Consolidation

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August 15, 1867, Thursday
Lady Katherine’s townhouse
Dorset Square, London
11:45 A.M.


Josephine woke with the sun shining on her face. Blinking in the light, she sat up and rubbed her eyes and saw with some surprise her trunk had been shoehorned into her garret room while she’d slept. It was a little over six feet tall standing on end and though it was wheeled to ease transport, she winced at the thought of maneuvering the thing up four entire floors. The servant stairs were narrow and the hairpin turns must have been a nightmare to manage. Still, she had on the great coat of the night before and beneath it, clothing little better than ribbons. Even by her own unconventional standards, Josephine knew if she were to leave this room, she would have to be decently attired.

She put her hands to the locks and opened the trunk like a book. It glided easily on its wheels and revealed its contents. Little had shifted during travel, she was relieved to see, and nothing had broken. She pulled a demure camisole and shirtwaist from one drawer and a gored skirt and petticoat from another. Donning them took but a minute and her ruined clothing she dropped to the floor of the hanging compartment. The evening shoes joined the pile, replaced by her more familiar—and welcome—woolen socks and boots. She ran a brush quickly through her hair and pinned it up in a simple bun. The woman looking back at her in the trunk mirror could have been a governess or a country cousin. She was neither but she was presentable enough. Josephine closed up her trunk and quit her room to find the others. Lady Katherine had mentioned something about breakfasting after she woke and had left orders not to be disturbed from her rest until an hour before noon.

If I hurry, I might be able to grab a crust or two before it’s cleared.

So thinking, Josephine took the servants stairs down, preoccupied with logistics for the coming trip to the Continent and wondering which city would be the best place to send a telegram… She came off the bottom tread and turned for the front hall, thinking that perhaps Paris was best. She’d have better chance of reaching William there than—a figure loomed immediately on her right and Josephine spun into a defensive stance, her hands held at the ready.

“Ezek—Mr. Drake. Pray forgive me, I did not see you standing there,” Josephine said, dropping her hands and straightening her spine. “I trust you’ve received a favorable response?”

---

Ezekiel had just come up the steps from watching Katherine perform with her blades. His thoughts were still on her and that kiss, that magnificent, wonderful kiss, when Josephine almost collided with him. Still flush from the events of the last few moments, Ezekiel took more than a few moments to come up with a response. "Umm, Madam Arceneaux, I did not see you there. My apologies." He bowed a short bow, just happy that it had been her rather than Monsieur Beignet.

---

"Of course," Josephine stifled a wince at his form of address, knowing full well she'd passed the appropriate age for 'Mademoiselle', and couldn't help wondering if Ezekiel thought her too old. Too old for what, she didn't want to dwell upon. Dressing in her tiny garret room, she'd thought her feelings for him--intense and unexpected--would have faded, that they'd been ephemeral, fueled only by the thrill of the chase and the danger. But no. The sound of his voice, even in the neutral tones of polite society, sent delicious thrills down her neck, lodging beneath her breastbone like smoldering coal. Unnerved by her reaction, Josephine gathered her scattered wits and asked, "Have you broken your fast, Mr. Drake? I believe we may still find something at table. Shall we look?"

---

"I do believe that when I left the table, there were still many cakes and a copious amount of tea." As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted volunteering the information. Ezekiel would not lie, but he did not need to be giving out information that could lead someone to arrive at the wrong conclusion. He would need to improve if he wished to present the perfect front on the upcoming trip.

As they approached the table, his plate was still sitting at his place, half full with teacakes left uneaten. "To answer your question," he said, hoping to draw her attention from the obvious conclusion that he and Katherine had breakfast unsupervised, "her father did grant his permission for the engagement to go forward, assuming everything goes without incident on our trip to the continent."

--

"That is wonderful news, sir. I am most pleased to hear it." Josephine swept the table with a discerning eye and spied the plate straight away. She said nothing of it and took up the teapot. "Would you care for some tea?"

If she was to be Lady Katherine's maid, Josephine resolved to immerse herself in her role, the better to play it once on-mission. She saw an opportunity to satisfy her curiosity and her hand paused mid-reach for a fresh cup as she asked, "Forgive me for being forward, but have you informed my mistress of her good fortune? I would imagine she would be quite overwhelmed by it. Does she need my assistance?"

---

"Tea would be excellent." He waited for her to pour a fresh cup and took a sip before answering her other questions. All the better to consider the correct response. He placed his teacup down and pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "Yes, I did inform her of her father's response and she was pleased. But I believe, right now, she is currently being assisted by another of her servants."

---

He had indeed seen Katherine and if Josephine gauged his tone correctly, the Lady had been more than pleased at the news. Yet there was nothing in his response that could be construed as improper. Not even by Beignet, I wager. Well played, sir.

Her enjoyment of the cat-and-mouse pursuit of information faded as her heart pained her at the thought of her newfound friend in an upset--happy though the news might be. Worry made her frown even as her curiosity goaded her to pry further.

"Is she well?"


---

"Oh, she is quite well, indeed," Ezekiel responded. "I believe she was attending dance training, which of course I would not be allowed to observe." What she did with those blades was a dance of flashing steel, he thought. He felt a twinge of guilt over the semi-truth but kept quiet.

---

Dance training? Not allowed to observe? What sort of dance is she doing? Josephine poured herself a cup, filled her plate with tea sandwiches, and gratefully began eating. She ate quickly and neatly, with a hearty appetite. When she’d polished off her third helping she took a final sip of tea and set her cup down. “I confess it all sounds mysterious. Not that we have had a shortage of mystery of late. What do you make of those … things … we fought? And where did you learn swordplay, sir? I’ve rarely seen anything like yours.”

---

He took a bite of one of the cakes he had piled on his plate previously. They had an exquisite lightness to them, much better than what he was used to. Barrimore was an excellent servant and a fine man, but his cooking skills left much to be desired. Then he realized that these cakes were one of the new things he would have the pleasure of getting used to. Sometimes, the thought of everything that happened in the last 24 hours and that *would* happen in the next few weeks seemed overwhelming. He brought his mind back to the lady's questions.

"I believe they were creatures of Chaos - opposition to the true forces of Order. I have studied some lore, but their name or identity escapes me. I would say by their size that they are probably but minions, lesser creatures that our foe can call. The greater ones do not respond to the calls of mortals," he stated seriously. "They will sow Chaos of their own accord and only appear to be at a mortal's beck and call when it serves their purposes." Strangely, the appearance of the little demons had heartened Ezekiel - their presence meant the path they walked was not only in the service of England, but in the service of Order as well.

"As far as my modest skill with the sword, I am self taught. I had the traditional childhood lessons, of course. But most of my skill comes from research, dedication, practice, and the Host."

---

Josephine smiled grimly at him past her teacup.

“You say your parties are dull, sir. However, I must rethink the definition of dull if Museum Trustees can gain knowledge of these creatures and in such detail. As for skill with the blade, I am somewhat self-taught myself and fear I shall grow hideously rusty if I do not find a partner with whom to spar. You have declared your viewpoint on parity between men and women. Might it also extend to your partner in sword practice? I realize we have only just met, Mr. Drake, but the appearance of those creatures has only impressed upon me the absolute necessity to keep my skills in top condition and I have an idea that perhaps we can help each other in that regard.”

Having presented her offer, Josephine busied herself with pouring more tea and nibbling a scone as she waited for his answer. His reaction, favorable or not, would still be instructive and give her insight into the character of this man who fascinated and tugged at her senses and intellect.

---

"My knowledge is small and comes from a study of the works of the Host, which any devout person could discover with some focus." Knowledge could be had for anyone willing to put forth the effort. It should not be impressive but sad that so many people ignored the divine even as it unfolded around them.

"As to your request," he replied, taking a deep breath. He walked such a fine line until the engagement had been solidified. Ezekiel found himself torn between his principles and his desire and he did not care for the position in the slightest. "I would have no problem teaching the fine art of swordsmanship to a woman, should she be willing. However, you have caught me in a rough spot. The condition of the engagement (and of Sir John) requires no impropriety in the eyes of England. And as you well know, England's sight is not confined to the isle, but stretches across the channel. If there is a way to do this without risking what has suddenly become quite precious to me, then I will help, for it would serve our cause."

---

“Risk?” Josephine’s cup hit the saucer with a clatter as she straightened in her chair. “I have no wish to risk your happiness or Katherine’s. I had only thought to…” Appalled, she faltered and breathed deeply to calm herself and gather her thoughts. She wanted to go carefully lest she trip over her words. A heart’s desire won by forfeit had no value or substance or future. Josephine very much wanted a future for hers, even though her prospects were rapidly dwindling, and with the magnanimity of sincere affection, she wanted to ensure another’s happiness if she couldn’t ensure her own. She clasped her hands in her lap and kept her eyes on them as she said quietly:

“I cannot explain how or why but I find I am extremely … taken … by you and Lady Katherine. Your friendship and hers, however undeserved on my part, is important to me and I value it highly. I would not ruin it for the world. Nor do I desire to stand between you and your future happiness. I felt an instant kinship with both of you, doubtless forged by our shared experiences, and it has made me forget that we are but newly met and bound by proprieties we must of course observe. I apologize, Mr. Drake, to have so thoroughly forgotten myself and I fervently hope that I have not transgressed beyond repair. I realize that we must work together as ordered by the Crown and I pledge to do so to the utmost of my ability and though I had hoped that we could be friends in addition to being associates, I will understand if you wish me to maintain a professional distance. If that is so, I will withdraw and importune you no further.” She dared look up. “You have but to say the word and I will honor it.”

---

"If you think me so weak as to be blown over by a stiff breeze or to be offended by a simple, well-meaning request, then perhaps you would prefer to abandon what friendship has begun to form." He cleared his throat a bit, the faintest hint of a smile on his face as he continued, "On the other hand, perhaps I do not wish to end a friendship with a woman whom Katherine is quite fond of and whom I am enjoying the company of. Time, Madam Arceneaux. It is on the side of Katherine and myself and it is on your side as well. At least in this matter."

---

“It matters not what I think,” Josephine said, sipping her tea to hide her embarrassment. “In matters of scandal, perception is everything and just or not, the court of public opinion holds sway. I am more grateful than I can express that you regard me worthy of your friendship, Mr. Drake, and I hope you shall continue to do so. I confess I am unaccustomed to more than the nobility, sir, but to many things that you and Lady Katherine take for granted. There are more rules and regulations between men and women here than I have had to observe for some time and I fear I will stumble again before I can adjust to the new order. Pray do not allow friendship to stand in the way of reminding me of it.”

It was an admission of failure and it galled her more than she wished to acknowledge but admit it she did. She set her cup aside and looked at Ezekiel frankly.

“Perhaps if there were a way for us to practice somewhere discreet, I would love to learn what I can. I firmly believe that everyone, man or woman, should be proficient at self-defense. One cannot protect the ones you lo—are responsible for if you cannot stay alive yourself.”

---

"Do not fear the word love, Madam Arceneaux. It is one of the great human emotions and a true gift from the divine." He returned her frank gaze with one of his own.

--

Had she been holding her cup in her hands, she would have dropped it. As it was, she could not bear his gaze and abruptly quit her chair to stave off breaking. She stalked to the nearest window and stared sightlessly through it, her hands fisted and her back ramrod straight as she willed herself back to calm. He didn't mean it that way. He can't. He has Katherine. She slowly filled her lungs and emptied them once, twice, thrice, then quadrice and quince, before she could get her grip and maintain it.

"Anything can be a weapon or a gift, Mr. Drake, even love. Take care with it, lest it go amiss."

---


"Perhaps, but I choose to see it as a gift until it may proven otherwise. There is enough darkness in our world that I choose to create light rather than fear its absence." To Ezekiel's eyes, Josephine seemed upset. Perhaps there was a gentleman who had treated her badly in the past. What he felt for Katherine was fast revealing itself as love. In the glow of this new emotion, he also felt sorrow for Josephine. The idea of love seemed a dark cloud over her. Hopefully, one day it would pass and love's light would shine upon her once more.

---

"Excellent advice, Mr. Drake. I shall endeavor to heed it." Josephine dredged up a small smile and turned it toward him. "We shall see how well that goes but I fear I must warn you that I am dreadfully stubborn and only a fool would bet on a favorable outcome."

It was petty of her to disparage his comment. She knew he meant only to be kind but it stung her pride and she couldn't refrain from striking back in her hurt. So she wrapped her barb with self-deprecation and let it fly and watched to see if it struck home.

---

"Since I believe you already consider me easily offended, then there is no shame in also having you consider me a fool as well."

---

Victory had never tasted so bitter. Remorse and shame twisted her gut to knots and Josephine felt her expression shifting to match.

"I... need some air," she said, her voice thin. "Please excuse me."

The door to the hall beckoned. The carpet underfoot was Persian, its nap thick and treacherous and it mired her boots like quicksand, but she forced herself through it. Must get out. Leave. Breathe....

---

The staff connected with her shoulder with a resounding thud. The response was determinedly unladylike although muted. Sadif laughed and put down her staff. "And did I not say that he would ruin your concentration?"

Katherine sighed. "Yes, but it is such a delightful distraction." She raised her staff. "I'm ready," she announced and then put it down immediately. "Bertie!" she announced. "Sadif, may we cut this short before my cousin finds us and I'm put in someone's attic?"

The woman stared and then laughed. She put up the staff and returned with both Katherine's morning wrap and her own hooded cloak. "Let's go. But next time, you are mine."

Katherine laughed, accepting the wrap and putting it on. She pulled out her keys and led the way upstairs. Unlocking the door, she peeked out and then quickly exited. Sadif followed and then disappeared into the empty kitchen as Katherine sharply looked up the stairs. Assured that Bertie was nowhere to be seen, she tightened her wrap and started up the stairs to change for the afternoon. The corset would just be unbearable, but with Bertie here. She sighed.

There was a sound behind her. Katherine turned midstride. In her concentration on the upstairs people, she had not even considered that anyone would be on the first floor. The servants weren’t supposed to be there at all. “Josephine?” she asked, confused and relieved.

---

Ezekiel sighed softly and took another sip of tea as Josephine exited to the hall. He firmly believed that women should be treated as equals but he sometimes forgot that men and women could be equals without being the same. He had replied to Josephine the same way he might have replied to Bertram, with a sharp edge. The intent of his statement was meant to encourage her, but she had not taken it well, it seems.

---

Josephine looked up at the sound of her name, saw Katherine on the stairs, and her humiliation was complete. There was nothing for it but to face it with what dignity she could manage. She straightened. “Lady Katherine, I trust your dance lesson went well?” Mine was a disaster, she thought but didn’t say.

---

Tilting her head, Katherine made no effort to hide her confusion. “Dancing?” The meaning struck her immediately after the word and she had to force herself not to run down the steps. Ezekiel had to have been near and if Bertie had seen him leaving … She gathered her face. “Yes. It is my secret shame that I cannot dance. Neecy has been insisting on lessons for me.”

---

At the mention of the stuffy little Belgian, Josephine steadied. There was nothing she could do at the moment about her feelings concerning Ezekiel, but with the Belgian she was on decidedly firmer ground. Josephine took a cleansing breath and strode for the stairs.

“Speaking of whom, let us get you decently attired before he sees you. I would be happy to assist you, ma’am. After all, I am to be your personal maid for the duration. It would be best if we were accustomed to that arrangement before we embarked for the Continent. That way all who see us will observe the natural flow between Lady and maid instead of assumed roles between unfamiliar actors.”

Josephine drew even with Katherine and waved her mistress forward.

“If you please, ma’am? If you’d like, I could ring for tea while I brush out your hair.”

---

Her eyebrows quirked. “Of course.” She trusted the pretty spy with her life; surely she could trust her for everything else. She glanced furtively at the open doorways in the hall, wanting to poke her head in further. “So did you find anyone to give you breakfast?”

---

“Yes. There was plenty still waiting and Ezekiel kept me company. He is the perfect gentleman, my lady, and I am overjoyed for your good fortune and impending happiness.” Josephine gently prompted Katherine to move with a light hand on her elbow. “Have you decided what you will have made for your wedding? With your coloring I would think the palest ivory would be lovely with your hair and of course orange blossoms and ivy would be perfect as a complement.”

---

Ezekiel had started to rise from his place to check on Miss Josephine’s status—hopefully she had composed herself. But as he had cane in hand, he heard the sound of Katherine’s voice in conversation with Madame Arceneaux and he froze in place. What was called for here? Would leaving now put the lie to Miss Josephine’s statement? Would staying present Katherine’s father with ammunition against their engagement? He took a deep breath and took a moment to think. Actions taken without thought in haste often are the stones of the path to ruin.

---

She felt the warmth of her cheeks and her stomach leapt with excitement. “He is here?” Katherine stammered and then took a deep breath. “Well, how wonderful for you to have a breakfast companion. It was very bad of the maid to not announce his presence or give me his card. But I suppose she didn’t know where I was.” She smiled lightly. “My fault really. So is he still here?”

---

“Yes, he is,” Josephine managed with a straight face. “I believe he is still taking tea over the breakfast table.”

---

Upon hearing Josephine’s comment, Ezekiel reseated himself quickly and picked up one of the tea cakes. The decision had been taken out of his hands, it seemed.

---

Katherine smiled, letting the joy she felt radiate. With Josephine here, they could sit together and still follow her father's rules. "Well, let's not leave him to dine alone, Josephine." She took the other woman by the hand and fairly danced into the parlor. "I must apologize, Ezekiel. I did not know that you had arrived. Would you have company?"

---

He stood up and bowed a smooth half bow. "When the company is as lovely and charming as the two ladies in front of me, there can be no question."

---

A tiny frown of frustration marred Katherine's forehead for a ghost of a moment and she sat down across from Ezekiel leaving the other closer chairs open.

---

Josephine took a chair between Ezekiel and Katherine that allowed her to face the door. She poured Katherine a cup of tea unasked and handing it to her, said in a voice that carried no further than the table:

"My lady, while I realize that appearances must be kept for the sake of avoiding scandal that would ruin the engagement, you needn't do so on my account. I already know. I will keep it secret until you and Mr. Drake are safely married and I will maintain any fiction you two deem necessary when others are present, but when it is just ourselves, might we at least put the false fronts aside and barring that, then may we devise a consistent story to present to others?"

---

Katherine took the tea and laid it down on the table. Her eyes filled with gratitude and she took Josephine’s hands in her own once they were free of the teapot and cup. “Thank you,” she murmured softly. “I cannot repay you for this.”

---

Josephine gave Katherine’s hands an answering squeeze, her heart going out to the younger woman. It must be hard for her, she thought, to constantly guard her tongue and police her actions to conform to the straightjacket of class expectations and mores. More so than it chafed her, Josephine privately admitted. She was accustomed to playing roles for the public eye. Travelling with William’s troupe had seen to that. Enough. Focus. Josephine gave her new friend a genuine smile and said, “Should we not devise a suitable cover, then? If we are to play our roles properly, perhaps we should know our lines.”

---

Katherine grinned. “Lead on, merry Shakespeare! I await your instruction. It is to be a long night’s journey into restraint and propriety for the next few weeks and I am very bad at duplicity.”

---

Ezekiel let loose a deep breath, a hint of relief crossing his face. "Yes, thank you, Josephine. I apologize for my comment earlier. It upset you and that was not its intent." Then he looked over at Katherine and smiled. But even with Josephine being willing to help them, he needed to stay vigilant, Ezekiel reminded himself. Too much leeway could lead to another kiss like the one downstairs - heaven in the moment, hell in the potential aftermath.

---

The warmth of his attention made her soul sing. Steady she reminded herself. Even if Josephine was their ally. . .there was still the danger of slipped words and glances. And a tension that she couldn't quite grasp also tickled at her mind. Apology? For what words? What could have Ezekiel said to upset Josephine?

---

Katherine looked at Josephine and then back to Ezekiel. "What happened?" she finally asked, unable to restrain her curiosity.

---

"I was attempting to reassure her and my language was sharper than I meant it. I hope that was no harm done."

---

Katherine nodded, watching Josephine's face for her reaction. She was puzzled and disquieted. Reassurance that would make the spy attempt to leave the house? She formed her expression into the pleasantest of masks, but her gaze was intent. What had happened? Had they ran into one another as Ezekiel came out of the stairs? Surely the physical contact wouldn't have bothered Josephine.

---

“No harm meant. No harm done,” Josephine said easily, calmer now that she had a problem to bend her mind to. Having Katherine present helped tremendously, as did the irony of maintaining public fiction, and both kept her voice steady as she said, “I misspoke, he misspoke in turn, and I took it amiss. A trifling misunderstanding and one easily forgiven between friends. I perceive your original meaning, Mr. Drake, and I am not upset. I regret the worry I caused you and I apologize.”

---

Katherine brightened visibly and the icy cast to her eyes warmed. “Friends all then,” she pronounced and took a hand of each of them. “So how shall we do this and what do we know about what we are to do?”

---

“When I spoke with Sir John, I was given several unequivocal orders. He said … ,” Josephine trailed off, stared unseeing into the middle distance, and recited:

“‘It is imperative that you track them down, that you rescue them. It’s imperative Rembecki is stopped. That anyone she is with is either captured or killed. She can’t be trusted. Youwill have funds availablr to ou to make a trip to the Continent to wherever it is necessary. Now, Rembecki, she’s headed back to Germany. Well, Bohemia. Perhaps Hungary. Now, when you get there, if you need to, track down Clockwork. Clockwork will probably know. Clockwork was always …’” Josephine blinked and cleared her throat. She'd strayed into territory she wasn't certain her friends were cleared to know and her father was ever a jealously guarded subject. However, Clockwork was mentioned by name as a possible asset on the Continent and Sir John had instructed her to find him or her should the need arise. As such, Josephine judged she had to tell her friends at least that much. She continued with her recitation and left her father out of it. "'Clockwork was always the best agent.' Or so Sir John told me."

---

"So our end destination is uncertain," Ezekiel said cautiously. "I understand we will take separate routes to the continent for the sake of appearances. Is our first step to contact this Clockwork fellow or do we take a stab at finding Rembecki ourselves first?" It seemed a needle in the haystack endeavor to Ezekiel, especially if they could not even pinpoint which country the Countess was fleeing to.

---

“Neecy has paperwork. . .I did see that. I'd love to know what Sir John already knows about Rembecki. I'm certain that this is part of a greater plan that has been in process for a time.”

---

“That makes good sense, Katherine.”

---

"A greater plan, long term?" Josephine said thoughtfully. "When I mentioned Rembecki's escape from your conservatory, he questioned me closely as to the method. He seemed familiar with magic and when I inquired he told me that of course, it was magic. Rembecki and her whole group were involved with it. Given what we've witnessed so far of the woman's methods, I am inclined to believe him. People with like minds and interests come together. Mages are no different, are they? Perhaps if we could pursue Rembecki through the magical aspect of the case, we might be able to pick up her trail." Josephine paused, considered her next words, and decided the risk was warranted. "Spies and mages are both secretive and there is an amazing overlap in skills. Clockwork might know of Rembecki's group, might know how to find it... and track it. I just wish I could verify it as another connection between Miss Dashwood and Rembecki, outside the invention."

Josephined sighed and shook her head.

"I'm sorry. Father always did say I tried too hard to connect puzzle pieces that weren't designed to fit. It could be there is no connection other than the device." She looked up at her friends and gave them a wan smile. "For whatever it is worth, I think I have exhausted what information I can give. Perhaps the two of you have a few pieces to lay on the table?"

---

"I'm afraid that I have none," Katherine admitted. "I can be absent-minded and after the excitement of the night, I can't quite be certain of why I invited Madame Rembecki or even why I found it necessary to see the invention. It's rather disconcerting."

---

"Excuse me," Ezekiel interjects. "Did you say Dashwood?"

---

"Yes," Josephine said, her gaze sharpening. "I did. What is it?"

---

"There is something about the name," he said, closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Allow me a brief moment of thought." Dashwood...Dashwood...why did the name sound so blasted familiar? Like a bolt from the blue, his brain suddenly made a connection between the name and the events of the past day. "Fanny Dashwood, founder of the Hellfire Club.," Ezekiel murmured. "The club which reeked of Evil...it must have belonged to them once upon a time."

---

Katherine's eyes narrowed. "Fanny? A woman founded that place?"

---

"Women have the same capacity for evil as men," Ezekiel responded. "Equal in all things, it would seem."

---

"I will not argue the observation in principle," Josephine said. "However I feel I must correct you on your assumption that Fanny in this case is a woman."

---

'Perhaps best. The cause for equality might not be served by using the founder of an evil club as a primary example." He kept his voice low. He believed in what he said, but it could never be known where ears might be listening.

---

Josephine tipped her head back and narrowed her eyes and spoke, her voice taking on a different timbre and cadence. "'You know .... Fanny never intended any of this to happen. He went in over his head. He was a man who enjoyed his fun as any man in his youth would, just never understood.'"

Josephine looked back at her friends and her voice when she spoke was her own again. "At the time Sir John mentioned him, I did not understand the significance but now it is coming clear. Fanny Dashwood is a man, he was involved with the Hellfire Club, and he was known to Sir John. If I might hazard a guess, I would say that Sir John and he were friends. There was an abiding sadness and regret in Sir John when he spoke of him that made me wonder at it. As for the timing, Sir John is certainly old enough to have witnessed the end of the Hellfire Club a century ago, if not its founding...." She trailed off, thoughts flickering behind her eyes as the wheels turned in her head, as she tried to make the pieces fit.

---

"So it didn't start as an evil place then," Katherine stated, rather than asked. "Or did it turn that way through the excesses that humanity is so capable of?"

---

"I wouldn't know," Josephine flicked a glance at Ezekiel. "But I believe Mr. Drake might. The club did resonate rather ... strongly with him."

---

"I do not know if inherently Evil or Chaotic places exist," Ezekiel said with a small frown, "but we mortals create enough of them of our own free will. And the remnants of the club from the previous night was one of those."

---

"Wonder what Madame Rebecki's magic is based on and if such places empower her?" Katherine asks. "Neecy has mentioned that sacrifices are a path for magic. . .could she use places like that for latent power? Could that be a way to track her?" She bit her lip gently. "I need to quiz Neecy more. Will she follow such places as hidey-holes as to have a ready source of power? Like the cathedral." She frowned. "Surely the Sacraments themselves would not serve her for power sources.

"Will finding such places as the club give a way to track her?"

---

"It makes as much sense as anything I could devise." Josephine said, her brows drawing in a thinker's frown. "As much as I hate theorizing in advance of the facts, how about this as a hypothesis: Fanny Dashwood founded the Hellfire Club, which ran its course until its demise 100 years ago. Mr. Drake, when you asked after the name Dashwood, was it to connect the founder of the club with Miss Dashwood? Are they related? If so, it may shed some light on why she was targeted by Rembecki. If she is a descendant of Fanny, then would she not have value to certain people beyond her inventive talents? Could this be the opening move to reinstate the Hellfire Club? If so, what is their aim? Who are they allied with? What do they plan to do once they are fully operational? If what I suspect of Ezekiel's vision in the Club is true, finding Miss Dashwood may be of more urgency than I'd originally thought. If rescuing her can thwart the reemergence of the Hellfire Club, surely England would be safer for it.

"As to the abandoned clubs being a network of bolt holes and sources of arcane power, I believe Katherine is spot on in her assumption. If we could somehow devise a map or a list of their locations, it would be invaluable in our search for Rembecki and Dashwood, to say nothing of carrying out Sir John's order that Rembecki and her group be stopped and or killed."

---

"So what was the purpose of this club? It sounds as if it began under one guise and turned to another." Katherine looked hopeful. "It started as a gentlemen's club?" she asked softly. "An honest one?"

---

"The granddaughter," Ezekiel said quietly.

---

"The granddaughter?" Katherine asked.

---

He turned towards Katherine and gave her a soft smile of reassurance. "Miss Josephine inquired as to whether they were related. She is the founder's granddaughter."

---

"That close a descendant? And a woman as well ...," Josephine said, swallowing thickly. "I would not like to speculate what is in store for her then." She shook off the images crowding behind her eyes, willed them away. Now is not the time, Jo. Focus. She took in a bracing breath and looked at Katherine. "I think we must tell Monsieur Beignet everything we've discussed here today. He may have the missing data we seek. He is, after all, a mage and he will have other mages as friends and associates, will he not? If one must find a needle in a haystack it is better to use multiple magnets than one alone. Why not see what he can bring to the table?"

---

Ezekiel nodded in agreement. "Monsieur Beignet is a talented individual. I am glad to have him on the side of the angels."

---

"Me, also," Katherine answered. "I am certain that he will be able to shed some light on this. That Madame Rembecki was able to break the spell on the wyvern showed that she is a force to be reckoned with. We will need Neecy in so many ways. These are dark forces foretelling dark times if we cannot stop her and those she works for."

---

"Then by all means, we must find Beignet and tell him. But not," Josephine said, rising from her chair and holding up an admonitory finger, "dressed as you currently are, Mistress." And on the last word, Josephine's demeanor changed and she stood before Katherine as a deferential ladies' maid. "I must put up your hair and see you are properly attired. Although I believe we may wink at Mr. Drake's visit just this once. If you would please excuse us, sir? I will send someone to refresh the tea for you if you wish to wait." Josephine stood at Katherine's side, ready to escort her mistress upstairs or to defend her virtue as needed.

---

"I will wait." Ezekiel replied. As he did, he thought, For her, always will I wait.

---

"We shan't be long," Josephine said, hearing his thoughts in his tone and answering it. Then with a bob of a curtsy and a nod, she gathered herself to usher Katherine out of the room and up the stairs, grateful to leave before she said anything more.



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