Hungry Shadows, Part 1

Story idea by Gunjack Valentine and Lain.
Outlined and Written by Gunjack Valentine, Lain, and Lynati
Artwork by Lain.


June 16, 1921 - Paris, France

The auctioneer peered warily out from under bushy eyebrows, surveying the rear of the hall with unease; the mob assembled before him made him shudder, even with their backs turned. He scratched the back of his neck, ticklish where a trickle of sweat was meandering down to his shirt collar. He viewed himself as a particularly devout man, and had no time for the rag-tag scrapings of this fair city’s underbelly. But here now gathered before him with breathless anticipation were witches, Satanists, atheists, mediums and warlocks, all here as if the Devil himself were about to appear and hold court. He could fairly sense the pollution of his fine establishment by their heathen blasphemy.

He was somewhat bitter that recent times had caused such a downfall in the auction house’s clientele, but managed to console himself somewhat with the knowledge that heathen money was as good as any other, and that it would soon be channelled into honest usage.

The auction house was large and had, until recently, been very well off. Its location was favourable, near to the downtown area but not central enough to incur the inordinate rental rates that were imposed in the downtown district. Richly lacquered mahogany paneling covered the walls all the way up to the eighteen-foot ceiling, and only the podium and display table occupied the stately, minimalist stage. Rows of elegant, cushioned wooden benches fanned out on either side of a wide central aisle, which gave the interior of the auction hall the spacious feel of a church. This was, of course, the way Marc Champlain preferred to think of the space, which made it all the more difficult for him to suffer its defamation.

His audience was a dizzying mix of genteel and tawdry, sharing in common only the reek of eccentricity. There were hushed conversations, of which he heard snatches here and there; arcane terminology spoken in breathy stage-whispers, haughty exclamations and general pretentious hubbub, all of it saturated with an overwhelming sense of excitement and rising tension.

The news had been a front-page story in all the newspapers in the city, widely read and briefly gossiped over, but in the tight-knit community of spiritualists that flourished in the City of Lights it had hit with the force of an artillery shell. Ancel Reynolds, one of the leading figures of the spiritualist movement, had been found brutally murdered three nights before, along with the rest of his small household. His mansion had been thoroughly ransacked and diverse strange phenomena had been observed both by the gendarme and by the friends and acquaintances who had been by to view the terrible scene. Rumours abounded of bodies torn asunder as though by wild beasts; of claw marks scoring the walls and furniture, and of strange bloody footprints tracking throughout the place, the shape of which were bizarre and unrecognizable even to the naturalists of the community. The city as a whole was still abuzz with speculation; was some madman on the loose? Or perhaps the Devil had come calling to collect on previous bargains? That seemed most likely explanation to the proprietor, and more power to Him.

He had inspected the items up for bid himself, earlier in the showroom, and they were hardly better than the group of miscreants who had come to buy them. A musty collection of books and ragged papers, various locked chests constructed in a variety of styles and from a dazzling array of woods, several carved with heretical idols and peculiar foreign designs. Some dusty, threadbare tapestries, scrolls in various states of yellow decay, and other assorted oddities, most covered with pentagrams and evil symbols that no good Christian would ever think of touching finished out the lot. Still, the auction house’s owner had given him this assignment, and he regarded it as his duty to extract as much money from these strange people as he possibly could.

The auctioneer picked his way down the left-side aisle to the front of the hall. The assembled crowd didn’t notice him until he ascended the stairs to the stage, at which point a tense hush blanketed his audience.

He didn’t really know what to say, or how to start the proceedings. Usually there was some introduction explaining the reason of the auction, and the general category of the pieces up for bid, but in this case he was fairly sure that would be unnecessary, even redundant. These people knew why they had come; any decent soul would have left the premises upon learning what today’s collection was.

Usually he would have something welcoming to say, or jive to work the crowd into the proper mood, but he didn’t know where to start with these hooligans. He couldn’t come up with any point of reference with which he might connect himself with them. The crowd’s faces were expectant, excited, almost breathless, and every last one of them was focused on him. He decided to bypass all his ingrained rules of etiquette and all the formal niceties that went along with them, and launched straight into the bidding.


* * *


In the audience, a young man adjusted his position on the seat cushion, leaning forward as he eyed the latest item with intense interest. He had observed the proceedings for nearly two hours, lounging against the padded back of the bench, his walking cane resting carelessly against his knee. He toyed with the painted wooden plaque that bore his bidding number with nervous anticipation; he had sat in on auctions before, but had never before raised his number to make a bid. Now, however, his interest had been piqued and one of the items he had come for was up next.

Old Mssr. Reynolds was legend, and just the chance to acquire some of his artefacts and antiquities was enough to make his mouth water. He would buy it all if he could, but his Captain’s pay, even combined with his familial allowance were not equal to the task. One of the items he had come looking for (and one of the few which his savings might allow him to purchase) was now up. He knew he would have to choose his battles carefully.

Philip Bouchard was a young man of twenty-five years, a captain in the French army, and a quiet devotee to the supernatural. Along with his silver-handled cane- which he carried more out of pretentious fashion rather than any type of need- he was dressed in a fine grey suit of the latest cut, and his carefully groomed shock of jet-black hair was topped by a sensible bowler. He sported a small moustache and goatee; a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles framed his somewhat sunken hazel eyes.

"Lot number two six zero," the auctioneer droned, "a locked book with black cover, titled Une Histoire Allumée d’Aegypte, back and front with chased silver designs with a pyramid theme; key not included."

Bouchard re-examined the Auction Program, his eyes picking out several items of particular interest. Aside from the Lost Egyptian History, a Munich edition of Heyer’s Principia Infernum, possibly over a century old, jumped out at him as well, as did a water-damaged set of treatises on the origins of the Enochian language by John Dee. There were also idols from various savage tribes of the dark continent, and a collection of unusual scientific instruments, many of them Ancel’s own design. For Philip, though, the real treasure was the Swiss translation of the Journal of Nights, from Arabia. If he came away with nothing else, he would like to take that.

The auctioneer paused, surveying his audience, "bidding will commence at five hundred francs."

A man with shaggy, light grey hair sitting in the front row was quick to raise his number.

"I hear five hundred, thank you sir," the auctioneer nodded to the grey-haired man. "Will anyone give me five-fifty?"

Philip swallowed his first-time bidding jitters, and raised his number.

To his surprise, the auctioneer nodded politely. This was easier than he had been expecting.

"Five-fifty from the gentleman in grey, thank-you sir."

The grey-haired man, an older gentleman with a distinctive long nose and a weathered, angry face, swivelled his head around in annoyance to see who was challenging his bid. He glared at Philip’s still-raised number with a scowl that could have curdled milk and muttered something darkly to the patron beside him, raising his number even before he had turned away.

Philip blinked in recognition, searching his memory for a connection. Ah, of course, he was Mssr. Reeves, known to have been one of Ancel’s more prominent rivals, and known also for his fiery temper. It would be best to avoid crossing him, but all the same…

"Very well, six hundred from the gentleman at the front. Am I bid more?" Bouchard, feeling emboldened from his earlier success at entering the bidding, raised his number again. How badly did Mssr. Reeves want this book?

Apparently, he wanted it rather badly. Reeves passed a note to the auctioneer, and the next bid was double the bid Bouchard had made. Reeves turned and glowered venomously at Philip as the bid was announced, a toothy, triumphant grin twisting the lower part of his face. Bouchard squirmed a little on his cushion. He half wanted to bid again just out of spite, but he knew when to leave well enough alone.

But another man, a young hawk-eyed foreigner, did not. The bidding between him and Reeves escalated quickly, with the foreigner calmly capping Reeves’ bid no matter how outrageous his increases.

"Going once," said the auctioneer, "going twice… Sold, for eighteen thousand francs. Thank you, sir."

Philip was naturally disappointed, but watching Reeves’ trounced to a degree where even his vindictive attitude or social status could not win the item he wanted rather made up for it. He would have enjoyed owning the book himself, but at the same time, the majority of his attention (as well as his bankroll) was reserved for acquiring the Arabian Journal of Nights.

The next several bids were for various lesser volumes, so Bouchard relaxed and contented himself with observing the crowd, trying to see if he could recognize anyone. He cast his gaze over the strange mix of the Genteel and the Gutter, and he watched the toast of Paris society rub elbows with the salt of the earth.

His eye caught the flamboyant figure of the well-dressed Madame Dupois, the wife of the late Minister Dupois, sitting a few seats to his left and forward a row. She was possibly the most respected medium in Paris, drawing patrons from all across the continent. She was insulated from the surrounding crowd by her entourage of disciples, and by her massive chapeau; a monstrosity that towered like a mountain, wreathed in clouds of veils and feathers. The patrons sitting directly behind her strained to either side, straining to peer around the massive obstruction. There was Henquist-Gordon, probably in search of more research material for his novels. He also saw a middle-aged man, distinctive because of his missing eye, and thought that must be Dr. Tarr, the reputed leading proponent of paranormal science and an expert on ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. To his right sat the eminent Sir James Elliot, famed Orientalist and explorer of the Near East. Philip had heard his lectures on Mesopotamian culture and religion, and was greatly impressed by his breadth of knowledge and careful research.

At length, Bouchard’s gaze came to rest on the back of the gentleman sitting a seat or two behind the Englishman. To Bouchard’s eye, he looked strikingly out of place, for while this day’s group of bidders were from all walks of society, all were at least dressed in their finest for this occasion. This man, however, was clothed in a stained and shabby threadbare grey trench-coat, and his pale brown hair was uncut and uncombed. The coat hung from his shoulders and draped around his tall, lanky frame as though he was a scarecrow, supported only by thin sticks. He sat hunched over, and seemed to be paying precious little attention to the auction. Instead, he cast about himself with furtive glances like a hunted animal. Suddenly, as though he had felt the creeping sensation of being watched, the rogue met Bouchard’s gaze. The young officer was taken aback by the piercing blue eyes that stared back at him from a frame of pasty skin, stretched taut over prominent cheekbones. Partly because he was embarrassed at having been caught staring, and partly because he found the sight of that gaunt face disquieting, he quickly looked away.



* * *


"Two-fifty, thank you sir. Am I bid three hundred? Two-fifty, going once… Three hundred, thank you madam. Am I bid more? Three twenty five, thank you sir. Three fifty. Four hundred, from the gentleman in the back, thank you sir. Five hundred. Five hundred going once… Five hundred going twice… Sold, for five hundred francs. Thank you madam."

Marc Champlain took a sip of water as his assistants arranged the next lot. He was well pleased with the way the auction was going. He would never had thought any sane person would have been willing to pay so much money for the junk he was selling, but these artefacts were obviously worth quite a bit to the assembled crowd, and the auction house’s owner would likely pay him a nice bonus at the end of the day if he kept up at this pace. He was actually starting to get into the game. Soothing his tiring throat again with another gulp of water, he straightened himself for the next item, which was the last item listed on the program before the intermission.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "our next item is a true rarity. Lot nine-six-five, a Swiss copy of the Journal of Nights, translated by Klaus Werner, printed in 1693. The original was written over the course of three centuries, beginning in the year AD eight hundred and thirty-six. The Journal of Nights records the visions and prophecies of a small society of Seers founded by the Mohammedan prophet Emran Al-Fahad. The original was lost during the Peninsular War; of Klaus Werner’s translation, only eight copies are known to have survived." He looked out over the patrons, his expression serious. The room buzzed with whispered conversation, and he waited a moment for silence. As the murmur died down, he smiled gravely.

"Shall we begin the bidding at two thousand francs?"

Bouchard leaned forward on his cushion again, his heart quickening its pace. This was it; he simply could not afford to allow this book to slip through his grasp. He had a fair amount of money saved up, and he had not bid on anything substantial since losing his first battle with Reeves. This was the one chance he would ever get to possess this book, and he had all of his savings to devote to this cause. He had already taken a pair of Ancel’s journals earlier that morning for a few hundred francs; that should leave around five thousand left in his spending money… He scribbled a quick note and hands it to one of the ushers.

He quickly became aware that several others are also interested in this book, particularly Madame Dupois and Reeves, as well as one or two others he did not recognize. The others fell out as the bids climbed rapidly past his five thousand frank mark.

There were murmurs of surprise when Madame Dupois raised the bid up to nine thousand francs and promptly dropped out of contention when Reeves bid her one better. Reeves was hanging on with increasing consternation, perhaps fighting to win back some perceived loss of ego for when the foreigner trumped him earlier. He had stopped glaring at Bouchard when the bidding reached six thousand, seeming to be content to outbid everyone with a wave of his number. For his part, Bouchard wrapped himself in what felt like an unreal, detached calm that only ever come upon him in tense, high-stakes card games. Though he had won all the games when the calm descended, he knew he was only concealing his desperation with a masterful proficiency.

With his spending money so quickly outdone, he began to bid with his allowance. When that failed, he dipped urgently into his savings. Reeves had begun to cast icy glares over his shoulder again, but Philip forbid himself from looking, knowing that his confidence might wilt if he allowed himself to be caught in that gaze. Reeves scowled, his face twisting until it became even nastier, and bid ten thousand francs as though each were his firstborn child. Still refusing to meet Reeves’ gaze, Philip raised the bid to twelve thousand. His calm outward appearance belied his inner turmoil as he desperately tried to think of where he was going to get that much money. Could he take out a loan? Should he turn to his friends? Please, he prayed silently, let this be the end, I cannot afford more…

"Twelve thousand! Thank you sir!" The auctioneer was trying to conceal his excitement at the considerable sum of the bid. "Do I hear thirteen? You sir, at the front?"

Reeves was red with anger, his teeth grinding, and though his hand remained clutched on the handle of his number, he did not raise it again.

"No?" Said the auctioneer, "very well, then. Twelve thousand francs, going once, "he paused for dramatic effect, "twelve thousand twice…. and sold, to the gentleman in the grey suit. Thank you, sir!"

Soft, polite applause rippled through the crowd. Bouchard let out an explosive breath as the pent-up tension poured out of him. He grinned as several of his fellow patrons turned to congratulate him. He felt almost euphoric, the pent-up adrenaline release flowing into his body made him feel deliciously warm, and he tried not to think about how he was going to pay for this extravagance.


* * *


After the short intermission was announced, Bouchard made his way into the display room, where refreshments were to be served. The remaining lots on display were the ones to be auctioned off in the next section, and everyone was mingling around, talking, munching on teacakes Madeleine, Choux Chantilly, and other petit-fours as they peered around at the items. Everything was locked behind a layer of glass, to protect both from thievery and crumbs falling from excited lips. All the same, there was a muscular-looking man standing near the doorway, not mingling with the others or partaking of the refreshments. Philip presumed the auction house must have hired him to protect against theft, and he pushed past hurriedly; he was no thief.

Once he was in the room, he poked about with avid curiosity, distaining all else but a small cup of water. There were so many treasures here; what he would do for enough money to buy these things!

One display in particular caught his attention - within a small glass repository, and perched on a neatly folded white cloth, rested a small stone disk, approximately the size of a large coin. It was a dark grey in colour, and its texture gave it the appearance of being carved out of slate. Carved into the centre of the disk was a stylized eye, after the Greek or perhaps Egyptian fashion. The piece was framed by a tarnished silver rim, to which three black silk cords were attached, lying in neat coils around the mysterious piece.

This item fascinated Bouchard. The detail was impressive, and as he leaned in to get a closer look at the writing on the auction card, he bumped directly into the gaunt man with the trench coat he had noticed earlier in the auction hall.

"Pardon me," the man stammered quickly, looking shiftily around with that same nervous look in his eyes that Bouchard had seen earlier. Up close, however, the look was slightly different. Though the man stammered in embarrassment, his ice blue eyes remained cool, aloof and extremely intense.

The man’s heavy German accent betrayed his origins. That, and his deplorable grooming, would have normally been enough to cause Bouchard to avoid him like a plague hovel, but something in his intense gaze held the young officer transfixed. Not sure what else to do, Bouchard offered his hand.

"Captain Philip Bouchard," he said, as politely as he could, "how do you do?"

The man looked at Bouchard’s outstretched hand, and studied it for a moment, but didn’t extend his own hand to complete the greeting.

"Eugene Kappel," he said at length, "would you happen to have a cigarette?"

Philip fumbled around in his pockets for a cigarette and a match, before handing both to Kappel. The German took them without comment, striking the match and taking an appreciative drag before continuing.

"Former lieutenant in the Kaiser’s army," his voice was tense, almost quavering, and somewhat disquieting, "but I’m afraid the Kaiser and I had a falling out at Verdun…"

Bouchard blinked, taken aback. Most men would not admit to being a deserter so freely, especially when speaking to another soldier."What brings you to Paris, Monsieur Kappel?" he pressed. By this point, Bouchard was extremely curious about the response he might get.

"Hunger and the trains, mostly; certainly you already discerned such from the state of my clothes, Herr Bouchard." The man grinned, but there was no mirth in his eyes, only the same chilly emptiness that seemed to follow his gaze everywhere. "But beyond the immediate concerns, I came in hopes of seeking Herr Ancel’s advice on a… personal matter."

Kappel’s pause had been scarcely discernable, but Philip had heard it and felt a sudden twinge of interest.

"I understand he was prominent in his field, "the German continued, "and had hoped he might be persuaded to assist me with some matters related to his particular interests."

"I must admit surprise," replied Bouchard, "you have an interest in Spiritualism, Herr Kappel?"

"Indeed, and for some time now. I first discovered the movement as a student, but such pursuits were… delayed." He took another drag on the cigarette, and exhaled the smoke slowly. He seemed somewhat less jittery, but whether the subtle change was due to the tobacco or the unexpected confessions, Bouchard wasn’t certain.

"But you are a devotee of the movement also, non?" He continued, "could you tell me what you know about this item here? It seems familiar, but I cannot seem to recall the details…" his sentence drifted off as he gestured toward the display case.

"I don’t know anything about it," Bouchard admitted, "I was just about to look at the display card when I bumped into you earlier, here, let’s see," he leaned forward and read the card, on which was penned:


Artefact of Unknown Origin and Purpose

Starting bid: 200₣


"That’s not very helpful," Bouchard admitted, "I’m sorry I can’t tell you more than the card says."

Both men leaned in again, studying the item and trying to glean any information they could from its markings. Kappel remarked that it seemed to have a Hellenist influence, which Bouchard had also noticed earlier. Neither man had ever seen anything quite like it before. Luckily, Bouchard had only just begun to wonder if he had any more friends to call on for loans when he was interrupted by a loud, irate voice.

"Ah, Monsieur Bouchard, there you are. Planning on robbing me again, I see!"

Philip turned to see Ferdinand Reeves, and one look at the old gentleman’s flushed complexion told him that his bidding rival hadn’t cooled down at all from his earlier loss. "Well, don’t just stand there gaping, boy. Won’t you introduce me to your accomplice? Though I must say, you really ought to pick your associates better."

"My friend is Herr Kappel, recently of Germany," Bouchard explained in his most reasonable tone, "and I apologize, Monsieur Reeves, though neither of us has any intention of robbing you. We were merely wondering about this object here," he gestured to the case the two had been inspecting. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Kappel, doing his best to pretend he wasn’t there.

"Oh, you are a poor actor, Monsieur Bouchard, your feigned ignorance isn’t fooling anyone," Reeves grated, "you’ve cost me too much already with all your meddling. Come now! Tell me! Who put you up to this?"

Bouchard swallowed the heated reply that sprang into his mouth, deciding against further antagonizing the already incensed man. "I’m sorry," he replied as calmly as he could manage, "but I don’t have the slightest idea what you are trying to imply."

"The Book, damn you!" Reeves roared, "that thrice-cursed collection of half-mad Arab scribbling! Twelve thousand francs, indeed! I’ve known you for quite some time, boy, and I know you don’t have that kind of money to throw around, so confess! Who put you up to it!?"

The milling crowd began to stop and stare at the growing scene Reeves was causing. Philip forced himself, with visible effort, to remain calm and un-insulted.

"No one has put me up to anything," he said, as gently as he could manage, "I have been setting aside a fair amount of money for my research, although granted, that won’t be enough to cover the expenses I’ve incurred this evening. Unfortunately, I’ll likely have to fall back on my savings and investments to cover the cost." He didn’t mention that he was already considering from whom he could borrow the remaining money to cover the debt he has incurred. "Still," Bouchard continued calmly, "such things are to be expected in the pursuit of true knowledge, are they not? If the book was so important to you, why didn’t you simply continue to bid? To be quite honest, you could have easily prevailed with only a little more perseverance, as I was at the end of my tether. As you know, I am not a rich man. Failing that, with all due respect, Monsieur Reeves, you should accept your loss with dignity, rather than blaming others like a spoiled child."

Reeves stared at him, eyes wide, mouth working silently, his face burning such a bright shade of red that Philip is momentarily worried that he might spontaneously combust out of pure rage. Suddenly, the older man bursts into harsh, barking laughter.

"You young fool! You’re telling the truth, aren’t you?"

"Of course," Bouchard had not been expecting this, and he was now confused as well as annoyed. Reeves calmed himself with visible effort, and his ubiquitous fury faded from a thunderstorm to a mere threatening overcast.

"I’d expected many things here today, my boy," he said, "but I certainly hadn’t expected to be trumped by an innocent babe. All right then, if you are above suspicion in this matter, I apologize for my outburst. Here," he thrust his hand toward the brooding Kappel, who pretended not to notice. Bouchard took his hand instead, and gave it a good shake.

Taking advantage of his temporary mollification, Bouchard tried to break the ice.

"Say, I don’t suppose you really do know anything about this item," he gestured to the stone disk on the cloth, "we really were genuinely interested in anything you might be able to tell us, it is quite curious."

Reeves’ expression turned dark again, and Bouchard was momentarily afraid for his life again. To his relief, he realized the anger was directed elsewhere.

"Yes," the old man growled, "I know a thing or two about it, but unfortunately I’m not at liberty to discuss it at the moment." His perpetual scowl deepened, "in truth, it is this simple grey disk that allowed you to steal the Journal from me at such a low price. Truth be told, most of the real players here are too worried about being dragged into a bidding war over a lesser item, and losing their chance to claim this prize. Why do you think I let that bastard Haravash get away with snatching that intriguing little Histoire from me?"

"What do you mean?" Bouchard was now very thoroughly confused.

Reeves, however, refused to elaborate any further. "You might want to hang around for the next round of bidding," he said, with a glint in his eye, "it should be a sight to see. Good day, gentlemen."

And with that, he left. Bouchard watched him leave with his aide by his side, completely nonplussed. "What on earth do you think was the meaning of that?" he asked aloud, shaking his head.

Kappel was silent.


* * *


"Nine Hundred Francs," the auctioneer droned, "do I hear nine-fifty? Thank you sir. Nine-fifty. A thousand. Eleven hundred. Twelve hundred. Bidding stands at twelve hundred francs. Am I bid thirteen?"

Bouchard had decided to stay after all. So had Kappel, and the German now sat beside him on the bench.

The item for bid was a ceremonial sword, in the cruciform style, reputed to be a Masonic artefact. It wasn’t an item of particular interest for Bouchard, but it did seem to be for at least two others in the room. Currently, the contest seemed to be between Dr. Tarr and a young woman that Philip vaguely thought he recognized from a conference he had attended in Calais the year before. The Doctor’s interest is easy enough to understand, as word had it that he was a member of the Paris Lodge, and one might surmise that recovering their plaything would bring him status among his fellows. As for the lady, Bouchard couldn’t guess. Perhaps she collected arcane weapons? Perhaps she had a grudge against the good doctor?

"Thirteen hundred francs from the honourable Doctor, thank you sir. Fourteen in the back. Fifteen, thank you madam. Fifteen hundred francs, am I bid Sixteen? No? Fifteen hundred francs, going once… Twice… Sold, for one thousand five hundred francs, to the lady in red. Thank you, Madam."

Philip was relaxed, feeling lazy, even. His earlier adrenaline rush had given way to the heavy-lidded sleepiness that always seemed to follow that level of excitement. He luxuriated in the banter of the auctioneer and the patrons. Bouchard found his newly acquired poverty quite liberating. Since he could no longer afford to bid, he could simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle unfolding before him, without having to worry about if he wanted to bid and how much he wanted to bid for. And if Reeves were to be trusted, things were about to get even more interesting…


* * *


"Our next item is an artefact of unknown purpose. Lot number four-one-two: a stone disc with silver rim, possibly of Egyptian origin. May we start bidding at two hundred franks? Two hundred, thank you sir. Two fifty from the gentleman in the gallery. Three hundred. Three fifty. Four hundred. Four fifty. Bidding stands at four fifty, going once… Five hundred, thank you sir. Six hundred. Seven hundred. Eight, nine. Nine hundred francs; am I bid more?"

Philip smiled to himself; the auctioneer was looking rather surprised at the rapid bidding on what surely appeared to be a trinket. Just wait, Monsieur…

"Nine hundred francs going once…" The last bid had come from Sir Elliot, undoubtedly interested due to the piece’s possible Egyptian influence.

"Nine hundred going twice… Ah! A thousand francs. Thank you, Madame Dupois. Bidding stands at a thousand francs. Eleven hundred. Twelve. Fifteen. Fifteen hundred francs. Going once…" An assistant appeared on the stage beside him, whispering quickly in his ear and passing him a note on a small slip of paper. The auctioneer’s face turned visibly pale and he swallowed to steady himself.

"Fifteen thousand," he announced, "t-thank you, sir!"

The auctioneer’s disbelief was plain, but if these ne’er-do-wells wished to throw away their money… "Bidding stands at fifteen thousand francs! Am I bid more?"

From his new seat on the front row, Reeves nodded sharply in assent, managing to make the gesture as menacing as a declaration of war. Which, in a way, it was. Philip grinned to himself; apparently, this item was indeed something special. Now, he expected, the real players would emerge… Ah, there. The widow Dubois raised her number. She must have been in on it too, then.

Beside him, Kappel was doing a poor job of concealing his concern with the outcome of this auction. His head snapped back and forth as each contender raised their number.

"Twenty. Twenty thousand francs. Twenty-five."

This last was from a man in the Gallery. Craning his head around, Bouchard put him down as an American from his dress and manner.

"Forty. Forty-five. Fifty. Fifty-five."

The room was abuzz. Now the contest was between the American and the old widow Dubois; Reeves seemed to be hanging back, watching.

"Sixty. Seventy. Seventy-five. Bidding stands at Seventy - Oh, really!"

Another note had arrived, and the auctioneer stared at it for a moment, as if trying to decipher ancient hieroglyphics. Then he slowly looked up, his expression wooden.

"Bidding stands at one hundred thousand franks. Am I bid more?"

Right now, Bouchard grinned to himself, he is beginning to wonder if the patrons have gone mad, or if perhaps his appraisers were not as forthcoming as he thought.

"One hundred eleven," the widow had raised her number.

"Twelve." Reeves bid again at last, perhaps testing the waters.

"Thirteen." the auctioneer nodded to Dupois, then nodded to another, "fourteen."

A young woman in non-descript dress, seated in the gallery, answered the bid from Dupois. Bouchard had not noticed her before, the young lady seemed undisturbed by the rapid escalation, and raised her number again.

"Eighteen. Do I hear Nineteen? Thank you sir."

Reeves had bid again, and the old man seemed to be warming to the game. Bouchard guessed he’d been hoping to identify his competition before he committed himself completely.

"Nineteen. Twenty. Bidding stands at a mere…one hundred and twenty thousand franks. Surely that will not deter our stalwarts? Ah, indeed it does not! Twenty-one. Twenty-two, twenty-three. Twenty-four, thank you sir."

This time, it was the American, his face set in a scowl of determination.

"Twenty-five. Thirty!"

This time, the muttering was considerably louder as the American signalled his bid, his face grim.

"Forty thousand!" Dupois was no less grim, glaring around, her hat feathers nearly bringing down the innocent patrons seated in her vicinity. There was a shuffle, and the non-descript young woman quietly excused herself from the proceedings. Bouchard glimpsed the long golden braid that hung down to the small of her back, and then she was gone.

"Fifty! Sixty! One-and-Seventy thousand francs. Eighty. Ninety. Bidding stands at One hundred and Ninety thousand francs. Am I bid more?"

Yet again, an assistant moved rapidly from the side of the stage. The auctioneer looked at the note, blinked several times, and then fixed his gaze on the patrons. He took a very deep breath.

"I am bid two hundred and fifty thousand francs."

The hall was silent, frozen, as though the mere words have petrified the patrons where they sat. Reeves, his face burning red beneath his grey beard, slowly and deliberately raised his number. The auctioneer swallowed and nodded.

"Two-fifty. Three hundred? Thank you, madam!" Dupois was growing agitated, but Reeves seemed oblivious to her fury. Instead, he fixed his murderous gaze on the auctioneer, and raised his number yet again.

"Three-twenty. Care to take us higher, sir?"

The auctioneer looked to Reeves, and saw him handing yet another note to the usher hoverering at his elbow. Reeves’ intense eyes bored into him as the attendant passed him the note, and he examined the sum. He should be shocked, of course, but by now it was almost expected.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the bid now stands at three hundred and fifty thousand francs."

Bouchard turned his gaze to the widow Dupois, but she had shut herself in behind the veils and feathers of her hat.

"Three hundred fifty going once."

The hall was silent as the tomb.

"Three hundred and fifty thousand going twice."

Not a murmur, not a breath. Nothing moved.


The crack of the gavel reverberated through the hall like a gunshot, and the room instantly erupted into such a tumult that the auctioneer shouted hoarsely to be heard.

"Order, please!" he bellowed, "the item is sold to Monsieur Reeves for the total of three hundred and fifty thousand francs! Monsieur Reeves, if you would be so kind as to meet our manager in his office to make arrangements for payment? Order!"

Further pounding with the gavel proved fruitless.

Reeves was surrounded by the crowd, congratulations and inquiries pouring in from all sides. Bouchard watched him handle the attention with good grace, his normal belligerence melting into something of a sullen satisfaction.

The Auctioneer gave up pounding after a few more moments; things would simply have to run their course.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid I must place these proceedings in recess! We shall resume at six o’clock sharp with Lot number Four-one-three. Until then, please avail yourselves of refreshments in the viewing room. Thank you!"

And without another word, he fairly fled the stage.


* * *


Bouchard and Kappel waited in the viewing room. This time, Bouchard indulged himself, sipping on a cocktail while Kappel helped himself to another of the fine French cigarettes. Philip was starting to like this young German, despite his initial impressions. He was direct, seemed honest and, more to the point, seemed afraid and in need of aid. This had always been something Bouchard had responded to, and he did feel an almost overwhelming desire to help the man.

"Obviously, it was an exceedingly rare artefact, but what of its purpose?" Bouchard mused, "are you certain you can’t remember anything?"

"Yes, quite certain," Kappel replied tersely.

Bouchard pressed on, "the widow Dubois is a medium and a diviner, and of course Mssr. Ancel was pursuing divination himself, was he not?"

"That is why I was seeking his council, yes."

"Then perhaps we could assume the stone is a tool to aid in such activities?"

Kappel nodded in the direction of the side door. "Well, now is your chance to find out."

Bouchard followed his gaze, and saw Reeves re-emerge from the office, apparently having finished the arrangements for the sizable payment.

He was greeted like a Cæsar in the viewing room, with shouts and more congratulations. He seemed to have lost some of his earlier grace, for he responded with his regular snarls and glares. After having fended the waiting crowd away, and much to Bouchard’s surprise, Reeves cut across the middle of the room straight for them.

"By God, I’m glad that’s finally over. Well, boys, what did you think of the show?"

For the first time, the storm clouds cleared, and Reeves flashed a genuine grin.

"I’d imagine Evelynne is off drowning her sorrows in cheap gin by now," he chuckled darkly, evidently speaking of the widow Dupois, "serves the hag right. She should know better than to try to strong-arm me!"

"Congratulations, sir," Bouchard squeezed in as Reeves paused for a breath.

"Come now, there’s no need for flattery, boy. I know what you’re really after," he flashed another grin at the both of them, "you want to know about the stone now, don’t you?"

"W-well yes, actually, we are both curious, of course we are – after that show in there, who wouldn’t be?"

"Indeed, indeed," Reeves waved him off quickly; evidently suffering from the same adrenaline-laced elation that Bouchard had felt himself, earlier. "Well now, it just so happens that I have several things to discuss with you, too. Have you already handled the paperwork for your purchase?"

"Yes, sir," Bouchard nodded.

"Excellent! Well then, in that case, how would you like to take a stroll with me? You can catch up with your Kraut friend later, we have more important matters to see to."

Bouchard stared at him, caught between excitement at his invitation and horror and his brutal lack of manners. Horror won.

"I - no, we would both dearly like to know about the stone, and also about any other matters you might care to discuss, Mssr Reeves, but I would like to clarify a point or two," he said sternly. "Firstly, Herr Kappel is a fellow student of True Knowledge, and therefore should be accorded at least basic respect, regardless of his country of birth. In addition, he is in need of advice and assistance, and so had come to speak with the late Monsieur Ancel. Since Ancel is no longer with us, I had hoped that you, Mssr Reeves, might consider adding your considerable knowledge to my own, and that we might offer assistance to this poor man. If, however, you are too busy to assist a fellow seeker of Truth, we will take their leave of you. Good day! Come, Kappel," he gestured to his German friend, who moved to follow him.

They had only made it a few steps before Reeves caught his arm.

Bouchard looked back over his shoulder to see the older man’s face screwed up with intense frustration,

"Dear Mssr Bouchard," he choked, "I do apologize. I have been dealing with jackals like Ancel and the nasty widow Dupois for so long that, well, perhaps I’ve begun acting like one myself. I am sorry, but it is imperative that I speak with you immediately. In truth, I am in need of your assistance possibly as much as you are in need of mine."

Bouchard studied Reeves’ face warily, but it seemed to be genuine.

"If you are still willing," Reeves continued hurriedly, "might you join me for the evening? That is to say, both of you?"

Bouchard was surprised, but conceded quickly, "we will be happy to provide whatever assistance that we can, if you will do what you can for Kappel in return."

"Agreed!" Reeves exclaimed happily, "now, let’s get out of here before these Philistines mob me to death! If you will excuse me for just a moment, I have some last-minute business to arrange, but my car should already be waiting out front."

Bouchard watched Reeves bustle away, nearly having to beat back the encroaching crowd with his cane as he went.

"Shall we go then?" Bouchard asked brightly.

Kappel was silent for a moment. "Thank you," he said quietly, "you really don’t need to put yourself out on my account…but thank you all the same."

"Nonsense," Bouchard said dismissively, "you’re a fellow truth-seeker, and I would be glad to render any assistance I can. And don’t let Reeves’ bluster get to you – he’s a good man – it’s just that he’s spent too many years being frustrated by fools. If anyone can help you, it will be Monsieur Reeves, you’ll see."

Uncertainly, Kappel lights another of Bouchard’s cigarettes.

"I hope you’re right, Herr Bouchard."


* * *


"It’s all the same to me, mademoiselle, but you realize the meter is still running, non?"

The cabbie adjusted the mirror, and squinted at his preoccupied passenger. She was middle-aged, but still retained the beauty of her youth. The creamy fair skin of her forearms was exposed below the elbow-length sleeves of her modern-style dress, and a thick, braided rope of blonde hair that hung down over her shoulder and fell into her lap.

She was probably a foreigner, he deduced, and a well-off one at that. Though by the way the metre was running, her purse might be a bit lighter by the end of the evening. She had come out of the auction house some twenty minutes ago, hailed him on the spot, and surprised him by ordering him to wait with the motor running.

The woman spared barely a glance at the meter, and handed him another ten francs before turning her attention back to the scene across the street.

"Looks like the crowd’s heading home. We’ll be on our way soon enough."

Outside the auction house, it was just after sundown. As the most interesting article had just been sold, and the majority of the patrons were tired from a long day of either bidding, or waiting to bid, they were milling around the front steps and talking, or waiting for their rides home. There were only a few patrons who were going to hold out to the bitter end, and they were already assembling in the auction hall for the final round of bidding.

"If it’s a traitorous lover you’re after, my dear, it’s not worth it. If you can’t trust your man to go about his business without your eye on him, he’s no good," the cabbie said seriously, "a fine girl like yourself could do better."

She laughed, playing along in jest, "it’s not that I don’t trust him, you understand…" her sentence tailed off as she espied her prey. The German, his new grey-suited friend and the old man she had bid against in the auction for the stone all traipsed down the stairs together, piled into a waiting car, and drove off up the narrow street.

The cabbie had followed her gaze, "you want to follow them." It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yes," she confirmed.


* * *


The three men returned to Reeves’ mansion, a large four-story house on the opposite side of downtown from the auction house. The chauffeur dropped them off at the doorstep, and drove the car away to be parked for the evening.

Upon entering the massive structure, the delicious smell of roasted venison and crisply fried potato wafted into their nostrils. Reeves had obviously called ahead, for such good timing could hardly be a coincidence. Within minutes, Bouchard was salivating. Kappel was similarly affected by the scent of food.

"Well," Reeves exclaimed, "I am famished. Let’s retire to the dining table."

They followed him without protest.

The dinner was delicious. The roast was covered in a delicate white wine sauce, the fried, cubed potatoes were perfectly soft on the inside, while remaining crispy on the outside, and the vegetables were boiled to perfection. They all ate heartily, though Bouchard noticed that Kappel, in particular, was really tucking it in. He felt a pang of sympathy for the man, having noticed the thinness of his shoulders before, and he wondered how long it had been since the German had had a good meal. Reeves must have noticed also, for he offered more food each time Kappel’s plate was cleaned.

Bouchard and Reeves made small talk over the meal; Reeves was interested in what Philip had been studying lately; he had seen the monograph on Arab cultural symbolism in myth and legend...

After the plates were cleared, Ferdinand Reeves called for wine and cigars to celebrate their new alliance, continuing to argue over Ibn Khanu’s necromantical text. Bouchard was delighted, though Kappel steadfastly declined and instead lit another of Bouchard’s cigarettes. He contentedly sucked the smoke from it as they made their way from the dining hall to the study on the second floor, where the other two men retired to enjoy their treat.

Bouchard was in awe of the study and its incredible collection from the moment he walked up into the room. The study was essentially a small library, jutting off in two directions from the staircase entrance, and three of the walls were obscured with massive, heavily laden bookcases. Straight ahead was a large conference table, surrounded by four stuffed leather chairs, overlooked by a large bay window, across which a curtain had been drawn to keep out the night draught. To his left were more bookcases, along with two large plush chairs, positioned in front of a fireplace, which was already comfortably ablaze. Above the hearth hung a pair of finely engraved, double-barrelled shotguns, undoubtedly trophies from past seasons in the field. There were three exits from the room, one leading from the staircase up which Bouchard had just climbed, one opposite the fireplace, which led into a narrow hallway, and one on the adjoining wall, which led into a spacious studio.

Reeves busied himself by settling into one of the high-backed conference chairs, and he gestured for the two other men to do the same.

"Now, down to business, young man," Reeves said, at length, puffing on his cigar, "let’s hear your story, then."

Kappel sighed heavily, bracing; he knew he must hold nothing back. If there was a way they could help him, they must know everything. Of course, it made him uncomfortable to bear his soul, but it would have been worse if they had been people he had known for a long time.

"I was born in Hamburg," Kappel began quietly, shepherding his words carefully, like rebellious sheep, "I went to school in Berlin, but when the war broke out, I and my comrades joined, of course. I made Lieutenant, but it was horrible. I do not like to speak of myself as a weak man, but the war was more than I could handle. It was ugly, and terrible - the worst of human nature all squeezed together in one place. It’s true, I turned to morphine, but even that couldn’t dull the horror for long. When that was no longer enough, I ran. I deserted. I was homeless and without money, or a means of making money. Worse, I was addicted to the drug, I still am."

The German paused, taking a few more ragged breaths as he lit another cigarette proffered by Bouchard to calm his nerves. "I took to the countryside to escape myself," he continued, "but of course I was ruined. I turned to theft for survival, and before long, I was dodging the police. It would not have done to be caught, since I am a deserter.

"One winter evening, near sunset, I was running through the forest, pursued by the local village policeman, who was armed at that time with a shotgun and a hound. I stumbled across the ruins of an ancient mansion, half-overgrown by the forest, and I was desperate for a place to hide. I remember stumbling inside, aching with weariness and numb from the cold… but that… that is the last thing I remember."

Bouchard was listening with rapt attention, doing his best to memorize every detail, but Reeves interrupted the story, "the last thing you remember, what do you mean?"

Kappel paused, taking a long drag on his cigarette, and let the smoke out slowly. When he spoke again, his voice remained level only through visible effort.

"I do not know what happened to me there. The next thing I remember was waking up face-down in the snow. I remember the cold, and the taste of blood in my mouth. I was clean-shaven and dressed in a good suit. I was bleeding from a wound in my back, and there were three dead men nearby, all shot. One had a knife. I don’t know whether he was the one who cut me, or if he was a friend."

He paused for a moment, obviously reluctant to tell the rest. Neither of his newfound friends spoke; Bouchard sipped his wine, and Reeves puffed on his cigar with a faraway, worried expression. At length, the silence became more painful than further revelation, and so he continued.

"I had no memory of what had happened there, or even how I came to be there. I was afraid of being arrested, so I ran. Later, I learned that it was December of the year 1920, and that the city where I found myself again was Lyon. I had a fine leather wallet that was not my own, stuffed with Francs. I still had my razor, but my pack was gone, my bedroll, my bible. I had a set of keys, and no idea of what lock they belonged to. I threw them into the first river I came across. I sold my suit for a new pack and roll, and some old traveling clothes. The money, I spent on morphine to fight the fear and the nightmares."

"I have no idea what happened to me on that night in Germany, and since I woke up, I have lived in fear that I might lose myself again. Each night, I dream of murder, of death…and a statue that speaks to me from the shadows."

The German’s voice had grown shaky, and he retrieved yet another of Bouchard’s rapidly diminishing cigarettes, using the stump of his last to light the next.

"Something happened to me in that forest. I don’t know what, but I came to Paris with the hope that Herr Ancel could help me to find out what. I know I could have gone to the police, but I am terrified of being locked away without knowing the truth," his expression became pained, and he looked furtively from Bouchard’s face to Reeves’ and back again.

"I might be a murderer," he said softly, "but if I find out that is the case, I would rather… h-handle things myself," he finished shakily, taking refuge in his cigarette once more.

Bouchard was moved, but Reeves remained silent, his face dark. This made Bouchard nervous, because he did not know Reeves well enough to hazard a guess as to what he was thinking.

"Well, Herr Kappel," he started, "we would love to help you, to be sure. First of all, do you have a place to sta- "

"Of course he doesn’t have a place to stay, you young fool!" Reeves spat angrily, "look at him!" He turned to Kappel and added, somewhat more gently, "of course we’ll help you, but on one condition – you must agree to stay here for the foreseeable future. Under no circumstances are you to go further than the water closet without one or preferably both of us. This is a dangerous business, and we must take precautions."

Kappel was too shocked to respond, he nearly dropped the cigarette from his nerveless fingers, but Reeves was already calling for his butler.

"Larson," he commanded, "see to it that rooms are prepared for our two guests, and find a few changes of clean clothing. More will have to be purchased in the morning when the shops open, but find what you can for tonight. If this young gentleman is staying, he certainly won’t be doing so in those rags!"

Reeves neatly ignored Kappel’s sputtering surprise and Bouchard’s exclamation of shock and checked his watch with a flourish.

"It’s nearly eight-thirty in the evening," he announced, "Kappel, you should wash up and get some rest. Larson, see to it that he is shown to the bath. Bouchard and I need to go over some matters before we sleep, so away with you!"

Kappel, still in a shocked and obviously grateful stupor, allowed himself to be led away by the butler.


* * *

"What by hell is your problem now, boy?" Reeves asked, in his eternal irritation.

Bouchard started. He realised, somewhat guiltily, that he had been staring off into space with a somewhat odd expression on his face ever since the German had left. Unfortunately, he had been facing the chair where Reeves was sitting, and had thus been staring directly at the old man for some time.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, regaining some composure, "what you did just now for that young man was very kind."

"Well, he is your friend, isn’t he?"

"Y-yes. But it was still very generous of you, all the same"

"Well," Reeves replied gruffly, "it was the least I could do, considering the circumstances. All the same, I do have a very bad feeling about this."

Bouchard was suddenly very solemn, "Yes. His story is very worrying. What do you make of it?"

Reeves shuffled his chair into a position in front of the dying fire, and Bouchard followed his example. The old man re-positioned himself in the plush nest of its seat while the officer hunted down another log from the repository on the wall and tossed it onto the embers. When they were both settled, Reeves puffed on the stub of his cigar for a few moments, rolling his thoughts around in his head, and trying to sort them out.

"Well, truth be told it does sound a lot like some types of demonic possession I have heard about," he began, "but that could be too simple an explanation."

"Witchcraft?" Bouchard suggested, toying with the idea.

"Yes, there could be a little of that, too. Or the Tuatha de Danaan, even. They are known for their meddling," the old man mused.

"But murder?"

"No, indeed, they are not known for that, more for mischief than for felony – but it seems to me that in this case in particular. Things may not be what they seem."

"I don’t know. It sounds too much like an old wives tale or superstition to me. Surely you agree that spiritualism will never achieve the respect it deserves as a science if we cling to these old fairy-tale explanations."

"Hrumph," Reeves replied in gentle irritation. "You be careful now, all the same. As I said, things are not always what they seem. I, for one, believe that the German is telling the truth, and that he doesn’t know what happened to him."

"And he honestly wants to find out the truth," Bouchard interjected.

"Yes, yes I believe he does. But I am sure that darker forces are at work here. I am an old man, to be sure, but some of my senses are still as sharp as tacks, you mark my words," he wafted the stump of his cigar at Bouchard for emphasis, then tossed it into the fire. "Mind you keep a close eye on him, and we’ll lock him in his room tonight. Whatever happened once, can happen again, and I’d rather it didn’t happen here," he added darkly.

Bouchard stared into the fire, which was reviving slowly. This whole episode was dreadfully troubling, indeed. Reeves arose from his chair, retrieved another cigar from the box on the table, lit it, and meandered back to his chair.

"But enough of this," he said, somewhat more brightly, "your friend, from the looks of him, has probably bee awake for the last few days. Let’s let him rest tonight, and we’ll have plenty of time to deal with this mystery tomorrow, non?" He perched on the edge of his chair, leaning towards Bouchard as he said, "for now, you and I have some important business to discuss."

The old man regarded him intently, but Bouchard was unsure of his intent, so he waited for Reeves to reveal his enigma.

He chuckled, reaching inside his breast pocket and retrieved a small black case, which he opened, and set on the arm of Bouchard’s chair. Inside the case was the graven stone disk carved with the strange eye that had cost him so dearly that evening.

"You really don’t recognize it, do you?" Reeves said, almost sadly.

"Truly sir," Bouchard replied, "I do not."

"Well then, I suppose there is little harm in telling you now," he reached forward, plucked the stone from its case, and cradled it gently in his palm, like a fragile infant, "this is La Pierre des Prophètes, the Seer’s Stone," he intoned, "It is old; probably dating back to the ancient Greeks, perhaps earlier – it’s true origins are unknown, you see, at least insofar as my research could discover. The first solid reports of it concern the Prophet Emran Al-Fahad, of the court of the Caliph Al-Mutasim in 833 AD."



Bouchard was shocked, a light suddenly dawning in his head. His face must have betrayed his recognition.

Reeves smiled back at him, "Yes, indeed the author of that book you picked up. In fact, as far as I can determine, this Stone served as the core of that commune and, I believe, was the single tool that made the Journal of Nights possible. From what I have been able to learn from the available information, the Seer’s Stone is an incredibly powerful relic. It is supposedly able to breach the laws of time and space, in order to allow its master to see what he needs to, whether it be in the present, past, or future."

Bouchard was fascinated, "so it’s… almost some sort of crystal ball, then?"

"No," Reeves snorted, "crystal balls are for charlatans like our dear Madame Dupois. This is the real thing," he sat back and admired it reverently; "This is the key to all knowledge."

Stunned into silence, Bouchard stared at the grey disk resting in the old man’s palm, unable to think of anything to add after such a pronouncement.

"Until now," Reeves continued, "I have only had oblique references and third-hand accounts to go on, which is where you come in, my dear boy. You are in possession of one of only eight copies of the Journal of Nights, the writings of the first known custodian of the Stone. From what I know if it, that volume should contain the true history of the Stone, as well as the process needed to unlock its powers." He paused, allowing his words to sink in.

"So, what you are proposing is an alliance," Bouchard said slowly.

"Yes indeed, my boy. If you will help me unlock the Stone, we can share the power between us. Really, this is why I brought you here - you mustn’t be offended. Once we learn the secrets of the Stone, we will be able to help Kappel find the truth about what happened to him, as well."

"Yes," Bouchard said, forcefully enough to surprise himself, "I agree."

"Excellent!" The old man leaned back in his chair, puffing on his cigar with one hand, and still cradling the stone gently with his other.

"Well," Bouchard reached into his carry-case and withdrew the Journal, "where shall we begin?"


* * * * ** *

"This way, sir,"

Kappel’s attention snapped back into focus, and he followed Larson down the dimly lit hallway which led from the study. They passed by a small cabinet, upon which perched a telephone, then rounded a corner and ascended the stairs to the third floor. He was still in somewhat of a daze following the rapid acceptance and kindness he had just suffered at the hands of two foreign strangers – strangers he had fought against in a war, no less.

"Here we are, sir," the butler said at the top of the stairs, gesturing to a wide door opening off on the right hand side of the corridor. "you may leave your clothing by the door, and I will soon return with clean clothing for you." He opened the door for his guest, and made a small bow before shuffling away down the hallway.

Kappel blinked and peered into the room. It was spacious, with a polished white-tiled floor and white painted walls, trimmed in pale blue. The lighting was bright, there was a large mirror overlooking a pedestal sink and plush towels were folded on wicker baskets beside the claw-footed tub.

He marvelled, and stepped gingerly inside, closing the door behind him. It had been months since he last saw a hot bath, and he strode to the tub, setting the stopper before turning the knobs to draw the bath water.

The German unbuttoned his shirt, quickly shucking it off and folding it neatly by the door. The rest of his grimy clothes follow.

Checking the tub, Kappel was pleased to find it was almost full, and turned to check himself in the mirror. He was genuinely shocked by how terrible he looked. His already sunken eyes were ringed with drooping circles so dark it looked almost as though he were sporting matching black eyes. His ungainly hair jutted out in all directions, matted brown locks falling down around his ears. He rubbed his bristly chin, suddenly aware that he was in desperate need of a shave, as well. He cast about again, and quickly found there was a brush, bowl, and cream already awaiting him next to the towels beside the bath. He had his own razor, as well, and he retrieved it from his pants pocket and set it next to the other shaving implements in preparation for use.

Kappel had been trying to avoid looking, but as he turned back towards the tub and his waiting luxury he caught a glimpse of his back in the ornate mirror, and froze. He had hoped somehow that if he didn’t look, it would be as if they had gone away, but the scars were still there. The angry swirls of red cutting across the faint white hairlines that were barely visible, forming an intricate, interlocking pattern that began in the small of his back and snaked up his spine. The marks continued on to stretch outwards across his shoulder blades, a writhing mass that was as much a symptom of his madness as the nightmares. He always sought to conceal them under his clothes, and the fabric hid them well enough that sometimes he genuinely thought he had dreamed those as well. But it only took one look to prove that they were real, haunting his back like some loathsome spirit. He didn’t know where they had come from, either, only that they had been there, burning on his skin when he awoke to himself in the snow that night.

Shuddering, he tore his eyes away from the sight. Striding to the tub, he shut off the water and slid into the comforting warmth, trying his best to relax. The water ebbed around him, comforting his tired muscles and he submerged himself in the water until only his nose remained above. He scrubbed the grime from his hair, and used a sponge to clean the rest of his body until his pink flesh peaked out from beneath the layers of grey. Having accomplished that feat, he reached for the brush, lathered his face generously with the shaving cream, and flicked open his razor.

He froze. There was something there, at the edge of his memory. He stared at the razor, trying to locate the fragment. They were connected, he thought, but the memory only teased him at the corner of his consciousness, it would not come forward into the light. He sighed, and began drawing the razor across his face, shearing off his whiskers with expert precision – there it was again – a movement in his mind’s eye, the razor was in his hand, and he was slicing it at something, but what? He continued shaving slowly, straining for this, the only memory that had ever even admitted its existence to him.

Again, the memory peeked in at him. He could see more clearly this time; he was chasing someone. The man fled before him, looking aback over his shoulder in terror, stumbling as he did so, his shouts echoing in Kappel’s ear and he pursued his victim down a damp, deserted alleyway.

Kappel’s hand had begun to tremble.

His victim.

He was suddenly terrified - he didn’t want to remember! The razor dropped from his fingers and clattered harmlessly onto the bottom of the tub. He clutched at his head, trying to make it stop, but now that it had started, the memory cornered him as surely as he now remembered cornering that man. The alleyway came to a dead end, and the man cowered before him, hands raised over his head in a last defence. He howled in terror as Kappel’s hand swung down slicing once, twice –

Kappel’s clutching had forced some of the shaving cream into his eye, and its sharp sting brought him back to reality. He slumped into the water, panting, his heart thumping against his ribs.

He half wanted to drown himself in the soapy water then and there, so great was his despair, but that thought was soon overcome by the hot tears that began streaming down his face. He curled himself into a fetal position, plunged his face into the water so that he would not be heard, and wept until his fears had retreated back into their accustomed dark ache.


* * * * ** *


The night was gone, swallowed up by their careful study of the book, and by the time that the grey light of the cloudy dawn had given way to a weak golden hue they were only just reaching the last few chapters.

The Journal of Nights was a hefty volume, nearly four hundred pages that combined the translations for an original seven scrolls. Klaus’ translation was fairly direct for a genre that thrived on obscure styles of writing, and included in-depth annotations on alternate and most-likely meanings of the original Arabic phrasing. It didn’t hurt that both Reeves and Bouchard were as fluent in German as anyone who’d come up with their level of early schooling. Perhaps it was that Emran never intended for the scrolls to leave the hidden libraries of the Samarran court; however, the references to the Seer’s Stone itself leaned towards the vague side.

There were great accounts of the visions it was said to have given, swirls of history that Bouchard recognized, and references to The Great War. He shuddered; the book claimed that a man under the control of the stone had predicted two more wars of the same sort to follow. He allowed his finger to idle across the intricate border designs on the page as Reeves took over, poring across a trickier passage.

It had been, Philip reflected, a most illuminating night. Ferdinand Reeves was a widely-read man with a vast breadth of knowledge covering many esoteric mysteries, and delved into no small number of them when Klaus’s notes indicated some kind of relevance to their topic of research. Reeves seemed most impressed by the book, save for where it mentioned the German manuscript Dreams of a Fevered Mind, a tome that had long ago been debunked by thaumatological circles. The old man had sniffed and muttered something about German loyalty, and then raised his eyes significantly in the direction of the room in which Kappel still slumbered.

"Aha!...Stop staring at the pretty pictures, boy, I’ve got something here."

Reeves’ exclamation snapped Bouchard out of his reverie, and he sat up straight in the chaise. "You found it? The explanation for how to activate the Stone?"

"I think…blast! No, but this bit is not a total waste, either. Read." Reeves thrust the book into his hands. A tad nervously, he accepted it and began to read aloud.

"…While the truth behind the story remains questionable, the tale is unerringly identical in all the sources I have witnessed. Legend has its origin connected directly with the pearl of wisdom that was torn from the head of the queen of all Nagas, in the misty times before man had developed written language. As the dark forces who brought her down battled over the pearl, a piece was chipped off. This led to the creation of the grey eye and its sibling, a pair of talismans wrought by demons for the purposes of harnessing the secrets of this world, both those of the past and those yet to come- thus allowing their bearers to control the fate of the world."

He glanced up at the older man, to find him grinning sharply. "There’s a larger version of the Pierre des Prophètes out there, somewhere?" His question was met by a slow nod. "Perhaps after we find the way to use the Stone, we can scry for it."

Reeves looked doubtful. "An intriguing thought, my boy, but all that we have read so far indicates that the Stone cannot be controlled that way by a mortal mind."

"What about an immortal one?" joked Bouchard.

"Find me one and we’ll find out," responded the other in the same tone, glancing at the rest of the passage. His expression dropped. "Oh…There appears to be a sad incident involving the second talisman and a magical fire. It was lost, it seems." Reeves sighed, a long expulsion of air that seemed to encompass all of his regret for such a loss. "I suppose the Seer’s Stone is all that is left. Pity, that."

Bouchard stared at him for a moment. "It may be all that is left, yes, but we have it! As well as a key for unlocking its secrets!"

Reeves squinted down at the stone in question, then let loose another of his jackal-bark laughs. "Quite right, quite right."

"So what happened? How did it fall out of the hands of its creators into, well, ours? And how do we use it? A whole book, and we’ve yet to see anything that speaks of its use."

"We still have several chapters left to go, young man. Patience is a virtue," he added wryly. He flipped through the next few pages, and both men froze as a sheet just beyond the next chapter heading fell open to reveal a drawing of the eye- and a large, un-translated passage on the facing page.

"Zo kostbar für unerprobte augen…" muttered Reeves, deep frown lines furrowing his brow as he read Klaus’s translated lines from just above the cryptic writings.

"Untested eyes…is that a pun?" Reeves shushed him, and continued.

"Once you have read these scrolls in all their mercy, you will find knowledge, and thus attain understanding; your own learning on this path will bring you to the Ninth Scroll which will crown your union with its powers. The path may branch many times, but reading between the scrolls will allow you to discern the direction you must attain to complete this union. A warning to those who seek- a man of Al-Mutasim’s wisdom may find his way through perseverance; a fool will find himself distracted by that which holds no meaning and never gain his desire."

"Ninth scroll? But the journal was translated from seven scrolls; there is no mention of an eighth, let alone a ninth." His eyes dropped to the passage below. "What is…I don’t recognize that writing. I hardly read every ancient dialect on sight, but I’ve gotten quite good at recognizing their origins by looking…" admitted Bouchard. More than just the symbols were strange; the layout was…awkward. Isolated words with gaps between them, many words simply broken in the middle. It looks as though someone had simply erased words at random.

Bouchard may have been mystified, but Reeves stared at the lower characters, muttering. "I know I have seen something of this nature before. Where, though? Where…"

The older man scowled down at the letters, as if hoping to intimidate them into clarity. Unwilling to distract the old mystic, Philip craned his neck for a better view of the introductory verse above the cipher; the broken glyphic writing was lost on him, but he felt some strange familiarity with the translated phrasing above it. Mercy…knowledge…path may branch-

"I think perhaps…" Reeves’ voice drifted off mid-sentence, and he strode over to one of the massive bookcases that line his study, scanned along the shelf, and plucked out a dusty reference volume. Catalogue of Sumerian Articles, 3700 – 3400 B.C., noted Bouchard just as Reeves thumped the book down and began leafing through it.

"Ah, here. There is a statue whose base carries an inscription in what seems to be the same scrip. The book lists it as an unknown cuneiform language. Blast. I don’t have what we need in this house."

"So we’re stuck then?" Bouchard couldn’t keep the disappointment out of his voice.

"Hardly," Snorted Reeves. "We have entire book here that well may contain the key to this code, and we have quite a library at our disposal." He raised a finger as Bouchard was about to comment. "I am not referring to my own; I have an acquaintance in town who owns a shop that deals in rare and antique books; surely help for our endeavour may be found on his shelves."

The man headed back to his shelves, and began pulling books out. "Which is not to say that my own resources are completely un-useful; I have several manuscripts from the court of Emran’s Caliph that may shed some light on his little "between the scrolls" comment and its warning. There is a strong likelihood that it may be a code itself. Something so terribly simple in a book of twisty enigmas is hardly there by chance."

"Perhaps the little pictograms he’s been using for designs are part of the key as well," offered Bouchard, nodding to the random Egyptian and Greek letters that had been incorporated in the decorative pattern in the far margins of the book.

"The key we need may lie in any, or all, of those areas." Agreed Reeves absently. He added one last antique volume to the stack, and moved to the large oak desk at the back of the room. "I need your young- eyes to make a copy of that cipher- a precise line-by-line replica, and take it down to my friend’s store. I will call him and arrange for you to have access to his back-room collection, where you will compare the letters with every cuneiform language he has on file until you find one that matches." He produced paper and graphite from a drawer, and handed it to Bouchard with an expression that brooked no argument. The young man accepted the pad and his mission with a feeling of equanimity, and sat down to work.


* * * * ** *


It was the early afternoon by the time Philip Bouchard had completed a copy that met Reeves’ approval, and the weather was miserable. Besides being chilly, it was raining fairly hard and steady and the sheets of rain were being pushed around by a stiff wind in their descent, and he had the strangest feeling that someone was following him down the boulevard- but the only one present was a stately looking blond woman wrestling several packages home in the rain. Probably just the lack of sleep; no need to get paranoid just because some pigeon spent too long in a chapelier’s shop. Bouchard peeked out from under the rim of his umbrella one more time, fished out a note from his pocket, and checked it against the address on the storefront before him.

"This must be the place," he muttered under his breath. There was no sign or shingle, or any other identifying mark on the building at all, but he certainly wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to get out of the miserable rain.

He raised his hand, knocked on the heavy wooden door, and stepped back, waiting for an answer. None came. He stepped up and knocked again, louder this time, more than slightly perturbed. His shoes were soaked through and the hems of his pants were wet from the trip. He would be upset if he had suffered all of that for nothing.

It was only after a third knock, at which point Bouchard was pounding on the wood fit to make it splinter, that there was a faint thud and clatter from inside as several locks were thrown aside. A sallow, heavily lined and thickly bespectacled face appeared in the small crack between the door and the frame, looking Bouchard up and down with squinting, half-obscured beady eyes. The man’s thin mouth seemed to be permanently set in a sour expression, as though he were condemned to suck upon a lemon for all eternity

"You’re in the wrong place, the Grand Dame’s House of Exotic Pleasures is another two blocks down," the face said, "casse-toi!"

The door snapped shut in Bouchard’s face. Now very irritated, he resumed his pounding with increased vigour until it opened and the face appeared again.

"Tu m'emmerdes! What do you want?! Leave at once or I’ll call the gendarme and you-"

"Excuse me, sir," Bouchard interrupted, "but I have been sent here by Monsieur Ferdinand Reeves to look at some rare items of which you are in possession. I was given to understand that Monsieur Reeves had arranged things in advance, but if there has been some confusion, you might at least have the decency to let me out of the rain while we clear things up?"

The proprietor eyed him up and down again speculatively for a long moment, and frowned. "Well, why on earth didn’t you say so earlier? Mon Dieu, I certainly wouldn’t have thought Reeves was keeping company with infants now. Perhaps it’s his age. Oh well, come in, come in!" he gestured, "better to have you inside than risk any more damage to my door!"

"Thank you," Bouchard conceded, from between clenched teeth.

Much to Bouchard’s surprise, the man proceeded to snatch up his wet coat, bowler hat and umbrella in an unprecedented show of courtesy – before he dumped them perfunctorily in the corner and scampered off towards the shop.

"Mind you, don’t touch anything," he added sourly over his shoulder, "there’s plenty in this shop that’s worth more than your life, young pup."

Such lovely friends Monsieur Reeves had… Bouchard sighed, looked around, and found himself in a cramped, poorly lit hallway. The proprietor, Jean Legard, was a small, thin, hunched man, dressed in ancient clothing and a grimy, ink-stained, apron. He was balding on top, but the remnants of his hair were long, greasy, and swayed in loose, unkempt tendrils behind him as he walked away. Bouchard followed his impatient beckoning and rounded the corner, turning to his left through the doorway to enter the shop proper.

The interior was a sight to see. Everywhere, books lay in monolithic stacks and jumbled heaps; they were stuffed haphazardly on towering shelves, loaded heavily onto tables, and boxes upon boxes, each stuffed to the brim, were stacked atop one another, burying chairs, tables, and every other available surface - even Legard’s own desk. The books themselves ranged from penny-dreadfuls to fat volumes of Rousseau, from Shakespeare’s sonnets to collections of bawdy limericks.

"Don’t stand there gawking, boy, you’d think you’d never seen a book before! Then again, given the state of the education system these days, maybe you never have – spending all your time at the moving pictures and chasing skirts!" he drawled, "Didn’t I tell you not to touch anything!"

Bouchard jerked his hand guiltily away from the volume of Chaucer that had attracted his interest and mumbled an apology.

"Hands in your pockets, young sir," he snarled, "and this way. I swear, if it weren’t for that collection he bought last month, I’d have slammed the phone down on that Reeves, always poking about where he isn’t wanted – you do read Greek, I presume?"

"Pardon me?" Bouchard stammered, caught off-guard by the sudden change of topic.

"Greek, lad! Homer, the Iliad, the very foundation of the education you so evidently lack! Of course, it’s not my place to say, being but a lonely shopkeeper, but you probably wouldn’t know an ode from an epic if it bit you in the hind parts. Mind your step!" he trailed off, leading Bouchard up a rickety spiral staircase, through a heavy, locked door and up into a small loft.

"Here we are then, this is where my truly rare manuscripts are kept. I must admit, I’m loath to think about your uneducated hands roaming through their precious pages," Legard grouched, "Reeves mentioned something about a translation problem. God knows what he thinks a fool like you can do about it, but at any rate, everything in this room is meticulously arranged by time period, and then in order of region, alphabetically, of course. If you’re looking for a lost language, related to the Middle East," he pointed a crooked, ink-stained finger, "you should try there, the back row, second shelf up. There’s a desk over there for reading," he gestured again, this time towards a wobbly-looking wooden desk coated in a thick layer of dust. Even the mere sight of it made Bouchard’s nose itch.

Legard stuffed a small oil lamp with a glass chimney towards the young officer and intoned his final words of parting, "Well then, enjoy your self. If anything catches on fire, I’ll feed you to the rats." He left without another word, stamping back down the dusty cast-iron staircase and grumbling inaudibly to himself.

Bouchard let out a long breath, shaking his head in frustration. What a thoroughly unpleasant little man.

Adjusting the wick on the lamp so that it brightened the dimness around him, he began searching through the stacks. He found that a great many of the volumes were actually placed on the shelf as display books, as the originals they contained were scrolls or other unconventional documents. Still more of the library’s contents were actual scrolls, mostly vellum, rolled into tight bundles and stacked in wooden slots on the shelves. As he moved even further back into the depths of the library, he found some of the scrolls were even made of what appeared to be papyrus. He could almost feel the secrets emanating from their ancient material.

As Legard had suggested, he found the shelf he was looking for in the back of the room, an endless stretch of ancient volumes. He set his lamp down to rest sufficiently far from the stacks of books and perched himself on a small stool to inspect his find. Plucking a scroll from its wooden braces, he unrolled it delicately across his knees and began scanning the script with practiced eyes.


* * * * ** *


Kappel awoke with a start, kicking back the blood-slick vines that entangled him from the waist down, threatening to drag him down to—

—he looked around.

Hell, apparently, was a tastefully decorated room with a fine suit of clothes laid out for him. A covered platter waiting on the bed-stand, from which wafted the scents of bacon and coffee and, as it turned out, the only thing wrapped about his limbs were the seat-drenched sheets of Mssr. Reeves’ guest bed. Eugene pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to chase the migraine away. He had asylum here, no matter how temporary, and he intended to make the best use of it that he could. If staying within sight and earshot of his former country’s enemies was the price he had to pay for a possible cure, then his freedom might yet come cheap.

He scarfed down the cooling breakfast that had been left for him and dressed, making his way to where he’d last left his strange allies. Mssr. Reeves was buried nose-deep in books and did not look as if he had seen his bed all night; Captain Bouchard, he quickly learned, had been sent out on an errand to expedite their mostly luckless research.

At Mssr. Reeves’ invitation, Eugene had waded in to help; German was, of course, no problem for him to read and he was able to offer a few insights to Klaus’ word choice, but could not make heads or tales of the cipher or its header. He’d surprised the old man with his fluency in Latin as well as Greek when he’d been instructed to look up pages and chose to read out loud from them. Unfortunately, his linguistic prowess was the only pleasant surprise, as none of the passages he’d offered proved very useful.

It didn’t help that the object of their fixation was sitting out on the plush arm of Reeves’ chair. The Seer’s Stone kept calling his attention to it, and soon he found himself transfixed by the twist and sweep of the carving on its surface. His attention was so intense that he could almost feel his eyes un-focusing with the stress, but he couldn’t seem to blink. Suddenly, he felt a horrible, sinking feeling in his stomach, as though someone had torn the chair out from under him and he were falling through the floor – the eye in the stone, it was looking back at him!

"What are you doing, man, that’s a priceless antique!!" A swat to Kappel’s knuckles followed up the rebuke, and he stared down at the Journal of Nights to find he was gripping the pages in such a manner that he had pulled several awry. He snapped back to attention, blinking rapidly a few times to try and clear his mind and shake the feeling of having been watched.


Mssr. Reeves seized his wrist as he was about to let go of the pages, trying to think up a way to apologize for nearly putting several rips into the primary source. The old man’s eyes stared down in stunned fascination, his jaw gaping open.

"The boy was right," he breathed. "The Egyptian hieroglyphics…reading down those three pages together I can make out four individual words; they aren’t just ornamentation! Read between the scrolls…of course! The seven together must contain the whole thing, to be read down their border!" He stared hard for a minute at the boxed glyphic writing. "…and a fool will find himself distracted by that which holds no meaning…" Reeves frowned momentarily before declaring, "our so-called "lost cuneiform language" is meaningless babble! It’s just there to distract anyone who happened to read the scrolls without proper induction to them, to keep them busy pursuing a pointless "secret explanation" while the real thing sits on the sidelines and stares them in the face!"

Kappel flinched, his gaze darting back to the Seer’s Stone.

"This is tremendous!" the old man continued, fairly bursting with excitement as he jotted something down. "Wait here, I must call Legard’s, Bouchard must return immediately!"

Reeves snatched up his cane and strode brusquely from the room, dropping his writing papers on the chair behind him. When he had left, Kappel reached and examined the page Reeves had left behind. "If read properly," Reeves’ notes translated, "this key will explain how to open the Eye, to see as the Gods and Demons…"

The Eye…

* * * * ** *

In the hallway, Reeves dialled the number for Legard’s shop, and waited impatiently as the phone rang. It took eight rings before he was greeted by the sour, sullen voice of the proprietor.

"This had better be important," Legard growled.

"Do stuff the nonsense, you old bat," Reeves retorted, "it’s Ferdinand. Is Bouchard still there?"

"Oh, certainly he is," the shopkeeper grouched, "and as clumsy a ham-fisted fool as I could ever have dreamed of. When he’s finished in the Scrolls room, provided he hasn’t burned the place to the ground of course, I intend to take a full inventory," he sniffed, "you can expect an itemized bill for every dirty fingerprint, smudged letter and torn parchment - "

"Yes, yes, I’m sure you will." Reeves was growing impatient. Legard’s miserliness was legendary, but he was not in the mood for his nonsense today, "get that young man on the line for me immediately! Tell him to forget his search- I have made a breakthrough!"`


* * * * ** *


The Eye was watching him. He was sure of it.

Kappel stared back at it compulsively. It compelled him, piercing his soul with its frozen, grey gaze. He knew what it wanted— for him to take it, use it. He could almost hear it whispering to him. It could show him wonders, if he’d only give it the chance.

He wiped his sweating palms on the leg of his pants, and clenched his fists.

I must not.

It lay quietly across the arm of Reeves’ chair; he could see one of the black silk cords dangling harmlessly from its silver clasp. The stone was so small, and fragile, and innocent, and yet it filled him with a terror beyond imagination. He could not tear his own eyes away from its engulfing embrace.

He wanted nothing more than to flee, but he was compelled. In horror, he watched as his hand slowly unclenched, lifted itself from his leg, and slowly reached for the Eye…


* * * * ** *


Bouchard arrived to the telephone breathless, having bounded down the spiral staircase and nearly fallen in his haste. Reeves could hear Legard screeching obscenities in the background. Reeves made out something about, "taking care with those manuscripts, you barbarous heathen!" but he ignored it.

"You’ve had a breakthrough?" Bouchard panted into the telephone.

"Yes, I daresay we have!" Reeves was obviously elated, "young Kappel and I have just broken the cipher - we have a translation in the works!"

"Excellent! I’m afraid I’ve done rather poorly myself, I haven’t found a single documented source that quite matches-"

"Never mind that now, just get back- you must come immediately!" He could practically see Reeves beaming expression at this point, for all his impatience. "Tell that old fart Legard dig up and hand over reference for ancient Egyptian- ancient, not classical, mind you- and have him add it to my account. He’ll protest, of course, but tell him I’ll settle with him at the end of the month like I have since 1912."

At that moment, there was a loud scream from the study. Reeves was taken off guard; it sounded as though he’d nearly dropped the receiver.

"What the hell was that?" Bouchard demanded through the earpiece, "what’s going on there?"

"It sounded like Kappel," Reeves said, "I’ll make sure everything is alright. Hurry back, you hear?" Bouchard didn’t even have time to reply before the line disconnected.


* * * * ** *

Reeves slammed down the phone and hurried back to the study as fast as he could, and there he found Kappel, sprawled out on the floor. The German’s face was bloodless, his eyes wide, white, and rolling in terror like a wild stallion.

Reeves crossed the distance between the door and his guest in half a second, but before he was at his side, Kappel let out another strangled scream, his face twisted in a snarl so severe that his lower lip split as his body jerked in a violent spasm. He clawed at the space in front of him as if fighting off an invisible assailant.

"What’s wrong!?" Larson rounded the doorframe, bolting into the room.

"I – I don’t know! He looks as if he’s having a fit."

Kappel’s eyes rolled back into his head.


* * * * ** *


The statue in the forest, its chiselled face carved with a cruel smile... the alleyway, the scent of damp, mouldering brick and the stink of blood, the gaslight reflecting on a blade of polished steel…red ringlets of blood swimming across the snow...

The stone in his hand was cool in his grip, but his flesh seemed to burn with a fire from within. The heat was spreading up his arm, past his elbow, to his shoulder, and the tracery of scars that covered his back began to shriek an intricate chorus of pain.

Someone watching him, a figure buried in endless night. The statue smiled, its voice projecting from the frozen features, the eyes smouldering red as hot coals, red as blood in the snow, promising murder. The death of his soul.

He screamed again.


* * * * ** *


The sun dipped toward the horizon in a crimson blaze of glory, and the shadows lay siege to the City of Lights. The earlier rain clouds clung were dissipating on the western horizon, but just to the north, their brothers were gathering force for a new assault.

High above the city, the last rays of the setting sun clung stubbornly to the stonework of the massive bell towers. Shrouded in tattered clouds, the sun burnished the horizon into a rich gold hue as it slowly sank from view. Most of the city was already cloaked in a sea of darkness, but the immense towers gave up their golden light grudgingly. The rose window, the buttresses, the louvers and even the lead sheets of the roof all seemed covered in liquid gold.

But the shadows crept relentlessly higher, engulfing the sculpture and ornamentation, and the light scattered, retreating toward the heavens. The last to fall was the spire, the day clinging desperately to the bronze cross at its peak. But even that bastion was lost, the sun slipped beneath the horizon, and the day was extinguished.

Night had risen on the cathedral of Notre Dame.

At the base of the spire, something awoke in the darkness. Limbs stretched and muscles tensed, casting aside the dusty fragments of sleep. Cruel talons clenched into fists, and a lithe tail thrashed. A fanged mouth stretched wide to loose a primal howl, the battle cry of the night, and eyes flashed briefly in the darkness, echoing the glow of the stars.

She awoke with the human’s thoughts still cluttering her mind, a jumble of images superimposed themselves over the cityscape.

The razor. The pain of his scars. Strange, Unrecognized faces. Books, pages, words written in languages long lost, and… A touch of something, uncoiling, reaching out...

The Eye.

Even know its frozen gaze taunted, viewed from mere miles away from another’s eyes. A slow, sharp smile in the dark; a rush of wind as strong wings launched the predator into the sky, revelling in the embrace of mother night, and back on the hunt to reclaim its rightful prey.


* * * * ** *


Bouchard raced out the door, the hastily-wrapped text bundled under his coat. Fortunately for him, the rain had stopped and he wouldn’t have to slosh home ankle-deep in water. His good fortune went mostly unappreciated, however, as he was preoccupied with the scream he had heard over the telephone. He was worried about Kappel; what on earth was wrong? He glanced around the deserted road, feeling his forgotten frustration peeking in at him again. Why were there never any cabs around when he needed them?

"Monsieur Bouchard?"

It was a woman’s voice, and it spoke from startlingly close behind him. He must have been quite distracted to have not noticed her. He turned, his arm upraised to hail the cab he had espied approaching from down the street.

Had he not heard her voice, he would have mistaken her for a man, for she was dressed in brown slacks, a fine vest, white shirt, and red tie, over which she wore a black trench coat and fedora. He startled - even her angular face might be mistaken for that of a young man. Had his ears deceived him?

She spoke again, her voice flat and serious; a point accentuated by the muzzle of the large handgun that suddenly planted itself in his side.

"Good, your hand's already up. Keep it that way-" her voice was cool, betraying no emotion- "don’t shout, don’t make a scene. Just get in the cab when he pulls over. We’re going back to your friend’s house."

"Who are you - "

He tried to turn again, but she grabbed him by the arm, with a grip so tight that he began to lose the feeling in his fingers after only a few seconds.

"Hurry," she hissed, "and don’t try anything funny."

"I think you might be confusing me with someone else," Bouchard’s military alertness was starting to kick in; he remained calm, trying to keep from aggravating her further. "Would you care to explain yourself?"

She answered by jabbing the pistol into his ribs, which elicited a wince. "Oh really," she said, "you are Philip Bouchard, a Captain in the French army, currently enjoying two weeks of leave. At the moment you are on your way back to the mansion of your friend Ferdinand Reeves. I’d imagine that item you have there," she said, gesturing to the wrapped book he had tucked under his coat, "is somehow related to the trinket he picked up at the auction yesterday. We are going to have a good long talk about that trinket, and also about your new friend, Herr Eugene Kappel." She tipped her head ever so slightly to the side. "Are you still concerned I might have confused your identity?"

"Who are you?" he demanded, "and how do you know about me, about us?"

"You can ask questions, or you can keep quiet and live to see tomorrow. See the cab pulling in? That is for us. Keep your mouth shut, your hands where I can see them, and get in. I will do all necessary talking."

Bouchard did as he was told. When the cab arrived, he opened the back door and slid across the back seat, making room for his new custodian. He watched her like a hawk, and noticed that she used the fedora to cover her face as she followed him into the back seat. It seemed familiar, somehow, and he filed it away in the back of his mind for later examination.

"Où aimeriez-vous aller, Monsieur?" asked the cabbie.

"Do you speak English?" prompted the woman.

"Je m’excuse, madame, je ne parle pas l’englais," he replied

"Ah, I see," she said cheerfully, still in English, "another uneducated French swine who can’t be bothered to learn a civilized language. I should have known."

Bouchard stared at her in horror, but she ignored him. For his part, the cabbie merely smiled quizzically, one brow raised above vacant eyes.

"I’m sorry," she said, switching back to French, "can you take us to 191 rue Cadet? And please hurry, if you don’t mind. We’re in a bit of a rush." Twenty francs appeared between two of her slender fingers as though by magic, and just as quickly they vanished into the cabbie’s hand. He grinned, yanked his car into gear, and wheeled rakishly into the evening traffic.

The woman sat back, still smiling pleasantly, but under the brim of her fedora Bouchard could see that her eyes were hard as marble. Her massive Colt automatic was still trained on him, expertly screened from the Cabby’s gaze by her purse, and the barrel seemed wide as a tunnel. Bouchard’s mouth felt very dry.

"Is your friend all right, madam? He seems ill at ease." The cabbie gave Bouchard a worried glance in the mirror.

"Oh, he’ll be fine. We’re late for a party, that’s all."

Her voice never lost its cheer, but she shot him a sidelong glance and switched back to English. "Smile, you fool. You’re making the cabbie nervous!"

For her part, the woman seemed perfectly calm. Bouchard found this oddly comforting, and forcibly willed himself to relax. It wasn’t easy, but he managed a half-hearted grimace.

"There, that’s better. Don’t make a scene, and I promise that you’ll make it through the evening safely."

Bouchard nodded, and swallowed, trying to find his voice. "If I may ask again," he grated, responding to her English in kind, "what the hell is going on?"

The woman looked him over with a calculating eye, and the champagne smile faded.

"More than you and your friends understand, Mssr. Bouchard. You’ve placed yourselves in a great deal of trouble through your meddling. You’ve been studying the La Pierre des Prophètes, correct? Have you discovered how to use it yet?"

Bouchard was taken aback. "How do you know about that?" he demanded.

"Have you opened the Eye?"

All traces of her pleasant humour now gone, she glared at him. The fire in her gaze was more frightening than the handgun; the gun might kill him dead, but she could make him burn. "This is not a game, Mssr. Bouchard. Five men have died already over that stone trinket, and that is only the recent count. If we do not work quickly, Reeves and his household might well join them. Now, answer the question, has Reeves learned how to unlock the Seer’s Stone?"

"I-I don’t know. He called me at Mssr. Legard’s shop, and told me he’d made a breakthrough and to return immediately."

"And the German?" she fairly spat, "what has he been about?"

"Kappel? I asked Reeves to help him, and he agreed! Does this have something to do with his troubles?"

"Troubles? What did he tell you?" Her voice was hungry, intense; her eyes practically aglow.

"He suffers from amnesia, and nightmares. Something happened to him in the winter of 1919, and he remembers nothing of the next year. He believes, as do I, that a malicious agency may have been involved, and he came to Paris in hopes of seeking advice from the late Mssr. Reynolds."

"Yes, I heard about Ancel. I’m here in the hope of finding his murderer. As for the German, you’ll pardon me if I’m not inclined to trust him. Is he still carrying that razor around?"

Bouchard was nonplussed. "A razor? Yes, he has a razor. He doesn’t use it often, though."

"That’s because it’s not for shaving," she said, her voice dangerously level. "The last time I saw him, he used it to butcher two of my friends. He’s quite good with it."

Bouchard gaped at her, too horrified to formulate a coherent response. She sighed.

"The German, however, is nothing but a pawn," she conceded. "There is something worse controlling him, compelling him to commit those crimes. If I’m not mistaken, it is what killed Ancel Reynolds and his family. Kappel is a minion of this creature, likely sent to spy on you and Ferdinand Reeves.

"But he – Kappel – his amnesia, the missing year, even if he did do something terrible, he has no memory!"

"That remains to be seen- he and I have a lot to discuss. It may be that he is telling the truth; he’s certainly not the fanatic I remember, but he could just be a good actor. In any case, the important thing is that we get to him as soon as possible."

Bouchard sank back against the seat, "I trust him," he said quietly, "he is my friend. This creature of yours, why is it after him – and us?"

"Because you have something she wants."

* * * * ** *

The creature cut silently through the evening sky, the storm clouds crowding at her heels. The wind whistled past her, raking through her hair, driven by the gathering storm. She rode the twisting wind with practiced ease, gliding ahead of the rain.

The human city crawled away beneath her, a nightmare of congested lights and sound. From this height, it was easy to imagine that it was nothing more than a barren, uninhabited wilderness. Except for the lights; she preferred to navigate by the moon and stars, her keen eyes picking out her destinations. Tonight, however, the moon was buried behind thick layers of rolling cloud. Having spent enough time in Paris, however, allowed her to navigate smoothly, barely relying on the human’s memories to guide her.

Before she had awakened, she had seen him through her dreams. He had the Eye; she could feel it nestled in his palm as surely as if she had lifted it from the arm of the chair herself. He didn’t know – he couldn’t know- the true treasure that his friends had uncovered, and they certainly wouldn’t keep her from it this time. Not now that it was within her reach.

She felt the air pressure suddenly drop around her and spiralled into a dive, winging across the rooftops as she smiled at the thought; he was within her reach as well.


* * * * ** *


"Lift, damn you! Watch his head!" Reeves grunted with effort as he and Larson hefted Kappel’s tortured frame up the narrow stairway.

Kappel was getting worse by the moment; Reeves deduced that he was suffering from some type of seizure, but was completely unable to pinpoint a cause. The German’s thin body shook like a leaf in a summer breeze, twisting and jerking in their arms like a mad puppet.

"It would be easier," Larson groaned worriedly, "if he would hold still!"

"No time for it," Reeves growled. "There, that’s the last step. Quickly now, I’ll get the door. Get him onto the bed!"

They crossed the hall as quickly as possible, and Reeves managed to keep his grip on the young man’s upper body as he nudged the bedroom door open with a hip. They deposited their burden on the bed as gently as possible, and Larson checked his pulse, one eye worriedly keeping time on his pocket watch. He stared up at his employer, disbelief in his eyes.

"Mon Dieu, his heart is fit to explode! What the devil did you do to him, Ferdinand?"

"How should I know? I only left him alone for a moment in the library!"

Kappel’s arms were clutched to his chest, and he trembled violently. His eyes were wide; his face was locked in a rictus of horror, his hands balled into fists, the knuckles white as snow. He was clutching something in his right hand; the end of a black cord trailed from his fist… Reeves stared at the black cord, and then gave a shout of frustration.

"The Stone! He’s got the Stone, and it’s killing him! We’ll have to pry it loose! Quickly now, hold him still!"

Both men descended on Kappel’s writhing form, Larson doing his best to hold down the German’s shoulders while Reeves attempted to pry the fingers from their death grip on the Stone. It took a great effort, but he loosed first one finger, then another, and finally the Stone fell loose from the poor man’s grasp.

The change was immediate. Kappel gasped, his eyes snapping suddenly back into focus, locking onto Reeves’ own. He groaned wordlessly, and Ferdinand saw in his eyes the absolute depths of despair.

"Can you hear me, Eugene? Are you alright?"

"I saw her…" To his great shock, Reeves saw that the young man was crying. "I saw her. The statue in the darkness. She was reaching for me!"

"It’s all done now, lad. Are you alright?"

"My back. She put her mark upon me. I saw it all! The knife and the brand…" Mercifully, he lost consciousness. Larson stared up at his employer, dumbfounded.

"What did he mean by that? What’s going on here?" Reeves only frowned, thinking hard.

"None of this makes sense. None of it. The Seer’s Stone is a tool for divination. Why would touching it hurt him? And what’s this talk of a mark? Here, roll him over, and let me get a look at his back."

Reeves unfastened the buttons of Kappel’s dress shirt, and his butler gripped the young man’s shoulders, rolling him as gently as possible onto his face. With a tug, Reeves pulled the shirt clear, exposing Kappel’s back… With a strangled curse, he tore the shirt the rest of the way up, exposing the horror that stretched from the base of the man’s spine up to his neck, blossoming across his shoulder blades. Thick red welts crawled across pale skin, surrounded by an intricate tracery of faint white scars. Clusters of brands marred the small of his back, just above his belt. Reeves recognized dark magic when he saw it – and this was blacker than most. It reminded him of the abominations developed by witches among the African slavers; blood magic that was burned and slashed into the victim’s flesh.

And there was one scar that didn’t match the rest, slashing diagonally up from his right side, curling up onto the shoulder blade. In his mind, he heard Kappel’s voice telling his story the night before. I was bleeding from a wound in my back, and there were three dead men nearby… And that was the answer.

"Larson," he barked, "give me your knife, quickly!"

"What?" The butler was staring at the pattern with a mixture of fear and revulsion.

"Your knife, man! The one you’ve carried in your pocket for the last ten years! Hand it over!"

Larson fumbled desperately in his pocket, and finally managed to locate the small penknife. Reeves snatched it from him, snapping the blade open as he carefully examined the pattern. It had been some time since he’d researched tribal magic; he thought he remembered the basics, but this pattern was far more elaborate than anything he’d come across in his studies. Still, the angry red trail that ran vertically up the spine should be the enyewe, tuning the victim to his master’s will. The small, hand-sized cluster of brands and scars at the base of his spine would be the fa moyo, leeching the victim’s will and making him pliable to the master’s commands. That left the lacework of thin white scars across the shoulders. They must be the hamasisha, communicating the Master’s will to the victim.

That last portion was the most delicate. The first knife wound had already damaged it, but the pattern had not been completely broken, and it even seemed to be trying to heal. With a little care, he could correct that.

It took less than a minute. Kappel cried out once, at the last, but before he came fully awake the work was done. Reeves wiped off the penknife on his handkerchief, and handed it back to his butler. Larson accepted it, looking a little faint. Reeves smiled tiredly at him.

"Well, that was a little more excitement than we usually see, eh?"

"Indeed, sir. I don’t think I’d like to do that again any time soon, if it’s all the same to you." Moving very slowly, as if he didn’t entirely trust his legs, Larson sat in the chair next to Kappel’s bed. "Will he be alright now?"

"He should be fine, but I’m going to call a doctor just the same. Keep an eye on him for me, and try to keep him quiet. Don’t let him leave the bed." Reeves stood tiredly. "Just wait till that Bouchard lad hears about all the fun he missed…"


* * * * ** *


Reeves made his way quickly to the phone in the hallway, and flipped impatiently through his small list of acquaintances. There he was, Doctor Lafarge. He was one of the old man’s closest friends, and someone who could be depended upon to keep his mouth shut about peculiar goings-on. He dialled the number and waited impatiently for the switchboard to place his call. He hardly knew what to make of things. From the beginning, he had been somewhat wary of the German, worried that he might actually be a madman or perhaps a demoniac, but those marks… they gave him an eerie, creeping feeling that made the little hairs stand up on the back of his neck.

The Doctor finally answered. "Lafarge residence. Who is speaking?"

Reeves was halfway through explaining the situation when suddenly there was a flash of lightening and all the lights cut out. He blinked with surprise, and it took him a moment to realize that the phone line was dead also. He was trapped in pitch-black, listening to the still far-off whisper of thunder and growing patter of the rain against the pane. He groped around as his eyes adjusted to what little ambient light filtered in from the narrow window at the end of the hallway. What was happening? Perhaps it was a blackout caused by the storm…but his mind whispered worse reasons, and logical reasoning that the simpler explanation was more likely could not calm the racing of his heart.


* * * * ** *


Larson watched his charge worriedly; the young man had calmed somewhat, but his breathing was shallow and ragged, and his eyes seemed to stare into a world only they could see. He was muttering under his breath, but Larson couldn’t make out the words. Curious, he leaned closer

"She’s coming, I know she is… She’ll never let me go…" he murmured, reverting to German in his exhaustion, his voice thick and drawling. "…never be free of her, never, never…"

"Are you all right, Monsieur Kappel?" Larson’s brow furrowed; after the previous events of the evening, he wasn’t sure how much more of this insanity he could stand.

Kappel’s hands snapped out with amazing speed, grabbing Larson’s lapels and dragging him so close their noses almost touched. "None of us are alright!! I can feel her out there, drawing closer…we must flee! Abandon this house at once, or it will become our tomb! She’s coming right now!"

Larson gave up trying to yank his coat free and used both hands to force the struggling man back down onto the mattress. "Who’s coming? What are you talking about, Monsieur?"

Kappel opened his mouth to reply, when suddenly, the lights cut out. He let go and for a moment, there was complete silence; Kappel’s ragged breathing ceased, as if the sudden darkness had smothered him. And then he spoke, and his voice was a hiss of pure terror.

"She’s here!"


* * * * ** *


Reeves groped his way through the hall, grumbling as he searched for the studio’s entrance. If the damned electrician had done his job, this would never have happened. Now, where was that door?

He remembered leaving an old-style oil lamp in the room, a leftover from the last time this had happened. He’d need to fetch that; he didn’t at all relish the idea of stumbling around in the dark for the rest of the evening.

How long it would take the repairmen to fix the damage this time? They could make it without electricity for tonight, but he hated the strain of reading by lamplight. They still needed the doctor, too. When Bouchard returned, Reeves would have to send Larson around to collect him in person. What a bloody inconvenience. His fingers found the doorframe and after another moment of searching, the knob. Ah. Much better.

The studio stood in the corner of the house, framed on the outer two sides by large windows, as well as a glass door, which served as an access to a small balcony overlooking the street. The architect had knocked out the exterior walls to make way for the two especially massive panes, which also did a masterful job of letting in the natural light, an essential for Reeves’ painting. Even with the power gone, they left the room just bright enough for him to avoid banging his shins on the furniture.

He found the lamp sitting amid a jumble of brushes and assorted art supplies, and was rummaging around for a book of matches when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.

Something was moving outside on the balcony. A shadow slid leisurely across the thinly curtained windows; it was roughly human-shaped and seemed to be shrouded in a cloak of some kind. A prowler, taking advantage of the storm and the mansion’s lack of electricity.. He scowled.

He stood, frozen, lamp forgotten as the shape moved to the narrow glass door, and a rattle echoed through the room as it jiggled the handle. It was locked. The handle jerked again, much harder this time, and Reeves held his breath, hoping the shadow would go away but knowing that was not a likely outcome. Still, he jumped at the loud cracking sound the glass made as it shattered, fragments of it propelled inwards by the force of a kick.

A figure crouched low, silhouetted against the jagged remains of the window. Suddenly, he saw them. The shadow blinked at him, and its glowing red eyes narrowed menacingly. It wasn’t human. His breath caught in the back of his throat, and he began to retreat backwards towards the study door. The creature gathered itself to its full height, and spoke.

"You have something that belongs to me," its voice was soft, velvety, and definitely female. "Return it, and I will spare you, human."

He stared, still backing away, his heart pounding rebelliously against the prison of his ribs.

"There’s no reason to be afraid," she purred, as if she could smell the waves of fear he was trying to stifle, "I’ve just come to collect my property…"


* * * * ** *


"She’s here, I tell you! We have to run!"

Gerald Larson swallowed nervously. Kappel’s voice was tinged with hysteria and that, together with the near-total darkness, was beginning to get to him. Still, he had his orders, and they were to keep his guest in bed, and calm.

"No one is here, young sir, except for Monsieur Reeves and myself. Please, calm yourself. You are perfectly safe. Monsieur Reeves simply went downstairs to call for a doctor."

Kappel hardly seemed to have heard him. "She’s come for me! Don’t you understand? The dreams were real! She took me once, and she wants me back! Please, you have to help me!"

"Eugene, I’ve known Monsieur Reeves for some time, and I trust his judgement. If he wants you to stay here, you should stay here. Try to rest, now."

"Do you have any idea what will happen to me if she finds me again? You saw the marks on my back. You heard my story! She took my soul from me!"

"Monsieur Kappel! I really must - "

They both froze as a loud crash echoed through the mansion. In the darkness, Gerald Larson stared at his guest, his eyes wide.

"What was that?"

Kappel said nothing, but his look of utter panic told Larson all he needed to know. "You’re right, Monsieur Kappel. Something is very wrong." The Butler stood hurriedly. "Wait here, please. I’m going to find out what the devil is going on down there.


* * * * ** *


Reeves didn’t wait for the creature to make the first move. He knew danger when he saw it. He bolted for the study, scrambled through, and slammed the massive oak door behind him, throwing the lock.

He cast about himself hurriedly. His shotguns! They still sat on display above the fireplace, cradled in metal brackets. Damn. They were unloaded, of course; the shells were upstairs in his bedroom closet. His revolver was kept loaded, but it was upstairs as well, on the night table next to his bed. He was completely unarmed.

Panting, he rested with his back against the wood for a moment, until he heard the creature’s footfalls crunching towards him over the broken shards of glass.

He looked around desperately for something, anything, he could use as a weapon.


* * * * ** *


"Here we are, 191 rue Cadet," said the driver.

The woman was already out the door. Bouchard stuffed a fistful of francs into the driver’s hand and scrambled after her, ignoring the man’s exclamation of surprise at the large tip. The woman seemed to have forgotten him completely, and was walking quickly toward the front door of the mansion. Her pistol had disappeared into the pocket of her coat, and her back was turned. This was his chance to escape.

Instead, and for reasons that he could not have explained rationally, Bouchard hurried to catch up. She spared him a quick, surprised glance.

"Decided to stick around after all, Bouchard? I’m impressed." The cab sped away, leaving them alone on the street. "All right, then. You have some military experience, right?"

"Yes, four years in the Army. What the deuce is going on?"

"Follow me. Don’t rush – just stay behind me. You have a weapon, right?"

That unsettled him. He thought his Browning was properly concealed. "Y-yes, I - "

"Small pistol in the left pocket of your vest. I know." She moved at an easy saunter down the sidewalk, her eyes studying the mansion that towered above them. "Smart of you to not try for it earlier, but now might be a good time to get it out. I’ll let you keep it, if you promise not to do anything foolish."

Bouchard stopped dead in his tracks. "You’re going to tell me what’s going on," he hissed in frustration. "You’re going to tell me who you are and what you’re doing, right now, or I’m going for the Gendarme."

The woman turned, her expression dangerously neutral. Bouchard stared back at her, his jaw set, the tiny automatic aimed at her chest. He’d had enough of being pushed around; time for some answers.

"Was I mistaken to trust you, Bouchard?" She stood very still, her own pistol hanging loosely in her hand.

"I don’t want to fight with you. I just want answers. Your name would be a start; I like to know who I’m dealing with," he said.

She stared at him, weighing her options. After a moment, she sighed with frustration. "We haven’t the time for this. Fiona Canmore, pleasure to make your acquaintance, lovely weather we’re having. Satisfied? Good. Your friends are in danger, are you coming?" She turned her back on him, stalking towards the front gate.

"In danger how? Everything seems quiet."

"Take a closer look," she said over her shoulder.

Bouchard stared up at the mansion; everything seemed normal. Rain pattered gently against darkened windows, and the only sound was the gurgle of the water swishing down into the eaves… wait – why were the lights off?

"It’s barely half-past eight. Awfully inconsiderate of your friends not to wait up for you."

"Maybe the storm knocked the lights out?" he suggested.

"On only one house on the block?" She stopped, glancing around at the other, well-lit houses surrounding them, and he followed her gaze. "Second story, all the way to the left, above that balcony. The window is broken in."

Bouchard stared up, trying to picture the floor plan of the house in his mind. "That’s the studio, I think," he said, worry only now beginning to creep into his voice.

"Can you get us there?"

"Yes, I’ve never been in the room, but it’s just off the study."

She reached into her purse and pulled out what looked like a black balaclava, before tossing the bag into the bushes. She pulled the mask down over her face, and he stared at the three diagonal red slashes that cut across its front.

"What’s that for?"

"Tradition," she replied, cramming the fedora back onto her head.

Her left hand disappeared into the folds of her coat and re-emerged with a second pistol. "Once we’re inside, I’ll need you to show me the way upstairs. After that, hang back – I don’t want you getting caught in the crossfire."

She gave the darkened mansion one last measured glance. "Let’s go."


* * * * ** *


Ferdinand Reeves did not consider himself a coward; he had never run from a fight, physical or otherwise, in all of his sixty-two years. But as the first blow crashed against the heavy study door, he clutched the fireplace poker with white knuckles and tried to think of a way to escape.

When the second blow landed, hard enough to shake dust loose from the ceiling, he wondered if he shouldn’t run for it down the stairs and out the front door.

When the third blow struck, and he heard the tortured scream of the iron hinges, he knew running was impossible. He was all that stood between this monster and its prey. He could not allow it to take Kappel or the Seer’s Stone.

The fourth blow ripped the door clear of its frame and sent it skipping into the antique reading lamp that flanked his favourite chair. There was a crash of shattered wood and glass, and then silence. Around the corner, crouched in the lee of the liquor cabinet, Reeves closed his eyes and prayed.

"I know you’re here, Human." Its voice was still smooth and refined, but with a hint of mockery. Wood crunched underfoot as the creature stalked into the room. "Do you think you can hide from me? Do you think you can steal from me and escape?"

The ebony chess table arced past his hiding place and exploded into splinters against the far wall.

"Do you think you can defy me and live?" Its voice rose in a shriek, and there was a tremendous crash as one of the bookcases toppled; his precious volumes scattered and crushed under the heavy structure.

"I can smell you, Human. You stink of sweat and fear. If only you knew what I had in store for you!" Its voice was soft now, almost cooing. "I can make you scream for days on end. Your voice will break from the screaming, but still the pain won’t cease. You’ll beg for death, but you’ll live on until the agony drives you mad. Can you imagine that?"

A lesser man, Ferdinand realized, would have run. That’s what it was doing; trying to frighten him into showing himself. It was trying to flush him out. Why would it do that, if it had nothing to fear from him? If it could simply take what it wanted, why waste time talking?

Maybe it wasn’t invincible after all.

"Are you planning to fight me?" Its talons dragged across the wall, moving steadily closer. "You should have run, Human. It would have made things simpler."

Ferdinand forced himself to relax, to breathe slowly. He loosened his grip on the poker, trying to hold it as he would his nine-iron on the golf course. Not too tight, not too loose, wait for the right moment and then strike. He’d probably only have one chance, and he wasn’t going to waste it.

"Do you really think you can hurt me?" It was close, less than two meters away. He tensed, preparing to strike.


* * * * ** *


Fiona was near the top of the stairs, moving silently, her heavy Colts at the ready. Bouchard crouched in the darkness below her, several steps down.

"Are you planning to fight me?" The Demon’s mocking tones resonated through the silent house, and Fiona gritted her teeth, forcing herself to take her time. There were eight steps between her and the room above. In her mind, she replayed the basics learned on her father’s knee. Focus on the front sight, and make your shots count. Go for accuracy, not speed. When the first gun runs empty, switch to the second; if that runs empty, head for cover.

"Do you really think you can hurt me?" Fiona grinned from the sheer thrill of stalking her unsuspecting prey.

Seven steps left. There was a civilian in the target area; she’d have to watch her fire. She checked her safeties by touch; both were off. Six steps-

The wooden stair creaked under her weight, and the sound was deafening in the narrow confines of the staircase. She froze, but knew instantly that the game was up; there was nothing for it. She bounded up the remaining stairs, and dove past the railing at the top –

- Ferdinand Reeves sprang from hiding, the iron poker gripped in both hands. The monster was an arms-length away, but it’s back was turned; something had distracted it at the last instant. So much the better. He swung the poker with all his might, the hooked tip whistling as it cut a vicious arc toward the monster’s skull -

- It moved, and it was too fast for his old eyes to follow. Wrenching pain flashed through his arms, and his right hand went numb as the poker was torn violently from his grasp. Something punched hard into his ribs, and he staggered backwards against the wall. Pain flared across his side, and he clutched at it with his left hand; his right didn’t seem to be working properly. His hand came away soaked in red. The room seemed to sway around him, and his eyes were growing dim. There was a great roar echoing through his skull.

Slowly, his legs gave way beneath him and he collapsed to the floor.


* * * * ** *


Fiona cleared the stairs just in time to see it all. Old man Reeves seemed to appear out of nowhere, but the Demon was just too fast. She caught the blow easily, twisted, and Fiona heard bones snap as the poker skipped away into the darkness. Reeves didn’t even have a chance to react before she spun and lashed out, her talons tearing cruelly into his side. It was over in less than a second; the old man was staggering to his knees, and the Demon rounded on her next attacker.

"Garg'n Uair Dhuisgear!" The war cry was buried by the thunder of her 1911 automatics. Her target was less than ten feet away, far too close to miss, and the basics went out the window as Fiona blazed away with both guns. Her target reeled backwards as the heavy .45 calibre slugs tore into her. She gave a scream of defiance before and galloping for the exit on all fours. Fiona tracked her, emptying the pistols in one fast string. She scored at least two more hits before her hammers dropped on empty chambers, and then the Demon was gone. She dumped the empty magazines, and groped for her spares.

"Bouchard! See to your friend!" She slammed the first magazine home, and yanked the slide back to chamber a fresh round before slipping the weapon into its shoulder holster. Bouchard appeared at the top of the stairs, and the devastation left him speechless. "Snap out of it, you fool," she hissed in frustration as she reloaded her second pistol, "there’s no time! See if you can stop the bleeding! I should be back in a moment, God willing; In the meantime, keep your head down!" Without another word, she sprinted after her quarry.


* * * * ** *



Larson’s head snapped around, driven by the unmistakable staccato crack of gunfire, and his shaken wits latched onto the first explanation that jumped into his mind.

"We’re being robbed!"

"D- Don’t leave me alone with the dark! Please, for the love of God, don’t leave me!" Kappel had sprung from the bed and was clutching his arm, trying to pull him back into the dubious safety of the guest room.

"Don’t you hear, you fool? We’re under attack! I have to help Monsieur Reeves!" Larson tried to shrug him off, but his guest was possessed of a strength that only raw terror could provide. His master needed his help, but this ingrate only seemed capable of cowering at nightmares. Larson had no time for this.

The butler turned, drew back, and slapped his guest full across the face with as much force as he could muster. Kappel’s ranting ended with a pained yelp, and Larson used his surprise to shake loose and make a dash for the stairs. To hell with that madman - it was Reeves who needed his help.

"I’m coming, Sir! Just hold on a moment longer!"

Kappel leapt after him, but froze at the door of his room. He watched in wide-eyed horror as Larson dashed down the hall and disappeared into the black maw of the staircase. One minute he was there, the next he was gone, but Kappel could still hear his shouts, and the thud of his footfalls on the wooden staircase.

"Monsieur Reeves! Help is on the way! I’m Co-"

His voice ended abruptly in an inarticulate shout, and there was a thud as something heavy struck the floor.

Then nothing. Silence.

Kappel stared into the shadows that had just swallowed his last friend. He was frozen with fear, his eyes straining to penetrate the blackness. Nothing. He was alone.

Maybe Larson had tripped on the stairs in his hurry. He might have knocked himself out in the fall. Should he call the Butler’s name? Should he ask if he needed help? The poor man might be hurt… But in his heart, Eugene knew the truth.

She had come. She had taken all of them, and he was the only one left.

He knew he should run, but he couldn’t seem to make his legs cooperate. He should run before the shadows came for him too. He wanted to escape this cursed house, to run away and keep on running right off the edge of the world. If only he could make his legs work…

A footstep echoed up the stairwell. The step creaked; something was coming. Kappel tried to scream, but nothing came. Another wooden groan echoed in his ears, slow and menacing, and suddenly his legs worked again. Kappel staggered back a step, and then another, and then he was fleeing blindly into the night, away from those horrible stairs, away from the thing he knew was coming for him.


* * * * ** *


Fiona inched her way down the hall, her pistol and electric torch on the ready, though the latter was turned off to avoid giving away her position. She moved as fast as stealth would allow in the pitch dark of the house. She had to be careful. Blundering into the Demon’s talons in the dark wouldn’t help anyone.

The Demon should be wounded. Fiona was certain that at least half her shots had struck home, but she couldn’t seem to find any traces of blood. The marks wouldn’t have been particularly easy to locate them without the flashlight in any case, but she would have expected to find something.

You should have brought the Thompson, girl.

She could almost hear her brother’s voice. He’d be rolling in his grave if he could see her now, stalking the Demon in the dark, armed with a popgun. She’d often scoffed at the reports that the Demon could shrug off mortal wounds, attributing them to poor marksmanship on the part of her ancestors. Now she wasn’t so sure. She really wished she’d brought the Thompson, or even the Winchester. Something with real stopping power…

Enough of that. Either use with what you have, or retreat.

Her brother’s voice again. She wished he were here now, but that wasn’t any better than wishing for a bigger gun. Retreat was out of the question, so she’d have to go back to the basics. There was a corner two feet away, and there might or might not be a Demon around it. Time to find out.

She drew a deep, slow breath and tensed, crouching lower. The hall was silent, but her heart thudded in her ears.


Fiona swung round the corner, her pistol at the ready. The torch bathed the hall in sudden light… but there was no Demon. Instead, a body lay crumpled at the foot of the stairs, its neck twisted at an unnatural angle. Gerald Larson’s lifeless face stared up at her, frozen in an expression of horrible surprise.

She felt an ache deep in her chest. That made two good men killed tonight; let there be no more. She stepped gingerly over his body, and slowly began making her way up the staircase… then she froze, listening. From somewhere above her, she could hear the faint sound of running feet, and then the crash and bang of a slammed door. Kappel! The Demon must be after him! With her torch lighting the way, she raced up the staircase at a dead run.

Please let me be in time…


* * * * ** *


Kappel wanted to scream, but he needed his air for running. He darted through another door, slamming it shut behind him as he sprinted forward down the hall. He was running in shadow, his only light the faint glow of the city that filtered in through the curtained hall windows. Ahead was another staircase.

Why do they all lead UP? But there was no time, and he grabbed the banister and hurtled up the stairs. He made it three steps up before the door he’d just come through exploded inward, scattering splinters down the hallway.

Don’t look don’t look don’t look don’t look…

He screamed then, his need for air be damned. Pure terror boiled from his lungs as his legs pounded the steps away. The scream was a living thing that uncoiled from deep inside him, and his mouth stretched wide to let it out as his lungs burned for air. There was another door at the top of the stairs, and he could hear the monster galloping after him, the thud of footfalls and the harsh scrape of talons scoring the hardwood floor. He jerked the door open and barrelled through, but even as he slammed it shut he knew it wouldn’t stop her for long. He staggered in a circle, casting about for a means of escape. There were old crates, dusty sheets draped over ancient furniture, dust and cobwebs and gloom - there!

To his left was a glass door, streaked by the rain, and the faint glow of the city outside seemed as bright as day. He ran, breath ragged, muscles aching. He burst through the door –

- and caught himself on the low, wrought-iron railing. He fought to keep his balance as he stared down at the four-story drop to the cobbled street below. The wind and rain hammered at him as he looked wildly for a means of escape. The walkway upon which he was perched ran along the edge of the roof before disappearing around the far gable of the western side of the mansion.


Though it was slick with rain, he loped along the walkway as fast as he could manage. If he could make it out of sight, he might be able to lose her, at least for a moment. Please, let there be a way down…

There was a crash behind him, and glass sang as it shattered on the iron railing and cascaded down to the street below. He half-turned on instinct, and froze.

She had been a statue in his nightmares, but now she was flesh. Her form was unmistakably female, but twisted nightmarishly; her feet were like those of a beast, her hands ending in brutal talons. The light of the city splashed across her blue skin, across wings that unfolded and stretched in the night air. Her eyes glowed like coals in a furnace, piercing him to the core of his soul. Then she smiled, and he saw the fangs.

He bolted, sprinting, every muscle straining to carry him away from the pursuing gorgon. She had come for him. She’d come to steal his life away, to drag him back down to hell for his sins. He must escape. The world disappeared; the wind, the rain, the lights of the city, nothing seemed real except his fear and the pain of his tortured muscles. He could feel each tendon contracting, each beat of his frantic heart, and each footfall on the wet slate. All that mattered was escaping the hell that was reaching out for him.

He heard the splash of her pursuit, and she was gaining, and there was no time to slow for the corner. The railing rushed toward him, and he vaulted over it and into the night sky, the wind and rain whipping around him as his legs pumped through nothingness. He felt the sickening lurch in his stomach as gravity began to take hold… But he’d won! He’d escaped!

She’d never take him again!

An inhuman roar split the night, and he heard the snap of leathery wings. From the corner of his eye he saw her, swooping in like a falcon. Her eyes were blinding, her wings blotted out the night sky, and her talons strained for him....

Caught between the heavens and the hellish earth, Lieutenant Eugene Kappel despaired.


* * * * *


Philip crouched in the dark, his tiny Browning pocket pistol clutched in his hand. He barely dared to breathe less he somehow summon the demon down on him. He’d bandaged Reeves’ wound as best he could, folding his own jacket into a compress and securing it against the wound with his belt. The old man had lost a great deal of blood to the widening pool on the study floor and was as pale as ghost; Philip Bouchard was unsure if his lapse into unconsciousness was a blessing or a dangerously close step towards death.

Overhead, all had gone silent. Somehow, that was worse than the screams and the roars and crashing - at least that signified a battle being fought, not the emptiness of a lost battlefield. The question was, who had won?

He stared down at his gun, certain that if the display of firepower he’d heard earlier had not been sufficient to stop the monster, his much smaller cartridges would do nothing more that annoy the beast if it came for him. If that eventuality arose, he would be better off saving the last shot for himself…

Reeves moaned, and he jumped. Hurrying to quiet the injured man, he was surprised to find Reeves’ eyes open, staring up at him.

"Where…where’s Larson? Kappel? Where…" the old man queried sluggishly, obviously struggling to raise his voice enough to be heard. Bouchard moved to his side, patting his hand lightly; the skin was cool to the touch. He fought to keep his expression neutral as he watched Reeves gaze swim in and out of focus. It was obvious the old man was dying from blood loss and the shock of his injuries.

"I…I’m not sure. They were trying to battle off the demon…"

Reeves coughed thickly. "It’s no demon. I had holy relics…did no good. It is a monster…but I do not know…what…kind…"

"Don’t talk; save your strength. It doesn’t matter what kind of monster it is, we’ll defeat it."

"Young…fool…knowing what it is…needed to defeat it. Weaknesses. Strengths." His hand shifted, squeezing Bouchard’s fingers. "Listen. We found the key. Started translating the heiro-" his lungs seized up and he fought for breath, speaking with his eyes clenched shut as soon as he had enough air. "Hieroglyphics. Explanation is there. The Journal…in the library. Must not get it. Whatever happens. Must NOT let…the beast."

"What about the Stone?"

Reeves drew in a shaky breath, and pulled Bouchard’s hand up slowly, to the inner pocket of his shredded jacket. Something smooth and hard met his fingertips, and he jerked back- the Seer’s Stone was so cold it burned.

"Keep it safe. Finish the translation… I c-cannot."

A noise at the door startled them—but it was only the demon hunter, hefting a wrapped object across one shoulder. She glanced at the pair, her lips pulling into a grimace as she noted Reeves’ obviously poor condition. "You can stop worrying, at least for the moment. It’s gone." Laying her burden on the couch, she hurried over to the pair. Philip sighed in relief.

"Who is that? Bouchard, be careful! The…we don’t know…could be a skindancer…"

"It’s okay, Ferdinand. This woman has come to help us; she was with me when we arrived. She’s the one who fought off the beast."

"The others?"

Out of Reeves’ line of sight, Fiona shook her head. She pitched her voice to carry to the old man. "The Demon took Kappel." Philip gasped. "And Larson…"

Their gaze from across the room, and her voice did not betray her the way the grief in her eyes did as she spoke. "Larson has gone to fetch the Police."

"K-Kappel? It took him?? You must save him!!" Reeves shuddered, a thread of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. Fiona dropped to her knees next to his side as he began to shake, trying to soothe him. When the tremors passed, he seemed to have lost a grip on his last vestige of strength. His voice was scarcely a whisper.

"Take the eye. The journal. The code is broke- broken. Truthfully. A moment…more, and I… may have had the power. Now it is on you…both. Destroy the beast. It is…what marked Kappel. Those scars. Stole his life." His eyes flicked open, pale and unfocused. "Get it back."

Bouchard nodded, not trusting his voice to reply, but Fiona’s held enough conviction for the both of them.

"We will. Kappel is just a drop in the ocean of sins that the Demon must pay for. And I will make her pay, Monsieur. You can count on that."



  Return to the Untold Tales story index
Read the next story