Nobody questioned the facts as the Soiss twins presented them.
“We were several miles outside of London,” Remy Soiss told a full room that included his sister Julie, his carriage driver, General Haupt, his wife Evelyn, their three children, Lord Shepherd, Mrs. Cotts, Silvio Tiattore, and myself. “We were on a narrow road between villages when the young Miss Haupt simply walked out of the woods in front of us. Mr. Lemmon can tell you more.”
Mr. Lemmon, the kindly old carriage driver, coughed into the palm of his hand and stepped forward. Wearing worn, brown clothes, it was clear he was uncomfortable about being drawn into such a setting, and had no connection with the Soiss children beyond being contracted to transport them to Kraken Moor, and the remains of their departed mother home. “It is just as Mr. Soiss said. I would only add that Miss Haupt was crying and begging for assistance.”
There was much relief in the room, of course, but not as much as one would expect at having a missing daughter returned to her family. Gretchen was found nearly 100 miles from Kraken Moor, an impossible distance for her to travel on foot in the time she was missing.
“I just … I just don’t see how she could have been that far south of here,” Mr. Lemmon said.
Mrs. Haupt spoke for the room from the couch, where she held the dazed (but now cleaned) Gretchen in her arms. “I am just glad she’s back.”
Clearly, that answer did not satisfy Mr. Lemmon, but Remy stepped in to smooth over the situation and prevent any deeper affronts. “It is a malodorous soul, Mr. Lemmon,” he said with a clasp on the Englishman’s back, “that worries too much about how miracles are delivered. The Lord doth move in mysterious ways, does he not?”
“I suppose so,” Mr. Lemmon mumbled.
General Haupt, who liked to hang on the periphery of any conversation until he was forced into participating, stepped forward to shake Mr. Lemmon’s hand. “I can assure you that we are in your debt, good sir. Let us take a walk, you and I, and discuss erasing that debt.”
Mr. Lemmon’s eyes perked up at the inference to a reward, and he allowed General Haupt to lead him from the room.
“Yes, well, perhaps the Soiss twins would like to accompany me, as well,” Lord Shepherd said, taking his turn as the center of the conversation. “Let us not forget in our moment of joy that you are here under darker clouds.”
“Though it will seem cold,” Julie Soiss replied, “there are no dark skies over Kraken Moor for either Remy or myself. We hardly knew our mother. She shipped us to London to live with our father’s family when we were but 6, and it is the rare moment that Remy or I has been home during the past 20 years.”
Remy stepped forward to put an arm around his sister’s shoulder. When they stood this close, it was obvious they were twins. Both had brown hair and brown eyes, and the general shape of their faces was nearly identical. Remy “We have spent our entire lives in schools at mother’s expense,” he explained. “When our own schooling was finished, mother sent money for us to open our own school.”
“And what is it you teach at your school?” Lord Shepherd asked.
“Satan,” Julie replied.
One could feel the room flinch at that, but her brother laughed and shook his head. “We are theologians,” he answered charmingly. “Mother wanted us to study God, and so we did, though if Jules were being truly honest, she would rather earn her place in the world with her poetry.”
The room laughed politely, but Julie’s eyes sparkled with an intensity as she look at the Haupt children. I looked to them, as well, and noted that while we had begun this meeting with Gunnar and Hans sitting next to their sister, they had now retreated to opposite walls, where they looked on placidly in the direction of their sister. I felt a deep sadness in my heart. As my own family had been split by the Civil War, so, too, were the Haupts being split by the demons of Kraken Moor.
“It is a day both joyous and tragic,” Lord Shepherd said quietly through his polite smile. “Let us retire to another room, Mr. Soiss, and discuss grievous matters. Mr. Tiattore can join us.”
The men left the room, leaving the women and children behind. My eyes turned to Mrs. Cotts, who was watching me with a quiet intensity, and as our eyes touched, she turned her attention to Evelyn Haupt.
“What can we do for you, Mrs. Haupt?” she asked. “The resources of the house are yours and-”
“We will be leaving in the morning,” the German replied quickly, with an edge of fear in her voice.
Mrs. Cotts could not hide the confusion on her face.
“I do not care what my husband may have told you,” Mrs. Haupt said through gritted teeth. “We are leaving this place at first light!”
As she said this, I looked to the children to see what their reaction would be, and found that Gretchen’s eyes contained a dull purple energy, Gunnar’s a similar yellow, and Hans’ with Kanarl’s orange.
I pause here to visit the consquences consequences of my visit to Marehaven, in light of the words spoken to me by Julie Soiss after we left the Haupt’s room. In truth, they were in my mind the entire day, and while I do not wish to record every thought that I had regarding these events, these are my conclusions:
Lady Coraline – I feel she is compromised by Kadul, but I will reserve judgment until I speak to her again. She remains in Marehaven, a note from Miss Selton arriving in the early afternoon that she was conscious but tired.
Saffron Selton – Though I have repeatedly questioned myself in regards to my feelings for Miss Selton, and while I may, in the light of the Lord, simply succumbing to sympahty sympathy for her physical afflictions, my heart has no room to categorize her words as false. I feel she lives in great conflict, and I wonder if I found myself having her experiences if I would not also submit to the advances of the only being who provided attention.
Though I cannot imagine laying with Kadul or Kanarl, I cannot deny that my heart breaks when I see Jackson being tortured. The thought that he will spend eternity tortured instead of as a man is troubling to my soul. I can save him and yet I have not.
I understand that Jackson may, eventually, submit on his own, which gives me pause.
I must also admit that my actions are stalled because I no longer know if he is the man I want to spend my eternity with.
Certainly, when the marriage was arranged by my father, I could not have been happier. I envisioned a life by his side, raising his children. In these schoolgirl fantasies, any visions of the slaves on our plantation were erased. It was simply Jackson and myself, raising our children, in the warm comfort of the Southern sun.
Through not fault of his own, much has changed in the past 18 months. My rejection of the Southern Cause was also, on a smaller level, a rejection of my father and my future husband. I do not know what Jackson did to fall into Hell instead of rising to Heaven and I make no automatic connection between his fighting for the Confederacy and his eternal judgment in the eyes of God.
I simply do not.
If I am not the person I was when I loved Jackson, and do not think that the person I am would still love him if he were alive, am I bound to save him from torture?
If my act of submission to Kadul would raise Jackson’s soul to Heaven, then yes, I would.
Or would I?
I do not know.
There are other reasons to sacrifice my body and soul to Kadul, however, as was made clear by Miss Soiss’ assertions this afternoon.
“You are American,” Julie Soiss said as we walked through the grounds at the back of the house.
“I am, ma’am,” I replied.
“Ma’am?” Miss Soiss laughed, her boots crunching in the snow. It was a perfect winter’s day – warm enough to walk outside and cold enough to prevent the snow from melting. “Do you not want to drop the politeness of status for an afternoon, Miss Sharper? Should you return to the South, I suspect your fortune would far exceed mine.”
I was not certain what to make of her comment, nor the wicked smile on her face, and so I merely said, “I do not think-”
Miss Soiss stepped in front of me. “Your problem, Beatrice,” she said with emphasis, “is not that you do not think.”
“Then perhaps it is that I think too much.” My mind urged caution – I had not told, nor had anyone in my witness told the Soiss twins my first.
Miss Soiss’ grin widened and she leaned forward to whisper in my ear. “Do not ever debase yourself in ignorance. Intelligence … excites me. You excite me.”
I felt my face blush and it was as if the sudden heat in my cheeks caused Miss Soiss to step back.
“Come,” she smiled, taking my hand, “I want to show you something.”
Shaken by her impropriety, I nonetheless allowed her to pull me towards the tower that stood to the left of the broken wall. There were three towers in the wall – one in front by the gate, and two here in the rear of the castle – and I had yet to enter any of them. It would be a lie to say that entering the towers was forbidden, but it was my understanding they were not in use.
My understanding was confirmed when we reached the tower and saw that it was secured by an old, rusted lock.
“Do you have a key?” Miss Soiss asked.
“No,” I answered, though I looked down all the same, as if proof were needed to verify this claim.
I looked instantly to the lock and saw that it had broken in Miss Soiss’ hand.
“Whoops,” she smiled, and used her shoulder to push the door open.
We slipped inside a circular room, and as I shut the door behind me, a near total darkness descended. There was a sliver of light coming down from above, indicating a closed trap door to the higher levels. I followed the curve of stairs in vain, but light was soon no longer a concern.
Miss Soiss snapped her fingers.
There was a sharp spark of red and white light, and then a similarly colored flame extended from the tip of Miss Soiss’ index finger.
I laughed nervously.
“You are not impressed?”
“With all due respect, ma’am, after all that I have seen inside the walls of Kraken Moor, a finger that alights with flame falls far down the list of oddities.”
Miss Soiss burst into her own fit of laughter. “Ah, I can see why they covet you so,” she said through a smile. “Let us have light!” She waved her arm from right to left and the red flame shot from her hand, creating a ring of fire around the room. There was no source for this flame. It did not attach itself to lamps or hay – it just was, a ring of red flame, caressed by strands of white, encircling the room just below the ceiling. The room itself was empty, save for the stairs leading to the second floor.
“What are you?” I asked, impressed at her power.
Her answer came first in an act instead of a word. She took several steps away from me and let the flame on her finger grow and spread across her body. The image of the beautiful Frenchwoman in a white dress burned away, replaced by a woman in black: a black corset, boots that ran to her thighs, and even black lipstick. It was a purposely aggressive look.
“Vampyr,” she announced. “I am, as the English say, a vampire.”
My mind raced and I glanced to the door, wondering if I had locked myself into a room with a monster. I took a step in that direction, but Miss Soiss caused her ring of fire to expand, stalling my efforts at escape.
“You are in no danger,” she announced and I accepted this if only because there was no other choice. “My brother and I were both correct in the Haupt’s room,” she explained. “We are theologians, and I have a focus in Satanic studies. In the course of my pursuits,” she paused, motioning to her own body, “I fell in with a group who fight against Lucifer.”
Miss Soiss turned from me and waved her hands, as if casting a spell. In the open air before us, a moving image appeared of a younger Miss Soiss standing in a dark alley. She had two sharp stakes in her hands and I watched as she moved towards a werewolf who had been crucified to the wall.
Miss Soiss took the stakes and ran them through the heart of the beast.
As she spoke, the image before us constantly shifted to echo her words. “In the dark days, the dire wolves wanted to be men, and so they made a deal with a demon, and gained the power to shift their bodies to the monstrous form of a wolf that is also a man.”
From my conversation with Miss Selton, I knew this to be true, but seeing a pack of wolves biting and tearing into men and becoming something out of God’s nightmares brought the story home with much greater force.
“In time,” Miss Soiss continued, “men fought back. It began with the ancient warriors of the Orient. Desperate to keep the wolves from decimating their ranks, they also made a bargain with the demons of Hell. They were given greater strength, and a greater ability for their bodies to repair themselves. In return, the demons demanded that the vampyr must kill for them. The warriors accepted this agreement because they were warriors. They wanted to conquer and if the demons were willing to give them power to make this easier, all the better.”
Miss Soiss shook her head. “They were fools, of course. To guarantee the warriors killed for them, the demons cursed them with a hunger for blood and fangs to facilitate their lust, and soon they were as large a plague upon the Earth as the wolves they wanted to kill.
“One warrior recognized this, and decided to stop the killing of innocents.
“From him you may draw a line to me.”
The image of an eternally youthful, middle-aged Chinese man dressed in ancient robes of red and gold faded, and my attention returned to Miss Soiss, who pointed to the ring of fire and offered a slight smile.
“I am also a witch,” she admitted. “Classic over-achiever, as Remy would say.”
“Is he also a vampire?”
Miss Soiss nodded. “Where I am skilled in the arts of magic, his proficiency lies with a blade.”
“And are you here to kill the demons?”
Miss Soiss shook her head as a sad look moved across her face. “We truly are here to regain our mother’s body. The events that are occurring here are not our concern.”
I became indignant. “Your mother was killed by a demon!”
“By Kanarl,” she replied. “The wolf demon seems to have an ability to move further beyond this estate than any of the other demons here.”
“And you do not want revenge?”
“Miss Sharper,” she said with a haughty glare, “my mother sent us to England because she routinely rutted with demons. There are those who love the thrill, and she was one of them.”
I started to pull down the top of my chambermaid’s uniform and Miss Soiss raised a curious eyebrow as a wicked smile. “Miss Sharper, you make me blush!”
I ignored her remark until I had removed enough of my dress to show her the Necklace of Anticipation. “Your mother wanted me to have this. It is yours, if you want it.”
Miss Soiss hissed at me. “I would not touch that necklace for all the gold in all the world,” she spat, “nor should you wear it without considering the cost. It is a demon’s trick. It draws them to you but prevents them from touching you until you want it. That is not so different from their relations with normal people. They can touch and they can kill a human but if the human has not agreed to their deal, then their soul is lost to the demon. That is what they want – the souls of humans to fill their pits.” She shook her head, lost in a memory. “That brings me to my purpose from bringing you to this tower.”
She reached down to the sides of her boots and pulled out two long knives that I had not seen, so well hidden were they in the boots’ leather.
“I will not insult you by telling you that you are in grave danger,” she said, handing the knives to me after I had re-fastened my top. “You know this, even though you do not know the full extent of the danger. Neither,” she said, halting my question, “do I. What I do know is that the demonic interest in you lies beyond convincing your husband to serve in Kadul’s army. I do not know why Kadul wants you, but I am confident in saying he is more interested in you than he is in Jackson Dereks.”
“But … why?”
“I just told you that I do not know,” she snapped before forcing herself to calm down. “Perhaps there are others close to you that they want. Perhaps it is simply because they find your beautiful. Kadul, Kanarl, Tchitok … the are demons but they are men, as well, and if human men commit vile acts for the want of a woman, imagine the carnage caused by demons in their pursuit of physical satiation.
“You may simply be the new battlefield. The armies in Hell are always looking to press their advantage, and perhaps Kanarl or Tchitok have decided they want you to be the cause of battle.”
She motioned to the knives in my hand. “Keep them on you. Wipe any thoughts that you can kill the demons from your mind. They offer some protection. Combine with my mother’s necklace, perhaps it will give them pause.” Miss Soiss came to me and took my hands that still held the knives in hers. “I give you the knives for a different purpose.”
“What?” I asked, searching her brown eyes.
“To kill the afflicted.”
“The Haupt children,” she said. “You must kill them all.”