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The Spark by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Spark by Leanna Renee Hieber

Presenting The Spark, a brand new novella from Leanna Renee Hieber, set in the world of her gaslamp fantasy series, The Eterna Files. Leanna’s latest novel, Eterna and Omega, will be available August 9th.

Chapter One

Louis Dupris stole the small, precious dagger, wet with his own blood, from the priestess, tears streaming down his olive-toned cheek.

He ran.

He knew her cries would haunt him until death. And beyond. First was the pained shriek of betrayal. Then the shout of anger. Then the bellowed curses as he fled the bonfire at the banks of the Mississippi. It was a terrible sound that he wished he could trade for a cry of joyful victory.

He ran towards masts of ships gathered from around the world, past innumerable lines of sugar sheds—squat structures inhabited by saccharine mountains made from life-threatening hard work and rivers of sweat; past mountains of cotton bales waiting for the terrifying black jaws of monster presses. Louis dashed between spires of industrial fire and smoke, one step away from the maws of myriad hells on earth, racing toward the beckoning, charming gaslight of the French Quarter, that curious metropolitan mosaic of culture and rich, diverse history.

He knew he had likely condemned himself in a dire way that would only reveal itself in time.

But it was all done for love. Deep, passionate, soul-rending love.

Love of the spirit.

And of science.

He would make the complex and oft misunderstood beliefs of his Creole blood into venerated theorems in the halls of great institutions. The rulers of this still war-ravaged nation—where the term “reconstruction” meant very different things to the powerful and the powerless—would bow their heads at that which had heretofore terrified them.

Vodun would no longer be considered witchcraft. It would be vindicated. Validated. No longer a subject of fear, fetish, and persecution.

But the priestess to whom he had been beholden would not understand. He could not make her understand. He had been sworn to secrecy by another. He prayed that the priestess’s powerful and just soul would forgive the unforgivable, in time.

He prayed to the great Bondye and to the canon of intercessor Mystères, asking that they collectively empathize, advise, and guard him.

If his theories held the promise he thought they did, they’d have all the time in the world. Literally.


Senator Rupert Bishop had been skulking around New Orleans in an exceedingly fine new frock coat for the past two weeks. He wanted to be sure that the range of psychic powers he possessed walked about well clad. Attractive to the eye. Apparent to any who might be looking.

He descended the stairs of the fine inn, happy to be spending these days and nights visiting one of his favorite cities, a place of magic and unpredictable characters, where the veil between the tactile and spirit world was perhaps at its most thin. Where everything could and did happen. The Senator was on the hunt…and using himself as bait.

Unfortunately, nothing yet had bit, though he wondered if he hadn’t narrowly avoided a vampire the previous Thursday. If he’d been one for whores, by now he’d have been drowning in naked women or contracted some sort of disease. But no. Carnal desire wasn’t what he had traveled to this inimitable city for. No, he’d pinned his hopes on finding a new operative for his ventures in this marvelous place.

There had been a promising lead last night, but the poor lad had fled. Frightened.

Or so he had thought.

To the Senator’s surprise, the young man in question was standing across the street, in front of the old convent.

Bishop studied the fellow from his vantage point on the veranda of the inn. He ran his fingers over the intricate, black, wrought-iron rail which captured slivers of gaslight, making the whole balcony seem like it was exquisitely carved, burning coal. Was that a knife glinting in the man’s hand, flashing in display to catch his attention?

Oh, well, that made things more complicated, didn’t it….

Sometimes Rupert Bishop wished his work was more mundane.

Senator Bishop doubted the cure for death could ever be found, but goodness did he enjoy trying to find it. That had been his commission since soon after Lincoln’s assassination and while he didn’t believe that the desired result would ever be achieved, the search itself was important.

He strolled out under the eaves and waited for a team of horses towing a wagonload of haphazardly stacked coffins to pass before crossing the street. The flickering gas lamp of the nearby textile shop only partly illuminated the fellow—Dupris, Bishop recalled—who had had sense enough to thankfully conceal the ceremonial blade.

Bishop tipped his top hat to Dupris, taking in the younger man’s overall appearance. Dupris’ olive-skinned brow bore a sheen of sweat; his white shirt sleeves were rolled up and his vest was undone and a bit muddy, as if he’d run up from the banks of the Mississippi.

“So. Changed your mind then, Mister Dupris?” Bishop asked casually.

“I did. I have. I’ll come with you to New York and join your commission,” the other said quietly. Bishop stared at him for a long moment, as always taking delight in how his piercing stare seemed to make everyone slightly uncomfortable, until the man added, “I simply didn’t believe you.”

“What changed your mind, then?”

“Shall we go indoors to discuss it?” Dupris asked, glancing behind him as if afraid of pursuit, a notion that did not sit well with Bishop. The Senator glanced around at the relatively unpopulated gas-lit street and decided to stand his ground. He knew nothing was seeking him at the moment.

“I find trees and bricks better company than people crowding about me in a bar.”

Dupris chuckled. “How do you manage business in Manhattan?”

“Carefully. Now. Tell me, before you waste any more of my time, what changed your mind?”

Dupris lifted his head and straightened his shoulders; nearly Bishop’s height, he spoke with distinct pride. “The hope that I can bring dignity and scientific proof to that which my mother practiced. I’d like to make the average American think twice before they curse what they deem as ‘black’ magic.”

“A noble goal,” Bishop said with a partial smile that soon faded. “No disrespect to your extended family, Mister Dupris, but your city and mine are two different worlds. Both metropolitan, both thronged with diverse cultures, both centers of commerce and culture, but vast attitudes and prejudices apart. The North is a curiously cold and double-talking creature when it comes to one’s… background. Let not the aims of the Union lull you into expecting an unconditional welcome. Having been raised Creole, you may face trials in New York that will be foreign to you.”

Bishop watched a painful, complex sweep of emotions flutter through the man’s hazel eyes and over his smooth, barely dusky skin before vanishing behind a cool mask.

“During some of my travels I have passed for white,” Dupris said carefully. “I suppose I may find it advantageous to do so again. But I appreciate that you acknowledge the blood from which I come, blood I do not deny, as one should associate no shame with it. Here in New Orleans we have our class, as you know, and we are proud, we are ascendant. Should I find it advantageous to pass, let me never hear one word against my line or the like.”

“Indeed, Mister Dupris. Make no mistake; I’d hire you regardless. I come from a fierce line of abolitionists and activists who have lived and died for the sake of equality for all men and between the sexes. In an often cruel city, I’ve others in my employ who have made that same choice, though I would never ask it. As a champion for all people, I wish institutional injustices were otherwise, and I will fight them as I have done all my life; as a Quaker, a friend to President Lincoln, and a man fiercely loyal to progressive Republican ideals. I pledge to you what I pledge to my female ward, that your struggles for rights will not go without allies.”

“That is heartening to hear, Senator. As for an oft two-faced North, my family always wanted what was easiest for me, most beneficial.” Dupris ground out the last word as if it were beneath a chemists’ pestle. “They won’t know any better, as they’ll never know the truth of where I’ve gone, will they, Senator?”

“Our work must remain secret and there will be no further contact. You do not have to imply your death, however, that choice tends to make things less complicated.” Bishop didn’t like how matter-of-fact he sounded, but he’d held this commission long enough that the speech was simply standard.

Louis stared at Bishop with increasing pain. He slightly lifted the hilt of the dagger he still held at his side and murmured, “This ensured that I’m dead to them all.”

“You didn’t have to go that far, you know,” Bishop said with a frown. He did not like curses coming along with his recruits. Unnecessary detritus getting in the way, dark business, all of which he could sense like invisible luggage floating along behind the man, dense, troublesome cargo. He would have to actively separate it from himself and his home, making sure nothing followed across his own threshold. Nothing could get close to her.

“This item may be of use in my work.” Dupris replied.

“Be sure it doesn’t become our problem. Keep what you’ve done and its ramifications to yourself. The commission asks nothing of you but your talents; it does not ask for your soul. That’s between you and whatever God, or lack thereof, you acknowledge. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir. This responsibility I take on wholly myself.”

“See that you do, or I’ll not hesitate to send you back into that priestess’s arms.”

Bishop saw the small tick in Dupris expression as he wondered how Bishop knew where the blade came from. The Senator enjoyed planting the idea that he was not to be trifled with; that ultimately, his power had nothing to do with the government position he’d managed to hold longer than any of the colleagues with whom he’d started.

“You will join the team already assembled in Manhattan. We will not travel together. Your residence will be provided, noted on your itinerary,” he said, reciting another rote speech.

“Have you made progress, then, on a cure for death?”

The Senator looked around for spies or listening ears, then shook his head. “We are… at an impasse. Science has not kept up with our imagination.”

Louis smiled. “You have to bend science, then, to imagination. Force theory into law.”

Bishop returned his smile. “Your confidence and passion, young man, is why you intrigue me and I think you’ll bring just the right… spark to our stalled crew.”

“How many?”

“Four men from differing background, supported by a small research staff that looks into improbable things, whatever may relate to the principle of immortality.”

“Your ‘Eterna’ commission, as you mentioned last night,” Dupris clarified. The Senator nodded.

They’d met the night prior in a fine absinthe parlor not far from where they now stood, Bishop’s instincts having drawn him in after spotting the man on the street. For an hour, Bishop waited patiently, noting that the man took no drink, just watched the crowd with a scientist’s eye. When he’d gone for a breath of fresh air, Bishop had followed. They’d struck up a conversation on the upper balcony, gloved palms resting solidly upon the wrought iron railing as they stared at New Orleans below and spoke of human nature.

“What were you about to do to me before I ran out, last night?” Louis asked. “You leaned forward about to take my hand. And I know you’re not of that persuasion, so what was that about?”

A smirk tugged at the Senator’s sculpted lip. “I’ve a few tricks, Mister Dupris. I didn’t want you remembering what I’d said to you. I sensed you were about to run, and I couldn’t have you darting about this delicious city with such sensitive material in your head.”

“You were going to affect my memory?” Louis asked eagerly. “How?”

“Need to know basis, Mister Dupris. For now, memory doesn’t have to do with immortality, and until it does, keep focused on the tasks I lay before you. You’ll be my guest at a ball the night you arrive. Do you have fine dress?”

“I do, sir.”

“Good. Dress sharp, then. And you’ll only speak to those you’re introduced to.”

“Are there dangers I should be aware of?”

The Senator’s defined lip curled downwards. “Everywhere and everyone.”


Louis bit back a grin, feeling what he thought his twin must feel when undertaking his various affairs; a surge of wicked excitement. Though for Louis’ part, it was about intrigue, not conquest. Which is why Bishop’s next caution caught him off guard.

“And, as I tell every one of my new employees, my ward is off limits. She will be in attendance. You will not be introduced.”

“Is she very pretty, then?”

“Yes.” Bishop said matter-of-factly. Louis thought he glimpsed a slight clench of the older man’s jaw. Devastatingly pretty, then.

“May I ask how old she is, that she must be so protected?”


Louis blinked a moment. “Too old to remain a ward.”

Bishop lifted a finger. “Too pretty and clever not to.”

Louis smiled. “Do you pique all your employees’ interests so?”

At this, Bishop turned away and Louis could see that the heretofore gamesome and enigmatic gentleman’s closest nerve had been struck.

“Forgive me,” Louis said earnestly. “I did not mean to—”

“See that you don’t mean to, Mister Dupris,” Bishop said sharply, his charismatic warmth gone.

They walked in silence, at a quick clip, to the Rue Royale, where Bishop stopped across the street from the Dupris home. Louis was unnerved that Bishop seemed to know far more about him than he should after such short acquaintance.

But there was no turning back. He’d left a woman cursing his life and death upon the river bank. He had no choice but to make his new bed in Yankee territory. New England. A new world. When he’d been so comfortable in the old ….

Panic seized him. Was he doing the right thing or had he damned not just this body, but his eternal soul?

“You will take the 9 AM train, Mister Dupris,” Bishop said, reaching into an interior pocket of his fine coat and withdrawing a small sealed envelope which he handed to his new hire. “Here are your train tickets, the addresses to which you are to report, and a key for the doors. Please commit the location to memory and discard the information.”

Louis took the envelope and tucked it carefully into the pocket of his coat, which, though well tailored and made of good fabric, was less fine than the Senator’s.

“Thank you, sir.” He began to cross the street, then turned back and asked, “Will I see you on that train, Senator?”

“I try never to travel with my employees. I’ll fetch you before the party so I can advise you on the pit of vipers I’ll be sending you into.”

Louis allowed a partial smile. “I don’t mind snakes, sir. They may be of medicinal use.”

The Senator grinned. “Ah, if I thought of the party that way I’d enjoy it far more. Look for me at your door by eight. I’ll escort you to the mansion.”

Louis nodded. “I look forward to it. Thank you again.”

The Senator proffered a tip of his top hat and vanished around the corner with impressive, near liquid speed. Behind him, as if it were a force in his wake, a breeze rustled fallen leaves along the golden, gas-lit street.

It was a beautiful night in New Orleans; alive, awake, rich with sounds, smells and excitement swirling hot and spicy in the food and the cultural milieu. His last night in his beloved birthplace.

That night, Louis’ regular diet of wild and verdant dreams was supplemented by a keen pain in his chest, something carving, splitting his flesh and burrowing into his spirit, something desperate to pry his soul from his body and devour the space between….

Chapter Two

Clara Templeton sat surrounded by precarious towers of paperwork. This was unwise in her gas-lit office, where she liked to keep her prized, brand-new, Tiffany gas lamps trimmed high. That way it was easier to marvel at the bright, exquisite colors and the stunning textures and effects the artistic genius and his workers wrought on lamp-shades and sconces. Nevermind the fact that the whole place could burst into flame with the least tip of a stack of paper; Clara never felt happier than when she was entirely surrounded by interesting things.

Curiouser and curiouser were Clara’s general states of mind. This hadn’t wavered much since childhood, and now at the age of twenty-seven, working in a career that was entirely unheard of, especially for one of her sex, she felt the quality was her most vital asset.

Franklin, her partner in the Eterna Commission office, would have thrown a fit if he’d seen how she was keeping the place, but he wasn’t there. She had taken the liberty of spending the entire day giddily abandoning his fastidious principles of organization.

Clara was infamous for collecting everything, throwing nothing away, and making an ornate mess of things. To her credit, she knew where every item within the mess was, and could find anything in impressively short amount of time, if asked. Eccentric flair notwithstanding, she had an eye for décor, so even though the place looked a bit mad, it maintained a distinct style.

Her taste in art was cutting-edge; her gold-framed Pre-Raphaelite paintings, lit by the Tiffany lamps, made the place a treasury of rich colors and bold, iconic sentiment that nicely offset the dark mahogany of the office paneling.

Talismans of luck and power resided in an overflowing curio cabinet near her desk. If she felt in particular need of protection, she would hang up a number of the pendants and icons, tacking them to the window behind her desk. Today was one of those days. Something was “in the air,” so she guarded her delicate, sensitive’s sensibilities with care.

Early in their work together, the impeccably neat Franklin had knocked over yet another of Clara’s carefully stacked piles in a maze of notebooks and papers and burst out with, “May I ask, Miss Templeton, why you keep everything that comes into your hands? I try to keep our office from falling into the state of an unmanageable hoarder’s den, but it’s hard to keep up the pretense, let alone some kind of cataloguing system.”

She remembered blinking up at him from behind a precarious stack of ledgers topped by a small stone gargoyle that looked out in scowling protest of his surroundings. In an earnest, childlike voice, she replied; “because all of this means something to one of them. I… don’t know how to let go of any of it.”

Clara had an uncanny sense of how many times her individual soul had made its rounds about the world and through time. And while she tried not to let her current life get too busy with all the others, sometimes the past selves were terribly sentimental. She simply had to honor the things that reminded her, variously, of home. She was her own living graveyard. While others might find that morbid, Clara found it endearing.

“What are we missing?” she asked the room, the papers, the items scattered atop her desk, the gargoyle, her army of talismans, all her various and sundry tokens of ritual and meaning.

It was her passionate belief that something would finally tip the scales; a powerful object, an important tract, an infused pendant. At some point she would reach critical mass. If she could only gather enough interesting things in one space, like spontaneous combustion, inspiration would simply coalesce, in a roaring fire of world-altering truth.

“We’re missing the spark for the fire,” she said aloud. She had long ago felt the room listened when she spoke—she was fond of viewing buildings as entities and she imbued them with identities. “We’ve lost spirit. And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Spirit? How can we seek to gain the right of immortality without addressing spirit? The body is one thing, but the spirit… that’s got to be the ticket…spirit. Spirits?

“Thoughts?” she asked, turning the little gargoyle atop the spire of ledgers to face her. He gave no answer save his continued, open-mouthed scowl of protestat. No winds of change took to the room at her query—which was for the best, considering what mess would be made of her labyrinthine stacks of papers if they had.

While Clara, due to certain health concerns, was not as practiced a medium as some of her friends, she had followed interesting leads from the beyond down proverbial rabbit holes. She had the distinct sensation that however much she knew about the world, there was always something more. For a soul that had gone around as many times as hers, this was like the fountain of youth. Curiosity. Learning. The chase of discovery.

Maybe that was something to include in the Eterna Commission. Could death be staved off by a ravenously hungry mind?

“The Thirst for Knowledge,” Clara scribbled in her idea book, a leather-bound volume which contained more doodles than complete sentences. A few gems stood out as she flipped through past musings: thoughts on emergent technologies such as electricity; on elder curiosities like the fountain of youth; on ethics associated with historic and present-day blood-drinking, and examples of same; and on the balance between the corporeal and the spiritual.

The Eterna Commission was something Clara Templeton took quite personally.

After all, it had been her idea.

Well, as much of an idea as an excitable twelve year old could muster in the presence of a grieving first lady. That single meeting had birthed an entire government office.

Mrs. Lincoln had asked for Spiritualist counsel after the assassination of her husband. Senator Rupert Bishop was well-known to be an open practitioner, and he had brought Clara with him on that fateful visit. The girl had suggested that perhaps persons in an elected office such as the presidency should be given some kind of cure or protection that would ensure no one could so cruelly remove them from their hallowed positions.

Clara’s parents had died one directly after the other; her father, a doctor, had simply faded once her mother had gone. It was terribly romantic in its way, but left young Clara somewhat bitter, abandoned as she was. There was no question that she would end up in the care of the family’s dear friend, Rupert Bishop, then a young Congressman from New York. As she grew, her psychic gifts blossomed, but unfortunately, so did her ailments.

Thus, out of a widow’s—and a nation’s—grief, out of the words of a child who was already no innocent, a commission was created. Bishop was at the helm, and Clara was widely considered, by those few who knew of Eterna’s existence, to be a figurehead. Women of good breeding did not work. However, per the Quaker principles of the Bishop and Templeton households, Clara was highly educated, and the Senator, as he now was, knew of and honored her desire to be useful and independent despite periodic ills that rendered her entirely helpless in seizure.

Bishop deemed it vital for Spiritualists to maintain the core of the search for death’s cure, for the simple and singular reason that Spiritualists believed in the continuation of the spirit. They were living proof of life beyond death; they communicated with it, they looked at the body as merely one form of a living thing. Who better than Spiritualists to ask such questions and to take on such tasks? They did not need a cure for death, not in the same desperate sense as a terrified person panicked that the end of this incarnate life was the end of all things, that once one’s coffin was laid in the ground, all was lost.

The hope was that Spiritualists would keep a balance and keep the Eterna Commission on task; maintaining the union of the Union. Not for personal gain, not for indefinite immortality, but as a matter of national sanity and security for a president’s terms.

It was a grave, grey area, but one Senator Bishop held absolutely firm. Clara respected immeasurably that all his influence and insight had not made him greedy. If anything, he had become all the more cautious. He made her feel a great many things, but most of all, safe. She did not dare put this in jeopardy, so whatever her feelings for her guardian, she did little to affect their status quo.

At long last Clara Templeton found herself back home, having quickly traversed the few blocks of quiet downtown Pearl Street, where gas-lamps flickered at the entrances of fine buildings, both offices and residence.

She slipped in and, knowing where to step on each wooden stair so as not to make it creak, made her way up to the second floor of the townhouse she shared with the Senator. Their housekeeper knew never to wait up for either of them but would nonetheless scold Clara for her late hours in the morning.

Alone in her room of burnished cherry paneling and rose colored walls, Clara donned a night-dress layered to utter absurdity with lace and frills. Her dresses for the office were neatly-tailored, simple, and efficient, but at night she indulged her inner, pampered—perhaps spoiled—aristocrat; a mercurial and treacherous emotional beast.

She decided that she would write out, in her diary, a list of things that wearied her and spoke aloud as she wrote:

I am tired of knowing things I can’t see.

I weary of seeing all the iterations of my soul’s past paths and incarnations in pristine detail and not being able to, for the lives of me, see this present one clearly.

I wish the dead, when I hear them, would deign to tell me something useful, give me perspective about my own existence. Instead, all I hear are their needy cries for resolution of their past affairs. Ghosts are so terribly self-absorbed.

I am tired of being self-absorbed.

I wish Rupert would come home from New Orleans.

I hate that I so often wish for space from him, then, when he’s gone, I wish him home.

Do be careful not to whine.

Clara looked at the list and tossed the lined notebook upon her bed.

Rupert Bishop had always respected her and given her everything she wanted or needed. He sought ways to challenge her and employed her in ways that made her feel useful. She knew she was loved but Bishop never made her feel that he had any designs upon her. Now, at the age of twenty-seven, she sometimes wished he would. At least she thought she did.

She picked up the notebook once more and scribbled:

I believe I am on the cusp of something wonderful or terrible and I’m not sure I’ll know which until it’s too late to reverse course.

Where is the value of lives lived before except in lessons I can use in this one?

What if I tried to live a moderately normal life for a woman my age… Perhaps went to a soiree. A nice gown might do wonders for my excitable nerves…

Clara looked up in alarm.

“Saturday! The ball!” she exclaimed. “Lord, what in the world shall I wear…”

She looked back down at her journal and wrote:

Furthermore; a new hat.

There were matters weighing upon Clara of grave, potentially world-changing, psychological and spiritual import, but sometimes it was a relief to be suddenly seized by the throes of fashion.

Chapter Three

Louis took to the speeding system of rails that would whisk him north with the scream of steam. He stared out the window and pondered all he’d left behind as the chug of the finely appointed train, with its polished brass, etched glass, and dark, smooth wood ushered in his new era.

His trunk was stowed above his seat in the small sleeper car. He didn’t realize how tightly he was clutching the papers that would instruct him on the matters of his new world until they made a sound of protest, creased and crumpled in his tightening palm. He hadn’t known how much he’d miss home until he was watching it roll away from him. But then, what was home without any family left to call it such?

For a time the Dupris family had moved fluidly in and out of society, depending on what captivated the quixotic Helene Dupris, a stunning woman who drank deeply of this world and who passed out of it while painfully young and beautiful. Andre had never recovered, taking a rakish turn, while Louis waxed more poetic. He looked forward to seeing dear mama again in some far away place, where she would be surrounded by the finest French fashion and an endless retinue of angelic admirers.

Francois Dupris had taken on Helene initially just as a lover, without intention of marrying her, a woman of the most beautiful Creole stock. But there was no denying that woman anything. Soon he had given Helene his name, his fortune, which had been earned in the silk trade, the world and more. And enjoy it she did, until consumption took her, fading her unto the spirit lands with a morbidly romantic, slow snuff of her candle. The Dupris fortune had suffered from her extravagance and from the attentions of the many doctors Francois had enlisted to try to save her. The fact Helene had given him handsome twin sons with skin lighter than hers had been recompense enough, at first, but after her death, Francois Dupris found the boys reminded him too much of their dear, dead mama, and once they were old enough to fend for themselves, he returned to Paris, leaving them behind in the Crescent City.

Andre had taken on their mother’s penchant for excess, Louis her inner passions and secretive spiritual practices. That she had been what northerners would mistakenly call a witch was something only known to Louis for most of the twins’ childhood. Once Andre found out, he demanded spells for fortune and luck. Helene denied him, saying he was not old enough to wield such tools wisely, and he had never forgiven her. After Helene’s death, Louis had pursued her practices with careful reverence, well away from Andre’s notice.

Louis’ desire to elevate his mother’s beliefs to the privileged halls of science was his loving epitaph. He hoped Helene—and the heavens and all the ancestors—would forgive and understand what he’d had to do to get there.

For much of the journey Louis was happy to give himself over to the rocking lull of the speeding train, often nodding off, only to awake to a new wonder. He felt he was flying north, cutting in and out of mountains and along river banks, crossing forest and plain, hill and valley, the great, tumultuous landscapes America offered in vast variety. All were laid bare along the rails, a catapulting buffet of riches, state by state. His few transfers took place in arched, echoing stations he was too groggy to fully appreciate.

Once the train left Philadelphia and the last leg of the trip was upon him, presented as a series of dramatic hills and tunnels, Louis felt as though threads of lightning were reaching out to him, throbbing with the pulse of the country, drawing him ever closer to the economic machine at the base of the Empire State. That great heartbeat whispered down the rails as cities grew, as open space was obliterated by brick mortar, green was forsaken for wall and spire, and iron and industry rose.

New Orleans had its own inimitable character and bustled with trade from around the world, so Louis was hardly daunted by a large metropolis.

But here, in the colder, greyer northern light, New York City appeared far more dangerous; a sprawling leviathan, a thumping, clattering, churning system of cogs and wheels powered by countless bodies. All orbiting around one sliver of an island; a centrifugal beast from which all manner of art, industry, and aesthetic and cultural mélange spat forth. Entering this maelstrom via a speeding train, Louis felt magnetized to the core, terrified and exhilarated.

Attending a Manhattan ball would suit Andre far better than Louis, but Andre was gone to London on some sort of sordid business. Louis was unsure what kind of party he was attending; glancing at Bishop’s itinerary, ‎he quailed at the word Vanderbilt. But he tried to look at it like his mother might, that only someone who had truly drunk deeply of the well of life dared wield any sway over death. He had to pursue all things with the wide, hungry eyes of a child.

He made his way, via train, ferry, trolley, and finally on foot, each mode of transport showing him different aspects of the city and its wide range of pulsing life. The address to which he had been directed was a basement-level set of rooms near garment factories, adjacent to the famed Union Square. No one awaited him and the building was neither squalid nor grand, merely entirely nondescript brick on an inconspicuous block. The small silver key Bishop had given him unlocked the windowless wooden front door and allowed him entry into an unlit front hall.

Louis fumbled for matches in his pocket and struck one, then saw a lantern upon a hook near the front door. The building was gas-lit, he discovered, not a uniform convenience in any city but one he was glad for. He turned the key to the simple sconces, revealing a tiny receiving parlor, an alcove of a kitchen, and a back bedroom with a small window that looked out onto struggling greenery of an unkempt patch of garden.

It didn’t take long for Louis to unpack his single suitcase. He hung up his one fine suit, frowning as he noticed the creases. Hoping they would work themselves out by evening, he placed his few shirts, trousers, and waistcoats in the modest wardrobe and his toiletries in the small restroom. Adequate plumbing was an additional, much appreciated luxury.

Unwrapping a few small icons and two candles from a soft silk scarf with great care, he made a small ledge in the bedroom into a modest personal altar, hoping that time would adorn it further.

His labor done, Louis took a few moments to sit upon the edge of the bed, trying not to regret what he’d left behind. He’d traveled with such speed that he assumed any curse would take a while to catch up. In the meantime, surely he could reverse it by the nature of his work, by his good-hearted prayers, by channeling the Mystères….

Pressing the protective talisman he wore on a cord around his neck hard against his sternum, Louis roused himself from worry and put on that fine suit. The thrill of embarking upon new ventures gripped him for a moment. Then, as he tucked away the pendant, a stone carved into a bird his mother had given him, and inspected himself in the mirror, he saw a wide-eyed man who had a lot to gain and a lot to hide, and sank again to the mattress.

A potent memory took him; his mother insisting that all his interests in faith be used for good and transcendent purpose, speaking as though she had foreseen this very moment. Louis knew he was not hungry for power; he wished only to honor tradition. Yet here he was, far from home, far from tradition…. The shrill ring of a bell startled him from his reverie.

‎            Senator Bishop stood at the door, looking dapper and suave, his silver hair gleaming in the flickering gas lamp at the stoop. His presence bolstered Louis and reminded him that he was here for reasons beyond himself. Without a word Bishop ushered Louis towards the large black carriage waiting in the street.

Once both men were seated with the door closed, Bishop spoke.

“We are meeting at the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the man who has been consolidating railroads, for a party celebrating his industry. This ignominious tycoon stands at the pinnacle of a twisted mess of rails that he grabbed as if his was the wrathful hand of God, wrenching and bending the companies to his will by oft questionable means. This is the fete of a king crowning himself, a party of pure vanity.

“New York’s economy has taken a horrific tumble these past few years, but men like Vanderbilt remain unscathed. Those in attendance tonight will either be those who answer to him or those he hopes to assert himself over. I’m planning our arrival to occur after the Commodore has made his little speech, once the dancing has begun and the champagne has started flowing.”

“May I ask why we are to attend?”

“‎I attend as a mediator; a man of peace, reason, and persuasion. Some of Vanderbilt’s underlings are some of my colleagues’ staunchest supporters. None of us, for various reasons, can afford make an enemy of the man. Thusly, I must keep glasses of champagne from being launched in the fellow’s disagreeable face.”

Louis smiled. “I admire your diplomacy , Senator.”

“Don’t admire me too soon,” Bishop replied wearily. “It’ll be very hard for me not to launch a glass myself. It’s good you’ll be there, Dupris. Keep me accountable. And just so you’re aware, simply nod and smile no matter how I introduce you, and don’t be offended if I don’t.”

“Fine, as long I’m not introduced as your servant,” Louis retorted, “else I’ll launch champagne in your face.”

The Senator laughed. “Fair enough. I appreciate your assertiveness, my friend, and would have it no other way. And now, are you ready for pure pretention in all its insidious splendor?”

Louis chuckled. “Do I have any choice?”

The Vanderbilt Mansion on Fifth Avenue was large, unavoidable, and indomitable, lording over nearly two entire city blocks.

A footman took charge of the Senator’s carriage; Bishop watched it go with a pained expression on his face, as if he expected he would next see it in some lot for resale. Dupris had heard tales of ruthless Commodore Vanderbilt, but he hoped carriage stealing wasn’t among the man’s list of abominable business practices.

The pointed eaves of the building jutted high into the evening sky. Far more windows were lit across the span of the building than Louis felt were needed for a soiree, undoubtedly another of Vanderbilt’s countless displays of immense privilege.

The Senator had timed their arrival just right. There was loud music playing and the imposing Commodore, whose likeness Louis had seen many times in the northern papers, was holding court with paunchy men in a corner of the ballroom.

Louis and his sponsor were soon surrounded by a throng of tired, irritated men who seemed mighty glad to see Rupert Bishop and didn’t give a whit who he, Louis, was. That was just fine with Louis; as per the Senator’s warning, he was not introduced. A flurry of political talk commenced, the nuance of which eluded Louis, as the New York political landscape was as foreign to him as New Orleans was to the rest of the country. He imagined he’d soon understand the lay of the proverbial land if these gentlemen were always so loose-lipped.

When there was a momentary lull, the Senator grabbed glasses of brandy off a tray offered by a passing maid and handed one to Louis. As the Senator absently toasted his glass, Louis dared offer an observation:

“You’re a very prominent man, Senator Bishop,” Louis murmured, “for someone who heads a covert government office.”

“I’m not one for skulking in the shadows, Mister Dupris,” Bishop stated. “Unsavory characters might linger there. Sycophants. Lobbyists. When one is out in the open, it is assumed one has nothing to hide. What one guards,” he said, indicating a woman across the room whose back was turned to them, presumably his ward, before continuing, “is different than what one hides. It’s a distinct difference you’d do well to understand.”

“Yes, sir…” Louis replied. Bishop gave a curt not as if he felt himself sufficiently heard and strode off to shake the hand of a mustachioed man in an ostentatiously striped suit.

Louis wasn’t sure if he was jealous of or inspired by the senator. He supposed he could be by both. He was most certainly compelled by him. Then, as he turned back towards a confection table for something with which to busy himself, she turned into full view.

She was a painting come to life. A muse. A gallery treasure.

She lit the chandeliers and sent music swirling through the air.

She was all angles, with sharp collarbones and distinct features, a classic face, one he’d seen at the Louvre in many iterations. She was dressed in the modern fashion, a pale green dress gathered and bustled in beautiful proportions, with a generous helping of smooth fair décolletage in view, her bust-line accented by starched lace and a pendant glimmering from a dark ribbon. Looking at her, Louis knew in that instant that contemporary style notwithstanding, she was an old thing.

Yes. In fact, on that count… she was terrifying. He’d never seen another woman with that kind of air, one that transcended time itself. He couldn’t help but notice that the men who regarded her did so with clear apprehension. Even if they did not know what they sensed, they obviously felt something; they didn’t stay away out of mere fear of the Senator’s wrath if they approached the woman he, Louis, had been instructed to keep quite clear of.

In a rare moment of passionate compulsion, he resolved that he had to talk with her. He waited until the Senator was engrossed in heavy conversation—about money, campaigning, and “the scourge of Tammany Democrats”—leaving Louis rightly ignored.

The woman had drifted away from other party guests; she turned, scowling, toward a corner of the ballroom that was entirely shadowed… a perfect place to make an entrance…


Clara was used to balls, fetes, soirees, premieres, speeches, inaugurations, to all manner of pomp and circumstance. She had been at the right hand of a powerful, persuasive Senator since she was a young child. She rather enjoyed the social rituals of state.

But something about tonight felt different. After numerous attempts to ask the right questions, she believed something was about to answer. That prospect was far more interesting to her than appearing in society, especially here.

Clara didn’t like the Vanderbilts any more than her guardian did. While the daughters were interesting, they didn’t redeem the father in her eyes; a dour, selfish, self-righteous noveau riche of the most heinous stripe, one that forged ahead and pulled drawbridges up behind him. None could forge further or compete; the man had created a monopoly that threatened the very principles upon which American society’s financial and opportune fabric was supposedly based. And during New York’s present financial woes, a party like this made Clara feel ashamed, as if she were condoning that which she could not abide. She caught herself frowning and turned away from the room.

It would seem the spirit world wasn’t any more fond of the Vanderbilts than Clara was; she could feel a press of anxiety, a certain negativity oozing through the air. In this place, too much good will had been squandered, too much entitlement displayed without graciousness. The atmosphere was so riddled by unsettled ghostly energies that it might trigger an episode if she wasn’t especially careful.

In making her rounds of the ballroom earlier, she’d passed an alcove that would shield her from the view of the public. Barely had she sought refuge there when a shadow moved and her breath caught in her throat. A handsome, olive-skinned man in a fitted black suit suddenly blocked her path.

A man moving in so close might have constituted a threat, but she sensed genuine warmth in his regard despite the chill of ghosts in his wake. Clara didn’t like to overestimate her gifts, but she could often ascertain whether a person wished her well or ill. She was in no danger. Not physically.

His piercing hazel eyes bored into her with more intensity and mystery than she had heretofore experienced. She was taken aback in a welcome way.

“You’re in my path, sir…” she said quietly.

“So I am, Mademoiselle, and forgive me. If you are who I believe you must be, I’ve been instructed not to introduce myself,” the man began, in a rich, deep voice. “And while I do value my new job with my life, my life would be forfeit if I did not at least tell you that you are, by far, the most interesting creature in this entire room, if not this entire city. Save, perhaps, your guardian, my employer, who insisted you were quite off-limits. This would make any woman all the more fascinating. You are so utterly time-stopping, I now understand why the Senator is so protective of you.”

She laughed. “Did my dear Bishop employ you merely for flattery?”

“No, my lady, he employed me for theory and faith. How I might apply spiritual concepts and principles to the quest for immortality as pursued by your department.”

“Ah, you’re one of ours!” she commented brightly. The fact that she was expressly forbidden by Bishop from talking to Eterna researchers made her want to all the more. She was flooded with thrills at this covert encounter and checked the angle of the alcove to be sure they could continue to speak  unseen. “You’re new. Where do you hail from? Your accent is distinct.”

“New Orleans, my lady, a distinct city indeed.” He bowed. “Louis Dupris, at your service, Miss Templeton. I hope my overtures do not offend. I doubt I can ever speak with you again, as I value my work—and the Senator—deeply. But there are times when a man must speak or forever regret the lost chance, and you evoke that prescient timeliness.”

Something about this man spoke of a turning of tables and a long needed change. She could feel her past selves, all those whom she had asked for help, leaning in. Would she make the first move in this new game? She would. Her boldness was a newfound delight. Cocking her head to the side, the plumes of her fascinator rustling, she laid down the gauntlet.

“You should come to call, Mister Dupris.”

He stared at her and she watched as desire and fear collided on his face.

“I… couldn’t,” he insisted as if convincing himself. He set his jaw. “I can’t, my dear Mademoiselle.”

“But you should,” she insisted sweetly. He looked increasingly conflicted. She chuckled. “In secret, then, if you’re worried about the Senator’s wrath.” She batted one silk-gloved hand, enjoying this new distraction more every moment, secrecy making it all the more important and vital. “Come stroll with me through Greek and Roman relics at our glorious Metropolitan Museum. Tuesday, at two. Tell me about spiritual disciplines I know little of.”

With that, she swept off, as she prided herself on never overstaying her welcome. Besides, she needed to be near an exit, should the symptoms of an episode become more clear. As the strains of a waltz filled the air, she saw Senator Bishop take the hand of the widow, renowned psychic, and personal friend of the family, Evelyn Northe. Clara felt her warm face cool into the masque of indifference she presented to the world whenever those two danced together. Evelyn was aunt, surrogate mother, and unwitting rival all at once. Clara cursed herself as shame and fury rose within her. The temperature around her plummeted, as if whatever spirits might be present were drawn to her inner embarrassment.

“It’s complicated and always has been,” she murmured to herself, desperate to understand the nuances of her own heart. Seeing the weight of the stare between Northe and Bishop, she was reminded that they had participated in hundreds of séances together over the course of the last two decades. She had been excluded due to her “condition.”

Thanks to her keen senses and the irrepressible memories of her past lives, usually Clara felt ancient, not twenty-seven. But when she looked at Rupert and Evelyn dancing, she felt very young and small.

And a bit dizzy.

Horror of horrors, everything spun and she lost control. She hadn’t been paying enough attention to her symptoms. The floor was hard when she hit it.


The elegant woman dancing with the Senator noticed before he did; her gaze whipped toward the other side of the room just in time to see Miss Templeton crash to the ground. With the slow, agonizing grace that horror can bring, almost as if it was a new step in their dance, she and Bishop broke apart and rushed toward the younger woman.

“Clara,” Bishop barked, catching her as her head lolled back. Evelyn Northe darted to the confection table, seized a spoon, and rushed to place it in the chattering mouth of the woman who, a moment ago, had been lithe and lovely.

What a woeful transformation, Louis thought from his position in the alcove; a body that could easily be prized for its nymph-like qualities suddenly compromised, shuddering and seizing. Louis’ heart lurched with a pity he was sure she’d despise.

His every instinct was to rush to Miss Templeton’s side, but the Senator’s threats froze him in the shadows, feeling suddenly guilty for having directly disobeyed orders on his first night in the city. Andre must have been rubbing off on him, even in absentia. Did twins become more alike through the passage of time? Heaven forbid….

The Senator gazed around the room in an accusatory fashion, as if looking to pin Miss Templeton’s collapse on an external factor. Louis doubted he’d find cause, as far as he knew, this was the kind of condition one merely had to endure.

But, perhaps there was more to it… Some kind of a spell? He’d seen religion-driven “fits” in his day. More, all the hairs on the back of his neck were on end and it was now drastically cold in the room, though the temperature had been perfectly pleasant moments before… He shifted further into the shadows and said a prayer of protection over the beautiful woman who had so captured his interest.


The Senator closed the carriage door and offered Clara the blank, patrician stare he gave to everyone he respected.

“Clara. You mustn’t be—”

“Mortified? How couldn’t I be?” She held his gaze for a moment before looking out the window at broad, fine Fifth Avenue in all its grand shadows and gas-lit glow. The carriage moved off, the Vanderbilt mansion quickly fading into vague pointed spires against a darker sky. Tears streamed unchecked down her sickly-pale face and ran into her bodice, splotching the light green fabric with dark pools of moisture. She pressed her warm forehead to the cool glass, letting her head swivel and vibrate along with the clip of hooves. “Just when I thought I could go out in society again… Is it my fault? Did I bring it upon myself?”

“It’s always been related to your gifts,” Bishop replied gently. “Did you sense anything before you went under?”

She’d been looking at him and Evelyn. Before that, the compelling Mister Dupris… None of which she should mention. “No…”

“I felt a chill. Someone may have brought uninvited ghosts along.”

“Perhaps. The Vanderbilts themselves have earned little good will among the dead.”

“Then I too ignored my instincts,” Bishop said ruefully. “I thought it just the living people who were ill at ease with the man. I’m sorry, Clara, I should have alerted—”

“It’s my responsibility, not yours,” Clara snapped. “I should have left.”

Society would be loathe to soon see her trotted out into it again. Perhaps that was for the best. Clara didn’t like being scrutinized or gossiped about, and she was sure this little paroxysm would be the talk of the town for some time to come. Dear God. Dupris. He would’ve seen it too; her quaking like a mad creature, helpless and pathetic. Her cheeks burned bright.

“While you were under, did you receive any messages?” Bishop asked.

When she’d first begun attending séances, she’d quiver when receiving a message. Due to her Quaker upbringing, this was at first considered a connection to God. But her physical reaction grew more violent through the years, while the spiritual information lost clarity.

Clara shook her head. “Not a thing. Darkness. Nothing useful,” she said. “A painful fit, if vision could be gained, is one thing. For nothing but mortifying embarrassment? It’s infuriating.”

Not to mention it was terrifying to be open and vulnerable to all manner of things. She prayed this did not herald more frequent paroxysms in the future.

She thought of the way Mister Dupris had looked at her from the shadows, the way his handsome face became more handsome when he smiled, the glint in his eye that showed she had affected him. Her heart lurched again.

Did she dare meet him as planned?

No. Her true nature had shown itself, warding all eligible bachelors off.

Far too many—even educated persons—thought people who seized as she did were not only defective physically, but spiritually and mentally; plagued not only in body, but by, God help her, the devil.

Maybe this latest “fit” was as much punishment as it was anything else. A lady wouldn’t arrange to meet a stranger in secret. She was growing tired of secrets; her whole life had been filled with them. The fabric of her reality was shackled. She and Bishop were tangled in bindings of good intentions on behalf of poor, grieving Mrs. Lincoln.

“I know I cannot take away how mortifying it was, Clara, but I hope you won’t take it too hard,” Bishop said, helping her out of the carriage and nodding to the driver before escorting her up the stoop to the townhouse.

Clara shrugged, inconsolable, imagining what people saw when they looked at her in that state; conjuring before her mind’s eye their expressions of disgust, pity, discomfort, and other unpleasant emotions.


They were night owls, the Senator and his ward. Their housekeeper railed at their wasteful natures, but orders were to keep all lamps trimmed, no matter the hour. That way they wouldn’t bump into things as they drifted like ghosts through their home. It was in this vein, torn between twin urges to hide and to seek company, that Clara, some hours later, decided to wander the house.

Clara often heard the Senator talking in his study, generally rehearsing a speech he’d soon give on the senate floor or perfecting a few talking points he’d offer on the election circuit. Now and then it seemed she heard him speaking with a ghost. Sometimes the conversation might be with none other than himself.

This night, she crept to the threshold of the study and peered past the door frame, spotting the Senator at the window. Bishop’s frock coat was off and had been tossed over the back of his desk chair, revealing his long black satin waistcoat, large black buttons cinching the back snugly against his tall, lean torso. The bright white of the moon practically glowed upon his tousled head of hair, which had gone wholly silver oddly early in his youth. His shirtsleeves were rolled up, his forearms tense as he pressed down upon the window ledge as if his hands were talons. Tonight, he was talking to the city.

“Sleep, New York”, he murmured. “My nets are all cast. Advice given. Poultices applied. Plots afoot. Courses corrected. Purposes set in their various motions. Who keeps watch, then, if I lay me down to sleep? Who keeps awake to see all your many, mighty troubles…?”

Clara found herself fighting the urge to raise her hand as if she were in class, ready for him to call upon her, suddenly wishing to make him very proud of her indeed after all the care he’d taken to help raise her. “I am awake, Rupert,” she murmured quietly, not knowing if he would hear her. “Rest. I shall watch over all you have wrought.”

His head tilted slightly, though he did not turn to face her. When he spoke, it was with great care, hitting consonants as if he were sifting through a great tome in his mind before spitting out carefully curated words.

“Why, so you are, Miss Clara. Awake. Awake. Good.” Still without looking at her, he moved to the narrow archway between two bookcases that led to his bedroom and disappeared.

Whenever the Senator felt the weight of the world upon his shoulders, his usual tender kindness would vanish, replaced by a cool distance. Accustomed to these shifts, Clara usually knew better than to take them personally, but after tonight’s episode, she assumed she was simply another burden to him. Perhaps it would be better for him if she moved out, set up her own household somewhere.

Perhaps Louis Dupris could be her way out. It was a rare man who caught her eye, after all…and hadn’t she felt she was on the cusp of something? The way Monsieur Dupris spoke about his work, she felt s if the very world was cracking open.

No. He’d seen her collapse and flail like a dying fish. No man would take on such a pariah. Women like her could be found in institutions all around the great city.

Clara had to hope differently, and pray for further unfolding of her life’s purpose.  While she doubted Monsieur Dupris would come for her, she had to put fate to the test.

Chapter Four

Louis arrived at the Eterna research building at his appointed time, easily strolling the few blocks west from his home. In his breast pocket, wrapped in soft cheesecloth, bulged the small dagger.

Near one of Manhattan’s westerly industrial areas, the building’s grand arched façade was cast-iron, pressed from a mold and tacked to a brick frame. The neighboring storefronts were similarly fancifully decorated. But where they were open for business, the ground floor of the building Louis sought to enter had been made to look abandoned, windows dark and shuttered.

After entering and locking the door behind him, Louis crossed the dim entrance hall, drawn to an open back room by the sound of men’s voices. There he found two other men, both wearing long, black, tunic-like vestments, concentrating intently on the contents of a glass flask that they slowly swirled before them.

“Hello, gentlemen,” Louis offered. “I’m here to join your coterie.”

“Bishop’s new recruit, eh? said one in a German accent. “Come, look at what Barney merged. These two solutions have never bonded like this before. Isn’t it beautiful?” he said rapturously.

Other than those remarks, the men ignored Louis entirely, so he turned his attention to the room itself. His fellow commission members were seated at a large table. That table and the stools around it were the room’s only furnishings, save for a few bookshelves which held random items that Louis had could not identify at first glance. Intrigued, he approached the shelves.

Barney called after him gruffly, “If you’re placing an item of import on the ‘in progress’ shelf, label it, please. Don’t touch our things, we won’t touch yours.” The man placed a lit match into a glass tube and sighed in contentment, watching it burn.

“Understood,” Louis replied, and set the wrapped dagger in an empty wooden box on a waist-level shelf. Noticing a stack of small cards and a pencil nearby and assuming these were for anyone’s use, he wrote, “Property of Louis Dupris in honour of the City of New Orleans,” on a card and placed it atop the box.

The shelf above held a number of large, beautiful leather-bound tomes, some bearing titles familiar to Louis. Seeing that they were otherwise unlabeled, he assumed anyone could examine them, so he took down a 17th century manuscript on the occult that he’d never had the pleasure of reading. One of the bay windows had a window-seat; he ensconsed himself there, where just enough light to read by came through the thick shutters, and lost himself in theory.

A few days passed in a similar manner; a mix of contemplation, sporadic chatter, deep silence, reading, writing, and transcendent reverie. Louis pored over reams of equations and notes, discussing them at length with Malachi Goldberg, who was somewhat of a wizard in botany, and Barnard “Barney” Smith, an American-born chemist. He learned that two other teammates were traveling on research.

It was a rare blessing, Louis mused, to be solely engaged in the employment of thought. He believed passionately that spirit and science were not at cross purposes but were two distinct dialects of the same language. Bridges were meant to be built, just like that gorgeous Brooklyn behemoth that was rising, stone by stone, to unite two great cities.

Absorbed by ideas so big they threatened to split his whirring mind in twain, Louis nearly lost track of the passage of time. He never was sure what made him suddenly realize it was Tuesday, but he shot up from his perch upon the shuttered window-seat, terrified that he was going to be late.

A good shave and freshly laundered clothing were in order, for he had a secret rendezvous alongside carved stone gods. Feeling full of life and possibility, he was confident those icons of ancient power would look upon him with fond favor. Whether the woman would deign to keep the appointment was anyone’s guess….

She was a woman of her word.

Louis found her among the Greek and Roman statuary in the city’s new Metropolitan Museum. She wore an elegant burgundy dress with black piping; cocked at a sporting angle upon her shining hair was a small black hat that supported a veil and feathers. A parasol with a sharp tip leaned against a pedestal. Miss Templeton seemed to be staring at one of the museum’s descriptive plates; Louis watched as she took a pencil from the beaded bag hanging from cords looped around her wrist, crossed out the description, and began writing new text below the old.

At the sound of Louis’ footfalls, she paused. Without turning around, she said;

“It’s wrong. I am doing my moral duty as a patron of the arts to correct it.”

“And how do you know it is incorrect, Mademoiselle?” Louis asked.

Miss Templeton turned around and was visibly surprised to see him in the instant before she smiled.

“A spirit of the Hellenic era told me so. The museum really should employ me. Spirits can’t bear to see their history mistaken and thankfully the ghosts treat me very gently while I correct it for them. Hello, Mister Dupris. I confess I did not expect you to come.”

“Why ever not?”

She stiffened and raised her head proudly. “I assume you saw what… happened at the soiree.”

“I did. Why should that dissuade me from a rendezvous with the most interesting woman I’ve met in a very long time? Mind you, I’m from New Orleans, where everyone is interesting.”

She smiled again, the angles of her face softening, and gestured for him to walk with her. The tip of her parasol clicked along the stone as they passed below faces and body parts that once stood whole and proud, now mere fragments of elder glories. The ruins made Louis melancholy. Much like that spirit correcting its relic via a talented, gifted woman, he wanted to make sure history would tell the story of his arts and interests without bias, the beautiful truths untainted.

“What makes you special, Mister Dupris? What do you bring to the Commission?” She put it to him gamesomely, but he could tell she truly wanted to know and expected him to be confident in his answer.

“My areas of interest lie in the spirit realms,” he replied. “As I mentioned, I want certain spiritual practices, currently upheld primarily in New Orleans, to not be exotic and misunderstood to outsiders, but to be made as legitimate as any branch of the sciences, arts, or humanities.”

“Lovely. My talents also lie in the spirit realms, though at times I pay quite a cost.”

“I make up for raw talent by respect and adoration of tradition. These past few days with the commission theorists have been wondrous,” Louis said excitedly. “You’d surely adore our conversations, Miss Templeton, and I’m sure you could add to them—”

She turned away and Louis feared he’d somehow said something wrong. He knew theirs was a man’s sphere…but she was obviously capable…

“I am not allowed,” she said.

“Why is the Senator so protective of you?” he asked quietly.

Her pale cheek flushed with red shame. “He is protective of situations that might trigger my… incidents.”

“Ah. I’m sorry,” Louis offered gently. “I didn’t understand what you meant by ‘cost’.”

“We don’t, entirely, either,” she said mordantly. “The seizures aren’t regular, nor are they easy to predict. It seems that various psychic or paranormal phenomena can trigger them. As much as I have an aptitude for a séance, attending and or conducting one is quite a hazard for me. A single ghost, I can take. If I open myself up for anything and everything that might want to communicate, it’s a grave danger.”

“That must be so difficult, to have your health and your talent at such cross purposes,” Louis said earnestly. “That doesn’t seem fair.”

She looked up at him, her golden eyes warm. “Thank you for understanding. It is a rare person who does.”

Another turn. Another promenade through broken limbs.

In that soft silence of footfalls upon marble, it wasn’t that Louis felt awkward or at a loss, he simply didn’t want these moments to end. There was a gravity between them, a magnetism that threatened to drag him off a ledge.

“May we make a habit of this, Miss Templeton?” Louis dared ask, biting back his own nerves to do so. “Of a stroll through a forest of bodily stone?”

“I have been instructed never to make a habit of anything, Mister Dupris, save for virtuous discipline and hard work,” she replied coolly. “Those in my office and those in yours would be wise never to engage in a predictable routine.”

“I would like to see you again. Must I leave it to chance?” he pressed. He couldn’t let her go. She was the spark to a certain fire. “Or may I construct a science in order to better my odds at a favorable outcome?”

While this beautiful woman didn’t look at him, he thought he could see her smile.

“I believe in chance as much as I do science, Mister Dupris,” she said, artfully coy. “We’ll have to see which wins.”

She looked up at him with a sparkling, mischievous grin, then turned quickly and walked through a shadowed archway. When he followed, he found himself in an unfamiliar hall and quite alone. Miss Templeton was nowhere to be seen.

There were several doors ahead of him, all closed, which he assumed led into various areas of the museum. He chose one at random, but found no sign of Miss Templeton beyond it. Louis wandered farther through the halls, eventually finding a stair that let him out a side door, into the glory that was Central Park. But the living goddess who had strolled with him amidst stone idols was gone.

Compelling work, plus a lovely face and a keen mind to quicken his heart, Louis thought, as he took to the busy streets for a seemingly endless walk downtown, his mind’s eye focused on her golden gaze. Could a man ask for anything more? Purpose and desire. The scales of an exciting life in perfect balance.

If fate was to eventually punish him, he would enjoy the treasures placed in his path while he could.



Louis and Clara found ways to meet, purposefully lost in a bustling city easy to hide in. Their burgeoning passion seemed to escape Bishop’s notice, despite the Senator’s perceptive nature. Perhaps this was no accident—he had, after all, taught Clara well, making her expert at hiding her thoughts and emotions when she wanted or had reason to. Or, if he did suspect something, he chose not to confront her.

Sometimes when the lovers could not contain themselves, they made their way to Louis’ basement apartment, where they indulged—intelligently and carefully—in forms of pleasure that would not get Clara into any sort of trouble. Marriage, even if desired, would have been impossible. Questioning and curious as always, they explored many types of pleasure and sensation.

Beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery, where Clara’s parents had been laid to rest in a modest mausoleum, was a favourite haunt for the pair. Once, a unexpected confluence of spiritual forces around a recent interment brought Clara’s nightmare to the fore and she was taken by a seizure.

Louis dealt with her admirably, duplicating what he’d seen Bishop do: he calmed her, soothed her, made sure she did not bite her tongue, choke, or hurt herself. Once she recovered, he acted as though nothing had happened and continued their walk and conversation, though with slightly less focus on the spiritual and spectral. She was grateful for his tact. He did not make her feel like an invalid or a mistake of nature and so her greatest fear was allayed, as all other men who had orbited her sphere seemed to pause at this “defect.”

Louis was more forthcoming about the fact that the Eterna theorists seemed to have stalled with Clara than he was with Bishop or any colleague. With Clara, he could be honest and share his frustration that they were all wasting their time, that they could not develop immortality any more than they could wrestle spiritual matters into the constraints of scientific methods.

Chapter Five

There came a knock at what would be the front door of the Eterna research offices if they used that and not a side entrance so as to attract less notice. All the Eterna researchers whirled toward the sound at once. No one should know where to find them, save for Senator Bishop, who hadn’t been to check on them in some time—and if Louis recalled correctly, he was out of town, campaigning.

Malachi Goldberg scurried to the door and opened a panel in the shutter. With an indeterminate noise of irritation, he slammed the panel back against the pane, slid closed the pocket doors that separated the front rooms from the dark, narrow, entrance foyer and scurried to Louis’ table with wide eyes.

“Mister Dupris, there is a man outside the door who looks exactly like you,” Malachi said warily before he quickly, nervously returned to whatever leaves he was turning into a stew at his work station.

Louis hid his surprise, guessing who it must be, as he strode towards the hefty front door and opened it to reveal none other than his twin brother, Andre, looking rather sheepish on the front stoop.

“What on earth…” Louis murmured, ushering him quickly in and glancing out to see if anyone else noticed his arrival. New York was the perfect city for minding one’s own business.

“Hello, brother,” Andre replied, stepping into the building and standing stock still in the shadow of the closed front door.

While the two men looked identical—close shorn brown hair, olive skin, bright hazel eyes that had been the ruination of many involved with Andre—their style and manner were vastly different. Louis was dressed in work clothes—shirtsleeves, suspenders and black pants—but his usual attire wasn’t much more elaborate save for the necessary layers of waistcoat, frock coat, and top-hat, generally in black or deepest blue. Andre fully embraced the colorful character of New Orleans and seemed presently to be playing at his French surname, as his finely tailored ensemble in beige wool with some flocking in blue was offset with a rather loud, silken ascot bearing golden fleur de lis.

“How did you know where to find me?” Louis hissed. He did not invite his brother further inside, instead blocking him at the mouth of the hall.

Andre smirked. “A very angry woman, missing a very precious little blade, had a very clear vision of you. She is an all-seeing eye, brother. You’re such a nice boy, why did you have to infuriate an acolyte of Queen Laveau? Glad it’s not me she cursed.”

“You bring plenty of curses on yourself,” Louis grumbled.

“She said if I returned the dagger, she’d forgive all,” Andre said eagerly.

Louis rolled his eyes. “But you don’t believe in her ways.”

Andre made a face. “At this point, I’ll try anything.”

“I’m not returning the dagger,” Louis growled. “I tried to explain it to her. I’m trying to elevate the discourse, allow for greater tolerance and cross-cultural understanding—”

Andre waved his hand as if bored. “If you’re not returning the dagger, then you’ll have to house me.”

“What? I can’t,” Louis cried. “I’m in hiding.”

“That makes two of us. Brilliant.” Andre leaned against the wall, resting an elbow on the ledge of the wooden paneling of the hall. “Tell whoever is hiding you whatever you need to in order to keep you, and me, safe. As long as none of them are British.”

“Why,” Louis asked warily. “Who in London did you offend?”

Andre looked sheepish again. “England.”

Louis set his jaw. “The whole of England.”

Andre smiled. “In a way, yes.”

“It is a wonder you’re not dead.” Louis sighed and ushered Andre down the carpeted hall toward the research space at the rear. “Whatever we decide to do with you, you know nothing about any of what we do here. You’ll not offer your opinion, what I say is law, and you’ll not be ruining my life.”

Andre shrugged. “Do what you will, brother.”

Louis reluctantly introduced him to his fellows, who just as reluctantly greeted him, but no one objected to Andre taking a room for himself in the empty upstairs.

“Thank you gentlemen,” he said humbly. “I’ll stay out of your way. I’ve no interest in your magical oddities,” he continued, gesturing around at the contents of the lab. “I’m just asking for a home. I can’t return to my darling New Orleans, much as I’d like to. So finding a home has become all the magic I need.”

Louis’ eyes lit up suddenly. “Home… magic… Andre, take off your shoes.”


“Do it.”

He did. Louis took a scalpel and scraped dirt out from between the creases of his boot, cupping the silt in his hand. Next he yanked an errant thread from Andre’s jacket cuff, then a hair from his head, causing a yelp.

Louis rushed over to a table where a glass tube awaited, with one of his compounds-in-progress inside. The vial contained several items of his own person: hair, skin, threads from a favorite item of clothing. He sprinkled in the new ingredients: a bit of earth from their native land, a bit of his twin’s base matter.

“Localized magic isn’t theoretical, it’s literal,” Louis said excitedly. “You can never go home again but home might be brought to you, and when it is… it can be welcomed as transformative.” He gestured at the vial. A soft glow illuminated the seemingly lifeless vial of liquid and detritus. “Reaction.”

Malachi and Barney clapped,, then began furiously writing notes and studying the properties of the changed material.

“I wish I understood you, brother,” Andre said earnestly. To Louis’ mind, Andre had never wanted nor tried to understand him; perhaps that would change now due to Andre’s forced circumstances, necessity being in this case the mother of fraternity. Louis knew he had to be careful not to expect too much of a brother who had so often proved not even a friend, let alone brethren.

“I don’t expect you to understand what I aim to do,” Louis replied carefully. “But you must respect it.”

“I’ll do anything you say, provided I can stay within your sphere, safely.”

“Of course, brother. It is as it has always been,” Louis said patiently, and Andre turned away.

But the air around them was changing. Louis could feel it. Magic was pressing in. Closer and closer. For better and worse. He needed to make further progress before it darkened beyond a comfortable shade and turned dangerous. Perhaps deadly.

Chapter Six

Louis spent nearly every waking hour of the next many months in the Fifth Avenue laboratory. Andre would hide and sleep there during the day, before lurking about the city at night. Louis felt he’d given safe haven to some kind of vampire, but it was better than leaving his brother for dead. If Louis lived under a curse because his priestess didn’t understand how he wished to elevate his ancestry, he’d do right by what family he had left.

Andre managed to keep well out of the way in an upstairs corner that the researchers didn’t need, and while he didn’t ask many questions or make his presence much known, he kept them all in fresh supply of tea, coffee, and alcohol from stores Louis didn’t dare ask the source of.

Their relationship remained guarded as it always had been, with little in common other than an identical face. But they were friendly enough, a vast improvement on their past antagonism, and that, for Louis, felt like he was honoring their mother.

The team continued to make small discoveries that built on what Louis had realized by adding Andre’s base material to his own. Tethers to the tactile realities of one’s world, along with spiritual and talismanic import, imbued with meaning in the right quantities, seemed to have an effect worth continued exploration.

The researcher Feizer remained on leave for far longer than expected and the team heard nothing from him. They feared something terrible had happened. Louis wanted to talk to Bishop about it, but since Andre’s arrival and the burgeoning of his forbidden relationship with Clara, he felt avoiding the Senator entirely was best. In any case, he had little opportunity to worry about the missing mentalist. His work with Barney was at too critical a juncture.

But Malachi… Malachi was a growing concern.

There had been a change in the nervous, fastidious man. Even Andre, who was oblivious to the moods of others—or if not oblivious, frankly didn’t care—noticed the shift from nervous to darkly paranoid. After months of increasing unease, Malachi insisted that the team move their laboratory from the Fifth Avenue townhouse into his own home on West 10th Street. This, the man claimed, was neutral territory and well-guarded, where no government could find them.

Louis bid Andre keep even clearer of Malachi than before, so Andre stayed on in the old laboratory, with instructions to let them know if any government operatives put in an appearance.

What had begun as endless possibility in terms of what Eterna could bring them all had begun to turn a bit sour. Barney was increasingly setting things on fire. Louis’ localized vials were having less and less effect, especially in Malachi’s home, which, while it had been cleared of belongings and character, felt, to Louis, soulless and cold. Like something was wrong with the building itself.

Louis bid Andre begin hiding some of Louis and Barney’s work in various locations lest Malachi, who had taken to wrecking things in the laboratory if his experiments didn’t yield a specific result, destroy their work too.

The only consistent light and joy in Louis life came from Clara.


Clara began to consider her stolen moments with Louis the cherished prize of her days even as she continued gathering paranormal material.

He often waxed rhapsodic as he held her in a jumble of their disheveled clothes, and his musings began to shape his further understanding of personal, specific, local magic, of safeties and Wards, of the sacred made tactile between two hearts in a given space.

“Humans and ghosts are tied to things and places of meaning. Therein lies huge, untapped power,” Louis said, kissing Clara’s collarbone around the open lace of her blouse while her body responded with heated shudders. He had unbuttoned her while discussing metaphysical balance. “It is thrilling. So much is waking up. So much is possible…”

“Alongside unseen dangers in the shadows,” Clara added. “Sometimes I receive dark premonitions, Louis, in dreams and on the vague whispers of ghosts before I have to shut them out lest they cause me a fit. Promise me that you’ll continue to take care.”

“I will. Wherever there is progress, all kinds of unseen and unknowable things notice. Like spectral predators sensing blood, various energies and forces might be on the prowl. You must take exquisite care yourself, Clara, in turn. While you appear too brave to be daunted by danger, you must not be blind to it.”

“I’m not. I protect myself.” She smiled. “I’ve been taught by the best. Rupert has given me many tools.” Her gaze flickered to his as she swiftly added, ““And thanks to your instruction in shielding, too… I’m stronger than ever.”

“Danger loves to take advantage of pride,” Louis cautioned. “I’ll not be responsible for another of your fits. I cannot bear to see you suffer one wince of pain or vulnerability.”

Clara smiled and suddenly blurted; “I… love you.”

Louis gave her a look that was pained, a look that made him seem a stranger. She knew his dreams and his thrills, she didn’t truly know his heart…

“You say that you love me,” he replied gently. “And yet I wonder if I’m merely exotic and exciting to you, and you mistake that for love—”

“No, truly not,” Clara said, indignant. “I respect all that you are. Your lineage and your spiritual mission—”

Louis continued. “Secondly, I wonder if this sudden declaration of love is, in fact, simply rebellion against the Senator. I think about him often. I avoid him, because of you, but I wonder… there is such fondness there. Him, of you, and you, of him. It’s a rare conversation with either of you where the other is not mentioned.”‎

Clara stared at Louis, wide-eyed. She knew she should say something but she was so surprised by his statement that she was speechless. Louis had posed a question she wasn’t sure she could answer. Her emotions regarding Rupert were a complex knot with no beginning nor end.

If Louis was upset by her stunned silence, he didn’t show it; his face was as elegant and gentle as always. He continued, a man ever on mission.

“I have to leave soon, Clara. I have to get back to the lab. We are at a precipice. I’ve a compound in the vials that might be a new breakthrough.”

“In city sovereignty?” Clara asked eagerly, having long supported his ideas and postulates on localized magic.

“Indeed, but I have to keep it out of the hands of Malachi. He just doesn’t seem to take to any thing or any idea anymore. In the beginning, he was so vivacious; these days, utterly skittish. He simply is not himself. Did I mention we moved the laboratory into his home? He cleared everything out of the place. It’s eerie, really, to have an empty parlor as a laboratory.”

“Was not your last building a former home? I know the commission tried to make sure your spaces fit into neighborhoods, that no one would suspect there were laboratories in their midst.”

“I suppose,” Louis nodded. “But this building hardly feels right. Whatever feeling of home it once held for Malachi, now it’s cold and lifeless, while we’re supposed to be dealing in extending life.”

“Is he still paranoid? How long has this change been upon him?” Clara asked with grave concern.

“It’s been a month now. We agreed to shift into his home as a temporary solution. To shut him up, basically.”

“Please take care of yourself,” Clara said, caressing Louis’ smooth cheek. “As you always tell me, shield your heart and soul, my dear.”

“I shall. And I’ll see you very soon. Take care and keep heart, ma Cherie. Each day, ever closer to new ideas and truths, is as precious as you.”

Her dazzling smile was an image he’d put into a locket if he had one.

With a soft parting kiss, he was off, remembering to button his shirtsleeves as he strode along on that cloudy day, pausing at one point to straighten his cravat and attend to other tell-tale signs of a man vigorously alive in the throes of love.


Perhaps Louis should have turned about and exited the makeshift laboratory that fateful day the moment he entered it. He could taste a change in the air—a sourness, a touch of something sulfuric, but dismissed it as residue from one of his colleagues’ experiments.

Indeed, when Barney handed over the note from fellow researcher Feizer, Louis should have taken his dear friend by the arm and quietly left the place, never to return to it, or their work, again.

Malachi’s mental descent seemed to have worsened since the previous day. The man sat in a shadowed corner of the room, staring blankly at a book. Even at this distance, Louis could tell that the volume appeared to be written in Hebrew…and that Malachi was holding it upside down.

As Barney came up to him, Louis thought had never seen the man look so fearful. His generally gamesome, fair face was grey and pallid, his hands trembling as he offered Louis a folded sheet of paper.

“This was left for me at the college,” Barney said. He had left his post at Columbia after the death of his daughter. The base principles of what Eterna had been founded on was too great a lure for him to ignore.

“My Dear Gentlemen,

“I have been advised not to return to the Eterna Commission. Study and practice in France has quite engaged me. Portents and divinations that directly defy the sciences to which I have devoted myself have made themselves known to me and I have made a promise to my superstitious loved ones that I will heed the warnings and omens cast my way. Every best luck to you and may God be with you.”

Feizer had signed it in shaking script.

“What do you make of that?” Barney asked. Louis didn’t know what to say or do, so after a moment’s hesitation, he shrugged.

In a rare moment of helpless anger, Barney crumpled the note and tossed it into the fireplace, where the embers from one of his ongoing, low-burning experiments ignited the unsatisfactory and unnerving resignation. Malachi did not look up or react in any way to the conversation or the snap of the flames.

In awkward silence, Louis and Barney turned to the worktable they shared.There, sets of small glass tubes were filled with items that had been sent to them from around the country, tidbits of import from various locales specific to American history. Louis had created the lists, requesting soil, air, and water samples and items of local pride or note. It was time to see if, when put to fire, the resulting compound had the qualities of patriotism and pride that might extend the life of a vital politician entrusted with the nation’s care, per Eterna’s directive.

Each vial was marked with a different city; New Orleans, New York, Salem, Washington D.C., and more. All were locations filled with rich, powerful spirits, places that could rightly be called alive. Barney readied a box of matches and pulled cork stoppers from each of the tubes.

Malachi was murmuring in the corner, behind his upside down book. Was he rocking slightly? Louis feared the man had finally lost his last marble.

“Goldberg,” Barney barked at him, “do try to hold it together. I don’t want to have to tell the government you so fear – which, might I remind you, we happen to work for – about your condition.”

The unkempt man stared at them with wide, dark, glassy eyes. In a detached tone, as Barney dropped lit matches one by one into the vials, Malachi said;

“No need, gentlemen. No need for anything anymore. This is the beginning of the end, anyway. Let it come.”

Louis shuddered at these words, said in a voice that wasn’t entirely Malachi’s. The shadows of the dim room seemed to move, as if in response, and acrid tendrils of smoke began to rise from each tube. His lungs constricted and he gasped for breath.

The choking sound of Barney’s cough nearly drowned out his own. The room was filling with smoke and shadow, and all of it seemed intent on the researchers’ throats. The whole space seemed alive with threat, as if it desired to to snuff out the idea of life and liberty that the men’s experiments represented. More haze than should have been possible, given the tiny amount of flammable material in the glass tubes, grew thick.

Louis turned away from the worktable with a shuddering step and saw Malachi, convulsing—and yet managing to reach for a wide black rectangle seemed to have suddenly been cut into the paneling. The gaping maw of vacuous darkness felt like a hole in reality itself. Instinctively, Louis reached for the precious talisman that he had so long worn against his neck, remembering when his fingers closed on nothing that he had given his mother’s gift to Clara, to protect her. Remembering how he’d last seen it, nestled between his lover’s breasts—the thought of her revived him for a moment.

He stumbled away from Malachi’s darkened parlor-made-laboratory, struggling toward the front door, which was swinging open, offering a bright escape from the horrific reaction their experiment was evoking.

When his dazzled, clouded vision cleared for a moment, he found himself looking into the horrified eyes of his brother. Andre began backing away even as Louis felt his knees give out from under him. The floor was cold and unforgiving. Louis extended a desperate hand that was not met with help. And all the rest was silence.

At least, for an interminable moment of black, suspended darkness, there was silence. Louis felt, saw, heard, nothing save for a faint sensation of being. When entirely deprived of sensory input, it is hard to have any proof of being, yet for that moment, Louis was entirely aware that he was. That he existed.

This insistence upon existence became tantamount to the sun breaking over the horizon. A glimmer of light formed in tiny, piercing beams, as profound as that most quoted line of scripture; and then there was light.

Louis found himself in a long, dim corridor. It became clear that he stood at the crossroads between two possibilities: light, ahead, and life, behind.

At one end of the corridor, the brightening star of the first light of all creation.

At the other, familiarity. Earth. Murmuring voices and busy, flickering images. He saw countless events at once, unfolding before him as a moving quilt, images of people he loved and cared for.

In this transitory state, he was now an observer in a way he had not been before. He was struck by the fact that he could see many points of his dear ones’ lives at once. The certainty that he could see and understand things his former self could not was an enervating surge through what Louis did not feel as a body but as a set of phantom limbs and traces of flesh’s limitations.

The images now appeared as if seen through windows; the squares were flanked by dark silhouettes, each leaning towards the frames with clearly malicious intent, much like the vague forms that had rustled beyond the smoke in Louis’s now-vanished laboratory.

Life itself was laid out before him, frame by frame He saw his mother, father, Andre, Clara, friends from New Orleans, beautiful glimpses of the New York he had come to care for, Barney, even Malachi. The windows had become more formally framed, surrounded by carved wood; each frame bore a label identifying the occupant. Louis was present with a panoply of those who were Most Important to or of greatest influence on him, all labeled and categorized much like the vials of localized magic that he and Barney had been using in their experiments.

They had been on to something, Barney and he. And something, it seemed, had been onto them.

The moving shadows closing in on those bright vibrant moments; it became crystal clear to Louis that he had to stand in their way. He had to warn those he loved who lived and breathed, had to somehow protect those who were gone but whose lives unfurled before him as if they still walked the planet’s surface. The corridor did not discriminate between the living or the dead, all were precious.

Perhaps that’s what this was all about, really; shielding against the encroaching darkness those shadows represented.

Grasping his new purpose firmly, Louis felt a surge of energy, like one of Barney’s struck matches flaring from its phosphorous into flame. He blinked back into the world, accompanied by a small tearing sound. He gained no sense of ground, nor feet to stand on, but became aware of familiar sights and sounds, of the motion of air, and of an unnerving weightlessness.

Louis floated in the middle of West 10th Street, a bit off the ground, and watched his brother run down the street of this fine, genteel neighborhood. Acrid tendrils of smoke wafted from below the front door of the building where Louis’s body lay in whatever state it had fallen. He did not seek to investigate further. Ashes to ashes.

There was no time for grief. The choice to remain had been clear. If nothing else, for the sake of science.

Bondye,” he murmured to heaven, “Help me be the spirit you wish me to be. Show me this grey path and let thy will be done.”

It was noble, this choice to remain in shade, Louis thought, in that echoing space of musing where more solid thoughts had once sung their songs of science and faith. If this fate was a curse due to the choices he’d made during his corporeal life, then he bid the Mystères, as fellow spirit guides, provide a map for his new journey.

In seeking proof of spirit, Eterna had actualized him into what he had wished, a truth now layered with the drive to solve what had become of him and why. He could do more good from here, he assured himself, and floated out into the busy New York day to haunt up answers to life’s unending questions, queries that did not stop with the cessation of heart and breath.

The secret to eternal life was as simple as the quest for knowledge. With that, was there anything to fear? With that, was there anything to stop him? He set off after his fleeing, misguided twin, a heart that tethered him, for there were lives yet to live and souls to shield from shadow.

Copyright © 2016 by Leanna Renee Hieber


Sneak Peek: Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee Hieber

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Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee HieberLeanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy series continues and the action ramps up in Eterna and Omega.

In New York City, fearing the dangers of the Eterna Compound–supposedly the key to immortality–Clara Templeton buries information vital to its creation. The ghost of her clandestine lover is desperate to tell her she is wrong, but though she is a clairvoyant, she cannot hear him.

In London, Harold Spire plans to send his team of assassins, magicians, mediums, and other rogue talents to New York City, in an attempt to obtain Eterna for Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria. He stays behind to help Scotland Yard track down a network of body snatchers and occultists, but he’ll miss his second-in-command, Rose Everhart, whose gentle exterior masks a steel spine.

Rose’s skepticism about the supernatural has been shattered since she joined Spire’s Omega Branch. Meeting Clara is like looking into a strange mirror: both women are orphans, each is concealing a paranormal ability, and each has a powerful and attractive guardian who has secrets of his own.

The hidden occult power that menaces both England and America continues to grow. Far from being dangerous, Eterna may hold the key to humanity’s salvation.

Eterna and Omega  will be available August 9th. Please enjoy this excerpt. 



New York City, 1882

The scene inside the Trinity Church graveyard in downtown Manhattan Island on this witching hour was dire, no matter if one could see the myriad ghosts gathered therein or not. A living woman shook on the ground, surrounded by a dead horde.

Louis Dupris, his phantom form floating beside the shaking body of his lover, Clara Templeton, was screaming at her, alongside the spectral spectrum of Manhattan. Not because she’d done anything wrong, but because she was unwittingly drawn into a far more dangerous situation than she could possibly have known. The ghosts were unable to impress this idea upon her, certainly not in her state.

An unkindness of ravens had gathered to add to the cacophony from the tops of a nearby tree that arched over Trinity’s brownstone Gothic eaves and overlooked the graves. Everything dead and living lifted keening protest; wailing and squawking, these ravens as much harbingers as they were scavengers.

A dread power was about to unleash itself over England and America. This was dawning on those in the spirit world who remained attuned to the living. The two countries were woefully unprepared for the black tide that would rise like a biblical plague. Only in this case, the surge would be sent from devils, not from God.

But Clara, a Sensitive—a gifted, empathic medium—wasn’t in any state to help the spirits or herself, seeing as her ability came with the unfortunate side effect of seizures. Her dark blond waves of hair had shaken free of their pins, the cloak she’d worn over her black linen dress seemed to catch most of the dirt her limbs would be battering against, her high cheekbones and distinct angles were tense and taut, her chattering teeth had bitten the inside of her cheek during the seizing, and blood dribbled down her fair chin.

Thankfully, a friend who had been told to mind her business didn’t. Lavinia Kent, one of Clara’s coworkers at the Eterna Commission, launched herself into the Trinity Church graveyard and, not seeing Louis or the ghostly retinue around her, rushed to Clara. She turned her on her side, taking her head in her hands and carefully slipping a fold of fabric from her skirt into Clara’s chattering teeth, never minding the blood on her black gown.

Louis Dupris and the other spectral compatriots attempting to alert Clara were suddenly attuned to a new distraction.

Down Pearl Street, from the site of the Edison company’s vast electricity-producing dynamos, came a terrible whine, a buzzing, terrifying roar. This electrical disturbance disrupted the plane of the dead; the subtle currents upon which they flowed and the various modern conveniences they could interrupt were trumped in a way they’d never experienced. The mild spark of a spirit was nothing compared to the surge of a great turbine.

Louis had noticed, in his fascinating new existence as a ghost, that sometimes he and his fellows could generate electricity—and that sometimes a current could put them out instead.

Clara roused to explosions of lightbulbs along one of Manhattan’s most influential, wealthy streets. Coming to, she slowly focused on Lavinia. Louis, ever attentive to Clara’s eyes from their various amorous encounters during his life, could see her senses returning. He knew they always came back in pieces.

“Vin … what … I…” Clara’s tongue seemed thick and unwieldy.

“You’re all right,” her friend said gently. “I assume this place is too haunted for you to be in here for too long. Come, let’s get you back home. I don’t suppose you’ll actually tell me what you were doing in here?”

“Official business,” she mumbled and said no more, allowing Lavinia to help her up and gingerly walk with her as her body slowly began to respond normally to her mind’s instructions. Louis knew, from having seen her through more than one of these episodes, that her mind would remain hazy and she’d collapse into a deep and deathlike sleep until morning.

But as he watched Lavinia supporting Clara’s drooping weight and clumsy steps, Louis felt comforted that she would indeed be all right. Both women shuddered as he reached out to try to touch Clara’s hair. At this, he was saddened, as it was likely from his own chill.

He floated away, feeling as lonely as a sentience could. If the loneliness of life was unbearable at times, the isolation of death was the stuff that drove specters to haunt the living for centuries. It was the sharpest of pains, impossible for his theorist’s mind to quantify.

“I have to get through…” the ghost murmured to the night, wafting up a side street speckled with the occasional gas lamp. The constraints of the spirit world were chafing against his desire for clarity and forward motion, lulling him toward the stasis of a mere haunt. He was between worlds, a dangerous place for a man to be recalled to a mission.

“I know leaving her be, that’s for the best, considering her condition, but I need to talk to her,” Louis said anxiously, darting his translucent form back up Broadway. “The files, my work, is a safeguard. Not a danger, but a help, a breakthrough in localized magic. It wasn’t the creation of the compound that was the killer, but the presences that came in after. Clara must understand. Surely something personal can connect us. Clara, love, I need you, and you need me more dead than alive to sort this all out.…” A gruesome but brilliant solution presented itself. “Something tactile. A tactile remembrance where I died … Her hair … Beautiful hair … To connect us…”

In his ghostly state, a helpful idea literally illuminated his grayscale form, and he blazed like a candle for a moment before returning to a ghostly default ofeisengrau, the color behind one’s eyes, a gray the epitome of that purgatorial space between awake and asleep.

“The medium!” he gasped, and thought hard about where he could find the specific woman who had communicated with him before. Unfortunately for them both, the moment in question had happened by force. Mediums and spirits were best met by welcoming relations.

He doubted she’d be happy to see him. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to get through. But he had to try. Using a strange new sense that had come to him only in death, he tried reaching out a tendril of association, knowledge, and remembrance. Once a medium and a spirit spoke, an indelible channel connected them, a sluice one could slip through again if given the chance.

Floating amid the wind, time was as amorphous as his body in this state, a serious danger when time was of the essence and he was only essence at all.…

Fifth Avenue, finally. A fine stone town house with the most modern of Tiffany glass panels on either side of the carved wooden front door. There she was. He could sense the medium’s radiance even from outside. He floated through beautifully leaded wisteria.

She was in the parlor having an evening cordial, but hardly relaxed as one would hope at such a late hour, though Louis was relieved he wouldn’t have to wake her. Sitting stiffly in plum-colored satin and starched lace, she remained alert and wary, as gifted as she was mysterious and elegant. He read her posture like a line of dialogue in a play.

With such chaos downtown, if she truly was as talented as those who had kidnapped her and forced that unfortunate séance had indicated, she likely knew the air was off, that New York was an unsettled creature awaking to find itself under threat of being caged …

Tall with dark brown–blond hair streaked with distinct swaths of gray, a woman in her mid-forties as striking as if she were in the bloom of youth, so did she command a space with imperious presence matched only by a glimmering vivacity. She outshone all the crystal in her home and the glass-beaded folds of her double-skirted Parisian gown, the rich plum color doing her fair skin fair service. While she commanded attention like a colonel an army, what Louis needed was hers.

That Louis’s twin brother Andre had fled New York yet again was most inconvenient, the coward. While Andre had sworn he would tend to unsettled matters in New Orleans, the city of their birth, Louis knew all too well that Andre’s reputation was for trouble, not reconciliation, so it may have been ill-advised. If he had remained in the city, Louis could make use of him, for his twin could hearand see him, even in his current state. The ability of both, due to their twin blood tie, proved a rare and useful talent.

“Hello…” Louis said feebly before chiding himself; this was no time for hesitancy. “Good Madame Medium. I know this is hardly custom in regard to communication, but it is an emergency,” Louis stated.

The medium turned toward him, though she did not look in his eyes or at his person, but past and through him. While she could perhaps sense his presence, she did not fix upon him. All he needed was for her to hear him, and to help.


Mrs. Evelyn Northe-Stewart was relaxing after a late dinner with her husband in their mahogany-paneled parlor filled with exotic, mystical souvenirs from around the world when the ghost first came to call. They were night people, she and Gareth, Mr. Stewart having to keep the hours of artists and the leisure classes, associated as he was with the new Metropolitan Museum of Art. For Evelyn’s part, when one often convened with the dead—whether invited or not—one was relegated to the clock of an owl.

She wasn’t one to “see” ghosts, and not always hear them either. But she never failed to feel them, and she felt this one first as a gust of cool breezes. Then came a strange twisting in her abdomen and an odd radiating vibration outward. The strength of it meant she had encountered this particular spirit before, that she was a previously established channel.

“Gareth, darling,” she said to the mild-mannered man staring at her appreciatively, as he often did. She knew he still marveled that he had convinced her to marry him.

In a world that chided—if not hated—her for being a powerful woman and gifted Sensitive, finding a man like Gareth, who wanted her to be nothing more or less than her whole self, was a treasure worth more than the fortune her dear—similarly awestruck—late husband had left her. She had been lucky enough to procure one forward-minded husband, let alone a second, and she was as grateful of this as she was desirous for her sex to be afforded equality.

“Yes, dear,” he replied, responding warmly to a broken reverie. Gareth was a peaceful soul; however, spirits unsettled his quietude.

“Don’t you think you’d love a cigar in your study? I’m getting a … premonition. And it doesn’t seem to want company.”

Gareth Stewart rose slowly, his fair face paling against his auburn beard. “Indeed…” He never knew what to say in cases such as this, so he simply left a room when it cooled degrees and the day turned from normal to paranormal. To each their worlds.

Once he exited, Evelyn gestured impatiently as she spoke. “I know you’re here. Out with it!”

The ghost must have floated closer to her, for the feathers of the fascinator pinned into her coiffure wafted in the breeze of his spectral presence, tendrils kissing her forehead. The flames of the crystal-globed gas lamps on a small mahogany table beside her velvet settee flickered subtly.

“I need your help,” the ghost said.

While pleading and desperate, after all she’d seen and weathered, she was a wisely wary woman, and suppliant tones alone were not enough to enlist her.

“You need help,” she repeated, staring in his direction, changing the focus of her eyes in an attempt to see any differentiation in the line of flocked wallpaper, anything that might give an indication of his form. “Spirits always do.”

“It’s a matter of grave importance,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t bother you with trivialities, not after all we’ve been through. You might remember me…”

“Ah. Yes.” She set her jaw and turned away from the spectral voice. “The twin. No wonder I can hear you so clearly, Mr. Dupris. You maintained the channel.”

“Yes,” he admitted ruefully. “I had to.”

Her shoulder twitched beneath tailored layers of satin. “You know, that is hardly comfortable for us,” she said through clenched teeth. “When you keep the channel open, it’s like a cut on our skin never healed and is continuously exposed to the elements.”

“No. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. Truly.” The spirit did seem contrite. At least this one was eloquent enough to comprehend in more than sentence fragments. Either she was gaining greater talents, or the ever mysterious spirit world was empowering this individual above all previous. “But I need any access I can afford,” the ghost insisted. “You, Madame Medium, are at the core of all those who are important and critical in the times to come.”

At this, the medium’s eyes flashed a fierce warning. “If you want something of Clara—”

“I do,” the ghost she knew to be Louis Dupris, Clara’s secret lover, exclaimed, wafting before her face in a chill gust, and she turned, unwilling to truly face him, whether he was visible to her or not. Extended ghostly exposure was exhausting and made Evelyn feel plucked at as if she were a series of string instruments being played all at once.

The ghost would not be deterred. “You need to help me contact her.”

“I will do nothing to upset her,” Evelyn declared.

“This is beyond her,” Louis countered. “You and she must understand what happened at the Eterna site on the terrible day I died. I am beginning to unravel what sabotaged us in that house. We were not alone when the disaster happened. I need someone to listen.”

“I’m here now,” Evelyn declared, exasperated. “We’ve a strong channel, don’t squander it—”

“Our laboratory was invaded, Madame, by multiple presences. As my chemist partner Barnard and I combined the Eterna materials on that fateful day, our material must have been threatening to outside forces. One of our colleagues was courting something terrible. We didn’t know…”

There was a long and terrible pause. Evelyn felt queasy. Such prolonged contact, with such clarity, was unprecedented. She now understood Clara’s overwhelmed nature when it came to contact with the dead. Whatever she could take and save Clara from the brunt, she had to do. “More,” she said quietly, gesturing toward the sound of his voice. “Tell me as much as you can.”

Louis continued, his haunting voice deepening in sadness. “I didn’t notice it until I returned to the brownstone after death, to find clues, trying to remember. The site had been a home, once, but Goldberg had gone mad, emptied the place of everything but our work. He was so odd, muttering things we could not understand…”

“Such as?” Evelyn closed her eyes. Perhaps she could focus on him better if she didn’t try to look at the place she thought he occupied, just felt his draft.

“It was a language I didn’t understand,” Louis replied, frustration underpinning his every word. “We thought it was Yiddish, but now I’m not sure. I remembered having seen something very odd, right before everything went wrong. In the wall, carved in, was the outline of a door. And it sort of became one—a blank space, a void where there should have been substance. Dark entities stepped through. Shadow-like, devoid of light, the opposite … As if summoned. It happened right as the Eterna Compound turned into a noxious gas. I remember nothing after that.”

“Entities. From a door. Carved in a wall…” Evelyn murmured. The room spun, and she could feel all the color drain from her cheeks. “My God…”

“What?” Louis countered in wary concern.

“It never really ended, did it?!” the medium said, her words a rasp, as if scrabbling for purchase in her throat. “The Society just went deeper underground … The network broader … Good God, we could’ve nipped it in the bud then, but now…”

She jumped to her feet and began to pace, looking down at the dark whorl of her plum skirts around the rich mahogany furnishings, the sumptuous deep tones of Tiffany sconces casting mottled, bruise-like patches of colored light onto her pale skin as she passed beneath them. For all her love of deep colors and magnetic shadows, at the moment she longed for blinding brightness to cast off any hint of darkness.

“You have … experience in such dealings?” Louis asked cautiously.

“Two years ago a demon tried to kill my friends,” the medium replied gravely. “Part of an insane plot, something hellish and mad, and surely too similar to what you’ve described to be coincidence. And if so … then it would have made that whole dread business mere child’s play. An exercise. A drill. A test for a coming apocalypse…”

“Whatever it is,” the ghost insisted, “we have to stop the shadows before they wake.”

“They’ve always been awake, Mr. Dupris,” Evelyn snapped. “Devils never sleep. The trouble is that now, it seems they’ve multiplied.”

“So will you help connect me to Clara?” Louis begged. “We’ve no time to waste. The devils are patient, but when moved, they seem to act with horrific, swift aptitude. They came upon my team the instant our work crested unto glory. We had wrought something of hope and honor when we were quashed by darkness.”

Evelyn sighed and quit pacing. The dark satin whorl stilled and silenced. “I’ve no choice but to help. We’ll need all hands on the proverbial spiritual deck.”

“Thank you. There is an odd clarity in death that sharpens the grayscale of human morality. In the moments when I can keep focus, a feat itself, I see more clearly what’s most valuable.”

The medium turned again toward the direction of his voice. “What do you need from Clara?”

“As you know from the séance you were forced to undergo, there remains a block between Clara and me. I cannot speak to her directly. Yet she alone understands the heart of the Eterna Commission and its properties enough to see it to a solution. Those shadows were threatened by what we made. It was a mortal protection, and they killed us for it.”

“Clara’s block is there to protect her. You know of her vulnerabilities, the senator guards her—”

“Of course I know that!” Louis cried. “One spirit alone does not overwhelm her, only when they cluster. I do know her, knew her”—Evelyn heard wrenching sorrow in his voice—“well, Mrs. Northe-Stewart. I knew her well and loved her with my whole heart.”

The medium pursed her lips. “Then why did no one know?”

“Would I, a man with a most particular heritage, have been allowed to ask for her hand?” Louis countered bitterly. “Not to mention that Senator Bishop prohibited the Eterna researchers from contacting his ward.”

“I am aware of the senator’s rules,” the medium said. “How did you meet, then?”

“At a soiree, early in my employment, before any trouble began. From first meeting in a quiet alcove, I was lost. Our rendezvous infrequent as we were both so careful … My heart was noble, I assure you, and a gentleman’s boundaries were maintained. But all that is history. What I believe we created in that house was a Ward … Not a ward in need of a guardian but a Ward, in old magical terms—”

“A Ward of protection, yes, I am aware of the concept,” Evelyn asserted.

“Someone, something, didn’t want us to have it, and we need to know why. So now I beg you—obtain a lock of hair from my darling Clara,” the spirit said, his chill directly at her ear, as if he didn’t want her to miss one word of the vital details, “and take it to where I died. Localized magic is about connecting organic materials of life and death, and since I don’t have a grave, I can only hope that the disaster site will serve, and that from there, I will be able to tell Clara more about the Warding.”

“I hope you’re right, Mr. Dupris.” She was brilliantly conversant with him, but she couldn’t be sure if that was instinct or literal translation from his plane to hers. “But I shan’t be visiting your haunted house, or Clara, past midnight. This is the stuff of the morning, for safety’s sake. Now leave me be lest you drive me to nightmares. Good night, Mr. Dupris, and I’ll deal with you tomorrow. You can … waft yourself out.” With a curt nod of her head, she exited the parlor.

Louis bowed after her, a formality even if she couldn’t see him, calling a good night and thanks, and then, with what focus he had left, floated back onto dark Fifth Avenue, praying for dawn.


When Clara awoke the morning after any seizure, it was a sequence of putting herself back together, sense by sense, like restacking a deck of cards that had been thrown onto the floor and scattered.

For a woman who prized herself on relative control of her vast emotional and metaphysical scope, the loss of control in an epileptic seizure was the worst fate that she could imagine. She’d had to endure it since a séance she’d attended just as she was beginning to blossom into womanhood. Clara had expected that becoming an adult would change her abilities somehow but had not anticipated that becoming more sensitive would make her more susceptible to fits. Since the age of thirteen, vastly greater care had to be taken lest she be overtaxed and overtaken, as she had been at midnight in Trinity’s sacred plot.

Every muscle of her body was screaming in pain. The clenching part of the seizure was always brutal and lingered on like a beating. Thankfully, this time she hadn’t bitten off a chunk of her tongue; the cheek was bad enough.

When the thorough aches sharpened her senses enough to grasp the whole of herself, she noted was in her own bed, in the elegant little upstairs room that had been hers since she moved into the town house after her parents’ deaths. Rupert Bishop had been a congressman then; now he was senator. But even then, he had made sure that his young ward had lacked nothing. He had seen to her education and given her leave to be and to express herself, to expand her mind. Most of all, to become the Spiritualist she and Bishop both felt she was born to be.

When she was only twelve years of age, it was her vision as expressed to grieving widow Mary Todd Lincoln that led to the creation of the Eterna Commission. Now, seventeen years later, she would have to be the one to end it, somehow. Too many people—not least her beloved Louis—had already died.

Lavinia. Thin memories returned like pale mist creeping over a dark expanse. Darling Vin had been her hero. That’s how she’d gotten home. She didn’t remember being helped into bed, but she must have put her in this muslin nightdress, as her best friend knew Clara would be mortified if Bishop had had to do it … What about Bishop…?

As the last of the mists that enveloped her mind cleared, Clara realized her guardian was staring down at her, tall and imposing in fine charcoal shades of dress, his silver hair mussed, his elegant, noble face with its oft-furrowed brow knit more harshly than usual.

“Hello, Rupert…” she said cautiously. Did he know she’d stolen out to bury Eterna evidence in the Trinity Church graveyard? Clara decided playing innocent was the best tack. “What happened?” she said, widening her eyes and reaching for her guardian’s hand.

“You’ve been asleep awhile. Longer than usual. I didn’t see the seizure, but…” Bishop was about to step forward and grasp her outstretched hand when they were interrupted.

“There was quite an event,” came a familiar female voice from the hall. The talented medium, Mrs. Evelyn Northe-Stewart, entered the room.

She was tall and striking, her once blond hair had gained streaks of classic silver, matching her with Bishop, her contemporary, ever dressed in the most magnificent finery straight from Paris’s fashionably innovative minds.

Clara had long ago taken on Evelyn’s style as inspiration, both in fashion and in furnishings, sure to tell her guardian that she, too, preferred her dresses Parisian and her surroundings entirely of the new Tiffany firm’s provenance, seeing as the studio had just redecorated the White House.

Drinking in Evelyn’s latest fashion was one of Clara’s favorite pastimes, and today she did not disappoint in a champagne-colored bombazine day dress with a matching capped-sleeve jacket trimmed and accented with thin black ribbon.

“May we have a moment?” the medium said, turning to the senator. “Clara and I?”

“I … she … Clara just woke up,” Bishop replied. The hesitation was unlike him, and while relations between her and her guardian had been strained of late, Clara’s heart swelled that no discord could outweigh his infallible care for her.

“It’s a personal matter, Rupert,” Evelyn insisted, keeping her tone warm out of deference to his protective instincts. “I received a message that concerns her.”

The senator’s brow knit further. Giving Clara a worried look, he reluctantly left the room.

The medium turned to Clara gravely. “I had a visit from your Louis…” she began.

Clara swallowed hard.

Louis had awakened aspects of herself—mind, body, and heart—she had not experienced before. She had loved him truly for who he was, a passionate and energetic man of visions and spiritual gifts. Rupert Bishop held an old sway over her heart, one she never dared indulge, but Louis had helped her live more fully than she’d ever allowed. His death had been a hard and unexpected blow; that he still had a connection to her was a bittersweet comfort and a pang.

Evelyn, ever attentive and empathic, waited for Clara to meet her gaze again before continuing. “Louis was very insistent on gaining access to you. To talk to you.”

The memory was sharp enough to make Clara close her eyes. Louis had often said if he could do only one thing in the world, it would be just to sit and talk to her. They both believed in Eterna’s mission. Louis’s commitment to Eterna was shaped at least in part by his desire to make his principles of spirituality and his Vodoun faith something science could champion.

She could not help but think back to their passionate discussions, often conducted while lounging about on the bed of his tiny flat near Union Square. Clara was all too willing to find reasons to excuse herself from work and dart uptown for a secret rendezvous. The weight of Evelyn’s stare drew her away from the memories of her dead paramour.

Clara’s body felt suddenly restless and caged by her condition. She shifted to sit upright, wincing as her arm and back muscles clenched again in a painful vise, but she refused Evelyn’s help, as she needed her own movement to unlock them again. She cleared her throat and began cautiously.

“Louis wishes to speak to me … about us? Or was it … something of Eterna?”

“Eterna,” Evelyn was quick to reply, moving closer to Clara and sitting on the edge of the bed. “He is learning, in the spectral realm, about what may have gone wrong at the site. Dark forces are afoot, having been granted entry by human avarice.”

Clara thought of the disaster site and shuddered. “That would stand to reason, if reason can even apply there.”

“Devilry has a peculiar reason to it, and a twisted logic. Louis believes dark presences that invaded the room treated the Eterna Compound as a threat.”

When Clara had, daringly, visited the site of Louis’s death, she had a terrible vision of looming beings … Perhaps the same presences Louis referred to. She had thought they were ghosts, but her time there had been so short, it was possible she had not perceived them as the threats they were. Her head wasn’t nearly as clear as it needed to be, hadn’t been since Louis’s death.

She shook herself out of self-pity and stared at her dear friend and mentor with a ready ferocity.

“I said I would do this only with your permission,” the regal woman stated. Clara nodded, hoping perceptive Evelyn would both note and trust her freshly steeled mettle.

“There is indeed more at work here than mere sentiment,” Clara murmured. “I honestly don’t know what I’m meant to do, with the commission, the research, the information … Perhaps Louis can help be my spiritual guide through the mess.” She stared up at Evelyn plaintively. “I just hope I hold up. I have to. I can’t let my condition get in the way. I wanted to be there for him, in life, to work with him.” She clenched her fists. “I’ll take what time with him I can get.”

Shifting out of bed, swinging her legs down slowly, and then rising at a bent angle that made her feel older than her age, Clara winced again. Evelyn moved to assist her, but she waved her off. “No, thank you, I have to move eventually, and on my own, otherwise I can’t shake loose what still wishes to clench and seize.”

Clara moved to her vanity and withdrew a pair of small silver scissors from a top drawer. She looked into the mirror, her green-golden eyes staring past her somewhat haunted reflection, and snipped a lock of deep blond hair from her unkempt tresses. With a rough pull, she wrenched the clump free from the confines of her messy braid, looking alternately at the long streamer of hair in her hand and her somewhat mad-looking reflection.

Plucking a box of matches from her nightstand, Clara lit a taper, removed the candle from its holder, and tipped it above one end of the lock of her hair. Droplets of wax fell, sealing the hairs together.

Sitting back on the edge of the rumpled bed, Clara divided the strands and wove a thin braid, then sealed the second end. She blew out the candle and stared into the wisps of smoke for a moment as if she was hoping to read a message there.

“I hope this works,” Clara said, and the tone in her own voice surprised her. Eterna had aged her beyond her twenty-nine years.

Evelyn nodded. “I can feel the tide of the city will darken, waking up old, terrible cases we thought we’d put to rest. We need to avail ourselves of any and all information. Thank you, Clara, for being willing—”

“It’s the least I can do for his life,” she murmured, worrying the end of the braid between her fingertips before finally passing it over to her mother figure and mentor. “I was never honest about him, I might as well attempt to honor him.”

“I will try to do right by you both,” Evelyn promised. The two Spiritualists held each other’s weighty gaze.

“You’ll find the key to that house in our offices,” Clara stated. “In the top drawer of my desk. Thank you, Evelyn. Truly.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” the elder woman said gravely. “We may yet be dragged through hell and back.” She stood and walked toward the door.

Clara stopped her with a plea. “Don’t tell Rupert about Louis, please? About this return? It’s a…”

Evelyn lifted a hand that fluttered in a gesture of understanding. “Sensitive subject, yes. But don’t leave the poor man entirely in the dark,” she insisted. Clara looked away, guilt twisting within her. The medium pressed a bit further, coming back into the room, close to Clara to take on a gentler tone. “You could have gone to Rupert with your love, Clara. Did it really have to be a secret? Do you not owe him more than that?” A look from Clara gave Evelyn pause. “I won’t tell Rupert unless circumstances of safety require the knowledge. But I am telling you now that you cannot fight this fight without him.”

“I will tell him, I promise.”

Evelyn reached out and took Clara’s hand. “You know I’ve always considered you family. Remember that. Brace yourself, Clara. You are strong, you mustn’t forget it. Don’t let your condition ever tell you otherwise, it’s undermined your agency and your confidence for years. Get that back at all costs. What we’re up against, if it’s anything like what I’ve unfortunately been inured to, Lord help us all. The meek shall not inherit the earth unless we, the loud and bold, stop an onslaught of devilry.”

Clara nodded. “I promise that, too. Strength. Now more than ever.”

Evelyn squeezed her hand hard, then let go and exited the room with the calm grace uniquely hers. Clara hoped she would embody the same qualities as she aged. She wondered when to expect Louis and what their new connection might be like.

If Mrs. Northe-Stewart was successful, a new aspect of the Eterna Commission would unfold, along with a new stage in her relationship with Louis.

She’d buried everything in the Trinity Church graveyard because she did not know what else to do, but she had to do something. Having dug a grave for all the Eterna material she had—all Louis’s papers, all his mystical and imaginative work on talismanic, localized magic, and personal power tied to one’s place on this earth—she had buried half her heart in that hole as well.

After loving him, feeling responsible for his death, being misled that he might actually be alive, only to find out he remained a spirit after all, could she bear this next shift to a kind of relationship she could hardly have predicted? She steeled herself just like she had done with feelings for Rupert Bishop so long ago, reinforcing the mausoleum doors of her emotions.

Sentiment cooled and hardened like a winter’s grave. There was no time for a star-crossed love between forbidden planes of existence when preparing for further supernatural woe. Friend or foe was impossible to determine, British or American, living or dead. Clara hoped the spirit realm could make some sense out of whom to trust and what next to attend to.

Copyright © 2016 by Leanna Renee Hieber

Buy Eterna and Omega here:

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Cover Reveal: Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee Hieber

Tor Books is proud to present the cover of Eterna and Omega, the next book in Leanna Renee Hieber‘s  gaslamp fantasy series!

Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee Hieber

About Eterna and Omega: In New York City, fearing the dangers of the Eterna Compound–supposedly the key to immortality–Clara Templeton buries information vital to its creation. The ghost of her clandestine lover is desperate to tell her she is wrong, but though she is a clairvoyant, she cannot hear him.

In London, Harold Spire plans to send his team of assassins, magicians, mediums, and other rogue talents to New York City, in an attempt to obtain Eterna for Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria. He stays behind to help Scotland Yard track down a network of body snatchers and occultists, but he’ll miss his second-in-command, Rose Everhart, whose gentle exterior masks a steel spine.

Rose’s skepticism about the supernatural has been shattered since she joined Spire’s Omega Branch. Meeting Clara is like looking into a strange mirror: both women are orphans, each is concealing a paranormal ability, and each has a powerful and attractive guardian who has secrets of his own.

The hidden occult power that menaces both England and America continues to grow. Far from being dangerous, Eterna may hold the key to humanity’s salvation.

Eterna and Omega comes out August 9th. Preorder it today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iBooks | Indiebound | Powell’s

March #TorChat Lineup Revealed

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

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This month, #TorChat is exploring the nineteenth century and the world of gaslamp fantasy! Join us as editor and moderator Ellen Datlow chats with Catherynne Valente, Kaaron Warren, Leanna Renee Hieber, and Jeffrey Ford on March 20th at 4 PM Eastern.

Tor Books (@torbooks) is thrilled to announce the March #TorChat, part of a monthly series of genre-themed, hour-long chats created by Tor Books and hosted on Twitter.

This month, #TorChat is looking back on the nineteenth century and the subgenre gaslamp fantasy. Gaslamp fantasy, according to the new anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, can take place any time during the 1800s, and is primarily set in England or in places where the British had a strong cultural presence. Rather than being a narrow subgenre, however, gaslamp fantasy is actually rather broad, and can include steampunk, historical fiction, detective tales, gothic fiction, and so much more.

Joining us to talk about this emerging genre are four authors who contributed to Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells. Catherynne M. Valente is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen works of fiction and poetry, including the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship Of Her Own Making and the gaslamp fantasy short story “We Without Us Were Shadows;” Kaaron Warren, the award-winning author of Slights and the short story “The Unwanted Women of Surrey;” Leanna Renee Hieber, an actress, playwright, and the author of “Charged,” as well as the novel The Strangely Beautiful Tales of Miss Percy Parker; and Jeffrey Ford, the multiple award-winning author of The Shadow War and the story “The Fairy Enterprise.” Together, they’ll discuss what, exactly, gaslamp fantasy is, and why the subgenre is here to stay.

The chat will be loosely moderated by Ellen Datlow, who has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years. We hope fans of gaslamp fantasy, as well as those interested in learning more about it, will follow the chat and join in using the Twitter hashtag #TorChat!

About the Authors

ELLEN DATLOW (@EllenDatlow) has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI magazine and SciFiction and has edited more than fifty anthologies, including the annual The Best Horror of the Year; Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror; Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy; Blood and Other Cravings; Teeth: Vampire Tales; and After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia (the latter two young-adult anthologies with Terri Windling). She has won nine World Fantasy Awards and has also won multiple Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, and the Shirley Jackson Award for her editing. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention, for “outstanding contribution to the genre.” She has also been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career. Her latest anthology is Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, co-edited with Terri Windling, which publishes on Tuesday, March 19th.

JEFFREY FORD (@jeffreyford8) is the author of eight novels (most recently The Shadow Year) and four collections of short stories (most recently Crackpot Palace). He is the recipient of the World Fantasy Award, Shirley Jackson Award, Edgar Allan Poe Award, and Nebula Award. His story “The Drowned Life” was recently included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, 2nd ed. Also his story “Blood Drive” appeared in the YA apocalyptic and dystopian anthology After, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Tor), and “A Natural History of Autumn” appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He lives in Ohio with his wife and sons.

LEANNA RENEE HIEBER (@Leannarenee) is an author, actress, and playwright with a BFA in Theatre and a focus in the Victorian Era. A member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA, Leanna works periodically on shows like Boardwalk Empire. A Goth girl with an enormous collection of corsets, she resides in New York City with her real-life hero and their beloved rescued lab rabbit. Her debut novel, the B&N best-seller The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, won two Prism Awards, multiple regional and genre awards and is currently in development as a musical theatre production. Her fourth, Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul, was selected as a Scholastic “highly recommended” title. Leanna’s short fiction has been featured on, in Willful Impropriety, and in the new anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, publishing on March 19th. Her upcoming Gaslamp Fantasy series, The Eterna Files, launches in 2014 from Tor Books.

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE (@catvalente) is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen works of fiction and poetry, including Palimpest, The Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, and the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship Of Her Own Making. She is the winner of the Andre Norton Award, the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award. She has been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, Nebula, and Spectrum Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award in 2007 and 2009. Sjhe lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, and enormous cat.

KAARON WARREN (@KaaronWarren) is the author of the short-story collection The Grinding House, which won the ACT Writing and Publishing Fiction Award and two Ditmar Awards. Her second collection, Dead Sea Fruit, also won the ACT Writing and Publishing Fiction Award. Her third collection, Through Splintered Walls, was recently published by Twelfth Planet Press. Her critically acclaimed first novel, Slights, won the Australian Shadows Long Fiction Award, the Ditmar Award, and the Canberra Critics’ Award for Fiction. Since then she’s had two other novels published, Walking the Tree and Mistification, both short-listed for a Ditmar Award. Warren’s stories have been picked for The Year’s Best Horror and Fantasy and Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year, as well as The Year’s Best Australian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy anthologies. Warren lives in Canberra, Australia, with her husband and children.

About #Torchat
#TorChat is a genre-themed, hour-long chat series created by Tor Books and hosted on Twitter. Guest authors join fans in lively, informative and entertaining discussions of all that’s hot in genre fiction, 140 characters at a time, from 4 – 5 PM EST on the third Wednesday of every month. Each #TorChat revolves around a different genre topic of interest, often of a timely nature, and strives to provide a new media opportunity for readers to connect with their favorite authors.

About Tor Books
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What is Gaslamp Fantasy?

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Written by Terri Windling

Our latest anthology, Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, is a book dedicated to tales of Gaslamp Fantasy: a genre of stories set in magical versions of 19th century England.

We’ve chosen the term Gaslamp Fantasy for our book rather than the other common appellation, Victorian Fantasy—for in fact these stories can take place at any time during the 1800s, from the Regency years early in the century to Queen Victoria’s long reign (1837-1901). Although commonly set in England itself, Gaslamp tales can also unfold in Britain’s former colonies—anywhere that British culture has been, or remains, a dominant force. Steampunk fiction (which blends 19th century fantasy settings with science fiction elements) is only one form of the diverse range of fiction that makes up the Gaslamp Fantasy genre. There’s also historical fantasy (without Steampunk trappings), dark fantasy with a deliciously gothic bent, romantic tales, detective tales, enchanted tales set in English boarding schools, and Fantasy of Manners: a brand of magical fiction that owes more to Jane Austen, William Thackeray, and Anthony Trollope than to C.S.Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Why, it might be asked, are so many of us in the fantasy field so fascinated by the 19th century? Perhaps because the culture of the period was itself awash in fantasy. At no other time and place in Anglo-American history were magical stories as widely read by the general public; never was there more interest in all elements of the supernatural. Bestselling works of fantasy literature were published for readers of all ages, “fairy art” hung on the walls of respectable galleries, and a passion for supernatural romances swept through the theatre, ballet, and opera worlds from the 1830s onward. Throughout the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution created enormous societal upheaval, disrupting old rural ways of life and transforming the British countryside. Fantasy provided both an escape from these pressing issues and a way to address them through the metaphoric language of myth and symbolism.

Today, as our own Technological Revolution causes sweeping societal change and upheaval, many of us turn to fantasy for the very same reasons: to escape the modern world…and, perhaps, to understand it just a little bit better when we return.

If you are interested in exploring this genre further, here are some wonderful novels we can recommend, from both the Adult and Young Adult Fantasy shelves:

  • Homunculus by James P. Blaylock
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand
  • Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
  • Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
  • Lost by Gregory Maguire
  • Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
  • The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
  • The Prestige by Christopher Priest
  • Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt

For a longer list of recommended reading, see the back of Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells.


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