When last we left our heroes, Victor had lost his soul, Cassandra had lost her daughter, and Mister Coble had lost his fight with the faerie lass Valende.
Victor pushed open the library door to find Sir Charles perusing the journals of the prior incarnation of the Society that rested on a shelf of honor. Lord Marston insisted that the logs of Mister Benedict remain in the Society’s library, available to be read by all but to be removed by no one.
“Charles, wonderful,” Victor said as he walked up to the scientist. There was something manic in the magician’s eyes, but then, almost everyone Sir Charles had spoken to so far today had been a touch anxious. It must be something in the air, he mused.
“Good to see you, Victor,” he said. “I’ve found the most interesting conundrum looking at the mineralogical samples from the Minotaur expedition.”
“You don’t say,” Victor said, looking around.
“Oh, yes!” Sir Charles continued, “you see, my first investigations showed–”
“Is Colonel Durant in?” Victor interrupted.
Sir Charles took the interruption in stride. “Yes, he’s in the sitting room. Showed up about an hour ago, right after Lord Marston retired to the east wing with Mrs. Chatterton.”
“I need to talk to him.”
“Well, let’s get a bottle of port opened and I can tell you both about this amazing confluence I’ve just discovered!”
“I’m sorry, Charles, I need to talk to the Colonel alone.” There was a grimness to Victor’s tone.
“Right. Of course.” For the second time that day, Sir Charles cheerfully extricated himself from the business of his friends.
Victor entered the Society’s sitting room to find the air saturated with the heavy smoke of Durant’s cigar. The Colonel was sitting in a large burgundy leather armchair peering intently at the rolled cheroot in his hand, likely analyzing its bouquet in far more detail than anyone ever needed.
“Colonel Durant?” he asked.
“Terranove,” the Colonel growled. “Care for a Hispanolia?”
“I don’t smoke,” Victor said, taking a seat next to Durant, his body turned to the Colonel in a pose of imminent supplication.
“You should,” the old man sneered. “Men smoke.”
“I need your help, Durant.”
A smoky chuckle puffed out from under the white mustache. “My help? I’m no help. Aren’t you and Brown all chummy? Ask him.”
Victor frowned. “Charles likes me. That’s why I don’t want him to know about this.”
Colonel Durant raised one eyebrow, his curiosity piqued. “Well, now. That does sound like my sort of help. Tell.”
Victor leaned back in his seat and nervously tapped his fingertips together. “How to start,” he said, his brow furrowing.
“You stop wallycodding around and just tell me what the hell’s going on,” Durant said. “I’m not your bally mother, Terranove.”
Victor put his head in his hands, covering his eyes.
“I just lost my soul on a gambling debt,” he said.
Colonel Durant took a long slow draw on his Hispanolia before blowing it out in a jet of white smoke.
“Maybe you’d better give me the wallycodding version,” he finally said.
Meanwhile, in the East Wing of the Society building, Cassandra Chatterton returned with her squirming package, bundled tightly in pink blankets.
“I’ve brought her,” she said, before correcting herself. “It.”
“Call me Mopuker, ma,” came the toad-croak voice from the otherwise beautiful baby in Cassandra’s arms. The look of utter disgust on Mrs. Chatterton’s face was so out of place in the mother-baby tableau it made the situation even more heartbreaking.
“Ignore it,” Lord Marston said. “It’s just trying to goad you.”
“As if I don’t already hate the wretched thing,” Cassandra said as she held the bundle out for Lord Marston to please finally take away from her.
“Hey,” the changeling said, imitating a hurt tone, “that hurts. Really.” It leered at Mrs. Chatterton with a smirk, its eyes moving from her face to her chest. “Did I mention I’m not weaned yet? Mmmmm…”
Without a second though, Kenneth backhanded the baby across the face. It was such an unexpected and wrong-looking action that despite herself Mrs. Chatterton gasped.
Mupoker was unfazed and perhaps a little amused to have caused such a reaction.
Lord Marston held the baby up to his face, meeting it eye to eye.
“All right, you beastly little thing. Where is our daughter?”
“Where is a sigh?” the changeling asked. “Where is a star? Where? Where is a slippery thing…”
That was enough for Mrs. Chatterton to lose her composure. “Tell me or I’ll kill you!” she screamed. “Where is she, God damn you?”
Kenneth, Lord Marston, however, remained calm and fished for a moment in his jacket pocket with his free hand.
“Cassandra, please,” he said, withdrawing an old iron key and dangling it threateningly in front of the changeling. “I think I know how to unlock his tongue. Why don’t you please wait for me in the sun room.”
As Mrs. Chatterton closed the East Room door behind her, the toad screams of Mupoker could already be heard. “Too cold! Too cold! Aaaaaaaah!”
Twenty minutes later, as Mrs. Chatterton sat by the large glass window in the sun room, Lord Marston entered. The changeling was not with him. Cassandra got to her feet, but kept her balance holding tight to the chair arm in case the news was worse than she feared.
“They’ve taken her to their world,” Lord Marston said. “There’s a citadel deep in the sluagh lands from which their Queen rules. Emmaline is there.”
“Oh dear God,” Cassandra gasped.
“Fortunately,” Kenneth said before she could lose her composure completely, “I have found us a way in.”
He held up a strange sculpture of black stone. It looked something like a plinth with a rough humanoid figure gripping it, either holding on for dear life or invisibly chained to it. A small manila paper tag was attached to the sharp tip by a thin loop of string. Lord Marston palmed the tag as he placed the object d’art on the drinks table next to Cassandra’s chair. The sunbeams crossing it somehow cast no shadow.
“This was the one thing that Mister Benedict returned with from the Dublin faerie circle. According to the few notes regarding it that Sir Charles has been able to translate, it’s got some kind of affinity to the faerie lands.” He looked down at the object appraisingly. “Dashed if I know what it is,” he said. “Ugly thing.”
“How… how does it operate?” Mrs. Chatterton asked. “Should we ask Sir Charles?”
“Come now,” Lord Marston said with his everpresent confident grin. “Haven’t you listened to any of the fairy tales you’ve read to our daughter?”
He picked up the fairie sculpture in one hand and extended the other to Mrs. Chatterton, who took it.
“Close your eyes and make a wish, my dear,” he said.
And with merely that, the sun room was empty.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.