Who is your favourite character thus far?
Alden
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Miss Rayne
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Ross
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William
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Tommy
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Other character
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Alden let out a deep, irritated sigh as he sorted his loose papers out again on the private desk. Up until page 44, it was perfect – only to then have the numbering jump to 47. He had looked everywhere, but still couldn’t find it. It's not right, it's not how it should be. That paper needs to be there.
The gaping hole in his documents was like an abyss his mind fell into, a leap his focus couldn't make.
It's just a paper. It's just one page, it's no big deal. It's just… gone, and lost, and wrong. What if I need it? What if that’s the information that will save someone? Someone’s going to die because I couldn’t keep track of my papers.

“Milord?” Just as he was about to let out a long, agitated cry, he heard William's voice from behind him. Somewhat angered he turned around to face his servant.
“What do you want?” He snapped, even if he knew Will could hardly help it.
“I'm sorry, I must have overlooked your document when I picked up the papers back at home. It may still be there?”
"It's -” a disgrace, an affront “- not your fault.”
“Milord, may I ask you something?”
“Yes?” He sighed, resisting the urge to speak flat-out aggressively.
“I am trying to improve my reading, do you perhaps know of any books?” William asked with a slight smile.
“Do you wish to educate yourself, or just improve the speed with which you read?”
“The latter, Milord.”
“Very well, I will find you a few suited works.” With a stern nod to himself, Alden tried to tear his mind away from that missing page, but even with William's help he couldn’t let go of it that easily. He knew very well that Will was a fine reader; he'd taught him not two years ago, and he had picked it up rapidly. But even when it was an obvious ploy, he gladly played his part if it would allow him a distraction. He went down to the main hall of the library to look through the more popular works that he believed William would enjoy.

Carefully he decided between a few books, picking three that he believed would help William not only with his reading, but also with general education. It had taken him a while to find tales that were both recent, suited for the boy's age and neither too easy, nor too trite – especially when every other moment his mind was drawn to that one page presumed forever gone. Unable to help himself, he checked the three works, counting every single page just to make sure none were missing.
Alden climbed the marble stairs back up again with rapid steps, the tapping of his shoes echoing down the dusty, sunlit hallway of the second floor. With a quick look left and right he saw the hall was empty, and immediately he followed up with a long, drawn out yawn. Now is hardly the time for sleep. He shook his head to get rid of the drowsiness and get himself more alert. The tapping picked up again as he walked on.

Still carrying the books, he had to push the door open with one hand; just in time to see Will quickly stand up from being bent over the desk. The boy smiled and nodded at his entrance, back straight and standing tall as he could. Alden simply raised a single eyebrow, knowing well enough the tells of deceit – and that was even if he hadn't been able to read it on the very surface of William's mind.
“I brought you your books, see if you would enjoy them.” Alden said as he set the books down on the desk, ignoring the obvious as he knew sooner or later it would come out. And a mere moment later he did indeed see a page where one hadn't been before, marked 45-46 at the very top. It was not his own handwriting, but certainly a good attempt at forgery.
“I found your page Milord, I must have accidentally pocketed it in haste.” With as straight a face as he could muster – well aware that he was a liar, William tapped the desk right above the paper, pointing it out.
“Ah I see, well I am glad it has been found.” Alden smiled as he quickly picked up the papers and stacked them. Not so much because it sorted his neuroses, but because he could appreciate the care William had shown in this misguided attempt to settle it. “Please look at the books, I can still exchange them now if they are not to your liking.”
“Oh well, I realised my reading is passable Milord, how much does a driver need to read anyhow?” William tried to shrug off his reading with a slight smile.
Alden simply pushed the books closer with his fingertips, keeping William's avoidant gaze as he spoke a far better lie than the boy could ever hope to: a repurposed truth.
“I am very vested in your education my dear William, a driver may have no need for reading with haste, but certainly a man needs a good basis to draw his morality from. Otherwise he may become involved in unsound behaviours, such as theft, or ill reputes, or untruths.”
His words elicited a nervous swallow from William. With a content smile, Alden leant back again and gave the books a gentle tap.
“All three, to be finished by this time next week. I expect written summaries to prove you have read them.”
“Yes Milord.” Despite his unwill, William took a bow and accepted his punishment with grace. Alden did not head it much, instead putting his papers and books in his bag.
“Come Will, we ought to head home to make dinner.” With a sharp snap of his fingers, Alden began to leave, expecting William to follow right behind. His unlucky servant quickly scrambled to grab the assigned books, and took a few hasty steps to catch up.

-

The golden light of a setting summer sun fell past thin curtains that slowly billowed and danced along the gentle breeze that came in through the opened balcony doors. The living room was large, and open, architecturally more like the French palaces than the current, cozier Victorian style of building.
Despite that the room had been cluttered well: two soft blue couches made a corner around a large hearth, separating half of the room from the dinner table on the other end. Aside from the necessary curiosities and plenty of fresh, variously coloured flowers on the coffee table, mantle piece and dinner table, the long wall opposite of the windows was covered in bookcases. It was however not all full of books, also stalling out various strange artefacts from distant lands – mostly African, but a few were Asian and some Southern American.

At the dinner table, Alden was paging through the thick evening edition of his newspaper, a second one laying at the ready to confirm or deny the events the first claimed. The date in the top corner of the front page read '27th of July, 1864’.
A side door opened, and a woman with light, chocolate hued skin entered, her tight curls springing out from an attempted knot. She wore a black and white uniform, and carried a silver platter with his evening tea.
With a polite nod to her, he continued reading to the end of his article while she poured the tea out.
“Anything else, M'lord?” She asked with a warm, Caribbean accent, that wasn't ill-fit in the sunlit room.
Decisively, Alden folded his paper and laid it away, sighing as he straightened it out along the second one.
«A word, if you please Miss Rayne?» He asked in flawless Parisian French.
«Yes, what do you wish for?» She responded in her own native Haitian French.
«Things have been too quiet for too long…»
«Ah I see, you are bored then?» She chuckled, unafraid to drop all pretend-servitude. Alden gave a short glare, but then sighed and relented.
«I wouldn't call it so.»
«Desperate?» She immediately rebutted. With an exasperated raise of his hand, Alden gave up and relented.
«Yes, why not go with that.»
«Then what is it you request of me?» She asked, and by her tone alone he could feel she was not in the mood to play a game of guess. She never was.
Not letting himself get hurried along, Alden gave a slow look up at her over the rims of his glasses. Her mind was unreadable, the thoughts he could see so easily in others carefully hidden underneath a distorted, reverberating pattern. It nearly dazed him, a stern reminder not to get complacent near her.
«I want a reading, tonight.»
«Then you really are desperate...»
«Nothing has appeared near me for months, I need to know if it will soon or if I must bide my time and face the critiques and cheap press.»
«I see now… it is bored and desperate. Consider yourself lucky our goals are aligned, son of the dread hunt.» Miss Rayne smiled, as she let her long fingers drift along his shoulder. He was unsure whether it was a threat, or a gesture of goodwill, but he would not let himself be treated as the subject of either.
With a firm grasp, far faster than one would expect from a frail and oft-patient figure like him, he grabbed her wrist, and met her gaze. His grey blue eyes pierced into her dark, black ones, past her empty smiles and past the walls she threw up to her thoughts. Not enough to read her; enough to tell her that he could, stopping just short of her mind. Whether as a threat, or a sign of goodwill – he didn't care much either way.
«Likewise, witch.» He said with his own, polite smile. She made a small curtsey with her one hand still caught, as if to say their game of pretend never left. He let go.

The small servant's room was dark, aside from the flickering orange of a streetlamp that pierced through the bluish-grey hues of night from far above. The room was empty, aside from an upturned bed they both ignored for the sake of it.
«Must we do it here? You are free to use my rooms.» Alden suggested as he threw a look through the small basement room, not particularly keen on how cramped it was.
«I have told you before, I need to be comfortable for the ritual. It is not an easy one.» Miss Rayne said, holding up a candle as she wore a repurposed silk nightgown. Instead of the tight, many layered clothes Victorian women were ought to wear, she had simply wrapped the silk around her chest loosely, and shortened the skirts. The white contrasted heavily with her skin, and any other may have found it immodest, but Alden had studied other cultures intensively enough not to pass such grating judgements. If anything he could certainly believe it was more comfortable – since he was now annoyingly aware of how his collar and tie pressed against his neck.
Miss Rayne gestured him in, and for once he was a guest on his own property.
«Sit down, try not to worry too much,» She said with a grin. «I will skip the unnecessarily frightening parts.»
«Why do you do those?» Alden asked, his scientific curiosity getting the better of him, but Miss Rayne just held up her hand.
«I will tell you another time, keep your questions and sit down.» She gestured at the floor, and begrudgingly Alden sat down on the cold, slightly dusty stone floor.

He watched quietly as Miss Rayne prepared her ritual, not hurried in setting up all elements that she needed. Most prominent was a small, curved blade, the edge so sharp it mirrored the flickering orange light. The sight of it reminded him of the one time before he had done such a ritual, far from home and desperate – things had been wilder back then, but he had not forgotten how unpleasant it was.
The other items were a bowl filled with white chalk paint, one with a slightly cloudy liquid that he did not recognise, a bowl of salt, and a still empty bowl. She took a small amount of prepared coals, and held them in her hands. Her dark eyes gazed over her clasped hands, questioning him.
«Are you ready?»
«I have come prepared this time.» Alden said as he took a small vial of a clear liquid from his breast pocket. Although Miss Rayne did not respond, she carefully eyed the liquid as he slid the vial back. A single nod from her sealed his fate, and he accepted it.

With slow, soft whispers she spoke her incantation, and he sensed a strange vibration in forces that did not usually move in such a way – not unlike the distortion in her mind it was like the waters of a stormy pond. Her whispers continued and hung in the small room, commanding a force to gather in the coals. As she laid them down, they glowed a deep, searing red. The light and her intense stare made for an eerie sight.
He felt his heart pounding in his chest, and even if he did not head the instinctual sensation of fear, he couldn't help but feel uneasy. Although he wasn't entirely sure if it was the heat radiating from the coals, or his discomfort, he decided to undo his tie and the first two buttons of his dress shirt. Miss Rayne continued her ritual unhurried and unbothered.
She laid the blade of the knife on the coals, letting it heat up. dipped her fingertips in the white chalk, picking up the pace of her chanting as she drew long, practised lines on the floor around him while on all fours. It reverberated with the same energy, his mind caught and overwhelmed like he was trapped in a cage without bars. Everywhere he looked but up he saw those nauseating lines. She repeatedly drew them, strengthening the force they held.

Her fingers were still covered in chalk when she sat back in front of him, and for a moment he heard her voice speak words he knew.
«This is unpleasant for you, is it not?»
He nodded without taking his eyes off of the ceiling, his fingers grasping his knees until they were as white as hers.
«Do you wish to stop?»
Immediately he shook his head. His stomach still complained, as even without looking he could sense the change in force: just as much as he couldn't stop hearing or smelling even if he tried to focus elsewhere.
«Get this over with.» He bit back, afraid any word too much would drag the contents of his stomach out with it.
He was nearly relieved to hear her chanting continue, even though he knew things would not get much better.

Both her hands picked up the knife and lifted it from the coals, holding it up as if to praise it first. Her chants nearly echoed through the blade, like it sang from another world. He clenched his teeth as it grew stronger and stronger with every sound that left her.
A loud hissing noise startled him, as she poured the opaque liquid over the knife. The smell that hit him was distinctly lemon-y. It made his stomach churn in protest. He heard the blade getting dragged through the salt, leaving only the very final step to be completed.
Alden closed his eyes knowing what was to come, resigning himself to it.
He heard her move behind him, her chanting closer and closer. One hand grabbed his hair, pulling his head sideways and whispering her words uncomfortably close to his ear. He felt and heard the cotton of his shirt get cut open.

The still warm tip of the knife scraped his skin as she flicked the cloth off of his forearm. He simply held it out for her, trembling but begging for it to be over with.
A sharp pain shot through him as the blade pierced his skin; quick, precise and deep. For a moment he clenched his teeth and tried to fight the searing pain, but when it lasted for longer, several soft whines escaped between his teeth. Although she was close, her grip on him was strong and uncompassionate, holding him in place as his blood poured into the bowl.

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A note from AllynCrowe

We're all caught up now on published chapters. See you guys on Wednesday =)


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