’s recent findings.
Sky claimed it would add to my current stress. “You simply can’t go Lia,” she said to me when I rushed over to Vern’s warehouse. I felt like throwing a tantrum like a little girl.
“It isn’t true is it, Sky? He’s not really… really…” I couldn’t even say it. What? That he was dead? That cynical streak in me was making me confront it.
She just looked at me, the pain in her eyes reflecting mine, her arms crossed over her chest as she said, simply, “I’m sorry.”
My legs felt weak. Hell, all of me felt weak, especially considering the pain I had put myself through panicking about that man I may or may not have seen. My heart felt weak, and not in some metaphorical sense. I shook my head, grasping at something to lean against. “No. No. No one SAW him. No one SAW a body.” I tried to reassure myself.
Sky looked at me full of pity. “There’s no way anyone could’ve survived a blast like that.” Why did she have to be so damn calm about this? “Even if we didn’t find anyone, there’s just no way.”
No. No. It couldn’t be. “This is Phin we’re talking about. He’s survived much worse.” I couldn’t help thinking back to when I saw him plummet over the edge of that chasm in the arctic and remember that strange empty feeling he had in his eyes. “Yes. It’s possible, right?”
Sky walked over, putting her hand on my shoulder and I almost wondered if she thought I was going to fall apart at any moment. Maybe I was. “I don’t want to give you false hope Lia.”
I glared at her, a strange bout of anger running through me and snapped at her, “DONT you DARE tell me what I can and cannot believe!” I shoved her out of the way and moved to stalk out of the building.
“Where are you going?” I heard worriedly from behind me and could just see Sky hurrying after me.
“To work,” I simply responded, muttering half audibly a moment afterwards, “At least my clocks don’t die on me. Usually.”
I yelled out as the glass shattered beneath by hand; the new clock I had been working on fell with a crash, the gears tumbling, disoriented, onto the floor. I cried out, resting my head against the brick, sniffling as I tore a piece of cloth from my petticoats and slowly picked out the remaining shards from my palm. The pain in my hand was no match at all for the pain in my heart. And with all that had happened, not just in the past few weeks, but in the past year, I was about ready to give up.
I kicked a few pieces of glass on the floor around, all the while wondering what it was. Why must I be plagued with such suffering? Oh what I’d give to be a less demanding girl, submitting to my mother’s wishes. If only to have her still here. If only I could see Phin once again. Why had I been so stubborn all this time and never admitted to how I felt? My mind kept replaying the other night at the Gangplank with Star exclaiming to Phin, “Because she loves and trusts you you daft creature, why else?”
I tried to laugh, thinking that it was just another way that man was escaping Star’s pleas for him to look after me. I hardly laughed at all and instead wrapped the cloth around my hand, wondering briefly if I would need a stitch or two.
Impulsively, I turned to glance out the window, one hand still on the wall, the other cradled against me as I leaned my shoulder against the wall. I screamed and in my bewilderment, fell back against my desk, taking my eyes off the window as I tried to stop myself from falling on the glass and metal parts. As soon as I had steadied myself, I turned back. I was so sure I had seen him, the back of him, passing by the window. Phin.
I shook my head. No, I’m seeing things, just like that other man. After all, I couldn’t be sure that I had seen either of them. I couldn’t be sure of anything these days. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t coming back. It was then that I smelled something and thought for a moment, Oh lord, I’m imagining smells too? But there it was, plainly, as clear as ever: the smell of coffee and spices. It was that familiar scent that I had to grown to love.
Rushing out the door, I almost tripped over it. I halted, staring down in amazement at the huge box with that scent flowing out of it and the pair of rubber boots sitting on top of it. The corners of my mouth instinctively turned into a grin as I knew just what they were for. I could almost hear him calling me a little sewer rat.
At least I knew one thing for sure even if I didn’t know who or what I had seen or where I had been. Phin was still here. Somewhere.
It was later that evening, after returning from taking a walk, that I discovered something sitting on my work desk. A leather bound book had been placed amidst the tools, broken gears and scraps of canvas. I picked it up hesitantly and glanced around. The person who had set this book here was obviously long gone but I couldn’t help look. I instinctively glanced out the window, reassuring myself that no one was there. My fingers traced over the letterpressed title on the front: Principles of Magnetism: Theories and Practices. I opened it slowly, wondering who could’ve returned my father’s book when a note fell out:
I believe this belongs to you.
Keep it safe.
It was unsigned. I tucked the note away in my pocket and took the secret passage that led from my studio to my clocktower. I sat down and started to read the words I never understood but had loved all my life.
==Hope for the Weary==
• Posted by Sky Netizen on May 29, 188x at 12:21pm
I jumped up to sit on the wall across from Cocoajava and winced a bit as memories started to form around me. Just a few days ago I sat in this same spot with Lia and Phin as we exchanged our usual banter and discussed their recent zombie encounter. At the time everything seemed normal, at least for a Babbage evening. That normalcy had since been shattered along with the windows of the old mansion during the explosion.
Phin’s dea—disappearance threw mostly-frazzled Lia into even more grief and paranoia. I have been keeping a close eye on her, encouraging her when possible and simply listening to her speculations. Not wishing to harm her further by stirring up false hope, I eventually said that there was no way Phin could have survived the blast. It hurt me to say it and it was immediately evident that it pained her far worse than I had intended.
As a type of penance I secretly went to the wreckage of the old mansion in hopes of finding something, anything. Other than a wheel from Philby, Phin’s goggles, a cracked Steelbucks mug and some shredded notes all that remained was a pile of scrap metal and wood. Though no evident clue was found, I believed the lack of gore to be a sign for the best.
As I sat on the wall staring down at my soot covered gloves I pondered if it would be wise to share my possibly happy finding with Lia. Hearing footsteps approaching on the street I looked up to see Lia with a grin on her face, looking as happy as she ever was. Suspecting that she had finally lost her sanity, I played along.
“Well don’t you look happy?” I said once she stood in front of me.
Her already large smile widened a bit. “Oh, Sky! I must tell you, I just received a package that was left at my door!”
I smirked and said, “Must have been some gift, then. Was it a year’s supply of cocoa by any chance? Or maybe a case of absinthe?”
“No, no, it’s much better than all of those things!” she said excitedly.
To me it was clear that Lia’s mental faculties were no more. Pushing my suspicion towards the back of my thoughts I replied, “Do tell, dear!” I hoped the package perhaps contained her lost marbles.
“It was some spices, coffee and boots!” she explained merrily. “Also, one of my father’s books has been returned to me!”
I had to laugh since Lia had spent the past couple of weeks convincing herself and everyone else that her father’s books were simply misplaced.
As an individual with a propensity to steal, I had insisted she was mistaken, if the books were even slightly valuable they were most likely taken, not lost. It was good news indeed that a book was returned, by a kind soul at that.
Smiling at my mostly sane friend I asked, “Who would have done such a thing? Why would someone give you boots? You have enough shoes at it is! And who would take a book to later return it? There aren’t many reformed thieves about.”
“The boots are from Phin,” Lia said decidedly as she mumbled something else about a sewer rat.
That was the last straw, I just had to ask, “Are you daft?”
She sighed and said, “I know it was him. I, I smelled him.”
With that I jumped down from my perch on the wall and gave her a most concerned look. “Listen, even if by some miracle Phin is still alive he would be in no condition to walk around dropping off presents,” I responded quickly with a hint of harshness in my tone.
Lia looked as if she was ready to let me have a royal tongue lashing but for some reason stopped herself. She looked not only angry, but also exhausted and overwhelmed.
I knew why, she needed whatever hope she could find and I kept accidentally taking it away from her. Right then my heart broke even more for my dear friend. “I’m sorry, Lia, I shouldn’t have said that. Actually, I have some news to tell you that I think may prove your story a bit.” I nodded towards the café and continued, “Would you like some cocoa, oh—no wait, some tea?”
She nodded and took the first steps towards Cocoajava. I followed her but then stopped in my tracks to look around, peering into the failing light. One thing was certain, if Phin was alive and mostly well there was at least one more person continually watching after Lia, keeping her safe. Once she was out of earshot I whispered a “thank you” into the darkened corners of the street as I walked towards the nearest couch. Admittedly, Lia’s hope had rubbed off on me.
==The Death and Life of Phineas Frakture==
• Posted by Phineas Frakture on May 31, 188x at 8:49pm
The first, but hopefully not the last thing, to go through my mind was to run. However, weaving through the lab to the nearest exit or window was not much of an option with all the equipment strewn about. I only had seconds at best judging by the saturation of fumes in the room. Stumbling back, my foot caught pull ring riveted to the floor. The storage room. A place unused and full of cobwebs…dank and musty and probably loaded with spiders. I had to weigh my options quickly and went with the spiders, hesitantly of course. The trap door took all of my strength to lift open and just when I had enough room to squeeze through, I slipped in. The door slammed closed as the house shook and flames blasted through the infrastructure.
The chemical in the barrel was insidious. It burned and clung to everything. It dripped through the cracks in the floor and continued burning. I felt the heat searing my skin and my clothes caught fire. The small room became hotter and hotter. I patted out what fire I could, but my shirt was too far gone, so I tore it off and used the remnants to beat away the flames. I was choking on the smoke and could see the door above burning. I was trapped with no way out.
I resolved myself to saving energy and sat down in the farthest corner from the door, hoping that the fire would burn itself out soon and I could make my way out. There was a groaning sound from somewhere above and then a crash. The ceiling above caved in, spilling debris down into my grave, missing me by inches but trapping me further still. Oxygen deprived, my head swam and I fought to stay conscious. My last waking thought was of…
My throat felt like it was full of razors as I croaked out her name.
“Right here, luv,” said a sweet voice from somewhere.
I felt a wet rag being dabbed over my face and eyes, which were closed tightly and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t open them. “What?”
“You had a house fall on you, remember?”
My hearing was garbled and it sounded like I was under water. I couldn’t move, though if I had tried, my body would have screamed in protest immediately. “Where?”
“You are safe for now. But to the world you are dead…and we need to keep it that way.”
“You need to get out of here,” I forced. “Your father’s notes…people watching you…go far away.”
“Don’t worry about her. She has friends to take care of her. And when you get better, you can do that too.”
Not Lia…my Lia, I thought to myself. Who is this? Why is she taking care of me? Where was I? “Let her know that I’m alive.”
“I know just the thing,” said the woman, “and it will be personal so that only she would know.”
After that, I couldn’t hold on any longer. Sleep took me once again…for how long, I didn’t know. But when I woke again, my eyes opened. It was painful at first, but I managed to bear through it. The room was traditionally decorated, in a woman’s style, but very well kept. I managed to slowly move my head to the side and I could see a figure sitting at a desk, writing. A woman, familiar, but not for some time had I seen her. As I recalled, she was a bit of a free spirit, an adventurer…a thief. Like Lia, her father was a scholar as well, but an archaeologist. Lia.
“Ophelia,” I croaked. The woman turned in her seat and gave me a wry smile.
“Are you finally through laying down? Its been seven days. I was beginning to think the rumors of your laziness weren’t so exaggerated. You’re going to be stiff for a while, the burns weren’t too bad, but the salve is quickening the healing process, nonetheless. I wouldn’t recommend looking in a mirror for a few more days. You’re not a pretty sight.”
I started to ask, but she anticipated my first thought and continued. “I put a crate of that coffee she likes along with a pair of rubber boots at her door. I think that will give her enough hope, but others are not as hopeful. She’s a bit of a flake, if you don’t mind my saying so. The stress is getting to her and she’s coming apart quickly. I’d blame it on being a spoiled rich kid, if I wasn’t one myself. For the life of me, I don’t see why you put up with her.”
“She’s…interesting,” I said.
“A man-eating sewer gelatin is interesting…she’s just, well, a girl. But still, you seem to see something in her, so I’ll respect that. Though we did have fun before she came along, didn’t we? Mummies…curses…dashing, bumbling professors…every girl’s dream.” As Ophelia helped me to sit, I felt my skin crackling in places as new growth stretched for the first time.
“That irradiated Lord Mureaux and his lackeys are keeping watch over her for now,” she said quickly, noticing my displeasure for her comments.
“They’re stopping everyone who comes anywhere near her when she’s sleeping and watching from a distance when she’s awake. Have to admire their discipline, but they are a bit of extremists.” She pulled up a chair next to me and sat down. “Now, on to business. I hope you realize that I’m not here just because I miss you. I’m also a member of the Queen’s little band of alien hunters that you have been recruited into.”
She waited for the thought to sink in.
“You recommended me.”
“Of course. Don’t be so full of yourself that you would think that the Queen would be interested in your affairs. You work well under pressure, have a penchant for blowing things up and have a flexible disposition when faced with the unknown. Besides, the majority of agents are women and I felt a little testosterone helps from time to time.”
“Speaking of blowing things up…who trashed my house?”
“Friends of your girlfriend’s father. They think that you are a threat, might have had some of his papers, and when you didn’t…well, you were of no use to them…not to mention princess Lia would be more cooperative if her favorite knight in tarnished armor weren’t around. And you won’t be around…for a long time. You have work to do now.”
“Tarnished armor?” I asked.
“Come on, Phin, I’ve seen how you live…you’re a slob.”
“Point taken. So, what am I supposed to do now? Go after them?”
“No, that will have to wait. Our network isn’t too concerned about them. Right now, we have to stop an invasion.”
“Time Lords?” I asked, thinking of Torchwood’s interest in them.
From a distance, I watched through the haze of a typical New Babbage sunrise. The smog was fairly clear today and I had a good view of her shop from top of the steamboat housing the Xcentricity Shop moored in the docks. I had already picked out two of Mureaux’s guards. They were stealthy, I had to give them that, but I felt that they made their presence known on purpose, already knowing who I was and giving me the peace of mind that they were doing their job.
Stiffly, I picked up my bag and slung it over my shoulder. Means of transport had already been taken care of. I had a job to do, though that would have to wait. The Martians could wait. I had to see this through once and for all if Lia were to have any peace. In order to do that, I had to go back to school. I already changed my appearance enough to fool those I passed by in town. Heck, my beard was already half singed off and had to go. Hopefully, it would be enough to watch over Professor Bilavio at the academy he was teaching at without him, or those who attacked me, suspecting who I am.
And once this was over…I’m going to tell her the truth.
Tapping her foot and looking at her watch, Ophelia Steamweaver stood at the base of the airship port watching and waiting. “Damn that man!”
==Science and Truth (Lia’s Story // William Bilavio)==
Posted by Verlia Bilavio on May 28, 188x at 8:18pm
“Newtonian mechanistic-” The professor stopped as his eyes gazed towards the back of the lecture hall, coming to rest on a figure he knew all to well. Even from a distance, William could see the glint off the man’s round glasses as he stepped into the light streaming in from the leaded windows. The professor frowned, directing his students to discuss the weight of scientific paradigms as it pertains to the ways in which knowledge is viewed and gathered. He slipped away to the back of the room after carefully gathering his notes.
“Mr. Allen,” William jeered, bothered as to the nature of the man’s abruptness. “I had thought you were still seeking the mysteries of the arctic chill.” It was true. The last time that William had seen or spoken to the man had been at their last port of call before venturing out into the wasteland. Mr. Allen, while a reserved man used to working on his own ‘experiments’, had been beneficial in carrying out a great deal of the professor’s basic research that led to that fated trip to the arctic. William had known that he had sent his notes months before to the rest of the board at the Scientific Academy.
Mr. Allen looked at Prof. Bilavio, saying, “They’ve sent me to collect the rest of the research. Although I can assume you have inferred as much.”
William nodded. The Scientific Academy in Arenka had been asking for the rest of the research, both subtle and more direct, ever since he agreed to take up a teaching position. He knew it was a plot to bring him closer to home, closer to them and possibly wait for some sort of information or key to the equation to slip from his mouth. This fact made the professor all the more cautious, especially with the recent arrival of Mr. Allen. “It’s just not possible, you won’t find it,” William responded, pushing his notes further into his leather bag as he pushed past Mr. Allen into the grand hall.
That part was true, he wouldn’t find it. Much of the research for the magnetic conversion machine had been destroyed along with the machine itself. The important bits of research that had been scarcely published he had sent with Lia back to New Babbage when she requested to take a few books from his library. They might be safer far from Arenka, but he still wasn’t sure. In any case, even if the books were found, it would take a brilliant mind to place the research together and then create their weapon. It wasn’t probable that the academy would find someone to do so, but the professor was still reluctant to take that chance.
Mr. Allen caught William by the arm as he slipped by, leaning in and sneering, “I know she has them.” She meaning Lia, the professor’s daughter. “I know it is more than those books.” William, now furious that Mr. Allen had caught on to his plans, refused to turn and face the man. “She is the key,” Mr. Allen continued, dropping his hand. “And the Scientific Academy will find a suitable replacement if they cannot procure her effectively.”
William turned to face the man now, agitated. “What? Do you really think Autumn is a suitable replacement? That woman is a… she’s a whore in the name of science. Did they really think I wouldn’t know why she was sent to New Babbage? The business about investigating that Underby fellow was a cover-up.” He knew that while certain members of the board were interested in the correlation between science and mysticism, he was sure it was no coincidence that she was sent to the very place where his daughter now lived.
“Miss Verlaine is a lot resourceful than you may have been lead to believe,” Mr. Allen said calmly. William wondered what deal Mr. Allen had cut or if honestly believed, as some of the board did, that this weapon was a good idea.
“She is if the pay is lucrative.” Autumn Verlaine was a reserved woman, intelligent, yet cold, always ready to take on a position of research, any position of research, as long as the money was substantial. William wondered if it had always been that way.
“What I am saying, Professor, is that it doesn’t matter how long it takes for someone to put the research together. They will find it. They will piece it together. It doesn’t matter if you agree to do it. We will get her.” Mr. Allen smiled malevolently, a grin that made William shake as he considered the man’s words. Mr. Allen tipped his hat and strode out of the building, leaving the professor in the immense hall. They were getting close, that much William knew, he only hoped that they hadn’t figured out what secrets he had placed within his daughter.
Far off in the city of New Babbage, however, the daughter of the professor who as unaware to what secrets she kept finished her drink, the glass slipping out of her hands as it fell crashing onto the floor. She seemed disoriented at first, as if struggling against an invisible threat. But it was only for a moment. She carefully picked herself up, her head dropping slightly, her shoulders dropping and began a careful walk down to her canvas. Picking up a large brush, she patted it slightly in the drying paint that had been left out from earlier that day. She traced the numbers on the canvas. Over and over again her hand moved, trace-like, as if the conscious part of her had been driven off to a dark sleep.
From across the empty plot near the port, a man stood watching. He idly let his cigar dangle from one hand and checked the time of his pocket watch, nodding as if he intended for this to happen. He hardly glanced up at the studio. It was hardly obvious that he was indeed watching the woman if one did not study the man closely, but the signs were there.
From a bit aways, a man stood staring out a window, most of his body hidden behind a heavy curtain, intently watching the man on the street. He mentally noted to inform Lord Mureaux about the man.
==A night’s rest… (or Dancing with the Death Pig!)==
Posted by Moses Mureaux on May 31, 188x at 1:30am
We stood across from Ms. Bilavio’s abode, a thick layer of soot obscuring the moon light, and hiding us from sight.
“Is she still sleeping?”
The Captain peered in, his mechanical eyes focusing through the walls.
“Yes, indeed she is.”
I was most pleased.
“Ensure that she is not disturbed. If the ‘Death Pig’ doesn’t keep her unconscious, the sedatives I laced it with surely will. Unless there is some outside force disturbing her sleep.”
The Captain merely nodded his accent.”Any other orders, my Lord?”
“Yes,” I replied, “Keep watch for more on lookers. If any arrive, have the others disrupt the privacy they will want.”
“And if that doesn’t deter them?”
“Capture, interrogate under incursion, and dispose of them.”
The Captain signaled the others. With him on this watch, nothing would reach Ms. Bilavio. Nothing physical at least. Hopefully, a night’s, and the better part of a day’s, sleep will do her good. As to the rest, only time will tell…
==Lia’s Journal: Doubts==
Posted by Verlia Bilavio on June 7, 188x at 2:53pm
Following the week after my incidents with memory loss, I thought much about what I had seen. Or perhaps it was what I hadn’t seen.
Moses had sent over a man not a day after my incident with that horrible alcoholic substance he called the death pig. Firstly, I told Demitri that I was not at all happy with his lord’s decision to take advantage of my weak state and already absinthe-induced confusion by handing me that very large bottle. I trust Tinus had better luck than I. However, after I told him of my indignation and while ignoring the floating coffee mug and goggles that seemed to hover over my shoulder, Demitri informed me of something a bit, well, strange.
In at least most of those moments when I had lost my memory and had come back into consciousness somewhere, some time, else, I had been painting. I was amazed. Not only had I not noticed that my supplies were dwindling at a much quicker rate than usual (if anything, I would’ve thought some urchins had decided to have a field day with my supplies), but I also had no idea where these paintings ended up. They were no longer in my possession, so far as I knew. I secretly hoped that if they had anything to do with my father’s research, I would’ve had enough intellect to burn them. However, this was probably not the case.
Whatever was on those canvases was a mystery to me. No trace of any memory I had appeared to me the following week and my thoughts were left with confusion over what had happened to me and what exactly I should do next. My sleep was still filled with nightmares of my mother dying, that stern look upon her face turning slowing into the disconcerted look of mine, her hair darkening, her eyes softening, until it became the image of my own face with my eyes closed lying in my mother’s coffin about to be laid in the ground. However, it wasn’t the only nightmare that continually haunted me. I constantly had that image of Phineas falling over the edge of the ravine in the arctic, his face so empty as I heard a scream, sounding strangely like my own as I knew, deep within me, that he was never coming back.
Strangely, though, my nights seemed much more peaceful than before and when I awoke, while fearful, I knew I felt much more rested then I had been. Both Demitri and Moses were confident that my memories would return to me once I had gained my strength back. I was, however, not as confident and now that my mind had returned to the same semi-functional state it was usually in, I began to doubt the motivations of the House of Mureaux. I would have really loved to believe that they were helping me simply because I was a girl in trouble, but the involvement with my father’s research was too much of a gamble to take on the motivations of those involved. In brief moments of uncertainty, I even doubted Sky’s motivations.
I had to know for certain, despite the attachment that I had grown to Moses. If he knew anything about the Scientific Academy’s plans to create a weapon, then it would spell bad news. So it was with a heavy heart that I involved yet another person into my affairs, a man which shall not be named here on paper. I only hope that I can indeed trust him, as trust in this matter is something I take a great deal to place in the care of others. If I could lift all my burden alone, then I would.
It was not too long after I had spoken with the man that I returned to my studio very late that night. And there, making her presence known, almost as if she was staring at me, saying, ‘Yes, I took those books and if you will not give me his notes, you will suffer worse,’ was that blond woman. I had seen her before of course. She had come around asking to see my library, wondering if I had any books to sell. I assumed she had come from the Athenaeum and turned her away. Later, I had been informed that she was a Miss Verlaine. Her presence was merely irritating. As I strode out into my courtyard to perhaps convince her to go glare at someone else, she simply grinned at me, tossed me a book she had been keeping in her hand and then turned to walk off.
It landed upturned before my feet and my heart leapt as I grabbed for it, knowing that it was one of my father’s books, the last one, turned up at last.
But it wasn’t. It was, instead, a scientific study of the sub-conscious. For a brief moment, I wondered if this woman indeed worked for the Scientific Academy, as I suspected, then she may not be governed by their ideals. I shook my head, now wondering about her motivations as well. It was all too much to think about. I had tried to make a life for myself as a simple painter, the daughter of a scientist who knew little about the subject. My life had turned out to be far from that and now, with all these thoughts of what had happened and what would come swimming through my head, making me drowsy, I considered that perhaps a little research into what my mind was doing wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Eventually, I knew I would have to disobey my father’s orders once again. Once most of this had been sorted out. Once I found these missing paintings and figured out what Miss Verlaine was up to I would have to return home. I was afraid of what I might find.
==Lia’s Journal: Some mysteries only add confusion.==
Posted by Verlia Bilavio on June 11, 188x at 12:34am
Every conversation I have with that man who calls himself a Lord makes me continually less wary of his presence. After chatting with him last night, I almost regretted my decision to have someone look into his motivations.
It was when I was licking my fingers of Ceejay’s delicious truffles that Sky’s comment caught me off guard. “I wish Moses was more mean, it would make this easier.”
I stood fixed for a second before I turned around to meet her gaze, protesting slightly, “But I like Moses!” She stared at me, looking a bit defeated. I thought for a second stray paint had somehow found it’s way onto my nose and attempted to brush it away instinctively. When nothing came off, I assumed it had already dried. At least the Professor would have a laugh when he came by.
Sky dropped down in a chair while I continued to hover over the truffles, tempting myself. She responded, “I know, so do I, but I don’t trust him.”
As we waited for Professor Lionheart to arrive at the cafe, Sky and I recounted our conversation with Lord Mureaux the previous night. It had been almost two weeks since my last blackout and my drunken charades with the death pig at the Gangplank. Honestly, I had felt the best I had felt ever since my departure for Singapore. My only concern was that my memories may never come back. It would simply not do. If I were to help my father solve this, then I must know at least something.
Sky had remembered that the man also from the House of Mureaux, Demitri, possessed some… interesting talents for uncovering the mysteries of the mind. Both Sky and I were hesitant, as was Moses, but for slightly different reasons. There would be nothing that could stop me from finding out what happened to me. I had hoped that my memory would have returned far sooner. Those black moments still scared me a great deal and I truly did wonder if they would ever return. Most of all, I was fearful that something horribly wrong had already happened in my mind.
As I paced the small truffle room in Cocoajava, worried that I might not gain anything back and fearful that something worse might happen, Sky and I agreed that help from Professor Lionheart would not have the same consequences as with Demitri. As much as I liked the man, I could never allow him to enter my mind like that without serious considerations. To always be attune to his voice. To have him always there… somewhere. I wasn’t sure it was something I wished to do.
I looked over at Sky. “If this doesn’t work. You know I’m going to seriously consider Moses’s offer.”
“Right, like I’m going to happily let you be a mind zombie,” she responded.
“Sky…” Sometimes she was less understanding than I. “I’m sure it’s not quite like that,” I said, my hands nervously playing with the folds in my dress.
She looked worried, but only slightly, as if wanting it to not show, especially not to me. “Let’s hope this works.”
I left the Professor’s airship with a seemingly blank paper in my hands, shocked and confused with the coming signs of a powerful headache. Not only could I never look upon the Professor in the same light, but I was still missing answers. I had hoped to be a less troubled woman by the end of the day.
I now knew three things.
The first was that I was, probably, to everyone’s suspicions, being poisoned. I should’ve known it. I should’ve seen the signs and how closely they mirrored that of my mother before her death. Something in that drink Moses gave me must’ve been enough to drive the poison from within me, as after that night, my mind never once felt uneasy. I shuddered as I thought about what I had dreamed: that strange man who I had seen watching me standing over me pouring a glass of cocoa with a dark substance swirling in the mug with spiny tentacles reaching out, grasping for me.
The second was that this man, and perhaps those he had come with, had been collecting my paintings. They were, however, imperfect. The equation I had been continually drawing out layered over itself so many times that the characters were barely legible. I found comfort in the fact that I was now the only one with a complete equation, yet at the same time, I barely knew if he was close to solving it. I tried not to let this thought cross my mind very often, as the worst case made me tremble.
The third was that I felt an incredible guilt for asking Mr. [name scribbled out] to look into Moses’s interests in my case. I owed much to the man, not only for my safety, but for his continued support in my darkest hours. This past year had been filled with my doubts, my constant concerns over my father’s safety, my fears and my regrets. I understood that after all that had happened to me in such a short span would have those who were close to me treat me as a fragile object and look upon me with a pitiful gaze. Yet, my experiences with the House of Mureaux have been quite the opposite. I see such strength and hope in them that inspires me continually every day.
I caught myself remembering something that Moses had said to me: “Pity does little. We do not cherish it. Nor do we know anything of surrender. So we uplift, and encamp ’round those we love. And see now and know the virtue! You now hope for yourself! You believe for yourself! For you listen well, and your heart loves wisdom. I pray you learn it as such, from the recounting of weathered and scarred men, rather than from your own pain.”
I hoped as much. In fact, every day I was hoping more. Not just for my own outcome to better itself, but for Phineas to be alive and well, and that my father and I could put my mother’s death to rest for the final time. I was grateful to have such a friend as Moses, despite the town gossip and speculation surrounding him.
When I finally returned to my studio for the night, I took out the sheet of paper, wondering what to do with it, holding it as if it were something more valuable than gold. Professor Lionheart had mentioned that there was something else deep within my mind that we still did not have access to. It was perplexing, to say the least. I had no clue how I would know such a drawn out equation, nor did I believe I could remember such a thing. My education had never been based in any mathematics nor science. A background in humanities, arts, and languages did very little to solve the complexities of the scientific world. Simply put: there was no possible way that I could know this information.
It was when I was contemplating whether I should uncover the invisible ink here and read it or somehow pass the information along to my father that I heard the door to my studio open. I shot up from my desk, folding the page up and sliding it into my pocket as quickly as I could.
I assumed it was Sky, come to check on me again, but there was a creeping sensation at the back of my neck and as I turned around to greet the visitor, I was surprised when I saw the blonde woman facing me.
“Miss… Miss Verlaine!” I stammered. She looked slightly amused by me, only slightly. I wondered how she had gotten past Moses’s men and how she had managed to find her way in such close proximity to me.
“By now, you know who I am.” She stood with her arms crossed. If not for the sour grin on her face, I would’ve said she was quite beautiful. I nodded slowly, my fingers idly running over the edges of the paper in my pocket. “Very well,” she continued, “I will be brief.” She paused for a moment and in that small fraction of time, I thought I saw pity in her eyes. “You have something I need.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You’ve already taken all you need from me. I know it was you who took my father’s books.” She couldn’t know that I had the full equation. There was no way she could know.
She looked less amused. “Those books were of little use to me, although I did make a nice sum from Mr. Steamweaver. Pity they have turned to ash.”
“No…” I whispered. I loved my father’s books. I had taken so much comfort in reading his words. “No! You didn’t! What are you looking for? My father’s work? The key to the weapon?” I was looking for some sort of response, but found none.
“I have no time for idle chat,” Miss Verlaine said, obviously ignoring my rising anger. “The equation. Give it here.” She held out her hand, the other still folded across her chest.
“I would never give you anything,” I responded, and in an instant, I was a step away from the fireplace, the sheet already out of my pocket, inches away. And suddenly, Autumn had turned me around, one hand held my tiny wrist up and out of reach from the fire, the other on my throat. I struggled, trying to free myself from her grasp. Even as a small woman, Miss Verlaine was strong, too strong. I gasped for breath, barely managing to get any and less and less air came through my throat on each try.
“Stop struggling, you look like a drowning rat.” She sighed, frowning and let go of my wrist, grabbing the paper. I took the opportunity to kick her in the shin. As hard as I could. She winced and let go of me and I grabbed the paper from her hand, the corner of it ripping in her grasp.
She reached for me again, but it was too late. The paper was already in the fire. She tried to reach for it in the fire, but it burned too quickly. “This money is coming out of your pocket, girl,” she said, breathing heavily now. I smirked, thinking I had bested her.
I shouldn’t have.
Her hand came up to my face again, pushing my head back against the brick wall. Hard.
Miss Verlaine barely watched Lia’s unconscious body fall to the floor. She disappeared out the studio door as it happened, this time making sure she would not to be seen, even by the House of Mureaux.
==A Blonde and A Redhead Walk Into A Bar…==
• Posted by Sky Netizen on June 11, 188x at 9:49pm
“Mind if I continue to investigate Moses? I know how much this matter upsets you, therefore I will not bring it up again unless need be,” I said to Lia gently, attempting to close the subject once and for all. We both knew I asked out of friendship rather than truly seeking permission. I sought her blessing, though I would have proceeded without it.
Lia sighed and looked at me with a disappointed frown, “If you feel you must.” Her countenance made it evident that she would rather I leave Moses alone. After that we quickly moved on to discuss the happier topics of her newest clock design that was hanging by her door.
No, I could not simply let this matter be; there was a sense of dread about Moses’ motives that I could not shake. Oh, I liked him well enough, which added to the difficulty in my choice to continue the investigation. With Lia decidedly out of the picture I intended to seek out two friends who I knew were already elbow-deep in knowledge of the House: Commodore Jed Dagger and Mr. *print is illegible*.
That evening I left my room at the Arms, gave the cemetery an obligatory glance and changed course towards the Academy. After walking around the perimeter of the seemingly empty House of Mureaux I settled down on a nearby bench. Though I was concerned over Moses’ involvement with Lia, my thoughts were also drawn to the unknown man who had been seen spying on her as well as that suspicious woman, Blondie. At least with Mureaux I knew he would not do Lia any serious harm, yes, I guess I trusted him that much. Yet with these strangers I had no leads on what they were capable of or what they wanted with Lia.
After spending the better part of an hour watching the Mureaux residence sit in peace I thought it best that I walk down to Lia’s to confirm that she was well. As I passed by the Brunel Hotel a quick movement caught the corner of my eye, turning to get a better look all I saw was a woman’s shoe and a few strands of blonde hair round the corner in a swift motion. I hesitated, wondering if it was perhaps Miss Elleon whom I needed to chat with about some recent strange events at the Mechanix Arms. Deciding against disrupting her business I continued on my path, eventually passing by Cocoajava and walking up the steps to Lia’s shop.
“Lia!” I called out cheerfully, never knowing if she was in her studio painting, working on her clocks or upstairs buried in a book.
There was no immediate response.
I raised my voice a bit more, “Lia! Are you about?!”
Once again, no answer.
Puzzled, I started moving from room to room looking for any sign of her. As I reached the studio and moved toward her painting easel, the first thing I saw was her hand, lying motionless on her rug. I gasped and fell to my knees beside her and began to see if she was still breathing. Yes, she breathed and was unconscious, but doing well other than some dried blood on the back of her head. I scooted a few crates together, grabbed a nearby cushion and carefully picked her up and placed her on the makeshift bed. As I straightened up to stand I grabbed the pistol from my leg holster to have handy in case Lia’s assailant was still near. It would have been difficult for Lia to injure her head so severely from a simple misstep, it was clear that someone intentionally hurt her. My heart pounded loudly in my ears as I clicked my pistol to ready it, all the while thinking of who could have done such a thing to my dear friend.
“Blondie…” I huffed, remembering the bit of hair I saw on the street earlier. There has been a woman around town: fair hair, slight of build, indifferent manners and very strange interests who had a threatening encounter with Lia not long ago. I’ve heard her name is Miss Verlaine, though when I met her she would not reveal her identity, thus the name “Blondie.” I had attempted to be polite at the time, and failed miserably. Now, politeness was far from my mind. If she was not already scared from me tailing her the past few weeks, she should be… Even if she was not the one who did this to Lia, I had a feeling she could at least give me information.
The desperate odds of finding Blondie made no difference to me as I took a step towards to door to lay chase. I glanced back, looking down at Lia who was still far from consciousness and for a moment wondered if Phin (or her imaginary Phin) was speaking to her wherever her mind was.
“I’ll be back,” I said, as if she was awake.
With that I rounded the corner out of her studio and ran in the direction of the Port towards the Bolyai Clocktower. Once at my destination I bolted up the stairs of the tower, got out my spyglass and looked down at the streets below, hoping to see perhaps a little bit of blonde hair running about. At first I saw Miss Kimika Ying darting down the streets on her road bike, and then a group of urchins gathered near the canals and finally, a tiny figure with blonde hair walk in the door of the Gangplank. A grim smirk danced across my face as I replaced my spyglass and weapon before running taking the stairs three at a time down the tower. Running with all my might I zoomed past the water of the Port and leapt over any obstacles that lay in my path.
Standing in front of the Gangplank I reached down to retrieve something out of my boot before slamming the door open with a flourish. There Blondie was. She sat alone at the bar with her back to the room, appearing unbothered by my entrance.
“What took you so long, Netizen?” she said with a sneer in her tone.
That is when my polite visage completely shattered, all patience burning away. The dagger that had been in my hand skillfully zipped next to her and stuck up on the counter. “Enough games,” I growled.
She turned and chided, “You don’t have proof.”
Drawing my pistol, I leveled it at her and said through gritted teeth, “Do I seem like the type that needs proof? Now, talk.”
==A Blonde and A Redhead Walk Into A Bar… (Part II)==
• Posted by Sky Netizen on June 14, 188x at 8:33pm
With balled fists stuffed in my pockets and a large baguette filled with holes tucked under an arm I slowly journeyed back to check on Lia. I tried my best to appear as I typically would have, though I sensed a useful darkness starting to take over deep within. Once at her shop I peered around the corner of her studio and saw that she was sitting at her easel. Her face held a blank expression mixed with occasional pain as she rubbed the back of her head.
“Rise and shine, Lia,” I said, attempting to brighten the situation as I entered the room.
She looked at me as if I were crazy and barreled directly to the point, “Find her? What did she do after she did this to me?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a story,” I replied with a sigh as I put the holey bread on her table and plopped on a nearby stool. “First, how are you feeling?”
Lia rolled her eyes in impatience and quickly said, “I’m fine, just a headache. Tell me what happened.”
Shooting her a concerned glance, I nodded and began, “After searching a bit I saw her dodge into the Gangplank. She was her usual…*delightful* self which led me to point my pistol at her just to get her to talk.”
Her eyes wide, Lia listened closely as I told of my encounter with Miss Autumn Verlaine, whom I referred to as Blondie…
“Now, talk,” I commanded, pointing my gun towards the woman at the bar.
Verlaine scoffed saying, “You really don’t seem the type to fire a weapon inside a civil establishment.”
“When adequately angered I have no issue with it,” I warned her.
She then directly accused, “You assume too much, Netizen. You think I actually have interest in the girl.”
I retorted, still directing my gun at her, “Ha, you assume too, evidently. I’m more concerned that you have no interest in her and you’re only after what she has.”
“Perhaps I am. But you know less what it is and its importance. She’s a silly girl. I pity her,” Blondie said.
Glaring at her, I lowered my pistol slightly and raised my voice, “Pity?! If you even had a heart to pity you’d leave her be or at least not harm her!”
She responded with indifference, “She’ll live.”
Still somewhat pointing the gun at her I said, “Yes, she will. But I need to ensure that you will no longer harm her.”
Sneering, Blondie stated, “That girl has no conception of what she is in the middle of. It would do her good to have a bit of fear in her heart.”
I drew closer and huffed, “You have no idea what fear she does or does not have. Now, what is it you want?”
“She is costing me money. Do you wish to pay for what she has damaged?” Verlaine said.
“Damaged? You wish to speak of damages? She’s bleeding because of you!” I said, my voice rising again.
“A little blood doesn’t hurt for long.” She finally turned to look at me, saying, “You could never match what my employer is paying.”
My eyes narrowed into a glare at her and I said, “I didn’t say I wanted to hire you, you flatter yourself.” To me it was evident that she thought too highly of her own abilities and in turn, her (monetary) value to others.
Nonchalantly, she responded, “You asked what I wanted.”
“What damages do you believe she somehow owes?” I questioned.
Obviously agitated at this point, she said, “My time. Do you think I like to sit in this town waiting for her to come up with another equation?”
I snapped back, “I don’t really care what you like, Blondie.”
“Then we are on equal terms,” she retorted.
Smirking grimly and nodding, I said, “Fair enough. So you’re after an equation.” Intentionally, I slowly let my guard town, hoping to create some kind of rapport with her to get the information I sought.
Correcting me, she said, “No, I am here to finish a task. The equation, however…useful, is not my main concern.”
“Ah, bonus. Task…to finish a task. And no concern for the girl,” I said, thinking aloud. Once again, I hoped my openness would be rewarded in kind.
Verlaine blinked at me, as if I was much less of a threat to her now. “Why would I have concern for a silly girl?” she questioned, before adding, “Why would you?”
With a chuckle, I put my gun away and responded, “She’s a dear friend, though I’m sure you don’t know of such things.”
“Such falsehoods lead to trouble. Wouldn’t you know this…Sky the Red?” she said, watching me to see my reaction to her bringing up my past. Working to keep control, I folded my arms across my chest and glared at her. She continued, “Don’t tell me you haven’t scorned a few in your days. Ones that were close to you?”
I abruptly interrupted her, “You know nothing of me. Do not appear like you do.” If she kept personally attacking me I was unsure how long I could maintain my composure.
Blondie just shrugged and said, “Yet you deny nothing.”
“Because it is beside the point. What is your task you are so single-mindedly after? Other than money?” I questioned for what seemed like the hundredth time.
“You’re much too curious tonight, Netizen,” was her only reply.
I smirked and put my hand on the handle of my pistol resting in my leg holster, readying myself if she were to attempt to punish my curiosity. “Always,” I said, before continuing on, “Now what do you want? You know I could help, depending… I’d like to see you out of Babbage as soon as possible, one way or another.”
“As would I. This city disgusts me,” she responded.
Making a final try for an answer I asked, “What do you need in order to leave?”
Verlaine then attempted to ended the conversation by getting up from the bar, saying, “It will find me in due time. Excuse me, I’d rather spend my evening outside of unpleasant company.”
Anger swelled inside of me once again as I set my jaw, attempting to control it. I firmly grabbed her arm, shoved her into the bar counter and picked up my dagger pointing it at her for emphasis. My voice dropping into a growled warning, “Now look, I know you have no concern for her, but if you harm Lia again I have no reason to show mercy. Understand?”
Having the gall to smirk, Blondie said, “I’m surprised you hold back.”
Oh, if only I did not need her for more information! It was as if she was taunting me, wanting me to attack her. I gritted my teeth, leveled a burning glare at her as I held tightly onto her arm. In a hoarse whisper I said, “Don’t tempt me…”
Seemingly unaffected by my threats she asked, “Is that really all you care about? Fragile, poor Lia? If it isn’t me, it will be someone else.” Her icy words hung in the air.
I nodded, showing that I understood, but I hissed at her, “It better not be you.”
“Don’t concern yourself with me. There are worse after her,” Verlaine said. Knowing she was correct, I released my hold on her arm. She sneered, saying, “Is that all? Your interrogations are an annoyance.”
Scowling, I quickly retorted, “As are you. Now leave before I change my mind about showing mercy this time!”
Blondie shook her head and walked towards the door, speaking softly, just loud enough for me to think I heard, “You disappoint me.”
There I ended my story to Lia, who once again looked troubled. She asked me about the strange bread which I explained was a new baking process that Miss Lo was testing. Satisfied, Lia told me that she needed to rest and think alone for a while so I complied and went next door to Cocojava. Falling on the pillows I thought about what I had kept from her.
Once Blondie walked out of the door of the Gangplank I let out a yell of rage, unable to hold in the anger and adrenaline that was coursing through my veins. If this had happened a few years ago she would have been dead in the first minute, and rightfully so. I felt as if I was going soft, and even she somehow knew it.
I looked around for an object to unleash my frustrations on and my eyes traveled back to Mrs. Underby’s bakery. There was a pile of baguettes stacked together as if they were an elegant bouquet. Without hesitation I drew my weapon and unloaded every bullet on the unsuspecting bread. Somewhat relieved, I sighed as I put away the pistol and dropped a handful of coins on the counter for the now-damaged goods. Grabbing a single baguette I intended to leave the rest and inform the urchins that they were free to have the bread, should they want any that looked like Swiss cheese.
As I walked out of the bakery my eyes glazed over and I mumbled darkly, “Time for the Red Sky to dawn…”
==A Letter to Father==
• Posted by Verlia Bilavio on June 14, 188x at 4:00pm
After properly securing a trusted courier to deliver a message to my father:
It has been a daunting time for me in New Babbage. As I write this to you, I am currently recovering from a head injury from a small blonde woman with impressive strength. I can only imagine the Scientific Academy sent her. No need to cause alarm, however. I can assure you I am being well watched over.
I know that you were hoping that by staying in New Babbage, I might by some chance escape the harm you are now facing in our small home of Aranka. I am not pleased to tell you that there has been several incidents of harm. Distance does not confound the determined. While I am managing, I do not know how long I can waste miles away when you are close to our chief enemies.
I am being watched. I have good reason to believe it is by people sent by the Scientific Academy. There was a man, perhaps you once knew him (I thought I first saw him in Aranka), who was watching me from Port Babbage. I was also informed that there were several others around that were also watching me. He had no defining characteristics: a bulky man with a trimmed beard, slightly greying, medium height. I never saw him when he was not smoking a pipe.
At first I assumed they wanted your notes (the ones we destroyed in the Arctic, of course. I do hope you did not keep others). A few books that you leant me went missing, particularly the ones carrying your journal articles and the ones you had specially printed for your library. I only have recovered one and I doubt I will recover the others.
Mr. Frakture is dead gone. There was an explosion not long after I saw that man first watching me. Oh, how I fear what has happened to him. Do you think the Scientific Academy could’ve thought he was in possession of your research? What will happen when they realize I have nothing for them?
For now, I am under the protection of several citizens of New Babbage, some of them more respected than others. My closest and most trusted fried, Miss Sky Netizen, is doing her best to look out for me, both on the front from the Academy and those she does not trust within the city. She is only one person and while I do respect her efforts, I do not think she is properly equipped to deal with the academy.
On the other hand, I am also under the protection of the House of Mureaux, which does hold quite a great deal of resources and is known for being good at, hmm… watching. I grow uneasy of their power, but at the time I requested their help, I was much more uneasy of what would happen to me. Because of this, I have requested the help of another man, one who wishes to also investigate Moses Mureaux further. I pray he will find nothing that will harm either or us. Both of them have been good men to me and have promised to do whatever is in their power to protect me. It is a small comfort with Phineas being missing. I would have never though I would miss the man as much as I do.
I will end on a final note, one I find most troubling. I believe the Scientific Academy had been poisoning me, almost in the same manner that they had been poisoning mother. The signs were there. I kept seeing it in my dreams but continued to deny it. I have also been painting in my sleep, painting strange things. I have been told that I knew it to be an equation. Is the academy after this? I am not sure how I could know such a thing. You know mother never wanted my education to have any semblance of science. Miss Verlaine came by the other day demanding it, and I’m afraid to say she almost had it too. Thankfully, the equation was destroyed. I would rather have a slight head injury than have let her escape with such information.
Please let me know what this all means. I am on troubled footing and while my strength is returning, albeit slowly, I cannot make these connections easily. If there is something you are holding back from me, I demand that I be made aware of it.
Your Loving Daughter,
William Bilavio, after having read the letter, regretfully tossed it in the fire, stoking the embers and burying the remains of the paper into the ashes to let it slowly burn. He had also hoped that Lia would be relatively safe from harm by staying far away from Aranka. However, that was not what was most troubling to him. She now knew that there was something strange buried deep in her sub-conscious. Something secret. Something that was meant to stay hidden until the time came for it to be revealed once again. William knew this day was approaching, but it came at the wrong time, a crucially wrong time, and they knew. Something would have to be done, and quickly, if William wished to protect both his daughter and his research.
After pausing to watch the last of the paper turn to ash, he rushed out of his office. There was an important task to do.
• Posted by Verlia Bilavio on June 24, 188x at 2:08am
That sooty film stuck fast to my skin in the damp of the night. Instinctively, my hand reached up around the back of my head, barely grazing the surface where the abrasion once stood. I dropped my arm and walked closer, the steam from the sewer floating up underneath my skirts as I passed the sidewalk. The wound may heal but an incited temper was awakening.
I could barely make him out in the thick fog beyond dusk, but I knew. As I stood unsteadily on the cobblestones, my voice cut, fixed, through the air: “Moses.” That sharp tongue that had buried itself inside my fear was emerging. I had too much time to brood over my injury and what that blonde woman could have known. She had it in her hands. I could never let this thing… this unfamiliar visitor I protected in dark folds of my mind to be let loose. “I am not pleased.”
“Do accept my apology, but to guard you any closer would have been,” he paused for a moment, treading lightly on his words, “uncomfortable.”
A strange tension gripped me and I sucked in the damp air in. Perhaps it was the sooty atmosphere that had made me grow soft. No, I reminded myself, it was the death. “That woman is dangerous. Perhaps your men were just distracted by her looks.” I stared at Moses, a fierce gaze growing stronger.
“Oh, I doubt that she is of any use to them. When on duty, they are quite singularly minded,” he smiled, almost reassuringly. I was not as convinced. “Trust that I’m quite troubled over what happened to you. But as I said, if we encamped around you any tighter, you might have felt crushed.”
I felt as though I was a walking a line between fear and ferociousness. “I’ve just been, well, unhappy with the level of service the House of Mureaux has provided thus far. I hoped you could’ve at least gotten a bit of information out of the man who was watching me.” Indeed, I had hoped, that we would at least know by now exactly why that man was here. My dreams made me suspicious of the truth.
I opened my mouth as I stood shuffling my feet. In his presence, Moses had always made me feel calmer, safer. How could I turn on his hospitality? I closed my mouth again, tasting the metallic grit lingering in the air on the back of my lips. No, I thought, this could not rest.
I had wavered for a moment too long and stared back up at Moses. For a moment, I was sure I saw something strange, something frightening flash in his eyes. “Hmmm…? Something on your mind?” He asked.
I bit my lip and decided to say it. “For all this watching you claim to be doing, it seems that is all it is. Simply watching. Perhaps..” I paused, partly out of a uneasiness in this man’s presence, partly because I was battling with that sharp tongue of mine. “Perhaps you’d rather know things than interfere in anything,” I finished, narrowing my eyes at Moses. In the end, the sharp words won out. I wondered briefly if I should have kept them.
“Ms. Lia, I must admit, that I hesitate to show my hand. However, there is reason behind it. Should I extend my reach too far… Well, the result would be unpleasant. We wait for a time to strike. But you shame me in that I did allow you to be harmed. I confess, we drew back. Otherwise, we’d never know.” I seemed startled by his words, wondering what it was that he referred to knowing, but thought better to ask. Moses knew far more that I had already thought.
On that thought alone, I was uneasy. I was uneasy with the weight of what was hidden and what had happened. “Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh on you.”
He took a step closer towards me, almost as if he could sense my doubts, my fears, even more that I could. “My dear Lia, I do worry over you. And I worry about tightening my grip on you. To be a prisoner in one’s home is not a good thing. And, there has been enough death around you. Trust that it weighs heavy on one’s soul.”
“Yes, yes, it is the weight of it all that is getting to me,” I smiled briefly, almost unconvinced, “Don’t think ill of me that I was a bit harsh with you. I’m just wary of-” I stopped before I said anything and shook my head, “No, mostly weary.”
As he took my hand, I thought briefly of Mr. Wexhome, now wishing it was he I was speaking with. He would assure me of my uneasiness, instruct me to arm myself and displace myself as far from the House of Mureaux as possible. “My dear, instruct me as to what you wish done, and I will make it so. Do you wish me to strike out those we know of? Encamp my men around you day and night?”
Even though my hand lingered uneasily within his, there was no question in my mind. I had to know. This strange secret, was it mine to keep? I thought back to those dreams I had of that man, watching me, grinning as the canvas suddenly appeared in his hands. Nodding decisively, I breathed: “I must know,” almost too myself. With more force in my voice, I repeated myself, “I must know. I must know what that man knows.”
Looking at my from under his brow, Moses replied, “We see him. He has not escaped. If this is what you wish, we will take him. However, once it is done, our hand is shown.”
I shook my head, looking curiously back at him, “What do you mean, ‘our hand is shown?’ I fear he, they… already know too much.”
I let my hand fall, an anxious wind collecting me. “Then it is decided. We will take him, and his mind will be ours. Soon, I will know all that he does.”
It was those last words that scared me the most. I bit my lip, the metallic soot and damp film still resting upon my skin, and thought for a moment. “I… I can trust you with this, can’t I?”
“Lia… I will strive to protect that which is yours. Whatever I find will be returned to you. I swear, by the Good Lady, all honor to her, that no other shall have what was taken from you. I can only ask that you trust me, and allow me to help you.” He smiled, and suddenly I wondered why I was worrying so. “There are those who question, but only because the answers are not theirs to have. You however, only seek that which is yours. That is one of the many reasons I aid you without hesitation.”
“Yes, I do, even if I have been advised against it. Moses, you’ve always been a friend to me above all else. I trust in that, especially. Thank you again for all your help. I can only hope we can resolve all of this soon enough. I would like a bit of peace for once.” A shiver ran through me as I spoke those last words. I hoped they would not come back to haunt me. I feared I could not help it.
Soon we would know.
Soon I would know everything.
I only hoped I was not being a foolish girl.
==A simple mission…==
• Posted by Moses Mureaux on June 25, 188x at 2:30am
“How long is he going to stand there?”
“As long as he pleases,” the Captain responded.
“He didn’t call us here to stare at the damned ocean.”
“He needs no reason to call us at all. For one of so many years you could do with a bit more patience.”
“Bah!” the Old One huffed, “That I’ve had more years only means that I have far less time to wait!”
I stared out over the ocean, watching it gently roll in the moonlight.
“She is on the sea tonight…” I whispered.
“Oh for the love of… By the Good Lady, all honor to her, not this AGAIN!” the Old One cried.
“All honor! Your Lordship, will all due respect, not even you can see that far,” the Captain offered.
“I feel it. In my very bones I feel it…” I answered.
“I always wondered how bones full of radioactive marrow felt…” the Old One mused. “Your Lordship, is there a point to this meeting?”
I was undeterred.
“You think me mad to dwell on such things. But how can I not when she is not at my side? How can I think of anything else when half of my soul has been ripped from me? How can I not mourn that she is parted from me so? How can I, I ask you, when before she and I ever took our first breaths, before we were conceived, before Almighty God first laid the very foundations of Heaven, she was mine, and I was hers…?”
I hear the slap of flesh upon flesh as the Old One’s palm strikes his face.
“Your Lordship, tragic as it is that she’s been gone a full THREE DAYS, if you would indulge me as to turn away from the bloody sea, perhaps we could get to our purpose here?”
“Mind your place…” the Captain warned.
“My place is in service to his Lordship my good Captain. To which I would gladly hold fast if he would but tell me why he has summoned us here!” the Old One, never one to be intimidated, even by me, retorted.
I closed my eyes and whispered, knowing that the four winds would not fail to carry my words to her, nor would her soul fail to hear them, “I love you… always…”
I turned my attention to those I had summoned.
“Very well. I have a simple mission for you. You recall the man that observed Verlia Bilavio?”
“Yes your Lordship. He has gone into hiding. We still see him,” the Captain replied.
“Take him, and bring him to me. He knows much. Perhaps far too much. His mind is to be ours.”
“About damned time! All due your Lordship, but I was beginning to think you’d lost your nerve.”
“No, I had not. But we have let this go on long enough. I pledged our service to Lia, and we will not fail her.”
“At your bidding, your Lordship!” the Captain answered.
“Indeed, at once, ” the Old One echoed, “We shall make it so. And in the meantime, we will leave you to the sea, and your pining for a love so far.”
I heard the Captain hiss. He never cared for how loose the Old One’s tongue was. I found it quite amusing.
“What?” he inquired, “If he misses her so much, why doesn’t he just go and fetch her?”
As they boarded their transport, my gaze did indeed return to the sea. She was upon it tonight. I knew it. As I looked out upon the lazily rolling waves, a question escaped my lips, “Why don’t I…?”
==Eliminating a Threat (or I’m Going to Need Bigger Bandages)==
• Posted by Sky Netizen on June 30, 188x at 8:00pm
As I made my typical rounds in town I darted over to Lia’s shop to check on her as I often did if the Watchers of Mureaux were not suffocatingly close. Stepping around the corner of her clock tower and into the courtyard I swiftly looked around, half expecting to see Mureaux’s lead guard, Demitri, once again. Yes, I was extremely suspicious of the House and I would continue to keep a close eye on them no matter how much kind reassurance I was given.
Not seeing Lia about, I quickened my pace a bit, remembering how the last time I could not find her she had been knocked unconscious by Blondie. Just thinking of that woman made me grit my teeth. If she ever came around again I had no qualms following through with my threats.
After ascending the first ladder, I opened to door to the sitting area and heard a rustling noise. I looked up and saw a woman shuffling in the desk. It was her…Blondie, as if she had stepped out of my thoughts. My instinct was to simply grab my gun and end the annoyance that stood before me. Yet, my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know what she sought.
Seeing me, she continued to paw around in the drawer and sneered, “Thought I’d have to wait till morning to see the Red dawn.” She paused, acknowledging me, “Netizen.”
My eyes narrowed on her, “No, you’re lucky, I came early.” I nodded,
“Verlaine.” I paused a moment as I watched her continue in her search, unashamed of being caught. Hissing, I said, “What do you think you’re doing?”
Blondie looked at me as if I were an ignorant fool and said, “Searching. That is apparent is it not?”
“Yes, that is quite apparent,” I said as I took a slow step towards her before continuing, “I warned you…”
Ignoring my approach she stated, “I do believe Verlia has something of mine. Pity I hoped you would have warned her. She’s too simple minded to be trusted with such information.”
Retorting, I said, “And you’re too simple minded to stay away…” I kept drawing closer to her, hoping to cut her short, forcing her quickly to information. “What are you looking for?”
She hardly glanced at me, placing Lia’s diary back in the desk drawer, her hand reaching into her pocket. “It does not concerns you.”
“But it does. Lia’s business will always be my business,” I replied trying to hide my boiling anger in Blondie’s presence.
She turned to face me, crossing her arms over her chest. “You both are foolish. You do not have the knowledge to process the equation nor the skills to transfer the information into something usable.” She stepped a foot closer to me as she looked down on me despite her height. “You are not fit to handle this information. Give it up.” Stepping back she narrowed her eyes at me. Her pitiful attempt at intimidation was hardly enough to make me leave. When I said nothing of the sort, my hand still firmly resting on my gun, she asked, “Do you really wish to challenge me and my employers? Netizen, you would barely survive.”
“I could not care less about you or your employers,” I snapped.
She sighed and looked down at the desk, “You are truly disappointing. I had thought you to be logical.”
That was it, my patience ran thin and I slammed the drawer shut, looking at her with a burning glare. “Logic has nothing to do with it at this point.”
“Oh, but it does. You do not understand. A sharp mind is more deadly than any weapon,” she said as if she were lecturing.
My control slowly giving way to my anger, I muttered, “Try me.”
Again, she attempted to persuade me to leave, saying, “Leave this, Netizen. Her secrets do not concern you.”
I said quickly, “But she does.” It seemed as though Blondie had a hard time accepting this.
Perhaps attempting to reassure me in some way, Verlaine stated, “As I said, she’ll live.” She glanced at the vial in her hand, assumedly full of poison.
I let out a dark chuckle, “As if I’m going to believe anything you say now.” My hand lifted, poised to knock the vial out of her grasp.
Quickly setting the vial down on the desk she sneered, “If this is what you want then take it. It is of no use to me any longer.”
My rage immediately blinded me as I thought of her being the one who has poisoned Lia. I grabbed my pistol, readying it.
“As I figured you came for a fight,” she stated with no emotion.
Glaring at her, I raised the pistol level with her face, “And you evidently came with a death wish.”
“Violence is not the best tool, but if you wish, I will use it.”
Hissing between my teeth, looking down the barrel of my pistol I said, “I wish you gone, Verlaine. Without what you seek.”
She quickly said, “That is impossible.”
“I told you there would be no mercy this time,” I growled.
“No, they do not tell tales of your mercy,” she said, looking annoyed at my threats.
My eyes glazed over as I allowed the darkness that was growing inside of me to take complete control. I became what I used to be.
With a yell I charged and tackled her, sending both of us crashing into a table breaking it to pieces. Blondie turned as we fell, forcing her knee into my chest to pin me down. As she reached for the gun in my hand I moved my arm back and threw it across the room, saying, “I won’t need that anyway…”
Before I could finish my last word she threw a fist to the side of my head. Surprised at the force of the blow, I tilted my head in pain and blinked, looking at Verlaine’s smug smile. Kicking her off me, I grabbed her by the waist and knocked her straight into the brick wall. She gasped, pain and rage flashing across her face as she kneed me in the stomach, forcing my grasp to break.
Standing up, I saw a glint against metal as Blondie drew her dagger. Deftly I knocked it from her hand, sending it across the floor. She grinned and said, “Well then, a no weapons fight it shall be.”
I stuck her square in the side and with my fist still imbedded against her I snarled, “I don’t need them.”
Verlaine fell back against the nearby ladder and held her side, grunting a moment before she turned and ran quickly up. I followed and once I reached the platform she ran towards me, knocking me into a stone column of the clock tower. My head connected with the rock, causing my vision to briefly blur. Once I could see clearly the only thing I saw was Verlaine’s boot connecting with my ribs, causing a cracking sound. I yelled in pain, grabbed her by the waist and threw her back directly against the rungs of the ascending ladder. Wincing, she only took a brief moment before grabbing my head, knocking it against the stone once more.
Everything throbbed. I felt blood begin to run down my head onto my face. My eyes were once again blurred, and the corners of my field of vision were darkening. Though I knew I could drop at any moment I gave Blondie a withering glare and lunged toward her. She jumped up and stumbled up the ladder, me closely following her. Chasing her up the remaining flights of ladders, I yelled at her cruelly, “Hope you are deathly afraid of heights!”
“Fear is irrational,” she panted and said in an even tone.
Once at the top of the ladder, I stood up on the roof as she backed against the side. I glowered with blood still dripping down my face though I could barely see and I felt my thoughts fading. “You’re trapped now, Verlaine…” I said in my lowest register. She glared and lunged at me, I dodged just in time, allowing her to lose her balance gradually. A dark grin spread across my face as I readied to push her. Coarsely, I asked, “Tell me, Verlaine, is fear still irrational?”
She narrowed her eyes as she began to fall over the ledge and spoke strongly, “Yes.”
With that I shoved her completely off the roof, her glare fixed on me. I watched as her form descended, but never saw it hit the ground…everything had gone black.
==Hide and Seek…==
• Posted by Moses Mureaux on July 4, 188x at 2:00pm
“There now… Was that so hard?”
The Old One releases the shattered arm, and the bruised and battered man fell to the ground.
“Ah, this will do…” he whispers, picking up a rod that was once part of a chair and setting it on one of the few tables still in one piece. “This is going to hurt you far more than it hurts me. No need to lie about it.”
The The Old One grasps the shattered arm again and pulls quickly, setting the bone in place. Before the man can even scream, the rod is set against the arm, and cloth is quickly torn from his shirt. With a quick and well practiced motion, the the fracture is set and splinted. The man grunts in agony.
“Three dead. Nine unconscious. And you. I suppose next time you lads will just answer a simple question rather than let your fists flail so ineffectively,” the Old One taunts. “Captain, we have what we need.”
“Very good,” the Captain replies. He turns to the Tavern’s Owner, who is cowering behind the bar. “I must apologise. We did not mean to cause so much damage to your establishment.”
The Captain reaches into his pocket and withdraws two stacks of currency.
“This is for the repairs. And this is for your silence. If anyone asks, they fell. Say that, and only that. It’ll be easier to believe than the truth. If that won’t cover your expenses, I’ll bring more,” he said, turning to make his exit.
“H-how will you know…? Should I call…?” the Tavern Owner asks, afraid of the answer.
“No need,” the Captain says, looking back over his shoulder. “We’ll be watching…”
“I hate waiting…”
The Old One does indeed lack patience. Luckily, he more than makes up for it in discipline. He controls his actions strictly, even if he does not control his words.
“Mr. Jameson will be along soon. Steady now.”
The Captain is a stern man, except where the Old One is concerned. The Old One knows this, and he never hesitates to point out the flaw.
“Steady now? How about offering to remove my tongue if I can’t keep it still?”
“No need for all that. Besides, your voice is like a waterfall. After the first year or so, I learned to simply stop hearing it when I wish.”
“You perplex me. So… Tolerant. Forgiving. Quite unlike your predecessor. You are Oculus Valde, and though I would never question the Master’s judgement, not in any way of consequence, I wonder sometimes why he selected you.”
“As do I… Still, do not take my tolerance of you as weakness. Surely do not. I merely have a bit of… reverence. You are, after all, the last of the first still alive. I value your wisdom and honor your skill, even as much as I loathe your wretched tongue, Old Man.”
“Wretched tongue… Better! A small step forward, but better.”
The Captain closes his eyes, seeming to listen to… Nothing at all.
“He’s coming around. He’ll appear at that corner in… Three… Two… One… There!”
Alfred Jameson appears right on schedule. The man that watched Ms. Bilavio so many nights had gone into hiding. Moving from place to place. He was surprisingly difficult to keep track of, always disappearing nearly as soon as he was found. But that was then, before the order to take him was uttered. Now, nothing could hide him.
He moves with haste, but still tries to appear calm and collected. Nondescript even. The Old One and the Captain rise from there seats, crossing the street, and fall into pace with Mr. Jameson a mere thirty steps back. Soon the click clack of their heels striking the cobbles draws his eye. He sees the Old One, and bolts with abandon!
“Steady now…” The Captain doesn’t even raise an eye brow. “Let him run.”
Jameson hopes to escape down a near by alley, only to find a young couple standing there. The young lady cocks her head to the side in a curious, unnatural manner, and Jameson knows. She, and he, are one of them…
He races further up the street, only to spot two gentlemen sitting on a bench. Staring curiously. Them…
He rounds a corner, only to see several laborers gathered around a wagon. Staring curiously. Them…
He runs along the street, trying doors as he goes. Finally one opens into a darkened shop. He crashes through, unconcerned with the wares he tumbles over in his wake. With haste, he finds the rear door, and bursts into the back alleyway.
The Captain points to the Old One, and then to the shop across the street. The Old One hisses as he races like lightning, leaping into the air, and grasping the shop wall. He scurries up the wall, much like a lizard, swings his body onto the roof, leaps once again, and disappears from sight.
The Captain, the young couple, the two gentlemen, and the laborers all gather outside the shop’s open door.
“No! Stay away! Stay away!”
A sharp sound fills the air, and a crash is heard.
“AHH! NO! PLEASE!”
The breaking of wood, and the cracking of brick and mortar.
“God help me! SAVE ME! OH GOD, NO!”
Jameson appears, his coat ripped, and his arm bleeding, in the shop’s rear door. He stumbles as he races backwards, in a state of utter terror. Over and over he stumbles, until he finally makes the shop’s front door. He turns, hoping to break free of his pursuers, only to crash into the Captain and falls to the ground.
A dark form and shining blue eyes appear in the rear door.
“Shall I save you from him?” the Captain inquires.
“Yes! YES! PLEASE!” Jameson urges, cowering in a tight ball on the ground.
The Captain holds up his hand, and the dark form’s shining eyes go dim. It steps forward, and the Old One emerges from the shop, straightening his tie, and dusting off his jacket.
The Captain reaches down and takes hold of Jameson’s shoulder, pulling him effortlessly to his feet.
“You are a difficult man to keep track of Mr. Jameson. But, now that we have you, your presence is requested and required…”
Jameson cowers, knowing full well by whom…
“…by Lord Moses Mureaux.”
==The Doubts of the Protector==
• Posted by Verlia Bilavio on July 12, 188x at 9:00pm
It had been a few weeks since I had sent my last letter to father and I was growing with uncertain anticipation. Even with the recent formation of the Ladies Liberty League and all the work that went into our bustle burnings and pie conferences not to mention my recent move to Clockhaven and my architectural work, it was not enough to keep my mind from home.
Aranka will always be burned into my mind as the memory of sneaking through the halls of our home, as the peony blossoms outside my bedroom window in the spring, and rushing to the front door upon father’s return from one of his trips to inspect the foreign treasures he had brought for us. New Babbage could never replace those memories, and even now, Aranka would never be the same. I would always be a prisoner to my fear and doubt.
Which was exactly what I had too much of when a letter arrived for me as I was cleaning the new shop today. My heart literally leapt in my chest, and as my shaking hands tore open the envelope, I was sure that something wasn’t right.
The name signed on the letter should have clued me in first of all.
It wasn’t from father.
It was from Olivia.
It was, however, only a scant page, one that I scanned far too quickly fearing that a word such as ‘death’, ‘tragic’, or ‘burial’ would come screaming their hellish cries to further bind me to my woes. I honestly hadn’t thought of how I’d be able to deal with myself if father somehow perished. No, I reminded myself, I would not let it happen.
I took a moment to sit before I began to actually read her letter. Smoothing my skirts, I took a breath before laying out the letter upon my desk and starting at the beginning.
Father implored of me to write this on his behalf. Think it not as a gesture of goodwill but as a obligation I have as family.
He is deeply troubled by your recent tribulations in that deplorable sooty land you now call home and admitted that he has been keeping something startling from you for quite some time now. Nevertheless, he urges you to continue to stay safe no matter the difficulties. You are not to return home.
(I could just imagine Olivia grinning as she wrote that)
Father is still of the disposition that it is far too dangerous for you to even set foot in Aranka considering the secrets you keep safe. He implores that if you, by some strange design, find these secrets for yourself (his words were in, but surely that does not make sense), then you are to never reveal them. Not to your closest allies, not even to this Mr. Frakture character that father goes on about. They are far too important and trusts in you to keep them safe.
That is all,
I could feel that strange sharpness piercing me as I read those last lines and thought with great difficulty at my most recent decisions involving the House of Mureaux. As I sat, fearing my foolishness, there was a knock at my office door that shook the letter from my grasp.
“Ye…Yes?” I managed to get out between being startled by the knock and by the letter. I answered the door, half expecting it to be something related to business and wanting to turn them away.
Opening the door, I immediately took a step back. If I had not been so startled, I may have been able to hear him first. There it was, subtle and continuous, the …tick…tick. This time, however, it did not bring a smile to my face. There was a strange anxiousness I heard in that ticking marked by something solemn. It was far different from it’s usual pleasant melancholy and I feared now what words might come from his lips. “Mr. … Mr. Wexhome,” I said, half asking. I shook my head slightly and opened the door further. “Please, come in.”
He did not say a word as he stepped through the door but simply took off his gloves for a moment and I could tell as I searched his face that he was looking for the right words. “It has come to my understanding that you have gained new insight into your… problem. The one we spoke of…?” He paused for a moment, looking back towards me and my heart sunk. Between Olivia’s letter and now Mr. Wexhome’s words, the panic had begun to set in. I had made a mistake. “I had hoped you and I could have, perhaps solved the matter rather …differently.”
I sighed and sat back down in my chair, trying to hold my hands to keep them from shaking. I had made a mistake.
I had made a mistake and did not… could not assess how dire the circumstances were, nor know how I could set things right. I bit my lip slightly before letting it all out, all the while avoiding looking Mr. Wexhome in the eye. “I… I.. didn’t know what to do. I just thought that Moses could help. He’s done well enough before and he was so… so…eager. I assumed that surely if anyone could provide me with a bit of safety and ease my mind it would be him. I.. just… thought that maybe if this man knew something.. maybe too much, then Moses would be able to recover it for me.” I struggled to say the words, trying not to think of the fate for that man, one that I had commanded.
“While I understand your apprehensions, I should think you and I could have resolved the matter better and with fewer future entanglements,” He responded, and while his face was void of emotion, the ticking seemed to get louder. I shook my head reminding myself that I was imagining it.
“Simpler, yes. I just want things to be simpler. I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any…” I turned to look into the dying fire, lost between thinking of all the things that could go wrong and trying to prevent myself from doing so.
“Sadly, you may have ‘simply’ complicated things for yourself,” Mr. Wexhome responded. I sent him a sharp glare indicated that in no way would I tolerate humor tonight.
“Moses did promise to return what was mine. Oh how I was afraid of this.” I sunk further into my chair, and softened my voice to a whisper, “It seems I am afraid of most everything these days.”
“Miss Bilavio, understand me, please. I mean no ill, simply to warn you in seeking your best interests. That is all.” I sat silent, listening to the foreboding tick…tick. I both feared it and found it oddly… familiar.
“But I fear it is too late to call him back,” he said. I could feel his gaze upon me, but still continued to avoid it.
I nodded slightly, now wishing that if anything I could turn things back. I should have never asked anything of the House of Mureaux. I should have never asked anything of him. I should have never gotten mixed up in father’s business. I should have never left Aranka. I sighed, overcome with a sense of being incredibly small and worthless, as if I was still the small little girl peering into my father’s library. “Yes… I most definitely would have made better decisions in your presence Mr Wexhome. I’m sorry if it seems to have caused any harm. It only seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
He sighed briefly, before speaking, “Well, what is done is done. We can only now learn from it. Thankfully if any life was lost, it was a life that was likely a threat to yours.”
I finally turned to look at Mr. Wexhome, the fear still aching inside of me, “You.. you won’t think worse of me for it will you?”
His look softened for a moment as he turned from the fire to look at me. I thought I heard the ticking soften as well and had to remind myself yet again that it was my imagination, simply a trick of my ears. “No, Madam, I will not think the less of you for it.”
I sighed, if somewhat briefly, and thought it strange to find some of my fears slightly reduced by hearing him speak those words. Perhaps my mistakes would not cost us dearly. Perhaps. At least I could hope.
Mr. Wexhome suddenly stiffened and then reached into his waistcoat to remove the fine white gold pocket watch that I had always admired. He clasped it in his hand, briefly closed his eyes and spoke, “You must forgive me. I have need to leave. I know it is sudden and most untimely but something begs my attentions. May we meet again to discuss this further?”
I nodded and led him to the door and as I closed it behind him, my gaze came to rest upon Olivia’s letter again. That same piercing sensation that I felt when I first read those last lines now returned.
I knew now I had made a mistake and I couldn’t take it back. Yet, at the same time, I knew that I must recover the information. I had to know what it all meant. I had to know what father had placed within me.
==A friendly chat… (The interrogation of Alfred Jameson)==
• Posted by Moses Mureaux on July 14, 188x at 11:09pm
Alfred Jameson flew like a tossed rag doll across the parlor, landing in his seat, which tumbled over with the momentum. The Old One pounced upon him.
“Please, for the love of all that is Holy, I’m begging you… TRY THAT AGAIN!”
Jameson’s ill conceived escape attempt had ended, quite predictably, in failure.
“Psst… I wouldn’t if I were you,” I whispered knowingly. “Help him up, and set him right.”
My men were quite gentle as they aided Jameson. He was relieve to have anyone attend to him except the Old One.
“Now then… Here, have a brandy. Sip on that and calm your nerves while I explain your situation. You, my friend, have set yourself in league with those who would attempt to steal from Ms. Verlia Bilavio and her family. Because of this, she has asked for my assistance. I thwarted your little group for a time, and if you had been intelligent, you would have given up then and there. Instead, you pressed on, and so I withdrew my men from Ms. Bilavio. Now… Why would I do that…?”
“I… I don’t know…” Jameson whispered.
“Because, my friend, human beings are utterly predictable, and so impatient. I knew that none of you would consider that I’d withdrawn on purpose. You assumed that I thought you’d given up. Oh how intelligent you all must have felt to have outwitted me! And so, you stuck! However… All you did was earn the wrath of every person who loves Ms. Verlia. Now, they want you, and everyone else involved, dead. Oh, they won’t say it out loud, but the desire burns in their hearts! They will use any excuse to cross that line and end your miserable existence! As one of your associates recently learned. How unfortunate that I have you, and not one of them.”
“What do you mean…?”
“Simple. They would kill you. I will not,” I said with a smile, “But you will wish that I would… Unless, of course, you give us your full cooperation.”
The look of terror in his eyes told me that my reputation had preceded me. In my travels through the Steamlands, I’d purchased the alliances I have made with the blood of many a wretch such as Alfred Jameson. At first, it struck all of us as being quite odd that men and women of power in these lands were so unwilling to take that final step to protect those in their charge. However, that same deficiency had provided me with the niche I required. I would attend to matters they wished they weren’t even aware of, and they in turn would shield my activities in shadows. Indeed, few, usually only the most vile, know anything of the House’s movements. It is a perfectly symbiotic relationship and, in fact, those of my house have postulated that these arrangements grant me even more power and freedom than I possess within the Arcanian Commonwealth. Perhaps so. It matters not.
“Alfred… I can call you Alfred, seeing as we are making such fast friends, can I not? Good! Alfred, I would like to do this the easy way. You would too, wouldn’t you?”
“Y-yes… I’ll cooperate! Just keep him away from me!”
“Excellent. You’ve met Mr. Batriani, haven’t you? He is going to sit right here, and you are going to look into his eyes as he asks you some questions. Answer truthfully, or we’ll know. Simply listen and answer, listen and answer. And never take your eyes from his. Understood?”
“Yes, I understand. And you won’t kill me, or… worse?”
“No, I won’t kill you, or worse. Now, before we begin, look at that clock please. What time is it?”
Jameson gave me a quizzical look, but answered readily.
“It’s a bit after 2:40 in the am.”
“Good. Now, look into Mr. Batriani’s eyes.”
Demitri sat down in front of Jameson, and spoke calmly and gently.
“Never fear, this will be quite painless. Just a simple conversation. Nothing to worry over. Just keep your eyes focused on mine, and that way I’ll know that what you say is true. And it will be, will it not? You are an intelligent man. You can see your situation. Cooperation will set you free. So I trust you. But, pardon me, if you wouldn’t mind, without looking at the clock, exactly what time is it?”
“Well, I don’t know… 2:42? 2:43, maybe?”
Roughly two minutes ahead with his first guess.
“Very good. Now, as I was saying. I’m only going to speak, and you will listen. When I ask, you will answer. Nothing to it. Never mind those in this room with us. Let them fade from memory. Just focus on our conversation, and allow me to worry over the others. Yes? Yes! Now, pardon me once more, but I can sometimes be forgetful. You understand, do you not? Of course you do, so I know you will indulge me, and tell me, what time is it exactly?”
Jameson looked perplexed. A bit drowsy, but perplexed.
“I… I suppose it’s about… 2:44?”
The gap was down to less than one minute ahead.
“Yes, yes, of course. So, as I was saying, we need not bother about the others. This will be quite easy for us. We’ll talk, have a nice laugh, and you’ll tell me what I need to know. Then, we’ll return you home. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Of course it does.”
“I feel… I feel like I’m falling.. What… What’s going on…?”
“Oh, never mind all of that. Just focus on my eyes, and you will be fine. Now, again I must apologize, but what time is it exactly?”
“It is 17 seconds past 2:45 am.”
I smiled, “Ah, even the unconscious mind of a dullard is unerringly precise.”
“He submitted rather quickly. Weak mind. My Lord, I’m telling you, if you’d pushed the girl to allow herself to be placed under incursion, we’d have known all we need to by now,” the Old One said.
“Indeed. However, she has been through enough. And once it is done, it can not be undone. She would be attuned to one of mine, and those who claim to protect her might begin to see her as a liability,” I retorted, “I won’t allow it.”
The Old One merely grumbled. Demitri continued.
“Tell me… Where are you, and what is there?”
“I am nowhere. There is nothing. Except your eyes… Your voice… And me…”
“Good… Remember my voice. Attune to it. Let it resonate within you. When you hear my voice, you will know it is true.”
“Your voice is true…”
“Yes, it is. Hear it now. You are sitting outside the abode of Verlia Bilavio. You have arranged for a toxin to be introduced into her drink, and now you wait as she sleeps. Are you there?”
Jameson sat more upright, and appeared to be checking a pocket watch that isn’t there.
“Yes… It’s nearly time… She should stir any moment…,” he said.
“Tell me, why are you watching her? What are you waiting for?”
“The formula… She knows the formula… Only, she doesn’t know she knows…”
“What is this formula? Please explain.”
Jameson eased back, obviously eager to demonstrate his knowledge.
“It is the key… The greatest achievement of mankind… The formula that unlocks the power of the earth itself!”
Jameson grinned through his stupor.
“Go on… I don’t understand.”
“The formula allows one to harness the magnetic… the magnetic field of the earth itself… Allowing the generation of limitless electromagnetic power…”
The Old One whispered, “Quite an achievement. It could change the world. Or destroy it.”
I nodded in agreement. “Demitri, how is it that she might know this formula, yet not know she knows?”
“Why do you believe Verlia Bilavio knows this formula, yet does not know that she knows?”
Jameson chuckled, “Because her father never told her she knows… He implanted the formula… into her mind hypnotically… He perhaps thought that only he could retrieve it… But we are so close… Look! She’s moving to the easel!”
Jameson points subtly, with a look of anticipation upon his face. It’s time to move on.
“Demitri, the paintings…,” I whisper.
“Listen to my voice. You are no longer watching Verlia Bilavio. You are adrift.”
“I’m falling… Into… Nowhere…”
“You need not fall for long. There is much to be done! The paintings! What will we do with the paintings?”
“The safe-house… We must take them there… Until they might be studied…”
“But where? Where is the safe-house? You must remind me, my friend.”
“Of course… You remember the way…”
Jameson details the location of this safe-house, as the Old One writes down every detail.
I turn to him, “Send five, plain clothes. Have Lt. Cmdr Zane mobilize a squad of Sentinel Elite and prepare to escort us once we are finished with Jameson. If this turns into a fight, I want it brief, with no survivors or witnesses. However, we keep our distance. All will await my arrival. Unless absolutely necessary, no one enters the safe-house but me.”
“You’re going yourself, your Lordship? God help them. But why alone?” the Old One inquires.
“I made a promise. What was taken, no one shall have. I can account unerringly for myself, but how can I assure Lia of everyone else in my service? I will recover them, and I will seal them. As to God’s help, I doubt He will render it. No one can save them, my friend. Anyone I find who has seen these paintings, except for our good friend here, has forfeited their lives.”
Demitri tapped my hand. He needs more direction, how to proceed.
“This is enough for now. You will be able to retrieve more information if we need it later. Have him dropped off,” I commanded.
“My friend, do you recall the men who chased you? Do you recall the young couple? The Laborers? Being surrounded on all sides, until you escaped through a shop, only to be cornered by an old man with shining eyes?”
Jameson shuttered, “Yes…”
“Forget… It never happened.”
Jameson looks puzzled for a few moments, as the memories slip away.
“Never mind. Sleep.”
Jameson slumps back and begins to snore.
“Pathetic…,” the Old One huffs in disgust, “Funnel brandy down his gullet and drop him off.”
I smile, “Ah, the old fashioned way… Now, gentlemen, seems we have a few canvases to retrieve…”
==The Scientist’s Daughter: A Return==
• Posted by Verlia Bilavio on July 16, 188x at 8:00am
When I set eyes upon that sealed box, I knew exactly what it contained and froze.
I couldn’t even take my eyes from it, my sister’s warning kept repeating itself over and over in my head, mocking me. Why had I agreed to this? What made me think I could actually trust the House of Mureaux with anything? My closest friends and allies surely had not seen things on a similar level as I and would have kept the House of Mureaux at a similar distance as those who wished to harm me if I had not such a familiarity with them.
As Sky’s feet ascended the stairs two at a time, I could faintly hear her calling out to me, “Lia! I have the rest of the—” She stopped when she reached the top floor, coming to a halt right behind me, an overflowing box of bustles in her hands. “What is it?” She asked, dropping the box on the floor and coming to stand next to me.
I turned to look at her, and I knew that she could sense the fear, the curiosity, and the panic all coming to the surface. I bit my lip. There was no avoiding that box or what it contained. “Hand me your dagger dear and leave me,” I said, waveringly, my eyes no longer straying from the box. I held out my hand and could feel her hesitate. She wanted to be there when I found out, I knew, but I had promised my father that this would be between him and I as long as he wished. A moment passed before she placed the small blade in my hand and I could hear her the door slam behind her. As much as I wished her to be here with me, to share in this misery, it would be better for her if she didn’t.
I kneeled before the box, unsealing it with my dagger and let the top tumble open. I fell back, amazed at what lay before me. One hand reached out to grasp a piece of canvas and I held it there for a brief second, taking a breath. In a rush, I pulled them all out, my eyes widened each time, not only with what lay on those pages but not knowing how this could possibly be my work.
It was more colorful, fluid, and full of life than anything I had ever painted before. The symbols and numbers seemed to flow together in a vexing pattern that was both ethereal and familiar, as if it was on the cusp of everything I knew and everything I would never know. The colors and patterns layered themselves so thick that I soon became lost inside them; the colors flowed around me, through me. And as I continued to arrange the paintings out on the floor, trying to grasp what it all meant, what secrets lay deep within me that I was finally unearthing, a sudden realization hit me: this was a direct glimpse into who I was. It was like looking right into my mind, right through the top of my skull, and uncovering the center of the universe. It was far too personal for anyone but me to lay eyes upon.
I shivered, knowing that this was not the case. Both that man and Moses had laid eyes upon these paintings. Suddenly, I feared what they knew and felt them far too close to me than I had ever intended.
I brought a hand up to my open mouth as I stared at what I had created. It was beautiful. I would never be able to paint anything as grand. Ever. I never wanted to let these paintings leave my grasp again.
Gathering them in my hands, I stood and with a heavy heart, knew what must be done. One after the other, they found their place deep within the fire. As I sat and watched them turn to ash, I wiped a tear from my eye. It had to be done. As beautiful as they were, I knew that they could never be viewed, never be shared, and never be kept so that they could fall yet again into the wrong hands, even if the formula was painted in an incomplete fashion.
It was a long time before Sky returned. The fire had already died and I already had begun to drag my traveling trunk out of the attic. When she entered, I passed her dagger back to her and saw her eyes flicker over to the empty box that still lay in the same spot.
“Lia..?” She asked, expectantly.
I turned and looked over to the fire and hesitated. “I destroyed them.” I glanced back up at her and she stepped forward suddenly, almost reaching out to me. I had no doubt that she could sense the pain in my eyes over this, but she couldn’t know, she would never know how it felt to destroy something so beautiful.
I wiped a tear from my eye and tossed another dress in the trunk. “I..I have to go.” I shut the top suddenly, causing her to jump. “I have to go back home.”
“I’m coming with you,” she said, almost too soon. I shook my head. There would be no way that I could let her come.
“No, no you simply can’t Sky. I can’t let you.”
“When does the airship leave? You’re not going if I can’t as well. What if someone tries to come for you again?” She tried to reason.
I shook my head again, trying to make myself sound more assertive. “Sky. You can’t go. I’m not going to allow you to run after me. This is far too dangerous for you, and I wouldn’t even be going back home if I didn’t have to solve this with my father and… and admit to my mistakes. This is a private matter, and as much as it pains me to say it, I can’t let you be involved any further.”
“You’re really trying to convince me that it’s too dangerous.” She almost laughed, wondering how she, the ex-pirate who had encounter both the Slenderman and Autumn Verlaine in a few days and still survive could possibly be in a situation that was more dangerous than she already knew. “It’s not going to work. I’m coming with you.”
“No. You’re not, and I’d really like it if you’d respect both my privacy and my warnings. Trust me when I say that if the circumstances were any less… dire, then I’d gladly accept. Things simply cannot be that way. I must go alone.” I tried to smile reassuringly, but could tell by the look on Sky’s face that I was only making things worse. She hardly liked it when I kept secrets from her and usually I would agree, but this was a secret that I had to protect above all other things and I had already failed. “I’ll send word when I arrive safely,” I said before rushing out the door, dragging the slim trunk behind me. “I have to go. I’m sorry.”
==Dinner at the Bilavio’s (Part One)==
• Posted by Phineas Frakture on June 12, 188x at 1:34pm
“Seymour? Professor Whitcomb?”
William Bilavio entered the small office on the third floor of the Academy and peered around at the cluttered cubby.
“Yes, Professor Bilavio?” came a raspy voice from beyond a pile of books. Quickly after, a blonde shock of hair protruded from behind the stack and a hunched figure limped around the desk.
Bilavio sized the man up and down, wondering what tragedy had befallen the brilliant junior professor. “I was just wondering if you had given any thought to my invitation to tonight’s tea. Most of our department will be there and, your being new and all, I was hoping that you would be able to join.”
“Oh, I had completely forgotten, sir. My pardon. I am not quite sure if I will be able to attend.” The voice paused after every four or five words to intake a rattle of breath.
“That’s a pity. I was hoping to get to know you better and make your transition more pleasurable. My daughter will be joining us…”
“Your daughter?” Whitcomb’s eyes widened for a quick moment before they returned to darting about in their usual manner.
“Yes, my youngest, Olivia and her husband will be joining us as well. I feel that family is an important part of our community. Recent events have shown me this and I do not wish to ignore it any longer.”
“You are right, of course, professor. I shall be there at the allotted time. Until then?”
“Until then,” repeated Bilavio. “No need to feel as if you have to bring anything. We will be well taken care of…and on your pay, I wouldn’t have it,” Bilavio called over his shoulder.
When the professor was out of sight, Whitcomb shuffled back behind his desk. The last few steps transformed him into a different man as his gait changed to a stride and his back stretched, adding a good four inches to his height. He sat down and took a deep, clear breath. “This is working out perfectly,” he said in a clear tone.
Later that evening, Whitcomb shuffled from his cab to the door of the Bilavio residence. Inside, he could hear the animated conversation of his peers and the occasional high pitched laughter of what could only be the professor’s daughter. After ringing the bell, the door opened to reveal a towering Sikh. Whitcomb staggered back at the initial shock of such a sight greeting him and then recovered. “I am expected,” he said in his raspy voice. The Sikh motioned him in and offered to take his hat and cloak.
“Ah, Professor Whitcomb! Come in! Come in! I am so glad you made it,” Bilavio called as he made his way to the door. He noticed Whitcomb’s apprehension of the man-servant and quelled his fears. “Ah, not to worry. Rajvir may seem intimidating, but he is as gentle as a lamb. I came upon him almost by accident, pushing him out of the way of a carriage a couple weeks ago and he insists on serving me since then. Admittedly, I find it rather comforting to have him around, though he doesn’t say much. Don’t mind his staring. He does that all the time.” The professor took his guest and showed him into the parlor as the man-servant’s eyes burned holes in the back of Whitcomb’s head.
“I believe that you already know Professors Tinstickey, Marmaduke, Peelhaul, Cogsmirthey and Shook, our tenured staff. Over there are our junior professors, like you, Freepoint, Atwater, Philpott and Begley.”
Philpott caught Whitcomb’s eye as he turned when the professor said his name. He, like Whitcomb had also started this past week at the academy and he didn’t trust him a lick. The young man was snobbish, brash and had an annoying habit of carrying around a mug of coffee that stank up the office whenever he was around. Whitcomb nodded politely and continued to scan the room.
“And over there is my lovely daughter, Olivia, who is sans escort tonight since her husband was called away on business at the last moment.”
Whitcomb stared at the woman for a quick second, noting the similarities between her and her sister. It seemed like an eternity since he saw Verlia last, but her face was as fresh in his mind as if she were standing in front of him.
“Everyone,” Bilavio said above the din of voices, “I believe dinner is ready, if we may make our way to the dining room.”
The group slowly made their way, the chattering of scientific theory filling the hall and not once letting up for another subject. Lastly came Philpott, who had lingered behind as he studied a family photograph of the Bilavio’s, which was on top the fireplace mantle. His eyes locked on those of the older daughter in the photo. With the nudge of a jewel encrusted scabbard, Rajvir growled at the man to move along. Reluctantly, Philpott left the portrait and joined his colleagues. The Sikh followed the crowd with his eyes, keeping a slight grin hidden behind his scraggly beard.
==Dinner at the Bilavio’s (Part Two)==
• Posted by Phineas Frakture on June 14, 188x at 8:10pm
The night went on, filled with discussion of new advances in science and prospective uses for such advances. While the senior members of the room bragged of their accomplishments, the juniors were sequestered in their own group, talking of revolution and how they would change the world. Olivia sat to the side, drinking her tea and bored to tears. Whitcomb, noticing this, took the initiative and joined her while his colleagues were otherwise distracted.
“I understand that your sister just recently returned from Singapore with your father…and before that, the arctic. Are you as inclined to adventure as your sister is?” He asked in his raspy voice.
Olivia flinched, obviously repulsed by the disfigured man, but since he was the only form of diversion at the moment, she reluctantly welcomed his company.
“Unlike my sister, I know my proper place is at my husband’s side. Chasing around the world with a rogue at one’s side is hardly suitable for a lady.”
“Then you have no interest in your father’s work?”
“Of course not. I was taught to tend to the family and not bother with matters of science and such.”
“I see. So I gather that your sister has a bit of the rogue in her as well. She sounds intriguing.”
“If you think so, sir.” Olivia drew back a bit from the man. He had an odd smell to him…a sort of spicy aroma, like nutmeg or allspice, but she just couldn’t place it.
“And what of this rogue she was with? I hear that he was greatly involved as well.”
“Oh, yes. He had an odd name, though I cannot remember it. I hear father mention him from time to time…up until recently. I believe that he might have been killed in an explosion or something. Sister is said to be grieving terribly for him, though father refuses to talk about it.”
“Pity,” wheezed Whitcomb. “Do you know anything about what they were doing in the arctic and Singapore? It must have been interesting to work in such exotic locations. I, as you can see, have not the constitution to travel to such places, so I must live through others’ adventures.”
Olivia seemed to take pity on the man, for her mannerisms softened a bit. “He keeps journals of his work. Perhaps he may share them with you someday.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t bother him with my curiosity. Though I hope to work with him someday on his theories. I have to work much harder than these other young lads, who move with stamina. All I have is my mind to keep me ahead of the pack. I’m afraid that they will take advantage of your father and steal his work.”
“Maybe you should warn him?” enquired Olivia, now fearful of what could possibly be true. “Or maybe I should?”
“No…no. I may be talking out of turn, but the others say things when I am around, thinking that I have no power, being new to the Academy. I just wish that I could be certain that your father’s work is safe from these jackals. He has become a bit of a mentor and father figure to me these past weeks.”
Olivia thought for a moment and then slowly stood up. “Come with me…while everyone is talking.”
The two slipped out of the room with hardly a notice, leaving the academicians to their revelries.
“This is my father’s library,” Olivia said as she closed a door behind them and lighting the gas lamps. “I never come in here, except once or twice when we were children. Verlia would sit in here for hours, reading his books. All of his journals are kept here, but his most important works are hidden in a secret compartment. My sister found them one time when she was looking for more gibberish to read. I think that you might consider his work to be safe in here.”
Whitcomb shuffled around the room. “I will bet that the secret compartment is right….here.” He tapped the bottom of a shelf with his cane.
“Hardly,” said Olivia.
“Um…here? Here? Here?” He continued around the room, smiling as he tapped odd places. Olivia began to giggle at his playfulness and finally moved to a huge ornate world globe resting on a pedestal in the corner.
“Would you believe here?” she said with girlish triumph at knowing the secret.
Whitcomb hobbled over to her and examined the globe. “No, I would have never suspected.” He said with a smile.
In what would be the turning point of the evening, the door to the library swung open to reveal his colleague, Philpott. “Whitcomb! What the devil are you doing?” he hissed.
Out in the parlor, the gentlemen gathered there turned in unison as a gunshot rang out from somewhere in the house.
==Dinner At the Bilavio’s (Part Three, Finale)==
• Posted by Phineas Frakture on June 24, 188x at 12:38pm
The professors moved, slowly at first, wary of what was happening. Curiosity eventually got the better of them and they quickly made their way down the hall with William Bilavio at the lead. They eventually found the prone figure of Philpott lying in the doorway to the library. Olivia exited the door, stepping over the body. She was white as a ghost and trembling. Behind her, holding a series of notebooks and a gun was a man whom none of them recognized until Marmaduke asked “Whitcomb?”
“No, not Whitcomb,” said Bilavio as he began backing everyone down the hall they had come. “His name is Falcourt. Henry Falcourt. At least that was the name he used in the arctic.”
“You remember, professor. I’m flattered,” said the formerly disguised professor. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this day as I’m sure my employers have as well.”
“No, don’t do anything foolish, Falcourt. One man has been shot already,” said Bilavio.
“Philpott? That coward fainted when my gun went off accidentally. The fool tried to say that I was being dishonorable by being alone with your daughter. He will be fine…for moment. Now, if you will all just retire back into the parlor, we will finish our business here.”
“Tinstickey,” whispered Bilavio, “as soon as he follows us in, grab his gun and I’ll knock him over the head.”
The group was herded through the doors, but as Falcourt entered at last, Tinstickey didn’t grab the gun, but produced one of his own.
“Good show, old man! Now we have him!” exclaimed Bilavio. However, something seemed amiss when Tinstickey closed the door behind them and took up position, blocking the exit.
“You have it all, Falcourt?” the senior professor asked.
“All of his secret notes…thanks to his charming daughter.” He laid them on the table and then Shook and Peelhaul rushed over to look at them, both now brandishing pistols.
“Not all of you?” asked Bilavio, understanding the extent of the betrayal. He looked over to Cogsmirthey and Marmaduke, who looked away in shame. “We came up together! We were comrades to the end! How could you? I knew that some of the Board of Academics was involved…but my entire department?”
“William, when you are the best and brightest, you should expect that someone, sometime will want your research…and we have been wanting yours for years now,” said Peelhaul.
The door opened, pushing Tinstickey forward a bit. The Sikh entered with a tray bearing a bottle of brandy and several snifters. “Many pardons, sir. I did not know you were there,” he said as he entered. Placing the tray on the table, he began pouring the liquor, which the junior professors snatched up immediately and drank to calm their nerves. The seniors also took a glass to celebrate their victory. “Master Bilavio, there is a young man unconscious in the hallway. Shall I retrieve him?”
“Bring him in,” ordered Shook. “But first, leave the sword. Marmaduke…go with him.”
Reluctantly unsheathing the sword, Rajvir and Marmaduke exited the room and soon returned with a semi-conscious Philpott. He stumbled in and upon seeing the weapons drawn by the senior professors, headed straight for his junior colleagues, stopping only to grab a snifter of brandy and drinking it in one gulp.
“Now that you are all here,” said Cogsmirthey, “it will be easier to dispatch you all in one fell swoop.”
“What? Why?” asked Bilavio. “You have my research what more could be gained by killing us?”
“Do you think that we would just let you live and run off to the police? What do you take us for? Junior Professors?”
“And just how do you expect to explain a mass murder in my own home? There will be questions!”
Cogsmirthy pointed to the Sikh. “He is suffering from war dementia. You yourself said that you just happened on him. What did you know about his mental state? The Indian wars took its toll on many soldiers. He killed you and in a valiant effort…we killed him. Simple. Who would question that?”
“My daughter, for one,” replied Bilavio.
“Oh, little Verlia will be taken care of in her own time…if she hasn‘t been already. But, now that we have these,” he said making a grand gesture across the table filled with the notebooks, “we will not be needing her.” He turned to Shook. “Kill them…start with the whelps. I’m tired of their upstart ideas.”
Upon hearing that, one of the junior professors collapsed. Then another. And still another. Shook began to laugh and then brought his hand up to his head, wobbled a bit and then collapsed. As Bilavio and Cogsmirthey watched in confusion, one by one, the guests passed out.
“What…what did you do?” asked Cogsmirthey as he slid to the floor.
Rajvir stood over him and took the brandy snifter from his hand and placed it on the table. Bilavio, fighting off unconsciousness, tried to focus on the Sikh who was removing his turban and then his beard. “Phineas? You’re alive?”
Phineas Frakture watched and made sure the room was completely asleep and then pulled a small headset from the turban. “We are clear. Let’s clean them up.”
Several men and women entered the house and began dragging the senior professors out of the house and putting them into a paddy wagon.
“You know, Frakture, the Queen will not like you wasting resources on your own private crusade,” Ophelia Steamweaver said to him.
“Consider it pest control,” he responded. “What these gentlemen could do with this research is frightening to say the least. I just saved us a whole lot of trouble down the line. The body is gone now, but the head is still out there. Do you think the interrogators can get it out of them?”
“Don’t worry about that…we have plenty of ways of making them talk. We will come up with a story about a carriage accident and they will never be seen again. Finish up here and, this time…make sure you get on the right airship.”
The room cleared out, leaving only Phineas, Bilavio, Olivia and the junior professors. Starting to collect the notebooks, he heard the front door open again. “Don’t worry, I’ve got everything,” he said turning. But the figure in the doorway wasn’t the woman he expected to see. Standing with suitcase in hand and pale as a ghost was Lia, jaw agape and tears welling in her eyes.
“You…you’re alive,” she stammered in a weak voice.
“That…seems to be the question of the day in this house,” replied Phineas, not knowing what else to say at the moment.
Lia dropped her case and walked up to him as if in a dream. “Why? Why did you let me think you were dead?”
“It wasn’t my idea. Your father’s friends had a hand in that and then we thought it better for everyone to think I was dead.”
Lia went into the parlor and saw her father and sister resting in chairs while the unconscious party lay still on the floor. “We thought? What is going on here?”
“You might need a drink for this,” Phineas said handing her some brandy. Lia gulped it down and waved the glass for another. “They’re just sleeping and drugged with an amnesiac. They won’t remember a thing that happened tonight when they wake up in the morning.” Phineas’ eyes grew sad. “Just like you won’t.”
Lia’s eyes went wide as she looked from the glass to Phineas, pleading for an explanation.
“I don’t like it, but it has to be this way. We don’t have too much time, so let me talk. Your father’s associates have been taken into custody and I am taking his notes. They will be safe…and you will be too, for now. You see…I was recruited by the government a while ago and have been doing work for them from time to time. Now it seems that I’ll be doing it full time and I’ll be going away for a while.”
“But…you will be back, won’t you?” Lia asked drowsily.
“I don’t know. But for now, its better that you think that I’m dead. It will be easier for you. I won’t be in your way, like Queer has said so many times. You need to get on with your life. Its your time now.”
Lia began to slip and Phineas picked her up and gently put her in one of the chairs next to her father.
“There’s so much I want to tell you and not enough time.”
Phineas leaned in close and whispered something in her ear. Lia smiled warmly, contently and she curled up into the chair. “And I always will,” Phineas said as he pulled away. He lifted her chin and kissed her softly on the lips. I wish that I had done that a long time ago, he thought.
Collecting everything he needed, Phineas stopped for a moment and watched her sleep. He knew nothing of her recent ordeals. If he had, then it would be that much harder to leave her. He realized that protecting her was the only thing that gave him a purpose recently. A self appointed guardian from the time he ’met’ her as she slogged through the sewers under him. He smiled at the memory of shouting down to her through the drains in the Gangplank. And how he tortured her relentlessly to keep her at arm‘s length, knowing that if he got too close he would end up getting hurt…or she would. He couldn’t keep bringing her into danger. If she were to be hurt, he’d never forgive himself.
Sighing heavily, a single tear cleaned a path through the stain he had used to disguise himself.
It was time to go.
A new life awaited. Someday he would be back, but it was all up to fate now. Tomorrow brought a new challenge…a new adventure. From a pouch under his shirt, he pulled out a new pair of goggles and put them on. They weren’t as comfortable as his old pair, but that would change over time.
“Farewell, my little sewer rat,” he said with a smile as he closed the door behind him.
==Just a bit…==
• Posted by Moses Mureaux on July 19, 188x at 3:16pm
“What’s it, dear cousin?” Jaelind said.
“The formula that Professor Bilavio created. I’ve reconstructed it from memory…”
Jaelind rose from his seat with a start and stepped back.
“Do you fear to look upon it, my cousin? With all we have seen, all we have conquered, can this bit of knowledge actually frighten you?”
“You and I have faced countless opponents, from the mundane to the godlike, and we have laid them all low. But this…”
“Aye… But this…”
“Moses, are you aware of what you could do with such an equation?”
“Yes…,” I whispered.
“Your fleet could be augmented far beyond anything this world has ever seen. All of Arcania… nay… All of the WORLD would quake at your coming and going.”
“You could change the face of the entire earth, reshaping it in your own image.”
“Men and women would bow to your will, fearing the might that you and you alone possess.”
“You would be even more of a god than you already are.”
“Yes… even more…,” I whispered, holding the equation at eye level. I allowed the energy contained within me to issue forth from my eyes and strike the parchment, watching it burn. “But far less than what I wish to be: Simply a man. And of course, line between god and daemon is so very thin…”
Jaelind smiled as he turned to leave, “Well, well, your Lordship. Seems you have a bit of humanity left in you after all…”
I reclined back, watching the glowing green embers of the most powerful discovery I’d ever laid eyes upon swirl in the night air.
“Yes… Just a bit…”
==The Scientist’s Daughter (Finale, Part 1)==
• Posted by Verlia Bilavio on July 19, 188x at 7:37pm
It was in their hushed whispers that I first heard it:
“She is the key.”
There’s a strange sensation that one feels when others are conversing over them. Even as a girl, I could feel it and the tension would immediately appear, sharp, as an alert straight to the center of my mind. However, even if I could consider that I was the subject of conversation, there would be no way to know what it meant. As a girl, I was taught to listen, to not speak out of turn, to balance as a perfect example of stateliness, one foot on either side of the boundaries of society, never letting the public life be made aware of the private life.
It was there, outside my father’s library, one hand resting on the moulding of the door, the other bunched into the heavy folds of my skirts, that my mother found me. I was a girl, barely ten, old enough not to forget and too young to realize.
Those words still haunt me, years later, and I remember the way my father spoke more clearly than I remember what my punishment for eavesdropping was.
Father’s words, mother’s ghost.
It always had to be that way.
When I woke, I knew I had lost something. Curled in the chair in my father’s library, I had trouble remembering how I ended up there. Through the haze my mind had managed to stumble from, I could clearly recall stepping onto an airship from New Babbage, and rushing back to my home once I had set foot on land again. However, beyond entering the front door and dropping my traveling trunk… nothing at all came to me. It was as alarming as my bouts of memory loss in New Babbage.
For a moment, I feared their return, but something within me spoke with a sudden calmness. For some reason, apart from my fears, apart from all of my struggles and experiences, something was telling me that for once everything was ok. No longer would I need to worry about my father and the weight of his research. No longer would I have to worry about the enormity of my secrets.
As I made my way back into the foyer, I spotted my trunk, still in the same place as before. The front door was wide open with the afternoon light streaking in, barely touching the tips of my feet. The song of the summer birds had been a strange, distant memory when I was far away in New Babbage and now they grazed my ears with such intensity it was difficult to imagine that this was all not a dream.
I shielded my eyes to the light with one hand as I wandered through the door, one that I had been paraded, marched, and snuck through far too many times for me to easily forget it. But I had been.
“Fa- Father?” I asked, clearing my throat a little, now realizing it was dry. I wondered if it was because of my strange predicaments or because I was too worried at what I needed to admit to my father.
“Your mother always loved these summer afternoons,” he said, turning to take me under one arm as I leaned against him.
I sighed, partly out of comfort, partly out of anxiety. “I know you told me to stay in New Babbage, father, and I did try my hardest to do so. I realize that this was important to you, but, but…” I looked up at him and was struck by the genuine smile on his face. He hadn’t smiled in quite since my mother had passed.
“Don’t you worry about that, Lia,” he simply responded, directing his smile down upon me. The way my name rolled of his tongue always made me feel like I was still a little girl: home and safe, without a care. It made what I was about to tell him all the more difficult.
“I know, but the reason I returned was to tell you, to tell you that I didn’t keep what was hidden in my mind to myself. There is someone else who knows.” I could see the smile slowly fading from his face, and simply took the letter from the pocket in the folds of my dress to hand it to him.
Would that I could un-see. Would that I could un-know.
Firstly, I want to assure you that I have done all I can to contain that which had been taken from you. All who have seen your unconscious work have been dealt with. For your sake, I shall not go into detail, but I ask you to trust that I could not do otherwise. To allow them to carry on with such knowledge, incomplete as it were, would be far to great a risk. Only the man who watched you remains, and once I saw what he had seen, I knew even he could not be allowed to have this knowledge. He lives, but the memory of the paintings has been taken from him.
I had little hope that the same could be done for me. To his credit, however, Demitri did try with all of his skill to take the knowledge from me. Unfortunately, although I’m sure you never noticed, I am quite unique among men.
It could be that my grain simply does not operate in the fashion of other men and women. Were there another as I am, perhaps this could be studied, but I digress.
Secondly, I can offer you little assurance that you may take as unshakable proof that what I saw will remain safe with me. I can only tell you this. None of my House have seen the canvases. I alone retrieved them. I alone sealed them. I alone delivered them.
I know that you have receive many emphatic warnings to keep your distance from me, and my House. I am sure you have been told that we are dark, sinister, and not to be trusted. To refute these claims would be pointless. Those who make them have no evidence to show you, and how could I prove that I have nothing to hide? In this case, to settle the matter in your own mind, I suggest you make your own choice. To that end, I will ask you to consider one, and only one, question. Since I have entered into your service, have I not done precisely what I said I would, and completed the task you set before me in it’s entirety? After that, whatsoever decision you arrive at regarding me, and our friendship, I shall respect and obey.
Lastly, I give you one bit of advice. You have a good heart, and a pure spirit. Trust it, and be wary of those who warn you to disregard your own intuition, accepting their conclusions as irrefutable facts. These will seek to undermine your own judgment, and steer you to onto a path that suits their purpose.
As I close, I fear that this will be our last communique for the time being. I sensed that once you saw the canvases, you would know what you must do. Be brave! Do not falter in your duty to your family. You are stronger than you know, and are well equipped to do what needs to be done.
Godspeed, and may the Good Lady, all honor to her, guide your path.
My father paused for a long time after finishing the letter. In truth, I feared how he would respond. He had never been a man quick to anger, but considering how I had foolishly disobeyed him, I had no idea how to brace myself.
I gasped slightly as he simply handed the letter back to me, a half-smile still on his face. “You are fortunate, Lia, to have both powerful and steadfast friends. I am sure that if it was necessary to keep you safe, I must accept that this man knows. If you trust him, then I will hold true to your decision.” He let out a sigh and held me closer to him for a moment before continuing. I was still in a slight shock that he had responded so well to my minor failing. “Verlia, there is something I need to tell you.”
I immediately cringed. They were never good words and the ones that usually followed had frequently included “I must go away for a while”.
“I am sure that by now you know there is a secret you keep.” I nodded slightly as he moved away from me. I followed him back inside as he shut the door behind us and we moved back to his library, where it all began.
I sat down in my favorite chair before him, smiling as I caught sight of the maps I once coveted while I waited for my father to begin. Finally, I would know what had been held from me my whole life, what l kept, who I was.
Byron Wexhome on July 16, 2010 at 11:18pm
The tired face rose slowly from the detailed building plans sprawled across the drafting table. He had heard the soft footsteps of his valet, Stephen, when he had first left the lift. He did not turn to address the young man; that he had taken his gaze from the plans was all the acknowledgement Stephen needed.
“So…it is true then,” Byron began to rest his weight upon the fists he had planted to either side of the table. He’d had little respite in the last several days, what with plans of moving the emporium, the preparations for the Kuroe trial, and the aid he would render to those who came to call upon it.
Stephen held his silence, observing his employer with great fascination. Considering what he was able to surmise of Mr. Wexhome’s past, he was amazed at his youth and vigor, and equally terrified of the capacity it spoke to his master’s capabilities….capabilities he had only recently begun to learn of. For a moment he lost himself to speculation and wonder.
Byron’s heavy eyes closed…”tick-tock”…he felt the punctuation of each moment passing, each moment that Stephen had neglected to provide an answer to his query. He sighed and then repeated himself, “So…Stephen…it is true that Miss Bilavio has made preparations to leave, then?”
Stephen replied with a start, “Er..uh…yes…yes, Mr. Wexhome.” The valet eyed the dark form set against the dim light of the gaslamp lit room. “Miss Bilavio is set to leave this evening and as you suspected, she will be travelling unaccompanied.”
Byron sighed. He knew it would eventually come to this moment…”tick-tock”…recovering his senses, Byron pushed off from the table and began to roll down the sleeves on his fine cotton shirt. He takes his time, fitting the polished cufflinks into place, buttoning his waistcoat, and connecting the white gold albert before securing his pocket watch. Stephen was there with his coat as he reached out for it; he chanced a sidewise glance at the young man as he spoke.
“I have an acquaintance in ‘play’ at her anticipated destination…see to it that you identify her vessel and forward the information to this station.” Byron held him fast and pressed a slip of paper into the young man’s hand. Stephen was quick to nod in understanding before moving to the door.
“Oh…and Stephen…prepare my traveling clothes. Just..in..case…”
==The Scientist’s Daughter: Precision (Final)==
• Posted by Verlia Bilavio on July 23, 188x at 1:59pm
As my father opened his mouth to begin, I was half afraid of what he might tell me while the other half of me somehow understood what it was he had done.
“Lia, dear, you know I treasure you more than anything,” he started, looking at me as if I was that same small girl listening outside of my father’s door. “If there had been any indication that this would have brought about so much trouble and harm for you and our family,” my mind flashed briefly to my mother, “then I would not have done it. However, at the time, barely over ten years ago, I was such a young professor, not fully competent, and certainly more capable of making mistakes.” He now looked me in the eye as I hugged my knees up to my chest. “I should have never been so foolish to have placed something of mine into your delicate mind for safe keeping.”
I nodded softly. I scared me, what I knew, but somehow could never understand, a fact that I still blamed on my mother’s view of what was a proper lady’s education. “What was it that you needed to keep so secret?” I asked. If it was in my mind all along, throughout nearly half of my life, then I had to at least know.
My father took a deep breath. “Lia, the most important thing to remember when thinking about the science behind what is in your mind is a basic scientific understanding of the universe.” I knew that I would have never gotten away with an easy answer. “We, that is, in the scientific community especially and perhaps elsewhere, have come into an understanding that the entire universe operates with machine-like regularity. Our universe, our world, our lives, the rules that govern the mysteries of how things work the way they do are all part of the most perfect, flawless machine. My work in magnetism has let me understand this principle on a deeper level, especially in regards to our secrets.” He smiled briefly at me before continuing, “If the universe is the ultimate machine and magnetism is a key principle, then our world uses magnetism as an energy force for itself, to change things, to keep things in motion, to, ultimately, keep the gears well oiled and moving. So what if someone thought to better understand how to tie this all together. What if someone had thought how the core principle could be used in a multitude of ways, not just for the most perfect machine, our universe, but for man’s machines?”
I nodded and traced the stitching on the chair, wondering where my father was going. Part of it made sense, but part of it I still could not wrap my mind around. “Then how does this relate to what you discovered, father?” I asked.
“Those what ifs never stayed uncertain for very long. I stumbled across a… formula in my research. A very important one. It was the infinite formula for electromagnetism. Which is, in effect, how to draw the energy the earth already uses for it’s mechanistic like motions and apply that to well, anything, and create massive amounts of energy.” I was sure, the father’s colleagues or anyone who knew much about science, this would have been the most fascinating news, however, I was more fascinated with the way my father spoke, his enthusiasm for his work, and the slight bit of sadness that flickered in his eyes.
I believe he caught my blank gaze for far more than a second and realized he was losing me. “Lia, I know this may not sound like much, but in the wrong hands, this formula could be deadly. Such a large concentration of energy could bring entire empires to their knees in an instant.” I suddenly understood why Moses would have been so tempted by such a formula. “That was never my intention when I discovered the formula, however. I had dreamed of a world whose machines were based upon an infinite power source, never failing, and always plentiful. Unfortunately, I had to consider the consequences that might arise. It was paramount that this information would be placed in the one spot that no one would ever look.”
I looked up at him, “So you placed this information within me.” I didn’t understand why he had done it. It seemed that, inevitably, danger would always cross my path and I would always fear keeping this information safe, always be looking out the window wondering who was watching.
“Lia, your mother was against it, you know. She only agreed on one condition, that was that you would never be allowed to learn anything that would tap into the knowledge I was to place within you. I tried to assure her that such a thing would never be possible, but she would take no chances. She loved you a great deal, Lia. She never wanted to bring you near anything that could hurt you.” My father sat back in his chair and I could read the apprehension on his face.
My mind, however, was swarming, and I felt like I was spinning, confused. All this time, I had thought that the reason my mother would never let me touch anything related to science nor even let me near my father’s library when he was around was because she was a woman set in her old ways. It couldn’t have been any farther from the truth, and suddenly I felt like a fool. All this time, that had been the source of our problems, but she had never done it because of her ideals, but because she wanted to protect me. I can’t believe I got it wrong, I thought, suddenly feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt wash through me. I would never be able to make it right either. She was gone, and I had hated her my whole life for nought.
I looked up at my father, pained, whispering, “Why?” He seemed confused. “Did you really love your research more than you loved your family?”
“Lia, no, it was never like that,” He tried to assure me, but I was already far too angered.
Standing up out of my chair, I bounded from the room. There was no way that I could face him. I had to get out of this house, this house that haunted me, that made the foundations of my life crumble underneath me with every new step.
And that’s how I managed to find myself at the place I had come so many times to escape, a place I knew far too well, one that had managed to keep me sane when my mother took away painting.
Opening the shop door, a tiny bell jangled and I smiled letting the sounds of a million ticking pieces fill my ears. “Mr. Goodwin?” I called out, leaning in further, my hands barely grazing over the tops of the tiny mantle clocks that sat piled on tables in the front room.
He looked surprised at first, as he dropped a small tool on the floor, looking up at me. The master clock crafter that I had learned everything from was all too surprised to see me, especially since it had been nearly a year since he had last. I really should have given word that I was leaving, but with the way that things had happened, my life had been far too hectic. “Verlia? Well I’ll be damned, I had thought I saw the ghost of your mother walking through the door.”
I chuckled softly, still feeling the pains of guilt rush over me. Mr. Goodwin rushed over to me, and I promptly received the biggest hug that I could ever fathom from a seventy year old man with one of the strangest collections of opticals hanging around his neck. “It was such a shame, what happened to your dear mother,” he continued.
I nodded, “Yes, god rest her soul.” I looked down, and there was a strange silence between us before he spoke again.
“What strange fate that you have turned up at my door. I was cleaning my supply room when I came across a strange project of yours. You remember it, do you not?” He asked. There were a lot of projects that I had done while learning the art of clock craftsmanship from Mr. Goodwin, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew exactly which one it was.
I nodded and followed him to the work room. This project in particular I was extremely fond of. It had been a repair of some very particular clock, that was completely unrecognizable when I first set eyes on it. “The reason I mentioned it,” Mr. Goodwin said, “Was because there was a man who came by only yesterday inquiring after it.”
I furrowed my brows, a bit confused, and as I entered the door to the shop, my face morphed into wonder as I set eyes again on the scraps, my notebooks, and the failed prototypes. “As I remember,” he mentioned, “You always had a strange fondness for the sound of this one.”
I reached out, my hand barely touching the pages. It seemed like such a long time ago when I had repaired this clock, but in truth, it had not been that long of a time. “What I would give to hear that sound again. It was so… so…” I struggled to find the right words.
“Melancholy?” Mr. Goodwin asked. “I believe that was the word you used.”
And then it struck me, and I recoiled from the work desk slightly. I nodded slightly, and somehow, I knew, everything was connected.
It was just as father had said. The universe is the most perfect, flawless machine. My life was no different. Everything had it’s part, and everything fit together to power, to propel another piece forward. Every event, every person had it’s place and they were all working together, operating with such a precision that was both frightening and awe-inspiring.
I knew, all along, that even if I didn’t know exactly what I kept in my head or what turn my life would take, that everything was somehow working together, in perfect precision, like an immaculate clockwork.