Sleep did not come. It is less than 2 hours since I ceased writing yesterday’s entry and I have returned to my journal because sleep remained distant. My contentedness was nothing more than a temporary lie, and my head still spins from the events of yesterday. Before I report to Mrs. Cotts to start today’s duties, I wish to finish my representation of those events.
I will begin inside a room at the Marehaven Library, where Saffron Selton and I relocated Lady Coraline’s unconscious body.
“What you must remember,” Miss Selton said as she handed me a cup of tea, “is that demons of Kraken Moor speak false words, but make true offers. You bear Kadul’s mark, but it is unlikely that he walked across the waters to mark you himself. Demons are tied to a physical point in this existence, and this is why Marehaven lies so far from Kraken Moor. If Kadul could appear here, it would take such energy that he would not be a threat.”
“How do you know this?” I asked, the cup of tea shaking slightly in my hands.
“What did he offer you?” Miss Selton asked instead.
I took a sip of tea to stop the rattling of the cup and looked around this room that sat in the middle of the third floor of the library. It was a circular room bereft of windows, its walls painted a midnight black. Had you awoken here, you would have had no indication that a library sat on the other side of these walls. Just as when I stood on the third floor, I was unaware that behind the curved wall was a room with four, large beds in one half of the room, and two stiff chairs, a desk, and a worktable on the other. Bookshelves were placed on the walls between the beds. In the center of the room was a three-sided fireplace. It was made of brick and circular, rising through the black ceiling. There was one fire in the middle, but three openings to allow the heat to spread around the room. The fire was lit and burning hot. We sat in the two stiff chairs, a small table between us, and Lady Coraline rested on the second bed to my right.
“Please, Miss Sharper,” Miss Selton implored, “what did Kadul offer you?”
Trusting someone new after Lady Coraline attempted to kill me did not come easy, but Miss Selton did rescue me, and it would feel good to bring a fellow soul into my story.
“Kadul has Jackson Dereks, the man I was to marry, in captivity,” I explained, looking into Miss Selton’s eyes. “If I join his court, he has promised that Jackson will be mine for all eternity.”
Miss Selton pursed her damaged lips.
“I do not understand. Lady Coraline made mention to me at our first meeting that I was destined to be in Kadul’s court. What I do not understand is why.”
Miss Selton rose to her feet and began removing her clothes.
“Miss Selton!” I exclaimed in surprise, turning my head.
“No,” she said. “Look at me. You need to know the cost.”
As she removed her clothes and revealed more of her burned body, I found myself unable to turn away. As horrific as it was to see flesh that was reddened and blackened, I had to see it. I had to! In minutes, she removed her auburn hair, revealing it to be a wig, and stood bare before me and I knew that it was not just her body that Saffron Selton was revealing to me, but her soul.
“Kadul does not need you, Miss Sharper,” she explained. “He simply needs some one to fill out his court, because there is an opening in that court that has existed for nearly ten years.”
My heart jumped. “You?”
She nodded and turned to her work table where a set of men’s clothes lay. Putting these clothes on, she explained. “I was born in what we now refer to as the first century,” she said softly. “My husband was a well-regarded general in the army of the Roman Emperor Claudius and led a portion of the conquest of Brittania. He died and his soul fell to Kadul.” Miss Selton pulled on a pair of black work pants. “The demon came to me in my dreams and sent a minion to mark me.” She turned soulful eyes to me. “I surmise this is what happened to you in Boston. Kadul gained Jackson’s soul, entered your mind to see if you were suitable, and then sent a minion to mark you to keep other demons at bay. Your story of Boston … the man that the two women shot?”
“I thought it was a man but when I came out of hiding, it was a dog … or a … a … wolf.”
Miss Selton pulled on a blue shirt. “It was a wolf. What the women killed was a werewolf.”
“I thought … I thought werewolves were men in their true form?”
“In the dark days of old,” Miss Selton explained, moving to the opposite side of the room to pull a black book from a shelf between two bed, “it was the wolves who first wanted to be men.” She returned to me, handing me a book with no words on its cover or spine. “These dire wolves made congress with the demons, and their bodies were infused with a magic that allowed them to walk upright and to turn men into wolfmen with a bite from their venomous fangs.”
She sat down and I looked at the book.
“Everything I tell you is in that book, though you will not be able to read it.”
I opened the cover and instantly saw that the book was written in the same script as I saw in the locked room in which Lady Coraline had attacked me.
“The dire wolves eventually died, of course, as all living things die, but these were beings infused with the blood of Hell, and upon their death, they became demons,” Miss Selton continued. “One of them, perhaps even the first of them, is Kanarl, the wolf demon of Kraken Moor.”
“He killed Madam Soiss,” I said, looking up from the book.
Dropping her head to her chest, Miss Selton put her hand to her heart. “Demons do not kill, Miss Sharper, until they are asked to kill.”
“Madam Soiss wanted to die?” I asked skeptically.
Moving to the workbench to retrieve her auburn wig, I had the sense that Miss Selton had stepped into the past. “Kadul came to me in my dreams in the form of my husband, and when I awoke, he was standing there. I cried. I ran to him. I kissed him, and when I pulled my head away, a man with the face of a goat stood there in his stead.”
“No,” Miss Selton said sadly. “A minion in his form. As I said, the great demons like Kadul are tied to one place, but they can send minions anywhere in the world. The minions bear the mark of their demonic master, and so when we willingly touch them, we are marked, too. They sense our wants and desires and trap us. That is what Kadul was doing when he came to me under the cover of sleep – he was testing my desire to save my husband. I did not know all of this then, of course,” she said, pulling on her wig. “The minion told me that if I wanted to save my husband, I had to travel to Brittania.”
“To Kraken Moor!”
“To the spot Kraken Moor now occupies. The castle did not exist in that time, but that has always been Kadul’s Earthly home.” Miss Selton reached to the small table between us to sip at her own tea, which surely had grown cold. “He made me the same offer he made you – if I joined his court, my husband would be mine for all eternity. You see,” she said, looking to me as she replaced her cup on the table, “the great demons have courts and they war with one another to gain favor with Lucifer. When a soul like my husband, or like your Mr. Dereks, falls to them, the demons desire to put them to work. Was Mr. Dereks a soldier?”
I nodded, a sick feeling taking what seemed like a permanent hold in my stomach.
“Then it is likely he was a very good soldier, a very good leader of soldiers,” Miss Selton explained. “Kadul surely desires Mr. Dereks to lead part of his army, just as he wished for my husband to do the same. Not all men who fall to Hell are evil, but they are far from saints. Perhaps they did not understand the rules of judgment, or perhaps they did evil deeds while hiding behind the will of men they called superiors. As Jackson is a soldier, that is likely the case. We know him to be of too fine a character to willingly put his skills to the use of Kadul, or else the demon would not come for you. Know this, Miss Sharper, Kadul is tempting you as he also tempts Jackson. If, at any point, Jackson decides he will serve Kadul, you are of no use to the demon.”
“And Jackson will be lost to me?”
Miss Selton nodded. “That is what makes the demons such dangerous foes. They tempt both sides to get what they want. Kadul believes he can use you to get Jackson to command his legions.”
“But what if I can’t? What if I take Kadul’s offer and Jackson still refuses?” My mind raced at the possibilities as I weighed all of my choices.
“Miss Sharper,” she said, reaching out one of her scarred hands to touch mine, “if you take Kadul’s offer, you will lay with the demon, and you will die, your soul consigned to Hell. If Jackson serves in the goat’s army, you will live a life of debauched luxury. If Jackson refuses, you will spend all of the days of Time living out whatever torture Kadul designs for you. Do not mistake his offer – your place in the court is at his pleasure, and it comes with no rights if Jackson does not serve.” She returned her hand to her lap. “Eventually, all of the soldiers will fight in Kadul’s army because it is better to be a soldier of Hell than an object of torture.”
I sat back, taking in all of Miss Selton’s words. I looked across the room to where Lady Coraline still slept and thought of Jackson. Could I lay with the demon to save him?
Could I not?
If every soldier eventually exchanged their torture for service, was there any point to accepting the offer? It would gain me Jackson, but it would deny me Heaven. Was eternity with Jackson worth that cost?
Miss Selton let me think in silence for several minutes before she raised another concern. “There is, of course, other factors.”
“How do you mean?”
The librarian pointed to Lady Coraline. “I cannot say to you if the Lady has given herself over to him completely. She sent word to me of what happened in her room with Patricia Valmont. I can assure you, Miss Sharper, that one cannot be possessed unless they invite the demon into them. Lady Coraline is old and she has spent many nights in Kraken Moor. Perhaps she was tempted with eternal youth and in a weaker moment allowed Patricia Valmont to enter her body. Perhaps she agreed to this to learn more of Kadul’s plan for you.”
My head spun and I felt weak. I became aware that I had not eaten at all this day, which did not help my condition.
“What you must always remember,” Miss Selton continued, “is that in this world, we have the power. You wear the Necklace of Anticipation?”
“Like most items constructed to ward off the demons, there is both benefit and harm to wearing it.”
“Tchitok explained that to me.”
Miss Selton raised what would have been an eyebrow if either remained on her face. “You have met Tchitok?”
“He lured me into a room in the basement by capturing the Haupt’s youngest boy.”
Miss Selton was instantly on her feet, her hands wringing together. “This is very … unusual. The demons war with each other but once you have been marked, they do not act aggressively towards you. Such an act can be considered an act of war.”
I rose to my feet, needing to feel the calming hands of action. “I believe the demons have targeted the Haupt children. Gunnar’s eyes glow with a yellow energy, just as Gretchen’s glow purple. Could Kanarl be targeting the middle child?”
Miss Selton spun quickly on me and when she shouted, “No!” the word came too hard, too fast, and too loud to deny there was a personal connection between Miss Selton and the wolfman. I stepped back, determined to exit this room, but Miss Selton dropped to her knees and let out a soft sob.
“What is it?” I asked, taking a step towards her.
“The power of the demons is that they see us for who we really are,” she said weakly. “In typical fashion, this means they see the ugly part of our soul that we hide beneath a beautiful exterior.” She looked up at me, tears in her eyes, “But it works the other way, too.”
I moved to join her on her knees. “What happened to you, Miss Selton?”
The words poured from her damaged mouth. “In the early days, everything was wonderful. I lay with Kadul and he delivered me to my husband. Knowing I was now trapped in Hell, he joined Kadul’s legions and brought the demon to a higher standing in Lucifer’s eyes. There was much glory, but even in Hell, the passage of Time takes its toll on a soul. For centuries we lived as if we were the most celebrated couple in Rome. Kadul had given us our lives back, but though you make a deal for eternity, there is no guarantee of eternal happiness.” Her watering eyes spilled over the edge of her eyelids. “Remember how the deal was sealed, Miss Sharper. I laid with the demon, and when one does that …”
Miss Selton closed her eyes and began to sob.
“What is it?” I pressed. “Please.”
“When one lays with a demon,” she revealed, opening her eyes to lock with mine, “one experiences something that never leaves them. They are beings of such power … such power. My husband was gone on a lengthy campaign and Kadul came to me with a wicked smile upon his face.” Her hands went to her lips. “I did not even resist.”
I placed my hands on her shoulders and pressed her face into my shoulder, my dress claiming her tears.
“My husband found us together,” she revealed at the last. “He turned from me, cast me out. Kadul offered me my humanity again. All I had to do walk walk a mile through Hell.” She leaned back and brought both hands to the sides of her face. “This was the result. I exited in the Marehaven water mill. Lady Coraline found me and took me in. She put me in charge of the library and in the past decade I have endeavored to learn as much as I can from those ancient books, written in the dialects of Hell.”
“You can read them?”
“Being a citizen of the Underworld has its benefits,” she said sadly.
We knelt together on the floor, Lady Coraline’s breathing the only evidence of life existing apart from us. I cannot say how long we stay like that, only that I feel we gained a confidence in one another.
I say this despite what happened next.
There came a scratching from behind a bookshelf. Miss Selton’s eyes flashed to it with a look I can only describe as hopeful fear.
“You should leave this room now,” she said, rising to her feet.
“But Lady Coraline …”
“Tell Mrs. Cotts she fell and remains here,” Miss Selton instructed. “I will send word when she is ready to travel.”
I rose to my feet as Miss Selton reached the bookcase. “Please,” she said softly, “leave us.”
“I need to see,” I said as I backed towards the door.
“It is your soul,” Miss Selton said in a voice that told me she understood.
My hand reached for the door handle as the librarian pulled back on a book. The tall shelf swung open and in an alcove in the wall, I saw a tall mirror, topped by two wooden gargoyles.
Miss Selton took a step backwards.
Kanarl entered the room.
He was tall and muscled, with a wolf’s snout and covered in white fur the color of the marble statue in the maze of Kraken Moor. He raised his claw and swung down hard, then spun Miss Selton away from him. I had expected to see her body torn from the wolfman’s claws, but all he had done was tear away her dress, exposing her body to the air.
She looked at me, her eyes glowing orange, and leaned forward.
Kanarl looked to me and grinned, his sharp teeth flashing in the room’s limited light.
I slipped out of the room, shutting the door behind me.
I left the library to find it was already late afternoon.
Silvio was walking down the street and called to me. He was angry but I did not care. As I told him about Lady Coraline’s accident, I wished I had asked Miss Selton about his role in Patricia Valmont’s deaht death. I had learned much today but still more was unclear.
Instead of showing concern, Silvio suggested we stay in town for a few hours.
The look of disgust on my face was all he needed to put his hands up and back away. He turned towards the stables where the carriage was being kept, when another carriage rolled towards us, the driver calling to us for directions to Kraken Moor. I ordered Silvio to get the carriage (forgetting, in the moment, that his standing in the house was considerably higher than mine) and turned to look up at the kindly old man driving it.
“We are headed to Kraken Moor,” I said, pointing to the castle in the distance. “You may follow us. Do you drive the family of Madam Soiss?” I asked politely, glancing back to the top floor of the library, knowing that the beast that had killed the Frenchwoman was now laying with Miss Selton behind closed doors.
A handsome young man stuck his head out of the window. “We are they,” he said politely.
“I am sorry for your loss,” I answered, bowing slightly. “If you follow us-”
“Before we do that,” he said, glancing behind him, “I was hoping you might come have a look inside my carriage.”
Without waiting for an answer, he opened the door and stepped down, then backed away. “I can assure you, miss, I mean you no harm. But there is a mystery here that I cannot solve but someone from Kraken Moor might.”
I was tired and curious and after all that I had heard and seen this day, I did not believe there was anything that could shake me.
I moved forward and looked inside. There was a woman of obvious wealth sitting on one bench, but on the other …
Sitting across from the Frenchwoman, dressed in a white slip and covered in dried mud … was Gretchen Haupt.