Tag: Secrets

  • Les Filles de Jeanne D’Arc – Part II

    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!

    “Why has Clara returned late from her sabbatical,” the Reverend Mother asked.

    Clara was about to speak, to explain her situation but Edith jumped in instead. At least this time Clara did not need to talk her way out of trouble

    “She was attacked by one of them Reverend Mother,” Edith said in a formal tone. “She claims that a former student who was known as Jonathan Carmichael was responsible,” she added.

    This was the first time that Clara had seen a change in the Reverend Mother’s stoic mask. This time her eyes went wide with surprise; of all the times to wish for a camera!

    “Is this true child,” Augustine asked.

    “Yes Reverend Mother,” Clara replied.

    “Clara also discovered that Jonathan had been responsible for the disappearance of at least six other girls over the past two years,” Edith said.

    The Reverend Mother cocked her brow. That sort of information was hard to come by and easily appeared to be far fetched. This was precisely the scenario that Clara had wished to avoid.

    “Sometimes truth was stranger than fiction,” Clara thought.

    “How child,” Augustine asked.

    “I got lucky Reverend Mother,” Clara replied.

    “Surely there is more to the story than mere luck,” the Reverend Mother asked.

    Clara took a deep breath and began to recite her sordid tale. She went over the details on how Jack set a trap, how she gained the upper hand and cleared up the evidence. The Reverend Mother hung on every word in awe on how calm Clara appeared to be, or at least on the outside.

    She then went on to describe the artwork and focused on the portrait she brought with her. Evidence that provided a vital link to the Father Michael’s death, recent whereabouts of the one responsible and hinted at the scope of their intelligence network. To be honest, it left them with more questions than it answered.

    Clara doubted she would be involved in any effort to tie all of this information together. Although she was certain that Tower was marginally safer, at least for now.

    “Please leave us please child,” the Reverend Mother said.

    Clara nodded and left without saying a word. All the while she wondered why Edith would remain.

    On her way down the stairs, she saw several members of the staff hurry on by. It seemed that Clara had created a bit of a stir; a rare occasion where this type of response did not land her in hot water.

  • Les Filles de Jeanne D’Arc – Part I

    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!

    Clara had no idea what to expect once she got back to the Tower. Full-fledged hunters with years of experience often disappeared without a trace, so for an acolyte to return where so many had failed? Now that was bound to get some attention.

    Clara knew that her credibility would be questioned. Others had claimed kills that were not their own to progress through the ranks. Such a lie would be far more plausible than returning as the victor after walking into a trap.

    Clara took a deep breath while focusing on the door leading into the Tower. While this area had no defences beyond obfuscation, Clara was certain that something would happen once she opened that door. The question was what?

    Clara closed her eyes, let out her breath and recited a prayer. With one push of her hand the door gave way and she crossed the threshold.

    ~ ~ ~ ~

    Blinding white light greeted her on the other side, Clara struggled in vain to keep her eyes open. Even during that brief attempt her vision was marred with deep purple streaks.

    So that particular door led to other destinations? Clara had suspected that direct and unfettered access to the Tower would pose a security risk. In a way, it was reassuring to learn that the Tower had a few more secrets left, especially those which favoured self-preservation.

    Clara did not move, because she felt the sharp edge of a blade touch her skin. A thin rivulet of blood ran down her neck but she was not worried. This had been a warning, if they wanted her dead, Clara would have never known what hit her.

    “There are very few ways to trigger the Tower’s defences,” Edith said.
    Clara said nothing, since speaking would only worsen the bleeding. If Edith was interested in an answer, she would have to permit it.

    “Traitors are not welcome here,” Edith said. “So why are you still alive,” she asked.

    The blade remained firmly in place. Chances were that Edith had expected Clara to be a smouldering heap of ash right now.

    “I wonder if that would the best time to cook a marshmallow,” Clara thought.

    At this moment Clara was in Limbo, caught in a state between life and death. Clara needed to convince Edith that she was not here to betray them.

    Clara reached into her pocket in a slow and deliberate manner. She then found her prize and dropped them onto the floor. The two bloodied fangs made no more sound than a pin drop. Wherever they were it had to be spacious to dampen the sound to this extent.

    “Where did you get those,” Edith asked while she sheathed her blade.

    Clara turned around and felt something being dropped into her hands. Her fingers probed the metallic, glass and leather device. Without a second thought she slipped them over her head to protect her eyes. Now she had the opportunity to take a look at where she was.

    Edith stood before her while sporting spectacles fitted with onyx coloured lenses. They looked a bit like welders glasses and assumed she had been given an identical pair.

    “Jack surrendered them,” Clara said.

    “Jack,” Edith asked with a hint of confusion.

    Clara nodded before she said, “Must have been turned a couple of years back.”

    “Jack? We had no intelligence on this,” Edith said.

    Clara pulled out the folded canvas portrait which contained the list of girls killed. The portrait had the same effect on Edith as it had for Clara.

    “He was careful on who to ambush and when,” Clara said. “He even painted a tableau mort for every one of those poor girls,” she added.

    “You got the better on him,” Edith asked.

    “I got lucky,” Clara said. “So what now,” she asked.

    Edith focused intently on Clara’s facial features. In that moment her fate was being decided based on very little evidence. Clara hoped that this glimpse at the truth was enough.

    “Follow me,” Edith said.

    They walked away from the blinding light until the levels dropped to a manageable level. Both Edith and Clara removed their glasses and hung them against a whitewashed wall. It took a moment, but Edith found a hidden latch which enabled her to push away a portion of the wall.

    Clara had visited many fortifications as part of her training. She saw arrow slits in the rock and larger openings that would permit a small cannon loaded with grapeshot to fire salvos. Simply put, this was a killing field designed to prevent entry.

    At the end of the tunnel there were heavy steel doors reinforced with massive rivets. Clara had never seen those doors before. Once they walked through, Clara found herself safely within the confines of the Terminus.

    “A pocket of reality to keep undesirables away,” Edith said.

    That was a detail that Jack would have wanted to get his hands on, so Clara would have died for nothing. Another reason why Clara should have been thankful that her strategy had worked out after all.

    A moment later they were back in the Main Hall. No one seemed to be paying her any particular attention so no alarms had been raised. Edith moved at a frightening pace, so Clara did her best to keep up even while they made their way up to the Reverend Mother’s office.

    Clara had been to see her before, to clear up some misunderstandings. Old habits did die hard after all, but this time there would be a lot of explaining to do.

  • Two Ships Passing in the Night – Part V

    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!

    Clara sat at a table by her favourite café. She observed the morning crowd flow while they made their way to work or school. There was a certain sense of satisfaction for not being bound by the clock.

    Busy sipping on a latté, Clara closed her eyes and relaxed. While she was not bound by time, she knew someone whose time was about to come at an abrupt end.

    The first break in flow started with a few hushed voices. With every passing second, the crowd grew larger until people began to panic.

    “Fire! Fire,” a man exclaimed marking it as the first coherent statement yet.

    Hurried footsteps passed by, close enough that clara felt the rush of air pass by. Within five minutes she heard sirens approaching in the distance.

    Clara opened her eyes and saw a mob surrounding the bistro. She feigned curiosity but knew exactly that was going on.

    “Sir,” Clara asked in an alarmed voice. “What is going on,” she asked.

    “The Cabaret down the street is on fire,” the man replied without taking his eyes off the carnage.

    “A shame,” Clara thought, seeing how that would delay breakfast.
    “Is anyone hurt,” Clara asked, but was ignored.

    For the next several hours the crowd grew and contracted like the tide. Men fought hard to save the building but the fire ultimately claimed its prize. Eventually the stone structure was reduced to a smouldering heap of broken brick and stone.

    “That should take care of all evidence nicely,” Clara thought.

    She got up from the table, paid her tab with a generous tip and melted into the crowd. Today was a new day and seeing that traitorous bastard burn made things right as rain.

    She thought back over one of Professor Stephen’s lectures. Many of the students had chosen to ignore his wisdom, discounting it as a work of fantasy.

    Clara had known better and paid close attention to the lecture on the effects of daylight for these creatures. Direct light could sear flesh or during longer exposures cause the body to erupt in a fiery inferno. In that moment, she knew that their bodies could easily be disposed of.

    All she needed was a clear head and a little forethought. That knowledge had certainly done the trick this morning.

  • Two Ships Passing in the Night – Part IV

    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!

    Clara remember little after he took her hand. A distant voice in the back of her mind tried to protest her leaving before the show, but it had been drowned by her desires. In that moment she would have gladly held the weight of the world, all Jack had to do was ask.

    She did not remember shedding her clothes when they entered his room. Clara had followed his lead and hurried their way towards the inviting bed. She even went so far as to hop on one foot to shed her stockings.

    When he directed her to get on the bed and Clara did so without saying a word. Naked and vulnerable, her heart was racing and she and desperately sought to feel every inch of him.

    Jack watched from a distance before he joined her. He glided over the bed, moving between her inviting legs then hovered over her. It felt like a cool breeze was running over her skin and covered her in gooseflesh. Everything he did made her want him more, so much so that her nipples were hard and her body ached.

    When his lips were no more than an inch from hers, he gripped her wrists with monstrous strength. That earlier voice spoke up again in the hopes of raising the call to arms, but she was hopelessly at his mercy.

    Her lack of response made him smile. This was precisely where he wanted her to be.

    “So typical,” Jack said. “Hungry for a bit of freedom from that wretched place. You all claim to be ladies; above that base desire for sex, but I know better. In the end you all end up on this bed desperate to be defiled,” Jack added with disdain.

    There was no one home, Clara did nothing more than stare into his eyes. Jack could have rhymed off the box scores of a baseball game and Clara would have yearned for him all the same.

    “All the other girls died in agony because they did not tell me what I wanted to know,” Jack said.

    He moved in closer and closer until his lips almost brushed against hers.

    “You’re stronger than they were aren’t you Clara,” Jack said. “You going to tell me everything I want to know after this kiss,” he added.

    Jack pushed his lips against hers, forcing her lips open with his tongue. For a moment time slowed down as her mind struggled to break through all defences.

    Still, he was in complete control of her body, there was little she could do to counteract that raw strength. That is until his eyes opened wide, jerked away then released his grip.

    “You bitch” he exclaimed.

    With the fog lifted from Clara’s mind, the part of her cognizant of his intent asserted itself with a vengeance. She used forearm to push against his neck to force him off.

    Without a thought her hands glided over the features of his face until they found two soft mounds. Clara pressed in with her thumbs, pushing into the soft flesh until she felt the base of his eye sockets.

    He screamed in pain, creating a sound inhuman in origin. To prevent any unwanted guests, Clara pulled away the crucifix and exposed the blade.
    Jack flailed in pain was flailing around like a fish on the water, while covering his eyes as though there was something left to protect. With Clara’s faculties fully her own, she danced around the bed until she faced his back.

    Her attacks were vicious and bloody. Her first strike was aimed at his spine and severed his nerves. Jack went limp but her she never stopped, stabbing him over and over.

    Blood splattered throughout and the room was soon covered in gore. Nothing could dissuade her, not until she had landed a killing blow, accomplished only once his head dropped onto the floor.

    Clara stopped cold, her breathing heavy and jagged. On the verge of exhaustion, her hands trembled so much she was barely able hold onto her weapon. Her vision was blurred but a quick wipe against her forearm permitted her to see clearly again.

    “That bastard,” Clara exclaimed while tears streamed down her bloody cheeks.

    She should have trusted her instincts and reached out for some reinforcements. Perhaps they could have captured him and found out how many girls he killed?

    “Pull yourself together,” Clara said to harden herself.

    Her eyes scanned the room and found it to be nondescript. At least until she looked closer the bed and the imagery of a slaughterhouse it conjured.

    There was a steamer trunk in the corner when she got up from the bed just as the viscous blood began to bead and flow down her body. Clara did her best to ignore the discomfort.

    The trunk was not locked, and soon discovered that it contained art supplies. This was a part of Jack that Clara had never previously observed. Never had this man shown any interest in the arts, let alone charcoals or paints.

    “Stop it,” Clara said.

    She needed to stop thinking about that headless corpse as anything more than a monster. One who would have killed her without hesitation. Still it was difficult to separate the two entities.

    Clara bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood. In that moment the pain focused her thoughts long enough to push away all emotion. She still had things to do, and they would not wait idly by until she got her act together.

    She rummaged through the artwork and found a series of disturbing charcoaled drawings. Each work featured a different model in all their macabre detail. The first had been drawn and quartered, but Clara recognised Blanche’s soft features despite the ample viscera.

    “Nettie, Ruth, Alma, Della, Lizzie, Sadie, Sallie,” Clara said once she recognised the victims from the portraits.

    Had Clara not been suspicious of his actions she would have ended up in another one of his tableaus. Another notch on his bed and potentially he would have gotten that information he needed to exact his revenge.

    As she flipped through his works, she came across a painting. She momentarily stopped breathing while her mind processed the image.

    Before her was the face of a woman that Clara had seen both in life and in her nightmares. To think that she once believed that angels would look like her, a beauty beyond compare. Too bad these sensual and feminine features concealed a brutality that would make Jack the Ripper or Elizabeth Báthory cringe.

    “That bitch,” Clara said.

    So that thing had recruited Jack and used him to do her dirty work? It explained how he found those like Clara when they were away unsupervised. The older and more powerful ones of their kind had spies and agents to do their dirty work. Jack was able to borrow this intelligence to strike at when they were most vulnerable.

    Now Clara was mad. She moved back towards the bed to have a better look at the severed head. There were signs that his eyes had begun to heal, one of the eyes had reinflated although the iris remained cloudy.

    There was a testament to their healing powers and served as a powerful reminder on how quickly the tables could have turned. Clara would have made it less than a hundred feet before he caught up to her had she run away.

    At least the holy water had proven to be effective, his lips looked as though they had been burned by fire. Clara would have to remember that trick in the future.

    She would also need to redouble her efforts to strengthen her faith. Jack should have found it difficult to approach her. At least if she were half as faithful as she believed.

    Truth be told she enjoyed the freedom because it allowed her to get some distance away from her faith. It was a big sacrifice for young women to give their lives for a cause, to give up on ever having a normal life.

    A couple of hours ago Jack could have realistically drawn her away from that world. The temptation to fall into his arms and have a regular life was powerful.

    For most of their lives, they had been two ships passing in the night. For years they had flown the same flags and paid their respects. This time he had flown under the flag of truce with all his cannons run out. His crime was unforgivable and she would make sure that he was erased from the history books.

    The voice of reason and logic whispered in the back of her mind. Clara would need to prove what had happened today, otherwise agents of the Tower may blame her all that had happened.

    Since her hands had steadied themselves, Clara picked up her crucifix and returned to Jack’s severed head. She then began the unpleasant task of cutting into its flesh until she pulled his fangs loose.

    Their fangs were able to retract, but they were longer and sharper than hers. She looked them over for a moment, since these were her first set, even if Clara had no interest in starting up a collection.

    Done with her grisly task, Clara found a nearby mirror to get a better look. Despite the gore there was something different about her. That twinkle in her eyes had been replaced by a burning flame and would remain aflame until she could calm down.

    “I wonder if that’s what they call a smoldering looks,” Clara asked with a grin.

    Her round cheeks and baby fat had gone, given way to a sharp chin and jaw and prominent cheekbones. It seemed that the elfin look that had been commented on years ago had come to fruition. It have her a distinguished yet feminine look which would be sure to pay dividends later in life.

    Her body had hollowed out in some areas and expanded in others. Clara had yet to notice how drastic the change had been, since her arrival at the Tower. Sometimes change was good.

    Clara had the body and grace of a dancer, although her chest was a bit more defined than the average prima ballerina. It was a fair compromise, she had the ability to turn heads but was still nimble enough to handle a sword.

    “That mime would so have talked,” Clara thought.
    Clara wiped off any blood using a clean set of Jack’s clothes. She noticed that it made the scene look more gruesome, but that would matter little in a moment.

    After a last check in the mirror she got dressed and gave the room one last run through. Clara considered taking the paintings back to the Tower, many would want some closure, but no one should be remembered for how they died.

    Instead, she took the portrait of that vampire and wrote the names of her victims clearly on the back. After a brief pause Clara added Jack’s name as well.

    Before leaving, Clara slid open the thick curtains which allowed the moonlight inside. She then pushed the chest against the door even as music filtered through from below.

    Next she opened the window then slid down a water spout. Fortunately, the ancient fixture creaked but held up to her weight.

    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!

    Copyright © 2018 by Evelyn Chartres (Nom de Plume)
    All rights reserved.

  • Two Ships Passing in the Night – Part III

    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 Cabaret was much smaller and discreet than anticipated. Jack was waiting by the entrance and beamed a smile as soon as he saw her. The sight of that smile made Clara’s heart go a flutter and that left her confused.

    “Glad you could make it,” Jack said before he kissed both cheeks.

    “It was the least I could do,” Clara replied.

    Jack took her hand and escorted her inside. There were tables that surrounded a central stage and for the most part the place was quiet. That seemed surprising since the street just outside was teeming with life. Why did this place have so few patrons?

    “Good evening Jack,” the host said. “Your usual table,” the man asked.

    Jack nodded and were escorted to a table against the wall that offered a great view of the stage. Clara was impressed, the table provided sight lines of the stage and all entry points. This location was an excellent choice for a hunter, given how it prevented anyone from approaching unnoticed.

    Jack held the chair out for her and Clara sat down. She saw the musicians getting ready in the mezzanine and wondered what kind of show this would be. Some of these cabarets offered it all, but she felt this one catered to a specific audience.

    “You look lovely,” Jack said.

    Clara’s face reddened even as she put on a shy smile. That had to be a lie since she did not have the chance to change. Clara was more appropriately dressed for a convent, not a Cabaret.

    “Liar,” Clara said.

    “It’s not the clothes nor the jewellery that makes a woman,” Jack said. He then took her hand and added, “It’s her eyes, the gentle curves of her chassis and smile.”

    Clara looked at her hand while all of her inhibitions melted away. This man was good, interesting given how seduction techniques were not generally taught to male students.

    “Flattery will get you nowhere,” Clara said with a wink.

    Jack looked right into her eyes and Clara lost herself in that gaze. This had to be some form of witchcraft?

    “Did I tell you that I rent a room in the loft,” he said. “Let me show you the way,” he added before he took her hand.

    “So this was a trap after all,” Clara thought.

  • Two Ships Passing in the Night – Part II

    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!

    Clara did not hear most of the sermon, her mind was busy attempting to consolidate the myriad of feelings and thoughts swirling around in her head. The fact that the church was warm and stuffy did not help matters.

    So what did she know? Jack’s sudden appearance from out of the ether was just plain odd. Yet it still could have been dumb luck.

    Would that explain his aversion to food and drink? What about her attraction to him? She could barely take her eyes off of him, and that was out of character. Clara had never felt so drawn to anyone before.

    “The males of the kind were known to form an intense attraction with their prey. This often proved to be fatal to the prey though not always,” Professor Stephen’s once said.

    Was that the pull, the draw she experienced just now? She had been chosen to fight their kind, trained by some of the best to fulfil that mission. Certainly her training would enable her resist the temptation?

    Or could she? Their primary weapon of a hunter centred on their faith. Did Clara have faith in God or at least enough to imbue her with ability to fight off such creatures? Or was it simply that she knew that these creatures existed, so faith had never played a part in the equation or at least until now.

    Even now she had no problems rhyming off in Latin the necessary replies and prompt to the evening mass. What colour was the priest’s hair? How many other parishioners were in attendance? How old was that child fussing just behind her?

    These were all things she should know. Members of her order survived by maintaining faith and vigilance; right now both were deficient. So what was she to do?

    Clara closed her eyes and focused. It was time to rely on her training, push away all of these emotions and think her way out of this. At worst Jack would turn out to be like she remembered him and might end up naked, out of breath and completely satiated. Not a bad way to end the evening?

    More than likely she needed a weapon and plan. This church had no cache of weapons and even if it did, they were probably ceremonial.

    She did carry Father Michael’s crucifix. It made up part of her rosary and remained unnoticed during gatherings; even those at the Tower never questioned its existence.

    As for defence, armour was out of the question. Clara sighed but was determined to keep her wits about her. Instead of panicking, she instead walked over to the pool holy water. She dipped her fingers in and did the sign of the cross while reciting a quick prayer.

    This time she varied the ritual by wetting her lips. With any luck it would make her lips appear glossy; at least temporarily. She was going to a cabaret after all and clearly did not the time to prepare.

    “No matter,” Clara said. “Women have been able to conquer the hearts of men with far less,” she added before heading out into the night.

  • Two Ships Passing in the Night – Part I

    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!

    Clara never realised the utter ecstasy experienced by having her blinders removed. For years Clara had been cooped up at the Tower learning the tricks of her craft, oblivious to the world beyond.

    Now they had set her free, capable of coming and going as her heart desired. Clara had used the Terminus to reach Paris and was intent on playing the part of a tourist. Previous to her reigns being loosened outings had been tightly controlled and with good reason. It was said that students would often walk away from this life.

    Clara sat at a cafe sipping on a cappuccino while waiting for her meal. All around her there was life unmarked by what lurked in the shadows. For a moment she too could feel the allure; that powerful draw that seduced others to defect.

    If Clara were not certain that there were things out there that used her kin as a food source then she may have heeded to the call of the piper. Instead she took another sip and felt that brief surge of energy the caffeine gave her even if that was only imagined.

    In the distance she heard an accordion player serenade passers-by with his music. In the opposing corner of this intersection a mime performed his trade. Clara was impressed by his soldier’s resolve as he maintained silence no matter how hard the children tormented him. Clara wondered what it would take to break that discipline.

    “A pair of tits,” Clara thought.

    Although this was Europe, a society far more practical about matters of the flesh.That was not the case with America, a country that still toiled under their Puritan values, it was a shame that so much fun was also considered taboo. The Puritans down South had made the body and the pleasures it could provide taboo. Just thinking about ways of getting that mine’s attention br breaking taboo was exhilarating. If that was the feeling one got from breaking social norms, then Clara was not surprised people were not more easily seduced by a life of sin.

    “You’re wondering what it would take to make him talk aren’t you,” Jack said from behind.

    Clara had been aware that someone was there, his steps on the cobblestone surface had warned her of his approach. Clara was not happy about this man’s attempt at reading her mind.

    “Among other things,” Clara said with a perfect Parisian accent while she turned to see who it was.

    “Hello Clara,” Jack said.

    Clara looked at the young man who was still a boy the last time they had met. It took all she had to maintain her composure and hide that schoolgirl giddiness she felt by the mere sight of him.

    “Well… Well… Look what the cat dragged in,” Clara said calmly before taking a sip of her cappuccino.

    “Your best wine,” Jack said once the waiter came out from the cafe. “It’s been too long,” Jack added before he sat at the table.

    Clara tried to remember the last time they had crossed paths. He had been a year ahead of her but had vanished three or four years ago. There were rumours that a mission had gone wrong and that Jack was to blame. That meant the students were exiled unless there were mitigating circumstances. If a member of the order had betrayed their kin, even Dante’s imagination would be insufficient to describe the punishment they deserved.
    However, those were only rumours, nothing proven or reliably sourced. Still Jack looked good, a real lady-killer, she found it hard to turn away that is until the bottle of wine was brought to the table.

    “Yes it is,” Clara said in a calm voice struggling to conceal her excitement.

    Jack waited for the waiter to pour him a bit of wine. He glanced at the glass for a moment before he swirled the contents. Clara observed how he took in the aroma before taking a sip.

    “Very good,” Jack said which prompted the waiter to fill both glasses. “So what method did you settle on,” he asked.

    Clara was momentarily confused, but her face turned a bright red once she realised the topic at hand. She glanced at the waiter who was busy serving another table and caught his eye. He too was momentarily confused until he realised that her order of Moules Marinières was still waiting out back.

    “Good. That would help cool things down a bit,” Clara thought.

    “A lady is entitled to her secrets,” Clara said.

    “I don’t think your bare breasts. No matter how perky would have done the trick,” Jack said.

    “Why not,” Clara asked without betraying her annoyance at the accuracy of his guess.

    “His eyes have focused on every well-dressed man who passed by,” Jack said. “He also ignored that particularly scrumptious baby vamp who just walked by,” he added.

    Clara felt a slight sting to her ego. How could Jack comment on another woman while she was at the table? For the life of her she could not figure out where that particular emotion came from. This man was muddying the waters and Clara did not appreciate the experience.

    “Mine would get his attention,” Clara said bluntly.

    “That stunning are they,” Jack asked.

    “Yes,” Clara answered.

    “Then prove it,” Jack said with a smirk.

    “Not going to happen,” Clara tossed back.

    “Why not,” Jack asked.

    “Not that kind of woman,” Clara replied even if she were tempted to tease him with a little peek.

    “Then how would I know,” Jack asked.

    “You’ll have to take my word for it,” Clara said.

    Before Jack could continue with the back and forth, the waiter dropped a plate of steamed mussels on the table. Two plates and cutlery followed suit.

    “Bonne appetite,” the waiter said.

    “Thank you,” Clara said before the waiter left.

    Clara used this opportunity to take her mind off of Jack. She eyed the steamed mussels hungrily and selected the most accessible one. They never had this sort of dish back at the Tower, such delicacies were seen as wasteful indulgences. Odd how sin and indulgence seemed to Be on a similar path to the divine.

    “Do you want some,” Clara asked even though she had no desire to share.

    “I’ve already eaten,” Jack said. “But thank you,” he added.

    Clara thoroughly enjoyed the mussels and the wine. She was on her second glass when she noticed how his glass was still full.

    Now Jack had been away for far longer than Clara and might be less inclined to indulge. Clara was certain that her own appetites would evolve over time. So why order the wine?

    “Sorry,” Clara said. “I am being gluttonous and impolite by ignoring my company,” she added.

    “It’s quite alright. We are all the same when we came face-to-face with real world,” Jack said.

    “What was your first foray into worldly cuisine,” Clara asked just before she grabbed another mussel.

    “Spaghetti Bolognese outside of Rome,” Jack said.

    What were the chances of her meeting Jack on her first real outing from the Tower? Surely the odds were astronomical and yet here they were. Clara should have been suspicious and kept her distance and yet she desired nothing more than to run to him.

    Clara raised her glass and said, “To freedom and the food it brings.”

    Jack raised his glass and said, “Cheers.”

    They both brought the glass to their lips but Clara had been paying attention this time. This while time he had been wetting his lips instead of drinking the wine. Now that was enough of a revelation to get her mind off of his rugged good looks.

    Salvation came once she heard the bells from the nearby church. Clara looked up and feigned a frown, disappointed that it was time to attend evening mass.

    “Time to go,” Clara said just before she got up.

    Just before she opened her purse to pay Jack said, “No. My treat. This brought back some good memories from my first time outside.”

    “Oh I can’t do that,” Clara said. “How would I ever be able to repay you,” she asked although his answer was obvious.

    “Meet me at the cabaret around the corner from the church after service,” Jack asked and in that moment appeared to be the most gorgeous man she had ever seen.

    The bells forced her mind to stay focused. In her heart she was so very close to accepting his offer. However, she had a golden opportunity to test the waters.

    Clara got her rapid breathing under control before saying, “Why don’t you join me?”

    “I have a matter to attend to before we meet again,” Jack said.

    Clara simply nodded and began her slow deliberate walk towards the church. Once she saw the priest she smiled faintly, a Herculean effort considering her mind was somewhere else.

  • A Saucerful of Secrets – Part III

    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 Tower had mysteries and some left Clara certain that there would be no answers. Often her instincts served her well to make that determination. It often proved wise to keep silent on such mysteries to prevent a whole slew of uncomfortable questions. Clara especially dreaded being questions on where a particular line of questioning came from.

    In other circumstances Clara knew that she would need to get dirty to get the answers she wanted. There were many nooks and crannies dispersed throughout the Tower waiting to be explored; some of which led to long forgotten sections of the Tower.

    Officially the Tower had few forbidden spaces. Some were flagrantly ignored by staff and students alike for convenience while others were from bans enacted long ago for a reason no one could remember.

    Other places were simply rumours to be forbidden, so most kept a wide berth. Clara came across old archives covered in dust and cobwebs, she often found them to be filled to the brim with history and artefacts.

    One particularly neglected lavatory led to a another wing that had been abandoned centuries ago. Rumours were that the Tower had once been accessible directly from the outside world, just like any modern college or campus.

    While the wing had been sealed off using heavy stone and mortar, Clara had come across a small access point. Pipes and drains had to connect to somewhere after all.

    The opening was just big enough for her to squeeze her way through. Clara forced her tiny frame through opening while her back grated against the rough stone surface and was instantly covered in dust, mortar and years of accumulated filth. On the other side she found the mirror image of the lavatory she had just passed through.

    Dust must have been over an inch thick here. Oddly enough the lights and plumbing were functional. Clara took a moment to clean up before she walked out of the room, after all even explorers had standards to uphold.

    The rest of the wing was also covered in a thin layer of dust and displayed signs of life. Scat could be found in some corners, bones from predator and pray alike littered the floor. Spiders had created large networks of webs so thick that she initially thought they were the tattered remains of drapery.

    Clara was in awe on how nature persisted and even thrived after human interference had been removed. Nowhere else in the Tower were there such obvious signs of life. This was a prime example of survival of the fittest, visible only because a cleaning staff did not wipe away all the evidence.

    It took a few moments for Clara to size up the wing. There were two adjacent rooms, one large enough to serve as a classroom while the other contained the remnants of a library. Against the wall she saw something that seemed to be a trophy case.

    Clara looked over the tarnished silver cups, sceptres and crowns. These items would have been worth a princely sum to the right buyers, even in their deteriorated state.

    She considered disturbing the artefacts to have a better look, but thought it best not to. She would likely have to dedicate significant effort into reading the inscriptions. For what? To learn that the Tower at one point in its history had a semblance of normalcy?

    Within the old library she found a small section filled with thick tomes. The rest of the library had been stripped bare. She ran her hands over the leather bound spines but could not make out the titles. These looked and felt ancient and given the state of this wind they probably were.

    Clara pulled out a book at random then opened it up towards middle. They were filled with row upon row of names, all written in a fine hand. Most of these names were in Latin with a few exceptions found throughout. Occasionally, these would be accompanied by an amplifying paragraph such as a notice on promotion, appointment, or commendation.

    These appeared to be personnel records and quiet old based on the use of animal hide for the pages. So why were some of the lines blotted out?

    Clara pulled open a few more books and discovered that they also contained blotted out sections. Were these deliberate attempts to purge records from the books? Odd, although abandoning these book in a sealed part of the tower was certainly more effective.

    Once she left the library, she came up to a set of heavy oaken doors. The doors had been reinforced with steel, to deter any sustained attacks.

    Immediately to the side she found a door dwarfed by its adjacent kin. Clara would have missed it if she were looking at it from any other angle. The door was effectively invisible when viewed directly, probably as a camouflage to avoid accidental discovery. That in itself was not unusual, there were many such anomalies and people occasionally went insane trying to find the right room.

    Clara approached the smaller door then ran her hand over the door handle. The brass was tarnished and confirmed that it had not been used in years.

    Without hesitation Clara pulled on the door and felt it resist at first. With a bit more strength the door creaked and moaned until she heard a snap that echoed throughout the hall. With corrosion shaken loose from its hinges, the door opened easily.

    Given the large doors immediately to her side, Clara had not expected much from this particular entrance. She suspected this door would lead to a caponier or some sort of defensive structure. How else would defenders be able to repel any invader?

    Instead of a dark musty tunnel she was greeted by a bright light, bright enough to leave her temporarily blinded. Clara closed her eyes and walked out into the open, expecting to feel the warm sunlight on her skin. Instead she felt nothing. Odd?

    Clara slowly opened her eyes so they could adjust to their surroundings. Before her there was a city washed out by the light and devoid of detail. The longer she looked over the scene, the more ethereal the world seemed.

    All around she found signs that this city was inhabited. Houses were well-maintained and foliage nearby was neatly trimmed. The streets were neatly cobbled, marked, and the sides were covered in barrels and pottery. The latter was more telling since it helped her establish a time period.

    Strangely absent from this world, was the wind or any sounds. Clara could not hear or see signs of insects, birds, animals or humans. Even when she came across a bazaar full of food, wares and wealth there was no one in sight.

    Clara found a stand of fruit and helped herself to an apple. One bite into the plump and ripened fruit had no taste. The entire situation reminded of something her sisters had said after Papa had died, namely about the existence of limbo.

    She headed back towards the Tower and expected to make out some details on its exterior. What she saw instead was far more awe inspiring. Right before her eyes there was a towering volcano in the midst of an eruption. Did this mean they were in danger?

    “Know where we are,” Reverend Mother Augustine said.
    How had that woman managed to sneak up on her? However, the surprise caused Clara to turn around so quickly that the Reverend Mother in turn flinched.

    Reverend Mother Augustine was a tall and imposing woman who was rumoured to have been a hunter. She did not wear the habit which people tended to expect for someone bearing the title of Reverend Mother. Instead she opted to wear the same uniforms the girls were issued.

    The woman had deep blue eyes that gave Clara the impression she could peer into the very depths of her soul. It never failed to send a chill down her spine when the Reverend Mother adopted her pose. The one where she narrowed her eyes and cocked her head to the side for a moment or so before she rendered judgement.

    Clara supposed there was a theatrical component to this act. What better way to discourage further interactions? Today she appeared just as would within the confines of the Tower, in spite of the blinding light. Clara looked down and noticed that she too was unaffected by the light. Alice Liddell’s adventures did not hold a candle to this experience.

    Clara was not certain on the answer and was tempted to say Limbo. However, such an answer would fail to impress the Reverend Mother. Professors expected a reasoned answer, one which reached beyond faith and scripture.

    “Roman architecture,” Clara said. “You can tell by the furniture, available goods and frescos,” she said.

    “Go on child,” Augustine replied.

    “The abundance of fresh and fruits tells me that we are in a port city,” Clara said. “There is also a volcano in the distance spewing ash—,” she added.

    The Reverend Mother was about to speak when Clara’s eyes brightened. Ash had been the trigger that she needed to unlock the name.

    “Pompeii,” Clara exclaimed.

    “A sharp mind you have there, my child,” the Reverend Mother said.

    “Thank you Reverend Mother,” Clara said after realising she had forgotten to use any marks of respect until now.

    “Managed to find your way out here too,” Augustine said. “None of the students have managed that feat since the nineteenth century. You’re the first so far,” she added but hoped the number remained at one.

    An obvious reply did not come to her, so Clara nodded and kept her eyes low. It rarely paid to appear confident when one’s transgressions were discovered.

    “How did you find your way here Child,” Augustine asked.

    “I followed the plumbing through the wall and into an abandoned section of the Tower Reverend Mother,” Clara said.

    The Reverend Mother smiled before she said, “Only two others ever used that particular route Child.” Just as Clara’s eyes began to glow she added, “Yes there are other ways inside. Since the cat is already out of the bag, you are welcome to try. So long as you do not neglect your studies or tell the others.”

    Clara cocked her head to the side and looked genuinely confused. It was not every day that someone encouraged her to break the rules.

    “Reverend Mother,” Clara asked confused.

    “Have you been able to explain why our surroundings appear as they do,” the Reverend Mother asked to change the subject.

    A quick glance at the Volcano was all Clara needed before answering, “A pocket in time Reverend Mother.”

    “You guessed or knew,” Augustine asked.

    “A bit of both,” Clara said. “I initially thought this was Limbo,” she said honestly.

    “I could see how you might have thought that,” the Reverend Mother Augustine said. “If limbo existed, it might very well be a place like this,” she added.

    “Why are we in a pocket of time Reverend Mother,” Clara asked.
    Clara expected to be given the runaround or told she was simply too young to know the truth. After all, that was the modus operandi. At least until now, because today was a day of firsts.

    “I am not quite sure that I can adequately explain child,” the Reverend Mother said. Before the crestfallen look washed over Clara’s face she added, “I have been told that humans need to exist somewhere within space and time.”

    Clara’s eyes brightened up, and beamed a smile. Fortunately there were no sounds or stimuli to distract her from listening.

    “We cannot exist in any environment where time or space are absent. However, space and time can sometimes be coerced to permit situations like this,” Augustine said.

    “Defensive,” Clara added and gripped her mouth just as the word slipped out.

    “Correct child,” the Reverend Mother said. “When in sync with the world we can be located, and an attack mounted. The Tower exists here for now, so an attacker would need to coordinate an attack on this very day. That the active volcano and the poisonous gases would dissuade any direct physical attack,” she added.

    So that explained the need for the Terminus. On the bright side, it likely saved a fortune on maintenance costs.

    “I am afraid that’s all I know child,” Augustine said.

    “Thank you Reverend Mother,” Clara said. She then grinned before adding, “Do I get any hints on the other entrances?”

    “No child,” the Reverend Mother said. “However, I will show you a quicker way back to the Main Hall,” she added.

    For now Clara supposed that would have to suffice. At least she was not expressly forbidden from returning to Pompeii. It appeared to be the perfect place for those who needed a bit of time away from the hustle and bustle of Tower living.

  • A Saucerful of Secrets – Part II

    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!

    On occasion she would bring up concerns in the hopes of finding answers. Most of the professors and clergy toed the line; they dared not betray some unwritten rule.

    Professor Stephens as the keeper of secrets on monsters and ghosts was her most sympathetic source. On occasion he would fill in the blanks or send her in the right direction. How else could she contend with a threat of she remained ignorant of the world before her?

    Her most memorable conversation she had with Professor Stephens revolved around a book she had found on pre-Christian and pagan gods. Clara had noticed how the pages had been amended to include symbols. The aspect that caught her attention? Every symbol was found by the name of every god or goddess discussed.

    Every symbol started out as a circle and varied based on the fill or pattern. The circles were filled in by quarters and sometimes they were divided by a coloured border be it red, blue or green. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the symbology, so Clara could not decipher their purpose.

    When she brought the thick and heavy tome to class, Professor Stephens noticed immediately. For one, it was rare for students to bring reference material in and secondly Clara was pretty sure he was familiar with this book.

    “A surprise for me,” Professor Stephens asked.

    “No exactly,” Clara said. She opened the book to a random page, “I can’t decipher these annotations.”

    “Annotations,” Professor Stephens asked.

    By this point in time Clara had grown accustomed to having her words returned to her in the form of questions. It seemed to be an efficient way to throw a student off the scent.

    Clara played along by pointing out to two separate instances of the circles on the page. She then flipped through some pages to showcase more examples.

    “I found them all over this book,” Clara said. “Although I cannot make heads or tails of their intent,” Clara added.

    Most of the Professors or Clergy would sit there and for the most part feigned curiosity. Father Allen was a poor actor who could ill deflect her questions whereas Professor Stephens was an expert. Even then it was rare for her to buy into his deception wholesale.

    This time Professor Stephens surprised her. Instead of the expected song and dance, he sat down at his desk and sighed. It was the first time she had seen him show his human side to her.

    “There is knowledge that students are expected to know,” Professor Stephens said.

    He paused while he flipped through the book’s pages. Clara observed how some entries seemed to trigger some memories.

    “We expect students to deal with situations involving vampires, ghouls and ghosts,” Professor Stephens added.

    Such a statement was logical, students were taught to counter known threats and equipped them with strategies that would enable them to strike a deathblow. Over the past few years Clara had learned how to distract, attract, trap and strike at their such foes.

    She supposed that doctors worked the same way. At first they would study human anatomy and specialise later. They would not waste their time by learning how to butcher an animal or study alchemy.

    “There are certain topics that are deemed unnecessary for you to know. They run counter to our policies and officially are not acknowledged,” Professor Stephens added.

    “So—,” Clara said.

    The professor raised his hand to prevent her from saying anything further while he scanned the room. Did the walls have ears? That aspect was not wholly unexpected.

    Before long Professor Stephens said, “That’s the official story of course. The truth is however lies somewhere between our doctrines and your wildest imagination.

    “God—,” Clara said.

    “Alas I can say no more on this subject,” Professor Stephen said. He then winked before adding, “I know nothing of these symbols or how they are applied to the gods and goddesses of myth.”

    That brief moment of honesty had been a revelation for Clara. There were things that those within the Tower did not openly discuss. The reasons? Clara did not expect that answers would be forthcoming.

  • A Saucerful of Secrets – Part I

    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!

    After learning that creatures from the deepest and darkest corners of the human mind were real, Clara knew there were still many secrets left to discover. For now these secrets and discoveries would have to wait since lectures and her studies were a priority. Sure, it might have been disappointing to control her natural curiosity, but she knew it would beneficial in the end.

    Courses were taught in classes found all over the Tower, from the deepest bowels of the dungeon for combat training to its highest reaches for poetry. Clara’s course load seemed tailored in a such a way to make the lectures on time.

    On Thursday’s she would sneak through a library past the watchful eye of Father Allen, the chief archivist to shave twenty minutes on her travel and attend an improvised weapons course. Sometimes Clara managed to arrive early enough to feed her curiosity and get some answers since the risk was often well worth the risks she took.

    Every Wednesday, Clara would leave five minutes early from bible studies to grab an early bite to eat. She would greedily consume everything that was on her plate so she would have the time to make it to her hand-to-hand combat classes.

    Clara observed other initiates who had reached the same point in their training. Some were cool and collected as though the chaos had been woven into the fabric of their souls; while others were the cusp of a complete breakdown.

    While never formally acknowledged, every aspect of their training had been designed to test the students. The ability for a student to realise this fact and adapt was a key factor on how students survived. Those who sought perfection and needed to control their situation saw their grip on reality loosen little by little every day. It was obvious they wanted people to overcome these situations or fail spectacularly.

    There was one factor which remained constant throughout, the Tower held a proverbial cornucopia secrets. There were skeletons in every closet and people rarely gave you a straight answer; there were even omissions in their archives.

    For a young Girl who liked to cause a bit of mischief, finding these omissions became a passion of hers. She would fly through rows upon rows of books looking for something that appeared peculiar or out of place.

    Clara vividly recalled the conversation she once had with Father Allen about a particular omission. It had been one of the first times she had found an omission although it would not be the last.

    “What do you mean child,” Father Allen asked.

    “Some pages are missing from this book,” Clara said. She then added, “Father,” belatedly as a form of respect.

    “That can’t be right Child,” Father Allen said.

    Father Allen had torn the book from her hands to get a better look. There was something about his dramatic behaviour which made her suspicious.

    “Which page Child,” Father Allen asked.

    Clara took back the book then placed it neatly on a table surface. That way both of them got a clear view of the pages, Clara then thumbed through it quickly until she found the offending pages.

    “I would say five pages or so are missing Father,” Clara said.

    Father Allen looked at top of the book nearer to the spine; there were no voids to show that pages had been cut away. Fortunately, Clara knew full well that these books were often rebound.

    “There are no voids visible child,” Father Allen said.

    “No but the animation is off Father,” Clara said.

    “Animation,” Father Allen asked.

    Clara had come across many medieval texts before. These were often hand written works of art, normally created using the precise hand of a scribe. However, some must have found the task monotonous, since she occasionally came across these little doodles or illustrations hidden throughout.

    Some of these doodles were depictions of killer rabbits locked in mortal combat against a noble knight. Some included elaborate battles which invariably involved a man taking an arrow to the rear end. Others included scenes where men fought their way through trees shaped like penises.

    In this particular book the scribes work had been more elaborate. At first, it looked harmless enough since every page featured the same design. That is until someone read far enough to realise just how these subtle changes over time could lead to something unique.

    This particular doodle featured an owl who ruffled its feathers before taking flight. While it soared, the owl would spot a mouse, grab it, find a perch and feast on its flesh. Flicking through the pages quickly enough showed the animation transitioning in such a way that these doodles appeared to move.

    Clara flipped through the pages from the beginning. All the while she pointed to the doodle which was busy ruffling its feathers.

    “See that owl Father,” Clara asked. “Watch as it takes flight,” she added while flipping through the pages.

    Sure enough the bird spread its wings and soared through the pages. But there was a visible jitter, one which did not exist before or after the animation.

    “A jitter,” Father Allen asked.

    Clara smiled warmly before she said, “Yes Father.”

    “Surely you have more evidence to bring forward than a faulty drawing Child,” Father Allen said.

    Clara had expected her evidence of tampering to be taken seriously. It took an eye for detail to catch such a tiny flaw surrounded in a sea of information.

    “The book is a collection of songs and prayers Father,” Clara said. “The page before speaks of a protective prayer that can ward off evil spirits. The page that follows is a morning chant instead,” she added.

    “You can read Latin,” Father Allen asked.

    “Of course,” Clara said. “Such knowledge is expected for all students is it not Father,” she added.

    By that time Father Allen had been called away by one of the staff. She did not see him again for a month and in that time the book had mysteriously gone missing.

    “Curiouser and curiouser,” Clara thought.

    Clara assumed that the spell had been deemed dangerous or sacrilegious. If true, then why leave a reference to the text? Unless something more grievous had been omitted in between?

    From that point on Clara used every opportunity to delve further into the archives. Father Allen was a popular target with these matters since she enjoyed his attempts at evading her. Silently, she wondered if the feeling had been mutual, since not all of the staff were social butterflies.