Evelyn Chartres Author
Clara – Page 2

The Van Helsing Paradox – Parts I and II

People often said that revenge was a dish best served cold. Although the originator of that turn of phrase probably never came across those who possessed the chill touch of the grave.

Either way, Clara was not sold on the idea, considering that the memory of a corpse bursting into flames was so near and dear to her heart. It was the heat from those flames that permitted her to keep going until the sun claimed its dominion over the land.

“Revenge for whom or for what?” Clara wondered.

Clara wondered why she considered her vocation a form of revenge. Her father died working the coal mines while her mother followed suit years later; there was no desire to avenge their deaths.

“Was Father Michael’s death the catalyst that drove my thirst for revenge?” Clara wondered.

That reason did not jive. He dedicated his life to purging the world of their kind. He knew the risks and died doing God’s work.

“Not a bad way to go,” Clara said absentmindedly.

As the somniferous clickety-clack of the railcars took a hold of her mind, Clara realised the sandman would soon claim his prize. It was midday and the train would not get there until a few hours before sunset.

She reached for a picture at her side, a recent shot taken a week or so ago. It featured a woman who walked hand in hand with an unidentified man who was later found dead. Despite a different hairstyle and clothes, Clara knew this was Drusilla, the woman who had been responsible for countless deaths and atrocities. Unfortunately, before Clara could deliver her verdict, she was fast asleep.

* * * *

“Check out the rock of ages,” a lobby boy said loud enough that Lewis’ ears perked up.

The concierge looked up to see how a woman in her thirties would deserve that kind of reaction. Sure enough, Lewis’ question was answered the moment he set eyes on the gal making her way towards the lobby desk. Her baggage followed suit along with the love-struck valet who hauled them.

Odd how he seemed unaffected by the crushing weight of her bags. Might have something to do with the fact his eyes were glued to her ass!

She had the chassis of a Greek goddess, toned and shapely. Despite her obviously active lifestyle, she retained that distinctive feminine sway, which entranced every male in the room.

Of course, the lobby boy would need to be reprimanded, even if his call to arms had been spot on. The day shift’s concierge eyed every movement she made, finding the entire affair sensual despite the lack of visible skin. The lady had chosen to wear a knee-duster that was both longer and of a heavier fabric than fashion dictated. A shame, because he would have enjoyed seeing more of her.

“Good day,” Clara said after giving Lewis the once-over.

Experience shone through her steel-grey eyes and Lewis could tell she had been around the block. All the better for him. He rather liked the idea of learning new tricks.

“I cabled ahead for a room,” Clara added with a soul-crushing tone that reinforced her desire to keep things strictly business. “Under the name of Grey,” she said nonchalantly.

Left with a deflated ego, Lewis wondered how she so easily avoided his masculine charm. The concierge looked over the register and found the entry. First name Clara, he noted and thought it was a pretty name which fit her to a tee.

“Ah yes,” Lewis said playing the game. “Clara Grey, right here. May I call you Clara?” he asked with the backing of his warmest smile.

Clara smirked, then shook her head before replying, “No. Miss Grey will do.”

In the background, Lewis imagined his ego being shanked in some dark alley and left there to bleed out. Unfortunately, she was not done with him yet, choosing to show no mercy by delivering the coup de grâce.

Clara said, “The key, if you please.”

She grabbed the key from his hand and before he said a word, left with the valet in tow. That man would probably go to the depths of hell as long as she led the way. Bets were sure to be made amongst the staff on how big a tip he would get for his trouble. Lewis assumed a big fat goose egg and was later proven correct.

It seemed that Lewis had been right all along, in that Miss Grey had been around the block a few times. She certainly had no trouble seeing him for the player he was.

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

The Prelude to Action – Part VII

Clara had been blindfolded and transported to a new location. Had she been familiar with her surroundings, she may have guessed her whereabouts.

When her blindfold was lifted, her eyes struggled to adjust to the light. Hay, thick supporting beams and wood planks made up her immediate surroundings, so these were either stables or a barn.

She had been tied to a chair and her bindings had been expertly secured. The well-planned ambush, transfer and securing of the prisoner were indicative of someone who knew their craft.

Since only women were present at the ambush, that implied she was dealing with the Feminine Brigade of Saint Joan of Arc. The Reverend Mother had already revealed that members of the Tower had infiltrated this group. Although the name was far too…

“Surprised you were captured so easily?” Edith mused.

Clara sniggered before she replied, “And miss the chance to see who was running the show?”

“Good point,” Edith said. “How are you enjoying our hospitality?”

“A bit to be desired in terms of locale,” Clara said in riposte.

“Take it up with management,” Edith said.

“I am,” Clara replied. “Won’t lend me her ear.”

Edith did not say a word and for now they were at an impasse. Clara was curious about why they were having this exchange.

“You went native?” Clara asked. “Nice tan, by the way.”

“You’re still hunting,” Edith said. “Still bathing in milk?” came her retort.

“So you haven’t heard?” Clara asked to break the cycle.

That odd question caused Edith’s face to register some emotion. There was confusion, but also a faint sign that their friendship still meant something to her.

“Heard of what?” Edith asked.

“The Terminus was attacked,” Clara replied. “The gates are closed, and the Tower is isolated.”

“When?” Edith sputtered out. “How?”

“When did the government attack that church?” Clara asked.

Edith fell into deep thought. Clara had seen this before in people who struggled to survive. For them, the passage of time was nearly irrelevant. When living to see another day was a challenge, what was a week or a month in their minds?

“About a fortnight ago,” Edith said.

“I was heading to a gate in California when I was redirected to French Canada,” Clara said. “Ruined a perfectly good dress, too,” she whined before adopting a smirk.

Edith suppressed a laugh. The air between them was beginning to clear. Gone were the theories that Clara had been sent here to bring her back into the fold, theories that may have held true had the Reverend Mother told her about this defection. Was the Tower aware of this development? Had Edith been counted as one of the hunters who went missing? Clara wondered if there was an end to these secrets and omissions.

“Did you break a nail?” Edith asked.

“You know how expensive manicures are up there,” Clara said sarcastically. “Practically had to sell out every hunter in the country to afford it.”

Edith almost cracked a legitimate smile but there was still a distance between them. Clara felt a twinge of regret. Edith’s actions would forever set them apart, even if they ended up working together.

“Your angel was in town,” Edith said while she produced a newspaper clipping.

Clara brought out her hands from behind the chair. She had been holding the rope together after cutting her way to freedom. Fortunately, devout Catholics rarely took away religious artefacts, even those with sharp blades.

When she grabbed the newspaper clipping, Edith raised an eyebrow. She must have forgotten how slippery Clara could be.

“Taken at a social Gala a couple of days before the attack?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” Edith said. “I recognised her as soon as I saw that picture.”

“Any news on the attack itself?” Clara asked.

“None. Not a peep,” Edith replied.

“That is decidedly odd. The army shows up and blows a church to Kingdom Come, but there is no mention of it in the local papers?” Clara asked.

“That’s why we were keeping an eye on the site,” Edith said. “To see if anyone came sniffing around. We thought that we might get a few answers from those who came to investigate.”

That strategy made sense, except it failed to account for their opponent anticipating the move. Clara would have left traps behind to throw them off. So far, it seemed that Drusilla did not have the same instincts.

“Anyone else come sniffing around?” Clara asked.

Edith’s lips went white and in that moment, Clara realised that someone had indeed laid a trap. There was blood on her friend’s hands.

“Did Drusilla come back to inspect her handiwork?” Clara asked.

For a moment, Edith avoided Clara’s gaze but relented before she replied, “Y—Yes.”

“I am sorry,” Clara said. “You two were close?” Clara guessed.

Clara had inadvertently poured salt in an open wound, but her show of sympathy would avoid making her the target of all that pent up guilt. Edith, the woman who was always cool, calm and collected, finally broke.

As tears streamed down her cheeks, Clara freed her feet just in time to catch Edith. Nothing she said or did would stem the tide, so Clara simply held her friend.

“It’s not fair,” Edith sobbed.

“It never is,” Clara said. “It never is,” she repeated after a long pause.

Life was not fair and there was nothing they could do to change that fact. Many held on to the promise of an afterlife, putting up the good fight until the bitter end. This was done in the hopes that Saint Peter would welcome them with open arms when the time came.

Clara knew that this moment could not be hastened. It was not the time to be selfish nor righteous in dealing with Edith; it was the perfect opportunity to show compassion and empathy. Alas, those were traits hunters rarely needed to use.

Edith finally pulled away after what seemed to be an hour of sobbing. Her eyes were red and puffy while her cheeks were covered in streaks. Even in a place like this, Edith still liked to powder her nose. It was often said that vanity was the devil’s favourite sin.

“I’m okay,” Edith said softly.

“Quiet alright,” Clara said. “We’ve all been there at one point in our lives,” she lied.

“I doubt it,” Edith said with a meek smile.

“Is there anything I can do?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” Edith said. “Kill that bitch.”

Clara did not expect that. Had the tables been turned, Clara would have led the charge herself. Nothing less would satiate her thirst for revenge.

She was doubly surprised when Edith handed over a slip of paper that contained a series of icons indicating gate locations. Disguised as a business card, it could easily be handed around without arousing suspicion.

“How did you get this?” Clara asked.

“Found it—,” Edith said before she broke into tears.

While Clara held Edith, she figured out the rest. The card had been crumpled into a ball as though someone had gripped it with all their might. Somehow her friend had managed to wrestle it away from her killer.

So Drusilla had been there to witness the attack? A gutsy move that worked in Clara’s favour, because she now had a place to start her search.

With the card in hand, she glanced at the design. Some symbols were familiar while others were a complete mystery. One particular symbol brought back memories of Father Allen being dragged away. Her recollection had been so vivid that she nearly dropped the card in response.

This variant featured a crescent moon hanging over a cross. It represented a merging of two faiths, the original, cast aside by the upstart. This must be the location of their holy site, which also meant heavy security.

“Aww, nertz,” Clara said.

Fortunately, this did not appear to be Drusilla’s destination. There was one symbol which had been circled with lipstick. Something the woman who died was unable to afford. Besides, who wore makeup while fighting a civil war? Well, other than Edith?

That symbol did seem to be familiar. It was an icon of the caduceus with an eagle in the background. The caduceus was normally carried by Hermes, however the eagle at its back was the key.

According to Edith, Drusilla desired to be the centre of attention. That jived with previously observed behaviour. Someone who hides from the spotlight would not be found in art throughout the ages. Despite this being one of this country’s major destinations, it was not large enough to keep her interested for long.

Clara smiled once she remembered seeing this icon adorning a major train station. A train station located at a metropolis made infinite sense. Easy to run, hide or party, based on the amount of attention she got.

All Clara needed to do was make sure Edith was alright before leaving. It seemed like the least she could do for a friend. Besides, that woman had roamed the earth for a long time. What was the harm in delaying her death by a couple of weeks?

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development.  There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth.  Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

The Prelude to Action – Parts V and VI

For Clara, getting into Mexico was not a concern. The Cristeros War required substantial government resources to contain. That meant border guards did not bat an eye at a pretty foreigner crossing the border alone.

All Clara had to do was hide any religious affiliation. The government had grown suspicious of anyone connected with the Church. For now, it was best to avoid being a target for arbitrary arrest.

Clara had a good idea about which gate had been used. It must have been near the city from which those missing hunters were based out of.

The most interesting aspect of this journey had been the transition in flora. When she crossed into Mexico, the area had been dry and arid; but it gradually transitioned into a greener and more welcoming land as she progressed westward.

By the time Clara had reached the Pacific, she had crossed a lush jungle. This was a tropical paradise, and she imagined that it would become a major tourist destination once the dust settled.

The two hunters had been operating out of this city when they disappeared. Since this was an important port-o-call, the gate had strategic value.

Clara sensed that the Tower’s reason for choosing a gate location applied just as well to their enemy. So it was reasonable to assume that they had a gate nearby as well. With some luck, she might be able to determine the available destination, although by itself that would be daunting.

Once Clara arrived at the train station, she took a cab to a nearby hotel. The surroundings were quiet ritzy leaving nothing to desire. Clara was even surprised to find a few telegrams waiting for her.

Clara tipped the concierge and quickly read through the messages. Every telegram received conveyed the same general information; all of the gates except for those in use during the incident were intact but inoperable. That meant the point of attack must have been destroyed as well.

When her luggage had been delivered, Clara pulled out the wireless. As expected, the number station provided the same sequence of numbers, but the message was being narrated by a male student. That meant the station was manned, so the Tower itself must still be intact.

Clara changed into a fashionable dress and made sure to bring her derringer along with a vial of holy water. It was time to explore the city and fashionable attire would distract the government troops while she sought out the Terminus gate. That would be her starting point. She only hoped it would not be a trap.

* * * *

By the time Clara neared the gate, the sun hung high in the sky. While it precluded stealth, it made it impossible for Drusilla or her ilk to be out and about.

The heat and humidity were making it difficult for her to keep dry and composed. She was starting to understand the allure of siestas. Even from this distance, she saw the devastation that surrounded the area. Clara had seen this level of destruction before, but only in a warzone.

“Very little left,” Clara said as she ventured deeper into the ruins of what had been a church.

The remnants of the structure were charred and retained that distinctive odour of cordite. An incredible amount of munitions had been used to secure this place. That might explain the ball of flame that followed her through the gate.

There were tracks from heavy wheeled vehicles visible throughout the area. This had all of the hallmarks of a government sanctioned assault. So that meant that she was probably in the middle of a…

“Don’t move,” someone ordered in Spanish.

When she turned around with her derringer in hand, Clara noticed that she was surrounded. There were about thirty or so armed women visible, which meant there were more hidden.

“Ambush,” Clara asked.

“Correct señora,” the leader of the group replied.

“Lovely,” Clara said.

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

The Prelude to Action – Part III and IV

It took the better part of the morning to find out where she ended up. Unfortunately, the gate’s destruction made it impossible to return to the Terminus to get some answers.

Clara used a shawl she had lifted from a passer-by to conceal the scorch marks, then wandered about until she came across the main entrance. The fact that every sign and the bulk of the graves were marked in French convinced her that she was nowhere near Mexico.

She eventually found her way out into town. People, for the most part, nodded politely and seemed oblivious to the mesquite odour that followed her. Clara kept on a smile and listened intently to their non-Parisian accents.

Without, much effort Clara made her way to the river bank. On the opposing side, she saw a small port city that could have been pulled straight out of central Europe. The city even featured a fortified wall and a French château overlooking the old city below.

To her right, she saw a large steel bridge that linked the two communities. Clara had not been here before but she knew enough from the landmarks and language to make an educated guess.

That helped her come up with her next course of action; first, Clara had to find a place to stay. A problem that was easily solved by finding her way to that French château. Fortunately, it was a railway hotel and a luxurious one at that.

After a base of operation was established, she would need to make contact with the Tower. How hard could that be?

* * * *

Clara walked into her opulent hotel room. The plush carpet, decorative bedding and fine crafted furniture adorned the room. In the space of a week, she had gotten a few odds and ends to keep her going.

Her wardrobe was a different matter. The clothes she wore on arrival had long been relegated to the trash heap. Clara had amassed a wardrobe that would permit her to blend into a crowd or stand out like the paragon of fashion she was.

A bell hop brought in a wireless that Clara had purchased earlier this morning. This disruptive technology was making the world feel smaller. Isolated communities now had a peek of the world beyond, exposed to music and cultures they never knew existed.

Wireless radio was a boon to her group. As they became ubiquitous, their order used the technology to stay informed and even coordinate missions.

To communicate, the Tower ran a number station, where an older student would read a series of numbers, repeated every five minutes. All she needed was ink, paper and her wireless.

She turned on the contraption and began to tune it. While most radios were not designed to pick up this frequency, certain models such as this one could be tweaked, all thanks to the Georgians. She tuned it exactly as taught using jewellery tools. At first, she heard nothing more than white noise, but slowly the distorted voice of a young woman cut through the interference.

“Thirty,” the unfamiliar voice said calmly then trailed off.

“Aww, nertz,” Clara said.

Clara looked at the clock and determined that it was running late. Unfortunately, that meant she needed to wait until the numbers were repeated.

After a pause, the voice began to recite the code, “Ten, Five, Eight, Fifty-One, and Thirty.”

The code always used biblical references. In this case, the first three letters identified the book, so J, E and H were used to identify Jeremiah. The latter two numbers referred to the chapter and verse.

Clara looked it up in her room’s copy of the Gideon’s Bible. She already had an idea of what it would say, but it paid to be prudent to confirm what she knew.

“The mighty men of Babylon have ceased fighting, they stay in the strongholds; their strength is exhausted, they are becoming like women; their dwelling places are set on fire, the bars of her gates are broken,” Clara read.

Bible verses were, of course, cryptic and this one required a fair amount of context to interpret. Based on her last jaunt through a gate, Clara determined that the Terminus had been attacked and disabled. Clara was effectively on her own, just like anyone else away from the Tower during the attack.

The Tower did have alternate entrances, kept secret from everyone but the most senior members. No doubt, they would use those to evacuate or to establish a new base of operations.

“How long would that take,” Clara wondered.

“That’s not good,” Clara muttered while pacing the room. “So who is responsible?”

Clara could not help but think that Drusilla was responsible for this particular attack. That meant that those two hunters had paid the ultimate price so they could gain access to the Terminus.

Trading the lives of your enemy to weaken them globally. Even Clara would take that deal if the situation were reversed, especially if it crippled their ability to wage war.

The creature would have made sure to vacate the scene of the crime. Staying in proximity to the gate might lead to retaliation, so that meant getting as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. Drusilla must have used one of their gates to escape the scene.

At least Clara had a starting point: Find the gate and narrow down potential avenues of escape. That would focus her search and perhaps find a trail to follow.

“Not a great plan, sure, but it’s better than nothing,” Clara said.

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!

The Prelude to Action – Part II

Clara walked through the Terminus’ sections until she found the door leading to her destination. While the gates were designed to travel one way, the doors themselves shifted and moved. Otherwise, given time, an individual could map out the Terminus in its entirety.

Now, she stood before the door and opened it. Clara never liked to dwell on what was about to happen, so she just stepped through.

This time, things were different. Normally, the transition was effortless, and the traveller simply found herself in a new location. This time, the transition was anything but instant and felt like she was being pulled in every direction. Clara opened her eyes and saw a whitewashed world, similar to the one found outside of the Tower.

Unlike the faded memory that was Pompeii, the world before her was changing at a fantastical rate. No one had ever mentioned being conscious during transitions.

“So why am I seeing this,” Clara wondered.

With that thought came a whoosh followed by a ball of fire that was gaining on her. Clara looked about, but found no way to push herself forward or manoeuvre. For better or for worse, she was stuck in transit until she reached her destination.

Moments before the ball of flame enveloped her, Clara felt cool grass beneath her bare feet. She instinctively rolled away and sensed a blast of heat pass over her.

Her eyes took a while to adjust, but she soon witnessed the carnage. The door itself had been blown from its hinges, rendering the gateway inoperative. Clara noted how debris was spread out all over the area and that the luscious green grass had been scorched… Just like the top of her outfit.

“I liked that top,” Clara said while brushing any dirt from her shoulders.

Clara quickly scanned over her surroundings to make sure there were no witnesses. Fortunately, no one had been visiting this graveyard. Odd, it should have been night. Clara had expected to be under the cover of the waxing moon.

Instead, the sun was a quarter of the way up in the deep blue sky. So unless she had been pulled out of time, Clara must have reached an alternate gate. Did that explain the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions?

“Horsefeathers,” Clara exclaimed. “So, where am I,” she asked.

Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!