At Cross Purposes
As the title suggests, Jo and Rebecca are at odds with each other. I love Terri is willing to cross verbal swords with me as a player. I might not succeed at it, but I do try and I know we can still remain friends, even if our characters aren't exactly chummy anymore. ;) Here's what we both came up with below. It takes place immediately after "A Cryptic Response".--Maer
Saturday, May 30th, 1868
Alexi's train, Somewhere in Wales
0800 hrs, local time
Josephine paused in her march for the dining car where everyone lingered over breakfast. It occurred to her that Rebecca hadn't shown for her morning meal. Turning in her tracks, Josephine went to the galley to pull together a tray for Rebecca and put herself at the Eldren's door. Freeing a knuckle, she rapped softly and made sure her voice didn't carry to the others.
"What is it?" The voice from within the cabin was low and held a weariness that Rebecca rarely allowed to show.
"Breakfast for you." Josephine frowned at her friend's tone. Did she sleep at all last night? It occurred to her that although Rebecca did not share a compartment wall with Alexi and Evie, some amount of sound might have carried across the aisle nonetheless. And of course, it would not have taken a genius to understand what was happening even if one couldn't hear the details. Poor woman. Josephine smoothed her expression and put a smile in her voice. "May I come in?"
There was a long silence from within and finally a rustle from the far side indicated that Rebecca had moved. She opened the door and despite the fact that her posture held her both tall and regal, the night's sorrows were reflected in the shadows beneath her violet eyes and the exhaustion not quite hidden behind the cool expression. She was still in her dressing gown, her hair falling in a loose braid to her waist. "Thank you, Josephine. It was sweet of you." She stepped back, unwilling to simply cut the woman trying so hard to be kind though she clearly had no desire for company.
Josephine swept Rebecca with a glance, taking in the woman's hair and dressing gown, the smudges beneath her eyes and the expression behind them, and got inside quickly before anyone else could see. The compartment was beautifully appointed with all the creature comforts and a built-in table allowed Rebecca to sit down to breakfast in a civilized manner. Josephine was grateful for it. If she needs anything right now, it's the trappings of civility so she can maintain hers. You're adorable in your own way, Alexi, but your manners are deplorable. Could you not have found a gentler way to let this woman down?
Josephine waited until Rebecca had settled and gently said, "There have been developments you may want to know. I was on my way to tell the others when I realized you had yet to break your fast. I can leave if you wish or I can stay and tell you in private if you would rather not hear them with the rest of the party. What would you like me to do?"
Rebecca's lips thinned slightly. "Developments?" she asked in that calm, polite society-miss way. "By all means, do go on. Would you like a cup of tea while you speak on these developments?"
"Thank you." Josephine sat down and left plenty of space to keep Rebecca from feeling crowded.
Tightening her dressing gown around her slightly, Rebecca moved to pour two cups of the steaming beverage. Then she sat in the chair next to the table and looked at Josephine with that same neutral expression she gave almost everyone. "Do tell," she invited as she handed the cup to the other woman.
Josephine sipped her tea for the sake of politeness and put up with the burn. She set it aside.
"I've received word. Katherine and Ezekiel have been attacked in Yorkshire," Josephine said, pausing a beat to let the words sink in. "Nevertheless, the Colonel has ordered us to proceed onward to the Avalon site. And that is where your expertise is needed. Will you give it? Or shall I send for a train to take you back home?"
It was a deliberate jab at the Eldren's professional pride but Josephine needed to know how compromised the woman was. If Rebecca was too upset to pursue the matter, Josephine would have to make other arrangements and make them as soon as possible. She had her orders and the fact that the Thule Society was operating in the area did not engender in her any hope that they would not somehow get wind of the manuscript and acquire it for their own nefarious purposes. It went without saying that she would have to get to the manuscript first and secure it against all takers. The person best able to help her do so sat before her now and, unless she was very much mistaken, quite demoralized and ready to bolt.
A single brow climbed Rebecca's forehead. "Of course I shall give it. It would be prudent of you to determine whether Alexi intends to make my travel with the group impossible -- he is something of a spoiled child, I'm coming to realize." Her personal feelings were apparently not so tied up in Alexi himself -- perhaps it was something slightly different that was causing the stress. "It may be that with the daybreak, he may intend that I leave the conveyance permanently." She sipped from her cup before setting it down. "And I am not entirely certain he would be in the wrong to push the matter. Ezekiel and Katherine have both stated that the book changed something about the way my abilities work. Ezekiel claimed that the portal was sending people somewhere evil. And now, of all people, Alexi himself, a man so self-absorbed as to be mentally a six-year-old in many ways, has been affected by what I am able to do. If it is bad enough to break through that self-absorption, Josephine, it is highly likely that I could compromise the objectives."
"You and Alexi are both sensate mediums and of the two of you, Rebecca, you are the more valuable asset. If you are asked to leave this train, I will leave with you and if necessary travel alone with you to Avalon. But go to Avalon we must. I do, after all, have my orders."
Josephine did not mention that of the two Eldren, Rebecca's loyalty to England was without reproach, while it could never be forgotten that Alexi—however useful he might be—was still a foreigner who could not be relied upon to put England first. Besides, if the manuscript takes Rebecca over I can kill her without international incident. And it is for that reason Alexi can never put hands on it. Therefore his presence is not required.
Her orders. Rebecca's gaze on Josephine held a canny sort of understanding. She was not oblivious to the hand of politics in their situation; in truth, the fact that Josephine was a spy for the Crown was both blessing and cross to bear. She'd already shown her colors when she'd taken and handed off the book without a by-your-leave to any of the rest of them.
"Your orders are irrelevant to me, Josephine," she murmured. "You must understand that there are some things in this world that no one should have access to. Objects of great historical import that should nevertheless belong to everyone and to no one at all, highly protected from the world at large. And if the book is what you and the others believe it to be... I should hate to see the Crown in possession of something that might well tear the rest of the world asunder, my dear."
And now who's being the six-year-old? Josephine kept the thought from her face and leaned forward.
"That said, help me find it. Before the Thule Society do. If you truly feared the fate of the world should it fall into the wrong hands, last night's episode would surely convince you there are powerful parties in the vicinity ready to abuse it for their own ends. Do you fancy spending the rest of your days living on ice, Rebecca? Or spending eternity reduced to nothing but a thin frame of flesh to allow your guts to serve as a portal for more of those things to come through to our world?"
Josephine stood, looked Rebecca square in the eye, and continued in a velvet tone underlain with steel.
"This is not a matter of squabbling who has the biggest slice of cake at a birthday party. This is a matter of utmost survival. You have not seen what happened to the unfortunates in the Thule Society's hands. Had you, you would not sit there and tell me oh-so-condescendingly that my orders are irrelevant. So I ask you again, can I rely on you toward procuring the manuscript?"
"I find it interesting that everything is 'condescending' in your eyes. Thank you for breakfast, Josephine, I appreciate the thought. I'm sure you know your way out." Rebecca's tone was as cool as ice.
"Appreciate? I doubt it." Josephine said, pausing with her hand on the latch. Her voice was soft but the steel was still evident in her tone and in her spine as well. "Some things are too dangerous to belong to everyone and to no one as you suggest. There is not a case or a safe made that cannot be broken, the contents stolen. There are tasks that government is supremely qualified to carry out that an individual cannot, however altruistic his heart and intentions. Bottom line, Mrs. Spencer: We will find that manuscript and take possession of it, before it is possessed by or takes possession of another. Your acquiescence in this matter is, in a word, irrelevant. Enjoy your breakfast. If you think you are sufficiently capable of doing so, do join the rest of us. We have some planning to do. It would be a shame to leave you out of it."
Josephine quietly let herself out and marched for the lounge car where the others waited. The matter of Eldren, she thought grimly, was becoming ridiculously problematic. And given the telegram that was now nothing but ash in the kitchen car's cookstove, she knew that she could expect no help from the Colonel in the immediate timeframe. God, I hope they are unhurt. For a brief instant, she wished fervently for Katherine's enthusiasm and Ezekiel's level-headedness. Both would have been a boon at the moment. And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Work with what you have, Jo. And work fast. There's no telling how many more of the Thule Society are out there.
Rebecca watched the door close and simply shook her head, murmuring into the silent room, "Simply amazing. No wonder the Crown is having such trouble obtaining the more dangerous magical items to store them safely away. With the likes of Josephine and Alexi on the loose, good Lord... we're lucky we haven't already been destroyed." She stood and left the breakfast where it sat, calling down for a hot bath.