The Weighted Children

It wasn’t a terrible lot to brag about nowadays, being in the Royal Navy.
The zee was ruled primarily by the Khanate, pirates, and various independent zailors of a multitude of intentions.
The Royal Navy was more a formality than anything, now - a way of saying, “We’re still British, and by God, we still have a Navy!”
But, as it turned out, being the best of even a formality was, in fact, something to brag about - or at least the loftier parts of society thought so - and so here Thomas sat.
What the Hell did that mean, nowadays?
He took a drag of his cigarette, looking out over the Palace grounds.
He didn’t even know they still knighted people. What was the point, down here? Everyone was so small in the Neath, dwarfed by the legions of Hell and the worshippers of a mechanical sun and warring factions and foreign foes - what did a one-syllable title due to make you any larger?
He’d had the honor of meeting the Empress, he supposes.
Tapped him with a sword, said a few words, hurried him right out before he could see, hear, smell anything he wasn’t supposed to.
The Captain said they’d put him in the newspapers, brought in a bunch of folk that made him smile for a daguerreotype.
He isn’t even entirely sure why.
One of the best of the Royal Navy, sure, but that’s rather like being one of the best of the lint collectors.
His shoes were the shiniest, his navy-blue uniform the spiffiest, his face the handsomest.
Perhaps that was part of it - he’s the only bloke of the rum lot that looks good enough for an imperial picture.
Another drag - blow a smoke cloud over the dark horizon; it covers an artist and some poet strolling across the grounds.
The very sight of him posing neatly for his daguerreotype would strike terror in the Khanate, certainly.
He sighs, knocking ash from the tip of his cigarette. He cups his hands together, legs dangling over the edge of the patio, clean-cut features watching the artist and poet with melancholy.
“We’d have done it sooner,” the Captain said, “But you know how it is with your father. He’s got a bad reputation around the Palace.”
His father.
Another drag.
Blow smoke; a cloud that leads into memories of a ballroom.

There, under the chandelier.
Thomas’s hands balled nervously in the pockets of his uniform.
This was several years ago - Thomas was twenty-two, on leave from the Navy for a month. This was before his success in the ranks (whatever ‘success’ meant, exactly - a useless Knighting and a bad reputation amongst your fellow zailors for being a goody-two-shoes), but nevertheless, the surname Sketch was circulating about London.
Some hot new bohemian on the scene, rising quickly in fame.
He’d seen the name plastered on posters for theatre acts around Veilgarden, overheard it used by society types in gossip as he passed them on the street, seen it written in bold over poems in the newspapers, he’d even seen a few poems dedicated to the name.
Suffice to say, it hadn’t been hard to trace the man. He left a trail covered with a red carpet.
And there he was.
He looked different.
The beard was gone, the hair was shorter.
He was wearing expensive clothes - some highend foreign suit that stood out as it twirled across the dance floor - rather than the thick zailor’s overcoat Thomas had grown to love as a child. He was slimmer, a dancer’s build replacing a fighter’s, prettier, touches of light makeup here and there covering the small scars Thomas had dedicated to memory. The belle of the ball, by all accounts; every woman and man in the room had their eyes glued to him, just like Thomas.
He hated events like this.
Partying, Thomas loved. Blowing off steam after the rigidity of a dedicated life in the Navy was essential, and he always made sure to get ****-drunk wasted and throw himself into as many beds, fights, and dances as he could when he was on leave.
But those were Wolfstack beds, Wolfstack fights, Wolfstack dances.
He couldn’t stand society types, especially at seventeen. He would later have to grow accustomed to them, as he was continually presented as the Navy’s golden boy and shoved into various formal events by the powers that be. Consequently, the Wolfstack nights had to slow down, too - as the only presentable seaman that gave a damn, his reputation was the Royal Navy’s reputation. But there, in that ballroom at twenty-two, he disliked everything around him. He disliked the pretentious tailored clothes. He disliked his formal uniform. He disliked the beautiful women. He disliked his father’s clean-shaven beard; Christ, he looked scarcely older than Thomas.
The violins died down, the dance ended. Couples erupted in chatter, hanging onto each other as they walked off the dance floor. Some beautiful young thing in Charles Sketch’s arms, some model, not the man he married, not Thomas’ father. Thomas disliked her, too. Hell, he practically hated her.
The two seated themselves at one of the tables; instantly a crowd descended upon them, all eager to talk to famous thespian Charles Sketch. Famous poet Charles Sketch. Famous artist Charles Sketch.
Did any of them know about Thomas Sketch? Did any of them know old Charlie boy had a son, well grown now?
He balled his fists in his pockets, knuckling the fabric. He hesitated.
A cigarette, God, he needed one - he pulled his pack out from his back pocket and lit one.
Gypsy Queens. He didn’t know why he preferred the brand over others.
He took a long drag, carbony warmth crackling through his throat. Parted his lips and let the smoke slip out, still staring at his father.
“Never be afraid,” he’d once said, sitting on the edge of Thomas’s bed in that overcoat, that beard, those small scars, “You’re only my son as long as you’re never afraid. And if you ever feel fear, take it by the throat and tell it the bloodline from which you come. Never be afraid, Thomas, if you want to be my son.”
He walked to the table.
The words always steeled him.
The party looked up as the bluejacket approached, cigarette in mouth, far too clean-cut and proper to fit in with this table of fashionable hedonists.
The eyes, dark as bad dreams, locked with the ice-blue pair at the head of the table.
“Charles Sketch?” Thomas asked.
“No mistake.”
“I’m your son.”
Those were words Thomas would both always regret, and always champion.
That was what you had to when your father was a bad man.
You had to not be like him, but never let the world hold you down for being from him.
“I’m sure half the room could make the same claim, darling.”
The table erupted in laughter.
Thomas’s cheeks burned.
What the Hell was he doing?
“I want to talk to you.”
“Lose the clothes, maybe then.”
He winked.
He winked at him.
At his son.
Thomas turned.
He walked away, the laughter chasing him out of the ballroom.
Out onto London streets.
All the way back to his tavern room at the docks, into the arms of some drunk girl for comfort, into a warm, shared bed that felt like the loneliest place in the world.
Into another night smelling like rum and **** that told him, in whispers on the wind, that he was an orphan.
“Never be afraid.”
Another night muttering an old quote to himself.
Another night remembering that his father was Charles Sketch, and Charles Sketch was a bad man, but Charles Sketch was his father.
He would never be afraid, and Charles Sketch would always be his father.
And it would always hurt.
And it would always be true.
Another drag, another cloud of smoke - back to the Palace.

Of course, as everyone knew, things changed for the Sketch name some time after that. Charles Sketch’s reputation soured in an unthinkably fast way - rumors of murder, of occultism, of dark powers and insanity. The Sketch name became a burden, and as Charles Sketch disappeared from the surface of the Earth, that burden landed on Thomas’s shoulders.
He stubs out his cigarette on the railing.
Sir Thomas Sketch.
A knight.
Whatever that meant.
A knight, and the son of Charles Sketch.
He smirks cynically, watching his feet.
“Guess they give the title out to anybody these days, huh?”
He chuckles.
But he was something.
The best at something, even if it was nothing. It was more than could be said for his father - all he was now was a bad memory. Thomas would never be that. He would make sure he would never be that.
He swings around and hops off the railing, onto the marble patio. He inhales deeply, then wrinkles his nose.
Flowers, perfume, the very scents of high society.
He starts walking, headed to Wolfstack. Maybe the title will impress somebody cute. More likely it’ll get him punched.
He grins, already ready for a fight.
Maybe it does have some use, then, after all.

Thomas kicked the door shut behind him.
He was a strong lad, and she wasn’t terribly heavy, besides.
He stepped over books, paintings, writings as he walked across the room.
He looked at her face.
She looked more like him than Thomas did. She had the hair - the thick curls - that was what did it. And the same glint in the eyes he’d had, before he disappeared and returned a different man; a ballroom man.
He set his dead sister down gently in the window seat. Brushed the hair from her face, the curls as black as the moleskin of his gloves.
He unbent, looking at her.
A year.
A year he’d known her.
&quotHello, Thomas.&quot
&quotThe dress is ruined, you know.&quot
&quotHello, Thomas.&quot
&quotHello, Lizzie.&quot
&quotThank you. And I’ve plenty of other dresses.&quot
The zailor turned, sticking the cigarette back between his lips and unbuttoning his coat. He threw it over a chair - some discarded drawing of someone beautiful disappeared underneath it - and sat, crossing his legs at the knee. He took a drag as he watched his sister sit up and examine the bloodstain in her dress.
&quotNot that bad,&quot she shrugged, and lit a cigarette of her own - Chesterfields, &quotYou should clean up. This room is a mess.&quot
&quotI’m hardly ever here. And besides, they’re a reminder,&quot Thomas said.
&quotOf what?&quot
&quotWho Father was.&quot
&quotWhat if you want to have guests over?&quot
&quotI only ever come here to talk to you.&quot
&quotThat’s not true.&quot
&quotHave you been watching me again?&quot
&quotI keep tabs.&quot
He paused, staring at her.
She looked back, but she didn’t have the gaze.
The glint, but not the pierce.
She looked away, taking another drag.
&quotHow’s the Widow?&quot he asked, sucking on his own cigarette and leaning back in the chair.
&quotOh, she’s delightful. Old and criminal as ever. How’s the Empress?&quot she asked, smirking.
&quotYou heard,&quot he replied dryly.
She grinned.
&quotSir Thomas Sketch,&quot she replied, in a mock-ponce accent (her own was a curious mix of gentle Dutch and Italian - remnants of their father’s past, just like the rest of them - that Thomas didn’t share, having grown up in London), &quotYou’re bringing honor to the family, brother.&quot
&quotI worked hard for it,&quot Thomas said.
&quotYes, it must be hard to reach your mouth all the way up to that distant crown in order to kiss the royal ass,&quot Elizabeth snarked.
&quotNot half as hard as running around town doing some Spite gangster’s bidding all day, I imagine,&quot Thomas replied.
&quotAnd we have tea every evening,&quot Elizabeth cheerily noted.
&quotIt’s nice she makes tea when she’s not ordering people murdered.&quot
&quotWho taught you to be such a kiss-up to the law?&quot
&quotWho taught you to never follow it?&quot
&quotMother,&quot Elizabeth proudly said.
&quotFather,&quot Thomas darkly answered.
&quotYour other father was a coward,&quot Elizabeth scolded.
&quotYour mother abandoned you,&quot Thomas smirked.
The two blew clouds of smoke - Gypsy Queen clouds mixed with Chesterfield fog at the ceiling. The pretty faces of various thespians and lovers watched on from oil paintings.
&quotWhy did you tell me to come meet you during a gangfight?&quot Thomas asked, breaking the quiet.
&quotWell, I needed someone to protect me. Who better than my big brother? And I have news,&quot Elizabeth said.
&quotHave you ever wanted a little brother?&quot
Thomas’ eyes narrowed.
&quotI figure it’s time you two meet,&quot Elizabeth smiled, tapping ash from her cigarette, &quotHe’s come down to the Neath. Poetry reasons, or something. But I told him Father’s old address, that he could find you here. He’s excited to meet you.&quot
Thomas paused again. He gazed out the window, took a drag. Looked back at his sister.
&quotWhat’s he like?&quot
&quotVery pretty. The girls in Italy loved him. I’m sure they will down here, too. And I’m sure you two will get along splendidly. But I must be going,&quot Elizabeth answered, rising from her seat.
&quotOh, must you?&quot Thomas asked.
The criminal paused as she began for the door. She looked at her brother curiously.
&quotI’ve seen you talk to others, Thomas. You’re a friendly man. Very polite. Why are you so bitey when you’re around me?&quot she asked.
&quotYou’re from a bitey part of my life.&quot
&quotI only want to be your friend.&quot
His face softened.
He quickly took a drag.
Blew smoke.
&quotWe’re siblings, aren’t we?&quot he quietly said.
Elizabeth smiled.
&quotHope to talk to you soon, brother. If your head isn’t too far up the Admiral’s ass, that is,&quot she said, walking briskly to the door.
&quotYes, I hope you’re not busy murdering someone or other,&quot Thomas called.
&quotLove you, brother dearest.&quot
The door closed.
He rubbed his forehead.

A gunshot, cracking through the thick air.
Cheers, in the distance.
The murky figure of a hunting party, clapping each other on the backs - Grim must be the thick one in the middle, then.
Thomas dusts himself off, checking his pants legs for brambles or clinging fungus. Out here, on the edges of the palace ground, the landscape changes from manicured lawns and trimmed hedges to damp air, mist, fungus clinging to wide rocks. Small animals scurry through the fog from time to time, ever on the watch for men in tweed and moustaches carrying rifles. Thomas himself doesn’t see much interest in hunting, and having grown up on the docks, in the dredges of the city, he never had any experience with it growing up. If there ever was a man of sport, though, it was Elton Grim, and that’s who had summoned him.
&quotMr. Grim!&quot he calls, approaching the group.
&quotAh, Sir Thomas!&quot Grim cries - Thomas cringes, slightly, still not used to the title, &quotYou came! Good, good. Look at this toad I’ve just killed, would you?&quot
He holds it up, by the thick leg.
It is, indeed, quite a dead toad.
&quotImpressive, sir,&quot Thomas nods.
Grim grins.
&quotNot a hunting man, eh? Come, let’s walk.&quot
The hunting party continues as Grim and Thomas split from the rest, walking side by side back towards the safer side of the palace grounds. The noise of posh accents discussing lizard secrets and whether to trust them fades into the mist; silence, broken the occasional ribbit or bristle of the foliage, sets in. The dead toad occasionally thumps against Grim’s thigh.
&quotWas there a reason you wished to speak to me, sir?&quot Thomas asks.
&quotWell, you’re coming up in society. You’ve been knighted. And I’m very wealthy. You’ll have to get used to talking to the very wealthy now, son. One of the less enjoyable parts of the job,&quot Grim says, and winks.
&quotI appreciate the honor, sir. You’re very well known,&quot Thomas replies.
&quotAnd that’s silly, isn’t it? You’re the knight. You’re the one in service. And yet, I’m calling on you rather than the other way around because I run a very successful vineyard and I have more money. You’re the one who met the Empress. What’s she like, by the way?&quot Grim asks.
&quotQuiet. We didn’t really talk,&quot Thomas answers.
Grim nods.
&quotBut it’s silly. Very silly. That’s another thing you’ll have to learn about all this - these palace affairs. They’re very silly. All meaningless words and titles for imaginary things as a result of things, people, you can’t see. I sit in my house all day and collect money I never see into bank accounts I never touch, kept in check by secretaries I never meet, as income from wine cellars strangers manage and write letters to people I never see. And then I go out to balls and meetings and parties hosted by figures I only know by name. It’s all names, in society. Nothing’s very physical. I suppose that’s why I like hunting. And why I think this is especially silly. You’re the one with the heavy name. The title. And yet I’m calling on you. That goes against how I have all this nonsense figured out.&quot
He shakes his head.
Silence - Thomas has no idea how to respond.
&quotAnd I knew your father. That’s part of why I’m calling on you,&quot Grim explains.
&quotYes. He helped me some, back when he was much richer and I was much poorer. I lived on the Docks, then; I was a zailor, on and off. Not quite as official as you, though. We hated the Navy boys,&quot Grim reminisces.
&quotI see,&quot Thomas replies.
Grim grins at the younger man’s unsure reply.
&quotAye, ate them for breakfast. Then they’d go and get the neddy men and eat us for breakfast. Then I was a neddy man.&quot
The grin drops and he falls into silence again, his face growing serious.
&quotBut that was a long time ago. Your father was a zailor too, wasn’t he? Even longer ago?&quot Grim asks.
&quotYes, he was. He ran a ship called Aristippus,&quot Thomas answers.
&quotThat’s right,&quot Grim nods, &quotNamed after some old Greek. He liked the Greeks. When he disappeared, another dandy took me in, a Sebastian Olmen. Charming fellow. Not as mad as your father was. He went very mad, indeed. He fell very far.&quot
The Boar, as Thomas has heard him referred to around society, is watching Thomas again, looking for some reaction. His eyes are sympathetic.
&quotYes, I’ve heard. I only knew him when I was a child. As a man, I only met him once,&quot Thomas replies.
&quotBut you’ve heard the tales, I’m sure. And you carry the name.&quot
&quotI do.&quot
&quotYou’ve done great things, son. Formality or not, not many with a weight like that could ever be knighted.&quot
It’s Thomas’ turn to be silent, now. Grim still watches him, for a moment, then turns away.
Quiet, as they walk together.
&quotWe all have a name,&quot the Boar finally says, &quotThe name of our fathers, and if not that, the name of our sons. And some can discard the name of their fathers, but not all. It’s a weight, it is, no matter who your father is, and the heavier the weight, the harder it is to shrug off. A family name can be the heaviest weight of all, but the heavier it is, the more you want it to be one you stand atop. One you can be proud of, one your sons can climb. The more you want to restore it to what it once was, and it must have been something once, because family names only truly become burdens by once being blessings. By falling. But they can be restored. What do you know of the Grim name, son?&quot
&quotWell, you’re very respected, sir. You run a vineyard. People know you.&quot
&quotYes, yes, of course, but what about my parents? What about my family?&quot
&quotI don’t know, sir.&quot
&quotThat’s right. Because I buried it. As best I could. But the longer you spend in the palace, the deeper you go into these circles of people with nonsense titles and imaginary achievements, you’ll start to hear rumors. The more and more I bury it, the deeper you have to go to hear those rumors, but they still swirl, in the cauldrons of society. They used to abound, just like rumors of you and your father abound now, and have abounded for some time. But it doesn’t have to be like that. And you’ve already got something behind you - something that relies on you just as you rely on it. You may be running off the fame the Navy provides you, but the Navy runs off the reputation you provide it, and God knows it needs your help. I’m certain they work their hardest in the Admiralty to clear your name, for their own ambition of being what they once were, but a once-great trying to help another once-great only gets anyone so close to being great. But I’ve made someone of myself, son. Just like you hope to do. Just like your father once did, when I was nobody. I’m the right man to help you, as he was to help me.&quot
&quotWhat are you proposing, sir?&quot
Grim pauses, then continues, &quotThere’s a group of men. One that I work with, that I head. They do various things about London, deal with imaginary going-ons a shade too actual for the palace. Good men. Knights, in a way that means something. That is the purpose of the group - to deal with the affairs that mean something, amidst all the meaninglessness of society. It’s affairs like that that restore names. I pick each member of the group carefully, and I consult each man on my decision - we have to agree before anything is done. And we think you’re the right man.&quot
&quotAnd why is that, sir?&quot
&quotBecause there is a name to be restored. I know better than anyone the passion that comes with such a duty. And I know that that passion can be used in nothing else, that duty fulfilled nowhere else, than in doing things that matter. Not by slaving away for a technicality military. Not by losing yourself in the words and titles of the palace. You have a fire, Thomas Sketch. Nothing will sate that fire but action, and none of this - the Navy, the Empress, the title, none of it - will bring you action. But I can. The Order will.&quot
Thomas’ brain works - he had no idea Grim, when Grim’s invitation arrived, that they would ever be having a discussion like this.
&quotWhat would I be doing?&quot
&quotThe duty of a knight, when the moment arises. Action. Putting your talents to the test. Ensuring what is safe remains safe, what is dangerous is defeated. Restoring your family name.&quot
&quotWhat-what do I need to do?&quot
&quotSay, ‘I, Sir Thomas Sketch, am hereby a Knight of the Order,&quot Grim says, and stops walking, turning to face Thomas.
&quotOr later. Whenever you feel comfortable, Sir Thomas. It’s only a proposal. But I want you to take this.&quot
He pulls a business card from his jacket and hands it to Thomas.
Elton Grim.
In Search of Knights.
&quotShow it to the lads, if you come to my door and they answer. They’re a cordial sort. You’ll like them,&quot Grim says.
&quotWho else in the Order?&quot Thomas asks.
&quotAh,&quot Grim replies, and taps his crooked nose with one meaty finger, &quotYou’ll have to find that out, won’t you? Take your time to decide. High society gives you lots of free time. You’re fat and old before you know it.&quot
He resumes walking, Thomas quickly tucking the card into his own jacket and following.
&quotThank you, sir,&quot Thomas says.
&quotYou’re welcome. Carry the toad, there’s a good way to thank me,&quot Grim replies, and slaps the dead toad down into Thomas’ hands.
The Boar wipes his own hands of the slime, like two slabs of meat knocking together, then sticks them in his pockets and whistles as he and Thomas emerge from the forest onto the neatly kept lawns of the palace.
&quotAnother piece of advice - always get someone else to carry the dead toads for you when you come back from a hunting trip. Looks better for the ladies if you’re not the one with the slime,&quot Grim says, and winks again.
Thomas laughs politely as Grim erupts into a hearty chuckle.
He eyes the dead frog.
He hopes hunting isn’t a required part of the Order.
edited by The Atumian Sputum on 11/5/2017

((For clarification, part of this post references events resulting from stuff happening in The Hunt is On - To Catch a Shade, an ongoing RP in which a gang of outcasts band together to fight a creature from another world, but less like Stranger Things than it sounds. To summarize the referenced section, something very ugly concealing something very pretty brings about a sunrise in the Neath, for but a brief few moments. It’s an excellent RP.))

Elton Grim.
In Search of Knights.
He flips the card over, checking it a third time for anything on the back though he knows there isn’t.
Just those words.
On the ride back from the palace, the entire night at home, the second he awoke, on the carriage ride here, he’s been looking it over, reading it, fingering it, turning it over and over between his index and thumb absentmindedly.
Elton Grim.
In Search of Knights.
Well, he qualifies.
The estate isn’t particularly distinct. A mansion, to be sure, and the proud home of a rich man, but there is nothing to suggest this is the home of the founder of Grim Vineyards, nor the leader of some Order. It is white, brick, in a warm and inviting style not unlike the Americans use - Thomas supposes you wouldn’t want the house of a sommelier to be too cold or harsh.
He looks back down at the card.
He is still looking at it when the door opens.
“Are you getting cold?”
Thomas looks up.
A young man stands in the doorway, his appearance not unlike Thomas’. His hair is a touch messy, his eyes look out from behind spectacles, and he lacks the Royal Navy’s formal uniform (Thomas felt he shouldn’t arrive under-dressed), but, were they both attending the University, the two would not have stood out from other determined, fit youths of the rugby teams. He does not look exceptionally rich, nor injured in any way, yet carries a cane.
One with a lion’s head.
“You’ve been standing out here for some time,” he says, “Were you planning on ever knocking?”
Thomas is wordless for a moment, then shakes himself from his revery.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “Lost in my thoughts. I’m-”
“Sir Thomas Sketch,” the man replies, grinning, “The uniform gave it away. Do you wear that all the time? Grim said you were wearing it when you saw him, too. It looks spiffy, I must admit.”
“Thank you,” Thomas replies, “The Admiralty would rather I slept in it.”
“I’m sure.”
“Oh, um, Mr. Grim gave me this,” Thomas says, and extends the card.
“A formality,” the young man replies, taking it and tucking it back in Thomas’ breast pocket, “We’ve been expecting you. Burn it when you get home, though. We keep things hush-hush. Come in.”
The young man closes the door behind Thomas as the bluejacket steps over the threshold into a large parlor. A fireplace crackles gently before a table lined in tea saucers, all the cups drained and containing extinguished butts.
“I’ll fetch Grim. The name’s William, by the way,” the young man says, extending a hand.
Thomas takes it, thanking him and sitting by the fireplace as William strolls out of one of the parlor’s doors. The seaman’s hand convulses in the air for a second before realizing it is no longer holding the card. He feels the sudden longing for a cigarette and wonders if it would be impolite to light one now - the previous residents of the table were certainly smokers.
A moment of hesitation.
Hell with it - he reaches for his back pocket and finds a lit Gypsy Queen between his lips quicker than a gunslinger.
Never be afraid, those were the words.
He was dead, Thomas was grown, but those were still the words, seared somewhere on Thomas’ heart. The carbon burn of cigarette smoke always made them a little louder; no better cure for anxiety than some of the heaviest words a father could ever speak to his son.
The zailor doesn’t have to wait long; after a few moments of steeling his nerves, he hears the creak of a door interrupt the porcelain quiet of the room and William is back, hands dug in his pockets and a grin carved on his face.
Thomas rises from his seat, hastily extinguishing the cigarette in one of the teacups.
“Sir Thomas Sketch, you’ve been summoned by the Throne. Come along.”
One knight follows another.
In a room of red and gold, fourteen men wait for Thomas Sketch in a half-circle; they close around him as he steps in the center.
In a room of red and gold, The Boar is holding a cane topped with the head of a lion, and from it he draws a blade.
“Are you ready, Sir Thomas?”
“I am.”
In a room of red and gold, The Boar smiles, and gives Thomas Sketch a sword with the hilt of a lion’s head.
“Who are you, Sir Thomas?”
“Sir Thomas Sketch, son of Charles Sketch and Daniel Rye.”
“You hold a sword in your hands, Sir Thomas. Who are you?”
The words.
In a room of red and gold, a knight with a name to restore says, “I, Sir Thomas Sketch, am hereby a Knight of the Order.”
“Then kneel.”
In a room of red and gold, for the second time in his life, Thomas Sketch kneels, and The Boar takes the blade from his hands.
One by one, the Knights of the Order tap the zailor against the neck with the same sword, the circle revolving, til finally the Boar stands before Thomas Sketch again.
“Look up, and give me your hands.”
The Boar sheathes the sword within the cane again, and places it within Thomas’ hands.
From behind, the zailor feels something warm, soft, drape against his back - fur tickles his neck and cheeks.
“You will keep safe that which is safe, and that which is a threat at bay, will you not?”
“I will.”
“Then rise.”
Thomas Sketch stands, and in a room of red and gold, the Boar makes him a promise.
“Your name will be restored, Sir Thomas Sketch.”

Thomas runs his thumb along the cane’s top - the lion.
Steel, carefully carved and freshly forged. It gleams in the light coming from the mansion windows, an open maw of steel teeth shining back at Thomas.
The Navy uniform is hidden beneath a fur overcoat, a soft mane about the top warming Thomas’ neck. For a coat, it is oddly heavy, and Thomas suspects it is reinforced - it protects him from the chill of the evening. If it were the Surface, the sun would have set by now, though it would have been up when Thomas entered the mansion.
After the short ceremony, a celebration followed. The fourteen- correction, fifteen- filed out into a dining room. Cigarettes, liquor, conversation - it wasn’t unlike one would expect a party of Grim’s to be, save that there were only fifteen people and all carried oak canes with a lionhead top. Entering the room in a daze, visions of red and gold still dancing before his eyes, Thomas had stuck to himself for most of the celebrations. The other knights didn’t seem to mind - they talked happily amongst themselves, a large cast of men and women mostly young, fit folk, but amongst their numbers two Drownies and three Tomb Colonists. Thomas watched the Order blearily from the couch by the fireplace, a glass of chardonnay in his hand and the warmth of the fire against his side. The eyes, there was their similarity, what bound the Drownies and the Tomb Colonists with the rugby players and rough-and-tumble men and women. An intensity - a quest. It shone as brightly in their eyes as the fire against the polish of their canes, as the sword had shone in that red and gold room only a few moments before.
He had spent the rest of the evening like this, in thought, staring into the fireplace with a bottle on the table and a glass in his hands, til William had strolled over and sat down next to him, lighting a cigarette.
“What’s going through your head?” he asked after a few minutes.
The initiate appeared to struggle for words for a moment, then paused.
“I know the general promise, ‘keep safe what is safe’ and all that, but what do you lot do most days? What do Knights of the Order do?”
“Most times?” William asked, “Help one another with our ambitions. We’re a rum lot, but we’re all quite ambitious. Grim’s plans to get in Parliament. Terrence’s vigilante business. Oliver’s wedding; that’ll be a blast - you’re invited, by the by, all the knights are. Occasionally the ambitions of outsiders we deem worthy or necessary - politicians, scientists, explorers; all those important people we help make an impact to help us make an impact. And, when the need arises, and it often does, answer the Call to keep what is safe safe and that which threatens what is safe at bay. Do you get how I mean now?”
A moment of silence.
“Yes, I think I do.”
“And it’s not ‘you lot’ anymore. You’re one of us. You took the oath, you’ve got the sword. And the nice coat, to boot. We don’t wear those all the time, by the way, only when it’s cold or we’re going into battle.”
“Into battle?”
William winked.
“That’s the part where all this gets exciting,” he had said.
Thomas grins, now, as he looks at the lionshead, alone on the front porch of Grim’s mansion.
Chardonnay buzzes in his head and something like the future swirls in - his heart pumps.
Some feeling, unique to this moment, unlike he felt as he toiled years to rise the Navy ranks, unlike he felt as he knelt before the Empress somewhere dark and cold, pulses in his chest.
Purpose, for the first time.
The rest of the night is a blur, as it always is when Thomas gets properly excited. A carriage to Wolfstack Docks, to the bar, to pint, and another pint, and another pint, pints all the way into a fight, into another fight, into pints again, somehow, into women, into more, into an empty purse and an emptier tavern.
Somewhere, amidst a crowd of giggling half-clothed men and women, Thomas gets home and drunkenly stumbles past something beautiful - half the crowd splits off, and the beautiful thing is lost in the splendid colors of the brothel as Thomas navigates his father’s old house into an old bed and spends the night the heathen way. Everything smells of whiskey and sweat, everything feels of heat and exercise, the beautiful thing is forgotten in a worship of bare skin and needs to satisfy. The blur has no exact stopping point - somewhere Thomas’ eyes close and the world, a spinning phantasmagoria of hedonism, slips away.

The pulsing headache is there before Thomas’ eyes open.
He shuts them tighter, groaning loudly.
There is no more movement about him - the bed is still and he feels no warmth of fellow bodies, the sheets have dried of whiskey and wine and are now stiff and stained. His legs, his arms, feel entirely devoid of energy and impossible to lift, weighted by the mistakes of last night.
“Oh God.”
How peculiar it is that sometimes one goes to bed and awakens feeling more exhausted than before.
Though Thomas is used to the sensation, it never grows less annoying.
He cracks his eyelids apart and rises, stutteringly, from the bed with another groan. He stops once he is upright, cupping his head in his hands.
“Oh God.”
The room is a mess on top of a mess; the piles of paintings, prose, notes, diagrams, left behind by Charles Sketch are covered now in discarded clothes, bottles, stains, even one woman, still, lying atop a table covered in drawings of storms still snoring lightly. She mutters Khanate words in her sleep, clutching a half-empty whiskey bottle to her chest. Thomas elects not to wake her.
Tea is hissing, from beyond the door.
Another straggler, perhaps - what time is it? They should all be gone by now, like their friends.
Thomas rubs his head again as he slips on a robe and ties it, covering his bare body. He snatches up the Order cane resting by the door before he opens it, in case the mysterious teamaker is less than friendly.
He pushes the door open, and stops.
A figure, at the window, gazing at London.
Slim, golden-haired, causing some unknown sense of dread in Thomas’ stomach right before the world explodes, and explode it does.
The London horizon is bathed in light - the figure is lost in gold.
Paintings of beautiful things seem alive once again, turning to look at a sun in London.
The Neath is alight for a moment, and in that moment Thomas hears a sharp intake of breath - his own lungs are frozen.
And then, the world is dark again.
The Neath roof hides itself.
The London horizon glimmers with false-stars.
The paintings sleep.
The figure at the window is back.
“Does that happen often?” he asks, in an accent.
Italian, mixed with Dutch, light and feminine.
Thomas’ heart freezes, and the reason for the dread is explained - his mind is aswirl, still dancing with the sun, what in bloody Hell was that?
The figure turns.
Thomas is still paralyzed, the Sun, the Sun, what the Hell was that, who the Hell is this, this is his brother, this is his brother, what the Hell was that beyond the window, this is his brother, this is his brother.
Rory Sketch looks at Thomas from across the room and is impossibly beautiful.
“I’m Ro-”
“I-I know.”
The sun.
In a flash, Thomas breaks from his paralysis and stumbles to a nearby chair, dropping the cane to the floor with a clatter and collapsing.
“Thomas!” Rory cries, hurrying over to him, “Are you alright?”
The bluejacket looks up at him, shuts his eyes tight and ducks his head.
He cups his face in his hands.
It’s all too much - what was outside the window, the youth in front of him, the hangover. His eyes hurt, his brain flames.
Even now, the sun in London and a beautiful face dance in the darkness behind Thomas’ closed lids, but it is better than before. He wonders if he will ever open his eyes again.
He breathes deeply, slowly, steadying himself.
“Do-do you smoke?” he stutters.
“No. Would you like a cigarette?” comes that voice, that accent, marking him as one of the latter children of Charles Sketch.
“Very much.”
Light feet pad away.
Thomas brainstorms for words, but before he can think of anything to say, the feet are padding back.
“Open your mouth.”
Dumbly, he does, and clamps down again when he feels the cigarette slip between his lips. Unseen hands strike a match and light it - he fervently grips it and takes a deep drag.
The sun, the brother, the splitting pain in his head.
“The-there’s, um, there’s vodka in the cabinet. If you’d be so kind-”
“Of course,” comes the voice, and the feet pad off again.
A moment, and the sound of a drink of being poured.
Delicate piano hands place a glass in Thomas’ own hands.
He downs it.
An unseen refill, he downs it again.
The noise of the loveseat as Rory sits down.
“I’m your brother, Thomas,” he says quietly.
“I know. Could you fill me up again?” Thomas asks impatiently.
Liquid, pouring.
Thomas throws it back.
Sting down the throat, buzz in the head.
He exhales throatily.
“Oh God,” he moans, yet again, and buries his head in his hands once more.
“You’re quite hung-over.”
“What the Hell was that?”
“The sun.”
“There is no sun in London.”
“That’s what I’ve heard,” Rory responds quietly.
Silence - Thomas takes the longest drag of his life.
“I wish you’d open your eyes, Thomas.”
He blows out a train of smoke til he is devoid of breath.
A long inhale.
“Oh God, I hate you, Lizzie,” he whispers.
“Careful, Tommy. That’s my sister you’re talking about.”
Finally, Thomas opens his eyes. He peers at Rory, silent.
“You have his eyes,” he mutters, his own filled with their characteristic intensity as they gaze at the ice-blue pair across from them, so terribly like the kind you find at the head of a table in a ballroom in your worst memory. Kinder, though. Sunlight touches the ice, forever on the verge of melting and flourishing with the aquatic life below.
“You have his appetite,” Rory dryly replies, fingering a pair of lace undergarments dangling from a nearby lamp.
Thomas stares at the undergarments for a moment, then fills himself another shot of vodka. He throws it back.
“Don’t you think you’d better stop?” Rory politely asks.
“Quite the opposite,” Thomas says in the breath before another shot.
Rory watches Thomas as the zailor continues drinking, smoking. He smiles.
“You’re very cute when you’re drunk. Red cheeks,” he says, pushing his own up for show, “I can see why those girls liked you.”
“Were you here last night?” Thomas asks.
“I was. The girls were very nice. Flirty. Friends of yours?” Rory asks.
“No. No, just, uh, just Dock girls,” Thomas replies.
“Prostitutes,” Rory says.
Thomas glances at him.
Another shot.
“Some of them,” he mutters.
Rory pushes the bottle away as the zailor goes for another refill.
“Thomas, it’s me. Your brother. Aren’t you excited to see me?” he asks.
“I don’t know you.”
“You know of me. Lizzie said you do. I’ve always wanted to meet you.”
“You’re my older brother! You were Papa’s first chi-“
“I suppose you call him ‘Father?’”
Thomas nods.
Rory smiles.
“So English,” he says.
“I am English. Father was English,” Thomas says.
“He was Danish.”
“He was English,” Thomas snaps.
“Why do you want to fight with me? I didn’t expect our first meeting would be like this,” Rory says.
“Nor did I,” Thomas murmurs.
He reaches for the bottle again; Rory grabs his wrist. Thomas glares at him, but the piercing eyes don’t seem to work like they do on his sister or most people. Rory holds his grip, surprisingly strong for his feminine hands.
“Stop,” the younger brother commands.
The zailor leans back, begrudgingly obeying.
“What do you want?” he asks.
“To get along. Speaking of which, the tea is ready.”
The ectomorph pops up from his seat, scampering off to the kitchen. Thomas stares out the window.
“Milk and sugar?” Rory calls.
“Thank you.”
“I take mine with honey. Lizzie likes hers black, I know; she’s quite dedicated to the whole ‘tough’ thing. Very tough. You knew Papa when he was a sailor-“
“A zailor, excuse me. Was he very tough back then?”
“The toughest,” Thomas says, and then blushes, realizing he sounds like a schoolchild bragging about his dad, “A-as you put it.”
“Did he tell you stories? He would always tell us stories of his days as a captain,” Rory asks, “Terrifying water beasts and all that.”
“Yes. Yes, um, he told me stories.”
“Did he tell you the one about the Starstone?”
“Yes, uh. Yes, he did, um…”
“That one was one of my favorites. The way he described it, oh! It was one of the reasons I started poetry,” Rory says as he enters the room, carrying two tea saucers, “The sparkle of the stars in the night, ‘peligin black, like the bottom of the zee, with holes punched in it showing the glowing core of the worl-‘“
“I don’t want to talk about Father,” Thomas interrupts.
“Oh. Well, we don’t have to,” Rory replies, smiling as he sits and sets tea before Thomas, “I’m far more interested in you than I am in Papa.”
He smiles, and it makes Thomas feel dread the same way as it does when Lizzie smiles, because it’s so real. Completely real, completely beautiful, completely wanting to just be his friend, but this is even worse - he’s like some angel, sitting before Thomas, so gorgeous, so friendly, so Surface-touched, Thomas can’t tell if he wants to kill him, worship him, or just die and not have to deal with the sons and daughters of Charles Sketch any longer (especially himself).
“Tell me about yourself,” Rory says.
Thomas gazes at him for another moment, captivated with some odd emotion, then looks down at the table. He swallows, takes a drag. Exhales, collects himself.
“My name is Sir Thomas Sketch. I was born somewhere in London, around 1871; I never knew those who birthed me and a man named Daniel Rye adopted me - he was a Presbyterate man and honorable. He married a zee captain named Charles Sketch, from whom I took my name. Being a scoundrel-“ Here Rory frowned “-he abandoned us when I was small. Daniel Rye died a few years after.”
He pauses - some dark memory floats through the ebony eyes. He clears his throat, taps his cigarette, and continues.
“I’m a lieutenant in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, and a knight of England,” he says, “Which is half hogwash and full shite. What else do you want to know?”
“Who was your first love?”
Thomas blushes - he quickly pours himself more vodka. Rory smiles.
“What?” Thomas asks, after having downed the shot.
“Your first love. Even if it was unrequited, you must have had some first love by now. I want to know about you, Thomas - you tell your story like an obituary. I’m a poet. Tell me something poetic,” Rory says.
Thomas glances at him.
He hesitates.
“There was a girl,” he mutters.
Rory’s face lights up - he leans forward and rests his chin between his hands.
“Tell me about her.”
“You have to let me drink.”
“Of course.”
And so the two begin passing stories. Poetic stories, and they keep passing them as the clock swings by. Thomas gets drunker and drunker, but Rory doesn’t mind - he comments again on the vodka-fueled cuteness of Thomas’ rosy cheeks and this time the zailor laughs. They both tell stories of girls, of boys; Rory reads a poem and Thomas asks for more. The hours wheel by and all thought of the sun in London is forgotten - a knight and a poet talk in a dead madman’s home and become something like brothers, at least while one of them is drunk. At some point, the Khanate woman stumbles out of the bedroom and hurries out before either notices her, not that they would, enraptured in each other’s discussion. By nighttime, Thomas drunkenly agrees to let Rory stay (“Hell, it’s not even my- hic my house!”) and the poet helps guide the knight back to bed. Thomas collapses and Rory tucks him in, laughing.
“You’re going to have an awful hang-over, Tommy,” the poet says.
“I-I love you,” the knight slurs.
“I love you too, brother. Say it again when you’re sober, though. Sleep well,” he says, turning for the door.
“Whe-hic where’s that girl go? Wh-where is she?”
“Good night, Thomas.”
“I wanna see the Khanate girl.”
The door closes.
“Where is she? She-hic Oi, where’s my cane? My cane? Ro-Rory! Rory, where’sh my cane? Hic Oh, he left. He left. Hic That’s-that’s sad. Ugh, I’m sleepy.”
A pillow, scrunched against the face.
Another hiccup.

Elizabeth kicked the door shut behind her.
&quotSet him down there, in the window seat.&quot
The Soft-Hearted Henchman nodded, shifting the weight in his arms as he padded over piles of notes, half-finished drawings.
The weight in question was a bloodied Sir Thomas Sketch. The eyelids of the young Admiralty zailor fluttered over their black-pupiled interiors, trying vainly to discern the blur that was the candle-lit ceiling. Blood from a small but deep gash across his forehead had stained the whole face red and still continued to leak, so that the zailor continually blinked blood away from his eyelashes and tasted rust as it dripped from his lips into his mouth.
The Soft-Hearted Henchman dumped him onto the green pillows of the window seat, where falsestar light poured in from beyond the window. Thomas squinted up at the face of the Soft-Hearted Henchman, home to a waxed moustache and hard, yet quizzical eyes amongst sharp features. He had an iron ear and looked constantly as if he could either suddenly kiss you or wait til you had your back turned and stab you.
The knight closed his eyes and groaned, turning his bleeding face into the pillows.
&quotThank you dearly, Henry, on such a short notice.&quot
&quotTwasn’t a problem.&quot
&quotDinner later?&quot
&quotI’d love to, ma’am.&quot
&quotI look forward to it.&quot
&quotStop flirting with the murderer, Lizzie,&quot Thomas moaned.
&quotThis murderer just saved your life. And he’s awfully cute, besides. You can go now, Henry - the doctor should be here, soon. I’ll see you later.&quot
&quotGoodbye, ma’am.&quot
The gangster looked over at her brother as the door closed behind the Soft-Hearted Henchman. He was still, save for the blood still visible flowing from his stomach as the candlelight caught it, and the blood from his head trickling down into the locks of hair still neatly combed behind his ear. He wore a fur overcoat.
Thomas may have lived in a big house, and he may have been the Admiralty’s golden boy, but in the year Elizabeth had known her older brother, he had never had the spare money nor the desire to wear a fur overcoat.
He had also never sent a messenger to her house asking for desperate assistance because he’d been lethally wounded in a swordfight. That was more her sort of thing.
&quotThat’s my favorite spot to sit in this room, you know,&quot she said aloud as she lit a cigarette, sitting down on the table next to a well-used bottle of vodka, &quotSo you’d better pull your face out of those pillows and stop bleeding all over them.&quot
His head rolled free. Elizabeth didn’t know it, as she only knew her father in his glory days, but here, bloody-faced and clad in black, Thomas looked more like his father than ever before.
&quotWhere are those Gypsy Queens you like to smoke?&quot she asked, gazing around the room.
&quotThere’s some in that drawer. Why?&quot he asked.
&quotI figured you’d like one about now,&quot she responded.
He gave her that uncomfortable look he always gave her whenever she did something nice for him.
She gave him that &quotPeople can love you, you know, Thomas,&quot look she always gave him in return.
Elizabeth rose from the table and crossed over to the drawer, fishing out the Gypsy Queens. She frowned momentarily, pausing at the sight of a daguerreotype of her father, spaced oddly so it seemed that someone else should have been in the picture next to him, but had mysteriously disappeared. Artists, she dismissed it, and closed the drawer, returning to her brother.
As the zailor shakily lit the cigarette clamped between his teeth, scarlet-dripping hands fumbling with a match, she sat down and frowned again, watching her brother.
&quotWhat’s been going on, Thomas?&quot she asked softly, &quotYou’ve been very odd as of late.&quot
He glanced at her - the cigarette caught the flame and he took in a deep drag. He dropped the matchbox onto the floor in exhaustion.
&quotShouldn’t you grab me a wet towel?&quot he asked as he blew out smoke.
&quotOh. Yes, I suppose I should,&quot she replied.
She wasn’t very used to this &quotcaretaking&quot thing.
As she popped up and headed to the kitchen to wet a towel, she called back over her shoulder, &quotI still want an answer, you know.&quot
&quotNothing’s been going on,&quot he called back, &quotIt’s London and somebody stabbed me. What a surprise.&quot
&quotYou like to fight and you like to drink, Thomas,&quot she replied, &quotI know that much about you. You smoke Gypsy Queens, you’ve got a problem keeping your legs closed-&quot here Thomas raised his eyebrows &quot-and you’re a ‘Lieutenant in her Majesty’s Royal Navy,&quot she finished, impersonating Thomas’ accent as she loved to do.
She returned, wet towel in hand. As she wiped the blood from his face, both siblings held their cigarette out in one hand, the noticably similar cock of their arm causing them to look for once quite like brother and sister.
She straightened up and looked at him.
&quotBut you’ve never been one for depression.&quot
&quotWe all have firsts,&quot Thomas morbidly replied.
She frowned.
&quotIs it related to Father?&quot
&quotIs it tied into whatever business you’re in that’s giving you a nice fur coat and getting you into swordfights?&quot
She was silent, studying her brother.
&quotWill you-&quot he suddenly broke the silence, then stopped, unsure of himself.
A pause, she waited for him to continue.
&quotWill you tell me about Italy?&quot he asked.
Now it was her turn to raise her eyebrows.
She sat down once more on the table. Both of them took drags of their cigarette, Thomas staring out the window, Elizabeth watching him.
&quotOf course,&quot she replied, tapping an ashtray lightly, &quotYou know I love to tell stories. Did something suddenly make you long for Italia?&quot
&quotNo, I’ve just- I’ve heard good things,&quot he replied awkwardly.
She tilted her head.
&quotOf all of us, I think you’re the weirdest, Thomas,&quot she replied lightly.
&quotThanks,&quot he snarked, turning and looking at her sardonically.
&quotNo trouble, brother dearest,&quot she smirked, &quotBut I’d be glad to tell you about Italy. I only wonder where to begin - I traveled around a bit in my time on the Surface.&quot
&quotWhere did you and Rory live?&quot Thomas asked.
&quotAs children?&quot she asked.
&quotI suppose - however long you two lived together.&quot
&quotAs children we lived in a villa Father had set apart in the countryside. Once Father had left, Mama took us to Rome, and once she had left, we spent our days in Ancona,&quot she explained.
&quotI don’t want to hear about Father. Tell me about Ancona,&quot Thomas said.
&quotWe went to Ancona to be near the shore - Rory thought it was romantic. It was - it was where I had my first love. Rory had already had several by that point - you should have seen him, Thomas. He’s beautiful now, but when we were so young, so free, beneath the sun, beside the waves? Before Ancona, after Mother left us on the streets of Rome, we had been orphans. We had not dead parents, but two who had left us. Ancona made us runaways. I know he still misses it,&quot Elizabeth said.
&quotDo you?&quot Thomas asked.
&quotI’m far too young to miss things yet, Thomas,&quot she winked.
He smirked slightly and returned to looking out the window, envisioning Italy as she described it to him.
&quotWe spent our days in the fashion one spends them on the coast of Italy. During the day, we walked the docks, feeling the hot boards beneath our feet. We jumped into the ocean and became excellent swimmers - I was always faster than him, you know. We fell in several loves - as one person broke Rory’s heart, I would comfort him and tell him how another had broke mine, and the next day we would tell each other whose hearts we had broken. This, I don’t think is a thing of Italy. I think all coasts brings out a heedless love in people - by the ocean is where lovers belongs, where romantics are born. It was certainly where Rory belonged; he loves the sun and the sea.&quot
&quotAnd you?&quot Thomas asked again.
A small smile tugged at the side of Elizabeth’s lips - she was touched to see her brother cared so much. She thought for a moment.
&quotI always liked Father’s descriptions of Denmark,&quot she decided, &quotThe Faroes always sounded terribly small and quiet, but Copenhagen in the winter? The adventures he had there? I know I could have some fun in a city like that.&quot
&quotI always liked what he said of Spain,&quot Thomas responded quietly, his eyes somewhere far off.
Elizabeth nodded, &quotThat makes sense. You’re quite the adventurer.&quot
He grinned.
&quotBut I assure you there’s a king in Denmark, too. You needn’t go to Spain to find an ass to kiss,&quot Elizabeth said.
He scowled at her, and she smiled cheerily.
&quotTell me more about Ancona,&quot he said, returning to gazing out the window.
She tapped her cigarette.
&quotWell, that was how we spent our days. The nights, we rarely spent together. Rory would go the house of his lover, I to my own. He, of course, always found his way into the parties of others like him - the poets, the authors, the actors and playwrights. I made my own entertainment. I stole things. Mainly to make us money - Rory’s always been simply awful at that sort of thing. Whatever money he accidentally happens upon, he loses quickly. I don’t know what he’d do if he wasn’t beautiful. But boats - that was the best thing. Sometimes, that would make us money, and when it did, it made us a lot! Boats are so expensive! But generally, I didn’t sell them. Sometimes, I returned them, more often than not, I shored them somewhere far down the coast and went away to walk through the countryside, to pretend I was still a child and we still lived at the villa. The coast may be a thing of lovers everywhere, but the countryside - oh! Thomas, the countryside of Italy is a thing unique. The sensation of emerging from the bushes of the forest, where moonlight and the gentlest animals are your companion, to the open plains - to the sight of the dipping, sweeping, smooth landscape, green here and yellow there where the wheat of the farmers sways, black and tranquil here and dotted with light there with the glow of their cottage windows, like some uncluttered night sky, a long flat stretch of farmland here and a dipping, solitary valley there, all the way to the mountains. It is a thing unique. And on the boat, I took no note of the sights, of the ocean spreading around me. During the day, on the beach, the ocean glitters like it wants to shower you in gold. At night, the ocean offers you little for your eyes. But it offers you silence. It offers you the most spectacular silence. And so I would lie, with my eyes closed, listening to the silence of the open ocean at night.&quot
Silence - the burning of the candlestick, the dancing of cigarette smoke as it rose to the ceiling. The two siblings both envisioned their respective oceans - for Elizabeth, the Mediterranean Sea, for Thomas, the Neath’s zee.
&quotAnd some nights, Rory and I would spend together,&quot Elizabeth said, &quotWe would wander the streets of Ancona and gaze at the stars, bask in the moonlight and fall in love with the world. In Ancona, we fell in love with the world. We no longer hated it for what it had done to us. We loved it for what it had to offer us.&quot
A knock at the door.
&quotAh,&quot Elizabeth said, &quotThat must be the doctor.&quot
She rose, strolling to the door.
Thomas gazed out the window.
Amongst the blood and sweat, there were tears in his eyes.
He stared at the false-stars and envisioned something he could never have.
&quotGood afternoon, Doctor. I’m Elizabeth Trifle - the bleeding celebrity beneath the window is my brother, Sir Thomas Sketch,&quot Elizabeth said as she answered the door, smiling politely and gesturing to Thomas.
&quotChrist, Lizzie, don’t tell him my name,&quot Thomas cursed as he quickly wiped his eyes - from where Elizabeth stood, it looked merely as if he were wiping more blood from his face.
&quotOh, forgive me,&quot Elizabeth responded, &quotI forgot that you shared the company of the elite nowadays - they can’t be knowing you’ve been naughty. I’m sorry, Doctor, this is my grandfather, Czar Nicholas.&quot
Thomas scoffed.
&quotI see,&quot the Twelve-Fingered Doctor replied politely, &quotWell… It’s nice to meet you. I’ll set to work immediately.&quot
&quotYes, thank you, Doctor. There’s vodka on the table and cigarettes to be found in most nooks and crannies, make yourself comfortable. I do hope you’re not afraid of blood.&quot
The doctor crosses to Thomas, setting down his bag and pulling free his tools. Meanwhile, Elizabeth slips on her coat, stubbing out her cigarette and igniting a new one.
&quotI must go, brother, but I leave you in capable hands. Doctor, hide the vodka somewhere before you leave - he’s nothing but a no good drunk,&quot she says.
&quotGoodbye, Lizzie,&quot Thomas replies dryly.
&quotGoodbye, Thomas!&quot
The door closes and silence sets in.
&quotAre you really Sir Thomas Sketch?&quot the Twelve-Fingered Doctor asks after some time.
&quotOh God.&quot

Sometimes he goes through the remnants.
The beautiful paintings - sometimes he fishes one out from their piles and looks at the faces, tries to see what his father’s many lovers had ever had over Daniel Rye, over a struggling but happy family on the London docks.
The poems - sometimes he flips through the many old journals lying about the place, all filled back to front with poems worthy of University study, describing London, the zee, sunrises, the Surface, women, men, in beautiful words that almost make one think the poet had emotion to instill if the reader has not Rory’s poems to compare them next to; once one has this, one sees the calculation of it all, the subtle plagiarism, the delicate following of form, the study and application, the theft of thoughts and themes, without any original emotion in the equation at all.
The madmen notes - sometimes he delves into these, and here one finds the emotion. Here one finds Charles Sketch, or whatever became of him after his second trip down to London.
It is this that he is doing now.
A candle burns, the lack of some noises and presence of others outside announce it is night in the Neath. A cigarette burns at Thomas’ lips, a glass of vodka glitters in his hand as the candlelight catches the ice, a journal of madness and chaos rests in his lap, thrown open. Vivid drawings of storms, some sprawling and detailed, others frenetic and incomprehensible, look back at him - words intersperse them, most in Faroese, some in Italian, some in Latin; what English he could find he reads. They describe dragons, dead things, gods, cliffs, robed people. Quotes, from believers Father had met, on some pages - Thomas takes a pen and paper and marks these down separately with the names. Here, the group on the cliff, with the girl in the middle - Thomas has no idea who she is. Here, what Thomas takes to be a depiction of Father’s face, looking down from stormclouds. For several pages, the dragon, the dragon, amongst storm and thunder. Here, a man and a woman, unfamiliar, eating at a table lorded over by a storm.
And here, the detailed vivisection of a child.
Thomas blanches - he downs his glass and looks away.
Refills it.
He knows this part of his father. He had been told the stories, he had read the newspapers. Had heard the rumors, behind his back.
But seeing is different than hearing.
He closes the book - refills his glass and downs it again, refills his glass and downs it again. Elizabeth has been urging him to stop the drink to no avail, Rory had succeeded for some time before leaving on that pleasure yacht. She could tell him to stop all she wanted - she didn’t see the things Thomas saw, she didn’t live in the house where her father had gone mad. How could one not drink?
The vodka stings as it goes down, stings less as it goes down again. He shuts his eyes tight - the child is there, on the back of his eyelids.
&quotNever be afraid,&quot the words on his heart.
He turns, fixing the image with his gaze again. Another drink and he has the courage to approach the image, flip the page. On the back, an address, two names, a sentence.
&quotSir Henry Montgomery, Mrs. Ada Montgomery.
Go here should you ever need an answer to your sin.&quot
He pales.
Does he know?
He shakes his head - drunkenness. The man is dead, what is he saying? They are madmen’s words, meant to appeal to the madness in others. That is all.
But nevertheless.
He rips out the page, folding it and tucking it into the pocket of his vest.
It’s late. In the morning, he will investigate the address. Whether it be madness or not, it is a mystery, with answers promised, regarding his father, and as such one he has a duty to solve.
He stubs out his cigarette, lights another one. As he returns to his bedroom, he brings the bottle and the glasses with him.
&quotAn answer to your sin.&quot
In the morning, perhaps he will find it.

It was a fashionable estate.
A mansion, not as large as Grim’s, with manicured hedges leading to a polished gate. Thomas had scoped it out early in the morning, still sporting a nasty hang-over, as one of the servants trimmed the aforementioned hedges in the dim false-star light. Tall, white, and stately - it looked the home of a knighted man, unlike Thomas’ own. Wealthy. So, the best way to meet the owners was, no doubt, at one of the wealthy’s favorite places.
A ball.
It hadn’t been hard for Grim to organize an invitation for Thomas - it only seemed natural, these days, for a party of the elite to have the representative of the Admiralty attending, as they always had a representative of every major organization attending. So he’d filed in with the other guests, stiff-backed, shaven, and combed in his formal uniform, and found his place by the chardonnay, watching for the Montgomery’s.
&quotWell, that’s them, over by the truffles, old chap. The one with the moustache is Sir Henry, and over there, talking to Janet, that’s Ada.&quot
&quotWhich one’s Janet, then?&quot
&quotThe one next to Lady Onfrey.&quot
Thomas settles for knowing which one Sir Henry is.
The two look like what he’d expected. A middle-aged couple, with all the proper poise and manner of the bourgeoisie. His mind goes back to the drawing of the child, still tucked into the pocket of his uniform, and he wonders whatever connection it could have to them. But then, no one ever suspected his father, had they?
&quotWould you send them my compliments, and ask them if they would like to talk sometime?&quot he asks.
&quotOf course!&quot the Chortling Dandy exclaims, &quotI’m sure they’d be delighted!&quot
Thomas watches as the Dandy crosses the floor to the truffles table. The socialite leans into the ear of Sir Henry and whispers a few words - as he does, Henry looks up. Thomas smiles and nods, Henry returns it. God, Thomas hates this sort of thing. No one can just talk to anyone.
Sir Henry shares a few more words with the Dandy, the two laugh jovially and the Dandy begins his walk back to Thomas. The bluejacket sips his chardonnay and eyes the door, already eager to get out.
&quotHe’d like to invite you to dinner, Sir Thomas, at his estate,&quot the Chortling Dandy announces upon arriving, &quotTomorrow evening, around six?&quot
&quotOf course,&quot Thomas replies, &quotI would be delighted.&quot
&quotHe will be quite delighted,&quot the Dandy smiles.
He turns and walks back to the truffles table.
&quotHe will be delighted, he will be delighted,&quot Thomas cynically mouths, &quotUgh.&quot

&quotSir Thomas. Sir Henry is expecting you. Do step in.&quot
The butler closes the door behind Thomas as the latter steps over the threshold. Thomas rubs the head of his cane nervously, eyeing the entry hall he stands in. Portraits of Montgomery ancestors stare back at him, a chandelier glows above.
&quotMay I take your coat, sir?&quot
&quotOh. Yes, yes, thank you.
Away with the reinforced Order coat and Thomas is more nervous - he runs his thumb along the maw of the lion frequently as the butler leads him from the entry hall, through the parlor, into the dining room.
&quotAh, Sir Thomas!&quot
Sir Henry doesn’t appear to see anything of Charles Sketch in Thomas as he rises from his chair and crosses the room to shake his hand. It’s no fault of his - the sombre, black-pupiled young Admiralty lieutenant looks little like his bohemian father, especially now as he smiles politely, stiff-backed, and shakes Henry’s hand. Assuming Sir Henry ever even knew Sketch - all Thomas knew was that Sketch knew Henry.
&quotAn honor to meet you, sir,&quot Thomas says.
&quotAnd you as well. I’ve heard so much about you. Come, come, take a seat,&quot Henry says, and shows Thomas to his seat.
The bluejacket sits down rigidly. He smiles at Ada, who sits by Henry’s seat at the opposite end of the table - a woman of Henry’s age with black-blue curls; she must have been quite beautiful in her youth. Perhaps that was the connection? Had she had an affair with Father? Thomas tried not to think of what that would imply of the child’s connection.
&quotIt’s delightful to meet you, Sir Thomas,&quot Ada says, her voice a gentle hum, &quotAs Henry says, we’ve heard so much.&quot
&quotAnd I of you,&quot Thomas replies, remembering what Grim told him of the couple, &quotYour sermons are of legend, Sir Henry.&quot
&quotOhh,&quot Henry replies dismissively as he sits down, laying his napkin out on his lap, &quotThe good book is the good book. I merely ever relayed the word - the Apostles wrote it down.&quot
&quotNevertheless,&quot Thomas replies, &quotIt takes a good man to relay it well. My priest always says he wishes you never quit.&quot
&quotOh? Who’s that, then?&quot
Thomas pauses.
&quotFather Johnson,&quot he decides.
&quotHmm. I don’t recall him from my flock,&quot Sir Henry frowns.
&quotNo, you wouldn’t,&quot Thomas replies, &quotHe was abroad during your years of preaching. He heard tales after.&quot
&quotAh,&quot Sir Henry says, &quotWell, they’re all greatly exaggerated, I assure you. Shall we pray?&quot
&quotOf course.&quot
And so they pray, visions of his father, the married couple beside him, and a dead child dancing in Thomas’ head all the while, and the dinner commences. Thomas politely small-talks with the older couple as they dine on veal and wine, discussing matters of London, society, and faith. As Thomas gathers from what Grim told him and what the couple reveal during the dinner, Sir Henry served as a young man in the Bhutan War and was knighted for his valor. Upon London’s fall, he left the army, descended to the Neath, and took up the cloth, becoming a preacher and running a sizable flock in London for the rest of the 80’s until his retirement in '93.
&quotWhen did you two meet?&quot
&quotAh, as young things when I was in university - my parents knew hers,&quot Sir Henry says, smiling sweetly and clasping hands with his wife, &quotShe used to be gorgeous, you know.&quot
&quotAnd still is!&quot
Thomas laughs politely at the joke.
&quotWhich university did you attend?&quot he asked.
&quotOxford,” the ex-priest replies proudly, “First of my family to do so.”
“Very impressive, sir.”
“I like to think so.”
The dinner finishes without interruption, the smalltalk continues once the food is finished until Thomas slaps the table lightly and announces, “Well, I’d better be going. It’s been delightful getting to know you both.” The couple escort Thomas to the door, he slips his coat back on, they exchange pleasantries and assure each other they’ll have dinner again, sometime. Thomas steps outside and hails down a carriage.
Percy should be finishing, now.
He looks out the window as he slides into the backseat of the carriage, closing the door behind him. He sees no sign of his fellow Knight’s nimble silhouette escaping the mansion - perhaps he slipped out a back window?
The mansion begins to slip away as the driver’s whip cracks - the horses snap into motion and the wheels begin to roll across the wet cobblestones.
Perhaps something has caught the other Knight’s interest - Thomas dismisses it and lights a cigarette, taking the long drag of a man who has finally escaped excruciating boredom.
He gazes out the window, watching the passing upper-class houses. His own was once of these, before his father drove it to ruin.
“Bloody Hell!”
He looks up at the driver - his head is turned.
He turns his own head just in time to see the rifles.
The shots hit their mark - he feels something like several swift punches make contact with his side. Before he has time to register the pain, he’s down on the floor, covering his head - splinters continue to fly through sawdust air as the rifles rip into the carriage walls.
Thomas pats himself frantically, searching both for his pistol and blood. The carriage swerves - he slides across the mahogany and knocks headfirst into the wall. A sharp pain spreads through his head as his vision swirls - everything is the light brown of sawdust and wood mixed with the black of the London Neath through the window, utterly shattered; he feels glass crackle around his legs, the occasional slicing pain of a shard catching through his pants.
He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe - the Knight wheezes, struggling for air, did they hit his lungs? Where’s his pistol, where is it - his sword, that’s no good, an envelope, that’ll fend them off, for sure. Gunshots continue to crack, his ears beginning to grow deaf, splinters keep flying like monochromatic fireworks. Swift punch to his shoulder, swift punch to his back - he cries out.
So does the driver.
He hears him tumble backwards over the roof, big crashing blows, and watches him fall off into the darkness through the back window.
The sense of gravity begins to disappear with the mangled whinnie of an injured horse.
The cobblestones rushing up.
Gravity returns, and it all goes black.

The pulp novels you’ll find in Spite always exaggerate the length of a physically-induced black out.
Generally, if you get knocked out and you’re unconscious longer than a few seconds, you’re dealing with a bad concussion.
Longer, serious brain damage.
If you’ve ever seen a nasty rugby game, you’ll know the players generally get up after a moment when they get knocked out - a bit worse for the wear, sure, but they’re rugby players.
Thomas would have made a stellar rugby player.
It’s what he would be thinking about as his eyes begin to flutter open, consciousness trickling into his head like the first few drops out the wall before the break of the dam, if it weren’t for the overwhelming pain in his back, head, side, well, basically his whole body.
Oh, and the little urchin trying to rip the coat off of him.
He frowns, squinting through the blur. As things gradually begins to focus, he makes out the scene. He’s lying on one wall of an over-turned carriage. False star-light pours through the dozens of scattered holes in the other wall, spilling across the splinter-covered seats and falling in a polka-dot pattern on the raggedy jacket the urchin currently resting on Thomas’ aching chest is wearing.
“Why don’t you go for the cane? It’s worth more,” Thomas rasps.
The urchin looks up and Thomas nods towards the cane, still resting, albeit sawdust-covered, on the seat.
“Good finkin’, mate,” the urchin says.
As he grabs it, Thomas roughly shoves him off.
“I hate children,” he mutters darkly.
The zailor snatches the cane back and crawls across broken glass over the backseat through the shattered back window. As the urchin grabs at his feet, trying to remove his boots, he kicks back - it connects. A second of silence, and the urchin begins to wail.
“Oh God,” Thomas mutters.
“You ‘it my toof! Me bleedin’ toof, mistah!” comes the urchin’s high-pitched sobs.
“Oh God,” Thomas repeats.
As he crawls out onto the cobblestones of the London streets, the knight staggers to his feet. For once, he actually needs to use the cane as a walking device, resting heavily on it as he turns to look back at the carriage. The urchin’s wails continue to emanate from within.
Thomas looks around awkwardly.
“A-are you alright?” he calls, voice still hoarse.
“Me toof! Oh, me toof! You took me toof, you big arse!” the urchin sobs.
The bluejacket bends over, still gripping his cane for dear life, to look through the back window. The urchin throws him a helpless and accusatory stare. Blood leaks out through his fingers, which cover his mouth.
“Oh God,” Thomas says once again, “Um. I’m sorry.”
“Oi ‘ate you!” the urchin cries, “Oi bleedin’ ‘ate you, mistah!”
“I’m very sorry. Do you know where your mother- No, um. There’s a dentist at the pala- No, I don’t suppose that’s… Very helpful. Um.”
He glances around again, trying to think of what he can do for the bleeding child.
“I don’t suppose you want a cigarette?” he asks.
The urchin gasps, brightening up.
“Oi, wot kind?”
“Gypsy Queens?” Thomas offers.
“Give it ‘ere!”
The bluejacket removes the pack from his jacket and throws it to the urchin, who catches it eagerly. He tosses him his matchbook, as well.
“There you are,” he says, smiling awkwardly, “Have… Fun.”
“Fanks, mistah!” the urchin cries.
He smiles broadly and bloodily at Thomas, a cigarette already in the spot of his missing tooth. Thomas turns away as the urchin lights it, shaking his head.
He needs a drink.

The Order coat, had, of course, been what saved Thomas’ life. That, and the luck of never having his head where the bullets happened to be flying. The rifle bullets had still hurt like haymakers as they made impact with Thomas’ body, but the reinforced coat had stopped them from breaking the skin.
He had no idea who the shooters were. He hadn’t gotten much of a look, beyond the sight of several glinting rifles meeting his gaze just before the shooting began, and when he awoke, the driver was dead and the attackers nowhere to be seen. But he knew enough to suspect the Montgomery’s were responsible.
Percy got back to him the next morning, as Thomas nursed his head and a bottle of vodka. He’d searched the house as best he could, barely escaping the butler as he came into the dining room, the last room Percy searched while the Montgomery’s were saying goodbye to Thomas. He’d explored every room but one, and found little, save for a bottle of poison in one of the kitchen cabinets.
“You’re lucky you’re alive, if you drank his wine,” Percy had said, “I’d advise you don’t risk it again, should you ever go back.”
“What was the room you didn’t explore?” Thomas had asked.
“The basement. It was locked - I didn’t have time to pick it, the butler was coming.”
“Anything about his past? Oxford?”
“Nothin’ on Oxford, but I found a balanced record in his checkbook. A few big checks made out to your father, back when he was big, marked down as ‘Payment,’ and two for transport on the Cumaean Canal, around the same time, only a week apart.”
“Anything in between?”
“Nothin’. Just to go up and come back down.”
He thanked Percy for the information and saw him out.
Two trips on the Canal, with little time in between. Sir Henry must have gone to the Surface with a singular purpose, with his plans laid out beforehand, and returned as soon as he was done. And those payments towards Thomas’ father - what job was he doing for Sir Henry? Thomas had known his father was a jack of many trades, but working for a preacher? Especially during his bohemian days?
The knight returned to his liquor, dismissing the mystery to wallow in his melancholy til his body stopped aching. The recent action had distracted him from it - it now returned in brute force. He wept til the vodka put to a stop to that, and then laughed til the vodka brought a stop to that, too, bringing sleep like an amorphous and dull-edged anvil.

It is three weeks after their first meeting, after the two encounter each other once again at a society ball (the sight of the clean-cut bluejacket causing a look of brief shock in Sir Henry’s old features), that Thomas is invited to dine at the Montgomery’s once more.
“You’re lucky you’re alive, if you drank his wine. I’d advise you don’t risk it again, should you ever go back.”
After dinner, Ada goes upstairs to bed and Sir Henry invites Thomas to stick around for wine and mantalk.
He switches the glasses when the old man’s back is turned, retrieving a cigar box from a cabinet.
“Tell me about the Bhutan War, Sir Henry,” Thomas says.
“Oh, I’ve no clue,” Sir Henry exhales, setting the cigar box down on the table and clipping one, “I was a missionary.”
“Were you now?” Thomas asks.
“Yes, I’m afraid I lied to you, old boy. Never seen war. Ada and I were just there to spread the good word,” the old man says, clipping two cigars.
The ease of speech, the spilling of secrets, of one who is confident they are talking to someone soon to be dead.
Well, the joke’s on you, you old rat.
A sort of grim, angry pleasure fills Thomas. If he hadn’t hated the old man before, he has ever since he tried to kill him in the carriage, and only more now that he’s trying again. For some reason, nothing has ever infuriated Thomas more than someone trying to end his life. There was an aspect of vanity to it, thinking that they could kill him. Him. After all he’d been through, all he’d done, all he’d accomplished. And now, to try and kill him, especially in such sneaky fashions. It felt violating. So he’d show the old rat.
“Hell, never even went to Oxford,” Sir Henry chuckles.
Thomas lights his cigar for him, then his own.
“Thank you, old boy,” the old man says, puffing away, “Go on, drink up.”
“Of course.”
Sir Henry watches closely as Thomas takes a long swig of the dark wine. A satisfied look of relief washes over the retired preacher’s features - he takes another puff of his cigar and leans back in his chair.
Chuckling slightly to himself, he takes a drink of his own glass.
It is Thomas’ turn to watch.
“Does it taste funny, Sir Henry?” he asks.
“What’s that, old boy?”
“I should like to know. A man should know the taste of his own poison.”
The retired preacher looks up at the knight. Those black eyes have turned darker yet. A grin, tight and bitter, stretches across Thomas’ face and he downs the rest of his own glass.
“You should have known better than to try and kill me, Sir Henry,” Thomas says, rising from his seat and slowly picking up his cane, “And Cantigaster venom? For Charles Sketch’s son?”
In a flash, he swings the cane back. The retired preacher’s eyes go wide - the bluejacket swings forward, the steel lionhead lands straight in the old man’s stomach - the air goes out of him; he silently struggles for air through a contorted face. The poison does its work in due cooperation with this attack; Sir Henry is purple and veined as he collapses onto the floor.
Thomas pours himself another tall glass and downs it. The alcohol begins to swim in his head as he looks down at Sir Henry’s bulging eyes.
“A friend of my father, an enemy of mine,” he exhales, breath reeking of the drink, “But I am a Knight of the Order. You should have known better, Mr. Montgomery. I am Sir. Thomas. Sketch, by God.
He smiles smugly at the dying preacher, watching him til the light fades from those old eyes. The smile drifts away - Thomas is left alone, staring at a dead body by his own making.
Silence sets in.
He shakes his head, swigs more of the wine straight from the bottle, and heads upstairs.

Ada Montgomery awakes to the gentle shake of a shoulder.
When her old eyes open, she finds herself facing the grey overcoat, pale face, and black stare of Thomas Sketch, currently aiming a pistol right at her heart.
“Your husband’s lying dead in the kitchen. Permanently,” he says simply, “Half-poisoned, half-bludgeoned.”
The old woman says nothing, only continuing to study Thomas’ features from over the blanket pulled up to her chin.
“You look ever so much like your father, you know.”
Thomas’ mouth curls into a scowl - he backs away, gun and gaze still fixed on Ada, and collapses into a chair, taking another deep swig of the bottle.
He exhales, wrapping his coat about him and leveling the pistol.
“Your wine was poor,” he states.
The old woman sits up in bed, blanket still wrapped about her though she wears a nightgown underneath. Who knew cultists were so modest?
&quotI want you to tell me how you knew my father,&quot Thomas says, &quotWhat were you paying him for? What was… Who-who was the child?&quot
She smiles the tender smile of an old woman - it makes the knight uneasy and he drinks more.
&quotYou know more than I thought, Sir Thomas,&quot she says quietly, &quotI met your father when Henry and I were preaching in Southern Africa. This was before London fell, during the time of the Bhutan War. Henry never served, we never met at Oxford - all of that is lies Charlie-&quot Thomas stiffens at the informal way Ada refers to his father, the same way Daniel Rye did, &quot-helped us construct. We were in Africa merely to spread the word of God. Of course, rather than discovering the good glory of Christ, I discovered your father. He was a sailor at the time, the captain of a ship running supplies to and from the coast of Africa. I think he had some other business going on there as well, but I was no part of that. I merely knew him because it was my duty to walk from the town where we had settled in to the coast to retrieve supplies while Henry was busy with God’s work. Charlie saw me. He flirted with me. He was younger than me, how much I’m not sure, but that only made it all the more exciting. Everything about him was so exciting. He was young, strong - he smelled of seasalt and I felt the scars the sea had left on him when we made love. We fell in love, we had an affair, and then, after a time, he left. London had fallen, and he said the Neath called. I returned to my marriage, to missionary work, and many more peaceful years passed before Henry announced that the next place God was calling us was the Neath. We descended. I sought out your father immediately, of course. Beyond my being in love with him, he was the only face I knew in the Neath. Of course, by this time, he was greatly changed. He was refined. Still wild, but in a completely different way. He told us of his adventures, in the Neath and out, and of everything the Neath and the Zee held. Henry didn’t believe him at first - he was so elegant, so wealthy, a thespian; how could he have ever captained a ship that traversed this unholy world? But I had known earlier, long before Henry met him, when he was young and sea-salted, and I knew I could trust his word on the zee here, too. And, oh, he spoke of fantastical things. A dead god, up in the darkness above-” she points to the ceiling, frail finger aiming beyond the wooden boards all the way to the Neath roof “-and visions he’d had, terrifying yet exciting. My husband was a man of God. He thought him a heathen, and he began to worry terribly when he saw how eagerly I would listen to Charlie’s teachings . So he figured there was one way to prove him wrong - Henry fancied himself Moses, and your father the magician. We took part in one of his rituals.”
The eyes of the preacher’s wife are grey.
A deep, Stormy grey. How had Thomas not noticed this before?
“We saw a god that promised no gentleness but no lies, neither. We saw lightning, thunder, harsh cliffs, the wild zee, the Storm. We saw endless mysteries - we saw what this Neath held!”
A moment of silence - she is lost in religious ecstasy.
“Well, how could we say no to that?” she asks, smiling, “And so we took part in more. They were not cheap - the materials came at a cost and we paid your father good money for his duties as our religious leader. He seemed to be learning right alongside us - the way his eyes would light up, like they held lightning in them themselves, the way he would throw himself forward into this quest. He told us of a demon, one who knew lots about everything, including the Storm. An informant in Hell. Well, we met Them, through another ritual Charlie knew of. They told us so many things, in many strange words, but Charlie understood it all. He taught us to understand, too. And the demon always asked the most of Charlie. Oh, the ways he sacrificed himself for Their requests! The way he tore at himself. The way he gave himself up for our quest. Our god. Our shared religion. He was a magnificent man, your father. A beautiful man. I still love him to this day.”
Thomas’ eyes are tight and bitter. He clenches the pistol in his hand - the woman’s words are bile. Visions of his other father, abandoned and dying, flash through his head; he fights back tears, drunkenness, wrath.
“And one day the demon requested of us a greater sacrifice,” Ms. Montgomery says, looking down towards the floor, “One your father could not complete on his own. A cost we would have to pay, and this time it was not just echoes for Charlie.”
“Your child.”
She looks up at Thomas. What are those eyes? What is that look? What is that gaze meant to say - ‘I am a killer of children, the product of my own womb’? ‘I have slain that which I brought forth into this world, that which trusted me above all else’? ‘I vivisected my own goddamn kid’?
“Yes. My child,” she replies, “I am not sure who else it belonged t-”
“Don’t say ‘it,’ damn you!” Thomas screams, “What was the name?”
Another pause. Her eyes are fixed on Thomas, but they do not express any fear. Is it pity? More pity? Always pity, for the orphan?
“His name was Philip.”
“Philip,” Thomas says, weighing the word in his mouth.
Perhaps the name of his brother.
“And I do not know if he was Charlie’s. I do not know if he was Henry’s. I do not know if he was your brother, Sir Thomas. Our house was one of shared love in those days,” she says.
Thomas sinks deeper in the chair, deeper into the collar of his coat. His black eyes still peer out from beneath his messied hair, above the buttoned overcoat, and they glare at Ada Montgomery with drunken loathing.
“Keep going,” he mumbles.
“The demon asked of us the sacrifice of our child and the dirt of the land where its mother was first soiled by sin. Well, I knew where that was. In South Africa, where your father and I had first made love while I was already married to Henry. Henry did not mind this revelation. He loved your father just as much as I did, and besides, we were too dedicated to our quest by this point to let such things get in the way. So Henry went up the Canal on a trip to Africa. He was gone for three weeks. In those three weeks, Charlie was like a father to little Philip. He used to take him to his plays-”
Thomas rubs his eyes. Ada is blurry - liquor or tears? The gun is unsteady in his hand.
“What happened after the ritual?” he asks.
“The demon told your father to return to where he had first seen madness, and told us to continue our gospel here in London. They gave us answers. Answers to all we’d ever asked.”
An answer to your sins.
“I can summon Them for you, if you’d like,” she says kindly, a warm smile on her face.
An answer to your sins.
“That’s what you’re here for, aren’t you?”
An answer to your sins.
Thomas rises, walking unsteadily to the window. He waves at Percy, who sits across the street in a darkened carriage.
The knight turns around, glaring at Ada again. He motions with the pistol.
“Come on. You’re gonna show us your basement.”

“You sure this is a good idea, mate?”
Thomas nods thickly, eyes fixed on Ada as she prepares the summoning ritual.
Percy wraps his arms about himself, glancing about the basement uneasily. It’s cold down here. Really cold. Nothing about this feels right.
His eyes suddenly snap back to the old woman, on whom his pistol is also trained, as she begins to make a strange noise. He realizes she is crying.
“Part of the ritual,” Thomas deduces, slurring, “Don’t trust her. She’s not human. Not really.”
“I’ll take your word for it, old boy,” Percy replies unsurely.
After a moment more of this uncanny scene - the gentle sobbing of the old woman, Thomas’ dark and disturbed state, the frigid cold air in this basement that just reeks of everything wrong - a soft bronze light begins to glow from before the old woman.
No, not bronze.
The light grows, brass glow eventually washing over the entire room. Ada Montgomery’s thin, yards-long shadow form stretches across the floor - the shades of her spindly arms are like dead tree limbs moving in strange fashions. She mutters foreign tongues, she weeps, no, she wails. A high, whining wail. Lightning has hit her heart. Or perhaps Hell.
Percy is frozen. He looks from Ada, to the growing source of light, to Thomas. He might be the most terrifying thing in the room - a Knight of the Order can always rely on his companion, but Percy sees no sign of protection in his fellow Knight now. The bluejacket only stares ahead, one fist clenching the cane at his waist, the other tight on his pistol.
There is some other noise mixed in with the woman’s wail.
It does not come from her mouth.
Is that…
A child?
“We’ve got to put a stop to this, old boy,” Percy says, unsheathing his sword, “I don’t think this is any regular demo-”
Thomas slaps a gloved hand on Percy’s chest, still staring ahead.
“Just wait. I see eyes.”
The fair-haired of the two knights looks back towards the light.
Sure enough, a face is forming.
Ada turns. She is smiling. Incredibly wide, incredibly warmly. Tears stream down her face - her eyes crackle, her eyes thunder. Her eyes remind Thomas of his father.
Percy steps forward quickly, grabbing the old woman and pulling her away from the table. She spills rain from her hands - “Oh, you’ll love him. You’ll love him, the most delightful devil.” Above the table there now grows an increasingly more detailed, increasingly bright, increasingly brass face, not quite human. A terrible noise of buzzing and flapping, like that of a bee, a bee, begins to fill the room, mixing with that distant, unending scream of the child.
“Hello, Ada.”
“Oh, hello, sir,” Ada says sweetly, still restrained by Percy’s tight grip on her thin arm.
“And your new friendzzz. Why, izz that the Profezzzzzzzor?”
Thomas’ lips tighten.
“Oh, no. Forgive me. You must be Zzzzzir Thomazz. And I’m afraid I don’t know your name, zzzir.”
The brass eyes turn to Percy - for a second, one catches a hint of wings moving in the vague glow. The knight pales.
“What kind of demon are you?” Thomas asks.
“One who doezzzzn’t leave Hell. Too lazzzzy, I’m afraid.”
A terrible noise, some strange modulated laughter - ‘Ha, ha, ha’s,’ through a thick buzz, high-pitched and distorted. It hurts the ear. That child is screaming. Screaming. It is a bloody scream.
“Why, are thozze gunzzzz? Whatever are they doing to you, Ada, my dear?”
“They’ve killed Henry, sir.”
“Oh, how dddddreeeeaaaddffullll. Breaking up a happy marriage, Thomazzzz. How terrible of you.”
The eyes turn back to Thomas. The knight glares back at them - he sways on the spot but his gaze does not waver.
“You reek of peligin, Zzzir Thomazz. You look just like the zzzzzeeeee. What did you zzzummon me for?”
“I was told you held answers,” Thomas shouts, the buzzing growing louder.
Percy’s eyes flash back to his companion - his brow furrows.
“All kindzzzzz. I can tell you of the zzzeeeee. The Zzzztooorrm. Looondooon. The Eaaatteen One. I can tell you all zzzzorts of thingzzz, Zzzzir Thomazzz. I can tell you about you. Oh, yezzz. I can tell you about you. Your father izzzz marked by the White. The prophezzzzzy of hizzz children izzzz well known in Hellll.”
It is Thomas’ turn to pale - that horrid, bee-like laughter returns; one could feel wasp nests growing in their brain.
“Oh, yezzzzz. I could tell you about you. But I’m just zzzzzure you know partzzzzz of it by now. I know you rezzzzently finally had a chanzzze to meet that beautiful brother of yourzzzzzz.”
“Shut up,” Thomas says.
“Rooooorrrrrryyyyy. He reekzzzz of the zzzzzzzuuunnn. Lookzzzzzzzzz just like the zzzzzzunnnn. Would you like to hear the prophezzzzzzy, Zzzzzir Thomazzz? The prophezzzzy of Charlezzzzz Zzzzketch… And hizzzz zzzzonzzz… Hizzzz daughter… The Neath, the Zzzzeee, the zzzzuunn…”
And in a basement awash with the light of Hell, filled with the buzzing of bees and the torn screams of a child, a devil knowing far too much tells a prophecy.
Something cold washes over Thomas’ bones.
Something darker than black.
His eyes are not coal, but peligin.
His hair is not ebony, but peligin.
His heart is not black, but thick, flowing, darker-than-nothingness, lightless, peligin that runs through the blood, that runs in the family, that marks him as it marked his father, that runs all throughout the Zee, for he is not a sailor, not a zailor, but the Zee, flowing with loathing and fear and curses of the past generation and death and cold things and the terrible waters that run, windless, below the Earth, deep down in the Neath, the Zee, the Zee, the Zee, the mirror-like yet furious Zee, the Zee, the Zee, forever and always, no matter how he tries to escape it, no matter the titles, no matter the wealth, no matter the drink, no matter the Knights, no matter the lionhead and the vow and the grey coat and the companionship and the promise and the mission and everything he thought could save him from it all, no matter any of it, the Zee, the Zee, running in the blood, peligin.
“Don’t listen to him, Thomas,” Percy says softly.
“And any moment now, you’re about to kill for love.”
The bluejacket whips around - his pistol fires.
The aim is true - Percy’s grip loosens on the woman’s arm.
He falls.
Terrible, buzzing laughter, making the ear bleed.
The brass light fades, the buzz quiets. That awful scream is gone. The inhuman face distorts, melting once more back into mere tendrils of light, then a glow, then a brass shade, then nothing.
The basement grows quiet once more, freezing cold, and Ada Montgomery and Thomas Sketch are alone together.
His eyes meet hers.
She is, still, not scared. She does not even seem surprised. Perhaps this is just what she expected of Thomas Sketch. Perhaps this is what everyone expects of Thomas Sketch.
He crosses to her, silently. Without word, he transfers the pistol from his moleskin-gloved hands to her old, wrinkled ones. He wraps her fingers around it, loops one around the trigger.
The two look up into each other’s eyes once more - blackness into lifeless lightness.
“Philip,” he says.
She nods - “Philip Montgomery. He died for a great knowledge.”
Hatred bubbles up in Thomas’ stomach at this - it makes the next action easier as he unclips his cane and removes the lionhead.
The blade plunges in, then out - she falls, too.
And Thomas is left alone.
He does not breathe at first.
Then, he begins to shake.
His legs wobble uncontrollably - he drops the sword and it clatters to the floor, his breath performs an erratic dance as it rushes in and out, like racehorses, from his throat. He stumbles away from the two temporarily dead, making for the staircase but collapsing on the way. He needs a drink. He needs a drink.
The knight crawls up the stairs and goes to the kitchen. Sir Henry still lies dead on the floor - the Cantigaster venom is in one of those cabinets; he tries not to think of how he must use it shortly, if his murders are to mean anything.
He grabs a decanter of whiskey, sloppily pouring himself a drink that spills all over the counter.
“Your name will be restored, Sir Thomas Sketch,” those had been the words. “Your name will be restored.”
There was no restoring of any name now.
Another drink.
When his hands are steady and the world is spinning, blurry enough that he does not have to see what he is doing, he takes the Cantigaster venom and finishes the job in the basement.
After another drink, he steps out the front door and calls an urchin nearby. He tells him, in slurred words, to go, fast as he can, to the residence of Elizabeth Trifle, and to tell her to come to this address immediately. He pays the boy and the urchin nods, rushing off into the night, and the bluejacket returns inside, closing the door behind him.
The Zee calls the Neath, a brother calls a sister. An orphan calls a friend, a killer calls a killer.
Blackness calls blackness.

Peligin calls peligin.
edited by The Atumian Sputum on 9/22/2018

And a peligin bubble bursts.
Thomas Sketch’s head snaps to the side as he pours out the last of the bottle - he heard that. Down by the Docks; the pop of a peligin bubble, right on the surface of the Zee.
The walls of the house spin - wood, windows, doors and the swirling blood of the bodies he’s just cut up so they may never rise again. His feet are strange creatures of their own accord below him, but he whispers to them (thick tongue by drink, London accent like the kind his father practiced), ‘To the docks, to the docks.’
Elizabeth Trifle barrels in a carriage down London streets to a bloodied house just as Thomas Sketch stumbles away from it, reeling blindly through the night towards the Wolfstack Docks he has so often called home - now they call for him, the prodigal son. His moleskin gloves still drip with blood, his breath still reeks of whiskey, his heart still drips with black, with black, with blacker than black, blacker than black, and blacker than black drip the red-wax boots, cracked by a death not quite true, washed by a Zee not quite still, worn by a zailor not quite drowned.
Tis the only sound in the old home of Professor Sketch : a gentle drip, drip, drip, drip. Black, black water, swirling with zeeweeds, muck of the shores, strange glittering things found down deep in the darkness. A trail leads all through the dark old house, candles left unlit, the owner out but the intruder wielding the oldest key. Barnacles and the like trace a determined path through the shadows, a glisten across the floorboards marking the shamble of a visitor, a smell of ozone will tell you where to find the return.
The dripping thing looks about the unlit upstairs room. Its crystal ball eyes glide across so many familiar paintings, so many bound journals filled and then packed with notes, so many burnt candles by its own dripping hand.
But some of these candles are recently melted.
That blood on the windowseat is unfamiliar.
Those bottles of vodka - &quotNot my brand, darling, not my brand.&quot
The Gypsy Queens lying on the table can not be lit, though the dripping thing tries - fabric and tobacco melt in a ruined, cavernous mouth.
Woodpecker tongue spits them out, fast like a dart, trilling in the air - the soggy cigarette, now more like mush, lands with a splat on the floor. The dripping thing walks over the mess, drip drip dripping 'cross the room, red wax boots, red wax boots, bits of black garb heavy and waterlogged make a squelching noise tight around its ruined frame.
It stops as it comes to a blank painting.
Something was once here, it can see that much in its crystal ball eyes. Though in that fog no memories remain - White is splattered across the canvas. Perhaps a good poem could awaken the memory.
The dripping thing turns and pauses.
Drip, drip, the first noise in the house, accompanied by the gentle flicker of a woodpecker tongue.
A mirror rests against a wall, once used for studying lovers, now old, dusty, and abandoned. The new inhabitants clearly have no taste for Narcissus, but such a thing never leaves a true lush, does it now?
The room is packed to the brim with Professor Sketch.
His books stack to the ceiling, his paintings line the floor, his ramblings fill enough pages throughout the house to revive a forest. The drinks and footprints and cigarettes of his children clutter the table, the blood of his son stains the windowseat, the perfume of his daughter still lingers in the chair. His artifacts still line the shelves, his madness still taints the walls.
And there in the mirror, something even still remains of his body.
Far thinner now, far wetter, but still that same frame, if a ruined version. And still the same black garb wrapped about it, though it now alternatively clings to the body beneath in some spots and hangs droopy and weighted in others, the fabric waterlogged and glistening, bedazzled in splotches across the ebony with the glittering salt of the Zee.
But though the picture the mirror shows offers so much of Professor Sketch, seems painted across with Professor Sketch, the old madman is not there.
A dripping thing remains, strange and inhuman, too ruined now to even smoke its old cigarettes.
Crystal ball eyes ruined by the White, swirling with the fog, bulbous and impenetrable - where is the glinting gaze of the London Dandy? Where have the pale blue eyes of the Faroe Boy gone?
Clothes looking something like a spill of ink across a star-ridden cosmos - where are the Professor’s carefully chosen fabrics? Where is the old tasteful fashion of the dandy?
Skin of the Drownie and the tongue of a woodpecker - where is Professor Sketch?
Washed away, washed away, by death and a broken dam of time and angered gods.
Painted over by the White.
The Drowned Dane stands, leftover of a leftover Alexander, remnant of a once-great.
It drips, standing there in the darkness, staring at its reflection as a daughter discovers a scene of horror, as a bloodied son finds some strange inheritance awaiting him in the water.
It stands, silently, the only noise in the house a gentle drip, drip, drip, drip.
And it begins to dance.
The Drowned Dane dances.
Speaks heat lightning.
Strikes Fa-thom-king STANCES!
And a peligin bubble bursts.
edited by The Atumian Sputum on 10/10/2018