Author Topic: Blackchapel Beginnings  (Read 2678 times)

William Roberts

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Blackchapel Beginnings
« on: November 27, 2016, 09:23:59 PM »

That year the weather in Shadewell provided little precipitation so that the craggy grounds of the university looked bare and hostile. The dying, reddish-brown vegetation obscured few of the violent points and toothy ridges of the hillsides and furrows, and the university itself stood in sharp relief against a murky, almost ochre sky. The lack of rain likewise left the air hazy once the temperature cooled sufficiently that the servant class began burning peat to knock the chill from the evening. In turn, those the peat-burners served expected and received coal fires to warm them, which only added to the thickening of the dry, languid, choking air.

In one of the three-story buildings of the university, a middle-aged woman and a young man at the cusp of adulthood were speaking to one another with some passion. They occupied the always chilly office of Terrence Roberts, but that stolid professor of engineering and mathematics had absented himself for the duration of their talk.

“Your father wishes you to continue at school,” Elizabeth Roberts said to her son. Entering her forties, Mrs. Roberts remained a remarkably beautiful woman—not only in her features but in her impeccable balance between reserved poise and ingratiating charm. Indeed, her presence sufficed to enliven and make comfortable the professor's office more than did the slight heat emanating from the small iron floor grate. Her voluminous ebony hair had stayed thick and full and showed not a trace of gray, while her blue eyes and bemused smile (which always seemed ready to play across her full lips) froze women in envy and melted the hearts of men.

“My father?” young William said. He resembled his mother clearly, except in eye color, and, whereas her skin was porcelain, his was a shade duskier. More important than mere physicality, he had either inherited or learned his mother's ability to charm both a room or an individual. Like her, he knew how to make any person with whom he conversed feel he—or, more often, she—was the sole occupant of Will's highly desirable attention.


“My father.” Will's eyes searched Elizabeth's with meaningful intent.

His mother's face looked pained at the repeated question but then softened. Her son was the one person with the right to ask it. “Yes, the man whom you have always known as your father and whose surname you bear.” Her eyes, however, did not meet his as she glanced around the perfectly ordered office, organized for meticulous efficiency and concentration. On the imposing desk stood a jarful of pencils, each sharpened to the same length, save the one currently in use when the rightful occupant was here at work. That pencil was exactly parallel to the edge of the desk nearest the chair and precisely centered on the surface left to right, waiting at attention for its wielder to return.

“Mother...I have heard the rumors my whole life. Other children were never sparing, and most of my black eyes and bloody noses have been because...well, in foolhardy attempts to defend your honor against those stronger than myself.”

“I know that, Will.” She looked both sad and proud.

“Don't you think you should be honest with me? Don't I deserve that much?”

Today, at last the inevitable reckoning had come. She gazed down at her slender hands and tried to clear her throat. The attempt, however, caused her to cough, and she recovered from the paroxysm only after a moment.

“You should see a doctor, Mother.”

Elizabeth spoke through the handkerchief with which she had covered her mouth. “Tis only because everything is so dry. Once we have some rain, I'll breathe more easily.” The unanswered question hung in the air between them as much as did the choking haze that had crept through cracks and drafts indoors.

“I know how you are about the truth in all things,” she said finally. The recent cough brought out her voice's more sensuous tone. “It is the most naïve characteristic of my otherwise far-too-experienced boy.”

“My ardor for truth is a natural reaction, I think, to growing up in a house in which easy deceit has draped all the pretty furniture and other trappings of domesticity like a coat of perpetual dust.”

She paled, so that her ivory skin contrasted that much more with her black tresses. “You may not think him your father, but you have Terrence's knack for cutting to the core of the apple with a razored phrase.”

“I do?...I certainly hope so, as that is my aim in life, rather than wasting another year with my head buried in the books of pedants who could not, if their eternal salvation depended on it, write an interesting sentence.”

“You may find this truth you worship itself is rather dull.”

He spoke with the unselfconscious earnestness typical of most his age. “I don't care if it is, Mother. It's the only thing in this life that's real. It's the only thing worth spending one's limited time pursuing.”

She brought her handkerchief down. “A mother often hears of her son's pursuits, whatever they may be, truthful and pure. Or otherwise. And idolizing truth does not seem to be your only pastime.”

“What of that?” He knew immediately what she was getting at. “No woman who has shared my company”—he almost said his bed—“can complain that I have lied to her.”

His mother smiled with a bemused, doting sadness. “Is the truth really so easy to get at in your world, Will? To be sure of? I wonder whether Belle Chapman would attest to the truth of what you have said. Would Rachel Finney?”

“I cannot be blamed for—“

“I could go on, you know. A lady with my social connections knows much and keeps silent about most...until her speaking becomes necessary.”

Were it anyone but his mother, Will would have become enraged over having his treasured honesty challenged. Instead, he replied, “Regardless of what any of those girls might claim, my conscience is clear.”

“As is mine.” She stared at him.

“It is not your conscience I question. If a woman bore my son, I would not leave him in doubt and in thrall to a man who was nothing like him, but lorded over him and tried to make the child dance to his own out-of-key tune.”

Her mind seemed momentarily elsewhere, on something—or someone—else. “You might....If the mother wished her son to be brought up in a respectable manner, rather than be turned out as a bastard and herself publicly humiliated.”

“Is that my answer then?”

“That is what your god, the truth, would have caused to happen.”

He carelessly pushed the pencil out of its place and sent it rolling across the desk's surface. It plummeted, striking the unforgiving floor with a crack. “Instead the son was brought up in a manner and station not at all suited to him. Made to study numbers and other...abstractions.” He rose and strode to the window to stare out it into the stagnant smog hanging over Paridon. Terrence's office faced southwest, away from the coast. If the air had been clear, the Clock Tower might have been visible across the polluted Nodnal River. Will, however, looked blindly into the mist and thought only of the far reaches of the island city.

“Blackchapel, that's where I belong.”

“Blackchapel?” His mother said the word as though he told of an unfortunate accident that she hoped had not truly transpired. “Why?”

“Because I am no aristocrat. And I am no damned academic!”

Concern for her son distorted Elizabeth's comely face. “There are many other places besides the university that are hardly so...drastic as Blackchapel.”

“Do you know of a newspaper equal in its reputation to the Newsbill?”

She almost laughed. “Reputation! The Newsbill is a scandal-mongering rag! All those gruesome stories of Bloody Jack....”

“You said truth can be boring. It is also often sensational and scandalous. Just the way a paying audience prefers. Do you want me to tell you something scandalous, Mother?”

“I don't think I do.”

“One of the reasons I have been receiving such poor marks this year is I have already begun working in the field for the Newsbill. Selling papers, but also providing bits of copy. That has received some praise. So regardless of what my father—Terrence—wishes, I won't be returning next term.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment, collecting herself, and then sighed. “I know what it is like to have dreams of which one's parents do not approve. To have them smothered like an unloved infant in its cradle.”

He looked at her with his fullest sympathy.

“I shall relay your decision to my husband.”

Will put his hand over his mother's and employed his most affectionate smile to reassure her that he knew what he was doing. Although Elizabeth recognized the tactic (as she had long mastered it herself), she allowed it to work its magic upon her. She had never been able to refuse Will any of his heart's desires, even when she knew what cost indulging him would bring.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2016, 12:51:06 AM »

In Paridon, Will's early fate seemed to intertwine with that of the murderous Bloody Jack, which likely gestated his psychological fascination with gruesome crimes. He had no first-hand recollection of the serial killings of 742, transpiring a few months after his birth, but in Will's 14th year Bloody Jack struck for the 14th time—a serendipitous numerological coincidence that inflamed the adolescent mind of a highly imaginative adolescent boy.

Young Will could hardly wait to read the account each morning in the Newsbill of the ongoing investigation of all of Jack's repulsive acts, accompanied by the killer's chortling as he eluded capture to murder again and again. Events drove the sales of the paper to brisk heights so that as the demand for newsboys grew Will was able to begin his career of working without his parents' knowledge, the ink of his hawked folded wares rubbing off on his hands. In later years he wondered whether it had seeped through the skin of his palms and into his bloodstream.

At night in his often frigid bedroom he stayed awake writing everything he learned in his new moleskin notebook, trying to solve a puzzle that the first female Chief Constable of Paridon, Francine Maxwell, and all her detectives could not crack. Many of the events of the 755 spree remain a mystery to this day, but thanks to his obsessions and meticulous attention to little but significant details young Will came nearer to the truth in his various hypotheses than did most of the general Zherisian public.

Will Roberts also made another discovery: his tale-telling (and the fine melding of features he had from his mother and biological father) caused the hearts of many girls of his age to flutter...and even seek the shelter of his arm swooping protectively about them. His frightening stories may have provided these young ladies only an excuse to latch onto what they already wished would embrace them, but the fringe benefit pleased him and encouraged him to refine and augment his skills at making a woman's skin tingle and her pulse race.

Other males were not so appreciative. Already frequently pummeled in service to his mother's virtuous name, he now experienced further brawls from those not able to out-talk but rather out-punch him. Gradually, however, he came to at least dish out enough pain of his own before falling that not every street tough could box his ears with carefree insolence.

So the years passed until it was again time for the Bloody Jack cycle to begin anew. Nine years after Will left school to work for the Newsbill—and two years after the death of his beloved mother from tuberculosis, which his legal father labeled influenza from fear of social stigma—he was in a professional position to solve the mystery that eluded him in his boyhood.

Whereas many others in the city dreaded the day as it approached, Will marked his calendar with eager anticipation. Although his singular ambition made him more inhumane in his response than a less driven man might have been, Will rationalized that, were he to achieve his dream, this year would be the last in which Bloody Jack would ever prey upon the innocent.

Tragically, his mistaken over-confidence was to cost Will the life of his best friend, fellow reporter Emma Potts...and indirectly help set in motion his eventual exit from Paridon.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2016, 07:40:33 PM »

An informed verdict judging Will's single-minded conduct during the 15th Bloody Jack cycle requires a taking into account of Elizabeth's death two years' prior. The loss of his mother set Will adrift in a sea of grief for the first time in his life, not only battering him with self-doubt and tearing away the source of his highest, most noble feelings, but marooning him permanently (it seemed) in depression. For a time, he did not know or care what he would do next...beyond emptying bottle after bottle of “Mother's Ruin” (gin) down his throat until he sank into sweet, quiet oblivion. Words felt to him empty and his work worthless.

Emma Potts saw him through this desert-island period, providing Will with both an occasional shoulder to cry on and a pointed laced boot to his rear, depending on which part of her anatomy the situation necessitated she employ. Surprisingly, she had no romantic interest in Will and seemed the older sibling he never had: she knew a good investigator and writer when she saw one, however, and her father had a substantial investment in the Newsbill. Or at least that's how she explained her motivation; although, if truth be told, Emma had more altruistic compassion than she let on, as well as a professional belief in the betterment of journalism.

Whereas Will's chivalric behavior toward Emma elicited by his gratitude did not play on her own heart strings, her much younger sister observed him and swooned with the kind of unrequited infatuation only a 13-year-old girl can experience. Over the next five years, Will's frequent presence watered that infatuation, and dramatic events—including Emma's murder—fed its emotional power until Melody Potts' obsession blossomed like a carnivorous plant: she would wear the name “Mrs. William Roberts”...or else. In fact, she acquired her own moleskin notebook and imitated Will's habits, although she filled hers entirely with gushing love letters she imagined Will had written to her, along with ornate scrawls of what she hoped would soon be her matrimonial name. For ink she on occasion used her own blood.

One of the tools the perceptive Emma employed in stimulating Will from his year-long drunken lethargy was frequent references to the looming appearance of Bloody Jack. She recognized that, if anything could spark her colleague's spirit from its depressed doldrums, his compulsion to solve the difficult, macabre puzzle once and for all would.

The conversation they had on Memorial Day 767 was the most significant in the last year of Emma Potts' foreshortened life.

As they talked, Emma stood with her reddish blonde hair tucked neatly behind each ear and her freckled arms folded across her compact bosom. If the woman had any sensual appetites, they were impossible to discern as she was both thin from her total indifference to food, and she dressed in a conservative fashion unlikely to stimulate the male Id. She wore no makeup.

“I have reviewed all your notes and other materials from the 755 spree...and I have to say that sourced by a 14-year-old they are very impressive.”

Will smiled and struck a match for his pipe. “But you know, Em, Bloody Jack does not repeat his pattern. At least not in most ways. I'm not sure how helpful the history of 13 years ago will be to us when he returns this year. If he returns at all.”

“Hmm.” She rubbed her thumb and forefinger on each side of her small, delicate nose. “I see no reason to think he won't. One way or the other, we must be ready for him.”

“Indeed. My philosophy is the best defense is a good offense.”


“We don't wait for his random strike. We find some way to tempt Bloody Jack.”

She shook her head. “And how do we do that?”

“The key is his ego, methinks. The notes he sends indicate a certain smug though he believes no one is worthy of his challenge.”

“Oh?” Emma looked at Will's own brilliant expression, pleased to see that her colleague's imagination was excited, and the grief of the past year far from his mind. “You seem to know a lot about the over-weening male ego.”

He puffed unruffled. “Indeed, Miss Potts, I do. But don't pretend such naiveté with me. You've proved a consummate manipulator of it yourself.”

Her blue eyes sparkled as she nodded. “A woman succeed in this life. We have so many...disadvantages, you know.”

“Do you? Perhaps in more barbarous societies, but I almost think civilization is a female invention. Because once you put civilization in the balance, a man hardly stands a chance.”

She poured Will a wee bit of gin and herself a slightly larger serving. “Can we stick with the plainly uncivilized Mr. Bloody Jack?”

Will's face darkened. “Uncivilized indeed. It's no wonder so many of his victims are women.”

“Be that as it may, how do we use his uncivilized ego against him?”

Will swirled the gin in his glass, watching how the candlelight caused it to sparkle. Then he downed it with a smooth, easy motion. “We tempt him with a victim. A female victim.”
« Last Edit: December 05, 2016, 09:26:38 AM by William Roberts »

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2016, 06:32:57 PM »

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2016, 12:46:56 AM »
Hell Hath No Fury

The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.

At her funeral several of the mourners of Emma Potts would remark she was beautiful in the sense that the world had been a more attractive place for a time for her having been in its possession—her physical appearance but also her mind, which blended clear thinking and sincere expression with atypical kindness. Emma’s warmth and desire to become involved in the troubles of others did not suit most outlooks in Paridon society, so that the less charitable, learning of her brutal death, were to nod serenely and murmur something to the effect that their own view of things had been confirmed. It was not solely her and Will’s bold challenge to Bloody Jack they had in mind when they eventually sniffed and remarked that “in a way…Miss Potts had it coming.”

Regardless of this social argument that had more to do with class and virtues than aesthetics, Emma’s always unadorned face was hardly the sublime stuff immortal odes to beauty create in the average mind’s eye. Yet she had begun to inspire in Will a feeling that might lead to such a masterpiece of personal expression, given his romantic bent, talent with words, and predisposition to admire strong, intelligent women. Her death, however, was to be anything but lyrical.

One month to the day after publication of the challenge to Bloody Jack, Emma and Will were secretly observing Special Officer Matty Cratchitt on a patrol near the Black Church. It was well after midnight, and the air was frigid enough that the two subconsciously huddled together against it. Most women of Emma's age would have more than noticed the nearness of Will, the faint odor of his pipe smoke and clean-smelling aftershave, his fit body in its virile prime, his thick waves of jet-black hair.

Not Emma. Nor did the whispers of his unusually persuasive voice so close to her ear as he noted and relayed to her anything he observed as the two of them watched together distract her from her own focus on Matty and Matty's safety. Unlike Will, she kept silent because she had more a cat's single-minded approach to watchful waiting, whereas he pushed back boredom (and the chance, perhaps, of dozing off) by occasionally giving quiet expression to his thoughts. Some of them were wry and even silly, but Emma never cracked a smile as it seemed almost that her brain had diverted all its supply of oxygen away from areas nonessential to the moment (such as the portion containing her sense of humor).

Will looked at his pocket watch and announced with a yawn, “Almost 5 a.m. The sick bastard is going to stand us up again.”

Hearing the hour, Emma snapped out of her reverie. “It appears so. I guess we should tell Officer Cratchitt to go home and slip into a toasty bath. She's earned it.”

Will smirked. “Bath? She has a bed warmed by a handsome husband to slip into instead.”

Frowning, Emma finally released her gaze from Matty—who was idly rapping a small club against the side of her rather provocative by Zherisian standards uniform. “That's an odd quirk you have, Will. Whenever an attractive young lady comes up in our conversation, you seem to know her marital status. And even what her husband looks like.”

“Is that really so odd? I'm an eligible male in need of a good wife myself.” He paused for effect. “My job requires I be inquisitive. Why shouldn't I want to know who of my professional acquaintances might be available and...interested?” The way he said the last word seemed to make it a question all by itself.

She ignored whatever meaning he intended by that inflection and looked back at Matty. “You know, they shouldn't place women with families on such a dangerous assignment.”

“If it makes you feel any better, Matty's oven is yet to bake any buns.”

“Good. Special Officer Cratchitt appears to have escaped the night without danger anyhow. Bath or darling, she needs to go home to one of them.”

After Matty cheerfully went on her way out of Blackchapel, the two talked for another moment as the air started to lighten, although the fog kept visibility from improving too much. “Don't be impatient, Will. Jack has only three more months to begin his killing spree.” Emma patted his shoulder. “In the meantime, we've found plenty to report on and keep our circulation high and The Newsbill's readers in suspense.”

“True, Em, but for me this is about more than our circulation or even the accolades our writing has received.”

“I realize that.”

“I want to catch him. I want to make Blackchapel a safer place. I want—“

“Shh. Shh. Shh, my earnest boy.” She pushed some of his disheveled hair back off his forehead, then smiled. “How many times have you told me all that? Now go home and get some rest before you put yourself back in the state you were before I kicked your arse into gear.”

He looked down at her lace-up boot and rubbed his short beard as though her words were a literal reference to a past event. “Don't worry. No matter what happens I won't need that again.” He pretended to rub his backside. “Every time I sit down I'll always think of you.”

“I suggest you try lying down instead. You and I both shall have another long night ahead of us tomorrow.”

“No one's company I'd rather spend it with.”

She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. “Shoo.”

“Shouldn't I make sure you get home safely?”

“Doing so would be that much less sleep for you. Besides, I have a pistol that I know how to use, and we're now out of Blackchapel. Daylight is imminent.”

“Devil take you and your rationality,” he chuckled. He had to admit that Emma was a more dangerous shot than he was. They agreed on a time and place when they would meet again after napping, and Emma started toward her flat.

Her affluent father had secured for her one of the smartest small apartments in the city. Walking toward it briskly, she remembered that she would not be able to get much sleep after all, as it was her sister Melody's birthday. Melody had slept the night at her apartment based on the promise Emma would take her shopping. All day.

“Shadow and hell,” Emma muttered. She wanted nothing more than to wrap herself in her covers for a very long time.

“Well...hello there!” She froze at the unknown voice and the top-hatted stranger blocking the walkway before her.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2016, 05:26:30 PM »
Emma had never before been so frightened as she was now. As a small girl, she had gone with her family to Brighton for a beach stay and fallen into a hole among the large rocks. For several moments she had feared drowning as briny wave after briny wave crashed down on her, where she shivered already chest-deep in chilling water. She screamed and cried until eventually a similarly dark figure had blotted out the sun above her.

The old man—huffing, puffing, and cajoling—reached down and pulled her out of the crevice, but at the time she remembered being terrified of him because he blocked the only light source she had. That was her most horrifying memory until now, and it came back to her as she stared at this stranger who she could guess only too well the identity of. He was not here to rescue her.

“What's the matter, Miss Potts? Jack got your tongue?”


“He soon will have...between his teeth.”

She could see his face now, and it leered at her with a hunger that seemed borne of multiple appetites. “Don't come any closer. I'm armed.”

“Of course you are. You boasted as much, didn't you? Did you really think I would go after your bait rather than after the sweet trap that set it out? And (my), but what a dainty morsel you are.” He clucked between white, pointed canines.

Despite her command, he was closing the gap between them, unhurriedly but steadily. “You don't sport scrumptious drumsticks such as Special Officer Cratchitt has, but I've always been a kidney man myself.” He crackled with furious howls at his own black humor.

Her shaking hand reached for her pistol, but whereas she had felt confident in Will's company, she was much less sure of herself now. How many women through the decades of the cycle had faced Bloody Jack? How could she alone hope to overcome an evil who had survived centuries?

“You're not laughing? Oh well. Some dark night poor old Jack is sure to meet the woman who appreciates his rapier wit.”

She raised the firearm and pointed. “Stop! Now! I'd just as soon take you in dead as alive, you know.”

Jack nodded almost reassuringly. “I intend to grant you the pleasure of 'taking me in,' my dear. All in good time. I prefer my lovers passive—not so 'spunky' as you. Dead, in fact....Even though it means I must do all the work! Hee-hee-hee!”

At last she found her nerve and steadied the pistol at the center of Jack's chest. She squeezed the trigger. Click.

“Unlucky with guns, lucky at love,” his wolfish grin grew more cavernous. “Isn't that how the saying goes?” From beneath his cloak he bared a cruel-looking butcher's knife that he had sharpened to an edge worthy of a medical instrument.

Rapidly Emma pulled the trigger again and again without effect, and then Jack was upon her. She turned to flee at the last moment, but he hurtled into her and thrust her with inhuman force to the ground. Her gloved hands ached painfully as they slowed her fall enough that when her delicate face followed it was spared the worst of the crunching impact. The useless pistol skittered away into the fog.

Jack's knee ground into her back between her shoulders until the pressure forced her torso so tightly against the cobblestones it was difficult to breathe and impossible to scream. Then she felt a tightness in her neck that began to burn with ungodly pain. Jack's knife was sawing into her flesh. His other hand gripped her hair ever more tightly and used it to pull her head back so as to expose her vulnerable throat to the merciless blade. He intended to decapitate Emma.

She could no longer hear Jack's triumphant, evil cackles, although they were as near to her ear as Will's endearments had recently been, near enough that she could feel the venomous breath that accompanied them. She summoned the strength of her mind to protect itself from the evil sensations happening to her body because she did not want to pass away while consumed with so much pain and despair.

Instead, one final thought passed through her consciousness. She realized that despite her manner and reluctance to transform their friendship into anything more romantic, she had loved Will. She was not ready to trade the life she had for what being Mrs. William Roberts might have been, but she had hoped and believed that there would be enough time to have both. That she had loved him, however, she could not doubt. Why else in this moment of her supreme agony did his face appear before her—the single relic of her life to give her comfort as she faded into eternal oblivion?

A syllable, a name, gurgled between her lips, and Emma died.

Not so very far away either in distance or time, the bright eyes of Melody Potts flashed open. The rays from the rising sun were stealing across the floor of Emma's apartment to reach the bed where the young girl had been sleeping. Melody smiled as she looked about the still empty chambers. It was Melody's birthday, and her sister had not returned. That made her certain that Emma had provided her with the best present of all.

Reaching under her pillow, she retrieved the six metal cartridges hidden there. She rolled them in her small, manicured hand and purred.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2017, 04:19:39 PM »
Will's drab but functional flat bore scant resemblance to the cheerful apartment in which until that morning Emma had lived. He owned a stand-up writing desk, several bookcases, and a single oil lamp. In the bottom drawer of the writing desk he kept a bottle of whiskey with two shot glasses. In one corner of his room was an out-of-place handsome wardrobe that had once belonged to his mother. Piled everywhere were various paper articles, including his moleskin notebooks, copies of The Newsbill, and scads of printed books. The lodging house had a common bathroom down the hall, and so Will's bed stood in the last corner of the room, next to a table with a washbasin and pitcher underneath which was a a chamber pot. Though not large, this bed was the only article of furniture capable of accommodating a guest as Will owned not a single chair.

The room reeked of pipe smoke and general maleness. Will was sprawled across the bed in slumber, still wearing his clothes from the patrol the previous night, when an indecisive rap sounded on his door.

“What...what...who's there?”


As Will's mind awoke to feel itself once more taking possession of his body and limbs, it thought the feminine voice answering familiar. It seemed to belong to that person of late he considered last before sleeping and first upon waking. “Dammit. Did I oversleep, Em?” He pulled the pocket watch from his vest and tried to make his eyes focus. It was approximately a quarter past eight.

“'s Melody. Melody Potts.”

Will frowned and pushed the watch back into its place as he rolled off the bed. He was not ignorant of Melody's dangerous affections toward him. If he were still younger and more foolish himself, he might overlook her youth—what was she, 15?

Wait. Em had said today was her sister's 16th birthday.

A year older did not matter, however, because the last sort of trouble Will needed was a dalliance with Emma's sister and the too-young daughter of Jacob Potts, whose fortune more or less provided Will with his livelihood. He fished for his pipe and tobacco pouch while stepping toward the room's entrance.

“Miss Potts, what are you doing out alone at such an early hour?” he said through the door, filling the bowl and resigning himself to having to draw back the bolt.

“Is Emma in there with you?”

Will looked back to his bed, already pretty sure of the answer to that question but wanting to make certain the two of them, Emma and he, had not, after all, made a drunken night of it. He would not have forgotten that. Then he opened the door. “See for yourself, young lady.”

Melody's cat-like eyes gleamed the moment they could set upon Will, but she manipulated her expression quickly into one of worry and concern for her sister's welfare. “She didn't come home last night.”


Melody hated the way his face and voice changed, losing all their jocularity and transforming into as near panic as she had ever seen in him. “I stayed up all night waiting for her. Couldn't sleep a wink, I couldn't. This morning...still no Emma. Oh, Will!”

While Melody spoke, Will was yanking his jacket off the hook nearest his bed and quickly wrapping his throat with his scarf. “We must go looking for her then.”

“You don't think?” Melody let her mouth hang open and her lower lip trembled.

“No! When we parted this morning, it was too late for Jack to strike, and the beast generally keeps his violence to Blackchapel.”

She nodded, trying to make as much eye contact with the distraught Will as possible.

He ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “Of course he's not the only threat roaming the streets of Paridon.”

“But my sister had her pistol with her!” Melody clutched Will's elbow in a comforting gesture that provided her with the excuse of physical contact.

“Yes. That's right. But we've no time to spare on theories.” He ushered her out and locked the door behind them. They set out to retrace the route Emma would have been expected to take the previous evening. A little more than three hours had past since Will and she parted.

South of Fleet Street almost to the Blackfriar Bridge, they spotted Emma's discarded pistol near a grungy alley. Will turned the corner to look into the alley's shadows. So much gore drenched the cobblestones at the rear that the damp time since Emma's murder had proved insufficient to drying all the blood.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2017, 06:13:59 PM »
Although Will was distraught, what The Newsbill implied, that he was incapable of functioning, was a lie resulting from the staff writer's choosing armchair cliché over investigation. Emma's death was the second time in only three years Will saw himself—in not preserving a woman he loved from harm—a failure as a man. Once more he experienced the discordance of knowing that the essential note was silenced from the rhythm of his life, forever hopelessly beyond his hearing. As with his mother, he would never listen to Emma's voice again, touch even her hand, or have her face to look upon and return the smile betwixt two like-minded hearts that had bridged the gap of human loneliness.

Emma still visited in his sleep, but rationally he knew that apparition likely to be his own wish fulfillment and at best the small part of her he had ever understood. The entirety of her would for the rest of his own life remain an undiscovered country.

Although he had failed to protect her, he would not fail her admonition, repeated now in his dream. Whereas his mother's death had kicked his legs from under him, leaving him something like a paralyzed cripple, he had not forgotten the strong cure Emma had provided. He had her memory at least, as poor a substitute as that was for the ever-changing delight she had been in life. He could still remember, for example, how she had wound her hair to secure it under her hat before going out and sometimes unwound it just to provide him the pleasure of seeing her secret struggles and frustration as her tresses refused to behave and conform to her resolution. At such times, she returned his grinning beam with a tolerating frown because she knew that a portion of his love—all love—was a delight in the faults of one's beloved. If she had been ashamed with him, afraid to reveal her own innumerable weaknesses, then how could he have endured the perfection of her presence, when she had seen him at his own miserable worst?

Respect for Emma's memory would not, in conflict with the news report, tolerate his wallowing in grief. Nor would he turn as of old to the bottle. More than anything else, the part of Emma Potts that persisted in Will was the absolute conviction one must do something.

Jacob Potts, however, although willing to risk the lives of Matty Cratchitt and the other special officers in a trade for boosted circulation and the sensation of his paper seeming a champion of Paridon against the scourge of Bloody Jack, was not so convicted. The loss of the crown jewel of his family left him more miserly of what treasures he still possessed. He particularly wished to protect his remaining child, Melody.

Mr. Potts also blamed Will for Emma's death, an accusation Will accepted without rebuttal. The father had never approved of the daughter's relationship with a man whom he saw as beneath her as well as something of a scoundrel. Nonetheless, he knew Emma was too strong-willed to obey his commands, no matter what thunderous threats accompanied them. Rather than risk estrangement from his heir, he had tolerated what she assured him would never become a romantic involvement. Emma did love her charity cases, after all.

Now, with Emma dead, Will was the ambitious bounder who had encouraged his daughter's worst pipe dreams and fondness for fairy tales into disastrous tragedy. The younger man in the old man's presence invoked alternating waves of grief and rage.

As for Bloody Jack, no further examples of his handiwork occurred for several days, causing Paridoners to wonder whether Emma's murder had been part of the ritual cycle after all. Perhaps, they conjectured, he (or even some mad man believing himself to be Jack) had decided to kill the misguided idealist simply in reprisal of The Newsbill provocations.

Melody Potts, in contrast, kept busy. Her father was holding tight reins on her, now, especially in regard to Mr. Roberts, and, as a minor, she had less choice about complying than had the more mature and straightforwardly forceful Emma. What Emma would have accomplished directly, Melody preferred to achieve using subterfuge. Consequently, one week after her sister's demise, Melody had a courier deliver the following note to Will's desk at The Newsbill:

Sweet William,

Please bring your long-missed self to our house in Shadewell tomorrow evening. My unreasonable father will be out on business, and I have something of Emma's I'm sure will interest you. She would want you to have it, Will. I found it in her apartment the day after she died.

Your obedient servant,


She doused the letter's envelope with the most bewitching perfume she possessed.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2017, 06:21:21 PM »
Will Roberts arrived by hansom cab on the appointed evening at Potts Manor. The misgivings of visiting the family estate and Melody without Jacob’s approval could not sway Will against the fortune of obtaining some personal artifact of Emma’s when he was starved to near madness for her company. He longed for her so that, were she yet alive to summon him to Castle Ravenloft itself, he would brave Strahd and all the Count’s minions in hopes of embracing her.

“Please…don’t let me forget!” was his constant mantra against the fear that the little he had left of her would slip through his memory’s frail fingers.

A manservant brought Will to the conservatory, which, because of the season, was quite cool that evening. Melody had directed that their assignation take place in this natural setting, however, and instructed the preparation of a table with a suitable dinner of mutton stew, cheese, and biscuits. The wine would be a special vintage that she had uncorked herself.

Before joining him, she made her face and body up to look more mature than her now 16 years, consciously trying to mimic her late sister in appearance, although Melody was a fully endowed woman, whereas Emma had been of modest proportions. Even so, Melody decided to flaunt her superior décolletage and call attention to it through her choice of a revealing garment and sparkling choker.

Will stood by the table waiting, the dishes still covered, when she swept into the room. Any objective appraisal must conclude that Melody had conventional beauty in abundance, more, in fact, than the woman whom in death Will yet loved. Even so, had Emma been beside Melody, Will’s eyes would have affixed to the former to the latter’s neglect. Emma was not, however, at Melody’s side, and all Will could see in the feminine figure approaching him were the traces of a person whose light once caused him to flourish and without which he had been cast into (almost) utter darkness.

“Miss Potts…”—had she dressed as modestly at Em would have, Will might not have even called her by the correct name, so unsettled was he by the new resemblance—“you look very beautiful this evening.”

Will’s words were like a poker to the flame that burned in the fireplace of Melody’s heart. In the conservatory’s dim light, it almost seemed as though sparks might fly from her gleaming eyes. “I’m glad you find me so, Will. Perhaps you will do the honors of serving our dinner?”

He noticed the place settings for the first time. “I’d not intended—”

“We shall be without a servant as I’ve instructed they are to leave us alone. And we have sufficient time to eat without any danger of my father’s interrupting us.”

He looked back from the sumptuous table to Melody. “I appreciate all the preparation you’ve made, Miss Potts, but I can’t say that I’m in a sociable mood. I’m afraid you wouldn’t enjoy my dreary company.”

“Oh do let me be the judge of that, Will! I’ve suffered a tremendous loss, too, you know. I miss my sister dreadfully.”

“You do?”

“Quite so. I was thinking, in fact, that you and I are both in the same way, as it were.” She started pouring the wine into their respective glasses.

“If you are in anything like the way I am, I do feel sorry for you, Miss Potts.”

She nodded. “That’s why we need to talk together. Because no one else misses Em to the extent the two of us do.”

He took the glass she handed him. “What about your father? I know that—“

“He doesn’t let his feelings show. Nor does he want me talking to him about mine. He has the Zherisian way of keeping everything staunched up inside. You and I aren’t like that, Will.”

He nodded and sipped the wine. “Supposedly, I have some Vistani blood. It causes me to feel more deeply than I would like.”

She enjoyed watching him drink. “Me too! Not the Vistani blood part, but I have such strong passions.”

Looking at her over his goblet, he reminded himself how young she truly was, despite her current sensual appearance. “Miss Potts…you are not old enough to be hosting an unattached man, alone, like this. Now, about that item of Emma’s.”

“Do call me Melody, Will. I give you my permission.” She laughed and smiled in a way she knew was gratifying to look upon, as she had practiced it many times in the mirror and on other young men in whom she had no real interest.

The wine seemed to hit harder in its effects than the whiskey Will customarily drank, and his emotional reserves were already at an ebb when he first arrived. He felt the desire to be sociable brought on by alcohol rising within him. The informality of Melody’s hand now stroking the top of his failed to register…only how soothing her touch felt.

“Oh yes. About that.” She stopped caressing his fingers long enough to rub her hand across her lips and then refill his glass. “Did you know that Emma kept a diary?”

Had he known that? “Most reporters do. It aids our memory, and well, we just like to practice our writing.”

“I found Emma’s.” She barely paused before continuing: “Do you want me to show it to you?”

He tried with difficulty to focus on the question. “I don’t know…that seems too personal, too private…for us to look at. Without her.”

His reporter’s curiosity and inconsolable grief that desired any contact with the absent Emma warred with his respect for the wishes of a woman he knew would never have wanted her journal violated. She had trusted him with so many of her vulnerabilities and insecurities that no one else would ever be privy to, but she had not allowed him this.

“Well…someone has to go through it and make use of it. Clearly, she intended it as a memoir.” Melody seemed to be speaking with a new sense of authority—another mannerism she was borrowing from her older sister.

“A memoir? How can you tell?”

“When you read it, you’ll see….You owe it to her, Will. Only you can give it the proper reverence it deserves and bring Emma’s story to life.” She resumed stroking his hand, her voice sounding hypnotic, seductive, in his ears.

“I don’t know, Em…I mean, Melody.” Why had he said that?

“Just read it. If afterward you think it should be destroyed, then that’s what we’ll do. Together.”

She slid a clasped and locked volume across the table, and Will, looking at the leather binding and sensing it contained something deeply personal of Emma within it, was certain what he would decide. He would not be able to resist this chance of discovering her thoughts anew, of hearing her voice—if only imagined—expressing herself to him.

Melody placed a key atop the book. “It’s yours. Take it. She wants you to have it.”

Seeing his last glimmers of hesitation, she added, “But first…finish your wine.”

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2017, 05:20:47 PM »
Melody Potts wiped her red, full-lipped mouth of the last of the savory mutton stew, rose from her cane back chair, stepped nimbly over Will’s prone form where it had collapsed to the conservatory floor, and opened the external door to the night. Cool air knifed in, and a hooded man slinked in with it. On his monkish robes he wore the symbol of a pale, sexless humanoid inscribed within a square within a circle; for the man was not a man at all, but a member of a secret sect of doppelgangers.

Not coincidentally, almost everything about the Melody Potts who wordlessly greeted the visitor was a lie, including her purported birthday and that she was the sister of the murdered Emma. Once upon a time, Emma did have a younger sister named Melody, but that sad child of weak constitution had perished, to be replaced by this far stronger in every way creature (who removed bullets from guns and served drugged wine to dinner guests). Neither was “Melody” another doppelganger, common as such were in Paridon, but a far rarer and—in Melody’s case—more insidious being.

The newcomer flopped his gray hood back so that he could, with satisfaction, inspect Will. During the Paridon day, the doppelganger’s imago (human identity) was that of Edgar Byron, rare bookseller.

Behind Edgar, Melody murmured, “I wonder whether this human will really be of any use to the Grandmaster. I see little evidence of potential.”

“Tis not for someone such as you to decide.”

“He would make a better plaything for me,” she pouted. “He’s already in his late 20s and hasn’t shown the arcane abilities the Society expects he has.”

“His powers have not yet stirred,” Edgar said, “because he scoffs at the arcane and seems only to want to report on the doings of others, rather than accomplish anything himself. But I think we’ve found the right lever to motivate him.” He nodded toward Emma’s book, which, even in falling, Will had drawn to him so that it had never left his grasp.

Melody frowned in the dim light and closed the door. “No doubt. He was such a sop for my sister. What he saw in her, I’ll never understand.”

Edgar observed the teenager for a moment. “I could almost think you really feel the jealousy you put on. But then I remember that your kind is incapable of feeling anything. Jealousy or love, either.”

“Perhaps I’m not like others of my kind. Are there so many of us for you to generalize?” Her eyes played over Will’s physique, and she purred as she had when she first knew her sister dead.

Edgar dismissed her. “Your question does not matter. Although, if you were to evidence feelings, that would be an interesting alchemical development we would need to study. You would likely wind up on the Eye of Eternity’s dissection table.”

“Pity…right when I’m coming into bloom.” She placed her hands just under her full breasts, ran them down over her curved flanks, and paused with one at the pinnacle of each of her rounded hips. She could not be certain what effect her sultry motions would have on a doppelganger, but she knew the power of her growing charms on sexually repressed Paridon men. She hoped to at least make Edgar feel not so detached and superior to her. “Don’t you find my anatomy more pleasing as it is—in one piece?”

“Of course I am proud of that physical near perfection. I brewed it, did I not? Not bad for a woman born in a vat full of goo.” His tone was by turns jocular and detached, but she observed that his gaze lingered on her in a not completely analytical way. Doppelgangers did mate with humans after all.

“But you are not human.” Edgar had read her thoughts and now smiled at her with the intellectual smugness she despised. “Going back to Mr. Roberts here”—Edgar looked away from her—“between his foolish romantic sentimentality and the geas he will incur as he gradually reads the grimoire, he will at least attempt what the Grandmaster desires.”

“Attempt. But does he have the ability to succeed?”

“More than the late Emma Potts. That was our original intent when we inserted you into the Potts family. For you to groom and influence her toward our goal. With her wealth and connections—an entire newspaper staff of reporters at her disposal—she would have been ideal. But then she took on Mr. Roberts as a mission of some kind of mercy. And…” He shook his head ruefully.

“And what?”

“Well, this whole Bloody Jack thing. That kind of effrontery simply can’t be ignored by the Master.”

She sneered. “The Master let pride get the best of him.”

“A Grandmaster has a position, not just pride, to maintain. You are far too young (and simple) to understand that. But in any case, William Roberts made Emma superfluous, expendable. We did not need two of them.”

“Why not kill him instead, then? Or leave him to me!”

 “We would certainly have had to kill him because—regardless of your misguided opinion of your own sexual allure—he would have gone traipsing after Emma all the way to Port-a-Lucine. Particularly if he felt Emma needed his protection. Despite his well-earned reputation as a philanderer, he was—as you yourself said—a sop for her. You would not have even slowed the man down.”

“Fair enough.” Perhaps her kind could neither love nor feel jealousy, but Melody was certain at that moment she could hate, for she hated her creator.

“We chose the one-quarter Vistani arcanist male as more likely to succeed than the too-good-for-her-own-good gentle scrap of a Paridon heiress investigator.” He was weighing a balance in his mind’s eye. “Oh, and just to make it clear, I enjoy murdering for the Master more when I do a woman.”

“That’s very clear…by the enthusiasm you put into it.”

“If it had been Mr. Roberts, I would have done nothing more than slit his throat with my straight razor. Left him alone afterward, too.” Edgar walked back to the door. “So far, you have performed superbly, and I shall have nothing but good to report of you. Which also reflects well on me. All that remains is for him to read the book.”

She nodded. “There wouldn’t be any harm in my having a little fun with him, in the meantime, would there? A little slap and tickle?”

“Whatever you can accomplish in that area is your own business,” he shrugged. “You are not the woman to cure him of his devotion to Emma, and that’s all we really care about. Such a transferal of his affection might weaken the book’s geas and cause him to delay fulfilling it.”

“Why? You don’t think I can be the kind of woman to him Emma was? I can be any kind of woman at all, even strong and in need of protection at the same time!”

“You can play at it, my dear, but do remember that I know you…what you are. Given time, Mr. Roberts shall figure it out as well.” And with that, Edgar replaced his hood and slipped away like a cat in fog.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #10 on: January 06, 2017, 01:09:51 PM »
William was aware of darkness, the labored breathing of a beast, and a steady, rhythmic rocking. He fluttered his eyes and was back in the hansom cab. He was conscious of something flowing in his veins, something he could describe only as a heat that felt...purple or violet. How one could feel a color, he could not answer, but his other sensation was more readily explicable: he had a prickly pain at his throat, and when he put his fingers there discovered something that stung like an infected insect bite.

God, he hoped he had not been too much of an ass with Melody. Here he had sworn not to tame his grief with the bottle and then drunk himself into oblivion the first time he touched a glass of wine. Had he tried to make love to her? He could not remember, but he doubted it or Jacob Potts would almost certainly have caught them in flagrante delicto, and Will would not be residing in such a peaceable and comfortable cab afterward.

Poor Melody. Although something was not quite right about the young girl—she did not seem to mourn her sister properly, for one—he considered both her age and her sheltered upbringing. He ought not judge her or make unfavorable comparisons between her and Emma. Perhaps when Em was 16 she had been similarly...what was the correct phrase? Emotionally superficial. It was as though Melody physically showed all the symptoms of a great depth of feeling and possessed a nonesuch vessel capable of communicating it, but she lacked the fertile soil for any of her momentary passions to take root and grow into anything substantial. It dawned on him then that many of his youthful dalliances had accused him of the same hot-and-cold remoteness.

He had not observed Jacob Potts overmuch in the role of father, but Terrence Roberts had never modeled emotional attachment, remaining always aloof and critical instead. Will could imagine the two Zherisians of (somewhat) similar respectable position and stature as conducting themselves alike in their familial relations. Well, one's parents cannot provide one with everything forever—not even an always ready excuse. How many times had Em told him that?

Em. What was it about Em? Something important.

He searched around in the seat, and, by God, it was there: Em's book. He could feel the contours of its leather cover and then the metal hasp. Had he lost the key? If he had, he would have to break the lock from it by violence, devil take him. The purple feeling throbbed in his temples, and he was impatient to arrive at some lighted place where he could peruse the book in privacy.

He drew back the cab's flimsy curtain that smelled of stale human breath to discover that they were nearing his boarding house. Melody must have arranged for his transportation and given the driver the address. He credited the girl with being so mature and thoughtful in dealing with his dissipation and hoped she was likewise empathetic to its cause.

He felt in his pocket for some currency in case Melody had not paid for his conveyance. The journal's key was there among his bank notes. That was of some relief to him: Em had experienced enough violence at the end of her life—violence for which he held himself keenly responsible—that he wished not to inflict the smallest of injury to her now. He knew how he felt about his own journals, and his sensitivities toward this precious remnant of Em were sharper than that. Again he caressed the leather, and the grain seemed almost to warm to his touch as though something of Em that could respond to him still lived within it.

The small carriage stopped. “Well, sir, this be where I'm leavin' ya,” the driver's voice sounded from above. “Miss Potts done took care of ye, so no worries on 'at score.”

Moments later, Will opened the door into his flat and struck a long match to give fire to his lamp. The furnishings and other surroundings then revealed could not have contrasted more in their inferiority to the aristocratic environment he had left behind at the Potts Estate, but Will did not stop to consider his current economic station. He could wait to begin reading no longer, barely closing the door before placing the book on his writing desk near where the flickering flame of light contended with the pervasive darkness. He took the key out of his trousers and inserted it with tenderness into the waiting, receptive lock. Whatever secrets of Em's contained within he would be the guardian of and allow them to—as she had in life—make him a better man by knowing.

When the key filled the lock and began to work the mechanism open, Will felt an overwhelming sense of deliverance. The purple agony in his temples passed away, and a calming tide coursed throughout his body. For the first time since Em's death, he lost all the anger and sorrow consuming him, as though their virulent poison ran down his arm into the key and drained away.

He gently separated the leaves of the released book to expose the bounty its outward leather had hidden from him. There was Em's familiar handwriting: Notes of an Investigation into the Organizing of Paridon's Doppelganger Society. Below that, her byline and signature.

Will was both relieved and disappointed. Melody was right that this was Em's work, rather than a more personal account—one that would have provided him with greater insight into her soul. The consolation was that he now felt less like a ravisher of a sanctum that she had not consented to share.

Instead, his air while standing before his desk was that of a starving man finally arriving at a banquet table. He began, hungrily, to read.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2017, 12:05:10 PM »
Notes of an Investigation into the Organizing of Paridon's Doppelganger Society

by Emma Potts

Senior Reporter for The Newsbill

Dedication: To my father and mother in hopes my work has made them proud

They dwell among us.

For more than twenty years the good people of Paridon have known that another form of life shares our city, working in, defending, and contributing to it. This is an astonishing, wondrous fact, yet because of fear and misunderstanding, little reconciliation has been attempted between humans and doppelgangers, as we unjustly call them.

I prefer to use the term “glamers”—which references an amazing ability they possess. To my mind, “doppelganger” is pejorative, as it implies they are only doubles of humans when, as my investigation has proved, glamers are a highly advanced form of life, in many ways superior to our own. I hope, in fact, that my report will help lead to cooperation between the two races because all of us can learn from one another. I do not, however, wish to seem precious, and so for my reader's sake I shall rely occasionally on the current vernacular to avoid sacrificing clarity.

Much of the present volume is a work in progress, a preliminary attempt to compile all my research (jottings, really) into a publishable and readable form. I have not yet found all the answers to all my questions about these amazing beings, but I think it critical that what I have learned be transmitted to deeper thinkers than I as quickly as possible. The sooner we humans begin to lose our prejudices against our glamer brothers and sisters, the more quickly we can achieve justice and reconciliation.

Although it is true glamers have been the cause of some human deaths, is it not also true we have killed many of them? I have found that only a tiny fraction of the species truly wishes to cause us harm, but unfortunately we help keep such dread leaders in power by radicalizing moderate doppelgangers, instead of embracing them and their diversity. Paridon is a large metropolis in which all of us can live in peace and through our joint efforts rebuild it to its former glory.

Glamers need us as they are incapable of reproducing on their own, but we need glamers too! It may well surprise my readers to learn that, for example, glamer alchemy is far more advanced than Zherisian and many of the breakthroughs we take credit for were actually the product of glamer ingenuity. More on that anon, as this is the part of my research most promising but also furthest from being finished.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2017, 04:58:46 PM »
Emma's Notes (cont.)

Page 21

Byron's Rare Book Shoppe (at the corner of Coventry Street and Dorset Lane) has proved invaluable to me in procuring the materials for this present endeavor. Not only is the firm's collection of obscure literature manifestly unique, but the proprietor is a most helpful and solicitous gentleman. He has been especially kind upon discovering my interest and time and again pointed me in the right direction when I have been stymied how to advance. Oddly enough, I learned of his shop thanks to Melody, and I can scarcely recall my sister ever holding a book in her hands.

Blind fortune has doubly smiled on me then that I have made both the acquaintance of Mr. Byron and his wares.

In particular a volume he provided led to my most felicitous discovery: that Glamers—note to self: in revising this journal for publication, I should ensure I have respectfully capitalized the term throughout—have a belief system very similar to our own Divinity of Mankind. Not being human, they call their own faith the Divinity of Masters. If there were any doubt that we can have reconciliation among our two species, that should settle the issue.

I find it poetic and beautiful that both humans and Glamers strive toward the same aspirations, although their cosmological search must perforce travel different paths. How can we humans consider an entire race evil when its spiritual goals are so much like our own?

As humans, we recoil at the Divinity of Masters' central tenet that Glamers are the superior species, but that is simply our own humancentric arrogance. Rather, so much is alike between Glamers and humans that the intersection of the two races is most nearly where truth and divinity actually reside. Both creeds aim for self-improvement and the overcoming of vices such as laziness. And, if we humans were honest with ourselves, aren't abilities such as telepathy and glaming improvements over what we are capable of?

Glamers are not completely and in every way superior to us—such as in their struggle to reproduce with their own kind, whereas we are quite fecund—but we ought not be smug from some sense of moral superiority, that is certain. Mr. Byron has related several tales and legends he has read about that reflect favorably on the values inherent to Glamers.

He also informs me that the founder of the Divinity of Masters went away to Port-a-Lucine (in Dementlieu) several years ago but is still believed alive. Oh, how I would cherish an audience with him! What a fascinating interview that would be!
« Last Edit: January 08, 2017, 05:03:06 PM by William Roberts »

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2017, 11:33:22 PM »
Melody Potts
Spoiler: show

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Chapter 3: Of Glamers in the Flesh
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2017, 05:01:59 PM »
Emma's Notes (cont.)

A true reporter cannot rely on secondary research and the previous labor of others. She must be willing to dirty her own hands. I hope it comes as no shock to anyone reading my account that I have not confined my studies of Glamers to the rare books of Mr. Byron’s shop.

No, the kindly gentleman and I eventually had the following conversation that I have reconstructed as accurately as I can from memory and the notes I committed immediately after engaging in it. (Note to self: in the final manuscript, I wonder whether it would be too informal and precious to mention how Mr. Byron insisted I refer to him as “Uncle Edgar.”Although the endearment may convey some sense of his charm, it may also give readers the impression my objectivity has been compromised.)

The conversation took place one afternoon when I was returning to him two precious monographs that had impassioned all the more my sympathy for the Glamer condition.

B: No doubt, Miss Potts, after having learned so much, you must conclude that some of the people you associate with in your daily life are in point of fact Doppelgangers. A dear friend of yours, a childhood chum, may well be a Doppelganger.

P: Yes, I am certain of it.

B: But you go about unaware of who they are and thus cannot learn what it is like to experience the world from their view. You have only these human accounts to guide you. [He gestured to the two monographs at this point.]

P: Those opened my eyes, I must confess. But many others have been ignorant, bigoted, and prejudiced.

B: Because of their telepathy, Doppelgangers swim in both streams, as it were. It would be much easier for a Doppelganger to write the work of reconciliation you contemplate than it shall be for you. Who knows? It may already exist!

P: Oh, but we humans would never believe or trust something (in our blindness) we would see as self-serving.

B: [He paused a bit here and seemed to be studying me as though trying to judge whether I was ready to receive his next question.] Miss Potts, would you like me to introduce you to an actual Doppelganger? An erudite scholar much like yourself?

P: [I colored at this remark, sensing myself unworthy of the appellation and praise. Whatever reservations he might have had as to my willingness, however, I hope my immediate and enthusiastic nodding reply dispelled.] A Glamer—Doppelganger—has revealed itself to you?

B: Indeed. And I assure you that you would be in no danger should you agree to interview this creature. Such a meeting would clarify for you the division that I’ve come to understand exists in contemporary Doppelganger society. And how it might be mended toward the benefit of humanity as well.

P: Division? Among Glamers themselves?

B: Yes. We humans mistakenly believe all Doppelgangers are alike. That they have monolithic views, including toward us, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

P: What is the basis of this division?

B: As I understand it—and, of course, my knowledge is all secondhand—it’s the same sort of trifle that divides our own race so often. Religious belief on the surface, but a struggle for power underneath.

P: I see.

B: We’ve talked about the Divinity of Masters before, correct?

P: Yes. The essay by Celebrant Clairmont first enlightened me as to the sect’s existence. Despite her own human-centric negativity, I was delighted by the common ground I instead perceived with the Divinity of Mankind.

B: Some Glamers [Mr. Byron smiled indulgently at me when he used my preferred, personally invented term] persecute adherents. Persecute is too mild a word, I’m afraid. They hunt practitioners down and seek to exterminate the philosophy.

P: Is this why Adramelach [the sect’s founder] left Paridon?

B: Naturally. For his own safety that most noble and learned of Doppelgangers lives out his days in exile.

P: [With some struggle, I contained my heartfelt emotion here.] Is it not always the same? Those who preach the most positive of messages instill the most hatred in others.

B: Quite perceptive of you, Miss Potts. The Doppelganger I would arrange an interview for you with is a celebrant of the Divinity of Masters. It—I suppose that’s the correct pronoun to use—can enlighten you so much more than these manuscripts and myself.

Without hesitation I begged him to hasten this encounter.

Will paused his reading in near shock and passed a tired, shaking hand over his brow: his poor, dear Em. She had been brave to a fault; that was clear. Not only had she hazarded Bloody Jack in pursuit of Will’s foolish, ambitious gambit, but she had on her own instincts trafficked with Doppelgangers.

One realization saddened him: Em had kept so much of herself, even their common profession, separate from him. Why? He could guess at many explanations, but they all forced him to conclude that she did not think or feel about him the same way he had about her. He had read more than halfway through her journal, and the name William Roberts had figured in it not once, despite how they had been shoulder to shoulder so often during the time period the journal covered. How regularly then had he thought on her, delighted in her presence, mourned each absence. How continuously had he tried to reconcile his thoughts about her with his own fear of commitment—a fear originating in his conviction that his father’s blood would force him to hurt and abandon any woman who fell in love with him, a fear that caused him to warn each woman who chose to share his bed, “All my heart is yours for tonight, but I won’t promise you any tomorrows.”

The augur had proved true, had it not? Perhaps his courage and love had not yet failed Em, but his association had caused her death. His devotion had not protected her, no more than it had protected his mother from tuberculosis. If he had not loved Em, would she still be alive? And had fate allowed her to live and given him time, who could tell whether his loyalty to her would have been betrayed?

If his biological father could forsake a peerless woman like Elizabeth Roberts, love—above all, passion—offered no lifelong guarantees.

While he ruminated, his head began its purple throbbing again, but—well or ill—he felt forced to finish what remained of Emma’s journal.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

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Re: Blackchapel Beginnings
« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2017, 12:38:32 AM »
"Uncle" Edgar Byron, seller of rare books

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Let me not be mad, sweet heaven
« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2017, 09:25:12 PM »
After many hours of uninterrupted (save from biological necessity) reading, Will turned over the last sheet of cream-like vellum etched with the dark-blue of his lost friend's compact handwriting. Blank pages yet intruded between this last page and the back cover, but these were the unlived days and nights of Emma Potts and would remain forevermore empty.

Staring at their cold, imperturbable void, Will felt all vitality leave his energetic physique and knew that he must sleep—for how long, he could not guess. Then he would have to see Melody again. As much as he longed to possess it, the journal was not his property, and he had made a covenant with the young girl as to its fate. Additionally, she might be able to help him with an idea that had begun to insinuate itself into his mind…if only she had her sister’s perceptiveness. Had Melody Em’s maturity of thought or Em Melody’s expressiveness of feeling, either would make the perfect woman...or so it seemed to Will.

He and Melody would not destroy the book; Will was certain of that. Yet it was incomplete and unpublishable, even as Em’s last entry stopped mid-sentence: “All my work begins to come together. The revelations of the interview with...”

Obviously, she referred to her clandestine meeting with the Doppelganger that Edgar Byron had arranged. If she had learned it herself, she never revealed the creature’s imago. Will doubted that Melody knew anything about her sister’s monstrous meeting, but she could at least provide him with an entry to the bookseller. Mr. Byron would not wish in all likelihood to speak with an untrusted reporter from The Newsbill, but he might not be averse to Em’s attractive sister. In Will’s experience, dotty old book collectors rarely lured young women of Melody’s undeniable glamor into gracing their stores.

This “Uncle” Edgar would be helpless to resist Melody’s ample at 16 feminine charms.

Will had a growing appreciation of those charms himself. His long slumber after finishing the journal included the usual dreams of Em: their stakeouts together, all the banter between them that the recollection of soothed (for a moment) his wound from her absence, the changing expressions of her face that made her seem like a gem one must view from all angles and lights to comprehend its complex beauty. At times, however, Em and Melody became confused in his vision. When Em at last in his dream returned some of his flirting and ribaldry, this more playful Em melded into Melody.

He awoke feeling unfaithful to a woman who had lost her life on his account not many days before. Yet a darker voice seemed to whisper to him, “It's all right, Will; you know now she never loved you.”

Regardless of that, I owe her! She saved me when I was at the end of my rope. She cared for me when I was worthless.

“Out of selfish reasons, Will. Only to feed her own reporter's ambition. And it was her own ambition that got the little twitch killed—not you. Now look at how you suffer, all alone, on her behalf. It would have taken so little of her to comfort you, but did she spare you even a thought or a word? Poor, foolish, William Roberts.”

The pain in his head was becoming unbearable again, but the voice he heard could not be his own. He would never—could never—think such thoughts about Em. Were grief and loss driving him to his own destruction...or worse?

He must see Melody now, her father be damned.

« Last Edit: January 13, 2017, 01:09:35 AM by William Roberts »

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Born This Way
« Reply #17 on: January 13, 2017, 05:33:24 PM »
“Uncle” Edgar Byron employed his own method of luring comely females into his gloomy bookshop. Most often, the women were no longer conscious, breathing, or sometimes even intact, but in Melody's case he had synthesized her in a brewing tub in his alchemical laboratory—one of the most advanced in Zherisia, rivaling that of the Eye of Eternity itself. His wanted only for size, as he accessed its hidden chamber via a hinged bookcase full of tomes on the least popular subjects (e.g., Gremishka cuisine, Lamordian hymns, Barovian tourist attractions). Confined behind such obscure titles, the laboratory's curator accomplished the highest dread feats of his dark science.

In the last several days, Byron enjoyed the depraved pleasure of introducing six female guests—besides the portion he preserved of the unfortunate Emma—into his hidden lab. More specifically, he had stored their eviscerated brains in seven solution-filled jars. One such jar the thrifty Byron had washed and reused as it once contained the brain of the true Melody Potts, plucked from her sickly self to procure an essential oil in the recipe for the current Melody Potts.

Emma died for her impudence, but these last six satisfied the thirst of the Fang of Nosferatu, ensuring the Grandmaster of doppelgangers immortality for another 13 years. As far as the Grandmaster knew, Byron was fulfilling the 16th Bloody Jack cycle at the Grandmaster's command, and these gray-celled mementos were nothing more than sweet souvenirs of a job well done by a loyal retainer.

Emma was a bonus. Byron could be a sentimental doppelganger, and during their interactions she had become like a pet to him. Even though Emma had to be put down and he had derived great gratification from brutalizing her, he would not forget her or the critical part she was to play in his power-seeking design. Like Will—albeit more literally—he wished some of her brain could be transferred to his young, blonde servant.

Emma's nobility of purpose he had twisted against her, but she had not been so impetuous as the doltish Melody. Were the silly girl's designs on Will borne of some nascent romantic feeling, a corruption in the formula—impossible!—or teenage rebellion against her creator and true “father”? It little mattered as, whenever she was within half a mile of Byron, he could read every thought that entered her lovely-but-artificial head. She could not hope to outwit the doppelganger alchemist or thwart his plans for Will.

Until the two of them awoke the arcane abilities Will continued to suppress, Melody served his purpose. If her recalcitrance persisted when it was time to dispatch Will to Dementlieu, she would be as disposable as her late human sibling. He had never tried recycling a brain before, he mused, but he saw no reason to start with Melody's. She was a marvel over previous enlightened (alchemical) children—her blooming beauty inspired longing in even the soulless—but was not destined to be Edgar Byron's crowning achievement. He now had much better raw materials with which to begin.

The Fang of Nosferatu had killed the hosts of these recent acquisitions, and Byron had also used the Fang to remove each brain from its respective skull. His research led him to believe that this unique means of death and removal would imbue them with the Élan Vital. Unlike all previous enlightened alchemical children, including Melody, those with the Élan Vital (he hoped) would be able to bear doppelganger offspring.

If so, doppelgangers would have no further need of humans. Zherisia's true master race could with impunity exterminate its inferiors. The divine purity of doppelgangers would never again be weakened by having to breed with the non-divine.

A bell rang as someone opened the front door of the shop, signaling Byron that fresh guests required his solicitude.

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

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As False As Dicers' Oaths
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2017, 01:42:51 AM »
Will and Melody slipped into the deserted bookstore, the latter beaming to be in the handsome company of the former, in public and unchaperoned. Byron had never revealed to her that her kind were sterile, and so she with misplaced happiness was daydreaming of the children the two of them might conceive together and complete her mind's eye portrait of the perfect Zherisian family.

In contrast Will was observing the thousands and thousands of pages of human vanity he saw entombed in the cobwebs, twilight, and dust around him and what this little-trafficked publishing graveyard portended of his high aspirations: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Besides his own ambitions as a writer, were he to see Em's manuscript bear fruit would even that much of her endure, or would that, too, be forgotten as those who knew and loved her joined the innumerable caravan of the dead?

Were all books—and lives—doomed to be but chronicles of wasted time?

Em's light had been a reprieve from the dark morbidity in which losing his mother had imprisoned him. Now Will struggled against that same jailer to prevent the bars from swinging shut once more. He needed Em's reassurance, her company, but she was beyond his reach, and Melody evidenced none of Em's understanding and wisdom. All Melody could offer Will was the sensual oblivion of her near-perfect body. He resisted the woman child's open invitation to lose himself and drown in the ecstatic waves her warm and compliant flesh promised. Momentary lust would no more cure Em's absence than would drunkenness, and the morning hangover for Will and Melody would be far worse.

As the bookseller approached the counter, he read Will's and Melody's discordant thoughts and consequently met both with internal bemusement. Because Byron was linked telepathically to his creation, Will's mind was the more difficult, but even so the reporter gave up much, in part because possessing the journal increased his susceptibility to Byron's mental probing. What a mess it was to live as a human...what a tangle of miserable and blissful emotions, ever inseparable, one from the other.

The doppelganger cleared his throat. “Hello there...I don't believe I've seen either of you before.” And, after a sufficient pause, he added, “, Miss, perhaps?”

“You knew my sister. Emma Potts.”

Will wondered at this exchange, as he abruptly recalled that Em's journal described Melody as recommending the bookstore. He had little time to reflect on this incongruity, however, before Byron's face darkened at the mention of Em.

“I knew Emma Potts very well. I was heartbroken to read of what happened. So much violence visited on such a kind, pleasant woman....One of my favorite customers.” He glanced briefly at Will before his eyes focused again on Melody. “I do see the resemblance. Your parents created lovely offspring.” He could not help but permit a wry smile to dance across his mouth at the many sharp points secreted in this observation.

The expression seemed to Will one of lechery, and he, too, looked at his companion. Young Melody still had her whole glorious life ahead of her...all the jubilations and anniversaries Em would never experience. And this leering fossil who spent his days cloistered alone among useless books, he went on living, whereas the vibrant force who moved among and touched so many actual persons with her generous presence was gone.

“Your sister had much potential. I'm truly sorry for your loss,” Byron was saying to Melody. “Is this your beau?”

The inviting gap between her full, red lips exposed perfect, pearly teeth. “Not yet!” she giggled.
“Umm...well..he does look a bit old for you. Old and weathered.” Byron made an expression to indicate he was trying to lighten the mood.

“I worked with Emma,” Will said. “You knew she was a reporter for The Newsbill, yes?”

“Indeed. You must be Will, then. Or I should say William Roberts.”

“I am.”

“Of course. She was always speaking of you and how much she admired her 'Will.' She often said you were the finest writer she knew.” His eyes burrowed into Will's. “You merely needed encouragement.”

Instantly, Will felt himself choking up and refrained from responding.

“She fretted that she ought to have you assisting her with the story she was researching here.”

“She did?” Something about the word fret conjured her essence in Will's mind. He could see her again, winding and unwinding her hair. She had always fretted about something, his Em.

“Most certainly.” Byron pursed his cadaverous lips and caused deep lines of concern to furrow his brow. None of what he was telling Will was true. The monster had seized many opportunities, however, to read the thoughts of Emma Potts and knew that Will was frequently uppermost in them—including at that moment when Byron used the Fang of Nosferatu to sever her jugular vein and cleave her life from her body. As with the ruminations of the two confused specimens before him, her thinking was a twist of inconsistencies from one moment to the next. She marveled at Will's talent, but something caused her to compartmentalize affection whenever it entered her brain. She would not have been able to articulate what she felt for Will herself without enormous struggle—and even then, who would have been able to say how accurately words ever could express a feeling?

“That's odd, but good to know.” Will's voice cracked. “I...I only learned of the story you mention after her...death. When Melody, Miss Potts here, showed me Em's journal.”

“I'm afraid I may be to blame for that, young man. You see, I'm a very careful sort, and I insisted that the information I shared with your colleague remain strictly between us. Whenever she brought you up, I threatened to...what is that expression you reporters use?...clam up.”

Will wanted to believe what Byron was telling him. He wanted there to be some, less painful explanation why Em had shut him out, but it was in his sensitive yet egocentric nature to take everything personally. As attuned as he was to the feelings of others, he often failed to realize that they were not similarly cognizant of his own. The very quality that fed his charm and influence came at the constant cost of internal, hidden hurt.

“An old man like me,” Byron continued, “I know a thing or two about women...enough to recognize a certain kind of affection, a way they have of talking. Your Em had quite an attachment to you.”

Melody's voluptuous mouth now formed a pout as she interrupted: “Mr. Roberts hasn't come here in search of soppy reassurances. He wants to know what you told my sister.”

“What I told her?” Byron shook his head and rested his hands on the store's cash box. “I mostly recommended certain books to her.”

“Listen, Mr. Byron,” Will said, the purple throbbing in his head causing him to speak with more irritation and impatience than he intended. “I know all about the kind of research my partner was doing here. And I know that at some point—recently—you introduced her to a...doppelganger.”

Byron changed his face to ashen. “Oh dear. She should have been more careful about that.”

“Em should have been more careful about a great number of things.”

Melody piped up again. “What we want is to finish what my sister started. It would mean so much to Will. He feels he's obligated to.”

“Is that so, Mr. Roberts? If you read her journal, she must have said that her work meant a lot to me as well. That's why I put myself and my friend at risk.”

“Yes. I feel more than obligated. I feel....” The room swam around him before he steadied himself. “I feel this is my life's work. To follow through on what Em undertook.”

He and Em had, after all, failed hopelessly together at stopping Bloody Jack, who would now vanish into obscure safety for another 13 years. Will's delusion had cost Em her life, and the least he could do was see her own goal achieved.

Byron nodded. “In that case, I can tell you much that will be of great help to you. And I shall tell you everything.” He waited a measured beat before inserting a calibrated note of the most sincere-sounding sadness into his voice. “For Miss Potts' sake.”

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

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The Awakening (Part 1)
« Reply #19 on: January 16, 2017, 10:55:52 PM »
This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine. – The Tempest Act 5, Scene 1

What Byron told Will about the Divinity of Masters in the beginning he repeated from Em's journal entries. The bookseller did so to ingratiate himself with Will with information Will trusted to be true. These assertions were deceptions and half truths, but because the reporter had first read them in Em's handwriting and mentally associated them with Em's voice, he received them with less skepticism than he would have from any other source.

Consequently, his credibility was a tilled field when Byron began to indoctrinate him further in the doppelganger's distorted presentation of the Divinity of Masters. The final seeds Byron sowed through private meetings between Will and his clay form, Melanikus. To ensure that Will thought Byron and Melanikus distinct, Byron insisted that Melody remain behind “with him” whenever Will was to meet with the clay. Not suspecting that Em's sister was in league with the monster, Will never saw through their deceit: even doppelgangers could not be in two places at once.

The clay Melanikus, moreover, little resembled the imago Byron in physical appearance or personality. Byron doddered like an old man and fairly writhed with subservience. As Melanikus, it exuded power and had difficulty not displaying its contempt for Will, feeling itself in every way superior to human beings. Where Byron wheedled, Melanikus intimidated.

Over time Will came further and further under the sway of Melanikus, as he acquired both the details of the reconnaissance mission intended for Emma and the skills he would need to thrive in Port-a-Lucine—for starters, he had to learn High Mordentish. The magical grip of the journal tightened.

Unbeknown to Will, Melanikus was using its telepathy and knowledge of lore and alchemy to isolate and remove whatever was blocking Will from tapping into the arcane powers of his personality. The reporter's excessive Zherisian rationality infused in him such disbelief in what he considered “superstition and magic” that his ability remained limited to exhortations and speech-making.

His Muse was that of a Zherisian writer, not an arcanist bard, but Melanikus sensed that Will's charismatic presence had a potential greater than that of composing romantic odes in praise of the fairer sex.

As for Melody, every day her growing maturity unfurled additional petals in the flower of her sublime appearance. Could a creature of evil artifice such as she love another the way her form promised? Although she deceived him at her master's command, near to Will her countenance was undeniably more vibrant and her emotions happier than whenever she parted from him.

Will was all too much a male to be so often in her radiant company and remain unaffected by her constant endearments and coaxing, supplemented by the flattering display of her feminine assets. The cat-and-mouse between them could not go on forever without resolution.

The anniversary of Em's death drew nigh, and Will's melancholy grew apace. Saving every shilling he could for the eventual journey to Dementlieu, he had never removed from his shabby room at the boarding house, and so he sat in solitude, sipping his whiskey, smoking his pipe, and staring into a bucket of coal embers, where a long-accustomed face still had the habit of—from time to time—appearing to him. In the interim since Em's murder he had at least managed to acquire a comfortable chair (although he never employed it when writing).

As on the early morning a year previous, a delicate knock disturbed his solitary reverie.

“Eh? Who's there?”

“Tis me, Will. Melody.”

A half smile crossed the bachelor's face. The warm whiskey made him long to shed the drear in which he cloaked himself, and—although not in love with Melody—he could not pretend that being alone was preferable to her amorous titillation. His mild intoxication told him with confidence that he could resist the temptation of letting matters between them go too far, and so he drew back the bolt to admit his young visitor.

“I thought you might be lonely.” She saw his lamp was unlit and that he had been drinking by himself. “I knew you wouldn't forget.”

“How could I? How can I? Ever.”

She put her soft hand to his forearm as he shut the door behind her. The smell of Zherisian lavender enveloped the smoky room, and Will took a deep breath. The coal crackled and sparked from the closing door's rush of air, as his question went unanswered.

Then, from Melody: “Every birthday.”

That was right; Melody was seventeen as of today.

“Forever, my birthday...I'll...oh Will.”

He understood her in a moment and watched as her turquoise eyes filled before she buried her face in the nook between his shoulder and breast. Instinctively, his arms surrounded her, while he felt her soft womanliness meet and then yield against his firm body. Her muffled, tender sobs continued as she spasmed in grief against him, one of his hands soothing the back of her head, the other finding the small of her back, where her bustle began to flare. They remained huddled together so for a few moments.

He had never before seen Melody exhibit so much feeling for Em, and it touched his need to protect her—to shield every woman he grew to care for from the inescapable disappointment of their disadvantaged Zherisian lives. At least men could enjoy the illusion they controlled their own destinies. What would become of this vulnerable girl and her unguarded feelings when he must abandon her for Port?

As they murmured words of comfort to one another, Melody looked up, and her tear-filled eyes had a passionate longing in them that brooked no refusal. Her gloved fingers went to the unkempt hair behind Will's head and drew his lips down to hers as though she could not breathe until they were conjoined in a kiss, sharing the same moist air between them. Will did not resist but rather closed his ravenous mouth over hers, desperate to blot momentarily the darkness filling his soul with whatever Melody would offer him.

Like two storm-tossed ships, they floundered toward Will's bed together, seeking to run and then running aground upon it in what augured to be a catastrophic collision, never veering one vessel's stricken course from the other's.

Spoiler: show
« Last Edit: January 16, 2017, 11:00:34 PM by William Roberts »

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The Awakening (Part 2)
« Reply #20 on: January 18, 2017, 12:51:45 AM »
Melody was aware of Will’s dense physique covering her. His lips moved from hers to trace her jawline and then collarbone, while his hands slipped lower, loosening and unbinding her clothing’s restrictions. His touch elicited from her body such visceral thrills that she imagined she had always been an exquisite cello requiring only the strokes of a practiced musician to inspire all the sensuous range of which she was capable. She felt for the first occasion of her life she was her physical form...and not a vapor that animated it.

How many months she had wished for this moment, this experience, in the hope that Will could consummate her and exorcise her belief that she was not a woman or truly human. Though she knew the illusion could not be real—not with the solidity with which Will anchored her to the bed—she felt as if her entire self arched with yearning toward him.

The coming act would be hers and hers alone: a declaration of her free will apart from the bleak master who had from the moment of her creation controlled and treated her as though she were a heartless marionette, devoid of any significance except her use as a diabolical tool. Her soul would be actualized in this expression of her innermost passion. Yes…her soul. Yes!

This beautiful cage that Melanikus had forged to hold a slave would open and yield and become the means of her release.


She sighed and clung to Will with her legs as well as her arms as—without her ever speaking—his ministrations found and unlocked her secret stores of pleasure.


Her face flushed. She felt a guttural, primitive moan rising from her very core to her throat, and her lips slowly parted in anticipation of the eruption.

Then, inside her own mind, she heard the smirking laughter. It was there, again, with her, both watching her and being her, intruding on her and Will’s consorting for its cruel, voyeuristic gratification. It could not and would not experience even vicariously the rapture that was close to consuming her, but rather it preferred to humiliate, disappoint, and hurt her. And so—as it cackled at the crushing of her piteous, nearly innocent plea for liberation with sneering glee—she felt defeated and repulsed.

What a little licentious whore you are. He doesn't love you. No one could ever love a thing like you. Just think if he found out how you helped me kill his darling Em.

She would never be independent of it, even in her most private thoughts and emotions. She would never escape her abject servitude to the depraved nightmare of Melanikus.

As Will continued to kiss and caress her, he seemed to sense the change in her responsiveness—that something was wrong. He paused and in the near darkness tried to see her eyes, but they were closed tight, and Melody refused to look at him.

“Please stop, Will.” The words were a whisper. Then her shaking hand found his broad chest and pushed him away, before falling back, powerless, to her side.

He rolled off the bed and stood up, confused and wondering whether he ought to be angry at the young woman’s indecision or relieved at her sudden sensibility. He swiped a hand through his hair as Melody seemed emotionless and paralyzed—as though her strings had been snipped—making no attempt to restore her clothing to its former neatness. When a minute or two passed without her speaking or moving, he finally said, “I fear I’ve wronged you. That I’ve violated…something…but I’m not sure what.”

Despite still being almost fully clothed, Melody felt—from the mental assault of Melanikus—naked and exposed and Will’s bed now a marble slab. “It’s not you, Will, it’s—”

A brutish pounding on the door cut Melody short and sent splinters flying from the aged frame where the bolt joined it. The angry voice of Jacob Potts barked from the other side: “Let me in, you damnable guttersnipe!”

With a wide-eyed look of panic, Melody drew her garments about her and sat up. Will turned toward the door but did not appear ready to open it. “Mr. Potts, is that you?”

“Open this bloody door, or I’ll blast it from its hinges!”

“One moment, sir. There’s no need for—”

“I’m going to fire through it, and I won’t care what I hit…as long as it’s you!”

Melody swung her legs to the floor and nodded to Will to indicate she was as ready as she ever would be to face her father’s wrath. Potts had begun to count to three, but Will had the door open on “two.”

“I knew it,” the aristocrat raged, seeing the two failed lovers. He had not been bluffing; he waved and then pointed an enormous pistol at Will when he entered.

“Mr. Potts—”

"Was it not enough you murdered my one child last year that you had to ravish my younger this?”

“Nothing like that happened or was about to happen, Papa,” Melody pleaded.

“I’m going to do something now I should have done the first time you ever spoke to my Emma.” Potts, who had drunk much more than Will, tried to steady the pistol.

The reporter lunged for the old man, and the two grappled for a moment. The pistol discharged with a loud bang, then Potts winced as the bullet entered his side. He fell away from Will to the floor.

“Fetch a doctor, Melody,” Will exhorted as he knelt by Potts, who had lost what little color he possessed.

Melody dashed out. Looking at the wound, Will was certain Potts would bleed to death by the time help arrived. The old tyrant had already lost consciousness.

Bloody hell! I can’t have killed Em’s father!

In desperation he began to harangue Potts, employing that same timbre of voice he had used to win the day at political rallies when he was a student. “Don’t die on me, old man.” Then he remembered a chant from one of the ancient tomes with which Melanikus had burdened him, a chant rumored among storytellers to have healing powers.

Even if it was superstition, what did he have to lose? Using the same modulation in his voice, he tried reciting the chant.

The bleeding stopped.

Potts did not move or open his eyes, but Will could feel a pulse. He was still kneeling by Em's father when Melody brought the harried physician.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2017, 09:29:28 AM by William Roberts »

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.

William Roberts

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Epilogue: Come Sail Away
« Reply #21 on: January 18, 2017, 09:28:17 PM »
A brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
Dash'd all to pieces.

The Tempest Act I, Scene II

The last time Will ever saw Melody was on the day of his departing for Port-A-Lucine. The two stood on the barnacle-covered Rotherham Dock, seagulls crying above them before diving to scavenge, the salty air smelling of dead fish.

“You have deserved better of me, Will. But please, now and then, think kindly on me nonetheless.”

“Better of you? Have you ever been anything other than my true and dear friend since…?” The occasion was sad enough, and he did not need to finish breaking his own heart by giving voice to the awful memory.

“I wish I was as good as you believe me.” She crumpled a handkerchief to her face and added from behind its folds, “Your fineness is worth something to someone. Don’t waste it forever entombing yourself with Emma.”

“I’m not that kind anymore, one to jump into a grave and pull the ground over me. I shall do what I must.” He smiled. “But Emma Potts is a tough act to expect some ordinary woman to follow....Or even her extraordinary younger sister.”

She paled. “I was never much like her.” Nor much of a sister, she heard from dark recesses in her mind.

“You will make some man who appreciates you for you very happy someday. Mark my words, young lady.”

She said nothing and continued sobbing into her handkerchief. Will looked at the crying girl helplessly, then out to the sea. All that preserved him from his own despondency at their parting was a desire to buck up Melody. “I didn’t expect your father to come wish me off. How’s the old blusterer doing?”

“He’ll live. He’s already back at work, lording it over everyone. I think he’s given up trying to rein me in, however. That bullet was too close a call for his liking.”


“He has a lot of money he intends to spend before he dies.”

“Someone needs to look after you, Melody. Regardless of what you try to tell yourself, you’re not so tough. So independent.” He reached across to her and set a stray lock of her hair back into place.

She blew her nose, then put the handkerchief away. “No...I’m not.”

“Say. There’s Edgar Byron. He always seems able to find us.”

The bookseller creaked down the dock toward them with a limp. “This sea breeze does the rheumatism in my hip no good at all,” he said as a greeting and smiled warmly at Will. “Morning, Miss Melody.”

She nodded curtly.

“So you’re leaving us at last?”

“I am. I’m sailing on The Donegal in—” Will took out his pocket watch—“on five bells.”

“Oh listen to him and his sailor talk!” Byron nudged a playful elbow into Melody. “You’ve got the lingo down, don’t you?”

She winced; from the elbow or as a reaction to Byron’s jocularity, it was hard to say. Her gaze lingered on Will, terrible in its inarticulate longing and fear, for the only one present who could read her mind was also the source of her misery.

“You have everything?”

“I do.”

“Wouldn’t want to leave anything important behind.” Byron winked at Melody. She swallowed but remained stoic now. She could share her feelings with Will, but Byron would always pry them from her only without her consent.

“This isn’t forever,” Will said to both, but mostly to Melody.

“Of course not,” she said; she was certain that it was.

“Will’s proved himself a quick study. He’ll take care of business and be back in Paridon in no time. Might even have him a bouncy Demtentlieuse wife in tow.”

“Nothing is stopping you from visiting me in Port-A-Lucine, Melody. As a luxury tourist.” Will leaned closer and whispered, “Don’t make your father spend all that fortune by himself.”

Byron looked at the wilted girl. “In my estimate our Melody is not the traveling kind. I do believe she’s content to stay right where she is. For the rest of her life.” Whether she was content so or not, she would; Byron would make sure of that.

Soon after Will left the time would come to deal with the problem of Melody, Byron thought. Though her maker was proud of her as a prototype, she could not breed. If Will were successful, the next model of enlightened alchemical child would do all Melody could and more. Byron dreamed of the Divinity of Masters enticing converts with such a mate—or even many such mates: a female who provided physical affection, her perfect body, children...and unquestioning obedience to her doppelganger master’s every command. A concubine who could be used, abused, and discarded, however its owner pleased.

Although…Melanikus might need to modify the next, fertile batch in another way. Melody seemed to have an excess of concupiscence. Whether these slave females experienced sexual pleasure was irrelevant, so a mechanical, anatomical modification ought alleviate what the doppelganger had come to see as an instigation toward rebellion.

Melody had so often bought Melanikus sweet gratification that it regretted her life cycle was nearly over. But the many, many successors Melanikus was planning to have follow in her painful footsteps would suffer for their master just as pleasurably.

The monster fairly writhed to think of them all.

Spoiler: show

Like Ulysses’ return to Ithaca, our hero’s course to Port-A-Lucine was destined to be neither straight nor timely. Pirates waylaid the good ship Donegal and misdirected her to Blaustein for a season, and later Will was to meet his second love: an imperiled lady fair in the village of Vallaki in Barovia. The power of that attachment would scar and maim him and further delay his attending to the dread quest Melanikus had placed upon him.

These later tales, however, are for another telling.

The End

Beauty like a tightened bow, a kind that is not natural in an age like this.