She brings me a new bunny. A completely new, and utterly weird Spander bunny. HELP.
So, ladies and gents, I present to you the bunny that ate my brain at one o'clock in the morning. It wouldn't shut up until I at least finished a chapter.
*whimpers* I don't need another WIP....
However, I would be ever so grateful if you would take the time to read my story and-- if the spirit moves you-- comment. In fact, I'll love you forever. I do hope you enjoy.
"Though the future is there
for anyone to change,
Still, you know it seems,
It would be easier sometimes,
to change the past."
-"Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate", by Jackson Browne
Just As Far to Go Back 1/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
By the time they met at the Hartford's Christmas party, in the winter of 1879, events had already been set into motion that could no longer be stopped by human hands.
Four young men, just returned from their formal education at Oxford and Cambridge, standing stiff-backed in an alcove off the main hall. Wreaths and garlands glistened with the warm, crystalline light of the chandeliers, each polished panel of the corridor's dark wood lining captured murky, watercolor reflections of the partygoers as they drifted through the common rooms, dancing, laughing, passing politely from hand to hand. And, at the far end of the long, crimson oriental rug, Richard Hartford, Calvin Ward, Samuel Travers, and Daniel Rayne gathered to finalize their plans.
"Next time someone *else* will have to fetch the supplies," Ward insisted, having only just shrugged off his coat. He barely waited for the Hartford's young, blandly blonde maid to disappear around the corner before he spoke, his hissing whisper that of a perpetually nervous man.
"You did get it, then, I assume?" Richard Hartford asked from his position furthest back in the shadows. So dark was his hair that it seemed, in places, indistinguishable from the gloom, but his narrow green eyes caught and held what light there was.
"I got it." Reaching into pocket of his red his waistcoat, Calvin's thin, shaking hands withdrew a lacquered black box. He did little to disguise his nerves as he handed it to his friend.
"Good show, old man," Daniel Rayne put in, a smirk animating his narrow, foxish face. "You've a backbone after all." Ward didn't bother to reply-- instead, his pale eyes remained fixed on the box he had so painstakingly procured. Richard caressed the lid lovingly, fingers unconsciously tracing the delicate design of inlaid gold. The detail was exquisite-- two dragons, each scale a tiny masterful touch, devouring each other's tails.
"Open it, Richard. Don't keep us waiting," Travers instructed, hands in his pockets to restrain them from for reaching out on their own.
"Of course," Richard's smile was dry, almost knowing, as he lifted the lid and reached inside. "The opium is here..." he said in a hushed, somehow businesslike tone. "As well as..." he withdrew a small, sapphire vial, holding it up for his companions to see, "our more... exotic ingredient." His lips twitched as he replaced the vial, snapping the lid decisively closed, fingers resuming their tracery.
"I left the pipe at home, hidden," Ward explained, "it was too large-- I dared not bring it tonight."
"We'll have no need of it, yet," Travers intoned, more a statement of fact than any attempt to soothe the nervous young man.
"I just hope the staff doesn't find it," Ward went on without taking a breath, "how I'd explain to Mother, I'll never know. As it is--" he wagged a boney finger in the direction of Daniel Rayne, "--_you_ can go, next time. That place is too bloody close to White Chapel. God, what if someone saw me? Mother would think I'm seeing a prostitute!"
"Say that a little louder, why don't you?" Rayne rolled his eyes, stance unimpressed. "I have no compunction against going. Besides, Cal-- isn't the assumption of a trollop better than if any of our God-fearing families knew the truth?" His lips parted, revealing twin rows of straight teeth.
Ward sighed, adding, almost petulantly, "I just don't like that place."
"Ozoris Street?" Richard raised a single raven eyebrow. "I should imagine not. It doesn't exist."
"Pah!" Travers pushed at his glasses. Behind them, his gray eyes-- perhaps the only feature in his rounded, bland form that was of any remark-- took on a zealous light. "This isn't magic-- it's merely phenomenon that we do not understand. Science can explain all--"
"It is _magic_," Richard insisted, "though it doesn't matter to me if you continue your attempts to rationalize it, Samuel. The point is, it's something we can harness. Something that can be made to serve our needs."
"You speak as if everything is in place. We still need a fifth!" Ward interrupted Richard's almost dreamy monologue, only to be harshly quieted by his friends.
"Keep it down, you insipid fool!" Travers scolded, eyes darting out towards the foyer and it's congregation of partygoers. Richard's gaze followed the same path, alighting on his sister, who stood amidst a cluster of admiring lady-friends, honey-brown curls tumbling down to rest against her sky-blue, satin clad bosom. She was already looking at him, her eyes-- such a perfect, emerald mirror of his own-- narrowed in a suspicion that made her look catlike.
"Cecily's just over there," Richard said quietly, "and she already suspects something. Really, Cal, can you calm down for at least five minutes?"
"Give him some brandy," Rayne said, offhandedly. "He can't act more a simpleton, that's for sure." Ward shrunk back, this time shooting Daniel what was, for Calvin Ward, a venomous glance.
"Oh, we'll have our fifth to complete the pentacle, rest assured." Richard's smile faded for a moment, "Assuming you haven't set my sister on our trail."
"Like a bloodhound, that one." Traver's plump face too on a light of plain interest, "You _have_ found a fifth? Someone to join out merry little band?" The last was sardonic, thick with tone of one who knows he's about to be guilty, and cares not.
Richard laughed, "I have, indeed." In an intense whisper, he moved his hand towards the corner of the foyer opposite his sister. "Observe--!"
Obedient eyes followed, following the smooth line where gilded walls met, down to the young man perched in one of the Hartford's antique chairs. His form was bent studiously over a handful of loose papers; one slim, elegant hand griping a pen as the skilled warrior might wield a sword-- with a dedication boarding on intimacy. Blonde curls fell in his face, dangling just above the conservative silver frames of his glasses. When he batted at them, looking up for just a moment, the candlelight showed his chiseled, almost angelic face to be blessed with a pair of blue, blue eyes.
"William BRENDEN?" Travers almost squeaked in his indigence. "You want to ask William the Bloody Awful Poet to join our blasphemous circle?" He rounded on Richard, "Have you gone quite mad?"
"My facilities are intact, Travers," Richard remarked dryly. He's the perfect candidate. Think about it..."
"All _I_ can think is that the man's so soppy, he leaves a trail," Daniel put in. "I can't see the use of him at all."
"He--" Ward began, but Richard was already loosing his patience.
"_Think_ about it," he repeated, annoyed. "I know he's a sop, but the poor fellow fancies himself in love with my sister--"
"Proof enough that he's got toys in the attic, you ask me," said Rayne.
Hartford snorted, "He can't see past her good looks. Underneath that comeliness is a fetid, rotten heart and the spirit of a particularly violent shrew."
"Careful, there," Travers tone was amused, "you almost described yourself, my good man."
"I know the greed that moves my heart," Richard said, almost philosophically, "I accept my nature, embrace it." He cleared his throat. "William's infatuation with Cecily will be useful. How could he refuse, when a friendship with me would only get him closer to his 'fair blossom'?" Chuckles washed over Richard from the other men, answering his own. "He's the perfect dupe for our trial run. Unless, of course, any of _you_ would like to go first?" He paused only long enough to let the silence truly settle. "If his mind breaks under the strain..."
"Then madness from him would certainly not be surprising to most people." Daniel studied his dark friend, thumb stroking his own narrow chin. "You are most brilliant, my good man."
"I think he's a weak pandering little sod," Travers muttered, "but you're right. I'll second that motion." Three gazes settled on the quiet Ward, who shrunk further under his friends' scrutiny.
Very quietly, he murmured, "Alright."
"Richard!" a feminine voice declared, tones dipping easily into a vaguely disapproving alto. "There you are! What _are_ you four over here discussing?" Cecily Hartford swept past a bewildered Calvin Ward, skirts swaying as she stopped just short of her elder brother's toes. Behind her, several other young women trailed, looking for all the world like a queen's faithful retainers. "You've been in conference all night," Cecily continued, tapped her ivory hand against one satin-covered palm, "it's very rude, you know. We've scare more men than women, and my friends and I would like to dance."
"My apologies, dear sister," Richard said smoothly, with the air of one long accustomed to accepting undesirable tasks. "We were discussing politics-- a topic best left for times when we do not have such lovely female company." He flicked a suddenly friendly gaze over Cecily's followers.
The woman herself twisted the left corner of her mouth down briefly, before replying, "Of course. You will remedy this?"
"I would love to take a turn," Daniel stepped in, gracefully offering his arm to one of the girls. "As I'm sure my friends would."
"And I," Richard emphasized, "should be happy to dance as well, sister, if you will first do me the favor of formally introducing me to a certain admirer of yours." He nodded towards the still-scribbling William Brenden, enjoying the quick flashes of confusion and disgust that flickered over his sister's carefully poised expression.
"Very well," Cecily said cooly, so that Richard repressed a shiver even as he offered her his arm. "Gentleman," he nodded to his friends.
Then, he waited until the girls had once more turned their attention towards the dance floor, before he caught the retreating gazes of the three young men.
And very deliberately winked.
From the Diary of William Forscythe Brenden:
Wednesday, December 25th, 1879.
At times, I despair over my own nature. I am too well suited to solitude, or the the company of a single close companion, than to the large social web inherent in large gatherings. I attended the Hartford's annual Christmas party as Mother advised, though I am intensely uncomfortable in such crowded situations-- how could I not, when this gathering was held at the very home of Cecily, the lady to whom my heart belongs? She was as radiant as ever, this evening, and I found myself once more admiring her from a far as she chatted with her friends. How could I hope to get close to her, when she is so rightly adored by so many? Such an unexpected turn this evening took, then! It was she who approached me, wishing to introduce me to her older bother-- a move which, I must confess, gives me hope. I allow myself to dream that she wishes the approval of her beloved sibling before we two might become better acquainted. Am I a fool? I can not help it-- this love, like solitude, is my nature, and I can not escape it.
Cecily's brother, however, is quite an imposing fellow, though he greeted me heartily. He was quite pleased to make my acquaintance, he said, and thought I would be perfect for a joint venture he and his friends soon intend to put forth. To be included so readily is quite stunning, but I... I feel ill at ease with Richard Hartford. His eyes are so like Cecily's, but there is something about him that puts me in a state of ill humor. Illogical, yes, especially when the man has been so kind. He invited me to a small gathering with his friends on the 29th, and was delighted when I agreed. I have had no close friends since childhood. Perhaps it is my lack of experience in male company that makes me uneasy with Richard Hartford. Mother will certainly be happy to hear of a social engagement-- she worries for me, and I for her.
Having received a blessing like the friendship of Cecily's brother, I was, understandably, quite flushed when I came home. I would have informed Mother right away, but this winter has been unkind to her, and she had already taken to her bed. As it was, I was greeted by a nightshift-clad Katherine, who herself knows better than to be up at such a late hour. I indulged her request for a bedtime story, never the less; I am helpless against my little sister's cherubic face. She is such a dear, I know that I would want to know well any man who had intentions toward her. That is far enough in the future, thank God. She is still my delightful princess of eleven, and was so very cross to hear me 'go on and on about Cecily Hartford.' If only I could describe to her the loveliness of my Lady... But I am a poor poet-- as other's have noted!-- and words fail me.
Words, which are and have always been, my secret first love. Katherine still holds to her belief in the magics of her fairy stories; how can I fault her, when I know that words can bring things into being?
That is a magic in which I can believe.
"No matter how much you rationalize," Daniel Rayne was saying, clearly close to loosing his temper, "you're going to have to accept that there are things you simply can not explain."
"I do accept that they can't be explained _now_," Travers said slowly, as if speaking to a child, "but someday--"
"You fool. You worship Science the way some people worship God," Rayne scoffed, turning from the other man to stand at the round attic window of the Hartford mansion. "Where the hell is Ward?" he asked of no one in particular.
"He'll be along, as will our dear Mr. Brenden," Richard assured him, having just come up the narrow steps, small crate in hand. "You should have seen the look on his face when I asked him to join us-- quite amusing, really. He's so _honored_," the young man mocked the word, "to have the attentions of Cecily's brother."
"I'm sure Cecily loves that," Travers remarked dryly, crossing to help Richard unload the crate.
"Oh, she's quite put out with me," Richard grinned, motioning for Daniel to join them, "thinks I'm encouraging him just to embarrass her. Which, I admit, is a nice side benefit."
"Mmm," Rayne muttered noncommittally, having busied himself with the deep onyx statuette of the goddess who would aid them. He assigned the icon a place of honor on a low table, directing the others to draw their pentacle before it, all the while never allowing his eyes to leave the stone form. Their goddess, Proserpine, held her head high, throw back almost in ecstasy, hands reaching upward towards the future even as her heavy locks flowed down, caressing her nude form. Around her supple curve was curled a large serpent, bearer of knowledge that should not be had.
"She's naked," Ward remarked stupidly, having appeared in the attic doorway. Apologetically, he held out his own, long rectangular box, blushing furiously. "Your man showed me up, Richard. I saw another carriage coming up the way-- I think that'll be Brenden."
"Excellent," Richard clapped his friend on the back, taking the box. He removed the lid, glancing briefly at the pipe and other opium paraphernalia within, before turning away. "Mother and Cecily are away, fawning over the illustrious Great Aunt Sophie, and I've ordered the staff not to come up past the first floor. We shouldn't be disturbed."
"As soon as the poet gets here, we'll be all set," Travers remarked. "Will you stop staring, Ward," he scolded, eyes suddenly fixed on the still-blushing young man, "it's a statue, man, not a live girl!" He shook his head, "No wonder Ozoris street almost gave you a heart attack."
"Ozoris street?" a timid voice asked, "I'm not familiar with--" William Brenden halted at the threshold, looking perhaps a little more mortified than Calvin had. "I'm sorry, I was not involved in the conversation, it was rude of me..."
"Not at all, my good man," Richard smiled, rising to his feet. "So glad you could make it, William-- please, do come in." Taking the shorter man by the elbow, Hartford drew him fully into the long attic room, gesturing to his friends. "These are my good friends, Daniel Rayne, Samuel Travers, and Calvin Ward." He only smiled more widely as William took in his surroundings. "As you can see, this promises to be a most unusual evening."
"I--" the blue eyes held confusion, and more than a little trepidation, "perhaps I am not suited to be here."
"Nonsense!" Daniel declared, "I, for one, am glad you came. Now we have our five, and I am sure you have the sort of adventurous spirit that will be quite at home among us." He shot Travers a significant look, but the stout man only added a droll 'quite' of agreement.
"What sort of..." William seemed to search for a word, "endeavor is this?"
Richard's smile became a thing that was all teeth, "Why, my dear Mr. Brenden, only the pursuit of that which both poets and businessmen alike yearn after and seek to ascertain. The future."
"Do you believe in magic, Mr. Brenden?" Rayne asked with quiet solemnity.
Travers began, "It's not--"
"Oh do shut up, Samuel," Richard snapped.
"I--" William placed a hand at his throat, as if he meant to physically pull the words out of his mouth.
"The future, Mr. Brenden, consider the future! Think of all the things we could do, the things we could accomplish, if only we could step back and glimpse Time's design. The sheer," he paused with hidden humor, appealing to the poet's soul, "adventure of it. My good friend Daniel and I have recently developed a way to reach the future-- not physically, of course, but rather through a travel of the spirit and mind. I, myself, am not the best person to explain it-- Daniel's family has a long history of 'magical' involvement-- but I know that, through a mixture of science and mysticism, we can pierce the forbidden veil."
"Only God has seen what we will see," Ward murmured, echoing Richard's very first speech on the matter.
"What have I to do with this?" William asked suddenly, "I am no business man or chemist. I am only a lover of the written word..."
"You have a creative soul," Richard said, putting a sincerity into his words that should have rightly led him to the stage. "Your mind is better suited to alien concepts than our own. Daniel would go first, but he must be here to anchor the ritual..."
"You want _me_ to do this?" William's voice reached a high, whispery note, "Me?"
"As soon as my sister spoke of you, I knew you were the one we needed." Richard glared at Travers when he began to ever so slightly pink with trapped laughter.
"I shouldn't-- I can't-- I should go," there was desperation in the tone, such that Rayne moved to block to doorway.
"I assure you that it's quite safe, Mr. Brenden," he said soothingly.
"Come on, Will," Richard said, lingering over the familiar term, "faint heart never won fair lady, eh?"
"I--" William's hands fluttered uselessly, but he allowed himself to be led in front of Proserpine's statue, seating himself with folded legs when Richard pressed down on his shoulders. The young man's blue eyes instantly settled on the pentacle chalked on the wooden floor.
"Everyone to your places," Rayne instructed, "I just have to close the circle." He reached around each seated man, drawing the circle, bringing one line to meet the other as he sat down at his point. He nodded to Calvin, who took out the pipe and began to prepare the opium. William sat in the goddess' shadow, at the highest point of the star, looking rather dazed. Lighting several candles, Samuel and Richard sat back on their heels, looking to Rayne for further instructions.
"Hear us, O Goddess Proserpine," Daniel intoned, lighting the incense. "Hear us, she who dwells unwillingly in the Land of the Dead."
"Hear us," echoed Hartford, Travers and Ward.
"The Way is not shut to the Dead. The Dead pass through it freely. Hear us."
Another echo, "Hear us!"
There was a movement from William, as if he thought to get up, but Richard clamped down heavily on his hand.
Daniel's eyes were closed, he swayed like the serpent embracing their stone goddess. "Make the Way clear that we may see!"
"Make the Way clear!"
Having heated the opium, Calvin scrapped the residue into the pipe's bowl, handing it to Rayne. "Bless this vessel," Daniel continued, caressing the pipe, "bless our conduit and give us Dreams!"
"Give us dreams." Repeated more quietly, now. Hushed, in awe, as the shadows seemed to lengthen. The walls, impossibly, seemed further away, somehow removed, the statue towering obscenely on the table. It was a subtle shirt of reality, that seemed both a dream and a stark, waking awareness. Carefully, Daniel withdrew the sapphire vial and added just a drop of its contents to the pipe. The pipe itself was passed back to Ward, and on down the circle to Richard, who put it in William's hands.
That blue gaze was not on the so-called friends at all-- rather, William seemed to be looking past them, to all the strange, alien shapes that gathered where the candlelight could not reach. The room seemed at once painfully hot and unbearably cold-- it swelled and pulsed with void. "I can't-- _Please_!"
Instead, Richard guided the young man's hands to hold the pipe. "Breathe," he instructed. "Breathe." He was all put holding William's nose closed.
"The morphine alkaloid in the opium should held open his mind, facilitate a further acceptance of your 'magic'," Travers hissed at Rayne, watching eagerly. Defeated at last, William breathed in through his mouth, swaying painfully even as the air before him seemed to shiver like a heat mirage.
"Please..." Their victim's voice was hushed, almost a sigh, as he collapsed against Richard, his fluttering eyes showing only white.
(It is a darkness that is not darkness. It is Void, it is a river so buried so deep _within_ that it can neither know nor imagine light. William touches it, he touches it and is carried swiftly away, embraced by the chill. His all alone and still surrounded-- by colors he can not recognize or describe, by shapes impossible to form. He founders, he struggles.
There is no compromise.)
"Help-- its so cold..."
"It has no form," Daniel instructed, "you have to give it form. Think of a road-- or, or--"
"There's a hallway..."
(A hallway. Paved, built, roofed in a stone that adopts an alien shade of blue. Illumination stems from the center of each stone, pulsing.
There are doors.)
"Good, good," Daniel praises excitedly, "what do you see?"
"Doors... the signs, I can't read them. There are signs on the doors."
(Black, night-sky doors, each labeled. Such strange curved letters. Arabic, Chinese? No. The characters shift, slither across the plaques as if alive. They defy comprehension. He walks down the corridor, he feels pulled by each door, ripped apart by tiny hands.)
"Keep going down the hallway. Go as far down as you can stand," Daniel paused, giving a significant look to his fellows. "Then open a door."
(Walking down the hall. No-- not walking, running. The stones pulse, the letters quiver. He's afraid, so afraid. Are the stones laughing? There's a noise.
No. Someone's crying.
One cry-- then another, and another. A tide, raising, lifting him, pushing him forward. He cries out, and the stones swallow the sound. He can't move, can't bear to go back, just stumbles, jarring what he perceives as his shoulder against one of the doors. Hand on the knob-- it's cold. So cold.
'The _Slayer_! I knew she was involved with this...'
[hate her she takes she always takes why can't i get her kill her like the rest]
'...can't bite humans...'
[so hungry, body devouring itself]
'...this has never happened before...'
[all gone hopeless again]
'...sure, you're a right nummy treat...'
[the boy, want the boy have wanted him since]
His voice, but it can't be his voice. It grates against his ears, filled with emotions he doesn't understand.
The knob turns.
Through. He's through he's being pulled he's being drawn down into down into
"What do you see?" Richard hissed urgently. "William, what do you see?" Insanely, he shook the form lying prone in his lap. "Come on, man!"
"I'm going down..." the poet whispered distantly, "being drawn down..."
Travers looked questioningly at Daniel, but the other man could only shrug helplessly.
a body. It's so still, but he has form, he has shape, and the Void is gone from him. Awareness flows outward from his still
heart. Out toward his arms, his fingers, down into his legs. He stretches, not feeling so much as commanding the body. He sinks a little deeper. Opens his eyes. A dark room, cluttered with unidentifiable items. The moonlight filters poorly through a small window, falling gently on the form lying still on the bed. The whelp is sleeping, face relaxed, looking so young, and Spike
wants to slip into his dreams, own him there as he can not in reality. Beautiful boy, damned whelp--
[an image, brief: another bed, dusty, antique linens rotting away. The boy sleeps, red staining the side of his head. Temptation.]
at least he doesn't...
William stares at the boy on the bed, oddly transfixed, as he settles deeper into the body that has drawn him here. Settling in like bones. He realizes he is not breathing, and then...
Then the pain, steel claws uncaring and merciless, slices through his entire being.
He cries out.)
Disclaimer: I have never smoked opium. All my knowledge of the stuff comes from research, and I am definitely not advocating its use, ritual or otherwise. Opium is highly addictive, and does serious damage to your brain. So, yeah-- it's a bad thing. This disclaimer has been brought to you by Meredith Covering Her Ass. Thanks. ^_^;;
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