A Darkness Strange and Lovely (20 page)

“‘But,’” Daniel said, following along, “‘there was never’—I don’t know what that word is.”

“Me neither, but look here.” My eye caught on a paragraph further down on the page—on a French phrase I knew well. “‘The soldier,’” I continued translating, “‘who was famous for . . . for discovering
Le Dragon Noir
was a known necromancer.’” I straightened. “Does that mean the grimoire was found in Egypt?”

“Sure sounds like it. And look: the soldier’s name is Jacques Girard.”

“Monsieur Girard!” I snatched the letters off the table and found the last one, sent from Egypt. But my shoulders drooped as I read aloud, “‘Monsieur Girard was not home today. I fear I wrote the wrong address. If I cannot find him, then I will have no choice but to find the pages.’”

“Huh,” Daniel said. “It
could
mean something or it could just be someone with the same last name.”

I groaned.

Daniel shot me a concerned look. “Don’t get frustrated, Empress. Why don’t we head back to the hotel now? I’ll have the librarian send the books to the lab.”

I nodded, too tired to worry about Jie—or Joseph—waiting for me at Le Meurice. While Daniel dealt with the books, I wearily gathered up my letters and considered this latest information. Elijah wrote that he needed pages. Those had to be the missing pages from
Le Dragon Noir
. The ones that had been displayed at the Centennial Exhibition—and the whole reason Elijah had even come back to Philadelphia all those months ago.

There was some other connection here, though. Something I was missing.

But at least I could be certain of one thing: whatever was hiding in these letters, I was going to find it. Even if it meant consulting Oliver on it. Yes, it was time to share the messages with my demon.

Daniel and I left the library, moving as slowly as when we had come, but now it was different—now I
wanted
the moments to drag by. Soon enough we would reach the hotel. Reach Jie and Joseph . . . and reach the truth.

But not yet. For now I could still wrap myself in this. In
Daniel.

As we ambled past the chestnut-lined square, I suddenly realized something. “Daniel!” I yanked him to a stop. “We did none of
your
research! I’m so sorry—I took over all of your time.”

He smiled shyly. “I didn’t actually have any research to do, Empress. I just wanted to . . . Here, come with me.” He pulled me into the square and over the grass to the fountain’s edge. As the water poured out from the bronze women’s vases, he slowed to a stop and angled himself toward me. “Will you be at the ball tomorrow night?”

“Yes,” I said slowly. “Why do you ask?”

He shrugged one shoulder, gulping furiously. When he didn’t say anything for several moments, I said, “Is that all you wan—”

“I need to apologize,” he blurted.

My eyebrows shot up. “Oh?”

“I shouldn’t have been so rude this morning. In front of the hotel.” His eyes flicked down. “Although you
were
the one to lose your temper.”

“Lose my temper? I only lost it after
you
 . . .” I let my words fade. His lips were twitching up. “Oh, I see. You’re
teasing
me.”

He reached out and popped my chin with his thumb.

I gave a mock gasp. “How dare you, sir! Touch me again, and I shall call the foxes.”

“Foxes? As in the police?” He fought off a laugh—and failed. “I never pegged you for such criminal language, Empress.”

I rolled my eyes. “And I’m not as highfalutin as you might think.”

“Listen to you! ‘Highfalutin.’” He whistled through his teeth. “Next thing I know, you’ll be swearing and spitting.”

“Only because I learned it from you.” I gave him a superior smile. “And if
anyone
here is highfalutin, it’s you, Daniel Sheridan.” I grabbed hold of his monocle and tugged it to my eye—but of course it was laced around his neck, and I wound up tugging
him
to me too.

My heart stopped. His face was only inches from mine. I could feel his breath, gently brushing my cheeks. I could see every line in his jaw and every shade in his lips—and oh, his lips. They were so close.

“Eleanor.” His voice was faint and rough. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Yes?” I dragged my eyes from his lips and met his gaze.

It almost undid me. I could see the longing in them—see the desire in the way his pupils widened and shrank in time to his breathing.

“That night in the hospital, when you asked me if I—”

“Eleanor!” a voice roared.

As one, our heads whipped toward the sound. Stalking toward Daniel and me, his cheeks bright and his eyes glossy, was none other than Oliver. “Eleanor!”

Acid churned into my throat. Daniel jerked away from me.

“What the devil are you doing here?” Oliver shouted, almost upon us. His features were masked with fury.

Daniel pushed in front of me. “Who the hell are you?”

Oliver ignored him, staring at me over Daniel’s shoulder. “I’ve been waiting around for you for hours, El! Then I come here, and what do I find?”

Daniel whirled around to me. “Do you know this man?”

“I-I . . .”

“Of course she
knows
me,” Oliver spat. “I’m her—”

“Hush,” I hissed. Panic beat wildly in my chest. “You’re drunk!”

Daniel recoiled. “So you
do
know him. Is he your beau?”

Oliver opened his mouth, but I shot him a fierce glare. “Don’t, Ollie.”

“Ollie?” Daniel repeated, somehow standing up even taller. “From the letters?”

“Yes,” Oliver said at the same instant I cried, “No!”

“You were her brother’s friend,” Daniel said, his eyes on Oliver. “And I . . . I’ve seen you somewhere before. . . . At the hotel—that’s it, isn’t it? You’ve been in the hotel.” He turned to me, his eyes creased with pain. “He
is
your beau. How else can you explain this?”

“Please,” I begged. “It isn’t like that at all.”

“God, I’ve been an
idiot.
” He retreated two steps, his head shaking. “A new hand, a new man. I don’t know who you are anymore.”

“Yes, you do!”

“No,
Miss Fitt
.” He wrenched his top hat low over his face. “You’re not . . . you’re not who I thought you were.”

There was so much venom in his voice—venom I didn’t deserve—that all I could do was stare.
He
was the one who had changed. Not me. Why couldn’t he—or Jie—see that?

But I never had a chance to tell him. Before I could speak, he pivoted sharply and strode off—away from the square, away from Oliver, and away from me.

I immediately rounded on the demon. “How could you do this to me? You stupid drunk!”

“El, I—”

“Don’t,” I shouted. “Do not speak to me. Do not come near me. Don’t even
look
at me.” I stomped away, but I only made it several steps before looking back. “Is this what you wanted all along? For me to have no one but you?”

“No. Of course not.” His eye shone, but with emotion or gin, I couldn’t say. “I was waiting for you, El. Waiting for you to . . . to come . . . and I followed our bond here, so—”

“I do not care,” I said softly. “Two of my friends are gone, and it’s all because of you.”

And with fury and shame pounding in my ears, I twisted around and left.

Chapter Fifteen

On my way back to the Hotel Le Meurice, I stopped
by a post office. A telegram from Allison, a note from Mary—anything from home would have been welcome. I just wanted to know I wasn’t alone.

But I
was
alone. There were no messages for me.

So I trudged to the hotel and was soon clambering up the main steps. On the second floor, I slowed and glanced into the lab. The door was ajar, the white curtains drawn back, and Joseph was within, focused on a stack of papers.

As if he sensed me, his gaze flicked up. A furrow dug into his brow. He beckoned to me.

And I realized with crushing relief that Jie had not yet told him about Oliver.
You should tell him,
my conscience whispered. But I knew I would not. He was the only Spirit-Hunter left who did not hate me . . . and I wanted to cling to that for as long as I could. Who knew how much time I had before I was on my own—left to face Marcus by myself?

So, with a fortifying breath, I stepped to the doorway and poked my head in. “I thought you were away.”

“My business ended early. Perhaps
now
would be a good time to train.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It is very important that you learn to fight your magic.”

“Right.” I slunk in—but almost instantly stopped again. Four waist-high, pine crates stood in a row beneath the windows.

“Daniel’s latest inventions,” Joseph explained. “Yet you have not seen our other . . .
decoration.
” He flourished a hand to the far-right table. Atop it lay a man-shaped mound beneath a white sheet.

“The butler?” I asked.


Wi.

Despite being an incredibly morbid reaction, the corpse’s presence made me smile. Madame Marineaux must have remembered, even if I had not.

Joseph hurried to the body, waving for me to follow. I gathered up my skirts and warily approached, the faint stench of carrion drifting into my nose. He waved to the corpse’s head. “So far, the ears and eyes are the only regions I have found that are desecrated.”

“You inspected the whole body?”

“Not yet. I cleaned one of the ear wounds. I thought perhaps I would uncover a ritualistic way in which the organ had been removed—some special incision I could find referenced in my books.” He ran a gloved hand along his jaw. “But I found nothing.”

“May I?”

At Joseph’s nod, I gulped in clean air and yanked back the sheet. Up close and a day older, the butler managed to look even worse than he had before. Though his mouth was clamped shut, the waxy skin around his lips had stretched to the point of ripping—presumably from chomping so desperately.

And I was most assuredly
not
standing on the cleaned side. Crusted blood was all over the butler’s face, a layer of brown streaks, and his ear . . .

Placing a gloved hand over my mouth, I moved in close. Through the jagged flesh—it had not been a clean cut—was the beige gleam of the man’s skull.

It was sickening . . . and yet
fascinating
. To think that a person’s blood could have so much power—

I straightened, horrified by my thoughts. This man had been murdered. I ought to be repulsed. Disturbed.

But you aren’t
, my conscience nagged.

Yes, I am,
I insisted.
I
am
.

I swallowed tightly. “Do you think he was dead when he was cut up?”

Joseph winced. “Judging by the amount of blood around the wounds, he was alive during this procedure.”

My stomach flipped—that
was
truly horrifying. “The poor, poor man,” I murmured, and my eyes settled on the white powder on his shoulders. I had noticed it at Madame Marineaux’s, except now there seemed to be much less of it. I motioned to it. “Do you know what this is from?”


Non
. We have seen something like it on several bodies, but it could be anything. Dust from an old building, crumbling paint—there is no way to tell. These Hungry cover so much ground and are so violent.” He exhaled loudly and replaced the sheet over the man’s destroyed face. “I wish we had more facts with which to work instead of only half clues and ignorant musings. The only thing of which I am certain is that these sacrifices
must
be the work of a demon.”

A demon. Sacrifices.

My stomach curdled. What if it
was
Oliver? I had no proof he had been in America—and a three-week lull in
les Morts
? That was enough time to leave Paris and return. . . .

I towed my mind back to the lab—I would deal with that darkness later—and, glancing at Joseph, I tried to don a happy face. “So . . . shall we begin this first lesson?”

“Yes.” He scratched absently at his cheek. “To begin, you must first understand why using self-power is so dangerous. It is no different from opium—each time you draw on your spiritual energy, your soul rots.”

“Rots?” I repeated doubtfully. He had said something similar the day before, and even knowing that the magic was addictive, I still found the idea of a festering soul to be rather . . . dramatic. I told Joseph as much.

“But nonetheless, it is true.” He scrubbed roughly at his scars, motioning with his other hand that we should return to the main table. “It is addictive, Eleanor, and as with any addiction, one’s morals degrade.”

“So what you’re really saying,” I declared as we moved to the stools, “is that my scruples will rot—not my soul.”

Joseph’s jaw clenched. We reached the table, but neither of us sat. “Eleanor, look at what became of Marcus. Of Elijah. They lost all sense of what was right and wrong—”

“But I am
not
Marcus, and I am
not
Elijah.” The ferocity of my words surprised me, but I couldn’t seem to stop them. “Self-power is fast—natural—and it doesn’t keep me tethered to a machine. Spells have so many uses, Joseph.”

“You are right that I cannot raise a body or make a phantom limb, yet I can blast away the Dead. That is all that I need to do.”

“But that is limiting.”

“Listen to yourself,” he hissed. “Do you not hear how the magic controls you, even now?”

“That isn’t true,” I said, teeth gritting. “I have fought and
fought
my magic today—just as you ordered. I have not used it once.”

He relaxed slightly. “Good. I am glad you say that. You must keep fighting. All you need is electricity.”

No,
I thought.
Electricity cannot stop Marcus when he comes.
But I did not say this. Instead, I scanned the room for some other evidence of electricity’s limitations. My eyes landed on the butler’s corpse, and an idea hit—something I
did
want to do yet could not achieve, even with necromancy.

I swept my skirts to the side and took a seat. “Can I talk to a spirit with electricity?”

His eyes thinned. “Why do you ask?”

“If we could talk to
les Morts
, we could know who killed them. No more running aimlessly around the city. Or,” I continued, another idea forming, “there’s a soldier from Napoleon’s army that might know something useful.” I quickly explained what Daniel and I had found at the library. “So you see, Joseph? We could solve everything if we could only talk to these people. Is that possible with your method?”

“Talk to these
Dead
,” Joseph corrected. “You must remember that they are no longer people. Their desires and dreams are not what they were in life. Nonetheless, you do make a good point.” He bent over the table and grabbed a thick, gray book called
A Treatise on Spectres and All Other Manifestations of Spiritual Energy.
“I, myself, have never heard of a way to do this—even with spells—yet that does not mean one does not exist. Perhaps we can find something in this book.” He glanced up at me, waiting.

He was offering me a truce, and though I didn’t agree with Joseph, I
did
know when to stop fighting.

I nodded, and with a hesitant smile Joseph pushed his stool close to mine, sat down, and flipped back the book’s cover. But we barely made it through three pages before we were interrupted.

“Monsieur Boyer,” said the Marquis. “I have a meeting you must attend.” He limped into the lab with neither a knock nor an apology.

“Meeting?” Joseph repeated, sliding off his stool.


Oui.
I realize you have only just returned, but it is . . . how do you say? Critical. Several senators are discussing zee new measures you suggested.”

Joseph straightened. “My suggestions for working with the police?”


Oui
.” The Marquis leaned on his cane, his chest heaving as if the climb to the second-floor lab had left him entirely spent. He bobbed his head at me. “
Mademoiselle
, I hope you do not mind. I can call Madame Marineaux to attend you, if you wish.”

“Oh yes!” I cried, instantly excited. My last time spent with the Madame had been so happy . . . even if I couldn’t remember what exactly had passed. “I would love to see her again—that is, if she is not too busy, of course.”


Je ne pense pas
. I do not zink she will mind—not for you.” He stroked his mustache and tilted almost conspiratorially toward me. “She told me you remind her of my sister.”

Pleasure fluttered through my chest. “That is quite a compliment.”


C’est vrai.
” He nodded. “My sister was a wonderful woman. Actually”—he turned to Joseph—“she lived in New Orleans for a bit. Did you ever know a LeJeunes?”

A line moved down Joseph’s forehead. “No, I do not recall anyone by that name.”

“Too bad,” the Marquis said heavily. “You would have liked her.” He spread his arms, holding out his cane. “Everyone liked Claire. She had—what is the word?
Présence.

The Marquis continued speaking, but I did not hear. My gaze was locked on his cane. It looked different than the last time I had seen it. Three of the fingers had furled in, as if the hand were about to make a fist.

“Does my cane bother you?”

I blinked, suddenly noticing that the Marquis had stopped talking. I gave him an embarrassed grin. “Oh no . . . not at all. I merely thought it looked different.”

His mustache wiggled. “Different?”

“Were its fingers not more like this the other day?” I mimicked an open hand.

He snorted a laugh. “I do not zink so,
Mademoiselle
. It is ivory.” He flicked a carved fingernail. “It does not bend.”

“That’s why I was surprised. I could have sworn it had changed shape.”

“I zink you are, eh . . .
imagining
zings.” He gave me an indulgent smile. “Perhaps you ought to sleep.”

“Yes,” I mumbled, confused. “Perhaps I ought.”

“In zat case, I will tell Madame Marineaux not to keep you up
too
late.” LeJeunes shoved to his feet, his eyes shifting to Joseph. “Come, Monsieur Boyer.”

I hopped off my stool and curtsied good-bye. As the Marquis shuffled from the room, Joseph turned to me. “I am sorry, Eleanor, but I must attend this. If we could get a unit of patrolmen to help us—it might be precisely what we need to corner the demon behind
les Morts
.”

“I understand.”

“Perhaps you can study this book until Madame Marineaux arrives, and then we will talk about it in the morning.”

“Yes, I will.” I gave him a tight smile.

“And remember: you must keep fighting these magical urges. Please—I beseech you.”

“All right,” I said, nodding, but as he gathered his hat and coat, I couldn’t help but bite my lip. Joseph had never cast a spell, so what did he
really
know?

And while I did not agree with Oliver either—sacrifices were absolutely not an option—at least with my self-power I could do more than simply banish the Dead. I was caught between doing what might be morally right (at least according to Joseph) and what might actually
work.

For the problem before us was larger than
les Morts
or a renegade demon. The ultimate problem was a necromancer whose power had been crafted in life and honed in death. The ultimate problem was Marcus, and would Joseph’s methods stand against him?

No. They would not.

With a determined set in my jaw, I turned to the book on specters and read it—right there in the lab with a butler’s corpse to keep me company. It was filled with dull language but was at least written recently (an 1874 publication, according to the title page) and was also incredibly thorough. Necromancy, voodoo, shamanism—any and every form of magic pertaining to spirits was mentioned within its gray covers.

I scanned the chapter headings for something about speaking to ghosts, and with surprising ease, I found information written in as dry a manner as the rest of the book.

 

Summoning spirits is ill-advised under any circumstances. For one, ghosts are rarely amenable to leaving the earthly realm once there. For two, the amount of magical training and power needed is extensive. Necromancers, for example, must rely on blood sacrifices to rip a temporary hole in the curtain. Voodoo requires group sessions of up to a hundred priests to open a hole. Ultimately, all methods are likely to incite the attention of the Hell Hounds (also known as barghest, black shuck, or Cˆwn Annwn, see page forty-seven for more detail).

However, mediums of the mid-1800s discovered a method that allows the curtain to remain closed and the ghost to be “called” via a séance. One must know the spirit’s name and time of death (the latter information used to adjust the strength of the “call.” A longer-dead ghost will require more power and therefore more people).

 

I gnawed my lip. That was it? A séance? It certainly sounded harmless enough. My own mama had hosted séances for years (with no success) in an attempt to speak to my dead father. Admittedly, she had also allowed Marcus to enter the earthly realm during one of these sessions, but
I
wouldn’t be so foolish.

And I had magic on my side.
So let Marcus or any other spirit come.
I smiled, but almost instantly my lips twisted down.

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