Iron Ink and Sinister Visions

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  1. [October 16th, 1873]

    Dark, ominous gray clouds hung low in the sky, blending in a seamless smudge into the distant waters of the North Sea to the east. No rain fell, though the air was heavy with the grim threat of it, adding a bite to the already chill, coastal wind. Rough, low rolling hills spanned to the north, south, and west, covered with irregular patches of Hounds Tongue, Bronze Sedge, and Pheasant’s Tail Grass. The foliage was windswept and lifeless in the October malaise and slate rocks, yet there lingered a promised beauty to the land that gave a quiet sense of hope for Spring.

    Along the northern horizon, a black silhouette, no more than a dark line in the failing evening light, was visible to only the keen eye. This barely distinguishable shadow was Scarborough Castle, and the rough northern boundary to the expansive Westmoore Estate. The southern edge of the property lie just beyond, now only a mere half-mile from where a lone, horse driven cart was plodding its way northward along the meandering, coastal-cliff road.

    Fixing his steely gaze against the wind, Callum Vaughn appraised Westmoore Manor once again. The stone structure was sprawling, proud, and dignified looking, with high walls buttressed to handsome turrets at the major corners. Its ancient, martial design was evident to the former infantry officer, and Callum could easily envision some minor lord crowding his men-at-arms to the battlements, calling for them to rain volleys of arrows into defenseless attackers in the lowlands. Behind the front of the manor, which faced east towards the sea, there stood a handsome stone and lumber stable, along with a pair of wooden sheds. Callum suspected these to house the horse feed, grounds keeping equipment, as well as wood for the manor’s kitchen and fireplaces.

    Callum adjusted the black, tall bowler hat on his head before scratching at his cheek with a gloved hand. A breathy sigh escaped his lips. Fritz, Callum’s ebony Shire horse, turned his head around in the harness to look at his master with shining, knowing eyes.

    “Don’t give me that look, Fritz,” Callum said, pointing a finger at the massive draft animal. “You’ve been talking too much to Constance, lately.”

    The horse snorted, and tossed its mane. Callum narrowed his eyes. “Some loyal friend you are. You know how important this is to me. Lady Westmoore deserves to know what happened to her brother. She’ll be reasonable.” He paused for a moment before adding with a dismissive shrug, “She’s not going to try and kill me, Fritz.”

    Fritz turned his head forward to face the road. His massive hooves crunched the pea gravel drive that marked the last quarter mile to Westmoore Manor. Callum harrumphed at the animal’s silent skepticism.

    “I do hope you’re pleased with yourself, my dear Constance.” The ghost hunter called into the wind.

    Callum couldn’t see his spectral partner at the moment, even with his highly gifted eyes. He knew she was within earshot, however. His gifts could at least sense that much within the invisible plane of ether.

    “Fritz had no complaints until you bent his ear,” He continued to Constance.

    Despite all the supernatural abilities granted to him by the Hindu shamans following the massacre of his company, one gift they had not granted him was that of zoolingualism. Though he could sense and understand the emotions and expressed thoughts of animals, Callum couldn’t converse with them in a literal sense. His very deceased counterpart, on the other hand, spoke with Fritz plenty.

    “Well? Nothing to say for yourself?”

    He pulled his charcoal black overcoat moodily about himself, the pair of specially crafted revolvers moving at the sides of his ribs. For a ghost hunter, he was dressed handsomely and precisely beneath his overcoat in a woolen suit of ash--the habit of precise dress being an affectation left over from his days in uniform. The moustache he wore likewise was impeccably trimmed, and remarkably orderly given the weather. In Callum’s mind, he was a consummate professional, and even given the nature of his work, looking the part of the gentleman was a warranted touch.

    Looking up, Callum gazed fully now upon the grand oaken entrance to Westmoore Manor. What awaited beyond was yet unknown, and he felt a thrill of anxious excitement ripple up his spine.

    I truly hope she doesn’t fancy me dead. He thought, thinking of Lady Georgiana Westmoore as he pulled Fritz up to a stop at the base of the entrance stairs.
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  2. Georgiana, Lady Westmoore sat at her vanity, eyes closed tight, the knuckle of her left index finger clamped tight in her teeth as her right went about its work. She’d had another of those dreams during the nap that she’d attempted owing to the dismal sleep she’d had the night before. Afternoon had seen her dragging and listless and so she’d been foolish and tried to sleep. No sooner had her eyes closed than the dreams began. If dreams they could be called. They felt, wrong. Not just for the subject matter which she would not speak of, but for the feel of them, the immediacy of them. They never used to come during her naps, things had changed it seemed.

    She’d always been a vivid dreamer and more than once her dreams had skirted on unnatural in their accuracy. She’d know the day her Papa was to come home before anyone had mentioned, it for example. More than once Mrs. Beasley, the housekeeper, had been spooked by her announcing some event before anyone had a right to know it. She had been a clever girl, eager to please and had quickly seen how displeasing such foresight was and learned to hold her tongue and to keep such things to herself. The dreams kept coming for all that the whole household assumed she’d simply grown out of her flights of fancy. A great many of the packages sent home by Papa and then Basil had contained things she’d seen long before she’d ever laid eyes on them. That had been unsettling, but her composure was such that she never let on the connection she felt to the things she was cataloging.

    Then these dreams had begun a little more than a year before. It was hard to say when they started, but they slowly emerged as something different and, more lately, as something dangerous. They were dark dreams full of hunger the likes of which she had no understanding for. At first it was just waking with a start with a racing heart, frightened and unsettled from impulses that faded with the light of day. But as the year had passed, they had grown in clarity and frequency until it was starting to affect her sleep and then they progressed to lingering well into the daylight hours. She’d walked around in a funk unable to shake her feeling of dread until she discovered something that would break the spell: pain.

    So now she was self-medicating with a small pen-knife of Papa’s. She’d smuggled it from his office where she now conducted all the paperwork and stashed it in her jewelry box. When the dreams hit and would not let go she would do as she did now, sit herself down at her vanity, raise up her skirts and petticoats until her pale, porcelain thigh was exposed. With a bit of bandage and batting ready to catch the blood she would press the knife into the soft flesh of her inner thigh where not even her dressing women would see. She would press it in until her hands shook and the instinct to stop roared so loudly in her ears it drowned out the darkness that screamed at her. She felt it, the moment the change happened, the moment she was free and pulled out the blade, biting back her sobs as she tended to herself. Her soft skin, once smooth and unblemished was now marked with a great many pale lines.

    The door behind her banged open and she yelped, her hand flinched and the knife, her curse and her savior, went clattering under her vanity. Clamping her hand down on the bandage she’d laid across her thigh in anticipation of its need she whirled to face the intruder.

    “Aya!” she hissed as the ancient woman in a sari walked into the room and towards the high, curtained window. Ayushmati looked at her mistress with knowing dark eyes but did not stop her travels.

    “I told you I’m not taking dinner tonight.”

    The little old woman said nothing and but reached a liver-spotted hand to pull back one of the curtains as she stepped aside. Through the window the evening sky could be seen, rain streaking the glass as the last of the daylight faded.

    Tying off her bandage quickly, if not skillfully, Georgiana stood, letting her skirts fall about her ankles as she made her way to the window. Peering past her reflection, cast by the one lamp in the room, she spotted movement across the moor.

    “Who on earth… “ she began only to catch the disapproving look from her nursemaid. Understanding hit her.
    “Ahh, I see.” She said and turned from the window. She heard the soft rustle of the curtain falling into place, a sound not dissimilar from the sound of her skirts had made when she concealed her treatment.

    When things had gotten bad, before the dreams had come to her in the day, but after she’d read those unsettling articles in the newspapers, she’d grown desperate and sent a few discreet letters out seeking help. Contacts of her father and brother’s, “scholars” of a sort who might help her. Ayushmati had not approved. It seemed at last and hopefully not too late, that help had come. Georgiana sat down at her writing table, scribbled out a bit of a note and handed it to the silent woman.

    “Please give this to Mrs. Beasley to let know we are expecting company. I will be down shortly to receive our guests.”
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  3. “What have I got to say for myself?”

    When she wished it so, the voice of Constance Brigham would be indistinguishable from the bleak wind wending its way over the moors to the merely mortal. But the ears of her dear Callum were anything but ‘merely,’ and she knew very well he would hear her just fine as she whirled about him playfully, snatching at the hem of his coat, flapping at his lapels with spectral fingers and a very naughty giggle resembling nothing so much as the swishing of dried grasses in a breeze.

    “You blame me for Fritz’ reluctance to carry you to your unwitting and untimely death? Hmph!” Constance flicked petulantly at the brim of her dear friend’s hat, first backward, and then forward again, squarely back atop his head – though perhaps the jet black hair beneath wouldn’t be nearly so perfectly-coiffed as when he left his residence this morning.

    “You might not speak his language Callum, but Fritz is no fool! I ask you, what becomes of us when one of the truly deranged, someone very like a Mistress Thorpe, finally has her wicked and oh-so-fatal way with you?” Undoubtedly there was a certain amount of teasing in her words, but Callum ought to have known her well enough by now these past five years to discern the genuine concern from her playful banter. She joked – and then again, her words were no jest at all.

    Mistress Thorpe… Constance’s weary sigh was the cold breeze against Callum’s neck, the frightful breath that sends the prickles of a man’s hair standing on end, the dire warning that promised nothing less than an ominous and likely imminent doom. Ah yes, Mistress Elizabeth Thorpe, by all appearances not much more than a plump, matronly, and rosy-cheeked widow who, through a combination of pluck and her unbreakable cheer, endured such a tragically unfortunate string of hard luck for some decades past. Still quite hale, still a handsome woman with all her own teeth, she called on the services of the inimitable Callum Vaughn to see whether she might somehow speak with the ghosts of her deceased husbands, all five of whom she loved so dearly and lost so tragically at some point over the past three decades.

    It was the spectral haunts of husbands one and four who remained though, to at last tell the full, ghastly tale of their Liz’s doings to those who could finally hear their voices. Scotland Yard spent weeks alone in her vast, prize-winning gardens, digging up exquisite, priceless rose bush and magnificent hydrangea and rose silk tree, planted right atop corpse after corpse like flowering grave markers. The detectives identified the remains of nearly a dozen former boarders, whose families had always assumed had moved on to the Colonies on business or a new start in life, or perhaps to the south of France to shore up their failing health. After all, they were informed of such by the lengthy letters so courteously penned to them by the kindly and ever-attentive Mistress Thorpe! The other bodies though, the ones dismembered and strewn as fertilizer…

    The wind groaned softy against the magnificent manor before them. If Constance still had tears, she would have shed a river to rival the Thames for the humble spirits of the vagabonds and the desperate molls who found nothing but an agonizing end in the mad widow’s fatal ‘charity.’ Some sixty years without a physical body to call her own, and Constance could still recall the cold shiver of terror that would have run up and down her spine as the horror unfolded like a putrid rose, a single hard and terrifying truth coming to a bleak and unforgiving focus: when visiting with Mistress Elizabeth Thorpe, one should never stay for tea.

    “And so Callum, I am afraid you will endure the worry and the scrutiny of those who care for you, who would keep you safely ensconced in that mortal coil until the good Lord finally calls you home in His own appointed time, at a far more fitting and venerable age.” The form of Constance Brigham finally began to coalesce into something very nearly visible to the naked eye, shimmering beside her friend on the carriage bench, a diaphanous wraith of mist and fog to match the gloom that surrounded them. The delicate image of a beautiful young woman’s face turned to Callum, all ivory and dove-grey but for the hint of brilliant blue that could still be found in those shining, laughing eyes.

    “Meeting Lady Westmoore may mean a great deal to you my friend, and aiding her in her time of need? Oh yes, a balm for your good heart, and even more so to your exquisite, finely-tuned conscience. We know this. But you good sir, mean even more to us… “ And truer words never passed her lips, not in her mortal life, nor in her immortal existence. Were it not for Callum Vaughn, Constance Brigham would still be bound to her rage and her pain at Five Foxes, unheard, unforgiven and suffering cruelly beneath a foul curse. The baleful spell was still not broken entirely – she remained here after all, in the mortal realm of men. But with Callum there had come the chance for a new life – or rather un-life, perhaps? One with purpose and meaning, redemption and decency. This was not heaven, no, but Constance remained convinced her strange, uncanny friend was a God-send nonetheless.

    “So no more of the petulant child, or I will muss your moustache and truly put you all out of sorts.” One cool fingertip plucked lightly at his lower lip, teasing Callum as if he’d been sitting there pouting this whole time. Her gentle, ephemeral laughter was a cool kiss of a breeze through the courtyard. “You are here now, so let us see to this new mystery, shall we?”

    Though she could have easily floated across the drive and up the stairs like the wind, Constance still enjoyed the occasional nod to her former mortality. She slipped from the carriage bench to the ground itself, the sweeping fabrics of silver-grey Regency era finery flowing about her, ignoring all the tenets of gravity as if she walked through water, her insubstantial, silk-slippered feet leading her up the stairway.
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  4. Callum smiled, and affixed the bowler more firmly upon his head. He did it in such a way that an onlooker would guess it had been blown askew by the wind, and not the finger of a beautiful—if albeit invisible—ghost. He said nothing at first, letting Constance flit about him with her otherworldly voice pouring pleasantly into his ears. At the mention of Mistress Thorpe, however, Callum scowled with the memory of that case.

    “Constance, my dearest of friends,” he whispered smoothly now as Westmoore Manor loomed above him, “take no offense when I say, in the most genial of ways, that I should’ve bound your soul to some trinket or other when I had the chance. Then I could’ve simply slipped you into my waistcoat, and only removed you when I felt the urge to be pestered.”

    The true, loving jest found in Callum’s light chuckle, and the twinkle in his grey eyes would be as familiar to Constance as the moustache upon his face. Veritably, Callum had no greater friend—living or dead—in the whole of the world than Constance Brigham. He knew her concern for him was genuine, and warranted, if he were to be completely honest with himself. Callum could not say with any certainty how Lady Westmoore would react to seeing him upon her threshold, calling unannounced in the twilight of the day.

    He had not seen Georgiana for some time now, at least two years past. It had been at a garden party in the country, on the eve of the Epsom Derby, to be precise. Callum had been there on supernatural business, though ostensibly he was simply a guest of the host. He had been introduced to the exotically regal woman before dinner had been served, and he had nearly lost his composure when she had spoken her name. Callum recognized her instantly to be the twin sister of Basil Westmoore, his once trusted lieutenant, and second in command.

    As he had introduced himself by a false name, Callum had felt the invisible weight of guilt through the entirety of the meal. His first meeting with a woman he had always intended to share his condolences with—and more importantly the truth behind her brother’s death—had been behind the veil of a lie. In the mingling that had followed dessert, Callum had steeled himself that he must rectify his mistake, and confess his true identity to the Lady Westmoore. Despite his best intentions, however, Callum never got another moment alone with her to reconcile his deception.

    His gaze was drawn to the brilliant blue of Constance’s ethereal eyes, and he was brought back from his reverie. He smiled, genuinely and whole heartedly to her. The bottom lip was teased outward by her playful finger, and his smile only broadened.

    “There simply are no words for you, Constance. None that would do you justice, at any rate.”

    Standing then, Callum dropped down from the seat of the cart. Fritz snorted, and pawed lightly at the gravel. Running his hands over the horses ebony neck, Callum bent to rest his forehead gently between Fritz’s eyes.

    “I won’t forget, my friend,” he said to the horse. “I’ll be sure that you’re put away snug and warm in the stable as soon as possible.”

    He began following Constance up the steps, when a thought caught him, and he turned back to Fritz. “That is, if we’re invited to stay in the first instance.”

    Fritz snorted.

    Moving back up the broad, handsome steps, Callum came to stand beside Constance. Taking a moment to straighten his coat, his tie, his hat, and lastly his moustache, he looked over to the wispy avatar of his partner. He gave her slight figure a gentle nudge. “Shall we get on with my untimely death?”

    With that, Callum reached upward to strike the iron knocker three times.
    #4 Omicron, Aug 24, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 24, 2015
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  5. After a moment passed, the sounds of a lock working in the impressive, iron-bound doors of the house could be heard by those waiting. The wind and the rain had served to conceal the shuffling sounds that had preceded it as an elderly butler arrived to answer the door. It took him but a moment to work the lock, despite failing eyesight that left most of his work in the lap of his son, Master Barnsworth knew his duties. One duty of which was to offer hospitality on such a dreary night on behalf of the family he had served and his family would serve for generations to come. He pulled open the impressive doors with liver spotted hands and well buffed nails. A gust of wind and rain rushed into the foyer, making the long tails of his coat flutter. He blinked at the figure standing there and bobbed his head cautiously.

    “Please do come in. It is fit for neither man nor beast out there.” The spindly man with a wild shock of white hair, untamable by any but the most intense pomades stepped to the side and gestured the gentleman waiting there in. His gesture pointed towards a small waiting room off of the foyer where a small fire was roaring in an immaculate fireplace. He waited for his company to step in before he closed and locked the door behind him, the boom of it shutting echoed through the seemingly empty house. Once the door was secured, he hustled to lead his charge to the waiting room, which had a good, though not too precious wooden chairs placed before the fire. Along the wall, not far from the warmth of the fire was a row of hooks ready to receive garments in need of drying.

    “Please do have a seat.” He held his hands out, obviously intent on taking the hat and coat of his guest.

    “My name is Barnsworth, butler to the Westmoores. If you would be so kind as to give me your name and business I will let the mistress know who has come calling.”

    Behind him a short plump figure bearing a tray with teapot and all the accoutrements bustled into the room. The dimpled young lady filled out her maid’s uniform like it was a sin, her blonde hair arranged in careful ringlets that spoke of some duties left derelict in favor of vanity. She smiled, set the tray down on a side table and bobbed a curtsy. The dimple that flashed in her round cheek spoke of mischief and delight.

    Master Barnsworth spared her a stern glance, at which her glee dimmed a trifle while behind the butler, in the shadows of the door a tiny woman wearing a sari, whose seamed face sported eyes like bits of midnight, peered into the room, her expression cold and wary as they rested on the guest.

    Oddly nervous and afraid to be hopeful, Georgiana paced across her room with the slightest of limps. After fixing her bandage she’d hastily changed her dress from the less formal one she’d worn in anticipation of a quiet evening spent at home, alone and into something more appropriate to receiving company, even unknown, not exactly expected company. The Westmoores were an old family, respected for all their recent eccentricities. Georgiana was ever cognizant of the gravity and responsibility to live up to that reputation. Having had the lesson of their consequence crammed into her from the time she arrived in the country, a messy feral thing with no understanding of the gravity of her family’s consequence, she was unlikely to slip up in her duties now. If she felt any resentment for her father and brother who had shrugged off such weight so easily, she did not allow herself to dwell on it.

    The dress she’d chosen was a dusty rose with ivory lace details, modest, elegant and very flattering to her pale complexion and dark eyes. She smoothed her hand down over her dress, looking for any sign she’d buttoned it up incorrectly as her maid, Becky White, had been nowhere to be found. She kept only a small contingent of servants in her household this time of year, there was so little to be done now that the harvest was in and she was soon to leave for London and the holiday season. So perhaps the girl had been drafted into some other needed task, though in truth Georgiana doubted that greatly. She would have to speak to Mrs. Beasley about it. It was not the first time Becky had neglected her duties. Pausing in her pacing circuit by her door she strained to listen, hoping to catch a voice. She pressed a hand to her racing heart. Was this to be the help she needed?
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  6. Constance preened for a moment, a smug little smile lighting the lovely face only Callum and Fritz could see, when she finally rendered her dear friend speechless in the very nicest of ways. If she were still mortal, she might not have been able to stop herself from primping her hair, smoothing her impeccably smooth skirts, entirely pleased with herself and her friend’s compliment – no matter it came on the tail of a jest to bind her lovingly meddling soul to some trinket.

    She never minded that no one seemed to note her presence alongside Callum – in truth, that was the right and proper thing for the vast majority of men and women in this world, and likely the reason so many could actually sleep at night. Those who could see into the spirit world, who could peer past the veil into the spectral lands hidden just behind the everyday world - those like Callum Vaughn - were an exceedingly rare and precious commodity. And even among those who could? It was a most unfortunate fact that for some whose eyes beheld not just the mortal world, but all the myriad worlds behind this one? A firm hold on sanity could be tenuous, at best.

    Not that Constance couldn’t make her presence known, or even be seen and felt – in a manner of speaking – if she truly wished to do so. As she had learned over the years since her first rage-filled manifestation in this mortal world, all it took was just enough focus, just enough concentration of will to be heard, or seen or felt, to move objects or even people if she wished. Still, it could be an exhausting practice performed over any length of time, and one she used sparingly among adults, and only ever for good reason. Children, of course, were a whole other story, and Constance had been the imaginary friend to many a young child or grandchild once upon a time at Five Foxes, no matter they were the offspring of her murderers. Innocence was innocence after all, open and honest and trusting, no more nor less than that she had found in the eyes and ears of many a dog and cat, bird and horse and even rat during her un-life.

    As the lanky, elderly butler gestured for Callum to step inside Westmoore Manor, Constance took the invitation for her own as well breezing past Master Barnsworth (not through, because in ghostly circles such an action was unspeakably rude, subjecting unsuspecting mortals to the unkind and often unwelcome chill of the afterworld). She delighted in the architecture of the manor as she strode beside Callum all unseen, feeling a certain ease in such an opulent home, even if they (or rather, he) were being ushered to a humble waiting room.

    The tea was extremely swift in coming, brought in by a curvaceous, pretty little maid and set beside Callum’s seat. Constance made no bones at all about sniffing lightly at the service set out for her friend, reaching straight through the service to lay one spectral finger in the scalding water. She closed her insubstantial eyes for a moment in concentration, a very mortal gesture she did not know she still possessed. But those brilliant blue eyes did not open again until she was satisfied concerning the innocuous intentions of the person who prepared the service, via a ghostly form of psychometry she’d use shamelessly - no matter Callum complained the tea served at the homes of new clients was invariably chilled.

    Where she’d taken an immediate liking to the venerable and proper Master Barnsworth, Constance most heartily disapproved of the cloying, lurking presence of the maid who would not simply disappear now that her one simple duty had been done. She frowned with unabashed displeasure at the young woman’s presumption, lingering about where she ought not, and completely forgetting her place. Callum had the most serious and earnest business with Lady Westmoore this day, business that, because it was close to his heart, was equally as close to hers. Annoying distractions were utterly unacceptable.

    Those uncanny blue eyes narrowed as they fell over the round, smiling young woman. “Oh Callum, I do believe this sweetly Rubenesque child has quite the eye for you already – or is it just a sense of devilishness and a complete lack of decorum? Either way, the tea is set and she has no real business down here but ogling you - and worse yet? She’s not tending to her mistress, where she ought to be.” Constance scowled unhappily at the young woman, no matter the maid could most certainly not see her.

    “Master Barnsworth does not approve it would seem, and neither do I. ‘Shoo’ you plump little gadfly.” And as Constance spoke, the most uncanny of chill zephyrs began to uncoil all those carefully-curled golden locks, letting them fall limp about her face and utterly undoing the fullness that helped fill out the frilled white cap atop her head. Her cap sagged listlessly to the side, the sensation of movement nothing the young woman could ignore as her hair became a rather unsightly and unkempt mess for no good reason at all!

    Constance grinned wickedly as the well-rounded maid turned to make a quick exit, likely to simply re-primp without a thought for her mistress, but there was only just so much a ghost could do. Of all people in this world and the next, Constance Brigham was exactly the wrong spirit to allow witness of a wayward maid’s negligence.
    #6 Muirgen, Aug 27, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2015
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  7. As the sound of the knocker reverberated through the large manor like some distant, metallic drum, the personal weight of what Callum was about to undertake suddenly settled fully onto his mind. Though he had been anxious about the prospect of truly meeting Lady Westmoore since he had first gotten wind of her desire for professional supernatural assistance, it wasn’t until this very moment, standing upon her doorstep, that his heart began to race.

    Waiting there, in the rain and cold, it seemed like a sliver of eternity. Callum’s jaw began to clench and unclench as the seconds passed, and his right hand began to ache. He balled the fingers of that hand into a fist, willing the pain to leave him and not further distract from his attention. When at last the sound of the lock working open came from within the manor, Callum let out a long breath he had not known he had been holding.

    Despite the flutter of his heart, Callum affixed an air of calm confidence as he met the watery gaze of the man who opened the door. He smiled at the elderly butler, and his gaze did not waver as Constance floated with careful deference across the threshold.

    “Thank you,” Callum said, following Constance inside. “The weather is certainly dreary, and your hospitality is most appreciated.”

    The lingering chill began to soon fall away as the butler closed tight the door, and began leading him towards a finely appointed waiting room with a roaring fire. Callum stripped off his thick overcoat, and his soaked bowler, passing them to the waiting liver-spotted hands of the butler named Barnsworth. Without his overcoat and hat, Callum stood beside the hearth in his suit and tie, taking in the warmth like a healing elixir. The pistols holstered beneath his suit coat were still well hidden by his muscular frame, but as a precaution, he made certain to keep his arms at his sides as he addressed the butler.

    “My name is Captain Callum Vaughn…” he said, speaking his true name to a living soul for the first time in almost five years. Callum was surprised at how the utterance lacked the gravity he had always thought would accompany it, and so he continued with only the slightest of pauses. “…former commanding officer of Blue Company, 4th Bengal Light Foot Regiment. I am here to respond to an advertisement for service supplied by Lady Westmoore. I am certain she will know the nature of my visit.”

    Having announced himself, and his intentions, Callum fell silent as a short, prettily full-figured maid entered with the burden of a tea tray in her hands. The bright blond curls of her hair were a strong contrast to the darkness that seemed to permeate the manor at this hour, even in spite of the burning fire. As she set the tray down upon a nearby table, Callum took a seat politely so he could accept the offered refreshment.

    He returned the impish gesture of the maid’s smile and curtsy with a mere thin-lipped smile, and a flat, “Thank you.”

    Callum immediately noticed Barnesworth’s stern gaze as it fell upon the maid, and he had to repress his smile from broadening. Constance added her own opinion mere moments later, and Callum had to camouflage his reply as an assenting “mmhmm,” to accompany his first sip of the now lukewarm tea. The Queen herself had no better a guardian than Callum did in Constance Brigham, but it had been years since he had tasted a hot drink of tea of coffee as a guest in someone’s home. He never complained however, a chilled drink was a small price to pay for allowing his friend even the slightest taste of mortality now and again—especially if it kept him from drinking down some tincture of poison in the process.

    Sitting back into the plush fabric of his seat, Callum took another sip of tea as he watched Constance stalk the plump maid like a vengeful, lupine wraith. The girl’s carefully crafted golden curls fell apart at the twitch of Constance’s fingers, and she retreated in stunned embarrassment into the vastness of the house. Callum said nothing, instead turning his grey eyes to Barnesworth.

    The butler had kept his composure like the consummate professional he most assuredly was, and the elderly man turned to Callum as if he could feel that he was about to be asked after.

    “If I may entreaty your kindness further, Master Barnesworth,” Callum said, setting down his cup. “My horse, Fritz, along with my belongings, are still tied in the drive. Is there someone who can see to their proper care this evening?”

    Barnesworth’s white tuft of hair bobbed wispily along with the rest of his head. “Certainly, Mr. Vaughn. I will have my son see to it personally.”

    With a slight and stiff bow, Barnesworth turned, and retreated out the entry to the waiting room, intent on fulfilling his duties to both his mistress and her guest.
    • Love Love x 2
  8. There was a momentary pause and a flicker of understanding in the dim eyes of the Butler when the visitor stated his name. Recognition for who this man was as well as the significance to the lady of the house had him torn. A loyal servant to this august family he knew his duty was to server, but as a man who had watched the fatherless young lady in question suffer in the wake of her brother’s death, he paused. Covering his hesitation and buying himself a moment to decide how to proceed he carefully hung up the coat and hat offered to him. He made certain it was well hung and shook out to improve drying. A subtle reminder to this ghost from the past that his place was not assured and he might well be turned out, but not with a wet coat. The Westmoores were better than that. He felt a chill at his back but dismissed it as simply a reaction to the parts of him nearest the fire being so warm.

    Becky’s flight made his aged head snap around, his expression of disgust a fleeting thing before it was replaced by the smooth visage of a servant who knew his place and his duty. The girl had been a mistake on the part of the housekeeper, though she could not admit it. The girl was lazy and ambitious and did not know her place. If it were up to him, he would see her turned out in a heartbeat. But that was not for him to decide, and neither was the welcome this man should be given. His choice made for him, the butler felt no small relief as he moved to see to his duty agreeing to the dispensation of the horse into the barn and summoning his son to see to it.

    Taking his leave of the gentleman he moved to the kitchen where he would find Master Barnsworth Jr. flirting with the younger, matron Mrs. Beasley. Barnsworth Sr. was a hair over eighty and Barnsworth Jr. was well into his sixties. The nomenclature Junior had gone to his head and he occasionally forgot of his aged status and saw fit to flirt like he was a young man which his father disapproved of. It was not how a Barnsworth should behave, but he had long since given up on his ability to stop it.

    “There is a horse and wagon to be tended to.” He told his son who was making moon-eyes at the round-faced woman well in her forties.

    Junior looked up from the plate of cobbler he was eating and whipped his mouth with a napkin.

    “See that the horse is tended to, but do not stow the wagon. I am not certain our guest will be staying long.”

    “Oh.” Said Mrs. Beasley, cheeks red from bending over the stove. “Who is it that is likely to be turned away at this hour and in this weather?”

    “That is never you mind.” Said Senior, taking quiet pleasure in not informing the nosy woman.

    She harrumphed and turned back to her work, knowing that when Junior found out she could winkle it out of him. For his part, the slightly less elderly Barnsworth moved to see to his task even as his father headed for the servant’s stairs that would take him up to the lady of the house, to inform her of their guest. It was in his wake that the silent Ayushmati arrived and belatedly handed the housekeeper the note.

    Barnsworth Sr. was breathing heavy by the time he arrived, the stairs being narrow and rather steep without the gentle rise in altitude afforded the sweeping grand staircase. He paused at the top, his head bowed, as he caught his breath. It was only when he was breathing at a pace befitting his dignity that he smoothed out his uniform and headed to knock on his Mistress’s door.

    No sooner had he lifted his hand to knock than it flew open, Lady Westmoore anxiously peering out from her room.

    “Who is it, Barnsworth?” she asked in her quiet way, “Is it someone in response to my inquiries?”

    His mouth pursed, disapproving that she’d made the inquiries.

    “Yes, Madam, it is. He gave me his name and intentions and is in the waiting room.”

    Lady Westmoore, sensing that there was some weight behind her butler’s phrasing paused in her stepping out of her room. “Who is it?” she asked, puzzled that it hadn’t already be said.

    “He introduced himself as Captain Callum Vaughn former commanding officer of Blue Company, 4th Bengal Light Foot Regiment.”

    Georgiana Westmoore, pale to begin with, paled even further, the color even leaving her rosy lips as the significance of the name sank in. “Oh.” She said, reaching for the doorway to stabilize herself. She leaned against it, closing her dark eyes as she scrambled for composure. Him, there, now. What did it mean? And there because of her inquiries? She’d heard that he’d vanished upon return to good society and like most people of upstanding positions, she’d assumed he’d gone to an asylum because of what had happened. So it was something of a shock to find him in her waiting room on a night where she was feeling particularly vulnerable. She was half tempted to send him away, to banish him into the cold, wet night and let her troubles run their course on her own.

    But Basil had loved his commander, she knew that. His letters had been full of stories of Captain Vaughn’s daring and courage. There had been glowing reports and honest, brotherly affection for his superior officer written into each missive. Georgiana had been fighting off a shameful jealousy at every letter, never having had to share her twin’s affections before. Could she send such a man away? Her brother wouldn’t have wanted it. She realized she couldn’t, not in good conscience. The fact that he was ostensibly there to aid her was secondary to honoring her brother’s wishes.

    “Please tell him to join me in the library and then make certain there is a room ready for him, just in case.”

    She took a deep breath, pulling in control and composure as well as oxygen and then moved down the hall to the stairs with her chin up, her eyes forward and only the slightest limp in her gait. She would meet him in the library where they could have privacy and she could hear from his mouth all that he had to say.
    • Love Love x 2
  9. Constance really did like the elder Master Barnsworth (no matter of course, she hadn’t yet made the acquaintance of the aforementioned Barnsworth the Younger). She could see it in those dark eyes of his, still sharp no matter the long years he’d seen of this world, the suspicion he simply would not let go no matter the orders he had so obviously been given by the lady of this great house. She could hear the undeniable guardedness of his words as he informed Callum that Lady Westmoore would receive him in the library. Constance genuinely liked Master Barnsworth because no matter what or who might come knocking at this door, no matter how many years he had lived nor how many more to come, his devotion began and ended with the scions of this family. Love, and loyalty – the two virtues nearest and dearest to Dame Brigham.

    Not of course, that he had a thing to worry about in the presence of Callum, but it wasn’t as if he could know this, nor Constance give him any reassurance that wouldn’t have sent him screaming from the room.

    And so as Master Barnsworth the Elder asked Callum to follow him, to join Lady Westmoore in the library, Constance went on ahead of them in her very own most spectral fashion. She’d not been in the Westmoore Manor before this day, but she followed the nod of Master Barnsworth’s head in the correct general direction.

    She could move far faster than any mortal, and less encumbered by the solidity of three dimensional objects like walls and furniture and doors than Callum would be for some time to come. At the speed of thought? No, not quite – she’d never been here before after all, and could not yet coalesce the image of the Westmoore library in her thoughts. But she was swift nonetheless, like a chill, playful breeze whirling through the dark and cavernous halls in the twilight of this day.

    It was her skirts that made eddies of the dust in the thick Oriental carpets laid down through the halls, her passage a gentle whisper vaguely scented of lavender and English tea rose that would disappear almost the moment it was noted. She took in all about her as she searched for the library, peeking into doors swiftly to be sure she didn’t miss her destination by accident. Beautiful dark wainscoting and beams lined the hallway, all crafted with a skill and attention to detail that might rival the exquisitely designed carpets laid over the herringbone wood floors. Certain spaces on the plaster walls bore Westmoore family portraits that Constance shamelessly ogled as she traveled. She genuinely enjoyed seeing the faces of men and women she might yet meet again if they’d not crossed over quite yet, but there was one in particular that stilled the lady ghost for some long moments, the like of which she’d never seen before in her life, or her un-life.

    Such an unusual and unusually lovely portrait, and lovelier still for its lively and strange playfulness. Two stunning figures dominated this portrait, a man and a woman likely in their teens if she was any judge and both dressed richly. Not man and wife, no – the similarities to be found in the structure of their faces, in the midnight darkness of their eyes, the richness of their hair and those knowing smiles were far too close. Brother and sister then, standing back to back, arms folded across their chests almost imperiously as they peered at the portraitist with such enigmatic and knowing expressions. Such a pair, so handsome and beautiful in turns…

    Constance sighed softly, her ephemeral head tilting just so, a sad little smile on her pale lips as ghostly fingers reached to touch the painted faces of the young siblings. Ah, but this could only be Lady Westmoore and her brother then, and though the air all about her was chilled, there was no puff of misted breath when she sighed sadly. Constance had been an only child, and had lost both her parents by the time she was sixteen-years old. She knew loss, but she had never known the love a sibling, or what an agony that must be to lose – and worse yet, to lose a twin at that… ?

    She shook her head of pale shadows, the soft ringlets about her face moving with her action as if gravity and physical force meant the least thing to her spectral form. Callum had come for good reason. Lady Westmoore had made her inquiries, and Callum would answer. If any could help her, it would be her dearest friend in this world, Constance was sure…

    The phantom lady continued down the hallway, finding the double doors to the library the most obvious indication she’d gotten exactly where she wished to be. She had no need of open passageways, passing easily through the great oaken doors, smiling as she found herself in a well-lit library that, truly, had more than earned its name. Great shelves of books reached to the vast vaulted ceilings on all sides, a fire already roaring in the great ivory stone and marble lined hearth, as tall as any man. Not that Constance would have the least use of them anymore, but some very comfortable-looking and inviting leather chairs were set before the fire, side tables and lamps and velvet-upholstered dotting the enormous space.

    And there, along one wall was a great desk of exquisitely carved mahogany, an eye-catching piece all of its own though it could bear no resemblance to the unspeakably beautiful woman sitting behind it. The pale rose and ivory of her dress only emphasized the rich darkness of her eyes and thick hair against the flawless ivory of her skin. Constance recognized her in an instant, the girl twin from the portrait, and she lay an arm over her stomach in an entirely mortal gesture of sympathy and hurt for this lovely creature.

    Georgiana Westmoore seemed quite lost in whatever she worked on at that desk, busily scratching elegant quill to paper, the brow that was furrowed in concentration only serving to give her beautiful face another point of interest to draw the eye, and certainly no kind of flaw. Constance glided swiftly across the library floor, drawn to the lone woman by a sense far more than mere curiosity. She hovered over the young woman, nothing of her chill presence daring to brush so much as a single tendril of hair as she shamelessly read what it was that had Lady Westmoore’s attentions so very rapt.

    Constance’ fingers lifted swiftly to her lips, her bright, uncanny blue eyes widening as she read all that was written in the ledger, page after page if she’d any guess, all in a most elegant and graceful script:

    Basil Alan Westmoore”

    Over and over and over again, that one name…

    The ghost actually started at the rap on the double doors, Master Barnsworth announcing his own entrance before he announced that of Callum, their arrival in the far more natural and mortal method than her own. She waited for Barnsworth to quiet, and for Callum to enter the room before she spoke, her voice a chill zephyr between them over the length of the library.

    “Oh Callum… “ Constance longed to run her fingers gently over the poor young woman’s head, to lay her hand on her shoulder and squeeze gently, but there would never be comfort for a mortal in the ghosts tender touches or loving embraces, only the uncanny chill of the unloving world and the kiss of the grave.

    “I know you are as much a gentleman as any who has ever lived. But please do tread so very delicately with her heart, my dearest friend. Her wounds are still so raw and, I would wager, they have never been bound, much less healed.”
    #9 Muirgen, Aug 30, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2015
    • Love Love x 2
  10. Callum followed Barnsworth through the halls, his eyes blank with preoccupation. The coming moment was one that he had so oft dreamt of, but had never truly believed would take place. Even for a man now so familiar with the strange world that hid just beneath the surface of known reality, the workings of fate were yet a mystery. So many times he had tried to find a means to intersect his life with that of Georgiana Westmoore’s, and at every attempt, life seemed to find a way to steer his course.

    Did I really and truly try? Callum thought, taking the first steps up the grand stairs.

    A small knot of shame tied itself in his gut then, for he knew the answer. He had allowed life to keep him away. There had always been another case, another seminal matter that he let claim his attention, year after year. As courageous, honorable, and strong-willed as Callum Vaughn believed himself to be, in this matter, he knew he had failed to uphold his own values. During his military career Callum had fought some of the most harrying battles of the British Raj, and yet, he could not bring himself to confront the twin sister of the man who had been at his side through it all.

    Walking amidst the handsome finery of the manor, resplendent with its paintings and rich woodwork, Callum couldn’t bring himself to notice. His gaze was locked upon the gently swaying back of Barnsworth, and his mind sifted through a thousand phrases worthy enough to convey his contrition. The words came into his thoughts in rapid, disheveled waves, and he had to will his mind to clear. What he was about to say to Georgiana had to come from his heart; coined apologies, and planned, eloquent expressions would not do her—nor the memory of Basil—their due.

    Callum entered the library, and his ears began to ring dully. Barnsworth’s formal introduction came in an inaudible wash of sound that failed to pierce the rapid rush of his bounding heart. His eyes flitted first to Constance, and then to the woman sitting behind the large desk. He saw exotic beauty, dark hair framing smoky eyes and high cheekbones, setting atop a feminine neck, and all of it glazed with alabaster skin. The firelight danced off of Georgiana Westmoore, and Callum felt his breath catching in his throat.

    Standing there, as rigid and firm as if he was upon the Queen’s own parade ground, Constance’s spectral words cut through, dashing his dazed consciousness with frigid waters. He nodded fractionally to his friend’s advice, his eyes not wavering from the deep pools of Georgiana’s gaze. For a long moment, silence reigned within the library, until at last, Callum was able to thrust words from his frozen tongue.

    “My Lady Westmoore…” he began, his voice even, but low. The words disappearing into the expanse of mahogany and bound paper. Hearing this, Callum took a step forward, cleared his throat, and raised his chin.

    “My Lady Westmoore,” Callum said again. His voice carried now, full and confident. “I come to you as a man seeking to right my failures as an officer, and a gentleman. When we first met, almost two years ago, I did so under false pretense, and for that alone, I am dearly sorry.”

    Callum’s grey eyes bored into Georgiana, imploring for her to hang upon his every word. “Your brother was my most trusted lieutenant, my strongest ally, and my dearest friend. I have failed to honor the place he held in my heart by failing to honor you, and the Westmoore family, with my condolences, and my regret. I knew no better a man, or soldier, in all of Her Majesty’s military.”

    He paused to take a breath. The tears that now welled in his eyes hung on the precipice of falling across his cheeks. Callum fought them away, tightening his jaw, and demanding his vision to clear.

    “You, and your family, deserved better than my weak attempts. My cowardice,” as he said this, Callum’s voice tightened, “kept me from fulfilling my duty. That indignity that I so transgressed upon you will forever burden my soul.”

    With that, Callum reached into the inside breast pocket of his suit coat. From within, he pulled out a kerchief of obvious foreign design. The once rich crimson was faded with age and mileage, giving the folded cloth a fragile, and well-loved appearance. Stepping forward until he stood at the edge of the great mahogany desk, Callum set the kerchief down gently before Georgiana.

    Looking into her eyes, forcing himself to convey every ounce of his shame, guilt, and sorrow, Callum unfolded the cloth. With each gingerly moved corner, the blossom of a dried and pressed red poppy flower appeared more fully, until at last it sat in defiant brilliance within the semi-dark. Despite its age, the flower somehow maintained an almost ethereal air of life in the bright red of its petals.

    “Basil carried this flower on our last mission,” Callum said, the strength of his voice at last failing with emotion. “He made me promise, that should anything happen to him, that I return this to you, as a token of his infinite love.”

    As the words left his mouth, Callum’s eyes fell, and his square shoulders seemed to deflate. “It has never left my side.”

    “I ask not for your forgiveness, Lady Westmoore. I come to you humbly, as a man who can never truly convey the depth of my regret, to allow me to serve you and to help you, in whatever capacity you may deem me worthy.”
    #10 Omicron, Aug 31, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 31, 2015
    • Love Love x 2
  11. Georgiana barely heard the knock on the library door over the pounding of her own heart. It raced in her ribs, well contained by whalebone and cloth, as if she’d been chased to this desk rather than having been sitting at it, perfectly arranged, waiting to meet the last man to see her brother alive. She wasn’t sure how she even felt about the upcoming encounter. It opened old wounds for certain, wounds that felt like they would never really scab over, let alone heal, but she wasn’t sure what to expect from it.

    Did she hate him? It would be easier if she did, a nice focus for her anger at the loss of her twin, her beloved brother. But that was too simple, too easy. No one knew what happened in the deepest parts of India where Basil died. All they knew for certain was that all the men died but for the very man heading her way. The man who vanished upon returning to England taking with him all the answers to her questions. That he was suddenly there on her behest, with possible answers to her old questions as well as her newer ones made her nervous. So much rested on an unreliable source. She didn’t like that one bit. So she wrote to calm herself and to set the stage.

    Her head was bent over her work, her back rigid in perfect posture as she scrawled in perfect penmanship across the page when the knock came. It was the motion of the door more than the sound that caught her attention and she carefully, artfully looked up from the page as she moved to put the pen into the well, only to freeze in place at the sight of him.

    She knew him, somehow, she knew him. She blinked and tried to place him. He was introduced as Callum Vaugh but she was certain she’d seen him before. Her wondering didn’t last long as the man before her confessed to having met her before and giving her a false name at the time. She swallowed, her mouth dry as anger burned the words away. This was just as well because her dignity was such that she would not allow herself a breach in decorum for any man, let alone this one. He moved closer to her and continued to speak. She might have been an alabaster statue for all she moved as he spoke and offered up his explanation.

    His pretty words about her brother were welcome, bittersweet but gratifying for all that. Basil was a good man, cursed with a restless nature much like their father, but good at heart. He would have had such a life if only… She stopped the thoughts that made her ebony eyes brim for the millionth time, blinking them back, holding the pain in. A task made more difficult by the echo of her pain seen in his eyes. Whatever this man’s faults, he had loved her brother as much as her brother had loved him. She had read it in his letters home and seeing it had been truly returned was something of a balm. Still she kept her tongue and her expression in check when he stepped just before her desk to offer her something.

    She finally remembered in that moment that she yet held the pen. Using returning it to its place as an excuse to buy a moment to compose herself she slipped the pen home and let her hand rest on the desk so that he would not see how her fingers trembled. Returning her gaze to his hands she watched him unfold his offering, rapt and curious. Basil wasn’t the only one with a touch of adventure in his heart, she had a bit, much controlled but still there.

    “Oh.” She breathed, her first words since his entrance. She couldn’t look away from the flower, its crimson color seeming like a beacon in the dim library. She found her trembling hand lifting of its own accord, pale and moon-white but for a small blot of black ink along the inside of her index finger. She reached out and with tender, careful fingers lifted the poppy from its bed. The moment her fingers touched the petals the color seemed to lighten, just a flicker before resolving to its former carmine glory. She pulled her finger back reflexively and then frowned and picked up the flower with careful fingers. As she lifted it up, the loose curls that framed her face and tumbled about her neck, seemingly artless in the way they had loosened from her hairdo, stirred as if by a breath or a breeze.

    Cradling the flower in her palm she looked over it towards the man who stood before her. His grief and his contrition seemed sincere to her and she was too raw to risk abrading herself by lashing out at him.
    A sad, sweet smile curved her tea-rose lips before she spoke.

    “Thank you, Mister Vaughn.” She curled her fingers around the poppy lightly and held it against her heart where it beat more sedately in her chest. “Basil always spoke so fondly of you in his letters. I should be happy to share them with you at some point.”

    Standing there before this man she could have hated, with a token of her lost-brother, a paltry stand in for the man she missed, she felt eased in a way she couldn’t have explained or expected and it made her momentarily at a loss for words. When in doubt, she fell back upon the customs she had been taught, hospitality and graciousness. She stood and slowly made her way around the desk to stand before her brother’s dearest friend and held out her hand to be taken in greeting. Basil would have wanted this, she was certain, it felt right.

    “I can imagine this journey must have been difficult for you in a great many ways. I would be pleased if you would join me for dinner then perhaps afterwards we might discuss the matter of my inquiries.”
    • Love Love x 2
  12. Callum watched Georgiana through eyes fogged with emotion. The woman before him was as statuesque as any he had ever seen, sitting rigid in a state of strange beauty that bespoke a level of self-control any soldier would be proud to possess. He knew that his words must’ve grated upon her mind like splintered wood over silk, that much he could see in Georgiana’s dark eyes, yet her composure never faltered. It was an incredible sight that both mystified Callum, and made him exhale a quiet sigh of uncertain relief.

    He could not say what he had expected to happen when confronting Basil’s twin, but this level of control was indeed a surprise to Callum. Though he knew little of Georgiana, what he had heard spoke of a woman with a practiced, quiet refinement, and who never fashionably indulged the sensational or ostentatious. Yet even having heard this, Callum never ruled out the possibility that he would be run off the Westmoore property by a hysterical woman and her loyal cadre of staff.

    When this did not occur, and Georgiana picked up the poppy, Callum found himself holding his breath. The flower seemed to belong in her hand, its red petals contrasting beautifully against her white skin, and its fragility complimented by the delicateness of her fingers. Though hardly a worthy monument for such a man, Callum thought that Basil had chosen this small totem wisely, knowing its intended recipient like no one else alive surely did. The smile that drew up Georgiana’s mouth as she held the flower to her chest was the instant that made Callum feel that no matter the ultimate outcome of his visit, that every bit of it had been worthwhile.

    Georgiana stood before him now, her words of thanks and kindness ringing like blessed church bells in his ears. The hand she held out to him he took instantly, offering her a genuine and contrite smile before bowing.

    “It would be my great honor, madam. You are so very kind to extend such an opportunity. I pray that I am worthy of your hospitality, and of your faith in all matters.”

    Standing, and releasing Georgiana’s hand, Callum looked at her deeply with his silver-gray eyes.

    “I am humbled to
    truly make your acquaintance, Lady Westmoore. I can imagine that you have many questions for me. Let me assure you, that I will answer them all to the very best of my ability.”
    • Love Love x 1
  13. “Well then, Mister Vaughn,” Georgiana said, “Let us head to dinner.”

    She paused and circled around the desk and retrieved a small carved teak box from one of the top drawers. When the lid was open a collection of letters in a very fine hand was exposed, all tied together with a ribbon as red as the poppy. She laid the poppy down on the stack and with slow, somber reverence, closed the lid. As she did some soft breeze seemed to whoosh out and tickle the same hairs, this time even making the lace that trimmed the bodice of her dress flutter just a touch. Her brow furrowed for a moment and she flicked a glance to the windows that lined the far wall, windows which overlooked a collection of chairs clearly intended for reading in good light.

    Barnsworth Senior noticed both breeze and gaze and made his way swiftly to the windows even as Georgiana turned back to her guest. Behind them the elderly butler slipped behind the heavy, drawn curtains and could be heard fiddling with the latches on the windows.

    “I’m so sorry you had to come out in such frightful weather.” Georgiana was saying as she led her guest to the door of the library. “However I am most grateful you did. I pray the journey wasn’t too beastly for you.”

    With her emotions so worked up over the revelation of just who had come to help her, plus the fresh wash of grief that his arrival had woken in her, it seemed best to settle onto polite discourse rather than risk and unsightly outburst. She could taste something very like despair welling up inside her and she did not want to let it out. Even so, she stumbled a little in her steps when she passed the portrait of Basil and her on the wall. The sight of his youthful face and her own blissful happiness, caught by expert hands in oil shook her control so much that she dabbed at the black lashes under her eyes were crystalline tears had begun to gather. They’d been so young then, so unaware of what would befall them but a few years later. She took strength in the feeling that somehow Basil’s eyes were on her, approving of her treatment of his beloved Captain.

    Once past the painting she more easily led him down the hall towards the broad stairs and ultimately, the dining room in which the housekeeper and the housemaid with her fixed hair were now setting out dinner. When they arrived at the door of the dining room Barnsworth Senior opened the door to gesture them inside, having arrived ahead of them through some magic (otherwise known as an extensive set of servant’s passages).

    “Dinner is served” he said in his most solemn, formal voice as if he were announcing dinner for a large formal gathering and not his mistress and her eccentric guest. Georgiana took Mister Vaughn’s arm and led him inside, her skirts rustling about their ankles as they slipped into the room.

    The air there was rich with the scent of spices, the menu just a touch exotic as it had been when their father was alive. His palate had been as adventurous as his spirit and the household had followed suit and continued with the tradition of serving a mix of dishes. Among the more exotic dishes were good, solid British faire as well.

    The plump maid, Rebbecca White, stood behind the guest’s chair with downcast eyes and a welcoming smile to her face and missed the quick flash of irritation that Georgiana sent her way. The moment he sat in his chair the maid was bending over him, not quite past the allowances of decorum, pouring him a measure of red wine and showing him a good deal of her cleavage in the process.
    • Love Love x 1
  14. Callum felt the cool puff of an unnatural breeze upon his face; soft and delicate, like the brush of a feather. His eyes fixed upon Georgiana instantly. He caught the furrow that creased her brow as she looked in the direction of the heavily draped windows, uncertain of the breeze’s origin. The windows were closed tightly, as best as Callum could tell, and the eldest Barnsworth confirmed this, having been beckoned to check them by his lady’s miffed glance.

    A slight thrill went through Callum’s chest. There was a lingering aura in the library, and he could feel it. The breeze had been no occurrence of natural drafts, or unlatched windows, that much was instantly certain to Callum. Though he could not discern by what spectral source the breeze came, he could detect the telltale sign of its passing. It was almost like a scent to Callum, so faint in its presence that to one not aware of their senses, or attuned with gifts that brushed the unseen realms, it would scarcely be detected at all.

    The barest of smiles came to his lips, and his eyes twinkled in the firelight. Callum didn’t know where Constance was, but if he could sense the ghostly ripple heralded by the breeze, he knew that his friend had felt it tenfold.

    “It was no trouble in the least,” Callum said in reply to Georgiana’s inquiry and apology regarding the weather. He smiled politely, “The weather is what it is, and I am happy to have made the journey.”

    Callum fell into step with Georgiana as she led the way out of the library. He glanced back into the room as he passed over the threshold, giving Constance a knowing wink before turning his attention to the hallway. Though his emotions remained still raw and on edge, unlike his first trip down the passage, he was able to take in the art and grandeur he had initially missed. His eyes moved dutifully between the fine paintings, alighting upon them, and studying them as best he could while still keeping pace with his host.

    His gait changed once as they walked, and only fractionally, when they came to the unmistakable painting of the Westmoore twins. The eyes that looked back from Basil’s younger face were just as Callum remembered them; strong, intelligent, and piercing in a quizzical way. Georgiana’s depiction likewise maintained her recognizable features, and placed beside her brother, the similarities between the two were conspicuous. The painting was so masterfully done, that as they continued to the staircase, Callum swore he could feel the eyes of his beloved friend gazing upon him from high upon the wall.

    The rest of the journey to the dining room was quiet, with only the click of Callum’s boot heels, and the swish of Georgiana’s skirts to break the heavy quiet of the manor. It was the wonderful smells of the food that announced the entrance to the dining room long before Barnsworth materialized to usher them through the doorway. Being a bachelor, and a man oft away from his home, his choice in cuisine was fairly simple and repetitive. Thusly, when the scent of the meal brushed his nose, Callum almost groaned audibly with anxious satisfaction. He was also pleasantly surprised when Lady Westmoore took his arm, and allowed him to accompany her into the richly appointed space.

    After escorting Georgiana to her chair, Callum took his own seat, choosing the one to his host’s right in lieu of the opposing end of the table. It was not strictly decorum for a guest to do such, but if he was to converse easily with Georgiana, he wanted as little interference as possible. His eyes widened like that of a child presented with some giant bowl of pudding as he gazed over the display of dishes upon the table. He recognized a platter of steaming naan bread, with an accompanying dish of Irish butter; a tray of curried Sole garnished with sprigs of herbs; seasoned tripe with onions; talmouse pastries; apple tartlets; Bedfordshire pudding, and an array of other dishes he could simply wonder at. Callum’s stomach grumbled pleasantly, his eyes departing from the dinner service only after his sight was blocked by the generous bosom of the maid.

    Put off by the interruption, Callum’s eyes narrowed, and he sat back in his chair. He caught the look and intention worn upon the maid’s face like a carnival mask, and he almost scoffed. Callum had never witnessed a more blatant and shameless servant in all his days, and he thought idly that this woman deserved a great deal more of Constance’s unique attentions. Keeping his features stern, he waited patiently for his wine to be poured, and the cleavage to clear from before his nose.

    As the woman moved away, Barnsworth appeared to place a small plate of Andalusian salad first in front of his mistress, and then Callum. Callum smiled and thanked the man before selecting the salad fork from the array of silver utensils around the plate.

    Poking at one of the tomatoes, Callum looked up to where Georgiana sat. Unsure of where she would want the dinner conversation to go, he chose to begin simply and broadly.

    “I must say, Lady Westmoore, that you keep a fine home. I’m sure the history here could fill a volume or two?”
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  15. Georgiana hadn’t really been hungry in months. Losing both brother and father in so short a period had taken quite a toll on her. The little appetite that had been left to her in the wake of her grief fled as the intensity of her dreams increased. It got so that she ate only when food was placed before her and even then it was only so long as someone stood guard and reminded her to eat. Usually that duty fell to Ayushmati. It was this reason that the kitchen at Westmoore bothered to be so extravagant with meals when there was only the lady in residence so late in the season. They all hoped to tempt her with victuals that would spark some life and excitement in her and so far had seen mixed results. They did not know of the dreams that came with greater frequency, they knew only that the lady had good periods and bad.

    It was fortunate in that sense that Mr. Vaugh had come when he had. She’d given word that she wasn’t intending to take dinner when it was too late to halt preparations. Such was oft the case and in so many regards it was the greedy maid who benefited. That she would be denied free reign of the exquisite spread was somewhat mitigated by the presence of the handsome guest whose lack of interest in her charms was both dismissed by the young woman and seen as some sort of challenge. She dutifully, if a touch sullenly, poured her mistress a glass and then, looking back over her shoulder the whole time left for the kitchen when Georgiana dismissed her. As she passed through the swinging doors into the passage between dining room and kitchens the small pinched face of the Indian maid could be seen in the shadows, her dark eyes as fixed on Callum as the maid’s had been though filled with a decidedly different emotion, something tight and almost inscrutable. Then the door swung closed and the face concealed, though it remained perfectly aligned with the seam between door and jamb allowing her vision out, but not the observed upon her.

    Georgiana picked up her glass and held it so that the light could catch it, feeling a strange lightness she couldn’t explain. A lightness that tickled at the edges of her and seemed to make her aware of the rich smells that filled the room, allowing them to spark interest that had long lay dormant in her. She felt, hungry, she supposed, for the first time in so long she couldn’t say. Not ravenous, so much as looking forward to eating and tasting as something other than a duty she had to keep her body working. Regarding the wine, which seemed a lovelier shade of red than any she’d seen in some time, she took a tentative sip. It didn’t taste like ash. Swallowing she turned to regard her guest as he made his first foray into casual conversation. Her lips, reddened from the ruby beverage quirked into a crooked smile that was surprising and charming on her porcelain face. It revealed just a touch of the person under the alabaster sculpting and rigid self-control.

    “My father would have it no other way and so in his honor, continue as he would have wished.”

    Continuing to what end? She often found herself wondering as she had moved further and further from the happier times when she hadn’t been so alone. But just as her father’s wishes that she keep up the house, so her father’s wishes that she keep drawing breath, that her heart should keep beating kept her from joining him and Basil prematurely.

    “As for the history of this home, you will find quite a few volumes of hand-written history of this house and family gracing the walls of the library. My father and Basil were not the only men of this family to have a scholarly bent, nor were they the only two to have wandering feet and restless hearts.”

    She lifted a bit of her salad to her mouth, the woodsy tang of thyme, offset by the bite of sherry warmed her mouth and did much to perk up her slowly roused appetite. She chewed delicately and swallowed before considering her guest. Was it the mad spark of actual flavor in her mouth or some wild shred of stray grief but the words slipped out of her mouth and past her rigid control before she’d even consciously thought them.

    “I will not ask now, but Mr. Vaughn, I will ask you at some point to tell me what happened. How did he die?” Her voice cracked a little and she snatched up her napkin and pressed it to lip as if to blot at them, but really it was to force back in the emotion and words that wanted to follow her first shocking volley. She blinked her dark eyes fast, distributing tears so that her eyes were merely wet, not overflowing with crystalline beads of manifested sadness.

    “But not now. That is for a later time. Pardon me, I do not mean to speak out of turn.”

    But there was really little they could talk about that wasn’t skirting the black subject that bound them. He was the man who had last seen her brother alive. The man who had presumably led him to his death. He was also the man who had come, by some means or another, to help her with her indelicate problem. She would focus on that.

    “What I will as you now, is how you came to hear of my inquiry and what you know of my reasons for sending for assistance?”
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  16. Callum ceased his chewing, and he looked seriously to Georgiana. He saw the tears wetting her dark eyes as she blinked back the emotion brought forth with her question. The corners of his eyes creased with sympathy, and he set his fork down to speak.

    “Lady Westmoore,” Callum began softly, “you are not at all out of turn. That question, I am certain, has been tugging at the thread of your thoughts since the moment you heard the tragic news. Whenever you wish to hear the answer, I will dutifully oblige you.”

    Callum eased the seriousness held upon his features, following Georgiana’s wish to speak of the matter later, and took a moment to enjoy a small sip of the wine.

    “As to how I came upon your advertisement for service, I will admit it was a fortunate accident.” Callum dabbed at his mouth with his napkin, and settled back into his chair. His lips pursed slightly with remembrance.

    “Firstly, the err…” he glanced sidelong at the dining area, knowing that some of the servants were certainly within earshot. “…nature of your inquiry limits the scope of professionals who are able to fulfill such a request to all but a very select few. The network that is established to take in such requests for service, and to distribute these requests to capable parties, is a tight-knit one.”

    “Your inquiry was funneled through a prominent gypsy fortune teller named Luminitsa,” Callum regarded Georgiania thoughtfully, searching her face for the name’s recognition as he continued. “As per the usual processes, she then distributed this inquiry via coded advertisement in the major London papers. These advertisements carry little detail, with only just enough information for a professional to glean if they are even qualified for that particular job.”

    “Now then, I saw your advertisement, and thought that I was properly equipped to easily handle your case. However, it wasn’t until I went to see Luminitsa, and paid her the requisite commission for providing me with the more intimate details of the inquiry, that I came to find out it was you that was seeking assistance.”

    Callum gave Georgiana a slight smile. “I am not ashamed to admit that I found the opportunity quite fortuitous. To me, it was a chance to right a wrong I had perpetrated for far too long.” He shrugged, and held his host’s gaze. “So, I paid Luminitsa double the usual finder’s fee in order for her to retract her advertisements, and to ensure her discretion should other professionals come calling about your case.”

    This admission was one he hoped would not cause Georgiana to bristle. It was not rare for those in Callum’s small circle of supernatural professionals to pursue a case, and to pay extra to block out others from possibly taking it. However, Georgiana most likely did not know this. There was a chance she would see his tactic as underhanded, presumptuous, or some other emotion Callum had yet to fathom. But, he had already lied to this woman once, and he vowed to himself to never do it again. Georgiana would get the truth from him, no matter the cost.

    “In regard as to what I know of your inquiry, I will let you speak to that. What I believe I know is far less valuable than the verities you can provide, so forgive me for turning the question around to you, madam.”

    Callum leaned forward slightly, his silvery eyes twinkling with interest. “What made you seek out a man such as myself?”
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  17. It was fascinating, really. To sit back and hear his explanation of how he’d come by her inquiry. It was a welcome relief from the emotions she could feel churning deep inside her despite her best efforts to push them away. She missed Basil so much, it was an ache that was never far from her awareness, no matter how she tried to live her life. Her iron will was nothing in the face of the gaping maw of her grief.

    The Inquiry, she scolded herself, pulling her attention back onto Mr. Vaugh as he explained the process. She watched him as he spoke, her eyes on his mouth. She was strangely drawn to the pleasing spectacle of his lips flashing out from under his full mustache. The bottom lip was readily visible, but the top, that was a rare thing and she found herself tensing in anticipation of it as it provided just the distraction she needed to attend to his words.

    Her face showed no recognition when he spoke of, Luminista. That wasn’t who she’d sent the letter to. In truth, she’d no idea what she was doing when she penned her letter to her Father’s acquaintance and it had taken quite a few drafts before it resembled something that would be helpful but without making her look like a lunatic in the process. Which she was beginning to wonder if she was. A Professor Snodson had been the recipient of her inquiry. We was eclectic man she’d met at a dinner her father hosted who studied indigenous religions and unexplained mystical phenomena. He was a harmless man whom she’d have dismissed as a quack had it not been for her own early run-ins with the unexplained. So when she’d come to realize she needed help she contacted him in desperation. She’d simply asked him if he knew anyone who could assist in broad round-about mention of her particular problem. In response to she’d received a hastily and sloppily penned note back that in honor of her late father he had passed her request along. Along to whom she did not know. Had it gone from him directly to this Luminista? Or had it made stops along the way? She hadn’t any idea and had to focus on Mr. Vaughn’s mouth again to keep from shaking at the thought of how many people might know of her predicament, even in the broadest strokes.

    The actual details of how it came to Mr. Vaugh from her was relieving in its way, even with the gaps. Though it made her hope that he indeed, had the skills needed to help her since his payment to the broker (as good a term as any should could devise) made certain that no others would be coming. She supposed she could be put out by the temerity of the act, but in true Georgiana fashion decided to wait and see if such affront was even warranted.

    When Mr. Vaughn made his inquiry of her she bought herself a moment by taking a sip of her wine and then idly pushed around the salad she’d taken only the one bite out of. Her nascent hunger was out of habit and therefore out of mind for the time.

    “A man such as you?” a curve of her dusty-rose lips accompanied by a tilt of her head punctuated the parroted phrase. “I’m not entirely certain what that would mean, Mr. Vaughn. You spoke of skills you were certain were up to the task of helping me before you knew it was me. I’m afraid I don’t know what skills those are, or even exactly what my problem is.”

    She laughed, a brittle self-mocking sound, before continuing. She looked down at her hands which were nervously folded in her lap.

    “I’ve a problem I can’t quite name. It’s been growing for some time, you see, ever since I was a little girl. I cannot say when it started only that of late, it’s gotten much worse. I’ve been having dreams, well, in truth I’ve always had dreams. Little dreams and ideas of things I couldn’t know, but somehow did. I leaned to ignore them, and to pretend I didn’t have them and after a while, it was almost like I didn’t have them. Until recently. This is different. They are painfully vivid dreams that are not mine.” She shivered and looked up at him and then back down to her hands. His mouth was no true distraction for this part of her confession.

    “Horrible dreams of unspeakable things and something hungry. Something looking for something.” She licked her lips and a soft little noise much like a sob slipped from her rosy mouth. She didn’t have the wherewithal just then to tell him of the newspaper articles that had frightened her so and convinced her it was a problem beyond the scope of her abilities. All she could say was the most frightening part of it, the thing she was most certain of.

    “I think it is looking for me.”
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  18. Callum smiled, one side of his mustache lifting pleasantly as Georgiana spoke of how little she knew of him, or his abilities. The curve of her rouge-tinted lips was an unexpected, and welcome gift, in the wake of the grief-burdened topic of Basil’s death. So, as Georgiana continued on to describe the backstory that led to her inquiry, Callum was sure to keep silent, not wanting to foul the transition with his own words.

    Georgiana’s description of the strange dreams were in line with what Luminitsa had styled to him, though of course the detail was far clearer. In short order, the smile faded from Callum’s face, and he looked intently to his host. As she came to cease her explanation, he regarded his now empty salad plate for a moment, his fingers tapping idly on the fine hardwood table before opening his mouth to speak.

    “In any realm, be it supernatural or otherwise, knowledge is power,” Callum began, his eyes meeting Georgiana’s. “When it comes to the supernatural, most people know very little, and thusly have proportionately little influence when their lives brush against such a realm. This is why people seek out fortune tellers, participate in séances, and look for secrets amongst the stars; they want some insight, some power, within a world where they normally would have none.”

    Callum continued, his demeanor serious. “In the most basic of ways, my skills are related to this insight. My gifts allow me to see into the plane of the supernatural, and hence, interact with the beings that occupy it. I am medium, in a manner of speaking, except that instead of just communicating with spirits, I can influence their world. Sometimes more significantly than others; it truly just depends on the case.”

    “Your description of these dreams or visions that have accompanied you through life lead me to initially believe that one of two things are happening. Firstly, that you are experiencing memories, or transmuted emotions, from a restless soul that has somehow connected with you—most likely through proximity to an area or object that the spirit is tied to. And secondly…”

    Callum’s eyes narrowed slightly, and his mustache angled as his lips tightened. “…That your mind is telepathically connecting with that of another, and what you are seeing in your dreams is actually the present, as your counterpart is experiencing it. It could be via this connection, if your intuition is correct, that you are being sought after.”
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  19. Had she been what she tried so hard to appear to be, she might have scoffed at his claim. A medium, able to touch and influence the world of the spirits? But she wasn’t anything like what she looked was she? At heart she was still that wild little girl who spent almost half her life on the ship that brought her to her home. A dark-eyed little savage who spent the day chasing seagulls on the deck because her Mama was stiff and still in a box and her Nursemaid was seasick and didn’t speak the language of the men who worked the ship. She’d run wild with her brother and when they had landed in England they were feral little things, with knotted hair, compete with fleas. She remembered only bits of it, the feeling of a tarry deck under bare feet, for example. The rest she knew because she’d been told it, over and over again by the women who “raised her” and made her ashamed of what she had been.

    She couldn’t scoff at it because she had dreamed the dreams and known things she had no right knowing. Proof of such abilities rested within her, only she’d never done anything to cultivate hers, and this man before her, with his tight mouth and proper manner had. She felt so grateful just then that she was able to meet his eyes. She opened her mouth to tell him about the newspapers when the door that led to the kitchens opened and Barnsworth the elder trotted in and removed their salad plates, casting her a disapproving look from under his bushy eyebrows as he noted the lack of progress on her plate. Putting clean plates in front of them he busied himself serving them, the absence of the maid somewhat conspicuous.

    But Barnsworth was quick and he was discreet and in a matter of moments her plate was heaped with food she wasn’t likely to eat and her guest was also generously served. The butler bowed and left them to resume their conversation, the dark eyes of Ayushmati catching the light from the dining room for just a moment before the door closed. She’d not moved.

    When they were alone again Georgiana fortified herself with a sip of wine and lifted her fork as if she meant to eat only to put it down.

    “What would you say, Mr. Vaughn, if I told you that the last few dreams have been followed by newspaper accounts of Murders all over England? Would that help narrow it down for you what sort of thing we are dealing with?”

    The dreams she had never used to be this vivid. Before it had always been flashes and impressions, nothing concrete, but for some time now, they had grown clearer, longer, more detailed. She quailed to think about what it would be like if she saw the whole thing through. What would that do to her mind?

    She looked at Mr. Vaughn, hopeful for an answer, desperate for help because her prodigious control, control that had never failed her, was slipping.
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  20. Constance had hovered silently over the lovely young Georgiana where she sat in the library, the undulating tendrils of her ectoplasmic form shimmering with a soft light visible only to those like Callum, blessed (or cursed, as you will) with the vision for the uncanny. For those who could see, it might seem the young noblewoman bore a ghostly halo, or else the strangest of guardian angels kept watch overhead. Of course Constance caught the small, terse nod from her dear friend, expecting nothing more from him in way of acknowledgement of her warning concerning the state of the young noblewoman’s heart. Lady Westmoore had not been brought into their peculiar fold after all, introduced to the select inner circle of those initiated into the esoteric knowledge of the worlds beyond the merely mundane.

    But there was nothing mundane at all to be found as Callum revealed the poppy he’d preserved for Basil Westmoore, a seemingly humble gift of remembrance that was suddenly anything but to the ghost’s otherworldly senses. A whisper of a breeze seemed to gently tousle the soft tendrils of Georgiana’s dark hair, but even as Barnesworth moved to stop up any draft from the window, Constance knew something far greater had come visiting in Westmoore Manor.

    Constance’s eerily blue eyes closed in that strangely mortal way she had yet to let go, her heightened senses suddenly lost, rapt by a sudden, humid heat and the near suffocating impression of a deeply green darkness. She could almost feel the earthy peat beneath fingers she had not possessed for more than five decades now. Her head fallen back as her ethereal body floated toward the high ceiling, arms outstretched as she allowed the visions to flow through her. The piquancy of an unknown spice, fragrant and new to her entirely, wrapped her in a sensation that was strangely warm and… And oddly welcoming, and somehow?

    Somehow this uncanny sensation was also strangely familiar, though she could think of nothing in her unnaturally lengthened un-life to which she might compare these odd impressions. Intrigued beyond all measure, Constance did not follow after her friend and their prospective client as they left for the dining room, her gentle soul convinced Lady Westmoore meant Callum no harm in the least, no matter what failings might be laid at his feet after her brother’s tragic death. Instead she followed after Barnesworth – incidentally though, since that strange, supernatural zephyr seemed to follow him into the servants’ corridors tucked behind the walls.

    Such spaces were not unknown to Constance of course – she had come to know them very well during her mortal life at Fives Foxes, and better still after her death. But she swiftly discovered the servants’ tunnels of the Westmoore Manor were far vaster and stranger than any she had experienced before – almost labyrinthine truly, defying any true understanding of the patterns the household help were meant to follow. Blind ends and false walls, twists and turns that defied all logic, stairs that led to nothing, trap doors that bottomed out into small, cramped rooms not even equipped with the shelving needed to be proper root cellars.

    For no reason she could put her finger on, Constance was not so much intimidated by the corridors as she was intrigued, her thoughts turned to the child she had once been and the wondrous good time she’d have had here behind the walls of this strange manor. Barnesworth had long since disappeared - to the dining room, Constance could only assume – but she did not feel the least bit alone. Whatever had touched the Lady Westmoore in the library still lingered, the strangely heavy fragrance of thick, wet foliage and damp earth laden with spice and heat seeming to beckon her onward, wherever she might have stopped or lost her way.

    There was no fear in her heart – Constance was long dead after all, her mortal coil ensconced in the family mausoleum at Five Foxes. What more harm could ever come to her? And so she followed where she would, down into the bowls of the Westmoore Manor, where the cold and damp and dark might have discomfited any mere mortal who traveled so far. A strange, rhythmic thrumming seemed to well up from beneath, almost like a heartbeat of thunder the further she descended until she came to an ancient iron door, its bars long since rusted and broken away in places that would have allowed a slim man or woman, or perhaps a child, passage into the stone lined ways just beyond.

    The darkness meant nothing to Constance, who had no need for such mortal necessities as “light” by which to see. Her uncanny sight adjusted swiftly to the deep blackness, recognizing the sparkling crystalline forms about her for the rock walls of a cavern, the charcoal swaths above her head whispering of the passage of untold numbers of feet and torches. Her ghostly form undulated further down the corridor, the thunderous pounding louder still though that odd sensation beckoned her forward nonetheless, as if it had a mind of its own. A strange whisper of a notion came to her then that she recognized this pounding, that if she thought long and hard enough, she would remember, and know…

    Oh! Constance’s ethereal laughter burbled through the caverns, bounding along the tunnels she now realized had been carved by the relentless tides of the sea herself! She pulled up short though as her ethereal laughter seemed to catch fire, a swift shot of lightning along the cavern wall in a line that spiraled through the rock and disappeared. Her fingers lifted to her lips in surprise, yet another unconscious mortal gesture not yet lost to time or disuse. And then Constance laughed once more, watching the lightning-like patterns form all over again, and then singing the lines to a supernatural life as she traveled further and further into the caves.

    The sound of the sea crashing into the cliffs became near deafening, as loud as her heart might have once been if she’d clapped her hands tight over both ears and amplified even more as the tunnel before her opened into a great underground cavern. Black sea water lapped at the gravel shoreline, kissed the aged wooden bones of a long-abandoned dory rotting away in the salted sea water. The ghost peered about slowly, letting the tendrils of her unnatural knowing feel for the presence that had led her true this far, and finding it finally near the ribs of the rotting skiff. For a single brief moment, Constance though perhaps – just perhaps – she might have sensed the impression of a form, yet it was gone long before even her preternatural senses could make heads or tails of what she saw, disappearing into the gravelly shoreline as the greatest line of all suddenly lit a brilliant blue-white from beneath the dark sea waters, eastward and out to the open ocean itself.

    The ghost’s form knelt there on the cavern shore, her ethereal hands hovering lightly over the tiny water-beaten stones…

    Constance’s head tilted swiftly, the tiny form seeming to take shape beneath her fingers. It was… Well, it was a man-shaped form, perfectly in proportion but so very tiny! The ghost concentrated her impressive will to a fine pinpoint, setting aside stone after stone, uncovering…

    Why, it was a soldier! A child’s toy soldier of tin, the remnants of the scarlet paint that had once made up his uniform clinging precariously in spots where the sea water had not yet eaten away. He was a stalwart little being as well, his little musket still held at the ready in his wee hands – she could not help but smile at his seemingly eternal vigilance. Never once did it occur to Constance, there could be any kind of nonsensical coincidence at play here – she must see this piece to Callum, a piece of the puzzle that was the mystery within and beneath the singular Westmoore Manor.

    All the tendrils of the ghost returned to her then as the toy soldier seemingly lifted of its own accord from its rest on the black gravel shore, wrapped within the pale silver light of Constance as her energies coalesced into a singular ball of ectoplasm with only one purpose: to apparate at the location of the golden band she once wore in her life, a ring that once signified love and loyalty betrayed, but now graced the pinkie finger of the one man in this world who redeemed it all.

    Constance presence beside Callum in the great dining room would have been unnoticed by anyone who was not sitting right next to him, a burst of un-living cold wrapped about him like a shroud that slid away slowly, leaving only the single toy soldier suddenly materialized and at rest in the palm of the hand that wore the old golden ring.

    “This house has old bones Callum. Old and most unquiet.” She had no breath to catch anymore, but he could not have missed the genuine exhaustion in her disembodied voice, whispering softly in his ear. “Passages far beneath wind through the rock and stone foundations, hewn by the sea and leading to hidden tidal pools far below, ancient caverns large enough to have accommodated boats – I found the skeletal remains of one at least… “

    Constance quieted for some moments as the zephyr of her voice trailed off, regathering her strength to finish the report of all she’d found on her excursion. “And ley lines, my friend. Such ley lines! Embedded deep in the bedrock, a convergence of power beneath this very manor in the strangest configuration I have ever seen. From every direction Callum, every direction, they converge and form a spiral beneath us, not a few following the twisting of the sea caverns themselves. And the most powerful of them all? A line that is a veritable cable of supernatural energy, flowing westward from across the Channel itself!”
    #20 Muirgen, Sep 25, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2015
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