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Exiled to the Couch
Fic Draft: Spectral Dance
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Fic Draft: Spectral Dance
Got busy doing some typing this afternoon, so have another chapter!
Restoring order to the proceedings after the ghost's appearance wasn't quite as easy as all that, of course. Nearly everyone present had been affected in some way, not just Victoria and her almost exalted state. Laird was obviously solicitous of his sister, holding her hand, but there was a smile on his face, too, sharing her happiness. Bartido wondered if this was the reason he'd encouraged her to come, if some of his happiness was at a successful plan.
Nathan Dundee's hawklike features showed no emotion or concern, but rather the opposite; he'd grown
intent, his attention and focus written even more plainly on his face. Doubtless he was trying to figure out what had just happened, how what to all appearances had looked like and to Bartido's mage-sight
like a ghost could have been conjured up without Runes.
That wasn't to say that Runes were necessarily required for summoning spirits. All a Rune was was the condensation of a spell, the substitution of carefully calculated symbolism for chants, gestures, and physical reagents such as one might find bubbling in a hedge-wizard's cauldron. But as he'd thought before, the séance procedure clearly didn't fit with any ritual necromancy he'd ever heard of. With his much greater experience and practical knowledge, Dundee might know more, but since he wasn't declaiming loudly that the Proseccos were frauds it didn't seem like he had any more idea than Bartido.
There was another method of producing a ghost by magic. A familiar could be summoned and bound in advance, creating a talisman that could call them forth. It was a common technique among skilled magicians, to give them a quick defense when circumstances didn't give them an opportunity to create a Rune (it was the same reason, in fact, that Bartido stayed in training at fist-fighting; being handy wuth his fives was handy against someone waving a wand at him). If Madame Prosecco had such a talisman, she could have conjured up the ghost without any specific pomp and circumstance.
That still didn't answer all the questions Bartido had, though. And with her hands held, manipulating such a talisman would have been difficult, albeit not impossible. Somehow, he didn't think the answer was that simple, and he doubted that Dundee did, either.
But he didn't have any more time than that to consider the problem, because the group was joining hands again, ready to renew the séance. Victoria Laird seemed to have regained her composure and he was glad of it; the girl had been badly rocked by the experience. It was plain that some story lay behind it all and most likely it was a tragic one.
Probably he'd have to find out more about Victoria's background if he was going to put the events into some kind of context. That was the part Bartido hated most about spying. Solving puzzles, fighting his country's enemies, and ferreting out secrets were all exciting and fun, but he hated it when he had to pry into things that people had a right to keep private. He hated it even more if he had to use those things against them.
Madame had once again taken up her chant-like invocation, calling out to the spirits of the world beyond to answer their call. The atmosphere seemed different than it had a few moments before; while then there had been curiosity, a patient waiting for what would come, now the air was heavy with expectation.
Or maybe it's just me,
Bartido amended his thought.
The Guinnesses probably felt like this all along.
Whatever the extent of those feelings, though, their expectations were answered. Once more the blue fire of a manifesting spirit took shape before Madame Prosecco, and it too began to shift and change as it drifted towards the elderly couple. Bartido didn't have a good look, being behind the apparition, but it seemed to be the image of a child, with long hair tied back by a ribbon and wearing a loose-fitting dress. The ghost's form lost resolution just below mid-thigh, merging into a trail of flame.
"Mama! Papa!" The voice was high-pitched, roughly that of someone around six years old.
"Sara!" sobbed Francine Guinness.
"Are...are you happy, Sara?" her husband said in a stricken voice.
, Papa," the ghost-girl said, then added with a trace of petulance, "You
Bartido barely stifled a chuckle, and Laird actually got half of his out before he cut it off. But despite the humor, it was impossible to miss the
of the reply. It was something that a child
say. A little girl wouldn't respect the solemnity of the occasion; she wouldn't even think about it.
Particularly if she really was coming back from the other side of the grave.
"We're sorry, darling. It's just that we worry so much about you. To see you like this...we miss you so much."
"I miss you too, Mama. But everything is so full of light and peace here. I was so scared when I was sick, but now nothing hurts. I can go wherever I want, and there's never any pain, and no one gets mad."
The ghostly figure turned, and Bartido could see that her face did indeed match her voice in terms of age. She floated towards Tobias, her expression growing sad.
"Tobin, please don't be so angry." The o sound in Tobias was a short vowel rather than the long o that was in his name. Apparently that meant something, because he gasped when he said it, before she even finished the rest of her sentence. "I don't like seeing you fight with Mama and Papa. I know you love them and want them to be happy. I wish you could see what it's like here. When I was where you are, I thought lots of things were scary, but now I know it's just an il-lu-sion." She said the last word slowly, like she really was a little girl sounding out a difficult lesson.
"I...I...I can't believe it!" he recoiled. "You can't be Sara. This is some kind of trick!"
He yanked his hands free and lunged for the ghost, no doubt intent on seizing hold of cheesecloth "ectoplasm" or whatever he assumed would be the deceit used. Instead, his hands plunged right through the glowing blue image. He gave a sharp cry of pain as the ghost vanished, falling back into his seat as if thrust into it.
"Guinness!" Dundee cried in alarm. He turned to the young man, rising out of his chair and made a quick examination, holding his ear close to Tobias's slightly parted lips and raising one fallen eyelid with his thumb.
"Is he all right?" Bartido asked.
"No, he isn't, and he won't be unless we can get him to drink this." He fished out a small stone bottle, its stopper covered with red wax, from beneath his robes.
"My God! Tobias!" his father gasped, while Mrs. Guinness just gripped her husband's arm with both hands.
Dundee broke the seal and tugged the stopper free from the vial.
"Ballentyne, hold his head steady."
"Right." Understanding what was to be done, Bartido tipped the young man's head back, holding it with his left hand while using his right hand and his own body to keep Guinness's body from slumping out of the chair. Dundee pried the ill man's mouth open and forced the bottle inside, dumping the contents down his throat.
Whatever the potion was, it worked fast. Dundee came up sputtering and coughing almost at once. Color began to come back into his ashen cheeks as he wheezed for breath.
"What...what happened?" he coughed out when he had regained something of himself.
"You had a very close call, young man," Dundee was stern. "Making physical contact with a ghost can be extremely dangerous. While their Astral forms cannot generally affect the physical world, it is possible for a ghost to expend the magical energies of its vessel to injure a target."
"Vessel—? I don't..."
"What we call a ghost is in fact the soul of a dead person brought back from Purgatory and given an Astral body created from mana to inhabit. It is that mana which is expended in an attack. Since this of course expels the soul back into death, ghosts generally do not do this unless they have a strong grudge or purpose or are commanded to do so by a magician who has summoned them as a familiar."
"Sara couldn't have had had any kind of grudge against Tobias," Mrs. Guinness protested. "She was a sweet child who always loved her older brother!"
"Remember," Madame pointed out, "that he tried to seize her. Doubtlessly he believed that there was some form of trick being practiced, but she could hardly understand that. All she could sense was his hostile, violent intent, and she lashed out in self-defense at her attacks. I yield to Master Dundee's superior knowledge of the technical details, though I strenuously argue with his use of a term like 'Purgatory' to describe the next plane. The world beyond is not a place of cruel punishment, sir. You have heard the child's testimony for yourself. It is peace and enlightenment that await us, not more suffering but its surcease."
"Bah!" The necromancer stamped his cane upon the floor. "Do not seek to debate theology with me, madam; I will have none of it. I am no priest to contest the fine details of matters beyond this world."
"But you should do so. That is the purpose of these explorations, to look beyond the door to the next world and find out for ourselves what lies there, rather than passively accepting the stories that we are told by those who have a strong motive to make us accept their version of things."
"It's lucky that you had that vial with you," Bartido changed the subject. Carstairs had clearly been right, at least about the spiritualists preaching things that ran contrary to conventional religious teachings.
"The majority of necromantic attacks against the physical work by directly attacking the life energy of a living being. I customarily carry a potion to stimulate and restore this vital force in case of accidents during my own research."
"But what of Sara?" the elder Mr. Guinness put in. "If her body was destroyed when Tobias tried to attack her, then has she, too...?" He couldn't quite bring himself to finish the question in words, but his meaning was plain.
"You need have no worries," Madame Prosecco told him. "Her true self, her soul, has suffered no harm other than being made to return prematurely to the next world. Even Master Dundee bore that out in what he said."
"Aye, that's so."
"Then please, Madame, call forth to her again," Mrs. Guinness pleaded.
"Our time with her was so short."
The medium hung her head.
"Alas, I cannot. The circle has been disrupted twice now, and to reestablish it would be more than I believe I can do. Moreover, Sara's spirit has been frightened and it will be difficult to coax her back for some time."
"How long?" the elder Guinness said.
"I cannot say with certainty. The spirits of the departed do not measure time as the living do. They are not tooted to a fixed schedule of days or hours."
"Perhaps if the offending presence is removed, she will feel more comfortable?" he asked, staring at his son.
Madame sighed heavily and shrugged. Her arms seemed heavy, the gesture that of a woman who'd had to expend a great effort.
"I cannot say; it may be so. But that is a question for our next circle. The propitious hour fades, and I am not able to go on." She pressed her fingertips to her right temple. "To have the circle broken while the spirits are present is much more draining then when they are permitted to go on their own."
"I'm sorry," Victoria said.
"Do not be, child; it was only natural. This was your first such encounter, and I think it would take a strong will indeed to stand fast in such a circumstance. As for young Mr. Guinness, while I cannot be as well-disposed towards his actions, they have brought about their own punishment and I see no need to say any more. Domenic, if you would please show our guests out?"
"Of course, my dear." Prosecco rose from his chair. "Ladies, gentlemen, if you would?"
No one made any protest. Tobias wobbled on his feet a bit, still weak from the after-effects of the attack he'd suffered, and no one spoke until they reached the anteroom.
"On behalf of my wife, I must thank you all for your participation in this night's explorations. They have been, I think, a bit less enlightening then we are used to in an intellectual sense, but I do hope they have managed to bring some comfort, at least."
"They have indeed, Mr. Prosecco," Guinness told him. "I only hope this can help in some small way to repay your wife for what my son's recklessness put her through." He handed over a small leather bag whose contents clinked appealingly.
"You are most generous, sir," Prosecco said, though the comment was more formula than based in fact as he didn't count the money or even glance at it before slipping the purse into his coat. Laird passed over a few coins himself and Bartido saw the glint of gold.
"For my sister and my friend; they're m'guests, after all."
"Thank you as well, Mr. Laird."
Bartido's eyebrows went up in feigned surprise.
"There's a fee? I thought this was a learned demonstration, not a stage show."
The elder Guinness turned angry gazes on him, but he didn't shake Prosecco's calm one whit.
"It is customary for those who join us to make a donation, to help defray the costs of our ongoing researches. It is nothing more than that. And, after all, don't you magicians charge fees for your services as wel, when you sell your amulets and philtres?"
"I'd think this sort of thing was a little different than the village hedge-witch, but I suppose you have a point." He considered saying something a bit more cutting, to try and provoke a stronger reaction from the man, but when he saw Victoria shoot him a glance of worry, he let the moment pass.
He wondered, though, how much the "donation" was. At a glance, if Laird's payment was standardized, it appeared to be a sovereign a head, a price that would buy a box for a party of six at the theater, so it was high for an evening's entertainment. Still, it was hardly the kind of money that would drain the income of a well-to-do family beyond bearing, even if the Guinnesses were to come several times per week. No, if there was money changing hands it wasn't just in entrance fees—and the earlier exchanges between Tobias and his parents had pretty well proven that there was indeed money at the root of this.
"Oh, he's different than a hedge-witch, all right," Tobias had picked up for Bartido. "A hedge-witch at least sells honest magic, while these frauds—"
"Boy!" Dundee snapped. "I would hold your tongue, if I were you."
"What, you think being attacked like that is going to make me just kowtow to these people? I'm made of sterner stuff than that, I'll have you know, and their threats—"
This time both his parents' voices rose with Prosecco's in protest of the charge, and even Laird spoke up with a "Here, now, that's going a bit too far!" but it was again Dundee who silenced the voices.
"Excuse me," he said, cutting neatly through the hubbub. He hadn't even had to significantly raise his voice; just like before the clear, concise tone drove through the clamor. "Before you make any further accusations," he said into the sudden silence, "I think you should hear me out. After all, boy, you asked me to come here tonight to observe what I could. Don't you think you should hear what those observations were before you go further?"
"Indeed, Master Dundee, we would all be interested in what you have to say," Prosecco said. This time his aplomb was not what it had been; there was a definite trace of arrogance in his voice.
"Firstly, it is undeniable that what we encountered in the course of the séance tonight were genuine ghosts. There is no question of that; any magician could tell you the same. Ballentyne, there, for example, can easily confirm that."
"That's true enough."
"Second, and more significantly, they were apparently called forth without the use of Necromancy, either by Rune or ritual. I say 'apparently' because there ways around even this that a clever magician could employ—not an accusation, just a statement of fact, Mr. Prosecco, so you can spare us the affronted defense I can see quivering on your lips. That noted, as I said, I did not see any such methods put into effect. I am not aware of whatever force it was that caused the two ghosts to be summoned.
"Thirdly, and most important, we saw those ghosts take on specific forms. There are ways to summon the ghosts of specific persons; it is not common but not impossible. That being said, to do so is among the most difficult tasks in Necromancy, requiring a specially crafted Rune for each such summoning, and generally required to be done in the presence of the spirit's corpse. To do this under these circumstances, not once but twice, and without any trace shown, is something I am convinced would be utterly impossible to do with magic."
"Then you're telling me—?" Tobias said.
"I am. What we witnessed here tonight was a true summoning of the souls of the deceased, and I am at a loss to explain how it was done."
The look of triumph on Domenic Prosecco's face seemed to carry in it all the pride of Lucifer.
Now, now, when it comes to a line like "The look of triumph on Domenic Prosecco's face seemed to carry in it all the pride of Lucifer" I'd normally have thought, "the plot thickens." However, when it comes to Dezo's fics, I just wonder whether it's a red herring
Well, I do have "Penguin" in my pen name, so admittedly I do tend to keep a lot of fish around my fics!
Fuyu no Sora
This is turning out to be quite interesting. I have to admit that I'm curious as to how the Proseccos are summoning the spirits of the dead. One of my theories is mass hypnosis, but it sounds farfetched even for me.
Especially since mass hypnosis wouldn't work to do actual damage to Tobias as was shown.
I'll be looking forward to next chapter, Dezo!
I should actually be finished with writing the next chapter today!
may take quite a bit longer...
Typing is now finished!
won't happen until sometime in the future, but we do what we can!
It was perhaps half past one when Bartido and the Lairds exited the Proseccos' house into the quiet night air. In the country, it would have been the dead of night, but in the capital the evening was still going strong. Even the most respectable balls would commonly last until three in the morning, and the serious rakes would not stagger home from the brothels and gaming hells until dawn was lighting the sky.
The narrow streets of the Thumb, though, were still and quiet, with wisps of river fog beginning to drift through the by-ways, and what sounds there were were muffled by the tangle of high, close-set buildings. A good place, Bartido thought, for the mystery of magic that wasn't magic and the snarl of emotions that made up families.
Dundee's pronouncement had not fallen happily on the ears of the young mad who'd brought him to the séance. Tobias certainly wasn't ready to casually accept that the spiritualists had actual powers to bring back the ghost of his dead sister, and the fact that Dundee's quick action had saved him from serious injury or perhaps worse did not so easily overcome the boy's greater goal.
Bartido didn't blame him, really. He found the idea hard to accept, as well.
"That was...something," he said. "I have to admit, Will, you certainly weren't lying about the experience."
The other man nodded firmly.
"Indeed! You'd never think it, but the things the spiritualists are learning—well! It's a whole new way of seeing the world!"
"I...certainly cannot deny that it was not what I expected," Victoria said.
"I had no idea that kind of thing would happen," her brother assured her. "Really, Vi, I'd never have brought you without preparation had I known." Which seemed to settle the issue of whether he'd planned things in advance.
"No, no, you needn't apologize. It didn't upset me—oh, what am I saying! Of course it upset me, but...not in a
way. I only wish there had been some warning beforehand. I'm not sure one can really prepare for something like that, but...it would have been good to have the chance to try."
"I'm deuced sorry for it; if there'd been anything I could have done..." He shook his head, then straightened. "If you ask me, after all that, we need warmth and conviviality. A glass of something at the Cafe Royal would suit that purpose, I think."
Victoria pursed her lips, thinking, then shook her head.
"I'm sorry, Will, but I don't think that I'm up to it tonight. You should go along without me."
"I can't just leave you to head home alone. T'isn't the thing at all to walk through the fog without an escort."
"Bartido can take me home," she said, then turned to him and said, "Unless you need more gaiety and good cheer than I feel up to providing."
If he took that one way, there was a barb in it, but he didn't think that had been her meaning. And at this point, he felt Victoria had more to offer her inquiry than her brother could provide.
That and she was an attractive young woman who was at least somewhat in need. Some things went beyond goals and missions.
"I'd be honored to see you home, Victoria."
Laird looked at the two of them dubiously for a moment, and Bartido thought that he was about to change his mind about his own plans and go along with the others, but his sister cut him off.
"Go on, Will. I'll be fine, and you know that you were right about yourself. You
need a stiff drink and the company of people who are so focused on being alive that what comes after death is just an afterthought." She made a little shooing motion.
He hesitated a moment longer, then broke into a smile.
"Thanks, Vi. I'll see you at home."
He turned and walked away down the street, his boots clicking off the cobbles with his rapid steps.
"Shall we?" Bartido offered, gesturing down the street. He gave her his arm, and she slipped hers through it.
"They ended up following Laird for the first block, before Victoria indicated with a tug on Bartido's arm that they should turn. The silence lingered for another block after that before she finally spoke.
"I suppose you're wondering why I asked for your escort instead of Will's."
"Well, I thought that either you wanted companionship or you didn't."
"That...seems to cover the possibilities."
"Yes, I suppose it does. What I mean in, you might have wanted me because I'm not your younger brother, and I don't know the story of what happened in your past. Sometimes, it's a lot easier to be around someone who doesn't have a key to your heart."
"It sounds like you know a little something about that."
He smiled easily at her.
"Well, I think every young man knows a little something about being comfortable around someone without emotional intimacy."
"Dolt," she laughed, and shoved him playfully on the shoulder.
"See, you're feeling more comfortable around me already!"
Victoria chuckled with a little shake of her head, as if in disbelief at how silly her escort was being. He wanted a couple of seconds before pressing on.
"The second idea was, if you didn't want my lack of knowledge to be with someone who didn't know the story, then you wanted it so you could tell the tale to someone, go through the whole thing on your terms."
Somewhere nearby a dog barked several times, the sound diffused and spread out through the mist so it wasn't obvious where it had originally come from.
"You're more perceptive than I gave you credit for."
"I don't have any knowledge or opinion, so you can go through whatever parts of it you want to in your own way, and not feel pressed. Plus, since you owe me nothing, you can say exactly what you want to and no more."
He actually wanted to hear more of Victoria's story than just what
wanted to tell; he was interested in learning the whole thing. But he knew better than to come out and say so. This was one of those situations where the resistance would only grow stronger the harder he pushed at it.
Victoria gave him a long, measuring look, as if wondering what his true feelings were.
"I'm sure that you've already guesses part of it."
"Guessing a woman's secrets isn't my place," he lied shamelessly, since that was pretty much exactly what he did personally and professionally alike.
"That's a chivalrous falsehood," she said. "Anyone as comfortable with women as you, Bartido Ballentyne, knows all too much about their secrets. You wouldn't be anything like as godo a flirt if you didn't."
But she was smiling as she said it, and a moment later she began the story.
"There was an unsuitable man, of course. There always is, in stories like mine. I was fifteen at the time, too young and silly to know better." She gave a mocking little laugh. "Listen to me. Here I am, a year shy of being an adult legally and talking like an old lady, with the wisdom of a generation or two's experience."
"Some lessons it only takes once to learn?" Bartido suggested.
"Maybe that's it. In any case, it's one that I learned well enough, the difference between infatuation and love. He was the second groom on our estate, and I thought he was absolutely wonderful: strong, rugged, powerful. He was taciturn with people, but kind and gentle with the horses, and I thought that meant that he was a man whose emotions ran strong and deep. Actually, it meant that he was a simple fellow without a lot to him, but you couldn't have told me that then."
"So you fell for him."
"I made up my mind that he was the one for me, and I was determined to do what I could. He wasn't the type to cast eyes at the daughter of the manor, so I had to resort to cunning. I 'borrowed' the dress of one of the parlormaids who was about my size, and I slipped off to the May-fair dance in the village. I looked for him, I found him, and after a few dances, a few glasses of ale, he did what came naturally with what he thought was just another willing village girl."
A girl's maidenhood wasn't considered as serious a matter among the lower classes in Albion, probably because the question of inheritance didn't enter into the analysis. The choice of yea or nay was left to the young woman's own will, with little thought about how social or religious strictures might come into play. Bartido was honest enough to admit to himself that he'd been happy to learn that pretty Lillet at the Tower was a country peasant by birth for exactly that reason, even though nothing had come of it.
"So your seduction was successful." He wasn't at all surprised at that.
"It was, and honestly, that part of it was everything I'd hoped for, especially since I was under the impression at the time that I was sharing an exalted moment, spiritual and physical love become one, rather than infatuation and lust. Unfortunately, that was the only part that fulfilled my hopes. We fell asleep in each other's arms, with me dreaming of how in the morning I'd reveal my identity and we'd run away together.
"Instead, we woke up, I revealed my identity, and he ran away by himself."
"Was he frightened of the consequences?"
"My father isn't a particularly harsh man by any standard, but under the circumstances a groom with the daughter of the manor, I can see why the risk might not seem worth it. He fled the village that very day, and I haven't heard of him since.
"Of course, my romantic dreams were shattered then, both by his abandonment but also because he obviously didn't feel for me what I did for him. And, of course, in those days I was painfully naïve about the sort of precautions a girl can take to prevent herself from catching a babe out of a coupling. It only takes once, after all. Perhaps it's a bit ironic, as I've heard that May-fair started as a pagan fertility rite that was stripped of any explicit religious content."
"I've heard that, too. Though I don't think there's anything to it, I mean, that there isn't some ritual Glamour being unknowingly performed that magically increases the chance of pregnancy."
Although now that he thought about it, he wondered if there might be some truth in the idea that such "natural" magic might in fact be involved, increasing fertility or perhaps just heightening sexual desire (which itself would already be enhanced by revel and alcohol). It was really a question for an expert in Glamour, though.
He managed to suppress a chuckle at the thought of asking Professor Gammel about such an idea. Victoria would not have taken it the right way at all.
"Oh. Do you know, I hadn't even thought of that."
"When I was studying at the Silver Star Tower, one of my professors talked about how some pagan rites are really magical rituals. Superstitious people got the supernatural effects confused with miracles—I figure that's easier, too, when your gods aren't supposed to be all-powerful—and adopted them into their worship." He grinned and added, "Our priests aren't the only ones who get the wrong ideas about magic, sometimes."
"That's interesting," she said, before lapsing into silence once more. It was no surprise, since this was likely the part of the story that caused her the most upset. Bartido was weighing whether or not to prompt her when she spoke up on her own.
"I sometimes wonder...if it was my fault."
This time, he was sure it wasn't his place to speak.
"If he hadn't abandoned me, I'm sure I would have wanted the child. It would have been the proof of our love, part of the romantic fantasy—which I'm sure tells you that I was in no way ready to be a mother. But in the aftermath of what actually happened, that dream wasn't there to cloud my head. I was terrified; I'd just gotten used to the idea that my infatuation only was that, and had started to think about my future again, and suddenly there was this. I was afraid of the future, I was selfish and resentful, I thought of the coming child as nothing but a curse."
"You didn't—?" He struggled with finding a way to say this delicately. As it turned out, he didn't need to. Victoria understood him well enough.
"Try to lose the baby?" She shook her head. "No, I didn't. Honestly, I'm not sure I would have even known where to begin. But more than once I prayed for it. I'd go to sleep begging God that when I woke up in the morning it would all be a bad dream. Of course that never happened."
She led them down another turn, one that led to one of the numerous bridges that crossed the Avalon. Though they were emerging from the narrow streets of the Thumb, the fog was still everywhere, a soft gray blanked that concealed the city's shadows. There might have been a dozen other people crossing the bridge or lurking in its nooks and crannies, but they were no more than faint ghosts in the midst.
"My parents had made arrangements for the baby. Once it was born, it was going to be adopted by a couple in exchange for a fee, all very quietly and discreetly. Only, when the day came, there was no need for that. The labor was difficult and the child was stillborn.. When they told me, I just seemed to fall apart. I mean...I know that God doesn't answer those kind of prayers but I couldn't help but feel guilty, as if my wishes had somehow brought it about."
She let out a deep sigh.
"I don't even know if it would have been a boy or a girl. When the midwife told me that the baby had been born dead, I fainted from the shock. My parents...they simply didn't care, so only the midwife ever knew."
Victoria let a long moment pass by before she turned her head to look at her escort directly.
"Do you think it's strange, Bartido? That I could be so comforted by a vision of an unborn child's spirit?"
"I don't think so. Powerful feelings call for endings, after all. You want to see things properly finished."
"For the first time, I can really stand here and say, 'it's over.' I was so happy to know that my baby was all right in the next world, it was as if a huge weight had lifted off me."
"If you don't mind me pointing it out," Bartido said, "you don't seem as happy ever since we left the Proseccos' house."
On the river below them, they could just make out through the fog the prow light of a small boat as it emerged from beneath the bridge.
"Partly, I think it's just the aftershock of such a strong feeling. It has an effect, after all."
They walked on for a bit.
"You said 'partly,' though?"
"It was that young man, Tobias Guinness, and what happened to him. How odd, coem to think of it, that I called him 'young.' I mean, he must be nearly a decade older than I am, and yet he feels almost Will's age in my mind."
"He isn't the most mature fellow. Though these circumstances don't show him at his best, I'm sure," Bartido allowed.
"I guess so. Anyway, when the first ghost was called, it all seemed so pure and simple: we sent out our call and the spirit of my baby was drawn to me, to offer the comfort it could sense that I needed. But with the Guinnesses, there were arguments, violence...Tobias could have
. Then there was Master Dundee, making his pronouncements like he did."
"But he actually seemed to be supporting the Proseccos, even though Tobias called on him to expose them as frauds."
"I know. It's...okay, this is going to sound silly, but it's not what the answers are, but the fact that questions are being asked at all."
She smiled ruefully at him.
"I thought it sounded strange. It's a feeling like...once when I was visiting the Royal Gallery, I was enjoying a painting, a recently discovered lost masterpiece, when the man next to me stated talking about how the painting was a forgery. One of the museum staff overheard, and immediately leapt to counter the accusation. An argument started, and it quickly became obvious that the claim the painting was forged was just a rumor, one of those silly 'secret truth' stories lots of people like, chock full of nonsense. But it still ruined my enjoyment of the painting, because I couldn't help but think of the argument when I looked at it.
"The séance was a lot like that."
"I think I get it now."
"And it's worse, because we
know, not for sure. Everything felt so right and perfect while it was happening, but now I don't know what to make of it all. Was that really the ghost of my baby, come to tell me that I have nothing to feel guilty for? Or were the real ghosts the ones in my memory?"
"Does it really matter?"
Victoria stopped in her tracks.
He held up his hands quickly, seeing the flare of temper coming and not wanting to be caught in the blast. She'd been cool and introspective during the walk, but apparently she also lived up to her hair color.
"I just mean, well, it's not really a question of what happened to the unborn child's spirit. Its fate is whatever was decreed by God. I can't answer that question, and neither you nor I have any control over it—or
have any control over it. Whatever was going on in your head at the time, it had nothing to do with the baby being stillborn. That's just a tragedy. You knew that in your head—but for one brief moment in there, you knew it in your heart as well. Only then you got confused by all the fighting and arguing as to what was important."
"Look, I don't know if that was your baby's spirit or not. Hell, Master Dundee couldn't figure that out and he's a lot better at this than I am. It would be nice if it were true, but what you need to carry with you is what you realized about yourself. Now that you've felt it, I don't think it'll be that hard for you to get it back."
She looked at him for a long moment, then broke into a wide smile.
"Maybe you're right, at that. And it isn't like I've been tormenting myself for years over it all; it's more something that comes up now and again when I see or hear something that reminds me of what happened. So maybe now I can properly put it to rest."
"Not as something to forget," he said, "but as a clean memory, instead of something that haunts."
She quirked an eyebrow at him.
"Really, Bartido? 'Haunts,' you said?"
"Sorry; I didn't mean to make a pun."
Victoria gave him a quick little grin.
"All right, I'll let you off the hook this time. You know, you surprise me, Bartido Ballentyne."
"I do?" He didn't know what she was about to say, but he knew that regardless of the actual words, it was always a good thing when an attractive woman looked at him with that kind of cunning, playful little grin.
"When Will introduced us, I took you for someone shallow, a bored young gentleman with an eye for a pretty face."
"Well, since I'm here with you right now, the evidence suggests you were right about that last part."
And given how I was feeling before Carstairs asked for my help, she's not far off on "bored," either.
"Your flattery's pointless; I'm already trying to compliment you."
He returned her grin.
"Oh, well, in that case go right ahead."
"And now we see
I thought the way I did. But you're actually a really good listener. You saw right to the heart of what was bothering me."
"I only wish I could understand any of the rest of this spiritualism business. There's just too many questions."
"The charming Madame isn't so easy to read as I am, then?"
"It'd take a better imagination than I've got to picture her trusting me with any of her secrets the way you did. Nor do I think there's any chance that if I knew any of those secrets, I'd think they were anywhere near as clean and innocent as yours."
Of course, editing won't happen until sometime in the future, but we do what we can!
I can help with that!
"They ended up following
"I'm sure that you've already guesses part of it."
Should be guessed.
You wouldn't be anything like as godo a flirt if you didn't."
I have literally no idea how this is read. At all.
Though I don't think there's anything to it, I mean,
there isn't some ritual Glamour being unknowingly performed that magically increases the chance of pregnancy."
Lost that 'that' it'll flow better.
coem to think of it
Also, loving this.
Firstly, as you can see, the story has a title now...ehhh, probably a bit uninspired, but what can you do.
Also, here's the first posted chapter, for the curious.
You've probably noticed that the timeline keeps evolving for the characters. For example, the first sweep through, Sara was actually Tobias's
sister. But when I got to chapter four, I thought up the "Tobin" bit (which gets explained in either 6 or 7, depending on how long the next few scenes get to be), and then that flipped things rather dramatically around. I made a few alterations throughout, but you'll note that Toby's gained about ten years of age (he originally
supposed to be about Bartido, Will, and Victoria's age, but he's now around 28...I've made some corrections to the "final" version of Chapter 3 with the description and one place where it originally said that Sara's death was over forty years ago I've altered it to almost twenty. *sigh* Honestly, it would work better if Tobias was in his mid-thirties now, but that would require a ton of editing, to clean up the "young man" references. Not sure if I'll do that, now that I'm on a posting schedule.
With regard to the edits, laith, I appreciate the catch of typos! I've corrected "guessed," "good," and "come"...three fewer ones that I have to find on my own.
I also got rid of the quotation mark (that took me a bit to realize what you were pointing out...I thought at first you'd meant "comma," but there isn't one, and then I Googled "comilla" and all I found was a city in Bangladesh.
"You wouldn't be anything like as good a flirt if you didn't" is just a slightly archaic way of saying "You wouldn't be nearly as good at flirting." A little verisimilitude in the diction for the setting, that's all.
(Getting rid of the "that" in the fourth example changes the meaning of the sentence, though. With the "that" in place, the explanation of the ritual is Bartido describing what he meant by "there isn't anything to it," while without the "that" it turns into a positive statement by him that the May-fair dance definitely
a Glamour ritual.)
that took me a bit to realize what you were pointing out
I confused spanish with english again. Sorry about that, I was sleepy.
Fuyu no Sora
LOL! It's telling that I actually understood what Laith meant with "comilla", huh?
I'm glad you started posting this to FF.net, Dezo.
I shall be reviewing it shortly, but I'm up late because of some technical difficulties in sorting out/backing up/saving files (I am now paranoid about losing my files thanks to having had my last three laptops have so many issues with this-or-that part that they replace the hard drive or something without me having had the chance to save what I wanted because I wasn't expecting to
everything on a simple checkup!) and not quite awake enough to do so now.
...As a typical American (with fluency only in my native language...okay, cynics might argue that the typical American
in their native language, so I may still be ahead of the curve...), I'm just impressed by people who know multiple languages to get confused among when they're sleepy!
There is a reason I always keep a hardcopy of my stories; there's nothing worse than losing all that hard work! I definitely would recommend at least a flash drive or some other external storage for a backup, Sora.
Fuyu no Sora
You're definitely ahead of the curve! The state of language in certain parts of the world is
And getting confused while sleepy is not the only one. The 'curse' of knowing multiple languages is that your brain has a tendency to reach for the closest one available when you don't remember a word...so, for instance, my sister and I will be talking in English (our default) but then we don't remember a word and instead say it in, say, French. Then we continue talking and we don't remember the word in French
English and we switch to Spanish...and thus you get a conversation that most people wouldn't be able to follow simply because of the lovely random switcheroo at the most unexpected of times.
*sigh* A hard-learned lesson. I now back-up
(including my internet bookmarks) in an external 1 tera hard drive that I got as a Christmas present for and from myself last year.
Oh, that's interesting! Sometimes the same thing happens to me in the languages that I
speak fluently; that is to say, I'll be thinking of a sentence in French, and I'll drop a Japanese word into the middle of it for no apparent reason. Maybe the phenomenon only happens among languages that are understood of more-or-less equal level?
(You default to English rather than Spanish among yourselves? Is that because you've been living in Canada since you were 10 and therefore favor the language that's spoken more common locally*?)
*Of course, French would be even more common locally, but I know that's your third** language and therefore wouldn't be likely to be the default.
**I'm still amazed by you multi-lingual people and your talents.
Fuyu no Sora
I honestly don't know. Maybe so. I just know that it's something that happens
often with us, so it's pretty much a standard part of our conversations, heh.
(With my siblings, yes. I have absolutely no idea how it ended up being so, but it just feels natural to speak to both of them in English. On the other hand, I default to Spanish with my parents. Funnily enough, I've quite a good vocabulary in Spanish in spite of not practicing it much, nor really reading it.)
Pah! While I originally liked French well enough, being around these people has ruined my ears. To hear
French is music to my poor mind, because these people speak like
So no, not really into the French, mainly because it's a reminder of what these people's mangling of the language they dare to call French.
*blush* Thanks for the compliments.
And actually on-topic: I finally came around to reviewing chapter 1 in FF.net! Yay, me!
New chapter posted.
I got right on that since I've been awake for less than fifteen minutes now! I'm determined to get more sleep this week, and I started this morning.
I'm guessing the Quebecois dialect is not to your liking, then, Sora?
Have another chapter. TAKE IT, I TELL YOU!
Bartido saw Victoria as far as the other side of the bridge, where they were able to find a hired carriage still on the prowl for gentlemen and ladies who'd been out and about in search of one or more of drink, gambling, or sex, the usual pastimes of the well-to-do and bored.
It was on the tip of his tongue to invite her on to some more conventional entertainment for themselves; she was pretty, personable, and sharing the story of her past had helped bring them closer. He had a feeling that she, too, was on the verge of the same, of reversing their course to join her brother and their friends at Cafe Royal or the like. But if he was right, she let the moment pass, and so did he.
After all, this was work, and spending time out on the town with Victoria Laird wasn't exactly the kind of thing Carstairs was asking him to do.
So after dropping Victoria off at her home with a goodnight bow and kiss on the back of her hand which won a giggle from the lady, Bartido turned his course to somewhere that was not exactly in his usual style.
"Driver, St. Helena's church, in Eastbank."
"Pretty girl like that, whatever sins you've got to confess, I bet they were worth it," the driver joked.
"I only wish," Bartido laughed, "but worse the luck, I'm only going there to talk to a friend."
The jarvey, it seemed, was a philosophical man.
"Well, some days is like that."
"That they are."
Getting into the church wasn't a problem, as the sanctuary was kept open all hours for the benefit of the faithful in need. St. Helena's being a well-to-do parish, they even kept a watch in case material greed should outweigh the fear of spiritual retribution for some lightfingered supplicant.
Fetching Michael Carstairs out of bed was also one of the porter's duties.
"Is this absolutely necessary, Bartido? You don't particularly look like a man currently having some kind of spiritual crisis right now that desperately needs me in my official function."
Carstairs looked like a man who'd just been roused from bed ought to look: tousled hair, red-rimmed eyes still bleary with the last vestiges of sleep, robe and collar slightly askew as if they'd been hastily thrown on over whatever he was sleeping in, which they probably were. Priestly vestments weren't only the appropriate garb for his official duties, but also faster to toss on than ordinary clothes.
He pinched the bridge of his nose, looking very much like a man longing for the old days, when warrior monks were sent out by the Church and encouraged to vent their righteous wrath on any magician they encountered.
"Still, I assume that whatever it is is important and can't wait until morning?"
"It's reasonably important and while it could wait until morning without hurting anyone it would be inconvenient and delay the next steps of my investigation until tomorrow afternoon."
"I suppose there's a point there."
"Really, Michael, it isn't that late. Even a priest shouldn't be keeping country hours in town."
"He should when his duties are at eight in the morning. We can't all be magicians, poring over ancient grimoires until the dawn, then not rising until afternoon." Carstairs stopped suddenly, then blinked. "No, that doesn't work as a comeback; I literally cannot imagine you in that scene."
"I'll choose to take that as a compliment, though it probably wasn't one."
Carstairs gestured towards the nearest pew.
"Let's sit down, then, and you can tell me what you need."
"The first thing you need to know," Bartido said as he sat down, "if that there's definitely more going on than just carnival tricks and snake oil. I attended a séance tonight, held by one of the most popular of the mediums, Addeline Prosecco. There were real ghosts that appeared, not just some trick."
"So magic is involved, then. I'm glad that I asked for your help."
"Magic? Well, there's the question." He gave Carstairs a quick narration of what had happened at the séance, his friend looking thoughtful and a little worried.
"Nathan Dundee...I've heard of him. They say the Crown even calls on him now and again."
"Right, and he went a long way towards verifying that what we saw was really what it looked like. Frankly, he went farther than I would have; if he'd said any more it would have come out sounding like an official endorsement of the Proseccos and their methods, which I just don't get at all. Of course, the kid was just stupid, so maybe he was just slapping him down the way he would to an apprentice who'd embarrassed him in public or stepped on his toes some other way." He paused. "Victoria's right. There I go, calling Tobias Guinness a kid even though he's got to be about a decade older than me."
"That is interesting that he should strike you that way."
"Yeah, he just doesn't come off well. But even if he's not the most prepossessing guy—or even if he actually
just a greedy slug who doesn't want to have to work a day in his life—it doesn't mean that he's wrong. But Master Dundee wasn't wrong either. Those were real ghosts, and I have no idea how they were summoned."
"So what does that mean? If the spiritualists can do this kind of thing, it challenges our afterlife theology directly. The fact that they called the ghosts is one thing, but what the second one, the little girl's ghost actually
is another matter altogether. Only the will of God can let a soul return from Heaven—or be freed from Hell—while magic is capable of reaching just those souls in Purgatory."
Bartido drummed his fingers on the hard back of the pew.
"I'm more interested in the technical details than the spiritual, honestly. But then, I'm an alchemist by trade, and Alchemy deals with the rules that run this world, not the next."
"Bartido..." Carstairs chided.
"Sorry, Michael, I didn't mean to be flippant. Well, only a little bit flippant."
"Joke if you like, but this is a serious matter for me."
"I understand that. And I'll be frank, while I don't like everything that comes out
the mouths of your fellow churchmen, I think that replacing a sound spirituality with mindless groping doesn't work well for anyone."
"It's more than that. It's classic when you study the histories of the more notable heresies. It begins by spreading doubt, sometimes caused by natural chaos—war, famine, pestilence, whatever upheavals make people fear that God could never allow such a state of affairs if He actually existed, either at all or just in the way that the Church teaches. Or if that doubt does not already exist, they work to create it, as these Proseccos seem to be doing. Then, they sell their answer. The coin changes, be it money, power, or just the narcissist's pleasure at being bowed to, but it's all the same in the end. These Proseccos are just another example."
Privately, Bartido's sympathies weren't always against the heretics. Ongoing theological debates over various points, the Low Church/High Church split among the clergy of the kingdom he'd just left behind, scandals when the princes of the Church had gotten too involved playing princes of the earth, they all showed how human nature, human feelings, kept the purity of God's message clouded by cultural biases and personal interest.
He didn't mention any of that, though. Carstairs was obviously sincere, and his point wasn't the supremacy of the Church, but the opportunists and predators that attacked it.
Some spiritualists might be sincere, too. Certainly, the Guinnesses and Laird were genuine in their belief, and people like that might well do exactly what the Proseccos claimed, experiementing to see what they could learn of the world beyond death.
Hell, more power to 'em.
But the Proseccos themselves, no. He didn't trust them, didn't believe in their sincerity. To Bartido, it felt like an act. Their roles were too pat, their manner too unshakeable. They weren't devotees, not even fanatics. They were peddlers, selling their breed of theology.
"Well, one thing I do know is that if we can't figure out how they're doing it, they're just going to keep gaining adherents and draw people to the movement."
"It must be Necromancy," Carstairs declared. "If the ghosts are real, and between you and Master Dundee I can't see a mistake there, then there has to be some magic bringing them into the room."
"That's the point I keep getting stuck on. I have to figure out the mechanism." He paused, then skipped over a few links in his chain of thought to ask, "Are the Guinnesses members of your parish?"
"Yes, they are. Why do you ask?"
"They fit with the kind of people you described, and you'd mentioned that was how you'd found out about the spiritualists in the first place."
Carstairs shook his head. Obviously, he'd been brought fully awake, his mind functioning clearly now as his question showed.
"Sorry, I didn't mean it in the sense of 'how do you know?' but 'why is it important?'"
"I was hoping you might know some background about them, their some and this Sara."
"Is that important?"
"It might be. I keep coming around to the biggest problem I have with this scenario, the one thing that I can't follow."
"I can make a guess as to how they summon the ghosts, if they're using Necromancy. I mean, yeah, I didn't actually see anything, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Like...maybe there's a necromancer in the cellar under the séance room and he or she summons the ghosts there, then has them float up through the floor under the table, then up through the table." Even as he said it, though, he realized he was on the wrong track—the ghosts had materialized above the table, not up through it. "The point is, with a little creativity I can come up with possible scenarios that
be what happened. A cunning person could find a way.
"But what I can't get past is that they somehow were able to summon up specific spirits. That's Witch of Endor stuff." He grinned and added, "Ms. Opalneria said that a lot of priests think she actually summoned a demon in that story, not the prophet's spirit, and that it's the more likely explanation from a magical standpoint."
"I've heard something of that debate in the seminary. A number of commentators on those passages in the Scriptures believe the Witch of Endor was indeed a sorceress, though their arguments generally focus on the spiritual aspect, not the magical. Others suggest it truly was the prophet, and his appearance was a true miracle, not the witch's work."
"Good to see you put those years of study to good use. Though I suppose a seminary isn't much like a secular university as far as spending your days chasing wine, women, and song."
"Hence the reason you never attended?"
"A palpable hit! Seriously, though, I was hoping to solve that problem bu seeing what I could learn of their story. One baby looks much like another, especially under the right circumstances, but the girl was different. And unlike in Scripture, she was definitely a ghost, not a devil in disguise, which is the value of having a couple of magicians as witnesses."
"I see what you mean."
"So...can you give me any help?"
"I'm not sure, but I'll try. The family is gentry, no title themselves but a branch family of House Exbridge. There have been a couple of knights, a minister or two in the family tree. Mrs. Guinness's father was in trade, a shipping nabob."
It was a typical combination, new money and old blood, although the pair of them had apparently built affection between each other to judge by their mannerisms.
"They had two children, a son, Tobias, and a daughter, Sara, who was a year younger than her brother. You'll note that their eldest is a bit young compared to his parents; it's rumored that they tried for a number of years to have a child and had almost come to believe that it would be impossible for them. Thus, they treated their children as treasures and were very doting parents."
"A bit too doting, to judge by the son."
"He has a reputation as a dilettante," Carstairs agreed. "Though that's hardly different from most eldest children of wealthy families, whose 'work' is to be the heir, to learn to manage the estates and holdings. Look at our own families."
"You have a point. Most eldest sons are judged by their hobbies: sportsman, scholar, artist, man-about-town, gamester, rake... So what's Tobias Guinness?"
"As I said, a dilettante. He is not known to excel in any particular area, nor overindulge in any particular vice. In a novel, he would be one of the hero's two or three friends that he spends time with between adventures."
Carstairs shook his head.
"I don't know many details. Apparently it was a tragic carriage accident over two decades ago."
"Before either of us were born. Were her legs crushed by the wheels?"
"What? I'm afraid that I haven't any idea, truly. What put that notion into your mind?"
"The ghost's appearance. Her legs sort of trailed off into nothing." He shrugged. "It probably isn't important. But that's all it was, then, just a tragic accident?"
"Isn't that enough?"
"Probably. The ghost didn't return on her own for revenge, after all. But getting back to Tobin—"
"Tobias," Carstairs corrected, then flashed Bartido a grin. "Which one of us was it that just got out of bed?"
"Well, you're better rested than I am, then, so you
have a clearer head. This time, though, I said it on purpose."
"The ghost called him 'Tobin' and it seemed to mean something to him. I didn't know if that was a well-known nickname or not. Apparently it isn't, if you don't get a casual reference to it."
Carstairs nodded firmly.
"I've certainly never heard it before when anyone's talking about him. And it isn't a natural nickname for Tobias. Toby, certainly, but not Tobin. Especially not with the change in how you pronounce it."
"I agree. It's starting to look like 'proof,' the kind you get with any good con—or any good reality, for that matter."
"How did you learn so much about con games anyway, Bartido?"
"You'd be surprised what they teach you at the Foreign Office."
That was actually the plain truth. The tactics of the confidence game and of the spy were not too different, even though in one case the end was money and the other information. It was all about winning the confidence—hence the name—of the mark, controlling their perception so that they did not know what was intended. It wasn't just about successfully hiding, but about making sure that they didn't know even to look in the right place.
Bartido wondered how that applied to what the Proseccos were doing. If the ghosts had been
, then it would be their aim to keep people focused on the question of how can they conjure the spirits of the dead instead of the plain fact that they couldn't. But the ghosts were real; there was no getting around it.
So the question was, where did the con lay? Where was he not supposed to be looking? And was he smart enough to see through whatever traps had been laid? There was one type of con where the mark was expected to assume that he or she was being tricked, and the true scam lay in what trick was being played like a thief getting the homeroom to post guards all around the strongbox while he was busy stealing a bottle of rare wine from the cellar. The Proseccos would have to know that they would be suspected by people like Carstairs, Tobias, and Dundee. It made sense that they'd want to control their perceptions as well, not just those of the credulous.
"Unfortunately," he said aloud, "it doesn't seem to be giving me any quick answers."
"But you think the backgrounds of these people matter?"
"At least, they'll help me figure out where to look. Does Tobias Guinness live with his family?"
"I don't think so. At least, he doesn't attend services with them. I've met the parents directly, but only seen him once or twice, and never talked with him. He's only a topic of rumors and gossip here because of his parents."
"So he's probably got his own rooms. It's too bad there's no public directory of addresses, but he shouldn't be too hard to run down. And in a worst case, I can ask Master Dundee.
I can find easily enough."
"I do know where the Guinnesses live, if that's of any use: The Willows, in Rathen Court."
"Thanks; it might be useful." He had no immediate plan to talk with the older couple, but it never hurt to have the information ready to hand if he needed it.
"Now, then, while I appreciate the update and I'm glad that I could be of use, I'd like to point out that the hour is growing late even by Town standards, and I have duties in the morning...as, I believe, do you."
"That's true enough. I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to be a busy day." He let out a loud yawn, then was struck by where he was. "Funny; most of the time it's the sermon that makes me sleepy in church."
"If you want to keep making jokes about it, I could always have you listen to my draft of this week's."
"That's all right; I think I can fall asleep on my own tonight. I'd say that I'll probably sleep like the dead, except that lately that doesn't seem like that means very much."
Incidentally, the debates over the Biblical story of how Saul had the Witch of Endor summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel that Bartido and Michael discuss are actually ones raised by real-world Biblical commentators, though without the reality of magic.
TAKE IT, I TELL YOU
BUT WHAT IF IT DOESN'T FIT ME?
Grammatical stuff that Dezo missed this week.
if that there's definitely more going on than just carnival tricks and snake oil.
is, instead of if.
He didn't trust them, didn't believe in their sincerity
Actually, this is personal opinion but I think this sounds awkward. "He didn't trust them, nor did he believe in their sincerity" makes it flow better? For me at least.
I was hoping to solve that problem
seeing what I could learn
Missing a t there.
Incidentally, I really like the banter here, since it feels of colleagues/friends/acquaintances that respect each other while having taken different paths.
Fuyu no Sora
Hmm, I like Bartido's line of speculation. Certainly knowing more about the Guinness' family background would come in handy. I also wonder, much like our protagonist, how exactly are the Proseccos doing this. I chuckled when I saw that Bartido didn't trust them; his instincts are sharp. His banter with Michael was also pretty funny.
All in all, a wonderful chapter once again, dear Dezo. Looking forward to the next one.
Well, the Proseccos do seem quite shifty, but so do most business people :P
Also, I like that Bartido keeps business and pleasure (mostly) separate. James Bond has much to learn from Bartido about professionalism XD
And have I told you how thirsty GrimGrimoire fics make me?? Wines and spirits (no pun intended) everywhere!!! >.<
It is kind of interesting, when you think about it, how the exact same skill set that makes one successful and admired as a tough, savvy legitimate businessman is the one that makes you a sleazy crook, if your business isn't so legitimate. Or at the exact same time, if you happen to be in sales and marketing.
chapter 3 now posted.
Pad my hit count! PAD IT, I SAY!
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