Here’s the story I submitted for the Sword & Laser Anthology and I’m glad it has a home here at Foil & Phaser! I’m not sure if they just weren’t looking for steampunk/gas lamp fantasy/secret history, or whether there’s a problem I didn’t see, but I had a lot of fun researching and writing it, and it was a great learning experience. Feedback welcome as ever. Very big thanks to my beta readers!
Ivy and Oakley
Mon Dieu, how I hated Chicago.
The smell, dear lord. The stockyards, the smoke, the reeking mud, the throngs of visitors filling the city from one side of the street to another. Thousands and thousands of them, all there for the Fair. It felt, indeed, as though the very world had arrived here. They poured through the Midway like shoals of fish, mouths flapping with constant babble.
On one of the hottest Sunday mornings of July 1893, I leaned against the casement window as usual, drinking in the scents I needed to make it all bearable. The heavily-sugared café au lait. A twist of tobacco burning in a dish, bringing the comforting scent of my father’s pipe. The herbs I grew on my balcony. The sun threw beams like javelins against the drab World’s Fair Hotel opposite my apartment. Now there stands an ugly, twisted building to defy all of the beautiful works at Jackson Park.
I missed Paris so fiercely I thought my heart would break. For six months I had been stationed here alone, waiting for Trebuchan to make his desperate move, waiting for our team to find him again. Waiting for the pain of Father Louis’ death to pass.
Damn Thierry, anyway. I should never have agreed to work with him again, him and his Order of Mages. What a lot of silly old men, flapping like a dovecote at of one of their own going rogue. My studies suffered. Being away from my own workshop and gardens forced me to make my creations on a smaller scale, and many plants would not thrive here. The creatures pleased me, however, even at such a size, and the energy required to power them was practically insignificant. I could carry a tiny army of watchers and killers around with me and no-one was any the wiser.
There came a tap at the door of my poky, airless apartment. A messenger boy with a telegram from Thierry: “WE HAVE A SIGHTING. COME AT ONCE. LOUISIANA PAVILION 10AM.”
I resigned myself to going out into the heat of the day. My stomach quivered a little in the hope that this was not another false alarm, as I packed a specially designed satchel with my latest works. A dozen pockets, each carrying a wooden or ivory figurine the length of my thumb, and a snippet of the relevant plant. Chalk, a notebook and pen, an almanac, a wand, a compass. Useful tools. Vials of Holy Water, healing potions and poisons, charms against demon and spirit. Miniature versions of holy books from several different religions. I myself have no firm belief in a specific deity despite the affiliation of the Order and despite my wide experience of the worlds beyond our own. The balance is all. However, the creatures we seek to destroy often have a profound faith and hence such measures are effective. I also packed a derringer, for more earthly enemies. Granted, I loaded it with a silver bullet.
I pinned one of the figurines to my coat’s lapel along with a twist of fresh ivy. Always wise to have a binding spell within easy reach and Ivy responds with speed.
Leaving the apartment, I crossed the road to the pharmacy at the World’s Fair Hotel to collect a few tinctures I wished to experiment with later. The owner, a Mr Holmes, gave me a merry smile and a wave as he chatted to a pretty blonde woman. I never liked the man; he spoke in an over-familiar fashion even to an old, drab bluestocking like me, and his accent in French sounded execrable. I was not at all surprised by what he did under everyone’s noses during the Fair; there was always a whiff of brimstone about that one. Years later they called him “America’s first serial killer”. We commonly find the darkness of human individuals increases where a portal could be created. He committed mundane crimes, however, despite the horror and disgusting waste of life, so it was not my business. I had come here only to deal with the denizens of the mystical plane and those who call them. Nor was I surprised by the way the Fair ended, with the shooting of the Mayor. The merest pull at the threads of the curtain which separates the worlds is enough to unsettle those sensitive to the warp and weft of the universe. To our sadness, we cannot prevent or undo all the consequences in time.
I boarded the Elevated Railway from 63rd Street and let it take me to the World’s Fair.
“Bernadette! Bernadette!” A small, rounded man pushed his way through the crowds as I approached the Louisiana Pavilion. In his cupped hands he nursed a potted seedling. His pink face beamed like a little boy on Christmas Day, presenting his gift to a doting mother. My baby brother.
“A Cypress seedling, look! They’re giving them away at the pavilion. I thought you might like it for your…your work.”
Gravely, I took the little tree. Cypress. A cemetery tree, mourning, death. Yes, it might well be useful. “Thank you, Thierry. Most thoughtful of you.” I did not tell him I had already visited the pavilion on no less than three separate occasions to collect just such a seedling, though I had not, as yet, been able to observe the effect of this particular plant. Of course, he had been tracking our quarry further north and had not been here when the Fair opened. With great care I stowed it in a pocket in my skirt, since my bag was full.
He took my arm and I let myself be guided to a café nearby. A tuneless calliope swelled and faded in the distance. Crowds ebbed and flowed around the avenues, in and out of the exhibits, on and off the little boats in the lagoon, round and around and around the great Ferris Wheel which had opened at last on Midsummer’s Day. Everything swirled in endless motion, impossible to keep track of. The Fair was a great deal quieter today after the enormous crowds of July 4th, but 50,000 people still make quite an impression.
I brushed dust from my skirt as we took a table in a shaded, secluded corner of the café garden, twined about with scented roses. We ordered iced tea, petits fours. “You say you have a sighting, Thierry?”
“Finally, yes! He gave us the slip at Rhode Island coming off the ship, as you recall…it turns out he headed to Montreal and circled around to get here, to try to shake us off. We trailed that little bit too far behind to catch him before he got here.”
“And his aim?” I took a tiny éclair. Discussing the human filth that is Trebuchan requires one to balance one’s thoughts with a certain physical sweetness, I find.
“Havoc and destruction on a grand scale, as we predicted. Chicago is a nexus between the worlds, like London. If he can cause enough devastation, it will open a rift and whatever creature he has bargained with will pass through. He is a man possessed, Bernadette, I truly believe he has lost his mind.”
I snorted. “I do not believe for one minute Trebuchan is ignorant of what he does. He hungers for power, grows more arrogant than the entire Council of Mages put together, and he cannot standthe idea that he is a mediocre magician at best. The man is a ridiculous fool.”
Thierry sipped his tea. “You may be right. Regardless, we – or rather, you – are here to stop him.” He looked up at me, anxiety scribbled all over his face. “He must not succeed in opening a rift.”
“Indeed. Where was he seen last? You are sure this time?”
“Boniface saw him inspecting the Ferris wheel at around 9am this morning.”
I considered this good evidence. “Boniface is a steady observer. Does Trebuchan still wear that enormous beard? The man does a good job of looking like storybook villain without even trying.”
“Yes. The beard, the hat, the green coat all make him easy to spot. The coat fits rather tightly these days.”
“I see. I need to speak to Boniface to get an idea of how he carried himself.”
Thierry reached for the bracelet on his left wrist. Sorting through the medallions, he found the image of St Boniface and gripped it between his finger and thumb, whispering the words of connection. As the metal heated, I knew the icon of St Thierry on Boniface’s bracelet would be warming, alerting him to the need to meet. This subtle method of communication was why we had all taken saints’ names when we joined the Order. It required a pre-arranged meeting point, but a working group has one as a matter of course. Thierry had taken care not to make contact in person with his assigned assassin until a solid sighting of the target had been made. Lonely for me, but safer for all of us to work as separately as possible and only combine our skills at the last moment.
I looked around. The café was still quiet, and our corner discreetly tucked behind the trellis of roses. Bees hummed in the still air. The waitress seemed occupied and our tea almost untouched; we would not be interrupted until Boniface joined us. From my bag I drew a pair of figurines, a cutting of Eyebright and one of Goosegrass, their leaves beginning to droop in the heat. Laying the silent creatures on a napkin, I checked over their markings one last time.
Thierry mastered his incredulous reaction after a long moment. He is hopeless at card games. “Faeries, Bernadette? Against Trebuchan?”
I shrugged. “They’re convenient, as golems go. Easy to carry and hide, quite intelligent, they can fly, a few can attack. It took a great deal of experimentation with the symbols,” – I passed him my jeweller’s loupe so he could inspect the Hebrew characters which covered the little bodies from head to foot – “and to ascertain the correct power sources for each function. These will be Seeker and Follower for us, when I activate them.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing. Faerie golems? Truly, my dear sister, I cannot follow your mind around the turns it takes, sometimes.”
Patting his hand, I said in a manner as patronising as I could manage, “That is how I have managed to stay alive all these years, my boy.”
His ears turned pink and I hid a smile behind my hand. My little Thierry. He is a clever magician and I am most proud of him, but it is my duty as his older sister to prick his sense of self-importance from time to time. I would never confess it, but I had surprised myself with the idea of using a faerie shape. Insects were not intelligent enough. A mythical figure could be augmented with various skills, and the plant-based energy dictated their function.
A gangly, dark-haired man appeared at the entrance to the café garden. Quite the opposite of baby brother in build, our Boniface, despite being a distant cousin. Magical ability – and the idle time and money to fund research – does seem to run in families; Boniface’s knack for organising and planning on top of his magical training make him invaluable. I was always glad to have him at my back and we made a tight, efficient team. He caught sight of us and made his way over, weaving his way around the tables. The waitress appeared at his heels carrying a further jug of tea and I casually tossed a spare napkin over my tiny servitors.
“Cousin Bernadette, how wonderful to see you again. I didn’t think anything would uproot you from Paris after your last trip overseas!” Boniface leaned over to kiss my cheeks and shake Thierry’s hand in the American fashion as he took his seat.
Shuddering at the memory of my brush with death in the streets of London’s Whitechapel district, I took a long sip of my tea and another tiny cake. “Nothing less than a chance to remove Trebuchan for good could stir me from my home now, Boniface. I am supposed to be retired! I hope your information is good.”
“I saw the man with my own eyes twenty minutes ago, cousin; Father Louis is watching him for the moment. Still as puffed up and overbearing as ever. He had pinned down the chief engineer for the Ferris wheel, asking all sorts of questions. Mostly about the numbers of people the carriages on the wheel can take, from what I could hear. He’s planning something on a large scale, as we suspected. Perhaps even today. When I first saw him he was inspecting the Krupp pavilion, quizzing the engineers about the Thunderer gun. If he could set that off somehow…” Boniface trailed off, unable to describe the carnage the enormous cannon might cause if fired into a mass of people.
Thierry and I exchanged glances. “How is Father Louis?” I asked.
“He’s…coming to terms with it. We’ve been working on his manifestation and he’s starting to look quite solid, in the right light.” Boniface sighed. “He’ll not go to his rest until he can take Trebuchan down, you know.”
I remembered the young priest’s vengeful ghost rising from his body after Trebuchan shot him dead in London. Retribution was something we all wanted; for Louis and for the unnamed corpses Trebuchan had already left in his wake.
“How many does the wheel take?” Thierry asked.
“Around two thousand, at capacity. That tends to be around sunset, which has the best views, but it’s so still and hot today that the lines are long. People will wait a surprising amount of time just to catch a breeze for twenty minutes, it seems.” Boniface wiped his brow with a handkerchief. It was moving towards noon now and the heat was becoming intolerable.
“Two thousand would be more than enough,” Thierry said. “How on earth does he plan to do it, though?”
“My guess would be to sabotage the wheel. Even one carriage falling would give significant energy and it would take out others on the way down, not to mention the crowds below. I can’t see how he would damage it without being seen, though…perhaps the big gun would be easier for him, assuming he is acting alone.”
Next to Boniface, the air began to ripple in a lazy heat haze. A teaspoon jittered against a saucer.
“Hello, Father Louis,” I said. “If you aim for my voice you’ll move into the shade.”
The heat haze drifted closer to me, rustling the roses. In the shadow of the trellis the outline of a young man appeared.
“I am sorry, mes amis. Trebuchan left the wheel to take a boat ride and then on to the Electricity Hall to see Mr Tesla’s exhibit. I cannot follow across running water without…without my…”
“It’s all right, Louis. We understand.” I glanced over at Boniface, who delved into his pocket and produced a small vial of Louis’ blood and hair, the golden cap engraved with a myriad of geometrical symbols. It was the ghost’s tether to the mortal world; he could range quite far away from the vial but could not cross water unless he was right beside it. From Boniface’s tired expression I gathered that the Atlantic crossing had been wearisome for them both as Louis became used to his altered form.
I looked around the café again. It was starting to fill up with lunchtime trade and I would need to act quickly. I drew back the napkin I had used to cover my little servants, ignoring Boniface’s gasp, and selected the Seeker. Holding the ivory female form in the palm of my left hand, I began to chant the names of God, pressing the sprig of Eyebright to her tiny chest. I drew up power from the ground beneath my feet and channelled it through my fingers and voice, through the plant and into her body. She stirred like a baby awakening; stretching, blinking. Still chanting, I set aside the plant and produced a scrap of paper from my pocket which I had carried with me all the way from London. There was barely anything to it, but it had been handled by Trebuchan and we needed no more connection than that. Still in Hebrew, I commanded the figure to seek the man the paper had belonged to.
The faery flexed her silken wings, and flew out of sight within seconds.
“What did you do, Bernadette?” breathed Boniface.
“Shush, Boniface. I will explain soon.”
I picked up the second faery, again an ivory, and went through the process again using Goosegrass. In my long months of experimentation I had discovered the sticky, clinging plant allowed the servitor to be especially skilled in keeping track of quarry, whereas an Eyebright would lose interest after the initial contact and return to my hand. Pairing the two worked well, however. Once the Goosegrass faery awoke, I drew out my compass and traced a binding sigil on its glass face and on the faerie’s wings. This would tie the two together – whichever direction the faery went, it would swing the needle of the compass and allow me to follow it. In crowds like these, human or even ghostly followers would find it exceptionally hard to keep track of one person. Magical assistance was essential.
“There. Gentlemen, we should move from here now. I would like to see the Ferris wheel up close if we have time before our little friends find our target. Let us hope he has not been inspired by the possibilities of Tesla’s work, eh?”
We walked through the Fair and down to the Midway, the Ferris wheel growing ever more vast as we approached it. En route, we discussed our theories on Trebuchan’s plans and how to thwart them. We all agreed now that he had forfeited his life: this mage could not be brought back into the fold. In killing Father Louis he had cemented his own death sentence, never mind what his plans were now. I knew it weighed heavily on Louis that he had been the one to force us into mercy when we had confronted Trebuchan in London, and it pained me to see his ghost so saddened, for he had been a lively young man. I wished, not for the first time, that I had stood my ground as the Senior Mage of the group and killed Trebuchan on the spot, damn the consequences.
The Midway was filled with clashing scents; colour filled our eyes. There seemed to be people of every possible hue and language. I caught scraps of German, Arabic, Japanese and Italian threading through the American English. African fellows in red robes and fez mingled with cowboys and Native Americans from Buffalo Bill’s show grounds next to the Fair. Barkers shouted their attractions: “See Little Egypt dance! See Annie Oakley shoot! See Tesla’s Lightening Machine!”. The noise was overwhelming.
It had taken us a while to walk to the Ferris wheel. A small buzzing of wings near my ear alerted me to the return of the Eyebright faery, and I captured her in my hand. She was almost spent, and I tucked her safely away into her pocket in my bag. I extracted my compass, and saw it swing due West, the same direction as the Ferris wheel. Trebuchan lay ahead of us now, closer to the wheel than we were, and I sighed with relief – we had much more chance of catching him before anything dreadful happened now. If he had headed for the big guns it would have been much harder to reach him without causing a stir. We scanned the crowd for his preposterous beard and green-draped belly. He cut a comic figure, but I knew this to be a ruse. Painting himself as a buffoon was how he had been able to fool the Council into underestimating his power for so long.
“There he is!” Thierry caught sight of our quarry at last, waiting peacefully in the line for the Ferris wheel. Each carriage accommodated twenty riders at a time, and in the hustle and bustle we slipped into the queue a dozen people behind him, Boniface muttering a simple cantrip to encourage the crowds to part for us. The Englishman did not seem agitated, rather he appeared to be listening to his own private symphony as he unobtrusively moved his fingers in graceful, arcing patterns. Most of the crowd watched either the wheel itself, or the tethered hot air balloon beside it, which rose and fell in a perfectly straight line. There was not a breath of wind.
“We cannot deal with him in this crowd!” muttered Boniface. “We must have him alone, or with as few as possible around.”
“I can manage the public if you can help Bernadette get close enough. We may have to ride in a carriage with him.” Thierry hissed back.
Trebuchan stepped up onto the loading platform and entered the next carriage behind a woman I thought I recognised in the brief moment I saw her profile. I dismissed the idea and pulled Thierry forward through the crowd and into our endgame.
“Distract the ticket collector for me, gentlemen. I must get into that carriage.” I stepped up on to the platform as Boniface spilled coins in front of the ticket collector, apologising profusely and creating a beautiful distraction. At the door of the carriage a young man awaited, counting heads into the car and securing the doors on each as they filled. Thierry fixed him with a look as I slipped through the doorway. “This carriage is full. It is time to shut the door now.” The boy nodded, his eyes unfocussed as he latched the door and chained it shut. We heard him call to the operator to turn the wheel to the next section.
“My dear brother. Did I see you use Mesmerism on that poor young man? I did not know you had studied the art!” I said, impressed.
Thierry smirked. “You don’t know the half of it, sister mine. I learned quite a few new skills as we followed Mr Trebuchan to Montreal.” I spread my hands helplessly and smiled to acknowledge the point. I turned then, seeing Trebuchan with his back to me at the far end. His fingers continued to stroke the air as he watched the hot air balloon, which had started to sway a little. There were only four or five others in the cabin. If he turned, he could not fail to see us. We would need to take him quietly as the wheel came down to the ground to avoid panic breaking out amongst the other passengers. The wheel took twenty minutes to turn a full revolution, which was both a blessing and a curse – plenty of time for us to prepare, but a long time to remain unnoticed, and a long time for him to work up something destructive. We rose into the air.
Within moments I felt a severe headache take hold, and saw Thierry too knuckling his forehead, as were several of the other passengers. Could it be the change in altitude? I looked out of the window. No. It wasn’t only the height. Clouds massed on the horizon and I could see trees and flags beginning to toss in a breeze which had sprung up from nowhere. I glanced over at Trebuchan and realised with horror that his graceful fingers were working weather magic. The sky began to turn a livid purple and a funnel cloud appeared, dancing along the lakeside. It was heading right for us. It dawned upon me that this was how he planned to open the rift – a storm to tear down the Ferris wheel, and half the Midway would be destroyed with it. Thousands of lives, including his own, if he made a misstep. For what? Glass began to shatter across the park as rain pelted the windows of our carriage, flying horizontally in the shrieking wind. One of our passengers began to shout in fear, and Trebuchan turned around.
“Calm yourself, sir.” Trebuchan met the old man’s eyes and he crumpled, sliding down the wall. His wife screamed. Trebuchan stepped forward, grasped her chin and fixed her with the same stare. “Sleep now,” he commanded, and she too collapsed in a heap of skirts, her head falling into her husband’s lap. Trebuchan raised his arms taking in all of the passengers, including Thierry and I, though I thought he had not yet registered our presence.
“All of you. Sleep now. You will all be safe.” All around the cabin bodies slipped to the ground. I followed suit although his spell had somehow not worked on me. A fine haze wavered in front of me and I felt a cold pressure on my cheek. Ah. Father Louis had slipped on board with us, and Trebuchan’s gaze had not been able to penetrate Louis’ spirit. Gratefully, I feigned sleep until I was sure Trebuchan had turned again. He knelt on the floor to draw a geometric figure with chalk as the cabin vibrated and rattled all around us. We were still ascending, I felt sure. That meant at least fifteen more minutes before we touched earth again, unless the storm tore apart the wheel in the meantime. I decided I must kill him outright without hesitation, and to that end reached into my bag for the derringer. Subtlety was not necessary now. I hoped Boniface was making arrangements to spirit us away as soon as we touched ground again.
My bag rustled. Despite the noise of the raging wind outside and the depth of his concentration, he whirled around, his laughable beard a-bristle.
“My dear Mademoiselle La Tour, quelle surprise. May I call you Bernadette? What a distinct pleasure it is to have you along for the ride. It just wouldn’t be the same without you.”
I scrambled to my feet, aiming my little pistol steadily. “Stop the storm, Trebuchan. Now!”
He began to laugh, his soft belly rolling. “Oh, my dear lady. Do you think I will stop because you command it? We know each other too well for pretence, surely.” Behind him through the window, the sky suddenly filled with fluttering rags and I realised the hot air balloon had been torn to shreds by the force of the storm.
He stepped forward. I felt, rather than saw, Louis’ spirit move to cover me. “Now Louis, that is tiresome of you, my boy. I’ve already killed you once. Go away.” Trebuchan switched to Latin, reciting a banishment, and the ripple in the air disappeared. With Thierry out for the count I was truly alone. I cocked the gun.
“No more of that, my lady. Give me the bag, also.” His eyes met mine and he reached out to snatch the pistol from my boneless hand. My bag dropped from my shoulder as the Mesmeric effect took hold. It seemed Thierry wasn’t the only one who had learned the art on the way to Montreal. My mind screamed, but my body betrayed me, stiffening like a waxwork. Trebuchan aimed the weapon at me and peeked into the bag.
“Faeries, madam? Really? I wonder what you were thinking? Oh well, no time to discuss your flights of fancy now. We’re nearly at the top, where we need to be. Where you will die…and I will fly.” Turning, chuckling to himself, he shot out one of the small glass window panels. The wind howled through the gap. Trebuchan heaved my bag through the ragged hole, and threw the gun out after it. He reached then into his own bag and drew out a ball of twine, which he proceeded to tie my wrists with. Lovingly, gently, he laid my stiff body face to face with the woman I thought I had recognised earlier.
“Maybe I’ll ask Him if I can keep you. Such brains should not be wasted, even if you are rather older than I prefer. I’m sure I can grind the annoying French accent off your otherwise lovely English.”
I fumed at the insults, but my heart clenched with fear. Who was “Him”? A demon? I had nothing left to fight a demon with. Trebuchan returned to his chalk figure, a complex geometric pattern of circles and lines forming the outline of a star in a hexagon. His chanting voice rose, taking him away into a world of his own. My mind raced. No, he couldn’t be drawing such a thing, could he? Surely even he was not so insane for power that he would risk invoking the creature who claimed the symbol. In desperate agitation I tried to move my fingers, toes, nose, everything. My foot kicked out hard, just once, and that was enough to cause the woman lying next to me to open her eyes wide. I pleaded with my own eyes for her to stay quiet, and somehow she understood.
My lips and tongue tingled with pain as the Mesmer wore off over a long few moments, and my wrists burned where Trebuchan had tied the twine. The woman’s hands were free, of course, and I whispered “My brooch. Please. Put it into my hands. And the ivy. I can save us if you help me.”
Her eyes on Trebuchan’s back, she deftly undid the brooch pin and slid the ebony faery and the slip of ivy between my hands. She looked baffled as I began to whisper in Hebrew, drawing power from the wind itself, and as the faery fluttered to life in my palms I asked her to roll me towards Trebuchan so I could see him. With a yell I launched the little creature towards his back, still trailing the piece of vine behind her, which grew and grew, spooling out of my hands like fishing line. Too fast to see, the little faery flew around and around Trebuchan, who fought and kicked like a man possessed – but our binding held him tight and he collapsed sideways, smudging the chalk outline. The wind eased at once, and in the sudden silence the helpful woman produced a pocket knife to slit through the knotted twine at my wrists. Groaning, I raised myself to standing, and as I did the name of my helper came to me. What a blessing she was.
“Miss Oakley, this creature has attempted to kill us all and raise an abomination. As such his life is forfeit. May I borrow your gun, since he has thrown mine out of the window?”
She drew a revolver without a word and offered it handle-first. I admired the shape; it fit beautifully into my hand. A woman’s weapon, indeed.
“Please…no…” Trebuchan cowered now. All his bluster vanished with the wind; his voice trembled pathetically. “I wanted to make the world better! You don’t understand, Bernadette, please…so few lives to change the world. The cost would be worth it. We can still do it!”
I had had enough. Years of chasing this man, so many of my friends hurt. Father Louis’ life snatched away. So much destruction on this one day already. I kicked his shins in fury. Petty, I know, but I couldn’t help myself. My temper got the better of me and I ranted.
“I understand. It is you who cannot comprehend the magnitude of what you were trying to do. Summon The Metatron? The angel we call the Voice of God? Have you truly no idea of how far you would have thrown the world out of balance? Imbecile! For every evil-doer a saint comes forth; for every demon raised an angel appears. But likewise for every angel summoned, a demon will appear; the balance muststay true. How can you not know this; how did you convince yourself you would live through it? Are you so crazed for power you would bring a demon equivalent to Metatroninto the world? There is no way to prevent it. Even if you closed the rift here, the Earth itself would create another – a natural disaster to kill as many as you killed today. Ignorant people call it “an Act of God”. The universe resets the balance whether we like it or no. You know it is my duty to aid it.”
All the fight went out of him then. The truth bored through his brain, and as I saw the realisation dawn in his eyes, I shot him through the forehead. The light of life disappeared.
I returned the pistol to Miss Oakley with thanks. My brother Thierry came out of his stupor, goggling at first and then taking in our messy, narrow victory with a stream of French invective even I was impressed with. The wheel passed the three-quarter mark and he rushed to Mesmerise each of the passengers in turn, suggesting that the ride had been marvellous, if a little windy, and that the gentleman lying on the floor had discovered a terrible fear of heights and hence was resting out of sight of the windows.
A few moments later, our carriage came to a stop. The passengers left, chattering excitedly about the wonderful views they had not actually seen. Boniface slipped past the ticket master and helped us carry Trebuchan’s dead weight to a waiting carriage; Father Louis’ hovering spirit creating a haze between us and the crowd. Thierry, Boniface and I climbed into the carriage next to the corpse. As we travelled away from the Fair grounds, Boniface sadly produced the vial of Louis’ blood.
“Can you leave now, old friend, or must you return home to Paris with us?” he said.
A chill passed over each of us in turn. “My work is done,” came the quiet answer. “But I don’t know how to leave.”
I took the vial from Boniface, whose grief spread across his face like rain. From my skirt pocket I produced the little Cypress tree Thierry had given me that morning, and unscrewed the lid of the vial. A tiny wisp of golden mist rose from it, wrapping itself around the funereal tree. Slowly I channelled the energy of my sadness through the plant. The wisp of Louis’ soul joined the shimmer in the air. For a moment he sat beside us, looking as solid as he had done in life. And then he was gone.
“Bon voyage, Father Louis.”