Ripples on the Glass

Author Unknown

Rain poured off Lord Riven's top hat as he stood, motionless, watching the Carlisles' Belgravia townhouse. His greatcoat was soaking wet, but its fine quality meant it would keep him dry for a while longer. Reverend Myers came scampering towards him, his umbrella failing to protect him from the downpour. Lord Riven turned and gave the briefest of acknowledging nods, then returned his gaze to the house.

Reverend Myers stopped beside him, offering the umbrella's shelter with charitable instinct before noticing the offer had been silently declined.

"I have it, Lord Riven," announced the priest, his delicate Eldren features sharpened a little by the cold rain.

"So the Halfling and her friend are as good as their word, then," replied Lord Riven with a modicum of surprise.

"Of course," replied Myers. "You need not be so contemptuous of the lower orders. We are all children under the eye of the heavens."

"Trust me, Reverend," Riven replies with a cat-like smile. "The heavens ceased to pay me any attention a long time ago."

Reverend Myers bristled a little, but concluded it was best to leave well alone, for now. He decided to change the subject.

"Should we be inside, as well?" he asked, yearning for somewhere dry and a nice hot cup of tea.

"Not necessary," replied Riven, the rain still running off his hat. "Lady Amelia and Captain Wentworth are more than capable of protecting Lady Carlisle."

"But they can't fight in there on their own."

"They won't have to," Riven replied, this time turning to fix the priest with a stare. "Their job is to drive it out, to us."

Mrs. Josephine Carlisle was not expecting visitors this evening. Who would be out on a night like this, anyway? The rain was beating mercilessly on the window of her parlor, the ripples of water on the glass making it hard to see what was going on outside her home in the gas-lit street. Yet still she stood there, holding the heavy velvet curtain open a crack, straining to see through the rain, hoping her husband would come into view. For a moment she caught sight of a man standing outside in the rain, and thought it was Jonathan. Disappointed, she realized it wasn't when the man's servant brought him an umbrella and, no doubt, informed him his carriage was going to be late. Josephine's husband was late too. Very, very late. For some reason she couldn't shake off the feeling that something had happened to him.

When they married, a year ago, he had seemed like the perfect husband. As a lady of quality, it was not her place to refuse the match her parents offered her. She spent the weeks before they met trying not to shake with nerves, wondering what the man she was to spend her life with would be like. To find he was handsome was a relief, but she knew of plenty of women married to handsome tyrants who had the devil's own smile. She knew that a pleasing form and a charming manner might impress her parents but would not make him a man she could live with and be happy. However there had been something about Jonathan that had made her smile when they first met. Perhaps it was the way he looked her in the eye, and talked to her rather than at her. No, it was more than that. He wouldn't talk to her unless he could look her in the eye, like an equal, like a partner.

"You are worried about Jonathan, aren't you my dear?" Lady Amelia asked quietly. She sat by the fireside, a cup of tea held delicately in front of her with perfect poise. Josephine hoped that one day she, too, would master the same effortless grace that Lady Amelia had, but she doubted that even if she lived to the older woman's age she would have half of her social skills. While Lady Amelia couldn't quite yet be considered old, she was by no means young any more. However, there was a youthful spirit to the ageing woman that allowed Josephine to feel she could talk to her about anything, even things that would usually shock people of Amelia's age.

She was so glad of Lady Amelia's company this evening. She'd come to visit almost as if she knew Josephine needed someone to talk to. As a widow with time on her hands, Lady Amelia had a very active social life and was a regular visitor. However, it was getting late - not quite the time for taking tea on some idle visit.

"Come away from the window, my dear," said Lady Amelia, getting up to pour another cup of tea for Josephine. "Come sit next to me and tell me what is really bothering you."

Josephine let the curtain fall closed and joined Lady Amelia on the sofa. It was a moment before she spoke, as she had to resist the urge to weep.

"We've been married for a year, as you know. I'm aware a husband might change as time passes, but this new Jonathan bears so little resemblance to the man I married that I begin to fear for his soul. He spends so much of his time out, often at his club, but usually with the Highgate family. While I couldn't go with him to the club, it concerns me that I've never been introduced to the Highgates."

Spurred on by Lady Amelia's patient attention, Josephine allowed herself to become a little angry. "It is decidedly improper that not once have the Highgates even stopped for tea to make my acquaintance. Theirs is a wealthy line, certainly, but not so much greater than my own that they should snub me."

The minor outburst over, Josephine became tearful again, clasping Lady Amelia's hand for support. "While the Highgates' influence on Jonathan is a source of distress, it is his manner that concerns me the most. We never really talk anymore, and when we do he is surly and impatient, and stares at the ground rather than look me in the eye as he once did. At times he appears so incensed I fear he might strike me."

Putting her cup of tea on the table, Lady Amelia put a motherly arm around the young woman and allowed her to sob quietly, as if alone.

"Don't worry, my dear," she whispered. "Everything is going to be alright. We are going to look after you."

Earlier that day it had been sunny, and the streets of Whitechapel had been filled with both travellers and costermongers selling their wares. Mel had got up early for the day, to load her small barrow with the hot cakes she had to sell and stake a claim on her usual pitch. She'd done well; a deal with a local baker had bought a good selection of cakes. Being a Halfling, she could manage a very cute little girl's smile and it had charmed the baker into generosity. However, she'd have to sell them all to make any profit, and they'd only last the day before going off. Still, at least this time she'd have something to eat for dinner if she was left with too much unsold stock.

Franklin was late, and he had promised to help her with the barrow again today. She'd knocked on his door as she passed it on her way out of the tenement they both lived in. However, there'd been no answer and, despite her annoyance, she wasn't the Ratman's keeper. Still, it was rare for him to let her down. He'd been one of the only ones to stick with her against their landlord when the greedy beggar had tried to charge her extra for having her barrow chained outside. Since then they'd tried to keep an eye out for each other.

The crowds on the street were a little worse than she'd imagined, and her small size wasn't helping. Not only did she have to maneuver the barrow into a decent place on the street but she had to keep an eye out for urchins looking to make off with her cakes. Most of the local lads knew not to try it on with her, but there were always one or two new faces that'd need to be taught a lesson.

As Mel pushed the barrow forward a gentleman knocked past her, either failing to see her or not caring she was there. It was enough of a distraction for a pair of small hands to steal away two of her cakes and slide back into the crowd. She shouted after the urchin, but her voice was lost in the noise of the thoroughfare.

A moment later she heard a small thump and an aggrieved, whining sound. Franklin appeared from the crowd, uncaring of who he had to jostle to get through, despite being smaller than most. The Ratman held a squirming small boy by the ear, who was screeching in protest. He held the child away from him as much as possible to avoid getting dirt on the army coat he wore. Franklin had served as a scout for the Fusiliers in India. He'd not come out of service with much more than a few injuries and the coat, but he was proud of both. He dropped the boy next to Mel and the barrow.

"This one's got something that belongs to you, Mel," he said with a grin. He tugged on the boy's ear again for emphasis. "You put back what you stole, you toerag, and don't let me see you around here again."

Sheepishly, the boy replaced the two cakes on the barrow. He looked up at Mel with a slightly empty expression she recognized. "I'm sorry missus. I just wanted to get something for me and my sister to eat."

Mel's annoyance almost instantly subsided and Franklin sighed as he recognized that look in her eyes again. Mel picked up one of the cakes and handed it to the boy.

"That's for your sister," she said, "and she can decide if you deserve any of it."

The boy grinned, although whether from the success of a deception or from finding kindness it was difficult to tell. With a reluctant sigh, Franklin released him and he vanished back into the throng.

"You have got to stop doing that," Franklin admonished.

"There's enough of the day left to sell what I need," replied Mel.

"He needs it, and we can spare it."

"Today we can," muttered Franklin, "but what about tomorrow?"

"Where have you been, then?" Mel asked, eager to get off this subject before it became the usual argument.

"I've been with the Reverend. He said he'll meet us later in the Ten Bells if you've managed to find what he's after."

"Oh yes," grinned Mel. "It wasn't as hard as you'd think. I've heard Spindle has what we need over in Wormwood Street in Bishopsgate."

"Good. We can get a meal out of the Reverend and then go there together."

"Later though, Franklin. I've got these cakes to sell, and it will go a lot quicker with two of us." Franklin sighed. He was no salesmen.

"Fine," he grumbled, but then widened his mouth in a huge grin, "but you owe me a beer when we get to the Ten Bells."

Reverend Myers had been easy to find in the Ten Bells, but they hadn't stayed long. Usually Mel and Franklin would have got a good few drinks as well as a meal out of any gentleman who crossed their path. However, they both rather liked the priest. His complete inability to fit in with their kind of society also made them feel a little protective of him, even if his constant proselytizing was often annoying.

He'd come to Mel a few days ago, asking for some very particular magical supplies. It wasn't her usual area of expertise, but Mel had been around a few places and knew where to find things. While the Reverend wasn't especially connected to the dealings of the lower classes, he was the sort of priest who takes an interest in his congregation. As Mel and Franklin visited his ‘chapel for the disadvantaged', it had not been long before Myers had discovered their skills and reputations.

It had taken a while, but Mel had managed to locate what Myers was after at Spindle's magic shop in Bishopsgate. Unfortunately, Spindle didn't trust the likes of Mel and Franklin to have the funds for such a purchase and insisted on only selling the items to a gentleman of both standing and ready money.

Reverend Myers called for a cab when they left the Ten Bells, so the journey to Bishopsgate took very little time. It was a good thing they were travelling together. This part of Bishopsgate was not a very nice place, and Spindle's shop was located in a small alley near the loading yards and markets. Someone like the Reverend wouldn't last long here without protection, although luckily they didn't have far to go. They came upon the shop quite quickly, but it would have been easy to miss. It was set a little below the level of the street, its dingy exterior protected by iron railings and a staircase that lead down a few steps to the front door. Sorcerous paraphernalia and superstitious trinkets cluttered its window. The faded sign above proclaimed ‘Spindle's Antiquities and Esoterica.

The front door resisted the group's first attempt to enter, but failed to prevent their second. Spindle glared at his new customers from the counter, his attention called by the trill of a bell mounted above the door. He regarded the new customers with a surly frown. Franklin was unperturbed by either Spindle or his shop and marched up to the counter.

"I'm of the belief that you've been holding some goods for my friend Mel, here," he began, chatting amicably despite Spindle's repulsed glare. "If you'd be selling them to us sharpish we can go about our business."

Spindle was not impressed by Franklin or his manner and turned his attention to the Reverend (lingering a little by the door) who was obviously the one with the money. The shopkeeper offered an obsequious smile to Myers after casting a scowl in Franklin's direction.

"Pardon me sir," he said, addressing Myers most particularly. "Does this creature usually speak for you?"

Myers muttered that Franklin was indeed his agent is such matters, but Spindle seemed not to notice.

"It is just that I'm not used to having such creatures in my establishment. I have a Guild approval mark, I'll have you know, as a supplier of magical products."

"Which, rumor has it, you bought for a tidy sum," offered Mel, "so you're no better than the likes of us. Otherwise your fi ne shop would be in some upmarket neighborhood not down here with the taverns and wenching houses."

Spindle was incensed. Mel had undoubtedly hit a nerve with her insult. For a moment it appeared as if he would climb over the counter and strike the Halfling. Franklin stepped in front of her protectively. He had taken as much insult as he was going to from this pretentious snob.

"Like I said," the Ratman said, glowering, "we are here with the Reverend to do some business. We had a deal. Are you going to give us what we came here for?"

"Look here," growled Spindle. "I'll talk to the organ grinder, but not his…"

Before he could complete the insult, Franklin was on top of the counter. He grabbed the man by the scruff of his dirty collar and yanked him right up to his face.

"I ain't nobody's monkey," spat Franklin. "Now, are you gonna do business or what?"

He released Spindle and stepped back, jumping back down onto the floor. Nervously muttering a half-hearted apology, Spindle reached under the counter with shaking hands and produced two bottles. One was the size of a small wine bottle and showed a dark purple liquid through its clear glass. The other was a small vial, much like a perfume bottle, that seemed to contain some amber substance. Mel stepped forward and, smiling sweetly, picked up both bottles. There was a pause, which Mel interrupted by nudging Reverend Myers. With an apologetic splutter he produced the shillings deemed appropriate for the purchase, and when Spindle coughed briefly he added two more.

The group left the shop as quickly as they could, and Mel passed the bottles to Myers. He thanked her and Franklin, handing them two shillings each. It had been a good day for both of them.

"So, is that us done, then?" asked Franklin.

"Almost," replied Myers, putting the purple bottle in his coat, "I'll take this bottle to Lord Riven tonight. However, I wonder if you'd do me another favor?"

He dropped a couple of coins into Mel's quietly outstretched hand, as well as the amber bottle. "This needs to go to Captain Charles Wentworth in Belgravia. Would you be so kind as to take it there now?"

The coins chinked in Mel's hand and she tossed one to Franklin.

"Certainly, Reverend, I think we can manage that."

Captain Charles Wentworth had spent time in the Crimea. He'd fought for the Empire across land and sea. He'd tussled with natives and nearly died in a knife fight with a Prussian officer. His military training had prepared him for survival in the harshest of places. So why on Earth could he not fi gore out which spoon to use at this damn dinner party?

He sat there, paralyzed, glaring at the over-zealous array of cutlery ahead of him. It all looked identical to him; he was even having trouble telling forks and spoons apart. Luckily the older woman to his left was engrossed in conversation with the fat but very rich man beside her. The girl to his right was twittering away like a demented canary. Her monologue essentially consisted of the latest spring fashions, so he felt safe to utterly ignore her. It was, no doubt, a social mistake, but every soldier knows you cannot fight a war on two fronts and expect to win. He tried to see what everyone else was doing, but the large table decorations made it difficult to see anyone but his neighbors. Not that anyone would pick up cutlery before being served, and even then how would he tell the difference? The servants were already bringing out the first course, so time was limited. It appeared to be some form of fish, possibly salmon, folded with lettuce leaves. Then a terrifying thought struck him: what if he was meant to use a fork, and not a spoon at all?

He was spun out of his thoughts by a plate hitting his shoulder. It narrowly missed crashing to the floor due to an elegant movement from the servant carrying it, although it somehow failed to avoid knocking most of Charles' cutlery off the table. To make matters worse, the servant in question was Charles' own Butler, Fitzwilliam. However, Fitzwilliam smoothly passed off the errant plate to another servant and with polite apologies gathered Charles' cutlery from the floor. Before he went to replace the silver with spares from the sideboard he placed a small fork gently into Charles hand, which he had concealed in his sleeve.

"I'm terribly sorry sir," he smiled, "I believe you'll need this first, and I shall replace the remaining cutlery immediately."

At that moment Charles' starter was delivered and, with much relief, he attacked it with his new fork. Fitzwilliam was a true gentleman's gentleman, and Charles desperately hoped he had a similar plan for the next course.

A few minutes later, Charles found his faith in his servant justified. As he again surveyed the array of cutlery, Fitzwilliam appeared nearby. He leant close and quietly announced "Sir, there is an Ogre here to see you."

Although his timing was excellent, Charles thought, he'd have to ask Fitzwilliam to dream up more plausible excuses for next time.

After making his excuses, Charles left the dining room and made for one of the many smoking rooms in Lord Dashand's house. He realized he still had a napkin tucked into his belt and handed it to a servant as he entered the room. There, much to his surprise but just as Fitzwilliam had informed him, was an Ogre.

The beast barely fitted into the large chair and his cheap, but passable, suit strained to contain the huge creature. However, his manner suggested that he had a modicum of the social grace that his entire working class race usually fervently lacked. The beast grinned as Charles took a seat opposite, and took a huge puff on the large cigar that he gripped between the tusks in his mouth.

"I'm here on behalf of Lord Riven," intoned the creature. "He is a friend of your Aunt, Lady Wentworth-Smythe, and she recommended you to him."

Oddly, Charles was not surprised. Aunt Amelia might appear to be as genteel and proper as any other Aunt, but she seemed to know a remarkable amount of people, many of whom would be considered inappropriate associates for a lady of her station. Charles wondered whether, if he knew the full extent of her connections, he might consider them a little scandalous.

"So, what is it my Aunt would like me to do?"

The Ogre leaned forward, even though there was no one in the room to overhear them. The chair creaked, ominously, but managed to endure.

"Lord Riven and his associates believe a young man called Jonathan Carlisle has become involved with demonology." The Ogre ignored Charles's smirk and continued. "At the very least his behavior has concerned his wife. So, your Aunt would like you to keep an eye on young Carlisle. You can follow him into the clubs," now it was the Ogre's turn to smile, "the respectable places that would never have me or Lord Riven as members."

"So, this is what you do, then," Charles chided.

"Hunt down demons for some outcast magician?"

"Not me, sir," grinned the Ogre. "I have to work for a living."

The Ogre squeezed himself out of the chair and handed Charles a card. "If you need to contact me, you'll find me at this address. Carlisle is at the Hampton club this evening, and has a house in Belgravia."

Charles looked at the card. It read ‘Arthur Markham, Detective' and offered a Holborn address.

"So," thought Charles, "my Aunt, by way of a well-dressed Ogre, wants me to track a demonologist across the clubs of London on behalf of some potentially insane sorcerer. Oh well, at least it will get me out of the dessert course."

That dinner party had been a week ago but, in tonight's driving rain, Charles might have considered suffering such a gathering again for the opportunity of enjoying a cigar somewhere warm and dry. He had been following Jonathan for most of the week, as his Aunt and her decidedly dubious friends had asked. However, Jonathan's movements hadn't been especially interesting or suspicious. Dinner at the club, a few visits to the theatre and many calls on a family called Highgate.

If fact, it was Charles' Aunt who had proved to be the suspicious one, especially today. At a little after four o'clock a Halfling of pleasant manner (but questionable character), apparently sent by Aunt Amelia, had delivered a small vial to Charles. She, and the uncouth Ratman who accompanied her, had explained that the vial of liquid was to be administered to Jonathan this evening. Luckily, they had assured Charles that the vial contained no poison or, despite their credentials, he would have had nothing to do with the operation.

Administering the shot of amber liquid had proved far easier than Charles would have expected. He followed Jonathan to the club and decided to dine there while he formulated some sort of plan. However, events conspired in his favor and Jonathan recognized him. Not (as Charles first suspected, with a moment of anxiety) from his week of stalking the man, but from his picture in the paper. Charles had been decorated for his actions in the Crimea and was this season's hero in Belgravia society. He had been hoping his fame wouldn't last but, tonight at least, it proved useful. Jonathan had immediately insisted they share a bottle of wine, and seemed very keen on getting to know the Captain. He was so caught up in telling Charles about the virtues of the Highgate family and their intriguing experiments in spiritualism that he failed to notice Charles slip the potion into his drink.

The effects had been almost instantaneous, with Jonathan collapsing face first onto the table. Explaining that his new friend had taken a little too much wine, Charles took responsibility for his quarry and allowed the club servants to assist in bundling Jonathan into a carriage. Upon arriving at Jonathan's home he was forced to aid the housemaid in getting Jonathan delivered to his wife's parlor. There, he was not surprised to discover, his Aunt Amelia was in attendance.

"Why, nephew Charles, how charming that you should be discovered as a friend of Mr. Carlisle," she announced. Charles was reaching the end of his patience with these cloak and dagger games. Ignoring the presence of Lady Carlisle, he fixed his Aunt with a glare.

"Are you going to tell me what is going on, Aunt Amelia?"

"No dear," smiled his Aunt but, as Charles felt his anger rising, she added, "you are about to find out everything for yourself. Do be ready to catch Lady Josephine, won't you?"

Both Charles and Lady Josephine were confused by Amelia's request, but their attention was distracted by Jonathan. A sulphurous, amber smoke was rising from his unconscious body, which suddenly began to shake alarmingly. Lady Amelia poured herself another cup of tea, but otherwise remained unmoved as Charles and Josephine looked on in horror. Jonathan's shaking became more and more violent, until he opened his mouth impossibly wide and unleashed an inhuman growl of rage and despair. Amber smoke bellowed out of his open mouth and coalesced into a terrible creature which continued the inhuman roar. Lady Josephine fainted almost instantly but, forewarned by his Aunt's advice, Charles caught her and placed himself between her and the creature.

The beast was fully solid in moments. Its skin seemed to be made of leather, but with an amber sheen to it. Although it was humanoid, it had a distinctly animal appearance and a mouth covered in fangs and sharp teeth. Claws sprung from its powerful hands and feet, which sliced great tears in the carpet as it slowly stalked towards Josephine and Charles. As Charles readied himself to face the horrifying beast he noticed his Aunt stand. Before he could tell her to stay back, she tossed the contents of her tea cup into the demon's face.

Instead of ignoring her feeble attack and tearing into her, the creature screamed in agony and stumbled backwards. As a terrible burning smell began to rise from the monster, Charles turned to look at his Aunt. Behind her, on her vacant chair, lay a bottle, previously hidden by her voluminous skirts. It had a clear liquid inside and an Aluminat cross embossed on the side. The liquid in her cup had not been tea.

The monster, howling with pain and rage, turned and smashed through the parlor window into the street. It landed awkwardly in the darkness and rain. Riven and Myers were there waiting for it. They stood together, chanting in an arcane language as the creature rushed towards them. Before it had travelled more than a few feet, waves of energy leapt from the sorcerer's hands. A mixture of lightning and green fire engulfed the demonic creature and it howled once more. Despite the pain, it charged the pair of magicians, angry at their presumption in attacking it. As it did so, Myers pulled a bottle from his coat and threw it at the monster.

The glass shattered, covering the beast in a purple oil which hissed and fumed, raising welts across the demon's skin. It fell to its knees in agony, but only for a moment. Drawing strength from the pain, it launched itself at Riven and Myers, covering the ground between them in moments. The two men hardly managed to register surprise at their failure to dispatch the beast before it scattered them like ninepins with its powerful claws.

Leaning through the wreckage of the window, Charles fired his pistol into the creature. The blast hit the beast square on, but failed to make the slightest mark. Throwing away the useless firearm, he drew his sabre and jumped out into the street. The creature had its back to him as it advanced on the still forms of Riven and Myers.

Instead of attacking directly, Charles wiped the blade across the demon's skin first, covering it in the remains of purple oil. Then he drove the blade into the beast, but it was already turning toward its new assailant. His blade struck home but not with a killing blow. Nevertheless, the monster roared in agony as the purple oil on the blade burnt into its blood from the inside. It smashed a claw into Charles and he was thrown clear across the street, to lie unmoving in a crumpled heap in the rain.

The distraction was enough for Riven and Myers to gather their wits. Together they unleashed another blast of sorcery at the creature. The eldritch flames found their mark, but it was still not enough. Smoldering from its terrible wounds, the beast swatted Riven away and reached for the priest. Myers was picked up by the creature, against which his prayers seemed to have no effect. However, just before he could tear the Reverend's head from his body, the demon felt a tap on its shoulder.

It turned to discover the Ogre detective, Markham, standing behind it with his sleeves rolled up and one mighty fist pulled back. The demon dropped Myers but was too slow to avoid the attack. The Ogre's punch sent the battered creature staggering backwards onto the iron railings behind it. As several of the spikes impaled the beast, it roared with pain and frustration. The monster could stand no more punishment and began to dissolve, breaking apart into an amber mist with a howl of agony. In moments it was gone, the mist drifting away in the rain. The Ogre went to help Riven, who was pulling himself to his feet, as was the Reverend.

"Well, that's that, then," said the Ogre.

"No, you idiot, it most certainly is not," replied Riven. "Destroying the creature's physical form is the simple part. We now have to send it back to hell."

"Well, it didn't seem simple to me," moaned Charles, bruised but alive, picking himself up from the street.

"We must get after it before it possesses someone else," said Myers.

"Absolutely, Reverend," replied Riven.

As he made to move, the agony of several cracked ribs gave him pause. He looked at the rest of the group, battered but standing, all of whom were soaked to the skin. They needed to heal and form a plan before taking on the creature again. He looked towards the Carlisle home, where Lady Amelia and a recovered Lady Josephine were regarding the group through the shattered parlor window.

"You are right, we must hunt down the beast as soon as possible," he announced. "But first, I think it would be best if we all sat down and perhaps the ladies can provide us all with some tea while we plan what to do next…"