Read The Eterna Files Online

Authors: Leanna Renee Hieber

The Eterna Files (6 page)

Bishop had taken her home immediately and Clara had assumed she had seen the last of Louis Dupris. That she had gone to the museum on Tuesday spoke of her essentially optimistic nature—and her fondness for the museum's marble halls.

To her great surprise, Mr. Dupris was entirely undeterred by her ignominious departure from the Vanderbilts'. He met her at the museum at the appointed time, and at every place and time they could find after that. Happily, the great city abounded with secluded spaces. Cemeteries became their collective haunt as they mused on life and death. Clara sensed that her soul and Louis's had gone round together at least once in the past. He hadn't betrayed or brutalized her then, so why not indulge the blossoming bond in this life?

Louis found her seizures, the aura she saw, the way her senses abandoned her and returned in pieces, entirely fascinating. His acceptance won her trust. He taught her how to block out the spiritual press, lessons born from his own studies of spiritual and theological matters. She had, after his tutelage, been fit-free for two years.

He was her visionary, insatiably curious and confidently ambitious. No matter what other matters called to his attention, he remained enthralled with Clara, and she with him. Now he was dead and she had no way to quantify the grief she felt, no way to show it, for she and Louis Dupris had never even met, as far as the outside world was concerned.

She would have to, she realized, live her current life denied of many things. Her heart hardened. It had to. While she knew, as a spiritualist, that the spirit lived on, death had made her cold. She thought of Greenwood's stone angels and wanted to become one of them.

The Eterna team was dead. Did anyone know, other than Clara?

She tucked the saffron cravat into her corset, against her bosom, and set off to be the center of the presaged storm.

*   *   *

“It was as I feared,” said Louis Dupris as he trailed his brother Andre through downtown Manhattan at the crack of dawn, floating a foot off the ground.

Andre tore down Broadway, surely appearing mad talking to thin air; thin, cold air in the shape of his twin.… He shuddered. He could not begin to process the horror he'd seen.

“Don't tell me you
that hell that took you?” Andre growled at the ghost, a gray-shaded, near-transparent image of his brother. “Your whole team? I can't begin to understand—”

was in that house. We were not alone. But what it was, or why our compounds made it come alive, I can't understand. Perhaps, in death,” Louis continued excitedly, “I can learn more! Perhaps here I can do more good, in this state—”

“I'd rather you were alive,” Andre said mordantly. “That we'd traded places.”

“Don't say that, brother,” Louis exclaimed earnestly.

Perhaps Louis would have agreed to the switch if he knew the whole truth; that for many months, Andre had been spying on Eterna on behalf of England.

“Perhaps your partner Malachi's rabid paranoia was founded,” Andre muttered. “You're right, you were not alone there. You were certainly being watched, and not only by me.”

In a fit of overwhelming paranoia, one of the researchers had ordered the Eterna theorists to move their laboratory into his eerily empty town house. They humored him to keep a fragile peace. Louis had Andre store his most precious notes and research in another location, trust swiftly eroding between the once-filial team. Disaster struck the very next day.

Andre would never be able to purge the memories of the Eterna researchers falling to the floor, suffocated by strange, creeping tendrils of smoke, by a presence that Andre didn't wait around to experience for himself. No, Andre did what he'd always done as the black sheep no one spoke about—he ran. But lest he go to his own grave an utter coward, he would do his best to help his brother find peace.

“Today we begin to set things right,” Andre declared, brandishing a small envelope. He moved at a harried clip that was not unusual for New York, though his anxiety trumped the speed of the average pedestrian out at such an early hour. “I'll turn this over, then return that damned dagger you stole to New Orleans, praying to all your
for protection along the way.”

“Don't mock the
brother,” Louis scolded.

“I'll believe in them if they protect me against one very angry woman,” Andre retorted. “Of all the people you crossed coming to New York, it had to be a Laveau protégée?
Bon dieu!
I suppose it's only fitting penance I be the one to see this through.”

“You're not the irredeemable sinner you think, Andre—”

“But I am!” Andre insisted in a coarse whisper. “I lied to you, Louis! I wasn't interested in Eterna because of you, but for my own interests. You gave me secret refuge and I squandered it. Trust me, I've a lot to answer for. Slates must be cleaned. Yours and mine. But someone should know what happened to you, Louis,” Andre stated. “Your sweetheart, perhaps? You adored her, that woman deserves answers—”

“Keep Clara out of it,” Louis warned, an icy whisper in Andre's ear, “with her condition, I shouldn't—”

“I'll leave the key. If they're as clever as you say, they can figure out what it belongs to without incriminating me. And then I'll be on my way home, none the wiser for my presence.”

Louis's anxiety was unassuaged. “You hid my papers as I asked, didn't you?”

“I left what you gave me at the college,” Andre assured. Whether or not he'd be telling his employers about the materials or the disaster, he had yet to decide. He wanted to wash his hands of all of it, be done with spying. But survival first. Strategy second.

Andre stared up at the Romanesque edifice, dark and looming in the early light. Louis's presence was a cold draft at his neck. The living man shifted the envelope from one hand to the other, considering his task. The door was locked. Andre flipped back the thick cuff of his sleeve to reveal several thin metal implements. In mere moments the lock had been picked and the door swung wide.

“Do I want to know where you learned that?” spectral Louis murmured.

“The bad egg survives,” Andre muttered.

Charging up to the third floor, Andre threw wide a wooden door to reveal a long dark room whose decor looked more a lady's parlor than an office. Depositing the envelope conspicuously in an empty tray, he sped out again. “Onward toward resolution,” he rallied. “And vanishing from the record.”

He darted out onto Pearl Street, tipped a wide-brimmed hat lower over his brow and turned back to see Louis floating in front of the building, his grayscale form immeasurably eerie in the misty, waterfront dawn. After a moment, he wafted to Andre's side.

“There's so much Clara and I should have shared,” Louis murmured.

Andre shifted on his feet. “You never told her about me, did you?”

“No,” Louis insisted. “You came to me in trouble. I never told her I had a twin or betrayed your confidence.”

“And I never deserved a brother so good, loyal, and true,” Andre said bitterly, for the first time feeling tears well up. He wouldn't tell England another word, he decided.

In the tumultuous, heaving throng, the sheer, maddening bustle that was New York Harbor, Andre made his way through a deep maze of wood and steel, planks, ropes, and sail. One small leather pack slung over his back, a precious ceremonial dagger well-hidden on his person, he wove swiftly to the docks. Louis floating beside him, traveling right through anyone in his way … persons who would think him nothing but a breath of cool breeze.

Despite Andre's speed and twisting path, he noticed that a particular face was never far from him in the throng. Even crowded onto the ship that should have carried him safely away, his desire to vanish was thwarted. The follower spoke to the captain in a soft, upper-class British accent. And stared right at Andre where he stood among the massed humanity on deck.

“Damn you, Lord Black, and your spies,” Andre muttered. “Damn you all to hell.”

*   *   *

Franklin Fordham lived alone in the stately, Federal-style Brooklyn Heights house the rest of his family had abandoned after his brother's death in the war, his mother having found it impossible not to be haunted by the place. Franklin bore his own suffering like a pebble in his shoe that he never removed. His brother was dead and Franklin hadn't been there, fighting at his side, due to a bad leg. Living in the home they had once shared was a form of penance.

At a sharp rap, he opened the town house door to a most lovely, welcome sight.

There, framed by dappled sunlight filtering through the growing trees behind her, beneath a rose lace parasol, was the woman who had once cut through darkness and saved Franklin's mind, like an angel descending through storm clouds.

Clara Templeton was dressed beguilingly as ever, today all in burgundy; a black-buttoned jacket with fitted sleeves over gathered, doubled skirts, a small black riding hat with a burgundy ribbon set at a jaunty angle on her head. Despite her broad shoulders, she was slight in girth, yet Franklin knew she was capable of great strength. As he looked at a face more suited to a classic painting of an infamous woman from history than to this era's praised softness, he noted that she seemed unusually drawn. The oft-mischievous slant of her pursed lips seemed strained and her luminous green-gold eyes were hidden behind small, tinted glasses.

Not for the first time, Franklin thought that Clara was a magical creature. It wasn't that she was beautiful, though an argument could be made for her unusual beauty, it was that she was lit from within by an indomitable fire, both terrifying and wonderful.

“Miss Templeton,” he greeted her with a smile. “To what do I owe this pleasure on a day off?”

“They're dead, Franklin,” she said quietly, each word like the faraway toll of a bell. “The whole team is dead.”

Franklin stared at her. “What? How? How do you know?”

“I simply know that they are gone,” she continued in a deadened tone. “And this morning I had a dream that in the near future the English would invade.”

“Well then,” Franklin said, turning to the wardrobe by the door to withdraw a lightweight brown frock coat, hat, gloves, and an eagle-topped walking stick. Clara's dreams and instincts were serious business he'd learned not to trifle with.

When he was properly attired and had exited the house, she took his proffered arm; he noticed she leaned upon it more than usual.

“We must do whatever we can
to embolden them, as their Empire seeks ever to expand,” Clara declared.

“And what would so embolden Her Majesty Queen Victoria as to take on such an ally in trade, finance, goods, and culture?” Franklin asked. “We've never had so cordial a relationship.”

“If she thought she could live forever,” Clara muttered.

“Aye.” Franklin sighed. “That's the crux. Eterna is … eternal.”

“Perhaps,” Clara murmured.

Franklin wished he understood the pain in her voice. Though she undoubtedly would mourn the death of any person, she didn't know the Eterna researchers personally. Why then, was her grief so apparent?

“I don't suppose you've your office key?” she asked. “I'm a bit … distracted.” Franklin fished in his pocket, making a jingling sound. Clara offered a weak smile. “Always prepared,” she said approvingly. “I adore that about you.”

Franklin contemplated myriad things he could have replied, but said none. They set off down the picturesque, cobblestone street where young trees, planted within the past few years, were flourishing and fine new town houses were being built. The residents proudly loved their separate city of Brooklyn. When they looked across the water at behemoth, monstrous Manhattan, many thanked their stars for their few blocks of haven.

Clara and Franklin strolled toward the Fulton Ferry landing, beside the vast stone trunks of the nearly completed Brooklyn Bridge. Its Gothic arches towered in the sky—it was the tallest man-made structure on this side of the world, its spiderweb of cables catching dreams and hearts and possibilities in its wire-bound frame. The bridge was scheduled to open next year, on Queen Victoria's birthday, funnily enough—to the chagrin of those countless Irish laborers who built it. The structure would unite two thriving cities with distinctly different identities but perhaps similar obsessions.

The skyline of Manhattan was growing like a brick-and-mortar weed, ever vertically, ever uptown, like a sprawling cobblestone flower over which thousands of ship insects docked and buzzed, dipping into its jagged petals and sailing off again along the choppy harbor currents.

Clara broke the silence. “It's my fault they died.”

Franklin shook his head. “You can't think like that.”

“I've been trying to convince myself that the government, if it wanted to safeguard its leaders, would have come to this eventually. But Eterna was my idea. I am responsible, at least in part. The child in me wants to hide. But if I do, we may find things stolen out from under us.”

They boarded the steam ferry, jostling for a place near the captain's cabin so they wouldn't be pressed shoulder to shoulder. Franklin didn't like to be by the edge and wasn't terribly fond of ships. Clara stared down at the churning East River currents while Franklin looked at the masts of passing ships that cluttered one of the world's busiest harbors.

“Miss Templeton,” he began carefully, about to pose the age-old question she wouldn't answer. “Will you tell me?”

Her nostrils flared. “Really?” she said through clenched teeth. “

“You promised that when it was truly important, you'd tell me how you found me in that mental ward years ago. The team is dead and I don't understand,” Franklin insisted. “All the research we've compiled and still, little to nothing makes sense, I'm at a breaking point—”

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