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A sober, black carriage traversed the hillsides an hour to the North of London, weathering the dull, dreary weather of late November. The carriage driver had pulled his cloak and coat closer around him, facing the come and go of chill rains. It was no warmer within the carriage, but that did not faze the passenger in the slightest.
At first glance one could mistake Lord Ewart for far younger than he was – his short stature and inability to grow facial hair the main culprits in creating such a misconception. But he was not child, and even in private he held himself with a gravitas that in no way befit his rather frail physique; his back straight, upright, and each motion he made with decisive purpose.

He brushed a few wavy, light brown locks out from before his glasses, and tucked them behind his ear; his hair had reached that wild and wicked length where it was too short to stay, yet too long to not fall in front of his eyes.
Meanwhile he slowly paged through the old book on his lap, which contained erratic, handwritten scribbles in medieval Latin. He used his left hand, on which he had only three fingers: his thumb, and the index and middle, or rather to him, his last. Whatever had taken his fingers from him had taken a good chunk of his palm as well, scar tissue running down to about the middle of his hand. It did not seem to bother him much, as he made do plenty well with what was left.
Occasionally he searched the pages of the notebook beside him, to add remarks to his own scheming. Surely he knew exactly how to decipher his own handwriting, but to an outsider they would only catch a few disturbing words: 'Daemon’, ‘Phantom’ and 'Vampyre’ not the least of them.

Yet it seemed this book did not contain any of the knowledge he desired. With a deep sigh he closed it.
“Why must it be mad men, and never an eloquent monk?” He sighed to no one in particular, as he carefully wrapped the book back up in cloth and placed it in a small suitcase opposite of him, filled with many rectangles in similar wrapping.
Unwilling to waste his mind on questions that held no value - neither for what they gave insight into, nor for what their answer would hold, he instead set to wiping the ink from his fountain pen with a handkerchief. His fingers too had been stained, but he had yet to find a moment when they weren't. At this point he considered it a mark of productivity.

He allowed himself a moment of respite, and pulled up a silver pocket watch. It opened to the miniature portrait of a stately man in heavily decorated uniform, besides the elegant, finely crafted watch face. A name was written in red: ‘Silas L. G. C. Ewart’. Out of habit he ran his thumb along the silver edge, the pressure rather comforting. He noted the seconds left to the next minute and counted them down.
He searched the scenery in a glance, but the rain did not let him see far. With keen eye he took in the grasses and plants beside the road, and set his mind on one particular kind he encountered often enough to suit his purposes. When the hand of his watch reached the minute, he began counting whenever such a plant passed by. One. Two. Three, four… five - - -

When exactly twenty minutes had passed, he flipped to the back of his notebook. The last page was filled with neat rows of things he had counted: red books in a particular bookshop (on several dates), the flowers on the branch of a fruit tree, the letter F on the front page of the newspaper on the twentieth of July 1863, and now he marked down the broad leaved plants on an unnamed stretch of road between London and Sandon Hall. It had absolutely no use, other than serve his own compulsions.


-

Although it was not particularly far away, the country roads made for slow goings - especially in rains like these. A travel that usually lasted for an hour and a half in good weather, was now already underway for two hours. The dark skies started to hue into a soft orange, in the few places the last sunlight could creep under the clouds.
He picked up a thick, woolen cloak from the hat shelf and threw it on over his formal clothes. Since he already had made up his mind, he had no hesitation when he swung the door open. The sound of horse hooves and wheels dragging through the gritty mud went from a background noise to a loud, nearly overwhelming roar. Rain spattered against him, and sharp winds blew it up in his face - if anything it was exhilarating. Without so much a complaint he climbed up the top and sat beside his carriage driver.

“Milord?” He heard the young voice mumble shocked from underneath the layers of clothing.
“Who else? Father Christmas?” There was no reason why he'd allow for them to be so surprised, and possibly let them convince him it was unlordly. “Give me the reins, you've been out here for hours.”
“And I can go many more if you have need for it.” The boy said as if it was a point of pride, and not stubbornness.
“Do I look like a man who has need for such a thing, William?” Although his glasses had already been rained on, his blue eyes pierced over the wire rims, as if he could see into the soul of his driver. The boy shook his head, the few dark brown curls that had been caught in the rain still bouncing about - equally as stubborn as the person to whom they belonged.
“It’s freezing. Go inside, try to warm your hands and get dry. And do not dare drip rainwater on my possessions.” With a sharp nod he dismissed the boy, and despite a few mumbled protests into their collar, Will did as was asked from him.

The rest of the ride to Sandon did not take much longer, but the clouds grew denser above, causing darkness to fall within the span of mere moments. In heavy rain, he noticed Will climb back up behind him. Not concerned about having to appear lordly or too good, he extended his arm so the boy would not slip and fall. As William sat down beside him, he asked for the reins back.
“You cannot arrive atop your own carriage Milord, and I sincerely doubt that I would be able to pass for you.”
“But of course, you have grown too tall.” Lord Ewart said with a grin, even if it were not visible, as he handed the reins over and moved back down.
Once inside he took his cloak off, and put it on a small hook besides the door so it would not drip on the seats. With a glance around he noted that nothing was out of place, aside from perhaps a few new, wet footprints. He sat back down and took up his notebook once more to look over the information he had obtained – and see what was worth keeping.

“The Earl Harrowby will want to see you this very instant Milord.” The butler took his cloak off of his shoulders as he spoke, folding it over his arm. He led the way towards two wooden side doors, opening one and introducing the young Lord's presence to the Earl.
“Milord, Viscount Ewart has arrived.”
“Send him in, and prepare us a cup of tea.” A voice spoke low and calm from inside the room. The butler nodded, and gestured for the Lord to enter. He did so without hesitating.

For a moment he remained silent, facing the back of Earl Harrowby; his shape was outlined by the large, crackling hearth he stared into. He held a porcelain teacup in his hands, sipping without haste. The room was fairly dark otherwise, the deep orange firelight only reaching two couches and a salon table. Lord Ewart straightened his back and placed his hands behind his back.
“You requested for me, Milord?”
“Yes, Alden.” The Earl spoke, his voice deep, nearly tired. “We need to speak.” Without turning around, the Earl gestured backwards toward one of the couches. Knowing better than to question, Alden obliged with a stately nod even if Earl Harrowby could not see. He sat down on the end furthest from the fire, the warmth rather uncomfortable since he had come from the chill outside.

The Earl took his seat on the couch opposite of Alden. Despite the greying of his hair and beard, in the orange light he still resembled much an old lion. Weary, only living long enough to become grey through cunning and patience. The lines in his face had deepened since last time, and Alden did not know whether it was the light, his age, or his actions that caused such a thing. He did not dare look away, well aware that such a man would strike the moment he showed weakness.
With a soft clatter, the teacup was set down on the table. The Earl folded his hands together and sat upright, instead facing the fire.

“You are an intelligent young man, Alden, much like your father used to be.” Well aware that it was not a compliment, Alden still nodded. “So then tell me, why do you waste such gifts on nonsense and old wives’ blabbering?”
“With all due respect Milord, I do not consider my studies a waste.”
“I understand that you would have been told as such, and I must admit it may not be entirely your fault. But would you not consider it strange, when a young Lord goes missing from his uncle's home - from under my guardianship that your father bestowed upon me in his will, only to return the day of his eighteenth birthday a member of the Occultist.”
Alden remained silent, knowing that none of his words would change the Earl’s mind on the subject.
“Yet you do not show your face, you hide away, focused on these… fantastical tales. These myths on the edge of God's grace - and you best beware you not trespass that edge. There are even talks that you are an imposter, and if I had not helped raise you myself I would be inclined to believe them.”
With a deep bite of his lip, he turned his gaze away, trying to remain calm.
“They are not fantasies, nor myths, merely because you believe them to be Milord.”
“I must believe in ghosts? Demons? Wish me to cower before the dark like your Occultists do? You know seven languages yet all you speak in them is nonsense.”
The arrival of the tea was just in time to pretend he had not been angered by such remarks.

With two deep breaths and a grateful nod, he took the tea from the butler. He did not drink from it yet, letting it cool on the table instead. The Earl Harrowby sighed deeply.
“You need to come back to reality, young Alden, or this society will eat you alive while you dream of monsters.”
“I have things under control, my companies run a profit, the workers are content and I communicate in writing with the boards. I do not see where this worry is coming from just because I wish to study extraordinary topics.”
“It is not about profit, it is about image. Your image is of a stranger, an eccentric, and in the long run it will hollow out your social standing – and since I am considered in part responsible for you, you will blemish mine as well.” There it is. So that's what this is all about. Displeased, but not at all surprised, Alden took a sip of his tea. Meanwhile the Earl Harrowby stood up again and watched the fire once more.
“There is only one solution I can see that would benefit us both, and hopefully remind you of your worldly responsibilities: I wish you to marry my niece, Victoria.”
Alden nearly spit is tea back out, only managing to swallow it with tears in his eyes.
“She too enjoys her books, and she is awfully timid, so you will fit well. It will ease the rumours, or so I believe.”
Wide eyed he stared down into his teacup. Absolutely not… to such a request I cannot agree – I suppose I knew you wouldn't leave me a choice, sooner or later.

With a deep sigh Alden stood up, and as he did it was as if even the light of the fire feared him, not daring to touch him. Without a word he demanded the Earl's attention, forcing him to look over by instinct alone. The man, who had once held himself with the weight of a territorial lion, now reduced to trembling under his gaze - for even beasts feared monsters.
“My apologies, Milord.” I truly do not take joy in this, but it is better than shattering your entire world with things you do not believe in.
As his gaze settled on the man’s, he saw so much more; the thoughts that laid hidden behind the veil of reality, the conscious of a soul that softly rippled out like a disturbance in the water.

He changed it, merely by force of will. Pulling away this ridiculous proposal from the Earl’s mental reach, effectively erasing it from his thoughts altogether. Alden was thorough, assuring that if the idea came up again, the Earl would be averse to it. As he tore every bit of the memory out, he took away the conversation they had had as well, the man’s gaze left blank and empty for a long moment as there were no memories made about any of this.
Calmly he sat down again, fighting the raging headache that came as a punishment for willing another person's mind. The pain drifted down, crawling into his stomach as a deep hunger which he ignored.

The Earl blinked twice and recaught his modified line of thought.
“Er… where was I?”
“I believe you were done? Unless you wish to speak anything more of course?” Alden smiled with a sip of his tea.
“Ah yes, indeed there is.” Earl Harrowby said, as he shook off the daze and continued the lecture. “It has come to me through word of mouth that you have lost the favour of the Occultists, so why hold on so stubbornly when even they see no value in your madness?”
“Because the Occultists are stuck in medieval times, their ways are outdated, and are no longer sufficient. Yet time and time again they reject my calls for a more reasonable, evidence based approach.”
“So even they no longer take you serious? If you wish for evidence, consider taking up mathematics, instead of mythology.”
“I am afraid that to me there is little difference between the two.”
“Well then anything else but this obsession, you could at least pretend your main studies are into language – write some Greek poetry, translate a bible; anything.”
With a deep breath Alden remained quiet for a while, as if he was seriously contemplating it. He looked up and nodded.
“I will take your advice Milord, I suppose I have been carried away.”
“Good… so you finally did come to your senses.”
“Is that everything you wished to speak about?”
“Yes, for now it is. But please do stay the night, so you won't have to return in the dark, Charles will show you to the guest room.”
“There is a suitcase in the carriage, I would like it to be brought to the room.”
“Of course.”
“Thank you Milord.” Alden said with a polite bow.
“Please keep in mind our conversation.”
“I will Milord, good night.”
“Good night, Alden.” The Earl said as he took his leave.

The Earl turned to watch the fire once more, shaking his head as if a bug had flown in – but whatever it was that bothered him, he shrugged it off quickly.

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