Read The Eterna Files Online

Authors: Leanna Renee Hieber

The Eterna Files (8 page)

“They moved me, too,” she offered. “My cousin and I were fond of our old place and haven't settled in yet. The trick is not to feel like property, or like a pawn, as they shuffle you about.”

“And how is that coming along for you?”

“I demanded they bring me a piano.” She smiled briefly. “And I'm slightly happier.”

At this, Spire chuckled gruffly and the silence that followed was not tense until the museum loomed before them.

*   *   *

The British Museum, large and cluttered with treasures collected—stolen—from around the Empire, was a squat, square, colonnaded edifice that was no gem of architecture. The real beauty, Rose knew, lay inside, in its ever-growing cache of artifacts. Spire helped her out of the carriage, their gloved palms and arms stiff against each other.

“East wing,” she instructed as she crossed the open plaza, passing among strolling tourists and locals. Comparing herself with other ladies who walked about beneath parasols, in floral shawls and frilly hats, she noticed her dark muslin layers trimmed in mauve and black didn't match the warm, bright day. She always stood out so, never quite in season, never on top of a trend. She could care less.

Spire caught up to her as she reached the building. He opened the door for her and she allowed him the courtesy. “Downstairs. Two levels. Prepare yourself,” she said, and kept a smile to herself. She didn't have to be psychic to know she would see a few more raised eyebrows from Spire in the following moments.

“For what?” he asked.

“A medium. And her consort.”

Spire set his jaw and followed.

On the lower floor, Rose led the way down a shadowed, chilly hall; she rapped upon an unmarked door in a specific sequence, pressed a lever, and a door opened, revealing a cavernous room filled with wall-to-wall tapestries from all around the globe. She had been there before; it was, in fact, one of her favorite places. Though she'd have added a large bay window where she could sit bathed in light, imagining herself strolling through each woven scene, experiencing the many worlds they represented, from religious icons to court scenes to theatrical presentations.

Art was a poultice that soothed her ache to travel. But unmarried women did not travel unaccompanied. Married women might travel with their husbands, but they most certainly did not work, so years ago she made her choice and shoved other longings into the corners of her steel-trap mind.

A round table took up the center of the room, wooden chairs spaced around its circumference. “Mrs. Blakely” sat there, facing the door, her eyes closed. Dressed in royal blue satin and baring more bosom than was appropriate for the hour of the day, her brown-black curls were up in an artful coiffure, a faint rouge was visible on her cheeks. Though she sat in the basement of the British Museum, the woman seemed ready for a ball. Rose had encountered the Blakeleys only a few times and had never seen them dressed in anything less than high-dramatic style.

Mr. Blakely stood nearby, a short, sharp-featured man in a black-and-white-striped linen suit and a blue cravat with a too-large bow, his fingers fluttering constantly. His ticks were offset by an engaging, near-constant smile.

“Mr. Spire, I presume? Hello, Miss Everhart,” the woman at the table said, without opening her eyes.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Blakely,” Spire said, bowing his head even though Mrs. Blakely's kohl-rimmed eyes remained closed.

“Hello, Miss Knight,” Rose said quietly. At the different name, Spire stared at her.

“Spire,” the striking woman at the table said, “I sense you're a man who doesn't like to waste his time, particularly not on pleasantries. Good. So let's get a few things entirely clear.” Her lined lids snapped open, revealing large, piercing, dark eyes. She almost looked like a doll but her appearance was off-putting, as if the soul of some wizened old regent had been thrust into a young woman's body and was still getting used to the adjustment.

“I am not legally married to Mr. Blakely,” she began. “Thus I am not Mrs. Tobias Blakely. Not to you. Within our operations, you may call me Miss Knight. However, I prefer just ‘Knight.'”

Spire nodded, taking in the information. “Good then. I go by Spire and prefer this precedent. Keeps us from becoming too familiar.”

“Ah. Then on
that
count, should you possibly spy upon me like you did Miss Everhart, let me make something quite clear. I prefer the company of women in every way. And while kissing a woman may be part of an operation, it is also how I might spend an evening on my own time and should not be a subject of concern or censure. Establishing one's predilections when surrounded by spies saves us all from awkward misunderstandings. You may lower your eyebrows now, Mr. Spire.”

Spire did as he was told, donning his characteristic frown. Rose withheld a chuckle. Not a single Victorian soul spoke like Marguerite Knight did in mixed company. At least, no one Rose had ever met or even heard of. Mr. Blakely didn't bother to hide his grin. It was entertaining, Rose had to admit, to see a bulwark like Spire so thrown off guard. And the surprises were only beginning.

“I appreciate your honesty, Knight,” Spire said without affect. “Am I to assume you'll be the one giving the orders for our operations?”

Knight waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, no, that's entirely on your head. I find giving orders terribly boring. I'll do as I please and assume it corresponds with our mutual directives.” She smiled without showing teeth. “And I'll never undermine you unless you undermine me. So let's not cross each other. Because I'll see it coming.” She tapped her temple.

“Well, be sure to tell me,” Spire retorted, “just what it is I'll be up to. Free will is so …
boring
.” While Spire's tone may have been sharp, there was a certain light in his eyes, the look of a duelist ready for swordplay. Knight laughed and Rose heard delight in the sound.

“I would guess you're not used to people like us, Mr. Spire, eccentric and scandalous,” Knight began nonchalantly, “you're used to policemen. And Miss Everhart, you're used to clerks and officials, and so if we offend you, well—well, I'm not sorry, but I do believe we can all find common ground. It's not that I think the world should be like me. I'd rather the world not insist I should be like them.”

Spire held up his hands, offering no argument. It was Rose's turn to take exception.

“You're talking to a woman, Miss Knight, who managed to gain secret passage into the Palace of Westminster to go to work,” Rose said primly.

“And have I ever toasted your accomplishment? I should. I honestly meant to.” Knight clapped her hands. “Champagne. My house. I've calling hours on Tuesdays. And don't worry, if it's a concern, I don't seduce coworkers.” She flashed a winning smile. Rose opened her mouth and closed it again. “Indeed,” Knight added, gesturing. “Often the best thing to do when confronted with someone who says shocking things is to keep silent.”

“In this crowd will I ever again utter a word?” Spire muttered. Knight laughed again. “I will say,” he continued, “I deem scandal relative and find this age too preoccupied with ‘sin' while having a profoundly hypocritical relationship with vice.…” He trailed off, and Rose noticed how his determined face went haunted, as if some terrible memory took hold of him.

“Agreed!” Mr. Blakely responded enthusiastically.

Looking closely at their new leader, Knight narrowed her eyes suddenly. “You haven't told your father you've moved or that you've a new position,” she scolded. “You'll need to tend to that, lest he write a play about it.” Spire opened his mouth and then closed it again as Rose had done. “I am clairvoyant, Mr. Spire. I pick up on things. There go your eyebrows again.”

“Get out of my mind,” Spire growled, seeming genuinely unsettled. He whirled on Rose. “Did you tell her about my father?”

“You haven't said a thing to me about your father, what business would that be of mine?” Rose said defensively. Spire scowled.

Miss Knight shifted forward suddenly and said; “Pardon me, friends, duty calls and I must leave you. There's a mummy requiring my attention on the next floor. His spirit is in the throes of anger.”

In a rustle of shimmering sapphire skirts and trailing bell sleeves she was out the door. Rose wished she could collect on the number of raised eyebrows she'd seen from Spire since the moment they'd met.

She assumed he'd learn to mask his skepticism entirely, as she had, and become unreadable. She'd certainly felt spun round roughly when Black began training her for espionage above bookkeeping. She'd enjoyed being an excellent clerk; thorough paperwork was gratifying in its precise predictability, a comfort so unlike life itself. Being bid to look at life through a scrying-glass darkly, this was hardly comfortable for her. She knew in her heart where her priorities lay, and she hoped her instincts wouldn't get her into trouble.

There was a cry down the hall in some foreign tongue. Rose managed not to snigger when she saw Spire's jaw muscles clench as he valiantly tried to restore his blank expression.

Mr. Blakely nodded nonchalantly toward the noise. “That would be Sepulcher B3. Troublesome. The prince rearranges the artifacts. We keep telling the curator the funerary items are arranged in the wrong order, I mean, the prince should know, it's his grave, but the museum won't listen. The missus tries to explain to His Majesty that the curators mean no disrespect, but still, it's very disrespectful,” Mr. Blakely said woefully.

“What was she speaking?” Spire asked.

“Egyptian,” Rose and Mr. Blakely chorused.

“What is she doing out there?” Spire asked Blakely, choosing his words with care. “Does she think she's setting it to rest? Calming it down?”

Mr. Blakely shook his head. “She is a confidante when it comes to spirits. She doesn't see them, only senses particularly anxious presences. She can't set spirits to rest, exorcise, or banish them. I understand that's a different department. But the missus's true talents are prediction and reading. She gets a read on people right quick,” Blakely said with simple admiration.

Rose wondered if he had fallen in love with his faux wife, despite her predilections for the female sex. Perhaps if he couldn't have a real marriage, he'd take a fake one instead. Rose hoped that wasn't the case, for that story was a bit too tragic for her tastes.

In her mind, unrequited love was a pointless waste. Either love was present or it wasn't. Her schoolgirl friends had chastised her for practicality, but she'd aced her classes, healthy and safe in a dry bed when they'd failed exams after throwing themselves into rainstorms after being rejected. Hardened differed from practical. The former was full of sorrow but the latter left hope for something to arrive worth wasting time on.

Curious about the “couple,” Rose took an opportunity; “How did you meet?”

A wide grin burst over Blakely's face like a beam of light. “Marguerite was in Bath,
persuading
her elderly relatives to leave thousands of pounds to worthy causes such as, well, herself. My … show came into town.” Blakely turned to Spire. “I'm a performer, you see.”

“You don't say,” Spire replied in a monotone.

“As fate would have it,” Blakely continued, “she had procured the money but was worried about reprisals once her relations awoke from her persuasive spell. She needed a place to hide; I needed another act. She joined my troupe as a psychic and told me to marry her—on the condition that we wouldn't actually marry. She does love a good show,” he said, grinning again as if he'd lost all the bats in his already questionable belfry. “Eventually Lord Black, who is fond not only of a good act but of the genuinely psychically talented, found us and made us respectable.”

Spire clenched his jaw at the word “respectable.” “I understand you were consultants to the previous, now missing, Omega team,” he stated.

“Yes, but we worked from here,” Blakely stated, “poring over anything of supernatural or immortal interest to add to the Queen's Vault. Lord Black tells me we're to have new offices now that you're with us.”

There was a shriek and a crash from well down the hall and more cries in Egyptian.

“As the museum won't do at all, really,” Blakely added.

On that note, Spire and Rose departed. At the door of the museum, Rose stopped her director before he walked off into the heart of Bloomsbury.

“Mr. Spire, would you kindly come by Westminster at your leisure later today?” she asked. “We have things to discuss.”

Spire clenched his jaw. “Your parliament office, in the place that ought to have no offices?”

“The very one,” Rose replied with a prim smile. He nodded.

There, in the safety of her tiny, contained universe, she would put her new director to a different sort of test; one of loyalties and personal conviction. She would see if they were indeed two creatures of the same mind or destined to be at odds.

*   *   *

The Majesty—He would always call himself Majesty no matter what the rest called him—shifted on his small, uncomfortable pallet.

He was hidden away in an isolated, dreary, windowless cell within London's Royal Courts of Justice. Only three people knew the space existed; the guard, who was his ear and mouthpiece to the external world; himself, and Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, who was impressively inscrutable. He harbored hope that she would come to embrace his cause, for surely she could see the damage the rise of the unwashed was doing to his beloved England.

A woman's voice from beyond the narrow set of bars startled him from his lovely reverie of a fiefdom reclaimed.

“Mr. Moriel,” uttered in a biting, disapproving tone, signaled the arrival of Her Majesty, who swept into the dim light, her elaborate, expensive mourning garb overwhelming the space. “It has come to my attention that a certain Frances Tourney was running a heinous operation fit for hell, one that seemed to bear your crest of devilry. You were granted a stay of execution, Mr. Moriel, not a
pardon
. You assured me all your society operatives had been turned in.”

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