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Darkness Wronger Than Death or Night


Guest John Bramston
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“D-d-do you think there’s room for a kennel next to where the horses… are? Maybe a small dog park?”

 

“A kennel aye. The dog park is better served just by making the fence sturdy. Let them run around in the yard. Especially if you want an orangery.” The architect walked with John. They had already been through the house. The foundation was firm, the boards just needed to be torn out and replaced with sturdier stock. Some windows, a fresh coat of paint, and perhaps John wouldn’t look like the villain of a Gothic novel.

 

But for now the house remained untouched.

 

“Well, hopefully this p-p-place will be fit to occupy soon. If anyone sees it now they’ll run clear away.”

 

“I’d think you’d like that, m’lord.” The architect grinned. “What with how many times you asked about privacy.”

 

“C-c-clever,” John said somewhat annoyed, “but dull.” The man departed.

 

Now, as to the gardens, those John would look to himself. It was reasonably well laid out now, but John was not the sort to accept just an ordinary garden. The sun was going down so John had a few lamps lit on the lawn. He paced around, trying to visualize plants and see what he could plant where. He also stopped and tended to what was already planted, where he found it.

 

He was so engrossed he did not notice the gate was still open. Nor that the full moon was rising. That there were dark clouds in the distances. That a wind picked up, making the torches flicker until their light was almost gone…

 

It looked like it was to be a dark and stormy night.

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It had been coming.

 

Dark as night was the cloak that Chichester wore, soft soled and silent were his boots. "Maldon." he spoke in a low voice that might not awake the living, nor the dead.

 

It had been a long time coming, this face to face meeting with 'the out of town collector' who'd up and decided to put down his roots. Here. Here of all places. In the house of Mrs Wyatt, witch and victim of murder most foul.

 

And here George found the man, a fellow Earl, out perusing his new grounds by a full moons light and talking about Orangery's and Kennels of all things. But here George was now upon him, almost like a phantasm appearing out of the aether.

 

With a steely look in his eyes George's hand darted into his cloak to snatch out -

 

a clear bottle with clear contents.

 

"Holy water, you will be needing it."

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Caroline had given some thought to being a bit more patient and simply going to see Lord Maldon at his new place in the daytime. He had given her an open invitation but that did not mean he would necessarily expect her to come in the evening. Yet suddenly it was if some sort of compulsion made the decision for her and now she was committed as she stepped out of the coach to gaze at the place. My goodness, it was certainly less than homey looking or welcoming. But then it's previous owner was dead which hardly was beneficial to keeping it up not to mention she had been rumored to be a witch. One thing about Caroline though, she had never frightened easily. Dismissing the coachman, she walked onto the property and immediately could barely make out voices.... a male voice...off in the back behind the building? It did not sound like John though, no stutter for one thing.

 

Reaching the garden, she noted it was indeed Lord Maldon at least present, standing next to some other fellow she could not recognize in the poor light. What was he holding? A bottle of some kind?

 

"Ahhh, Lord Maldon, I hope I am not interrupting anything?" she addressed the one she knew.

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John heard his name, and a familiar voice that made his hair stand on end. He turned to hear an ominous whisper of his name. The man snatched for something and John grabbed for his cane, ready to give up what pathetic amount of fight he could…

 

Then the man held out holy water. John blinked, surprised. Of all the Catholic nonsense… The ‘Catholic’ bit was nothing about George’s nature. The word meant ‘ignorant and superstitious’ in John’s mind, quite apart from the fact it referred to an actual religion.

 

“Uhh… thuh-thank you.” John took the bottle and tucked it in his pocket. Maybe the man was, in his own strange way, trying to turn over a new leaf? “Why d-d-do you say that?” John wasn’t a great believer in the supernatural.

 

Then Caroline came, Thank God for your interruption. John quietly thought. He didn’t even mind that Caroline was a Catholic too, he was just glad not to be alone. “Ah. L-l-l-lady Kendishall. You have n-n-no idea how… pleased I am to see you again.” You really don’t. In John’s estimation, she was probably worth more in a fight than him, and he trusted her to be on his side.

 

John looked rather uncomfortable, and there was a silent plea for help and comfort in his eyes directed towards Caroline.

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"I am sorry it is not a priest to perform the rites of Exorcism." George uttered pragmatically, "I have contacted Rome, naturally." The house they stood outside of was seriously in need of the Churches blessing, and what with George being a ignorant and superstitious Catholic, that meant seeking the Vatican's help.

 

However Maldon looked at him, seemingly unaware. Or was he just hoping that the information was not already public. "Err... I mean the shrine to satan in the loft. Ahh... I thought you'd already know about it. Bloody land agents, pull the wool over you eyes did they? The murdering heir is yet to be caught... but the witch Lucinda Wyatt was murdered, right here." George looked up at the gloomy houses' exterior.

 

Then nearly leaped out of his skin when a woman's voice spoke.

 

She was a little thing, tiny, eyes as round and wide as a doe - and with an air of delicate innocence. She was just the type that would be used in a virgin sacrifice. Naturally George felt a protective instinct, and stood a little taller, squared his shoulders a little straighter, and looked about a little more keenly to the shadows of the night.

 

Though Maldon did not introduce him, his slip of the woman's name allowed George to perform his own honors. "Lady Kendishall." the Earl bowed graceful aplomb, extending his hand that he might kiss her hand if offered, "I am George Hardwick the thrid, Earl of Chichester. It is quite some night..." he then swung back towards 'the host' of these circumstances, "for a garden party Lord Maldon. I hope you have enough cucumber sandwiches." he attempted a joke to perhaps lift the cloud of pending doom that pressed against them.

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Sophia strolled down the street, Aurora scampering ahead of her. She usually never went out so late, but the golden lion tamarin had been restless for some strange reason, and she thought that a walk might calm her down. The monkey did seem happier now that she was out of doors.

 

In fact, she seemed to be pulling her mistress in a certain direction, as if she knew exactly where she wanted to go. Although it was rapidly getting dark and she knew that she should turn back soon, Sophia was curious as to where Aurora was heading. She had not brought Karl with her and was a bit afraid she would be attacked by that Italian who had tried to swindle her out of her money, but her curiosity got the better of her fear.

 

As they drew closer to the house she referred to as 'die unheimlich Haus*,' Aurora suddenly turned toward it and attempted to scamper across the lawn. Sophia tried to pull her back, but the monkey hissed at her and strained at the end of the leash. Why was she acting so odd? And why did she seem stronger than she usually was?

 

She had thought that the house had been abandoned after the death of its owner, but she could see lights flickering in the direction of the garden. And were those voices she heard? Shuddering, she tried to pull Aurora back again while the monkey attempted to pull her forward. Obviously, she was going to have to let her pet have her way, at least for a little while. And Sophia did wonder who was in the gardens and why.

 

She was just approaching the gate when she nearly ran into her friend Nicolette. What was she doing here? “Mademoiselle Vauquelin!” she exclaimed softly. “Do you know what is going on here? I thought this house was empty but I hear voices coming from the gardens. Is it occupied now?”

 

Aurora was dancing at the end of her gilded leash, trying to pull her mistress across the grass.

 

 

*the scary house

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On the Street

 

When Nicci saw a lady walking a monkey at this time of the evening, she knew there was only one person it could possibly be. So rather than carry on her own 'I'm bored' walk, she halted and waved. Sophia approached, though it was her monkey that was the greatest coercion, straining at it's lead as though supernatural forces pulled at it.

 

"Lady Toledo." she greeted, "my, but what it into your chimp?" even now it was tugging at the leash. Fleetingly Nicolette wondered that the mischievous critter had not already learnt how to undo it's own collar.

 

"Oh is something going on?" she looked in that direction, tip toeing to look over the hedge. Sure enough there was however many people there gathered. A party? Or... but this was the place that the strange auction had been held. "I think I recognize one f those voices." Not many men stuttered like John.

 

"As much as I like to sneak and spy." Nicolette gave a cheerful laugh with her joke, "lets be rash, and go in to find out?" Here she reached for Sofia's hand, that together they might stroll through the gate.

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John seemed almost relieved to see her and his words backed up his reaction. Was there something going on between the two men, perhaps a disagreement of some sort.

 

"Well then I am delighted to please you, Lord Maldon. I actually was not sure I should be poking around here at this ...well rather late time of the day but I did want to see you again...you know, about the flowers?"

 

The other man now stepped forward, she recognized him by face not name as this fellow had been bidding in the auction also. Ahh, perhaps John and the man were discussing something pertaining to that event? He on the other hand either knew her name already or he'd been quick enough to pick it up from John's greeting. He lightly bowed as she quickly extended out one petite hand so that he might do the proper formalities of greeting.

 

"I am honored to make your acquaintance, Lord Chichester. I would agree it is quite the night to be out and about and yet....here we all are," Caroline graced him with a smile then listened to the fellow's quip about cucumber sandwiches.

 

"I wouldn't know about that but if there is some fine liquor in that bottle, we at least have the beginnings of a party," she was nothing if not observant.

 

Wait, were there more voices behind her, was someone else showing up? She turned.

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“You d-d-do know those are illegal.” John said of priests, smiling somewhat nervously. “Rome?” John said, dumbfounded. He had no response to that. He couldn’t imagine the Pope caring, even in a Puritan’s most fevered the-Pope-as-antichrist dreams.

 

“M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-murdered?” John stuttered, shocked. He actually would have fallen, if not for his cane. John did indeed know about the secret room, but he still thought she was just some foolish old woman who believed in witchery. His accusations had been entirely spurious, not anything he’d ever believed.

 

Then Caroline arrived and asked after her flowers. “Ah, they’re in m-m-my room at Whitehall. I was g-g-going to send them along tomorrow. They’re just done.” Gardening was one of the slower arts. Things were very rarely done in an instant.

 

“It’s holy w-w-water.” John offered it to Caroline. It was better in the hands of a Catholic, who believed in it fully, as opposed to a more ambivalent Anglican. “There’s alcohol j-j-just inside. N-n-no sandwiches.” Alcohol was a very frequent addition to John’s leisure activities.

 

John’s eyes followed Caroline’s turn. He also heard the voices. And he thought he recognized them… though he was beginning to wonder if he hadn’t invited a bunch of people to a party and forgotten about it. He saw Nicolette and Sophia, "Ah, Mademoiselle, Lady Toledo." John had a somewhat puzzled look.

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Nicolette and Sophia join the party

 

“I do not know what is wrong with her. Aurora seems to be drawn to that house, but I know not why. She has never even given it a glance before. She is acting very strange.”

 

Sophia nodded when her friend asked if anything was going on. “Ja, there are lights on in the garden and I hear people speaking.” Nicolette was much braver than she was, daring to look over a hedge. “Do not let them see you. They might be thieves.”

 

But the Frenchwoman claimed she recognized one of the voices, so obviously they weren't thieves. If Sophia had not been having a tug of war with her monkey, she might have been able to recognize all three of them. Aurora was straining even harder on the end of her leash, and Sophia was afraid she might strangle herself.

 

Nicolette's suggestion was both rash and appealing, and it would also make Aurora happy as that was the direction she wanted to go. “Ja, we will be adventurous and just burst right in.”

 

She took her friend's hand and strolled boldly through the gate, the golden lion tamarin scampering ahead. As they entered the garden, she noticed Lady Kendishall and Lord Maldon, as well as Lord Chichester, They seemed to be talking about a party. Had one of them bought the old dilapidated house?

 

Both Caroline and John turned toward them as they entered the garden, and John greeted them. He looked a bit baffled, for some reason. “Good evening Lady Kendishall, Lord Maldon, Lord Chichester. You are having a party?” Sophia's lyrical voice was colored with amusement. “And you did not invite us?”

 

Aurora was behaving herself now, sniffing around some nearby bushes.

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"So is murder." With a long suffering sigh George replied to the nervy fellow.

 

It was this same attitude that had London content to bury people alive without inquiry. George was oft surprised at how blind other people could be, and frankly it made him think far less of them. He made the sign of the cross to ward off both demons and stupidity.

 

The woman was a sweetness, an innocent as she'd first appeared. George did not hold the fairer sex to the high standard he expected of fellow men, upon account of women being naturally weaker of the mind. Their role upon the earth was a simple one. Could this be the potential Countess of Chichester? Was the question George always asked himself.

 

But he was witness to talk of Maldon's promised flowers. A courtship was progress it seemed. George was no cockold. Instead his manner relaxed; mentally he handed the role of the ladies protector over to Maldon. Curiously Maldon invited her inside the house of daemons. Hmm... Perhaps Maldon was privy to some information George was not aware of, he'd secured any number of the demonic books.

 

Yet before they could do inside for the promised drinks, a pair of streetwalkers gawped in over the fence. No, not streetwalkers, Though they were indeed walking on the street, it was Lady Toledo and her lady friend.

 

"We were just about to go inside for drinks." George replied over bows and kisses to the ladies hands - he feeling free to say as much because Maldon had already shown warmth, and plainly knew the pair. French. He was less than pleased to meet the French chit, though his greeting was seamless, he did not consider to wonder if she might become his countess.

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Breezily the ladies entered the garden, one fair and one dark yet both with smiles and bright interest in their eyes. She recognised all, though she had never actually been introduced to the artist. Sophia's guess to what they were interupting, was exactly the same as what she thought.

 

"La, I love a party!" Nicci gushed, moving to greet one and all with air kisses next to each cheek - John, and then her her more recent friend Caroline. Why was Lord Maldon acting so distant? It was almost like he was not pleased to see them.

 

Though when she went to greet Lord Chichester he seemed prefer the more restrained bow and curtsy. "Enchantee." she greeted him, then looking to John exclaimed, "Ooh I am thirsty." Her declaration held an unspoken question bout the house within it, along with a hope that he'd discover a more embracing air to their company.

 

Perhaps she and Sophia had made a mistake to invite themselves along to his little party?

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There was good news about her flowers, he had done it. Not that she had doubted the man, his profession of being good at gardening had sounded sincere enough to her, in fact she doubted John was the sort who was very good at any kind of lying.

 

John held out the small bottle to her so she reached for it, though without enthusiasm once she heard what the contents were inside of it.

 

"Holy water? Is there a newborn babe about? I would much prefer something with a bit of a kick to it," Caroline grinned.

 

That was when two newcomers appeared, Caroline smiling at instantly recognizing them both.

 

"Well, an unexpected but pleasant surprise. Led here by your monkey, were you, Lady Toledo?" she teased Sophia.

 

Lord Chichester answered Sophia's inquiry about a possible party they had not been invited to. Caroline added to that with a quip, "You would have been but mayhaps Lord Maldon is not enamored with monkeys?"

 

She did not wish to have it appear she was ignoring Nicolette either, "Mistress Vauquelin, so good to see you again."

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John looked at George, no more comprehending of his way of thought than George was of John’s. Whether it invoked God or Satan, ritual signs and holy water treated like it had mystical properties all seemed very much in the same superstitious nature to John.

 

Caroline asked what it was for and John gestured to George, indicating she should ask him. He was, after all, the man who’d brought it. He figured it was a Catholic matter and so best discussed between Catholics.

 

John did smile as the two ladies greeted him, and smiled just a bit more widely at Nicci’s kisses. He had been confused at their presence, but once that wore down he was glad to see them as always. He was somewhat less glad he couldn’t play a better host, but he supposed uninvited guests could hardly complain.

 

Caroline referenced his reaction to the monkey, “I w-w-was surprised, that’s all.” John said with a bit of childish sourness. He’d never seen a monkey before, at least not in the fur. There was no real bitterness or sulk in the statement though, and he smiled briefly at Caroline to show his mood hadn’t turned for the worse. He added to the new arrivals, “You both, and your monkey, are c-c-cordially invited to… uh… whatever this is.”

 

George continued to prove a bit pushy, and John had certainly not planned anything. But surrounded by friends John was inclined to be indulgent. John dissolved into a bemused smile, “Oh, alright. N-n-none of you can fault me for the house’s state though. It hasn’t even… been cluh-cleaned.”

 

John took one of the lamps and gestured for the others to take one if they pleased. There were three total, including the on John took, simple things with candles. He ambled over to the door and, after turning the key, opened it. The foyer was mostly empty except a small basket tucked to the left of the door. Further on the room receded into darkness, encouraged by the dirty windows.

 

Once the party was inside, John picked up the basket. There was wine, hard cider, and brandy, along with a set of six glasses. There were also a few apricots and apples. “P-p-please, huh-huh-” John was cut off before he could say ‘help yourselves’. The wind picked up and the door slammed behind them. John jolted, startled.

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When Caroline asked if she had been led there by her monkey, it was Sophia's turn to look baffled. “As a matter of fact, I was. For some reason, she wished to come here. I thought she was going to choke herself straining at the end of her leash.”

 

She held out her hand for Lord Chichester to kiss. So they were having a party. It seemed like an odd place for a celebration, but none of them seemed to think that anything was amiss. Perhaps throwing parties at abandoned old houses was some strange English custom.

 

So Lord Maldon had been surprised because of Aurora. Sophia couldn't really blame him, considering how rare monkeys were in London. He seemed to be in charge, and now she wondered if he had bought the house and had invited George and Caroline over to see it. That notion was confirmed when he invited them in and apologized for the state of the property.

 

“Do you plan to live here when it is fixed up?” she asked him. “If so, then we will be neighbors.” At least they would be if Esteban kept the lease on their house after the season was over … or bought it, like she hoped he would.

 

Sophia didn't take a lantern. If Aurora started acting up again, she was afraid she would drop it. Yet the monkey obediently trotted at her side as they entered the house. She glanced at the basket John picked up, but before she could see what it contained, the door slammed shut behind them and she nearly jumped out of her skin.

 

“Oh!” she exclaimed, and suddenly alarmed, she hurried over to it and pulled on the knob. “It is stuck,” she informed her companions, a hint of panic in her lyrical voice. “It will not open!”

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George replied, "So it would seem."

 

Maldon was not enamored with both monkey's and holy water; one he was able to discard easily enough. George extended his hand toward Caroline to reclaim possession of the small bottle of Holy water as she too expressed distaste. The Earl bit his tongue back from any comment. Philistines. And deposited it in his inside pocket, where it happened to clink against his un-offered hip flask.

 

Maldon stuttered out his apologies (while George remained in the dark that his fellow Earl thought he to be the proponent of a party in house). The door was opened. George offered elbow to the lady nearest to escort them inside...

 

Then some manner of draft slammed the door behind them - startling the ladies Maldon included. But George, who had grown dreadfully accustomed to apparitions and voices, merely removed his hat and placed it on the wall hook. "So you've not yet had the symbols scrubbed from the loft floor? Well, I dare say they shall make for an interesting conversation piece." George took up an apricot, and sliding thumb into the groove spliced it in half. The first half popped into mouth immediately, while the second one was held as he looked around the foyer.

 

A strange property for Maldon to have purchased, strange repute for the other man to have deliberately draped around himself. "I must introduce you to Count Forenzi." George considered, as he awaited his host to perform the honors of uncorking the wine.

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Caroline explained it.

 

Nicci gave a little laugh as she came to understand that Lord Maldon was perturbed about the Monkey, not their arrival. "It is a strange thing!" she agreed. No doubt Sophia already knew how queer a monkey was for a pet, she was the only person Nicolette knew of to have such a thing.

 

Settling in next to Caroline, Nicolette listened with interest to Sophia's question to John - while she was ever so pleased to accept the Party Invitation, and made her way into the house. John was more prepared than he claimed to be, for there was 6 glasses.

 

One spare.

 

Leaning closer to Caroline Nicolette whispered, "I wonder who the remaining glass is for?"

 

No sooner were the rest inside when the door slammed shut. Nicolette also jumped with the loud noise, and turning she saw Sophia rush for the door to try open it again? It had slammed so hard that the lock had somehow activated. "La, do not worry my friend Lord Maldon has a key." he must do, mustn't he?

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Sophia had to admit that the monkey had actually been the one to lead the pair of young ladies into the backyard tugging in it's eagerness. Caroline laughed.

 

"A pet that sniffs out parties, a most useful creature then," she joked.

 

Lord Chichester took the holy water bottle away from her without comment, perhaps he was a bit perturbed over her less than reverent quip. No matter, she barely knew the man. The decision was made then to enter the rather forbidding looking house, afterall Caroline recalled it's last resident had been purported to be a witch. Upon their entrance, one could see by lamplight that there actually were glasses, a bottle of wine, and something to eat too. John had come prepared.

Nicolette leaned in to her to wonder about who was expected to use the sixth glass.

 

"The monkey?" Caroline whispered accompanied by a bit of a girlish giggle.

 

That vanished in an instant when the door suddenly slammed shut, startling the entire group. Sophia moved up to reopen it but somehow it had managed to be locked? Strange. Only Lord Chichester seemed calm, even rather blasé about the incident helping himself to an apricot while talking about some sort of symbols?

 

Caroline looked to John, "What sort of symbols, Lord Maldon? I am not following?"

 

For just a moment the closed door was forgotten in her curiousity about what the other lord was going on about.

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“That d-d-does recommend the place. And Lord Devonshire is t-t-two doors down.” John said to Sophia. He had previously mentioned to her that he was close to his cousin. And there had been no closer houses available, which had been part of the appeal of the place to John. “I shall have to see how it l-l-looks once it is fixed up, though.”

 

John gave a small chuckle at Caroline’s quip this time. That would be rather useful.

 

With George, though, John just managed to restrain his look of suspicion, “There’s been no c-c-cleaners through, no.” How did George know about those? He knew someone had been breaking into the house. Was it George? Was he involved or, God forbid, behind this somehow?

 

Caroline asked after George’s cryptic comment, “S-s-someone broke in and scrawled symbols of… witchery in a hidden room.” John shared. And he was beginning to wonder if it was George.

 

In fact, the six glasses were a half dozen set. They were in a wooden holder that kept them steady and from shattering when the basket swung. He idly handed the basket to George (who seemed to have the most interest in it). “Who?” John asked of Count Forenzi. He’d never heard of the man.

 

But John approached the door, politely indicating Sophia should move out of the way.

 

John turned the key to unlock the door. There was no sound. He paused a moment, then turned the key to lock the door. It clicked. He turned it back. It clicked again. John pushed on the door and it didn’t open. He repeated the procedure twice and proclaimed, “The d-d-door is jammed.”

 

John offered, hesitantly, “M-m-maybe we shuh-should look for another way out?” John didn’t know what doors would be unjammed, and he was really confident in navigation a house he’d been in all of twice. He turned and looked into the darkness on the other side of the foyer, trying to recall from memory. His light seemed very dim just then.

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“Ja,” Sophia grinned at Caroline. “Perhaps sniffing out parties is one of her talents. She seems quite content now that we are here.”

 

Her rented house was not very close to John's, but Sophia did like the idea of him living nearby. She could teach him German and Italian here, and they could look through each other's libraries. He had promised to loan her some English books, and once he had a good grasp of German and Italian, he might wish to borrow some of hers. “Remind me to show you where I live so we can visit each other.”

 

She heard him speak of symbols scrawled in a hidden room as she pulled unsuccessfully on the doorknob. In spite of her terror at being locked in the dilapidated house, she was curious as to what symbols of witchery looked like. She did not hear the conversation between Caroline and Nicolette about her monkey.

 

Nicolette assure her that John had a key, and when he approached, she stepped back, praying silently that he would be able to open it. Aurora followed her mistress back to where the others were gathered. Now she could see what the box contained. She wouldn't mind a bit of brandy and the apricots looked appealing as well. She picked up one of the glasses, expecting one of the gentlemen to offer to pour.

 

Unfortunately, not even the key would open the door. “There are other doors, ja?” Even if there weren't, they might be able to crawl out a window. “Do you think the symbols are responsible for locking us inside? Maybe we should try to remove them ourselves.”

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George's eyes slid silently away from John. So it is going to be like that is it?

 

Popping the other half of the apricot into his mouth he moved to unstopper the bottle to tend to Sophia's silent plea. "Actually I've been in this house any number of times now, I've a sure way out, through the kitchens, I'd be happy to escort everyone out presently. But first let me show you the symbols of the devil inscribed upon the floor by the Late Mrs Wyatt. It was the symbols she left, along with any number of other clues left, that led me upon the path to discovering the identity of her murderer The authorities have it all well in hand now, do not fear." he smiled thinly, in a gesture of reassurance to the ladies, while pausing to fill Caroline and then Nicolette's glass next.

 

"I am not at all surprised that you are not aware of any of this though Lord Maldon, it is one of the mysteries of intrigue that those most affected at always the last to know. I really would recommend you have the house blessed before you move in."

 

Finally he filled his own glass. Sadly emptying the bottle. Lord Maldon would need miss out, though perhaps the man would need to keep his wit's about him.

 

"So!" Cheerfully Chichester declared, "Shall we hold hands that I can lead the way through this gloom, we don't want anyone getting separated now do we?" he offered his own to whomever, as he stepped forwards to 'blaze the trail' as it were.

 

Down the hallway... then up the first flight of stairs.

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Between Sophia and George, John was very occupied. Nicolette gave a silent smile his way, but really the drama of the circumstances, what with doors slamming and locks that would not open, demanded the entire of his attention. Fortunately Caroline's friendly overtures prevented feeling entirely out of place. Nicci gave a grin at the joke, "He must be thirsty too!"

 

Nicolette was not sure what to make of the broken door - she could feel uncertainty radiating from John, while even Sophia (usually so cheerful and bubbly) needed a drink. Only Lord Chichester did not seem bothered, which was a bit reassuring, until he gaily suggested the tour onward to an even more questionable locale.

 

"Mmm..." she murmured uncertainly, and took a hearty sip of the drink as soon as he glass was filled. Nicolette happened to have a surprisingly high tolerance for drink, which was not to say it did not still settle her nerves somewhat. Looking to the ladies she awaited their 'cue'.

 

If they did get to go upstairs, then perhaps John would manipulate placements so that he could hold her hand? Or, maybe hat would be too obvious to the others. Perhaps he'd avoid holding her hand, so that the others would remain in the dark of their affection. That seemed to be his philosophy so far, he'd barely spoken to her, with not even a look when she'd suggested her try the key. She knew him to take her French heritage as a very serious thing. No, probably he'd not want to hold her hand, he'd not want anyone to think he was a French Sympathist.

 

Or, the alternative was he'd been playing her on Monday, and did not actually care at all.

 

"Have you the silver dagger from the auction with you Lord Maldon?" she thought to ask, as she reached to take Carolines hand, "Lady Ablemarle said that silver is powerful against the dark forces."

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Very well, it was a bit disconcerting with the door and how seemingly they were now locked within the house but Caroline was not too worried, she had never been one to scare easily. Lord Chichester was quite unperturbed also and, in a bit of revelation there, admitted he'd been inside this residence before. Interesting.

 

"So you knew the deceased former owner then, my lord?" Caroline inquired right after thanking the man for filling her glass to the rim. She took a sip, it was warm, smooth, and comforting. Though perhaps it was Sophia who need comforting, she seemed worried the so called witchcraft symbols might be the cause of the door incident. Caroline was much more dubious.

 

"Seems unlikely to me but then I am not well versed in such occult matters....of course," she shrugged, kept hold of her glass and accepted Nicolette's hand to begin their exploration of the house.

 

Nicolette had heard silver was a useful weapon against the dark forces. While Caroline did not know if that belief had any basis in fact, she herself would have felt more safe had she only possession of some sort of weapon or the presence of her Irish bodyguard. She silently chastised herself for neglecting to bring the fellow, what was she paying for anyhow?

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John doubted it was the symbols (and he had dashed them slightly with his foot, so they were not intact). Despite his skepticism, he knew it might cast suspicion if he objected to them seeing the bit of witchcraft. “Yes, I had thought t-t-to do so.” He said of Chichester’s suggestion of blessing.

 

There were three bottles in the basket, so exhausting one didn’t exhaust the supply of alcohol. John fished out the bottle of brandy. Brandy, like most hard liquor, was not something a proper lady would drink. At least not openly. And Chichester had gone for the wine. So he didn’t think much of reserving it to himself. It didn’t normally go in wine glasses either, but John would make do.

 

John poured for himself and took the whole thing in one large drink, before placing the glass down. He placed the bottle of the brandy in his coat pocket.

 

Chichester suggested they all hold hands and John looked over at Nicolette immediately, though just for a moment. He had indeed been treating her just like another friend to keep what was between them private. That had nothing to do with her Frenchness and was motivated by his notions of propriety and fear of damaging their reputations. But now that there was an excuse he wanted to take it.

 

And no one objected so Chichester’s handholding seemed to be the plan. He moved over to Nicci and took her hand, trying to make it look rather natural. Still, he did smile warmly and give her hand a small squeeze. “W-w-with your indulgence.” He seemed noticeably calmer, which was only in part the alcohol.

 

After a moment, he shifted so his arm was in hers rather than holding her hand, so he could hold his lantern between them. He partly regretted that they were well illuminated because that left less possibility to take liberties. Maybe it would go out? A small part of him hoped something might startle her and she would jump into his arms. That would seem innocent enough…

 

“She w-w-would, wouldn’t she.” John said, slightly dismayed of his second cousin. “It’s in m-m-my room. P-p-perhaps it’d be better if we were all there.” Then Caroline would have flowers and Nicci his dagger.

 

“Ah, I d-d-do have some silver though.” John fished his wallet out of his breast pocket and took out a handful of silver coins. He didn’t believe silver could ward off evil, but if it made Nicci feel better then she could have it. He held them out to her.

 

As they proceeded into the darkness, John was the only source of light, and casting a pale glow that didn’t reach much farther than Nicci and himself. Though there was a full moon, the dark clouds of the storm blotted it out. The windows and doors were also all closed. The winds moaned and howled, the faint patter of rain started, and the house groaned.

 

Through the foyer to the grand room where the auction had taken place, then up the stairs to a hall with five doors, also all closed. The one at the end of the hall had a bit of damage where George had broken a lock, and there were stairs up to the secret room behind there.

 

The second door from the left was groaning particularly badly, and there was a faint scratching sound. But with the rain and groans and wind it was hard to make out small sounds.

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“Danke, my lord,” she said to Lord Chichester after he filled her glass. Instead of sipping delicately, Sophia took a large gulp. The locked door had frightened her more than she cared to admit, and she felt she needed a bit of liquid bravery … particularly when the Earl mentioned that the house's former occupant had been murdered. She had thought the woman had died of illness or natural causes. At least the culprit had been caught, although she wasn't certain how symbols of the occult had helped Lord Chichester find him … or her.

 

She was even more curious about those symbols now … and the answer to Caroline's question. It sounded as if George had been good friends with the deceased Mrs. Wyatt. And at least he knew a sure way out. Sophia didn't relish the notion of being trapped in the house until somebody noticed them missing. Esteban would surely note her absence and become worried enough to send out a search party. Or was he secretly hoping that she would conveniently disappear so that he would no longer be married to his master's mistress?

 

The young Baroness was not the superstitious type, but it did seem as if dark forces were present in the old abandoned house. She wished that Aurora's leash was silver rather than gold. Sophia had no silver with her at all, and she wasn't sure how much a handful of coins would help. It was better than nothing, though.

 

She took someone's hand … in the darkness, she couldn't tell whose it was … and followed Lord Maldon as he led them through the house, up a staircase, and into a corridor with several closed doors. Aurora veered toward the second door from the left and began scratching at it as if she wanted to get in. “Come, Aurora," she scolded her pet in Italian. "We don't want to be left behind.” She jerked the leash and the monkey moved away from the door, although she kept glancing back at it.

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George was not to know what else was in the basket, but he'd filled Sophia's glass with the Brandy she'd asked for, and then distributed the rest to the ladies present. He'd smiled reassuringly as his friends wife gulped at the drink, "Fret not milady, queer circumstance is but the mask of uncertainty, no doubt in the light of the morning Maldon's fixit man shall sort the trouble out. Once the issue is unveiled it shall fall into humdrum of a snapped shaft or some such."

 

George himself had pushed at the boundaries of the macabre often enough now to have learnt that the minds imaginations were the greatest threat. Keeping calm under perilous circumstance was the wisest course, and was precisely what the debonair Earl did.

 

"I know only what I learnt from my investigations subsequent to her death." George replied to Caroline, "Wherein I discovered she was largely a solitary figure, nursing grief after the death of her husband. Friends were few, and persons of genuine hearts fewer still. She fell into an absorption with trying to contact the dead. Her library upon the subject was quite impressive. She was a lonely and lost soul, an 'easy mark' as some might say. She was duped by a servant she trusted, and fell into a restless slumber quite willingly believing she was to go meet with her late husband. It was supposed to be a brief visit."

 

George told the story as they moved up the stairs, then down to the end of the hall to the linen closet. The doorframe of the linen closet was undamaged, and it's handle opened easily enough. Inside the Linen closet however was a concealed door, easy enough to overlook in normal circumstances -- however with it's shattered splintered door frame it now stood out like... the proverbial.

 

George gave a look at Maldon then. The stuttery man was petty enough that he probably expected an apology. "I suppose you brought the house as is where is?" George was not about to apologise for his actions done in valor.

 

"Anyhow, back to our Mrs Wyatt. She was declared dead, it being now deduced that the 'trusted servant' was continuing to dose the sleeping woman up with the vile treatment. Her body was put into a lead coffin, and interred into a paupers grave at a little known church on the outskirts of town. It was there that Mrs Wyatt finally awoke."

 

They stepped into the dark as pitch attic.

 

That Sophia was missing was hard to initially tell...

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Despite the odd circumstance, Nicolette's heart at that moment trilled.

 

"That is a point to commend you." Nicolette grinned to Caroline's confession of a lack in occult knowledge. A lady-friend's hand upon one side, and a gentleman-friend upon other - the situation had her so jubilant of spirit that she'd happily face satans hoards! Caroline had not hesitated in taking her hand, while there had been a look in John's eyes that told her he was even eager. Merveilleux! To Nicci's point of view life had taken a turn for the better.

 

Alas, Nicci's other friend Lady Ablemarle was regrettably more versed in the dark arts - the tone in John's voice said it all. Yet while he did not have the silver dagger on home he did have silver coins. "Money for a weapon?" Nicolette had never heard of any sayings that aligned with that concept, though still took the coins. They were warm from his pocket. "Merci..." she thanked with a lingering look to the ever so darling man.

 

"Ah... does anyone else want some also?" she asked Caroline and Sophia. She expected the unperturbed Chichester had his own coin pocket, though he hardly seemed to stop talking long enough to consider any preventative measures.

 

Sophia's monkey was dragging her towards a door down the hallway... Nicolette did not intend to follow after it this time. Not unless Lord Maldon or Caroline did also.

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When it became time to hold hands as suggested for further exploration, Caroline had reached out for Nicolette's. Though once she did so she could not help but notice that John was quite eager to do the same. Hmmm, was there some attraction there? Caroline was very fond of John too but fought back an onset of jealousy. No, she should be happy for the man if that was what was going on and, if not, then it was her imagination.

 

Silver was discussed as a possible weapon against satanic evils, though Lord Maldon could only produce silver coins, which he offered to Nicolette. Caroline couldn't help herself, despite the door incident, she still was firmly placed in the dubious camp when it came to witchcraft though she was always open to conversion with the proper evidence.

 

"Coins? No thank you. I will instead rely completely upon the bravery and gallantry of our two fine menfolk here," she grinned, making it hard to tell if she was being complimentary or sarcastic. Or maybe a bit of both.

 

Meanwhile Sophia was being led by her monkey down a hallway. Honestly, Caroline did like Sophia, but that woman needed to learn the proper relationship between person and pet and take charge of that little simian scamp!

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“Yes,” John agreed with George as he assured Sophia that it was something natural, “Or the m-m-mechanism of the knob could’ve rusted or broke. I m-m-might need to replace a good deal.” However bad his nerves were, he was eager to embrace the more rational explanation.

 

John listened to the story of the former owner with interest. It made her sound like a tragic figure, more than anything else. A fool but not one deserving of death. Still, he suspected the servant made her ‘deep sleep’ of nothing but simple poison. But her death was a cruel one from the sounds of it. There are such people in the world. John thought.

 

George looked at him pointedly and asked if he’d bought it as is. “Yes.” John said, “They w-w-were quite insistent on that.” They’d bargained away a great deal of money over it, in fact, but John didn’t directly speak of money. John wasn’t quite sure why George gave him the look. He thought the other earl might be implying John was foolish. He had no idea that it was George that had broken the lock or broken into the house, only that George had some unspecified connection. So he just stared back, a bit blankly.

 

John knew Caroline liked him, but didn’t know there was any romantic sort of interest. John was young and inexperienced and bad at picking up signals or possibilities that weren’t rather explicit. So he thought Caroline had kissed him simply as a friendly tease. And that he was giving her flowers didn’t mean what it might to him. John didn’t associate flowers with romance, at least not automatically.

 

John let out a small puff of air at Caroline’s comment. He took it as another a bit of gentle teasing, and still welcome. “For this c-c-company I think I might fight… all thuh-the armies of Satan.” He said warmly. Excluding family, and perhaps Henrietta, the three ladies present were the dearest to him at court. He wasn’t a capable fighter but he really would give what little fight he had for them gladly.

 

John smiled warmly at Nicolette’s thanks, and gave a small nod. He was glad it seemed to have comforted her. He gave her another small, affectionate squeeze. “It’s stuh-sterling silver though.” John said, “I d-d-don’t know if ghosts only accept fine silver.” The idea of ghost accountants, weighing the silver to determine its quality, before deciding to be driven off or not made John smile.

 

Sophia seemed to be wandering off. John was torn between wanting to fetch her and not wanting to leave the other two. He didn’t want to drop his cane either, but it was a fashion accessory, not a walking aid. So he placed it on the ground and reached out for the young blond, stretching to try and take her hand before she disappeared from the group’s view entirely. “Grab hold, T-t-T-oledo.” He wasn’t going to follow her, but he also wasn’t going to move away.

 

That he was collecting increasing numbers of attractive women on his arms was entirely lost on John.

 

OOC: Do feel free to move the chain up to where George is after whether Sophia takes his hand is resolved. Also feel free to snuff out the light he's holding if you want the dark and scary vibe.

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Although she was still a bit anxious about the locked door, the assurances of Lord Chichester and Lord Maldon calmed Sophia a bit. Certainly the other ways out would not be blocked, and if all else failed, they could smash a window. She wouldn't be surprised if some of the windows were already broken.

 

Her eyes widened when George explained how the poor woman who had owned the house had died. If Sophia had known how lonely she was, she would have attempted to befriend her, but she had never even seen her outside when she took Aurora on walks. She and Esteban had only moved to this neighborhood a few weeks ago. Maybe it had already been too late and she had already succumbed to her servant's poison.

 

The petite blonde's heart skipped a beat as George came to the end of his story. “She woke up in her coffin?” she asked incredulously. “Was she able to get out or did she die in there?” And how did the dashing Lord Chichester know? Had he sent somebody to dig up her grave … maybe the same lady who had dug up his former fiancee's grave, assuming that what Lucas had told her was true?

 

Lord Maldon did seem quite brave, offering to fight all the armies of Satan for them. And he proved his valor by refusing to abandon her when Aurora tried to pull her toward a specific door. She grabbed the hand he offered her, and pulled more firmly on the monkey's leash. Why was she suddenly so strong? An animal that weighed only two pounds shouldn't be able to put up that much resistance. “Danke,” she said, scooping up Aurora and draping her around her neck. The monkey settled down, finally, but Sophia had no idea how long she would be content to be carried.

 

They caught up with George who had led them into what looked like an attic. Sophia looked around her curiously, but a sudden and rather eerie breeze extinguished their only source of light, leaving them in utter blackness. The young opera singer screamed at the top of her powerful lungs. The sound was both very loud and very shrill. Somewhere nearby, glass shattered.

 

Maybe, she thought in the midst of her panic, my voice broke a window.

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