Victoriana, Alternate years

Journal of Masha Lutz, undated entry, #1

It was a good day today. We got Eliza back; and I wore a beautiful blue dress; and I asked Mr. Langley to dance.

Eliza, it seems, had caught the eye of some French guy. He took her off in his Mole Machine, and we had to go get her back. That wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. The Mole Machine hid in a little fort underground, in this sort of garden with mushrooms and big bugs and lizards. We blew it up (both the Mole Machine and the Fort) and went back to our ship and cleaned up.

Our ship is beautiful, as suits its Shard. It flies via propellers and a balloon sort of affair. I have my own room there. It is full of the Beautiful People, and not one of them has a clue in the world. Not even Eliza.

I run into them every once in a while – the Beautiful Shards, I mean. I don’t know how it is, exactly, that an occasional Shard escapes the general maelstrom of the world. I suspect that there is a lot of luck involved, or some impossible confluence of circumstances; like when a tornado goes through the middle of a town, and destroys everything in its path, except for some little bit of something that will somehow, miraculously, escape unscathed, to be found later in perfect condition, alone and pristine among the wreckage.

This Shard is like that. I haven’t had much chance to observe a pristine Shard before, certainly not for an extended period of time. There’s a whole society here! I don’t understand most of it, but it’s fascinating to watch.

So, today we had a Formal Dinner, which seems to be basically the same as a regular dinner, except that everyone wore fancy clothes. Sarah (that’s my maid) gave me this beautiful blue dress to wear. It was the color of the sea and made from some fantastic fabric – silk, I think, with lacy swags. The sort of thing which is the first to vanish from the world when a Shard collapses. I suppose I must have looked ridiculous, but it was a treat to wear such a beautiful thing and I’ll never forget it.

I asked Mr. Langley to dance. I saw dancing once, when I was very, very young, before the war, and it was done in beautiful dresses like that blue one, and I thought I might like to try it.

He didn’t want to, though, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising, surrounded by the Beautiful People as he is. None of them seem to like Mr. Langley very much, which I gather has to do with his past.

I like Mr. Langley, himself, but I also like the idea of him. I have no details, nor have I wanted any, but the bottom line is that he had been in a bad situation previously, and now is in a better one. He made it out. I had no idea that such a thing was even possible.

Well, I mean, not for me. I know I am in it for good. But, just sort of generally. I like the idea that someone was able to get out of whatever intolerable situation they were in. I like it… I don’t know, just because it is such a neat concept. Mr. Langley must be an amazing person, to be able to have pulled it off. I suppose he represents the idea of Hope.

I rarely encounter anything that reminds me of Hope, and perhaps that is the best thing about the entire day.
ML

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The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend...

It seems that if I focus upon only one or two things at a time I do not become overwhelmed. It is deplorably slower but much more effective. Eustice is so protective or is worried I will throw myself upon the help. I wonder if that is why he has asked for my hand, poor Temperance she has no one to look after her now. These feelings of anger are obviously misplaced. I just cannot wrap my head around this relationship, it feels right but I can produce unquestionable proof that it is the right thing to do. Perhaps in this arena I will err on the side of the faults of my sex and try not to be too logically.

Count Von Erland and Viscountess Moon have become somewhat unconventional but allies none the less. After Mr. Lancaster managed to get himself kidnapped by his psychotic and very sadistic admirer we successfully rescued him from her clutches however not before she performed some sort of reconstructive surgery to his musculature. It was single most deplorable and fascinating thing I’ve seen in some time. The fact that poor Mr. Lancaster was un-anesthetized during it is horrible and cruel. But the technical skill and stead fast hand used to perform such a procedure and in such crude conditions. In no more than the course of an afternoon. It boggles the mind. We was able to to aptly interrogate Miss Taunhauser and with the pieces of information she gave us was able to force our new allies to be frank with us. And in doing so discovered my first major break. Aside from the fascinating new poisons I was able to gather I have been told there may be a cure. At least for those that have been stung as well as bit. And from that I’m sure I can fashion something to work on the rest of us. And in the meantime the light cage will help alleviate the severity of the symptoms. I am happy and I see the light at the end of this tunnel. Perhaps I can seriously entertain thoughts of where and when Eustice and I should marry. But first I must finish this next phase in my project, then I will look at marriage preparations.

Temperance Elizabeth Winholz

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DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! Another excerpt from the Journal of Temperance Winholz

So I have awoken to find a note placed on the pillow next to me which means I was sleeping and through my sheer exhaustion did not rouse when someone entered my room and placed it here. At first I saw the sonnets and thought how quaint. But something caught my eye, the spacing I knew at once it was coded. A sort of puzzle trying every logical cipher I knew of I was perplexed for at least the better part of half an hour. When Sophie came to my room demanding to talk with me. I bid her entry if only to stop her commotion in the hallway. And to my dismay she revealed rather unabashedly that she was eavesdropping on mine and Mr. Teche’s conversation the previous morning. I realized that she would not be dissuaded but needed to be handled before all of London knew of the engagment and I wanted to speak with Eustice before telling anyone. Then she told me I needed to hurry and dress for tea. Time has begun to slip away from me. How many days has it been since I was last treated in the light room? Five or six. But I knew I would be dragged to tea whether I wanted to come or not. I realized that I no longer had any apparel except that which the Baroness had commisioned for me shortly before my coming out party. I also realized that Sophie was still babbling beside me about a ring and asking me a question. What was Mr. Teche’s favorite color? I couldn’t really recall its not a topic upon which either of us spoke. So it was expected of me to know this and not only know this but to dress according to his liking now. How absurd. No man awakes in the morning and wonders what to wear that would please his wife/fiancee/or called upon lady. Besides as much as she means well Sopihe keeps forgetting that I’m also in mourning for the the rest of the year and will wear nothing but black. Then something she said made think of a certain meter…the puzzle I had solves…It was a note from Eustice…He loves me. It was the single most romantic thing that has every been done for me. Thankfully Sophie was there to help me dress…corsets are not something one can easily put on by oneself. I also decided to leave my hair down as I did not have time to properly pin it up before tea. Sophie and I entered the sitting area for tea with the Baroness, Mr. Teche, Mr. Haverly, and St. Mychals (who I have observed pays close attention to Miss St. Claire.) The Baroness had an announcement of sorts, she may have found a way to cure those of us who had been bitten. I was elated until I realized that this involved her magicks…and had no real basis in medicine or science. But she postulated that it may affect my mental capacity, which she hypothesized was increase due to the bite, oh how I wish my station were such tbat I could have corrected her. I was this intelligent long before the bite. I was also more physically inclined before the attact. I was tryingt o find a way to interject some logic into our upcoming plans when I lost my train of thought. Perhaps the corset was set a little too tight it became very warm and felt light headed. Perhaps this is the reason for all the swooning in the female nature…not our nature its our damned apparel. However before I could recover my wits enough to continue I completly lost them and quite beyond my control I flung myself into Eustice’s strong arms. It wasn’t until Sophie had the present of mind to douse me with the sugar bowl that I was able to come to my senses…I wasn’t in full control of my faculties anymore. I was terrified, ashamed, and angry. I ran from the room before I could lapse any further. I fear I’m losing the only thing I have left…my mind. GOD help me the well meaning people around me do not possess the knowledge I believe will lead to my cure. Can I hold together long enough to help myself and the others or will I lose myself and be committed to a lying down hospital or worse a sanitarium? I realize that the solution likely lies somewhere between science and magick and it will be up to me to find the path that meets up to the magick. But can I do this thing before I through myself on Eustice again or what if I can’t control myself and become more and more like Miss Blaizdark, suppose I throw myself on the Colonial or Mr. Gray…what will Eustice think, will he still love me, will he realize that I can’t help myself? I pray that I should be ovecome with wanton urges let me be overcome near my intended. Why me? first I lose my family one by one and am attacked when I go out to begin gaining the skills I will need to go look for my parents. I will find the answer…I must.

I also figured out that I do not have a Dutch detector as I first surmised but an Anachronometer. Which may come in handy. I note this now b/c my thought scatter. There is something else about a watch however I can’t focus too much on it or I become overwhelmed I do not know if its connected to the object or my condition worsening? If ever you read this Eustice dear know that I truly do care for you and only wanted to make a life together no matter what actually happens know this.

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From the Journal of Temperance Elizabeth Winholz

I find myself completely perplexed. So much ahs transpired over the last few weeks it has kept me constantly engaged. Engaged, ah there is a word. One of the things my late grandfather prided his self on was the fact that I was a very sensible girl, with a good head on her shoulders that is much more than a hat display. I had never noticed Mr. Teche acted any differently towards me than anyone else. And I pride my self on my observational skills. He was my grandfathers closest confident and assistant. I did notice that my grandfather would chuckle at Eustice’s seeming inability to deliver dialogue in a timely matter but I attributed this to the endearing situation of it all. My days were becoming rather a comforting pattern of Grandfather and Eustice working on various projects, me focusing on my current topic of study or the latest journal, Grandfather and Eustice falling asleep in the smoking room with black boards of calculations or theorems. I would sneak in and put out grandfather’s cigar and quietly correct whatever hang up Grandfather was stuck on so in the light of morning he would see he figured it out after all. But although Eustice wasn’t unpleasing to the eye he was so timid in nature and though Grandfather had seen to a very proper and challenging education for me outside the realm of Acadamia he treated as a young child. I was not allowed to transition up to a more adult style of dress as is appropriate for a young woman my age and certain a coming out party would never happen b/c of my “condition” I had rather taken as a point of fact I would probably be an old spinster living in my light room reading about the outside world. Not that I had silly notions or fancies of balls and courtship. But then my world fell apart for the second time. Grandfather had been shot. Not being one to blubber and suffer typical hysteria and let someone else decide my fate I did my best in the days that followed to direct it. And soon everything I knew was spiraling out of everything but my understanding of the futility of trying to escape all of it. I’ve been very nearly killed several times in the last few weeks but I have had a coming out party, finally been fitted for a womans dress (though I’ve not yet received it looking very forward to possibly having a figure), I’ve met all sort of creatures, demons, and monsters. In all this chaos it would be easy for me to lose my way and my head but I’ve had one constant and that has surprisingly been Mr. Teche. I will never be able to court let alone marry most suitors b/c I am a woman who is very good at thinking for herself, any proper husband of this day and age would never allow. I would be forced to needlepoint and child rearing. Also with my condition I do not know if I will be able to rear children without passing on this condition which I refuse to do. But Mr. Teche has always treated me with respect and honestly valued my opinion. He speaks to me as a equal in academic discussion or debate. Though the only childish fancy I’ve ever had was of some dashing rogue-ish adventurer to come into my life, through keen observation I’ve learned that though these men might make even my stomach flutter they are no better and in some cases worse than the average gentlemen. I am nothing but something in need of romancing or saving to them. But Eustice though on the surface appearing timid and even weak has revealed his true character as of late. He has put himself in harms way for me time and again. Miss St.Clair being my first female confidante and my superior in social navigating pointed it out that Mr. Teche was in love with me. I at first dismiss this notion and silly fancy, Mr. Teche in love with me how absurd. Then I notice the strong curve of his jaw, the gentleness of his hand when helping me from a carriage, while injured I couldn’t help but notice the strength and firmness of his arms. Whether its my condition which is causing uncharacteristic urges or my own humours fluxing I found myself wanting to be in his arms. I’ve not felt that loved or safe since before my grandfather was killed. And so when Eustice actually confessed his feelings for me I was taken a back b/c for the first time in my life I wanted to be a silly woman and gush and flutter and swoon. I of course refrained and blamed my condition and said nothing. But as I took no rest that night as I was so flummuxed by what had been said. That I realized it was honestly my hearts desire to be around Eustice. But I didn’t understand why I went over and over all the variables and facts and could find no path to the solution…just the solution. It was logical for me to care since he had been in my home most of my life. It was logical for me to want someone who would respect my grandfathers work and understand the importance of my bell jar and my studies. But these were facts for a courtship of convenience. Why then am I feeling so swoony and overwhelmed around him now? I even found myself stuttering some b/c I want him to see not only for my mind but my body as well. What is wrong with me? Then Mr. Teche did the strangest thing when I very ineloqently tried to profess my feelings for him, He proposed. For the second time in less than a day I was stumped. I couldn’t think or remember words…I was light headed. And I finally remember enough of the English language to say, Yes. Now I am engaged to Mr. Eustice Teche. But now I am scared beyond reason not of the prospect of marriage but that I will lose Eustice as well. My parents went missing when I was just a girl parts of me still hope that they are exploring some vast previously undiscovered part of the world and are well but that is naive and illogical, grandfather sacrifaced himself to protect another and is gone now as well, what ill fate awaits Eustice for daring to love me? I am dreadfully afraid for him now.

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Exerp from the journal of Xavier Lancaster

Vampires.

Had I not witnessed it with my own eyes, I’d have thought those telling me these fantastical stories were mad or had a little too much to drink. But I saw the evidence with my own eyes; I shot that man at least ten times and although the force of the bullets impacting upon his body did indeed floor the man, he still managed to stand up and escape from the hotel suite; although without the prize he and his compatriots had come for: Miss Blaize-Darke.

I thought when I had accepted Atherton’s invitation to come to London for a holiday from my near-constant travels, I’d have an opportunity to relax and perhaps get in contact with my family in Boston. But after the falling out we had at my refusal to settle for the stifiling life of Boston high society and instead leave to find my own fortune, I can only assume they believe me to be dead. Or at the very least they have disowned me and no longer acknowledge my existence as their son. No matter though. The life they offered is nothing compared to the life I live.

I’ve been to some amazing places and encountered things that many people have only dreamed of, but now here, in the cradle of modern civilization itself, I find myself part of an adventure even I couldn’t scarcely believe myself. Not only Vampires, but these sinister Wasp-Men appear to be an even bigger threat. If they are attempting to integrate themselves into positions of power here in London, they it falls upon us to stop them any way we can.

Atherton and I are making preparations for the coming fight ourselves. I’ll speak to the doctor here to see if they can make special ammunition for my shotgun. Since salt is these creature weakness, rock salt should be an adequate weapon against them. As for my pistols, Wasp-Men or not, they’re living, breathing creatures; which means they can be killed. The vampires however, are another story. If necessary, I can resort to a saber or my hunting knife to fight them; but my guns are not effective against them. Unless…

I wonder if a priest can bless ammunition?

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Sophie's Journal - Third entry

It seems that the War of the Wasp Men is becoming more complicated by the moment. I have had yet more adventures, but I cannot say that I have been very fond of them. I had been thinking of seeing the wonders of far-off places, not the horrors that seem to lurk around every corner nowadays.

Forgive me. I digress.

Some evenings ago, I was sought out by Blind Pew. While I cannot say that I am pleased at this, I must in all honesty admit that Blind Pew has, so far, not behaved badly towards me. He is a vampire, of course, and therefore the most wretched cad and villain, but he is at least polite, or what he believes passes for politeness. He never brings any rats with him, save for Albert. Albert has developed quite a fondness for fine Roquefort cheese, and insists on sniffing most pointedly in my general direction until I give him a bit, at which point he will scurry away to a nearby rock to eat it, and then spend some considerable time grooming himself whisker for whisker. Like his master, Albert has been extremely well-behaved so far, for a rat, but he is still the size of a small dog and I remain quite convinced that if Blind Pew were to wish it, he would leap at me and attempt to tear out my throat. Because of this, any conversation that I have with Blind Pew tends to be polite, but tense.

Blind Pew had sought me out because he wished me to convey a warning to one Lady Katherine Lenix, a Baroness who lived some distance away. It seems that the vampires had become convinced that one of her chamber-maids had become a wasp-man, or wasp-woman in this case. They were so certain of the diagnosis that assassins had been dispatched, and these assassins would be coming to the home of the Baroness that very evening! The Baroness was away at a concert, but Blind Pew wished her to stay overnight in London. The vampires were not out to hurt her, but he emphasized that the killings of the Wasp-men were violent things, and he did not want the Baroness to come home and be harmed in the uproar.

This seemed like a bad idea for a number of reasons, not the least of which was how to go about warning the Baroness. Father, as a barrister, is very well-to-do, but as a family, we are hardly accustomed to rubbing shoulders with the nobility! Common young ladies, even well-bred ones, are not permitted into the concert-boxes of the noble houses.

It seemed that the only solution would be to write a note to her; but what sort of note would be appropriate? Father holds a great deal of faith in the power of the written word, and our tutors were under the strictest orders that everyone in the household should be expected to produce writing of the most flawless character, particularly when writing letters. Even Ian spends hours practicing his penmanship to ensure that it is perfect. Consequently, a good portion of my education had revolved around the writing of letters; letters of introduction, business letters, letters to friends, and so on.

However, I never at any time discussed with my tutors the proper letter format when attempting to warn a Baroness of assassins. Furthermore, wouldn’t such a letter cause her to go home at once? But, I consoled myself with the thought that she would certainly return home after the concert in any case, and it would be better to return early and prepared than late and unprepared, or so I hoped. After some consideration, I also decided that a business letter would be the most appropriate format, and wrote the following:

Dear Baroness Lenix:

I have been requested to relay a message to you. The sender of the message wishes to remain anonymous. The message is as follows:

The sender of the message wishes to convey to you that he believes assassins have been dispatched to your home this evening. He has stated that you may return home safely after sunrise, but fears that any visit during the night-time hours would be perilous. He begs you to remain in London this evening, and return home only after the sun has fully risen.

As the sender of the message clearly indicated that he believed that the matter would best be handled privately, I have not yet notified the police. I shall defer to your judgement as to whether or not you wish them to become involved. I regret to say that I am not at liberty to divulge the identity of the sender of the message, but shall of course make myself available at your convenience to answer any other questions as best I can, and shall cooperate with a police inquiry if you should wish to raise one.

Yours Sincerely, Sophie St. Claire

I also sent a note to Sir Gregory, explaining the situation. I could only hope that he could help. I was certain that the Baroness would rush home at once, but couldn’t think what else to do, and so put on an appropriate gown, and went to the summer concert.

Summer concerts are usually very enjoyable. They are held outdoors around the Musical Gazebo, and often tents and carpets are placed out for the nobility, while the lesser folk generally bring blankets or folding chairs to sit upon. I, myself, gotten into the habit of arriving early enough to claim a spot on one of the coveted park benches, and usually read until the concert is ready to begin.

Today, however, I spoke to the Maitre D, and she agreed to send my note to the Baroness. I supposed that the Baroness should wish to speak to me once she read it, and so waited after the Maitre D had departed. This proved to be an unfortunate decision on my part.

There was a man in the crowd with a top hat, and a pair of dark glasses, and underneath them… did he have glittery eyes? The sight quite alarmed me, particularly when he turned and began to walk towards me in the crowd. I was determined to hold my ground, alarmed or not. After all, I was not standing in a dark alleyway, but in the middle of a crowd at a summer concert.

This is why I was so surprised to feel something unhuman behind me. I admit that this seems like an overly dramatic statement; but there is simply no other way in which the occurance can be accurately recounted. I couldn’t see anyone as my back was turned, but I was as certain that he was there as if I had seen or heard him.

When I turned, I had the brief impression of a Scotsman standing there – or at least, what looked like a Scotsman. His appearance was perfect, with flaming red hair, and a blue-and-green kilt, perhaps Douglas or Abercrombie, but I doubted very much that he had ever set foot in Scotland.

But behind me, someone cried, “You foolish girl, look out!” I turned back around to see the man with the top hat leap in the air in front of me. I thought for a moment he had jumped to knock me down, but then there was a sound. It was ridiculously small, a sort of “Fffft” noise, but it was followed immediately by an enormous spurt of blood, and the man in the top knocked me down.

Everything was very confused. It was clear at once that he had been shot. Someone screamed, and then there was a lot of running about and shouting. Other than being utterly horrified, my one thought was that the shooter might shoot again. If this idea had not occured to me, I think I should have been paralyzed with fright; but as it was I tried to drag the poor man behind the cover of the nearest tree.

I am not a doctor, but the quantity of blood made me immediately certain that the wound was a fatal one. I tried to staunch the flow, but it was no good. “Take this!” The man thrust something at me with trembling hands, and I saw with some surprise that they were goggles, with odd, glittering facets. He was so determined that I took them and put them into my bag. “Don’t talk. Save your strength,” I told him, but we both knew that it was the end. “Take care of my granddaughter,” he gasped at me. “Above the shop… above the shop… Willow is so delicate… Willow! Willow!”

And just like that, he was gone.

I never saw anyone die before. I closed his eyes, and covered his head with the light little jacket I had worn to the concert. It seemed so inadequate. I didn’t know what else to do.

I am not entirely certain of the order of events which transpired over the remainder of the evening. I recall the Maitre D’ calling for a doctor, and I am certain that I met the Baroness Lenix, and a widow named Chloe Wicaine, and her escort. I must have looked like a horror and a fright; but I have a vague recollection of a hot bath and a drink that tasted strongly of brandy.

A great deal had transpired when I awakened the following morning. The baroness had indeed gone home to discover there were vampires in her home. The Widow’s Escort had gone with her, and Sir Gregory had met them both there. The maid had indeed been a wasp-woman, and had been killed in the uproar, along with two other maids who had also been stung. The Baroness’ house had been set afire during the commotion, and while I understood that the damage could be repaired, this would take time.

There is a great deal more to say about the events of that day; but I am wearied now, and it shall have to wait for another time.

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Sophia's Journal - Second Entry

I have received a second treatment from Dr. McMillian, and have learned a number of interesting facts since my last journal entry. I have even had something which could almost be called an adventure!

First, however, let me speak about the treatment I have received. Since this journal may become reference material in a medical context, I feel it is important to record my experiences with the greatest possible accuracy. Dr. McMillian has been good enough to list the ingredients of the injection, which are as follows:

1 grain of Opium, diluted at 200:1 1 drop of Morphine, also diluted at 200:1 In a salt water suspension solution

It is difficult to say what effect the treatment is having so far; but I can say that I have not yet experienced either side-effects, or other symptoms. The mark from the bite has never gone away, and remains dark. It has not grown smaller; however, it has also not grown larger, and this is a promising sign. I was a bit worried that I should come to crave the injections that Dr. McMillian gives me, but so far I am much more interested in intelligent conversation than in the needle.

I have been corresponding with Dr. McMillian, and while he has been polite in every possible way, I find myself dissatisfied with the amount of information which is known about these Wasp-men. While we have a fairly clear idea of their presence, and the affects of their attacks (a point about which I shall speak in greater detail in a moment,) we know very little else.

Sir Gregory knows how to fight the creatures, and Dr. McMillian knows how to treat their bites – at least as much as any physician does – but I find I have questions remaining that neither Sir Gregory, nor the Good Doctor, can answer. Where did these Wasp-men come from? How is it that they remain unknown in our society? How far have they spread? How much of a danger do they really pose to the population of London?

Dr. McMillian hasn’t the time to research such things; he has his hands quite full with those patients who have encountered the wasp-men and are the worse off for it. Sir Gregory, as a military man, would like the answers to these questions, but is busy actually hunting these creatures down. (This is what he was doing the night I first encountered him, and it was very probably the scent or sound of this creature that spooked Edward so terribly.) He is a man of action, not inclined to a great deal of research. Furthermore, I am not certain that he reads all that well. I feel dreadfully sorry for this, as I am positive he would greatly enjoy the works of Jules Verne. I have decided to read these books to him if the circumstances should ever permit.

In the meantime, however, it seems a great deal of research needs to be done, and as there is no one else to do it, I have resolved to do it myself. To this end, I have purchased a camera. My tale is so fantastic that any proof I present will require photographic evidence to carry any weight whatsoever. I was surprised at the advances which have been made in photographic technology since my father purchased a camera many years ago. I was imagining that I should have to lug about a box with stilts and a tray full of flash powder; but the camera I purchased is small enough to be carried about easily, and the flash powder can be placed into a small glass phial specially shaped for the purpose. Luckily father still remembers how to develop film. One of the smaller store-rooms has been converted into a dark room, and he has taught me how to mix chemicals and so on. I have taken pictures of everyone in the family, and a number of flowers and other things as practice, and can now develop my own prints without assistance.

Dr. McMillian has encouraged this by stating that sunshine and fresh air would be good for me, and so it would be good for me to be out and about and doing things that interest me. Father has encouraged me to go out and photograph flowers, and I have done so in “morning,” “afternoon,” and “evening” lighting. It was with my camera, in fact, that I have had my small adventure.

One of the things I have wanted to research has been the effect of the wasp-men upon the animal kingdom. It seems improbable that these creatures were created by God in the Garden of Eden; therefore it seems likely that another agency would be somehow be involved. Presumably there was an original Wasp-man; how had he come to be in existance? If he had been stung into being, what creature had done the stinging? Could it have been some sort of wasp? It seemed a logical enough premise to investigate.

But investigate how? I was hardly anxious to go about looking for wasp nests, particularly if those wasps might be able to sting a person into such a transformation. At length, however, I decided upon a course of action. Adelaide, along with most of the surrounding estates, sits very near a series of aquaducts, which fill and empty with the whims of the tides. One of these actually ran along the edge of one of our fields. I had only seen it from a distance, but there would be certain to be rotting leaves and things about, which should attract all sorts of insects.

In the early evening I took my camera and headed out across the field. It was a later than I usually went outside, and the shadows were very long indeed, but the sea could be a dangerous thing, and I only wanted to visit the aquaduct when the tide was at its lowest possible mark. Tidal charts are very specific things, and I didn’t care to wait for several months until the tides gradually came to match a schedule which was more convenient. I took a number of pictures of long shadows, as cover for the trip.

The aquaduct, when I arrived, looked exactly as it had when I had seen it from a distance. The particular spot I had chosen was sort of a long, deep trench, lined with stones. The trees grew very thickly around, and the ground was rather marshy, for the tree branches ensured that even in the daytime, there wouldn’t have been a speck of sun. Tunnel entrances were on each end of the trench, and though I had brought my lantern, I didn’t have any intention of tunnel exploration.

I had worn my riding-dress. Although it rather daringly exposed several inches of ankle, I wasn’t anxious to expose my hems to murky tidewater. I had obtained waterproofed boot-covers especially for the occasion, and took a moment to put them on and light my lantern before descending the ladder.

It was a bit like going underground, although the trench was open to the sky. The branches above were so densely packed that there was much less light than I had anticipated. There were, however, several grates which were as packed with leaves and dead bugs as I had expected. I didn’t want to touch anything with my hands, but poked about with a stick.

I didn’t see anything unusual, and was about to count the entire expedition as a dismal failure, when an angry chittering noise attracted my attention. I looked up just in time to see a large rat pounce upon something in the most ferocious manner. Did it have a stinger…?

I approached the rat with some trepidation. It noticed me at once and didn’t look at all happy with my presence, but I reminded myself that I was a thousand times larger than it was, and that even if it should charge at me angrily, it wouldn’t have much chance of biting through my skirts.

“Here now,” I told it, “Let me see that. Shoo! Shoo!”

I thought it was really a rather large and ferocious looking rat: but it backed off from my voluminous skirts, chittering angrily, then shot down the nearest tunnel. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The rat had indeed brought down a wasp. It was enormous, larger than any wasp I had ever seen. Thankfully, it was quite dead, its head all but severed by the rat’s attack. But it was there, and its little jewelled eyes reminded me at once of the terrible Wasp-Man. I didn’t want to touch it with my hands, but took out the small jar I had brought with me, and scooped it up with the help of the stick. I felt safer when it was sealed in the glass.

That feeling didn’t last long. I looked up from the jar to discover that while I had been occupied, the ferocious sewer-rat had returned, and brought all of his friends with him. There must have been hundreds of rats – thousands of them. They had come out of the tunnels on both sides, and while none of them was closer than three feet, I was completely surrounded.

I was deeply alarmed. It was one thing to shoo off a lone rat by swishing one’s skirts: it was quite another to face an army of them. I tried to move gingerly towards the ladder, but found that the volume of squeaking increased alarmingly at any step I made in that direction. It didn’t take me long to discover that the rats seemed reluctant to approach me, provided I remained where I was.

So I waited. The sun had been setting when I arrived at the aqueduct; it was almost fully down when a new rat came into the crowd. Unlike the other rats, this one was white, with pinkish eyes and a pink nose. The other rats were scruffy and dirty and angry; but the white rat was pristinely clean, with a gleaming coat. He was enormous, three times the size of the other rats, easily as large as a cat. The other rats parted to let him through, and he came to the front and sat up on his hind legs, and sniffed right at me.

I was nearly petrified with terror by this point, but thought of Sir Gregory, who had fought in two wars, and who regularly hunted down angry wasp-men. Surely if I had met Sir Gregory, I could summon enough courage to act in a manner which would speak well of my character.

I faced the white rat, and addressed it as if I should have addressed a person, though I felt ridiculous in doing so. “See here,” I told him in what I hoped was a brave voice, “I only shooed off that rat. I didn’t hurt him. I only swished my skirts at him because I wanted him to move. I – I haven’t done any harm. If I am not to be allowed to leave, then I – I ought to be allowed to make my case to your master. Won’t you go and get him? Er… please?”

I felt both silly and sick with fear, but to my surprise, the white rat turned at once, and shot off down the tunnel. I was afraid I was in for a long wait, but it was only a few minutes later that the last sliver of sun faded from the horizon. The very instant that the sun had set, the white rat returned – but this time, around the feet of a fellow I would later come to know as Blind Pew.

Blind Pew is difficult to describe. He is a vampire, the first I had ever encountered, and I had done enough reading to identify him as a Nosferatu. His face was sort of wrinkled and crumpled, and although I was certain that he possessed the fangs of legend, he didn’t seem to have two teeth to go along with them. He was raggedly dressed, and speaking to the rats as if they had been children, or beloved pets. ”’Ere now, me pretties,” he was muttering at them, “Yer stirred up right an’ proper! What ‘ave yer found fer Blind Pew tonight, eh?” He stopped in his tracks when he saw me. ”’Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello! What’s this now?”

I swallowed hard and tried to answer bravely. “I had heard,” I gulped, “That vampires could summon swarms of rats… it’s true, then?”

“An’ ‘ow would yer know – ” But he stopped, and sniffed in my direction as carefully as the white rat had done earlier. “Arrrr, yer’ve been bitten yerself, an’ not by no vampire – don’t bother ta deny it, I can smell it on yer, just like ye can smell me. Now ye know, don’t ye?” He squinted at me. “Yer one of the foine ladies from the estates – what be ye a-doin’ down in Blind Pew’s back yard? Here now,” he shooed the rats, “We’re in the presence of a lady, we are! We ought ta act proper gentlemen-like, mind our P’s and Q’s. Off with ye!”

The army of rats melted away back into the tunnels. I thought for a moment I should faint with relief, though I wasn’t at all certain I was safer in the presence of a vampire. Blind Pew, however, turned out to be a likeable enough fellow, once one got past the shock of his admittedly dreadful appearance, and our subsequent conversation turned out to be most illuminating.

It seemed that not only were there wasp-men creeping about among the humans of London, but there were also vampires. Blind Pew declined to be photographed (“I’d break the camera like as not, Miss,” he said,) but was good enough to summon a large bunch of rats for a picture. The White Rat was his special pet, and, under the influence of Blind Pew, was as tame and friendly as any dog, though I shouldn’t have liked to meet him alone. He liked the camera, and wasn’t satisfied until I had taken several shots of him.

Blind Pew agreed at once that there were Wasps, as well as Wasp-Men. The Wasps were related to the Wasp-men, but Blind Pew didn’t know precisely how. What he did know was that the Wasps often flitted around areas such as dark storm drains, looking for victims to sting. He agreed that Wasps are known for living in hives with many thousands of individuals, but he – or more specifically, his rats – had never seen more than one at a time. The rats were under the strictest orders to kill any wasp that dared to approach the area, and were so efficient at this that the Wasps usually avoided the aquaducts. The Wasps had been stirred up lately, and he presumed this was because I myself had been bitten.

Furthermore, I gathered that the bites were a serious problem to the vampiric community. As the legends stated, they did indeed live off of the blood that they drank from their victims. Not only was the blood of bitten victims highly detrimental in some fashion, the Wasp-Men, once transformed, were actively dangerous to vampires. There had been several skirmishes between the vampires and the Wasp-Men, and sometimes the vampires had killed the Wasp-men, but other times the Wasp-men had succeeded in killing the vampires.

I had ten thousand more questions to ask of him, but the lateness of the hour precluded it; not to mention that I had been rather unnerved by the encounter, and was anxious to get home as quickly as possible.

Blind Pew laughed good naturedly, and told me that I could come any evening, and that I needn’t worry about being bitten by vampires, for my blood was, “Well, let’s just say poisoned,” he said with a raspy laugh.

But before I left, we reached something of a bargain; Blind Pew was willing to keep an accounting of the number of wasps killed in his “territory.” In return, when I came back, I would bring a block of fine cheese as a treat for Albert – for this was the name of the white rat.

I thanked Blind Pew for his assistance, and extricated myself as quickly as I could, whereupon I flew home at once and trembled for the rest of the evening.

A mere two nights later, I had an encounter with another vampire.

I had, by that time, become calmer in the aftermath of the expedition to the aquaduct – though I didn’t intend to go back there ever again. I had also had time to examine the wasp. It did remind me irresistably of the wasp-man, but although I examined it very carefully, even under the magnifying glass, it seemed to be a normal wasp, of the painful-sting sort, and not of an egg-laying sort. In the safety of the glass jar (which I didn’t open, as a precaution) and the bright light of the sun the next morning, it appeared much smaller. No doubt the presence of the rats had alarmed me so that it had appeared larger than it truly was.

Thus far, my theory, such as it is, seems to be a failure. I must admit that I did have hopes of perhaps conducting a Scientific Investigation, if I couldn’t become a Great Explorer, but I feel that so far I have made a muddle of it. Still, I believe that my questions are valid ones. My hypothesis, to date, goes something like this:

It has definitely been established that these Wasp-men have poisonous bites, and that they sting their victims. Those persons who are only bitten are not subject to transformation, though they may present other symptoms of the poison. Those persons who are stung receive an Egg, which will transform them into another Wasp-man. So far, so good (or so bad, as the case may be.)

However, after such an attack occurs, what happens to the original Wasp-man? I can think of only two logical scenarios:

1) The Wasp-Man, having expended his egg, retreats and lives the rest of his life (however long that may be) without ever producing another egg or 2) The Wasp-Man, having expended his egg, retreats and grows another egg over the course of time, to sting another victim.

Of course, there may also be other possibilities that have not yet occured to me. If I think of others, I shall present them in due course.

In either case, the idea of the stinging-one-victim-at-a-time concept doesn’t seem like a practical way in which to propogate a species – particularly for wasps. I have the idea that the Wasp-men function something like Drones, and that somewhere there is a wasp or Wasp-man of a type I have not yet encountered, who takes the position of a breeder. However, I have nothing whatsoever to support this idea. I believe if I were to meet a genuine scientist, or clever inventor of the sort that appear in Mr. Verne’s novels as main characters, they would tell me that additional investigation is needed to prove or disprove the idea. A Scientific Theory requires proof!

I haven’t any proof of anything yet, but I do have a wasp. It may or may not be related to the Wasp Men (that also requires additional investigation) but it does have an interesting characteristic. To be precise, it glows in the dark. I have previously encountered this phenomenon only with fireflies, and they only glow while they are alive. The pulsing glow of this wasp, even while dead, also reminds me of the way in which fireflies flash.

I haven’t brought it outside in the dark for fear of attracting more wasps, but I did spend some time in the south garden with a new jar, catching fireflies. I thought perhaps the wasps might be attracted to the fireflies, or vice-versa, since they both flash. I was successful at catching a number of fireflies, but I didn’t catch any wasps.

It was while I was catching fireflies that I met the another vampire.

I am beginning to believe that this ability to sense when a vampire is near may be another symptom of the Wasp-Man bite. I must remember to ask Sir Gregory if he has experienced a similiar phenomenon.

There is something about the presence of vampires that I dislike immensely. They are by their nature rather frightening creatures, and of course as a group they share the most vile and disreputable character. They are not the sort of folk that I should care to associate myself with.

However, I haven’t yet figured out precisely what to do about them. I worry that perhaps I have a streak of cowardice in me that speaks of a lack of character, but the sight of Blind Pew’s army of rats has made quite an impression upon me. I don’t have a method of making a vampire go away if one wishes to speak to me, and I should be afraid that if I tried one of the classical methods, meaning crosses and so on, and fumbled its usage, that I should then enrage the vampire, and he would summon a sea of rats to devour me.

Furthermore, I have my family to consider. It is an unpalatable enough state of affairs when I encounter a vampire who politely lets me go when I inadvertantly wander into his “territory.” It is quite another matter when one waltzes into the gardens of Adelaide itself! I have five brothers, and I am quite certain that they would be brave enough if the worst came to the worst. Phillip, who is just entering the prime vigour of manhood, should likely be a worthy opponent. But Father, who is by no means old, still isn’t as young as he once was. And what would happen to Ian? Would he hold off a vampire with his slingshot?

It therefore seemed prudent to treat the new vampire as a guest, so I turned and waited.

After a moment, he stepped from the shadows where he had been hiding. Although I had been looking directly at the spot where he must have been standing, he blended so perfectly with the shadows of the trees that he had been quite invisible. The garden was well-lit, and within sight of my front door, though some distance removed. Neither of these seemed to bother him.

His appearance was really quite remarkable. His coloration (though not his manner) reminded me a bit of the white rat Albert. He had white hair and a white beard, and rather pinkish eyes. He was immaculately dressed, and upon taking three steps forward, bowed deeply. “Good evening,” he said. “Permit me to introduce myself. I am Baron Heinrich von Goth-Faustus.”

I cannot accurately describe his voice except to say that I shall forever after think of it, whenever I read Brahm Stoker’s “Dracula.”

“Your Lordship,” I replied cautiously, dropping a courtesy. “My name is Sophie St. Claire.”

He looked at me carefully. “Undoubtedly you vonder vhy it is I haff come to visit… particularly unannounced.”

“The thought had crossed my mind, Your Lordship,” I replied.

“I am the Prince of the Vampires of London,” he intoned solemnly. “One of my… subjects… has mentioned your name in conversation. What is it?” He added, arching his eyebrows. “That is a ferocious frown.”

I was indeed frowning. “If you are referring to Blind Pew, I must say that while I am appropriately grateful at not being devoured by rats, I don’t believe he is the sort of person from whom I should wish a positive character reference.”

The Baron – or perhaps I should say, the Prince – blinked at me, and then laughed. “He said you ver a vell-spoken and polite child,” he said.

“Hmph. Well, I suppose that’s not too bad.”

The Prince looked at me sharply. “He also said that ven he encountered you, you were trying to catch wasps.”

Now it was my turn to look sharply at him. “Hm. Indeed. He said to me that you were having problems with wasps – or more specifically, the Wasp-Men…”

It seemed that there were indeed problems. What I had intended to be a five-minute chat turned into such a long talk that I was nearly late for dinner, and I had to come flying into the house with a bottle of fireflies that I had caught during our conversation, and hadn’t had time to release.

From what I gathered from the Prince, vampires held a predatory place in society, similiar in their own way to hawks that feed upon rabbits. The Wasp-Men had appeared a mere eighteen years ago, and were causing some considerable havoc among the vampiric ranks. It seemed that Wasp-man bites were not nearly so uncommon as I had hoped, and for the most part, the vampires weren’t able to tell who had been bitten, and who hadn’t. I gathered that the Prince had a special Gift that allowed him to make this distinction, and that Blind Pew shared this Gift, but also understood that it was extremely uncommon, and most vampires were not so fortunate as to possess it.

The unlucky vampire who attempted to drink from a bitten human would be driven quite mad by their poisoned blood, and fly into such a frenzy that the other vampires would have to kill him, lest human society as a whole discover their presence. The violent ferocity of these scenes was not to be imagined, and the entire vampiric community had been stricken with terror of falling to this fate. However, no amount of paranoia would produce the Gift by which a vampire could tell the single poisoned human out of a group of fifty or more of the unpoisoned variety.

As might be predicted, this was producing undesireable side effects.

The first of these had to do with the Gift itself. Once the problem of poisoned humans had manifested itself, many of those vampires who possessed this rare Gift had used it to gain for themselves enormous wealth and political power. Unfortunately, it seemed that the society of Vampires as a whole tended to move slowly (which makes a certain amount of sense for creatures that are effectively immortal) and was particularly ill-suited to such a meteoric rise in status. These newly-wealthy vampires had often made fearful enemies in their quest for power, with the result that many of them had subsequently been assassinated by their peers. These assassinations left vacuums of power, which caused a great deal of internal strife as lesser vampires competed against each other to win the newly-vacant title. Those vampires who possessed the Gift, but hadn’t been so foolish as to make targets of themselves, nevertheless found themselves seen as keys to survival and therefore objects of power. Many had been kidnapped and later killed by rivals; others who survived had been forced to go underground. Blind Pew was an example of a vampire who had quite literally gone underground to hide.

The net effect of all of this was that this Gift, which was very rare to begin with, had been all but wiped out. Its passing had proved to be a destabilizing influence in the Vampiric community, which might have torn itself entirely apart if the Gift had been a bit more common. The worst of this seemed to be over, but that also meant that there was hardly a vampire left who possessed this Gift, and absolutely no one could tell a poisoned human from an unpoisoned one.

This led to the secondary effects, which were the Prince’s prime concern. Vampires tended to stake out “hunting grounds” for themselves, and while some grounds were considered to be fair game for any vampire, others were considered to be private. The Prince didn’t go into detail as to how the ownership of such grounds was established, but indicated that there was a set of common rules involved, and these guidelines were generally accepted among all vampires.

The presence of poisoned humans had thrown the traditional territories out of balance. Once a poisoned human was found in a hunting-ground, public or private, other vampires would be afraid to hunt there any longer, lest there be more poisoned humans in the area. This meant that some grounds were being abandoned, while others were being overhunted. Worse, the unpoisoned humans were more likely to die, for if a vampire found a good meal, other vampires would sometimes mark that human as a “safe” one, and would either share the meal, or come in afterwards for a second sip. Both of these things were technically forbidden, but the hungrier and the more paranoid the vampire, the more likely he would be to disregard the possibility of disapproval from his peers and choose the “safe” meal. There was another entire set of rules which involved when and how often one might be permitted to cause the death of a human, for it was the wish of the vampires to remain hidden, and too many human deaths would draw attention to their existance. At the very least, the ability to drink from a human without causing their death was considered a mark of gentility and skill. Many were beginning to abandon these old ways because of hunger. The Prince considered this a very bad sign.

Finally, there were the Wasp-Men themselves. It was inevitable at this point that the society of Wasp-Men (if there was such a thing) and the society of Vampires were headed on a collision course. The Vampires hunted and killed Wasp-Men wherever they could find them. These kills were difficult enough without complications, but upon at least one occasion, a Wasp-man had been tracked or encountered with other Wasp-men. Those wasp-men that had been killed had not gone to their deaths easily, and the vampires had suffered casualties as well. Furthermore, a very few vampires were missing, and presumed to have been killed by the Wasp-Men.

Currently, the Vampires had the upper hand because of the strength of their societal structure, and because of their greater numbers. However, they did not seem to be winning the war.

The Wasp-Men had first appeared eighteen years ago. Since that time, the Vampires and the Wasp-Men had basically been at war. This war had had some bad side effects on the Vampiric community, such as the disappearance of the Gift. It had had some bad effects on the Wasp-Men, or at least any Wasp-man who was found by vampires. But the actual number of Wasp-Men, and more imporantly of poisoned humans, didn’t seem to be going down. After the vampires had spent eighteen years hunting down every wasp-man they could find, they were still facing just as many as they had before. In the Prince’s opinion, this did not bode well for the future.

So, I asked the Prince, why come to me?

It was because I was doing research, and because whatever I turned up was unlikely to be believed by the human community, while potentially being useful to the Prince and the Vampires. I was not at all pleased when he told me that many bitten humans lived barely six months after their bite; a great number of them went beserk and killed themselves in some spectacular fashion. However, I take hope from the fact that the Colonel is more than a year out from his own bite, and perhaps Dr. McMillian will be able to find the cure that we hope for.

But in the meantime, I must decide what to do. The Prince has offered me his assistance in research, and whatever numbers he has. I must admit that attempting to research in the Crewe Public Library has been an exercise in frustration.

This entire Wasp-Man phenomenon has become so complicated! All of these sides that I never knew existed! I cannot be on the side of the Vampires, nor can I allow myself to fall sway to the side of the Wasp-Men; I must remain on the side of honest, decent humanity. But how does one remain faithful to the principles of Good Character while surrounded on every side by persons of such evil inclination?

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Sophia's Journal - First Entry

My name is Sophia St. Claire, and as I am beginning my journal, I should very much like to write about my life as a brave adventurer.

Unfortunately, I haven’t an ounce of any trait or characteristic which would serve as an aid in adventuring. I am not a mechanical or mathematical genius. I have only a passing familiarity with the sciences. I am not particularly strong, courageous, or clever. I barely know which end of a sword to hold, and I have never actually seen a pistol, let alone fired one. Even my eyesight has betrayed me, for my vision is so poor as to be atrocious. This alone is sufficient to dash any daring adventurer hopes. Who ever heard of an adventurer with glasses?

Lacking any sort of adventuring prowess of my own, I am obligated to confine myself to reading about the adventures of others. I have read everything that Jules Verne has ever written, as well as “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and a variety of other petrifying books which, unfortunately, a young lady such as myself ought not ever to read. I am particularly fond of the works of Mr. Verne. How I should love to go around the world in a hot air balloon, or see for myself the marvel of the seas, or delve into the mysteries of the earth!

I have no chance of doing anything of this sort, of course, but I have indulged in the purchase of a number of my favorite novels, including the entire works (so far) of Mr. Verne. In addition to this, I have managed to amass a small collection of adventuring paraphenalia: I have a brass compass, several of the most marvelous pocketwatches, a pair of goggles, a little astrolabe, and a variety of other tools and gadgets. I keep these items in a black leather satchel which I fondly call my “adventuring bag,” even though the farthest it has ever travelled is the watchmaker’s shop on Darby street, some five miles from my home.

My family is of the line of the Buckingham St. Claires, and our home is Adelaide. This is not a town, but is name of the family estate. There are several estates around; most, like ours, are so well known that they do not require addresses or explanations. If one was to mention Adelaide in town, everyone would know exactly where it is. Other estates in the immediate area include Bodenham, Belize, and Tioga.

Although it is generally said that Adelaide is located “in” London, it would be more accurate to say that it is located upon its outskirts. For the most part, London is a sprawling mass of residences, so tightly packed that there is no space between them, not even for alleyways in some areas. From its tightly-packed center, London spreads out and its edges become less and less dense, until one is in the country, where houses may have many acres of space in between them. Adelaide sits close enough to London to have convenient access to its interior, but far enough out that it is a proper estate, with lovely grounds and gardens. We own a carraige, which travels to central London every morning. We are so ideally located that Morrison, our carraige-driver, may sometimes make five or six trips in a single day, and think nothing of it.

Father is a barrister, and although his rank is not great, he is a brilliant man, and this makes him a respected opinion in the Halls of Law. He travels there nearly every day, and many mornings I accompany him, at least for the journey into town. This is one of my favorite parts of the day: often we will leave at dawn, when the day is golden and glorious, and spend the better part of an hour talking and looking at the countryside before being rather suddenly surrounded by tall, closely-packed buildings. Adelaide is not far from the docks, and so it is often possible to see the ships in the harbor. How I admire their sleek designs and billowing sails! They are very picturesque from the carriage windows.

While Father goes about his business in the Halls of Law, I like to frequent the Crewe Public Library. This area of town is considered to be a safe and wholesome one for young ladies, and I greatly enjoy my time there. The Crewe Public Library has thousands of books, more than I could hope to read in ten lifetimes; and if I should tire of reading, it is located within three blocks of the Historical Market, which is packed with the most fascinating shops in the world. It is from this market that I have made the aforementioned purchases of books, pocketwatches, and so on. It is commonly frequented by artists, who love to paint upon their easels, and there is a popular gazebo there, where summer quartets often perform in fine weather. I have often enjoyed the music which is played there, and once during Summer Festival, I witnessed a magician make a pony vanish by covering it with a blanket.

Summer Festival occurs annually, and in ancient times was meant to mark the Equinox. Today, the Festival is celebrated all over London in various ways. There are displays of fireworks, and wandering carnivals often stop in town for a few days. It was at one of these wandering carnivals that I met the old Gypsy, who presented me with – Well, I should like to say that she presented me with the start of an adventure, but I quite fear that such a statement would be self-indulgent to the point of untruth.

I went to Summer Festival with my family. This is one of our annual traditions and one which I greatly favor. My family consists of seven members: myself, of course, and Father, and my five brothers. They are, in order from eldest to youngest, Phillip, Stephen, Matthew, Robert, and Ian. There is a large age range among us: Phillip has recently been accepted at University, and I am jealous almost to the point of death; while some wretched soul has been so foolish as to present Ian with a slingshot, which he uses to make the most dreadful terror of himself. The feathers of my sunday bonnet ruined, and then he has the audacity to say that he thought I was a bird! Wicked creature! Father says he shall be a fine young man when he grows up; I say he shall be fortunate to see another birthday if I should discover even one more hole in the brims of my lovely straw hats!

But when this year’s Summer Festival occured, Phillip had not yet left for University, and the slingshot had stayed at home, for I flatly refused that my hat (which was new) should accompany Ian anywhere unless that vile weapon was safely under lock and key. A band of gypsies had set up a carnival, and Ian was absolutely wild to go. Father had his doubts, but Ian was unmoveable, and so it was decided that we should all accompany him.

It would hardly have been the place for a young lady alone, and I should have felt slightly nervous if my family had not been there, but in spite of this I had the most marvellous time. There were jugglers there, who tossed flaming batons in the air as if they were mere trifles; a knife-thrower of the most deadly accuracy; a strong-man who lifted an enormous barbell right over his head; and there was a fortune-teller who would read the tea-leaves left over in the bottom of the cup once one had drunk a cup of tea with her. She was an old woman draped in shawls that were sewn with spangled edges, and I wondered how she could possibly claim to read anything at all, for her eyes were faded, and her vision so poor that she walked with the assistance of a cane.

I was hardly a believer in fortune-telling, but I found myself rather touched when I observed the deference which the other gypsies showed to her. This wasn’t obvious, exactly; but I noticed that there was always at least one of the other gypsies near her tent, as if to watch over her, and they instantly fetched any small trifle which she should require. Their devotion seemed so certain that I told Father I should like to have my tea-leaves read, and although he sighed (Father, being a barrister, deplores those false mystics and wicked charlatans who cheat the populace by their clever performances) he agreed that I should be permitted to go.

The old gypsy woman had a tent with a roof of deep blue, sewn with star-shaped, silver spangles, so that stepping inside was rather like stepping under the night sky. She bade me sit at the table, and asked me what sort of tea I should like. When I told her, she said it was an expensive tea, but laughed when I presented another coin for it, and told me that I was a thoughtful child when I waited to drink my tea until she had also poured herself a cup. We chatted and drank, and she told me the most marvellous stories about the various lands in which the gypsy troupe had travelled in the days of her youth.

At length I handed her my cup, and she took it in her hand and paid it the most profound attention, though I doubted that she could see me, let alone the tiny tea leaves. When she spoke, it was in a voice quite different from that which she had used before, and I had to take a moment to appreciate Father’s warnings about being taken in by a fine performance.

“You want to have an adventure,” she told me, and I blushed to my hair roots, “And so you shall. Your father is a clever man, and you above all of his children have inherited his cleverness. You shall need your wits about you, for you have been chosen to thwart a great evil. On the evening of your seventeenth birthday, go to the man who stands in the light, and there your adventure will begin. You may rise to meet your fate if you choose: you needn’t be jealous of your brother; do as he has done, and the implications will astound all. There will be much resistance, but perservere, and you shall succeed.”

After this she seemed to sink into such a stupor that I was mildly alarmed; but her gypsy watcher came into the tent and, while he told me the reading was over, he also assured me that the old fortuneteller was quite all right, that she would recover her wits in a few minutes, and I needn’t be concerned for her. When I left the tent, Father queried what it was that the old woman had said; but I declined to tell him. I felt that tea-leaf readings, even those taken in the spirit of good fun, ought to be private affairs.

If the truth is to be told, I was quite anxious to have the adventure that the old Gypsy woman had predicted, but the fateful day was nearly a year from the date of Summer Festival. By the time it came around at last, I had forgotten all about the tea-leaf reading.

The day in question was one of those rare days when Father did not have to go into London. However, I had a stack of books which were due at the library. In addition to this, my favorite summer quartet was to perform that afternoon at the Musical Gazebo. The program for the day stated that the quartet had been to Russia during the spring, and that they would be performing several Russian pieces as part of their presentation. I had not heard Russian music before, and was quite interested in attending.

It was arranged that Morrison would drop me off in the morning, and return in the early afternoon. This was not at all an unusual arrangement, for Morrison was often sent here and there to fetch things which were required for the running of Adelaide. That day, in fact, he had a list of things to buy at market.

The morning passed pleasantly enough; but around noontime, there was one of the most dreadful storms I have ever known. It oughtn’t to have rained at all: by the look of the sky in the golden, glorious dawn, I thought I was certain to have a clear and peaceful day. But it wasn’t to be. The storm clouds seemed to roll up impossibly fast; one moment the sun was shining placidly, and the next, it had become so dark that the spark-bearers were obligated to come out and light the street lamps. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the sky was somewhat overcast, but generally cheerful enough; by three o’clock in the afternoon it was all but dark.

In the days after it had passed, there were many who claimed that this storm had been of unnatural origin. I am not a great believer in magic or mysticism, but having witnessed its fury that afternoon, I can certainly understand why these types of rumors took such a strong hold in the imaginations of the general populace. The storm had not been predicted by even the cleverest weather-men; the sailors themselves, who knew the seas and skies better than anyone, were caught wholly unawares. The sky turned black and then almost green; and when the rain came, it came with a fury that I had never before known. Rain in London is usually a placid enough affair; sometimes drops patter down, but never with a great deal of enthusiasm. It is more common to get a foggy or misty day, when the rain comes in tiny little sprinkles that seem almost to float.

But this rain was ferocious. I had read about “sheets” of rain, but I had never seen one prior to that afternoon. The wall of water was so thick and solid that it seemed as if one ought to be able to hammer nails in it, and hang things. I couldn’t see the library steps, let alone the street, and I was deeply concerned about Morrison and the carriage. Naturally the concert was cancelled, but the storm took place around the time that he usually came to pick me up. Morrison was a good man, but he was not young, and it was a frightening thing to imagine he and Edward, our horse, trying to battle their way to the library in such weather.

It seemed as if the storm lasted for days, though in reality it only persisted for an hour or so. By that time, Morrison was definitely late, and I hoped that he had had the good sense to stay put in Adelaide until the worst was over. The sun did not come out again, but it was a relief to see that the shop and market hadn’t been washed away. The street was a river right up to the Library steps, and some of the shop owners were sweeping water out of their parlors, but nothing looked as if it had flooded too badly. The wind was still gusting enthusiastically, and the sky rumbled uncomfortably with the displays of lightning that criss-crossed it; but it was clear that the worst was over. I sat on the bench just inside the library doors, and waited for the carriage.

But Morrison did not appear. The day grew darker and darker, and I became deeply worried about him. I was nearly beside myself by six o’clock. What a wonderful thing it was to see the carriage finally come around the bend about six-thirty!

Morrison and Edward and the carriage were all fine. Morrison apologised profusely, for he had never picked me up so late before. It seemed that the storm had caused a tree to blow across the road, and he had had to unhitch the carriage entirely, move the obstacle with Edward, then hitch everything back up again. Thankfully, Father had forbidden him to travel in such horrible weather, but now that it had passed, he wanted me home at once. It was far too late for me to be out by myself. I quite agreed with this sentiment, and got in the carriage with a good heart.

Unfortunately, the roads leading to Adelaide were in a dreadful state. The library and market were on the crest of a hill. At the low points in the roads, there were several areas that had flooded almost up to the carriage door. Many trees had fallen, and debris littered the roads. Some areas were impassible, and so we had to take a winding, circuitous route out of the center of town. By the time we approached the outskirts of the city, it was pitch black, and the carriage-lamps were smoking fitfully, because we so rarely needed to use them. The road which had seemed so pleasant and fine in the morning was rather frightening in the dark.

Even given the conditions of the road, to this day, I am not certain precisely what it was that spooked Edward.

Like his driver, Edward is an older horse, and I must state here that he has the most placid temperament of any horse I have ever encountered. I have never known him to spook at anything, before or since. He is perfect for a carriage horse, for he likes nothing so well as to trot along the road on a fine, sunny day. In truth, he can hardly be persuaded to gallop; although many horses love to show off their speed, Edward is not one of them. I believe if he had his own way, he should have nothing more to do all day than stand in a field, grazing upon clover, and rolling every once in a while if he should desire a spot of exercise.

He is, however, a creature of some considerable strength and size. He is a breed of Clydesdale, and can pull the carriage as if it didn’t weigh anything at all. This fact was to our detriment when he suddenly reared up on his hind legs, then flew in a random direction as if demons had been at our heels. I could hear Morrison trying to calm him, or at least to steer him, but had no chance of this. I doubt the strong man at the fair could have tugged the reins hard enough to dissuade Edward from going precisely where he wanted to go in that dreadful moment.

And then the worst happened: there was a terrible creaking and the thunderous shattering of wood, and the carriage tipped right over. Two lamps shattered and the other two went out, and we were left entirely in darkness.

It took me several minutes to recover my wits after the carriage had rolled over. Indeed, it took me some seconds to gather myself sufficiently to realize we had stopped moving. I called for Morrison, but got no answer; nor could I hear any sound from Edward. The carriage had tipped upon its side, and I was obligated to climb to get out of the door. There was no moon and no stars, and the lightning which still grumbled by occasionally didn’t really provide enough light to see by. After some fumbling about, I was able to locate one of the carriage-lamps, which had miraculously managed not only to keep a portion of its oil, but also keep the little flint-lighter upon its hook. It lit after some tries, and the scene it displayed was dismal indeed.

There was no sign at all of Edward. He wasn’t a particularly clever horse, but I imagined that he should find his way home once he had calmed down. The carriage was upon its side, but seemed to be mostly undamaged. It was the sight of Morrison that alarmed me so.

He had been thrown some feet away from the scene of the disaster. He didn’t appear to have anything obviously broken, but when I turned him over, he had a lump on his head the size of a teacup, and no matter how I shook his shoulders or called his name, he remained oblivious.

This was a serious problem. Morrison, like most of our servants, had been with us from my smallest childhood, and the size of the lump made me fear for him. I should normally have waited by the carriage until we were found; but I was gravely concerned that he was hurt. This made waiting, either for Edward or for some passing carriage, a matter of the most woeful impracticality. Help would have to be summoned at once.

I did what I could for Morrison. My scarf and my handkerchief made an adequate dressing for the wound for the moment. I detached the other lantern from the carriage, lit it, and set it close to him, upon the largest rock that I could pull over. I pinned a quick note to his shirt, explaining who he was, in case someone found him before I returned; then I took my lantern, and headed down the road as quick as I could.

I should probably have recognized the road in the pleasant sun; but now it was pitch black, I was disoriented from the fall of the carriage, and it wasn’t long before I realized I hadn’t any idea where I was. This was dreadful enough; but I was even more alarmed when I realized that I had walked so far as to be out of the sight of the carriage.

My spirits rose when I saw a light in the distance. We had to be close to Adelaide, and I hoped that the light would be the one which stood at the gate. But I was not so fortunate at this; it wasn’t long before the sound of surf and the smell of salt told me I was near the docks.

The docks! In all my admiring of ships from the windows of the carriage, I had never actually been to the docks – certainly not by myself, and not at night. The docks, particularly at night, were hardly the place for young ladies; but a light was a light, and Morrison clearly needed the attention of a doctor.

The light turned out to be a street-lamp, the only one in the entire area that was lit. It seemed that the storm must have been particularly ferocious at the docks. There were no ships tied at this particular pier; they all seemed to be farther down the bay. But there were branches littered everywhere, and most of those few street-lamps that were present had glass which had shattered, allowing the wicks to be soaked, and thus rendering them useless. A few had been entirely snapped in half.

There was a man under the streetlight, and I approached it with some trepidation; but I felt more at ease when I saw that he wore the uniform of the military, though I didn’t know which unit at that moment. The decorations upon his collar indicated a high rank, and I flew to him without a second thought.

I didn’t wonder that he looked quite startled to see me. It is hardly proper for a young lady to approach a gentleman at any time of day, let alone in the dead of night. But he listened with a grave face when I explained about the overturned carriage and the lump on Morrison’s head. “Where is he?” He snapped in the most businesslike manner, and when I indicated the direction from which I had come, he headed out at once. “That horse probably saved your life,” he told me as I flew along after him, “And leaving a light next to your driver probably saved his.”

He had been running at a good pace, but abruptly he stopped in his tracks. “Get behind me!” He barked in a commanding tone, and a moment later he had drawn his sword. I was startled by the sudden change in his manner.

I don’t clearly recall what happened next, but relate here as much as I have been able to put together from my jumbled memories of the event.

It had been my intention to get behind the soldier, as he had said, but I wasn’t quick enough to do so. A sound attracted my attention, and when I turned I caught a glimpse of the most dreadful face – if it could be called a face – that I had ever seen. It reminded me of nothing so much as a wasp or hornet, with faceted eyes, and pincers where the mouth ought to have been. But it was enormous, easily the size of a man, with arms and legs, and a man’s hands and fingers. The irresistable impression of its appearance made me think that, whatever it was now, it had perhaps once been a man in the past. I was quite petrified with terror at the sight of it.

But I caught only a glimpse, for it was moving very fast indeed. There was the sound of sharp steel cutting the night air, and then an odd crunching noise and a horrifying screech; but this did not seem to slow the creature in the least. I saw my face reflected many times over in the facets of its eyes, and then there was an awful searing pain in my shoulder, and the sound of breaking glass as the panes of the lantern shattered.

After that a gray mist seemed to swirl in front of my eyes. Faces and lights drifted uncertainly in it. Several times I thought I recognized the faces of my father and brothers, and once or twice of the soldier, but they seemed to vanish as quickly as they had come.

When I came back to myself, I found that I was in my own bed, between the crisp white sheets, the morning sun was streaming in the windows, and everything looked as dewy and fresh and friendly as if there had never been a storm at all. I would have thought that I dreamed the entire thing, but the presence of Father and Phillip, and the dull thumping ache in my shoulder, dispelled that notion at once.

Father and Phillip were delighted to see me awake, and over the course of the next day or so, I learned what had happened.

The soldier I had approached was a man by the name of Sir Gregory St. Michaels. He was a retired Colonel, and had spent his career in the Scots Royal Lancers, where he had obtained the most exemplary record of noble service. He had fought in campaigns in Africa and Asia, and had been the recipient of a number of medals for courage and valor. His most recent campaign had occured a number of years ago; there he had been seriously wounded. He had been among a group of soldiers honoured by the King himself; but even such a title as this would not mend a bad knee, and he had retired shortly after the ceremony. He was currently staying as a guest in Adelaide, after my unfortunate mishap.

Sir Gregory had summoned a doctor at once, and a search was started. Morrison and the carriage were found after several hours. There was some damage to the carriage, but very fortunately the most expensive parts, such as the axels and wheels, were not so broken as to be useless thereafter, but would be able to be mended. The door on one side, and most of the roof, would have to be replaced.

The doctor that Sir Gregory had summoned was one Dr. McMillian. He was involved in charitable work in the poorer areas of London, but had served with Sir Gregory during several of his campaigns, and had a number of honors of his own. He had felt Morrison’s head very carefully, and although the bump was indeed enormous, he could not feel a crack or split, and was certain that the skull remained intact. However, Morrison had remained unconscious for nearly a day, and even after he had awakened, he had slept for another two days. Doctor McMillian claimed that he would recover fully, but that it would take a week or thereabouts before he could begin work again.

True to his nature, Edward had trotted home the day before yesterday, still trailing the broken carriage-straps from his harness, muddy but looking quite as if he had forgotten all about the storm. He had thrown a shoe somewhere, but was otherwise unharmed, and was at that moment happily grazing upon the clover in the field where he stayed when he wasn’t employed in pulling the carriage.

As for myself, I had been asleep for nearly four days! It was hardly any wonder that the house was in such an uproar when I awakened. My entire family had spent a great deal of time nervously hanging about my room, and were jubilent that Dr. McMillian was correct in his claims that I would be making a full recovery.

I spent the next several days under the care of Dr. McMillian, and although I was obligated to wear a sling for more than a week, it wasn’t long until I felt quite like my old self.

Father was so upset at the entire incident that at first I was afraid that Morrison would lose his place, but I later found that he was of the opinion that the accident was not the fault of the driver. Nevertheless, he declared that he would hire a new man within the fortnight. I would be permitted to continue to go to the library as usual; but whenever the carriage went back and forth, both Morrison and the new man would drive it. Father did not think it was likely that Edward should spook again, nor did he have any intention of allowing the carriage to be driven about if there was any chance of danger; but if a mishap should occur, I would not be left on my own to try and summon help.

The man who was hired about a week later was a strapping young fellow by the name of John. He had tanned skin and and blue eyes and straw-colored hair, and every maid in the house was absolutely enamored of him. With John to help, the repairs to the carriage, which required much lifting, manuvering and above all hammering, were completed in a trifle.

I had tea with Father and Sir Gregory the following day. Sir Gregory waved aside our thanks as if his assistance had been the most trivial thing in the world. He had the most marvellous stories about the things he had seen on his travels, and I would have greatly enjoyed hearing them even if I hadn’t been in debt to him for my life.

But one thing bothered me upon meeting Sir Gregory again. Although I felt terribly shy around him, the moment I saw him, I instantly disbelieved the story of his retirement. Father told me that he had been wounded in the war; however, the moment I laid eyes on him, I was immediately certain that he also had been bitten, just as I had been.

I hadn’t told Father, or anyone else, of how my shoulder had come to be injured. I hardly believed myself that I had seen a wasp-man or been bitten by one. I probably would have dismissed the recollections as the products of a fevered dream-state, save for two occurances. The first of these was tea with Sir Gregory.

The second was an incident which occured some days later. Morrison himself came to see me. His head still had a bandage around it, but I was glad to see he looked quite well. He wanted to apologize for the accident, but I wouldn’t hear of it. He had spent days terrified that I was angry at him! He didn’t look quite convinced when I assured him this was not the case, but in the end I was so insistant that he accepted my words, and looked relieved.

Before he left, though, he put a small object down upon the nightstand. “I found yer pearl, Miss,” he said.

I picked it up. It was small and gray and round, and did remind me irresistably of a pearl – but something about its texture made me uneasy. It reminded me at once of the Wasp Man. “My pearl?”

“Aye, miss. It was in the lantern, coated in oil. I’ve heard oil isn’t good for pearls, but it don’t seem to be harmed any.”

“Have you mentioned this to anyone else?”

“Bless you no, miss – I haven’t had time, what with John coming aboard and all….”

“Thank you, Morrison.”

He went out, and I set the little sphere aside and had a long think. It wasn’t a pearl – I was quite certain of that. But what was it? At length I made a decision, and waited until Dr. McMillian came in the next day. “You are recovering very well, my child,” he told me with a smile, but I shook my head at him. He never looked at me when he said these things. I had been too sick to care the first few days, but now it seemed as if there was some slight evasiveness in his manner.

“Doctor McMillian, may I ask you something?”

“Of course, you may ask me anything.”

“I am afraid you shall think it is a rather bold question.”

He sat down next to the bed with a confident air. “A bit of boldness is permissable between a lady and her doctor,” he said reassuringly.

From the drawer of my bedside table, I took the small jar in which I had stored Morrison’s find. It didn’t really need a jar, but I had found that I disliked its presence if it was simply left upon the table. “This is an egg… isn’t it?”

If the good Doctor hadn’t already been sitting down, I believe his knees should have folded out from under him. I might have struck him in the head with a cricket bat. For a moment, he seemed speechless, and then he reached forth trembling fingers, and took the jar from my hand. He put on a pair of glasses and examined it in the most intent way imaginable.

When he turned his attention from the jar to me, it was the first time he had really looked at me, in the entire time he had been treating me. “Where did you get this?” He breathed, as if he had just been handed the entirety of the crown jewels.

“My carriage-driver found it,” I told him. “It was in the lantern, coated with oil. I think… I think it’s dead. I think the oil suffocated it. But I think it is an egg, and I think it was meant for me.”

There was a long silence. “What do you remember, my child?” he said. It was the first time he had asked me the question – it was, in fact, the first time anyone had asked me.

It was his first honest question; I tried to give him an honest answer. “I remember a man with pincers, and jewelled eyes,” I told him. “I didn’t injure my shoulder when the carriage rolled over; I was bitten when I was speaking to Sir Gregory. I haven’t told anyone else, lest I should be thought mad. But…” I hesitated for a moment, “But doctors may keep confidences. I think you know what really happened, but you haven’t known how much I know, and so haven’t known how much to say. I think you are treating Sir Gregory for the same malady. And Sir Gregory mentioned that you are involved in charitable work in the less-fortunate areas of London… could that charitable work involve patients who have received venomous bites?”

Dr. McMillian looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads. But then he started to talk, really talk, as doctor to patient. He had not addressed me in such a fashion before, but had always dealt with Father.

The shoulder injury was indeed a venomous bite, and he was indeed treating Sir Gregory for a similiar bite. The news was very bad, and it didn’t get better. The venom of the bite wouldn’t dissipate over time, but would affect health and temper. He would have to be my doctor for a very long time to come, unless I had a preference for another physician (I assured him he need have no worries on this account.)

For most people who had had encounters with these wasp-men, the prognosis would be even grimmer. The majority of such persons had been both bitten and stung. It had been Dr. McMillian’s theory that those stung had received an egg, which would, over the course of time, transform them into more of these wasp-men. Prior to our conversation, no such egg had ever been found.

Like myself, Sir Gregory had only been bitten. In his case, the stinger had embedded itself into the thick military boot which he had been wearing at the time. This had saved him from the worst of it; but the egg had been lost. He had had much more difficulty with the bite than I had so far experienced. He had not found Dr. McMillian until he had returned to London more than a year later, by which time symptoms were manifesting themselves. There were days when Sir Gregory had such a terrible time with temper that he felt obligated to lock himself away until he was calm again. It was this problem which had forced his retirement.

Dr. McMillian wished to make a special study of my case. To date, I was the person for whom medical help had been summoned the quickest, and the bite was in the earliest stages that the good Doctor had ever seen. Furthermore, Sir Gregory had taken the precaution of cutting the bite, and sucking out as much of the venom as he could, exactly as if I had been bitten by a poisonous snake. This was an extremely promising development, and although it was certain that some poison remained, at least some of it had not had the chance to take hold.

Dr. McMillian believed that a cure, or at least a treatment, could potentially be developed for such bites. Sir Gregory was on a regimen, but his case was more difficult since it was so much more advanced than mine. Dr. McMillian wanted to begin treatment as soon as possible. He firmly believed that the earlier treatment was begun, the better the eventual prognosis.

My own treatment would begin with an injection of a certain Opium derivitive. I was shocked at this; but it seemed that any effective treatment would require substances of an addictive nature. He had already laid the groundwork with my family; in private, he had told Father that he wanted to schedule an appointment for a certain blood test, and Father had agreed to this. Because my bite was so new, I would require much less of a dose than most patients, and Dr. McMillian hoped that we might be able to entirely avoid any addictive side effects.

This was all shocking and rather dreadful news; but as the good Doctor seemed so hopeful, I didn’t feel it right to allow myself to become too depressed over my prospects for treatment.

A day later, Father came in and told me gently that Dr. McMillian thought I ought to come in for a blood-test, and told me in his most reassuring manner that everything would be fine.

It didn’t work out that way, of course. I knew what the results of the test would be beforehand; but none of my family did. Dr. McMillian quietly informed Father that I was in the early stages of Consumption.

This was dreadful news for them, and over the course of the next few weeks I came to know a great deal more about this disease than I had previously… which, I am sorry to say, wasn’t saying much. No one, not even Dr. McMillian himself, knew a great deal about Consumption. It didn’t seem to be very contagious, and struck both rich families and poor ones in a very even-handed manner. Many diseases were associated with dirt and grime, or with persons of a lesser moral inclination; but Consumption was not one of these. Sometimes it could be a serious disease – serious enough to be deadly – but upon other occasions it could linger for some time, and then leave. It was not unusual that no one else in the household showed signs of it; often it would strike one member of a family or household, leaving the rest untouched.

Thus I have become Dr. McMillian’s patient. I have had one treatment so far, which consisted of receiving an injection of a clear fluid with a small needle. Having heard dreadful stories of the effects of Opium, I expected to find myself floating among the clouds at once, and was very surprised to discover that it didn’t seem to have any effect upon me at all. Dr. McMillian smiled and explained that the dosage was an extremely small one, and that, with luck, it would remain so. He would test my blood twice monthly, and adjust my treatment accordingly. He hopes to give one injection every other month or so, but says we shall have to see.

My family treats me a bit as if I am a china-doll, which I find useful on some accounts, and annoying on others. At the very least, Ian has stopped shooting the feathers upon my bonnets, for which I can feel only gratitude.

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