An oldie this one.

Started as (but not intended as) a serial on the now, sadly, defunct @theocean ran by Steamshift.

Unsure how I feel about this one, but it was fun to research even though it was hard to write.

I’ll post more chapters if folk like it.  You may, however, be slightly disappointed when the main characters take centre stage…

 

 

Prologue

 

‘In which a prominent member of the aristocracy meets a most unusual end’

 

Hampstead, 1893.

 

Sir Henry Jarrold closed the door to his study and leaned heavily against the white panelled wood. His fingers floundered in his woollen jacket pocket for his kerchief and then, shaking, mopped his damp brow.

Squeezing shut his eyes he took a moment to breath and take stock. Thoughts ran through the fingers of his mind like silver sand, powdered mercury, each grain carrying a disjointed sentence or image from the past…how many hours?

With steadier hands he extracted his fob watch from his waistcoat and fumbled open the worn, silver case.

It was almost midnight, he had spent six hours listening to the madness in..

His thought was quelled by a sudden sharp sound from the other side of the room.

With quick, blundering steps, Jarrold made his way across the floor and to the window that looked down into the street below.

Nothing, not a soul stirred. Just the flicker of lamp light upon cobbles.

At first he fancies a sudden fog rising on the street and his heart began to pick up its frenetic pace once more but he realised it was only his breath upon the glass, his nose was almost pressed to the cold pane.

He chided himself .

He tried to convince himself he was being foolish but it would not work, h had seen the result of their power, his associates sphere of influence moved through the world like a great invisible smoke that tainted everything it touched, leaving small, bizarre marks in its wake and projecting strange portents and omens ahead of it, like a filthy, brown bow wave on the Thames, churning to the surface the skull of a dead dog.

His fingers were all but scratching the paint work from the window sill. He needed to sit and plan. He did not have much time, that much he knew. Although he had said nothing that night, had not spoken out against them and their black idea, they would know his mind almost as well as he did, if not now, then soon. He may well have smiled with them, raised a glass of champagne with them (they had toasted a speedy success, raised a glass so fortune would smile upon them! It turned his stomach) and they had believed him then, not questioned his loyalty but sooner or later something foul would whisper into their ears with invisible, dry, reptilian lips. They may be sat at their great mahogany desks taking afternoon tea or (and this made him chill to think of it) laying in their beds, safe under the eiderdown and they would hear a cold, alien voice, feel it working its way into their warm ears like a pure, sharp icicle, accusing, whispering, instructing.

He must act and act immediately.

He had the means and resourced to leave the country and travel far from London, from the Empire, where they were strongest. This would buy him more time, six, seven months at least, perhaps a year at most.

With cold, horrible clarity, Jarrold realised he was a man with a finite span left upon this earth. His last days were charted before him. It was like living under the curse of an invisible, omnipresent cancer.

But there was a slim ray of hope, a cure for his metaphorical tumour perhaps. There were others on the Earth who may help him, shield him, make him invisible from them. Practioners of strange, sacred medicine in far lands.

People who worshipped a different set of gods…

He sat heavily in his great, green leather arm chair, clinging to a hop as man clings to a length of ruined deck in a high and dangerous sea.

He would need to set in order his affairs and collect the necessary papers and monies he would need for such an exhaustive trip and he would need to do this delicately and with the upmost care to avoid suspicion.

Here, in the safe in this very room, he had several passports under various names. He would start then, with those documents.

He lit the stub of a candle that lay on his desk to add to the meagre light in the gloomily lit room and set about collecting any documents that may be of use and setting aside any that he deemed dangerous and should be destroyed.

It took him a few minutes to realise what was happening to the candle, its flame and its smoke. And before he saw the strange sight, there were other small factors that should have drawn his attention to a change in the atmosphere of the study.

He only realised his ears had been hurting a little when he glanced up and registered that the wisp of smoke from the corona of the candle was streaming almost horizontally away from the wick, in the direction of the firmly closed window.

He turned to look at the glass, there was no discernible draft he could feel and yet as he turned back he could see that the flame had also now followed the lead of its exhaust and was leaning in the direction of the window.

Again, his ears gave a twinge, a spasm. He realised faintly that he was now panting slightly as he raised a trembling hand t his throbbing ear and felt a slight slick of blood on his face and neck.

He felt the slow throb of panic marry that of the pain in his head as he heard a pane of glass crack, dully, in the window.

To his horror the noise of his breathing was slow and distant, heard as if through wadding of soft American cotton.

Dimly, his mind turned absently to an image of slender, negro fingers, picking the fluff from some plant bathed in Atlanta sunshine, the plan, he thought sluggishly as he almost fell at the window, the plan, they know

All he could hear now was the dullest roar of his heart as it fought against the fog. He looked through the cracked pane at the street, indeed there was a shape there now, a man stood o the cobble stones, starring up at him from below the brim of a top hat, clutching a curious cane in one hand and enunciating silent words up at him.

Jarrold registered the vision but found himself more concerned that the temperature had dropped outside, for the window pane had collected frost around its edges. With despair it dawned upon him that there was nothing wrong with the weather, it was his eyes that were failing, just as the rest of his body was.

His lungs hitched in pathetic, shallow gasps as he twisted and fell back, the blood streaming from his ears.

He could only feel the feeble action of his chest now, he could no longer hear it. Through a watery haze of star-shine (was it tears? Sweat? Blood?) Jarrold saw the dim image of the candle flame, horizontal, streaming from the wick and towards the window, flicker and die.

Blindness and deafness overcame him, offering some mercy to his oxygen starved brain.

He was aware of not caring that he had voided both his bladder and his bowels and then his mind haemorrhaged, washing any other thought away on a tiny tide of red.

As Jarrold finally succumbed, the mysterious man in the street watched as the gas light in the room above join the candle by guttering and dying, no longer illuminating the paltry emission of gasses and dust that had slipped through the tiniest of gaps in the window casement.

He slowed the mutter of his words and renewed the grip in his walking cane, the odd head of which he held aloft towards the window in question.

Confident in the fact that his task had been completed and with a sharp little smile, the man turned on his heel and walked quickly on down the street, suppressing the urge to chuckle aloud, leaving behind him in the air a rapidly dispersing cloud of motes, lit by the shifting gas-flame of the street lamp.

To Be Contiued..?

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