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Death Comes to London

Steampowered London - 1885

a part of Death Comes to London, by Aethyia.

A metropolis of clockwork and steam.

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An alternate-history version of Victorian-era London, empowered by clockwork, steam, and a dash of the supernatural. Home to Ramsey & Associates, Inc., a rather unusual detective agency.

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Office of Ramsey and Associates, Inc.
May 12, 1885 - 07:34 a.m. - Overcast
Ephraim Ramsey



Ephraim flexed his fingers inside the thin leather of his gloves. Though the season had nearly turned summer, the morning still had a faint chill to it, one he could feel in his fingertips. It came, no doubt, from the fog settled thick over the cobbled streets and halogen-lit edifices around them, lending the same a suppressed, heavy sort of quiet. But for the click of Charlotte's heeled boots on the pavement, they'd have been able to pass like ghosts, just as shifty and quiet and barely touched by the early-morning sunlight.

But she at least was no ghost, and greeted every passing carriage-driver with a wave or a mild smile and bob of her head. He wished she wouldn't draw so much attention, but at least she wasn't calling out hellos to them like she'd just learned how. Not anymore, at any rate.

The office was tucked into the corner of Fleet Street and Salisbury Court, making its neighbor a bank and the building across the smaller street to the left a printing works. Neither of those businesses were open quite this early, so when Ephraim slid the heavy brass key from the pocket of his overcoat to fit it to the lock, he was the first one to turn his window-sign to OPEN.

Doffing the coat and hat, he handed them off to Charlotte, who arranged them on the hooks alongside her half-cloak. The office was a spartan space, saved from complete desolation by the fact that both of them kept their workspaces polished as well as clean, and the wallpaper that had been there when he rented the place was in fact deep green, closing it in a little. He didn't bother to light the fireplace behind his desk, instead settling into it and extracting a small leather-bound journal from the left-hand drawer.

The last case had been unhelpful by way of his true goal, but at the very least the police were convinced of his usefulness. Perhaps now they'd just ask him when something unusual came up, rather than forcing him to nose into the business himself. Fewer headaches.

The nib of Charlotte's pen scratched across paper as she answered the first of their morning communications, mostly updating clients on the more mundane cases he was working. Unfortunately, maintaining the ruse of private investigation required on occasion spending his time following unfaithful spouses or risk-taking children around and reporting their activities to whoever had hired him. It was the opposite of thrilling, but it had enabled Ephraim to familiarize himself with the city, and some of its more popular destinations—particularly those not so legal or mannerly.

It had to count for something.

The door to the office was opened a few moments after he'd settled. A young woman entered, pale blonde hair trailing behind her as she stepped into his office. She glanced around as if she were making sure she was in the proper place before her gaze landed on Charlotte, and then him. She did not smile, but walked further in towards him. She stopped at a proper distance, but held his gaze.

“Is this the establishment of Mr. Ramsey?" she asked, her voice carrying a tone of candidness.

He'd learned it was impolite to sit while a woman stood, which was irritating but one of the conventions he had to follow to fit in here, so he stood when she entered. Charlotte, only half-aware of the impoliteness of staring, was studying the lady quite openly, eyes wide. And she was a lady, dressed like that with hair too long for a working woman or a middle-class wife, to say nothing of the elaborate styling. The nearly-translucent fairness of her skin told him that she didn't get out much. The only irregularity was that fact that she'd come alone—an unmarried woman of good breeding ought to know better.

Ephraim felt one of his eyebrows inching slowly upwards. He blinked, slowly and with deliberate disinterest. Aristocrats were never his favorite clients. "That's what it says on the door," he deadpanned. "Something we can do for you, miss...?"

“Lancaster. Amelia Lancaster," she replied, keeping her gaze with his. “And there is something you could do for me," she continued, glancing sideways towards Charlotte. She hadn't moved from her spot, either because she was comfortable where she stood, or she was waiting for an invitation to be seated. It didn't seem to matter since she stepped forward until she was closer to his desk, though still at a polite distance.

“I'd like to hire you and your associate, Mr. Ramsey," she stated, getting straight to the point. “I was referred to your services by the authorities that you seem to specialize in rather odd things. I believe this may apply to you and your associate, if you were to take the job," she informed, though she hadn't specified what the job was, yet.

Ephraim gestured shortly to the green velvet armchair in front of his desk. The news that she wanted to hire him didn't really qualify as 'news,' as there wasn't really any other reason for her to be here, especially this early in the morning. He sat again only once she had, flipping the journal to a clean page and picking up his pen. He started with the basic details: name, date, and a few things he'd managed to pick up about the client herself.

His pen strokes were neat and quick, almost surgical, and he glanced back up at her after he'd set down the initial parameters. "Explain your last assertion," he said bluntly, then shifted his attention momentarily. "Miss Blythe, please prepare tea for our guest." Lady Kent insisted that this was the appropriate protocol when one's guest was a woman.

Charlotte nodded and hopped to her feet, heading into the backroom of the office with a spring in her step. She seemed to get excited about cases. He supposed he could understand it somewhat, even if he really didn't have the same reaction.

“That won't be necessary. I will only take a moment of your time," she replied, though a little too late since Charlotte was already headed to the backroom. “As I've stated, the case is rather odd. A young woman was murdered, however; we do not believe it was due to normal circumstances." She eyed Ephraim a moment, as if she were assessing him in her own way.

“She had strange markings on her body that did not look like they were made from a typical tool or object," she continued once she seemed satisfied with her observation. “Should you decide to take the case, we will see your fee doubled, and provide whatever tools you may need," she added.

It wasn't quite enough to suggest the oddness Ephraim usually dealt with, but it probably wouldn't hurt to take a look. Still, she was being overly sparing with the details. Perhaps that was best for now; he didn't want to have any preconceptions about what was going on before he had a chance to take a look at the actual crime scene. Tapping the fingertips of his left hand on the polished teak of his desk, he pursed his lips, wisteria-purple eyes narrowing behind his glasses.

"Who was she? I do not usually receive cases from unescorted young noblewomen." His tone was free of any scandal or admonition, but he completely lacked lightness or even a hint of flirtation, as might be the opposite end of the spectrum with a statement like that. "If I'm to be conducting this investigation beneath the notice of someone, I need to know that up front."

She'd said we, suggesting at least one other party, but for all he knew, that could be anyone at all.

There was a slight twitch of her lip, but she remained as poised as she'd been when she'd entered. “Her name was Jane Chatham, and she was a friend of the family," she replied. “And do not misunderstand, Mr. Ramsey," she spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly. “This investigation is nothing of the sort. We were told you were the best person to seek for this kind of... thing," she explained.

“I will leave you the address," she began, glancing down momentarily as if looking for something. “Miss Blythe and yourself are free to come at your convenience, however; the sooner the better," she added as she glanced back up.

Ephraim blinked at her once before dropping his eyes to his desk and pulling open the top drawer again and withdrawing a loose piece of paper. Pushing it across the surface, he set his pen down next to it so she could write the address. "Very well," he replied tonelessly. "Miss Blythe and I will collect our belongings and be along presently. If you've a wish for one, I can hail you a carriage to return you home?"

“That won't be necessary," she spoke, writing the address down on the paper provided. She set the pen down once she was finished, and glanced back up at him, her expression smoothing out to something a little more passive. She stood from her chair, glancing to her side for a moment before her gaze returned to his.

“We will be expecting you shortly, Mr. Ramsey. Until then," she spoke, nodding her head softly in his direction before making her way towards the door. She didn't wait for a response.

She wasn't the rudest person he'd met, but probably close. It wasn't really that uncommon for the aristocracy to act that way around him, as commoners rarely warranted the same kind of manners as those in the peerage. He couldn't say he cared much—it was business. Get in, solve the case, get out. The less he had to interact with the clients, the better.

Not a minute after Miss Lancaster had left, Charlotte reappeared. She lacked the tea-tray, suggesting that she'd heard the conversation from within the backroom. Fortunate, since otherwise he'd have been stuck drinking at least a cup before they could be on their way.

"Do you think it will be an interesting case, Mr. Ramsey?" she asked, already retrieving their outerwear.

He tucked the journal in his inner jacket pocket and donned his coat, accepting his hat from Charlotte's hands immediately after and settling it atop his bronze-colored hair. More unkempt than was the fashion, but the way he preferred it by far. "Perhaps," he replied. "It's unlikely to be the work of anything supernatural, but we'll see." No judgements until he'd seen the evidence firsthand, after all.

Charlotte hummed, as satisfied with the nonanswer as she would have been in any case. Clasping her cloak at her shoulder with delicate fingers, she donned her thin gloves as well. "Will we be hailing a cab, sir?"

Ephraim dipped his chin. "We'll have to. The address is for a manor house near Hanover Square." He paused, electing to see if she'd remembered her study of city maps. "Which would take us how long to walk?"

"Forty-two minutes at maximum acceptable human speed," she chirped immediately. "Almost due west from here, but also slightly north."

"Yes. Considering that, we would do well to take the twenty-minute cab instead. Additional time to let the crime scene be disturbed is inadvisable." It would only make their job harder if in fact something out of the ordinary were at work and the police contaminated the evidence they could not perceive.

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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Hanover Square - Lancaster Estate
May 12, 1885 - 08:07 a.m. - Overcast
Amelia Lancaster



Bland. Dull. Boring. That's what the Lancaster estate looked like to Amelia. In anyone else's eyes, it was rather large and extravagent. The dirt road that lead to the foyer and front of the estate was paved in a way that made it appear like the cobbled roads in the city. The house itself was made of white brick and stone, and the shutters made from sturdy maple wood, coated heavily in black paint. The only other color was the red that stood out from the family insignia that was pressed into the statue. It was large and placed near the entrance to the estate. They'd passed it when she'd returned from her errand.

In reality, Amelia thought that her family had poured an absurd amount of money into the home and its appearances. Being nobility meant you had to display it in a certain way, and the estate was, by no means, humble. But that didn't mean Amelia had to like it. She enjoyed certain aspects of it—the garden was by far her favorite addition—but it could have done without the maze her father had installed when he was a young child. He'd said mazes were a great way of learning to read directions, or some silly idea like that.

She could see the head butler, James, standing outside with a few of the maids. Already, his brows were creased in that disappointed way, but Amelia did not mind. He always wore that face whenever she disappeared on him. Not that he could fault her for it. It was just easy to do.

“Lady Lancaster, you know Lord Lancaster does not appreciate you going into town on your own, like that," he spoke in that stern, father-like tone he had, but it was still gentle. She frowned slightly. She was not a child; she knew what her father's preferences were. She just didn't particularly care for them. Instead of voicing that out loud, she merely smiled at James.

“We will have guests shortly, James. Please make sure everything is prepared for them for when they arrive. Have you done what I asked?" she spoke, lifting her head up slightly as she did. James sighed softly, but his posture remained intact. The ever proper butler.

“We have asked the authorities to not interfere with the scene, but we were only able to do so much," he replied. Amelia hummed lightly in way of answering and turned on her heel. As long as they didn't disturb the scene too much, she supposed it would be fine by the time Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe arrived. Which wouldn't be long now.

“Please notify father that they will be arriving soon," she spoke, watching as James nodded his head, gave her a glance, and walked off. She was going to wait for her guests to arrive.

Given the emptiness of the street in front of the office when she'd arrived, it was unlikely that Mr. Ramsey owned private transportation, so he'd probably had to hire either a carriage or one of the newer steam-powered cabs. It took only another ten minutes for he and his assistant to arrive however. They walked up the rather grand approach to the estate in quite possibly the most contrasting ways possible: Miss Blythe seemed absolutely in awe of her surroundings, looking about at everything as though she'd never seen anything like it. Though... from the way she shifted her attention around, it wasn't just the house itself that interested her, so perhaps the fascination was not what it appeared to be.

Mr. Ramsey probably could not have looked more bored if he tried, sparing not one glance for the statue or the gardens or any of it. Instead, he strode up the approach in large steps, eating the ground underneath him in a way that managed not to seem hasty, perhaps in virtue of his height. The dark blue of his overcoat was as military in cut and style as the rest of his clothes had been, though as with them, it wasn't actually part of any military uniform she'd ever seen. It suited his aesthetic, though.

He stopped only once, to look back over his shoulder at Miss Blythe, brow furrowing before she noticed his pause and hurried to catch up with him. Only then did he resume his progress, ending it in front of Amelia.

"I was told there was a corpse to examine," he said without preamble, regarding her with cold, foggy-violet eyes.

They were, in their own right, very beautiful. Amelia had never seen eyes quite like his, but she did not dwell on that fact. She nodded her head in way of response, and smiled. “This way, if you please," she spoke, turning so that she could lead the way. A thought crossed her mind as she led them towards the garden area. Perhaps with this incident, her father would clear away some of the labyrinth. After all, Jane had been found inside by one of the gardeners who tended to it.

When they approached, her father was already there, standing with perfect posture and a gentle face. His dark blue eyes narrowed slightly in her direction, but that was the only sign of displeasure he wore. She would, undoubtedly, earn a scolding from him for her earlier escapade. “Mr. Ramsey, Miss Blythe, this is my father, Lord Lancaster," she introduced, stopping only so that her father could approach. Even his blond hair, tied in a low tail at his shoulders, stayed in place as he walked.

“Mr. Ramsey," he spoke in way of greeting, and spared a nod in Miss Blythe's direction. “We have requested that the locals not disturb the scene too much, however; we are only able to do so much. If you will follow me, I will escort you to where Miss Chatham was found," he stated, turning slightly away from Amelia. She knew that meant she was not to follow, however; this was not the first corpse she'd seen. Perhaps different in the way it appeared, slightly mangled and gruesome, but not the first. She rolled her eyes when his back was to her, though.

She trailed behind, walking in stride with Miss Blythe as Mr. Ramsey and her father took the lead. The labyrinth was easy to navigate, especially since her father was leading the way. He'd been through here many times in his youth that he could go through it, blindfolded.

“Miss Chatham was found early this morning, before sunrise," meaning it'd still been dark when she was found. It wasn't uncommon for the gardners to work that early. It was cooler for them, and they had preferred it.

Once they reached the scene, the group of them stepped under the tape demarcating the immediate vicinity, both Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe with the familiarity of having done so at least dozens of times before. They didn't immediately approach Jane, though; instead they studied the picture in front of them as a whole, Miss Blythe moving to stand at Mr. Ramsey's elbow, as though gravitating into some invisible orbit of his.

The maze itself was disturbed in places, branches broken or collapsed around the immediate area. There was even a spot where it looked like the hedge wall had been breeched completely, a gap large enough for a person to fit through opened up in the formation. Mr. Ramsey contemplated it for a moment, then raised his head slightly, tilting it upwards at a mild angle and pulling in a deep breath. His frown increased incrementally, but he turned his attention to the body.

Poor Jane was in quite a state: she was dressed in the same clothes she'd been wearing yesterday, but without her apron or the other accoutrements of her work, and her feet were bare. Facedown on the ground with her hair spread in an unruly black cloud around her, she had several leaves and other bits of debris clinging to her. The most startling detail, however, was the marks that had been cut into her back. Her dress was torn there, quite violently, the laces of her corset severed and ragged at the ends. It was enough to wonder if perhaps something else besides murder itself had been the aim of her attacker.

The marks looked like words of a sort, but not in any language or alphabet Amelia had ever seen. Ramsey glanced once at his companion and gestured with his head. They approached, leaving Amelia and her father at the edge of the scene. Crouching beside Jane, he reached with his gloved hand to gather up her hair, lifting it carefully away from her back and the ground and tucking it behind her neck. He seemed to be able to make more sense of the cuts than she could—or at least he was good at hiding any confusion he might have felt.

"She was not typically a gardener," Ramsey observed. Though it should have been a question, he seemed to know it without needing to ask. "She didn't frequently spend her time out here, either. Was she ever sent into town on errands for you, or was it only ever personal business that took her off the estate?"

“Both," Amelia answered first. “Jane ran errands for me when I could not do them on my own. She was particularly fond of a baker's son in town as well," she continued. She'd known Jane on a more personal level, and considered her a friend. As much of a friend as she could, anyway, given their different social status. Her father leveled a gaze at her but turned his attention to Mr. Ramsey.

“She wasn't hired as a gardener, in that much you are correct," he spoke, pushing a soft sigh through his nose. “She was fond of the flowers and the maze. She helped the gardeners only when she could," which wasn't often. Amelia often kept her busy with small errands, mostly because she wanted to help Jane out. The tryst with the baker's son wasn't a secret to anyone who knew Jane, but she didn't have a lot of free time to herself.

"Hm." Ramsey acknowledged the contribution only with a short sound, then shifted his attention back to Jane, patting down her clothing in various places in a manner that didn't quite make sense until he turned to his companion. "The police have taken her personal effects. Retrieve them, please."

Miss Blythe nodded at once, standing from where she'd tucked herself on Jane's opposite side and heading towards one of the remaining policemen on the scene. They'd all remained well out of Ramsey's way thus far, occasionally casting speculative glances to where he inspected the body.

When the young lady approached, the officer she spoke to looked at her suspiciously. They were too far away for Amelia to hear the course of the conversation, but it was obvious enough that Miss Blythe's request didn't get granted immediately. The policeman's lip curled a little, but his attention shifted briefly to where Mr. Ramsey was now making an inspection of Jane's hands before he grudgingly handed over a small satchel of items.

When Miss Blythe returned, she handed a small bottle to Mr. Ramsey. It looked like the typical sort one might see at an apothecary's, but it was empty, and there was no label on it. Ramsey opened it anyway, sniffing and frowning a little more deeply.

Replacing the bottle in the satchel and handing it back to Miss Blythe, he stood swiftly and addressed his audience. "Do you know of anyone who had a standing grudge against Miss Chatham? Perhaps a family member she had a falling-out with, or a former paramour she'd left?"

Amelia frowned at the statement. “Jane was well-loved by everyone. She was a sweet woman," compared to herself. Amelia wasn't as kind as Jane was, nor as loving, but she appreciated the young woman for her openness. Her father cleared his throat softly, directing the attention towards him.

“Miss Chatham was a devoted employee. Unless she was running errands or procuring stock for the kitchen, she kept mostly to herself," he spoke, causing Amelia to sigh softly. Her father wasn't acquainted with the staff as well as Amelia was. Jane didn't keep to herself; she was a little on the shy side. It took her awhile to warm up to someone, and Amelia's father had a sort of intimidating air about him. She knew differently, though.

“Perhaps someone in town might have had grudge against her?" she suggested out loud, her brows furrowing slightly. It was difficult to imagine anyone who would want to harm Jane, though, as sweet as she was. It was possible that someone didn't like Jane's closeness to the baker's son, or contrariwise, someone didn't like the baker's son's closeness to Jane.

Ramsey looked about two seconds from rolling his eyes at the obviousness of the answer, but it wasn't until Miss Blythe spoke up that the rest of them could understand why.

"The marks on her back," the girl said softly, glancing at them before lifting emerald-green eyes back to Amelia and her father. "They're a word. Fùchóu. It's the Mandarin Chinese word for revenge. It seems unlikely that anyone would spend the effort to cut the characters into her body if they weren't significant, especially because they aren't even the cause of her death." The sweet lilt of her voice was a terrible match for the grim information she was using it to deliver—honestly the girl looked like she might be even younger than Amelia.

Amelia had to bite her tongue for the moment, even if the quip she wanted to deliver was sitting at the tip of it. Instead, she raised a delicate brow in Miss Blythe's direction. “Not the cause of her death?" she stated, glancing towards her father. His facial expression was one of little surprise, but Amelia couldn't be too sure. Perhaps he knew more about death and the like than he let on. Whatever the case, he took a slow breath.

“What was the cause, exactly?" he questioned, turning his attention to Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe. Amelia was curious as well, though she did her best to keep her face smoothed and disinterested.

"Poison," Ramsey replied simply, dusting his hands off and rising once again. He motioned for his assistant to return the satchel to him, at which point he sifted through its contents for a moment, furrowing his brows.

"Which bakery does this friend of hers work at? Our next step is talking to him. In the meantime, the police can assist in making the arrangements for Miss Chatham."

“I can escort you there," Amelia spoke swiftly, watching as her father glanced at her from the corner of his eyes. They were slightly narrowed, and Amelia knew that look. It meant that she was not to escort Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe to the bakery, however; Amelia smiled as sweetly as she could at him. “It's in a very quaint corner that can be easily missed. Even Jane had a difficult time getting the address right," she explained, watching as his face smoothed over.

“It would be better if I led them there, directly," she continued, watching as her father's gaze shifted towards Mr. Ramsey. He seemed reluctant, and the slight shift in his shoulders meant that he would agree, but with a condition.

“James will accompany you," he spoke. He nodded towards the authorities, and motioned for them to approach Jane's body. “You are to return home, immediately, after you escort them. You will not stay a moment longer," he spoke, causing Amelia to nod her head.

“Of course," she spoke. Like hell she'd leave, though. She wanted to find out what happened to Jane, and who would want to poision her.

Ramsey and Blythe glanced at each other. The girl shrugged, but her employer looked about as enthused by this prospect as Amelia's father did. "I assure you," he said flatly. "Both Miss Blythe and I have made extensive study of city maps. An address will suffice."

Amelia regarded Mr. Ramsey with a smile, though she could feel something similar to irritation in her left eye. “It might help to have a friendly face. Mr. Morton is a soft-hearted young man. I mean no offense when I say this, Mr. Ramsey, but you might frighten him. He might be more susceptible to a conversation if I were present," she spoke. It was true that Jonah was a timid person, and that he frightened easily, however; he would likely be more at ease if someone he knew was present. He was also the only one who ran the bakery during this time of day. His helpers wouldn't arrive for another hour or so.

The flat look on his face suggested that he'd convinced her not at all, but as luck would have it, he was prevented from speaking by the fact that Miss Blythe did so first. "Mr. Ramsey's not that scary, once you get to know him," she chirped, clearly oblivious to the subtext of the discussion. "And he's very clever. You should ask him to tell you about yourself sometime. He always makes such good inductions—it's almost like a magic trick."

Ramsey exhaled heavily, but he kept his mouth shut, trailing after her reluctantly when she started to head for the exit. The maze was apparently not any trouble for either of them.

“Is that so?" she stated, feeling the curiosity bubble inside of her. She could feel her lips thinning slightly into a small smile, and it took some restraint to not laugh at Miss Blythe's statement. They exited the maze, and made their way back towards the entrance of the estate. It appeared James had already prepared the carriage they were to take back into town, and was waiting for them to approach. Once they did, he bowed slightly and opened the door for them. It wouldn't take them long to get back into the city, and Amelia was, for once in her life, looking forward to it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Spitzer & Sons Confectionery
May 12, 1885 - 09:03 a.m. - Overcast
Charlotte Blythe


The trip to the bakery—or confectionery, as the sign in the window proclaimed it—was a new experience for Charlotte. She rarely ever took private transport anywhere, as Mr. Ramsey preferred the rail or in the rare case of a rush, a steam cab. But this was a real carriage, with honest-to-goodness horses pulling it along the cobblestoned streets and a driver sitting outside up front who directed it for them.

She sat next to Mr. Ramsey, who'd braced his elbow on one side and leaned his jaw on it, pointedly fixing his eyes out the window. She knew he wasn't one to talk much, even to people he seemed to know fairly well, like Lady Kent or herself. She never minded.

Charlotte let her eyes skim the interior of the carriage, studying its brass fixtures and the rich wood interior. She sniffed audibly, identifying the brand of wood polish and the cherry of the lumber both by scent. She thought that maybe if she told Mr. Ramsey about that later, he might tell her she'd done a good job. The thought turned her mouth into a tiny little smile, and she set herself to figuring out the material and thickness of the upholstery just by feel.

In this way, the journey passed in a silence Charlotte didn't find strange at all, and eventually the carriage pulled up in front of the storefront. SPITZER & SONS CONFECTIONERY, hence the distinction with bakery. "It seems Mr. Spitzer has multiple sons," she observed brightly, clambering out of the carriage first.

Mr. Ramsey behind her snorted softly at her behavior or her words, she didn't know. He often did things she didn't understand, but that was all right. She was learning, and he let her learn from him. That was more than enough.

He hesitated a moment, a vaguely-disgruntled look passing over his face before he smoothed it out and turned back to the carriage for some reason, extending a hand towards it. She'd never seen the mannerism before, and cocked her head to the side.

Miss Lancaster's hand was extended out, taking Mr. Ramsey's as she exited the carriage. “Thank you," she spoke, holding on to part of her dress, perhaps, to not trip or fall over it as she exited the carriage. “It is the name of the bakery, Miss Blythe," she spoke, turning her attention to Charlotte. “The owner only has one son, but his associates help him as well," she spoke in a soft tone, as if she were informing Charlotte.

“Mr. Morton should be at the counter if you wish to speak with him," she continued, turning her attention towards James. “Stay with the carriage; it'll only be a moment," she spoke before turning her attention towards Charlotte and Mr. Ramsey. He wore an expression on his face, his lips pulled down and his brows creased together. He didn't seem too pleased, but he nodded.

“If you'll follow me, it would be best if the first face Mr. Morton saw, was mine," she spoke, stepping forward towards the bakery.

Charlotte blinked. "Wouldn't we just seem like customers...?" She glanced uncertainly at Mr. Ramsey, but he just rolled his eyes and nodded at Miss Lancaster's retreating back.

Figuring it probably didn't matter anyway, Charlotte fell into step next to him, smiling briefly at the butler, whom his lordship had called James.

There was a soft chiming sound when Miss Lancaster entered the bakery, and a young man glanced in their direction. He had hair as dark as Charlotte's own, but it was shorter than Mr. Ramsey's. His eyes landed on Miss Lancaster, though, and he smiled. “Miss Lancaster, to what honor do I owe this visit?" he asked, wiping his hands with a cloth and moving from behind the counter. Miss Lancaster stared at him with a soft smile on her face.

“Mr. Morton, I'd like to introduce Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe. They are investigating..." she paused, her lips pursing together. “Miss Chatham's murder," she spoke softly. She didn't seem to have reserves of delivering the news the way she had, but Mr. Morton's eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly. It looked like he was having difficulty breathing, and took a step back to place a hand on the counter.

“Are... are you certain it was her?" he asked, causing Miss Lancaster to nod her head.

“Any information you can provide to Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe will be appreciated," she continued as Mr. Morton glanced towards Charlotte and Mr. Ramsey.

“How... how can I be of service?" he asked, his voice considerably softer than it had first been.

Mr. Ramsey had already withdrawn his notebook and a pen. Charlotte found this habit of his a little odd; she knew he wasn't the type to forget anything he heard, but he took meticulous notes. He'd no doubt set down his observations about the scene later, too, even though she doubted he thought it was actually the spot at which she'd been killed. Too much didn't add up—it was most likely only the disposal site.

He touched the tip of the pen to his tongue, wetting the dried ink on the end. "In what capacity did you know Miss Chatham?" he asked dryly, meeting the man's eyes directly. Curiously, Mr. Morton's body language shifted a little—Charlotte detected an uptick in his heart rate, and noticed a pale flush beginning to color his ears.

She pursed her lips, tilting her head in anticipation of the answer.

“I was..." he began, his throat working as if he were taking a drink of water. “I was courting Miss Chatham," he spoke, turning his attention towards Mr. Ramsey. “She visited often when she was on errands for Miss Lancaster," he spoke, his eyes drifting in Miss Lancaster's direction. She nodded her head in confirmation, causing Mr. Morton to turn his attention back to Mr. Ramsey.

“Miss Lancaster's fond of our selection, and Miss Chatham was as well," he continued, as if explaining himself. “I don't... see how that has to do with her murder, though," he added, his brows furrowing slightly. “She never intruded on anyone, and she was polite to everyone around her."

Charlotte hummed a short note, drawing Mr. Ramsey's eyes to her. She met them and pursed her lips. It was obvious from Mr. Morton's haptics that he was being deceptive, though she could not determine what the truth was. Her instructor had taught her to identify deception, but that wasn't the same thing as being able to know what someone was using that deception to hide.

But Mr. Ramsey nodded, just barely, an acknowledgment that she'd reached the same conclusion as he had. She felt a little jolt of warmth at a success, however minor.

Mr. Ramsey expelled a breath from his nose, turning to Miss Lancaster. "I suspect we will be more likely to receive honest answers absent your friendly face, Miss Lancaster. You have our thanks for the escort, but please excuse us."

Miss Lancaster's eyes narrowed slightly, though they were directed towards Mr. Morton. “Jane was a dear friend of mine, Mr. Morton. You would do well to remember that. If you are withholding any information about her, you would do well to divulge it immediately," she spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly further together. Her voice wasn't as soft as it had been, and her lips were pursed into a fine line. She didn't look too happy.

"Miss Lancaster—" Mr. Ramsey's tone was harder, now, moreso than Charlotte had heard it in a while.

“Was she, Miss Lancaster?" Mr. Morton asked quietly. “I have to think that if she really was, you'd know the secret already, but you don't or you wouldn't be here." His jaw clenched. “And how could she be? She wasn't your friend, she was your servant, because that's how it works, and there's no point pretending otherwise."

Mr. Ramsey ran a hand down his face, refocusing his attention on Mr. Morton. "I assume it was a reciprocal arrangement? Did you have a system? She could have been killed by someone who believed she'd fooled them, led them on only to bait them into something they considered wicked."

For once, Charlotte knew she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

But Mr. Morton obviously did. “We were careful," he said, his voice almost a whisper. “Of course we were; we have—had to be. Jane was... Jane was the only person who knew. The only person who understood. I can't believe—" He swallowed thickly enough Charlotte could hear his throat click. “I can't believe someone killed her."

Miss Lancaster's expression did not change. It remained as it was, though her posture changed slightly. She looked a little more tense, but her eyes never left Mr. Morton. “Whatever the two of you were doing is what got her killed," she spoke, her voice a little harsh. “When was the last time you saw her, Jonah," she continued, dropping the formality with him. “She was found this morning, so when was the last time she was with you?" Miss Lancaster was upset about something, but she didn't elaborate on it.

Charlotte thought it was very premature to decide that what she was doing with Mr. Morton had anything to do with her death. She was beginning to understand why Mr. Ramsey had been against Miss Lancaster's involvement in the case. She was clearly emotionally-invested. Perhaps that made sense, considering.

"Miss Lancaster." This time, Mr. Ramsey interjected before anyone could speak over him. "I am asking the questions. If that is a parameter you cannot handle, then I suggest you leave before Scotland Yard finds out that you are interfering with an active murder investigation." He narrowed his eyes at her, the tension in the room increasing to a low simmer that even Charlotte could detect. Miss Lancaster narrowed her eyes back at Mr. Ramsey, but remained silent.

He shifted his attention back to Mr. Morton. "Your usual club. I need to know which."

Mr. Morton licked his lips. Nervousness—Mr. Ramsey had taught her that that was often a sign of nervousness.

“The Red Moon. We were there last night. I didn't want—I didn't want to say, because..." He shrugged slightly. “People like us—we don't get nice funerals and fond memories. If anyone found out, I—" He glanced once at Miss Lancaster, then back to Mr. Ramsey. “Will you really still look for the person who did this? Even though we're...?"

With a short sigh, Mr. Ramsey returned his notebook to his pocket, sliding his pen in alongside it. "Your private affairs are not my concern. Miss Chatham was murdered. I mean to find her killer. The rest is irrelevant."

Mr. Morton actually smiled at that. “Not to most people, it isn't."

Miss Lancaster's expression softened for a second, her eyes falling to the ground before she lifted them back up. She stared at Mr. Morton for a moment, and sighed. “It might not mean much to you, Mr. Morton, but we will see to it that Jane has a proper burial. It's the... least I can do," she spoke, her gaze leaving Mr. Morton and falling on Mr. Ramsey's.

“Regardless of what you have said, she was my friend. She could have asked for anything, and I would have given it to her," she continued, her voice softer than it had been. She cast her gaze away from them, her eyes falling to the floor before she closed them momentarily. “I wish to accompany you," she stated suddenly, glancing back up towards Charlotte and Mr. Ramsey.

He blinked at her. "The Red Moon is a cabaret club, Miss Lancaster. You will forgive me for observing that you would not blend well in such surroundings, and this would make questioning the clientele a much more difficult matter." He said it flatly, but it lacked the harshness of his earlier rebuke. Perhaps because Miss Lancaster looked so sad?

“Understandable," she stated, standing a little straighter. “But that is a rectifiable situation. A change of clothes will be in order," she spoke as if she'd done it before. “You have my word as a Lady that I will not interfere with your investigation, however; I wish to be a part of it as well," she continued, her voice regaining some firmness to it, though it was still soft.

Mr. Ramsey was quiet and unreadable for several seconds. "Very well," he said quietly. "If you can dress to blend and you promise not to do or say anything without permission, then you can come. Be at our office by twenty-one hundred hours."

Miss Lancaster smiled at that. “You have my word."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Office of Ramsey and Associates, Inc.
May 12, 1885 - 20:45 p.m. - Clear
Amelia Lancaster


Amelia was, if anything, punctual. Though of course at the moment, she stood just outside of Ramsey and Associates Inc., smoothing out the sleeves to her blouse. It was white, tucked into a dark underbust that was placed over the top portion of the long skirt she'd chosen. It was considerably more modest than her previous dress, and was one of the few outfits that could help her blend in with the lesser population. The colors were dark, but not black. She didn't want to appear to be mourning someone. It would have defeated the purpose. She'd pulled her hair back, though, tucking it into a bun, and allowed a few pieces to stray. It would keep it from appearing too long, she supposed, though she'd never cut it shorter.

Taking in a soft sigh, she pushed the door open, allowing the heels of her boots to click on the floor to signal her arrival. She was fifteen minutes early, but she didn't mind in the slightest. It wasn't easy, after all, sneaking out of the Lancaster estate without James or her father's watchful eye. She would have been late if she hadn't been careful. Her gaze landed on Ramsey and Miss Blythe, causing her to stop at a polite distance. “Mr. Ramsey, Miss Blythe," she greeted, nodding her head slightly in their direction.

“I hope it's not intrusive for me to arrive earlier than expected," she stated. It was, in a way, an apology.

Miss Blythe smiled at her immediately; it looked like she was just buttoning her dark green coat on over her ruffled ivory dress, the skirt of it falling to her knees. It left no skin visible, though, as she wore thick stockings beneath and boots that reached almost up to the hem of the skirt, polished brass buckles speaking more to careful maintenance than any amount of wealth.

Mr. Ramsey had altered his wardrobe slightly more dramatically. Gone was the heavy overcoat of the morning, or the sensibly-colored suit and shirt beneath it. Instead he wore a tailcoat and cravat, all in shades of black, white, and grey. It wasn't clear whether he'd been carrying weapons earlier, but it didn't look like he was now, save perhaps the slender, silver-tipped cane tucked up under his elbow while he adjusted his hat. He'd done a good job imitating the evening wear of an upper-middle-class fellow, in all, even disciplining his hair into a neater arrangement beneath the hat.

"It's not an imposition," he replied, tone flat in what she was quickly learning was somewhat characteristic of him. "The club is not more than two miles from here, and so we shall be walking. I expect you have questions; if you wish to ask them, then would be the time."

It didn't take more than another few minutes for everyone to be prepared, and Mr. Ramsey held the door for Miss Blythe and herself, pausing to lock it with a large brass key behind them before striking off to the northeast, though more northward than her house would be.

She did have a few questions, though perhaps not the ones he would expect. “If I am to act accordingly, what is the typical etiquette inside this cabaret?" she asked, walking in unison with Charlotte. It was, after all, considered inappropriate to walk beside a man who wasn't her husband or relative. Not that it bothered her, but she was trying to keep a low profile. Going to The Red Moon was going to be a new experience.

She'd never visited a cabaret, before. If she was going to be any help to Ramsey and Miss Blythe, then she needed to know how to conduct herself. She made a promise not to interfere with their investigation, and she was going to stay true to that promise. It would be a stain upon her honor as a woman, and as a Lancaster if she broke it.

"Oh, I know this one!" Miss Blythe quite literally perked up at the question, but then fixed her eyes ahead on Mr. Ramsey, who gave her a short nod over his shoulder. That must have been enough, because she shifted her attention back to Amelia. "Don't ask anyone there what their real name is or what they do for a living. Customers at such establishments only go if there's an expectation of discretion, you see, and it's bad news for the owner if we ask too many intrusive questions. Even if you recognize somebody, it's better to pretend that you don't. You shouldn't bother the performers, either, or touch them in any way, and you have to tip your servers if they do a good job. Or even if they don't, because sometimes people have bad days and it's cruel to expect them to always be perfectly together."

She smiled, then looked back to Ramsey as if expecting confirmation. The words had the air of a recitation to them, as though she'd been repeating back something that she was taught.

"Audience protocol," he reminded her, his voice lacking any admonishment.

Miss Blythe's eyes rounded, then she nodded. "Oh, yes! It is acceptable to cheer or whistle for the acts, and if the funny ones make you laugh, that is good, but you're not supposed to talk over the performances or say anything rude."

That made a certain amount of sense, she supposed. If the purpose of a cabaret was to go there and be discreet, she could understand why Jane hadn't told her about it. A part of her, something deep and dark, thought that Mr. Morton might have been correct about their friendship, though. Shaking that thought from her mind, she allowed a small smile to cross her face.

“If someone were to ask my name, should I give them a false one?" she asked. Asking someone their real name was considered bad form, but was she supposed to give someone a false name if they asked her? “I do not intend to cause any complications, but on the off chance I am approached, I would like to be prepared," she added, turning her gaze to Miss Blythe. It seemed she was interested in answering Amelia's questions rather than Mr. Ramsey. Amelia didn't mind, though. The woman was interesting in a way.

Charlotte nodded emphatically. "It's common for people to use pseudonyms. Usually just one. Like me. When we go there for work, everyone calls me Sparrow!" The lilting chirp of her voice gave a clue as to why.

“Indeed they would," she spoke, allowing a faint hint of humor to lace with her tone. If that were the case, she supposed she could go with a name no one but her father would know. It brought a smile to her face, though it felt more mischief-like the longer it lingered on her face. “And what of you, Mr. Ramsey? Shall I address you as such?" she asked, turning her gaze to him for a brief moment. It was unlikely that she would need to speak with him, but Amelia liked to be as prepared as possible.

She didn't want to leave anything to chance. They would be arriving at The Red Moon, shortly, and she wanted to make sure she had everything she needed. That meant knowing the proper etiquette and how to address people.

"The owner of the establishment refers to me as Kerberos. You may do the same if it strikes your fancy, but I am not concerned with my anonymity. Ramsey would do just as well." He paused a moment, then shot her a glance over his shoulder. "You haven't asked what your friend went to the Red Moon for." The observation was neutral; it didn't sound like he was suggesting she should have, only that he had noticed it.

She sighed softly. “It would have made itself apparent," she spoke, though she did quirk a brow. “Please enlighten me, though, Mr. Ramsey. How is it that you know what she did?" she asked, the same curious feeling peaking her interest. She would have inquired about her friend's involvement with the Red Moon, but she felt that she would have found the answers when they arrived.

He blinked, shifting his eyes away and shrugging his shoulders. "Observation," he replied. "Several details were very salient. For one, Miss Chatham's makeup was done, as was her hair, and she was dressed for the evening, but when you found her, she was not wearing shoes. Additionally, Mr. Morton's physical and haptic responses gave a lot away. He is not an especially-skilled liar—his secret is one that survives mostly because people make assumptions and his silence confirms them. Additionally, I am familiar with the Red Moon and establishments of its kind, including the distinctive blend of incense that burns in the backrooms. It had been absorbed into Miss Chatham's clothing, strongly enough to suggest either an extended stay or frequent visits. The rest was only inference based on what the businesses are meant for."

It was impressive, or so Amelia thought. How was it that such little things like that gave way to what Jane had been up to? Jane either hid her clothing in a spot that the scents wouldn't be noticed, or Amelia and the others paid it little mind. Perhaps they had noticed it, but on a more subconscious level? Whatever the case, Amelia hummed a soft note in the back of her throat as she absorbed the information.

“You are fairly good at your job, Mr. Ramsey," she stated. It was merely a statement, an observation of her own, she supposed. It wasn't meant as a compliment nor was she being facetious. “What was Miss Chatham doing here, though?" she found herself asking. “You've stated that you are familiar with the Red Moon. Have you come across Miss Chatham before?"

"No." His answer was just as factual as her statement. "As for what she was doing—I expect that the owner will confirm." He stopped outside a heavy-looking, polished wooden door with a brass handle. It had no name-plate attached, and the building which it promised entry to was unremarkable, with heavy velvet drapes barring curious eyes from seeing inside. Only a blush-red lantern gave it even the faintest hint of uniqueness.

Ramsey did not bother to knock, nor did his announce their presence, merely pulling open the door and ushering Amelia and Miss Blythe in ahead of him.

There were coat hooks just inside, but no one to take their outerwear. Since Miss Blythe was really the only one wearing any, she took the chance to doff her coat, then led the way through another door. Mr. Ramsey left his hat, then followed.

Sound hit them like a wall on the way in; the scents of alcohol, warm food, and heavy perfume rushing out in the same gust as the slightly-damp heat of many people and the thick wax tapers decorating every table. The floor creaked softly under their feet, almost lost to the din. The main space was devoted to seating, tables floating free in the middle and booths set into the corner, upholstered in silver-embroidered red velvet. The wood was uniformly dark and rich, from the tabletops to the bar which sat along the left wall, shelved of bottles arranged around a massive brass and copper clock, its internal gears exposed by the amber-tinted glass face etched with silver numbers.

Many of the tables were already occupied, people ranging from working to upper class mingling freely, starched and careworn sleeves rolled up just the same way. Music played from one side of the stage taking up the entire far wall, red and silver curtains pulled to the side in massive drapes. The woman at the center was crooning into a microphone in a smoky, low voice, occasionally punctuated by a whoop or whistle from the crowd. Overwhelmingly men, it seemed.

It was breathtaking. Quite literally in Amelia's case. She sucked in a sharp breath, regretting it almost immediately when smoke and perfume filtered into her nose. She lifted her hand to her mouth, however; she stopped halfway and allowed it to fall back to her side. She might not like inhaling the scent of the place, but she also didn't want to give off a first bad impression. Granted no one was glancing in their direction, yet. Most of the attention was on the woman who was singing, and even Amelia had to tear her eyes away from the songstress.

She opened her mouth to say something, however; she remained quiet. She could taste the air in the establishment, the smoke and the ash that seemed to be lingering about. Perhaps, because it was her first time in a place like this, her senses were a little more sensitive? It would make a certain amount of sense to her if that were the case. She'd have to become better acquainted with places like this, but now was not the time for such thoughts. She came here with the intentions of spectating an investigation.

It was interesting watching Mr. Ramsey work, and Miss Blythe. She wondered for a brief moment, how they were going to find the owner of the establishment, however; Mr. Ramsey's earlier statement banished the thought. He'd been here before which meant he already knew. True to her word, Amelia remained quiet, stepping a little further to the back so that Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe could take the lead. She couldn't help her eyes from wandering, though. It was fascinating, and new to her.

Ramsey chose a booth near the back of the room, far from the stage but with a decent view of it. He gestured for both herself and Miss Blythe to be seated first, then took the free side glancing towards the bar and nodding at the woman standing behind it. She was wearing a bright red dress; when she stepped out from behind the bar, it proved to be only half as long as her thighs, exposing several inches of fishnet stocking before a pair of truly-formidable-looking heeled boots, black, shiny, and with a height of at least five inches.

She tossed a slow wink in their direction before turning and disappearing into what had to be the kitchen or some other back room through a well-hidden door behind the bar.

Mr. Ramsey appeared quite disinterested, but at this distance, Amelia could see that he was actually making a very subtle study of the room itself, his eyes scanning the patrons, the performers, and the fixtures. It was impossible to tell just what he made of any of it, but his body language suggested no unease. Miss Blythe was attempting to do the same, only her subtlety needed some work—she just looked so obviously-fascinated by everyone around her.

While they waited, another waitress—this one only slightly less outlandishly-dressed—brought them a tray with drinks and what looked to be sweets. “Compliments of the house," she said sweetly. “For Mr. Kerberos and his companions." With a smile that was either genuinely shy or spectacularly well-acted, she set everything down and withdrew the tray with a flourish. The sweets proved to be an expensive-looking mix of truffles, a few petit fours, and pretty little tea cakes, all impeccably decorated. They seemed an odd match for the clientele in general, to say nothing of the man they'd apparently been prepared for.

She could understand if he had a bit of a sweet tooth. She had one, herself, and often thought of learning the trade, however; there wasn't a person who could teach her without her father knowing. She straightened out her posture in the seat, and glanced at Miss Blythe. “Is the owner aware that you have arrived?" she asked softly. She wasn't entirely sure how this worked, but she wanted to know, to learn so that she could have this knowledge. It wouldn't serve her any real purpose, but it was something new to her.

And if anything, Amelia loved learning new things, regardless of how it would help her in the long run.

Seeing as how Miss Blythe had just popped an entire petit four into her mouth, Mr. Ramsey took the question instead, dividing a tea cake in half with the small fork provided. "She knows," he said simply. "Briar Rose went back to tell her." He must have meant the woman in red.

Indeed, the same woman returned a moment later in the company of another. The new arrival was surprisingly tall, moreso than either Amelia or Miss Blythe, with sheets of long, straight black hair and eyes that turned up at the outer corners in an unusual tilt. Her features seemed to belong to someone from the far east, reinforced by the mellow tawny color of her complexion. She clicked over to them in her heeled boots, offering up a coy red-painted smile, the sole spot of color in an otherwise black, white and silver ensemble that reflected her apparent heritage while also changing it to reflect the fashions of modern London. Flowing silk was in abundance, but the lace at the high collar and the cut of the sleeves was very English, even if the embroidery most emphatically was not.

There was an enviable grace to her motions; she crossed the room as though she floated, sliding into the booth seat next to Mr. Ramsey and placing a hand very familiarly on his shoulder. Neither he nor Miss Blythe even so much as blinked when the woman pressed her lips briefly to his cheek before settling next to him. “Mr. Kerberos. It's been so long. I was beginning to think you'd abandoned us altogether." Her voice sat lower than her appearance suggested, in the upper tenor register, smooth and silky itself.

Mr. Ramsey, lifted an eyebrow, heedless of the faint red mark on his face. "Liang. You look well."

"Hello, Miss Wu," Miss Blythe added, flashing a smile now that she'd paused in her consumption of the sweets in front of them.

The Red Moon's mistress returned it with genuine warmth. “Sparrow. What a pleasure to see you again. You've not changed a bit, I see."

Miss Blythe shook her head. "Actually, I've changed a lot. I'm learning so much more now!"

Miss Wu only wore a soft smile. After a moment, her eyes slid to Amelia. “Good evening, Miss. You arrive in the very best of company, but we've not met. I daresay I'd remember having entertained a noblewoman in my humble establishment."

Amelia allowed a small smile to cross her lips, and arched her brow. “It is my first appearance," she responded, allowing her smile to broaden. “Lily," she finally answered, shifting her head in a proper position, though not to seem as if she were looking down on anyone. Grace and beauty should always be met with the same, or so she was taught. “I am called Lily, if it pleases you," she continued. It was a name coined by her father given her proclivity to the flower of the same name. She'd always adored the lily flower, and she often smelled of them. Her father supposed it had to do with how much time she spent around them, but Amelia didn't mind. It was one of her favorite scents, one that she would give anything to smell at the moment.

“Liang Wu," the owner replied, inclining her head with a swanlike motion. “You're welcome to just call me Liang, if you like. We're not so stuffy here as people can be in other places." The subtle curve of her smile suggested that she knew Amelia spent a lot of time in such 'stuffy' places.

She returned her attention to Mr. Ramsey, then, arching one fine, dark eyebrow at him. “As delighted as I always am to see you, dear Kerberos, I'm afraid I've no inkling why you might be here this time. Have you finally come around to the aesthetic appreciation of the show?" Her tone suggested she didn't quite believe that, dripping with a certain kind of wry amusement.

"I'm here about a customer," he replied flatly. He didn't seem to mind the way she shifted closer, tilting her head perhaps to better hear him. It did seem like the kind of conversation to have at low volume. "A young woman. She would have come in regularly with a man, but they both split up in quite short order, you understand? They might have asked for introductions at some point, to some of your flock."

Liang's eyebrows lifted; she pursed her lips. “You know very well I don't run that kind of establishment," she said, sounding almost offended by the suggestion.

He shook his head quickly. "No you don't. But you do run one where certain sorts of people get to feel safer in being themselves than they usually do, don't you? And if the meeting request came from a good person, for a good reason, and you sensed that good could come of it, you'd facilitate." He sounded absolutely certain of it.

Liang sighed. “Yes, I would." Her eyes dropped briefly to the table. “I think I know the pair you're referring to. They're close. Protective of each other. Good sorts. Why do you ask?"

Amelia wasn't sure if she should have been the one to answer that question. She'd promised that she wouldn't interrupt Mr. Ramsey's investigation, however; she was just answering a question, not asking one. She took in a slow, quiet breath before thinking over how to best answer. Should she state that Jane had been murdered? If someone here was the perpetrator, she could, inadvertently, tip them off. She had no intentions of doing that. The other option was being subtle about it, however; the results could be the same if someone found out Jane's murder was being investigated.

“Something has befallen one of them," she decided to say. It was, she supposed, ambiguous, but Miss Wu seemed like a lady of intellect; surely she'd be able to read between the lines of a statement like that.

She frowned at that, glancing at Mr. Ramsey for confirmation. He nodded. "The woman. There was evidence that was meant to point back to you, I believe. Someone carved 'fùchóu' into her back. The characters were accurate, though not neat."

Miss Wu's lips parted, a look of alarm contorting her features. “That's horrific! The poor girl—what can I do to help?"

"Someone's targeting your most vulnerable customers, Liang. And they seem to be doing it with the intention of setting you up. Are there any standouts in your list of enemies? Anyone who might resort to these methods?"

Her mouth pinched, a furrow appearing between her brows. “There are many hateful fools who'd think little of killing people who are different, I'm sure." Her voice cracked softly with emotion, but she maintained her composure otherwise. “No one causes a fuss in here anymore, but there are awful people who sometimes loiter outside, harassing my patrons or the performers. But I couldn't tell you who among them would—would do something like this."

"Then we'll take the whole list," Ramsey replied.

Miss Wu nodded slightly. “Of course. It will take me a while to get all the names. I'll ask my flock if anyone's been especially pushy lately. Maybe one of them would have seen something. But Kerberos... if she was hurt by someone she'd gone with... you know we'd be looking for a woman."

He nodded. "I think it was probably a team, actually. One to lure, one to kill. The killer was almost certainly a man, but they may have disposed of the body together. Not something a woman could do by herself, I think."

Miss Wu hummed, then rose gracefully, her fingers brushing briefly against Mr. Ramsey's shoulder. “I understand. I'll have the list for you by tomorrow. All of you should feel free to stay as long as you like, of course. I'm sorry I could not remain to entertain you; please forgive my rudeness."

Amelia was slightly confused, but not because of the situation. She was confused about Jane, and what Mr. Ramsey had stated. She lifted a brow in his direction, and tilted her head in a slight angle. “She preferred the company of women?" she asked, furrowing her brows. How had she not known? Was Jane ashamed to tell her? She banished the thought from her mind, and sighed softly. Mr. Morton might have been correct, after all.

Miss Wu gave her a sympathetic smile. “Most of us are a little different here, Lily-love. It can be hard to share that with others, when our secrets are dangerous." With a last nod, she took her leave from the table.

“I would like to stay a moment longer," she stated, once Miss Wu left. She wanted to see more of this place, to know what Jane knew. Perhaps not to the same degree, but this was something her friend kept from her. It would also be a new experience for Amelia, and she wanted to know it.

"We can do that." Ramsey said it in the same neutral way he said everything, but for a moment, it was as if his expression was slightly... softer, somehow. It was gone as soon as it had appeared, like a shadow passing over his features. "If you have other questions about what we've learned so far, now would be a good time to ask them."

"So you're thinking that Miss Chatham came here to meet women... and Mr. Morton came here to meet men?" Miss Blythe didn't seem to find anything strange or unusual about this at all, but even she had a sense of the fragility of the information, from the gentle tone of her voice.

He lifted a teacake in his fingers, dipping his chin just briefly before he took a bite.

Miss Blythe hummed. "Then there were bound to be times when she was alone. It's hard to know what happened then." She pursed her lips, considering the problem.

Amelia glanced to her left, watching as the patrons of the establishment busied about and laughed. Some were having conversations with one another, and some were simply staring at the singer. It had a bit of charm to it, she would admit, but she couldn't find it in herself to enjoy it. Someone here murdered Jane, and were trying to frame Miss Wu, or at least that's what she picked up from the conversation.

“There is only so much one can do alone, Miss Blythe. Conversation is one of those things, but hardly anyone enjoys conversation to activity," she stated, sliding her attention back to Miss Blythe. Amelia may have been young, she may have been an aristocrat, but she wasn't exactly naïve. The benefits of being a curious child, she supposed.

"Oh. No, I meant that it would be difficult to know for sure who she was with, or for anyone to keep an eye on her. So her killer would have had opportunities to go unseen." Miss Blythe didn't seem to have quite the same understanding of the implications, but she'd said something sensible nevertheless.

“Why would anyone wish to frame Miss Wu, though? Her establishment appears sensible and it doesn't appear that anyone among them has any ill-intentions towards anyone else." That was the atmosphere she could read, at least. Why would anyone want to harm someone who wasn't harming anyone else?

Mr. Ramsey swallowed, then scowled outright. "There could be any number of reasons. Rival businesses looking to sully her reputation. Church agents convinced that she promotes sin." From the emphasis he placed on the last word, he found such arguments unconvincing to say the least. "Nationalists who have a problem with a foreigner doing so well in London. Or former customers she's previously banned from her premises, seeking revenge."

Miss Blythe perked up at the last. "What about our case? That time you managed to get those Syndicate people to leave by finding evidence of their money laundering? They could think she betrayed them."

He hummed a short note. "It's possible some agent of theirs is responsible, but I think it unlikely. Most of them are still in prison."

“They could still have agents on the streets if they communicate with each other," she stated, though she frowned slightly to herself. That would prove more difficult, and she doubted that, whatever grievances they had towards Miss Wu, they would not amount to the trouble of sending letters or having visitors. She pursed her lips slightly together at one of his statements.

“The Church would go to such lengths?" she questioned. Part of her did not doubt it, considering that she and her father attended regularly. Even times when it wasn't necessary, though she'd managed to get out of those attendances. But to go so far as to murder someone? Wasn't that, in itself, a sin?

Ramsey snorted. "Of course they would. No organization retains that much power worldwide without enough dirty secrets to make Liang blush." He shook his head, taking up one of the small glasses that had been deposited with their sweets and knocking it back in a single swallow. The amber color of it was not entirely different from her father's whiskey.

The performance onstage shifted to a much more energetic number, several members of the Red Moon dancing in colorful silk and improbably-high shoes, to a jaunty piano tune. The audience's volume increased accordingly, the crowd really beginning to integrate into the show. Some of the performers even left the stage and danced around the tables on the floor instead, abundant laughter and cheers breaking into the song itself. For all it seemed like sensory overload, most everyone seemed to be abundantly joyful, an almost-celebratory mood infecting the club.

“I suppose that explains my reluctance to attend," she stated, sitting back in her seat with a little more slack in her posture. It wasn't often she did so, but the atmosphere in the Red Moon was becoming a little lively. It was enjoyable, to say the least. She pursed her lips together, though. “If it has that much power, how do you go about convicting them? Wouldn't it be difficult even if the murder itself could be pinned on them?" she asked. If it turned out it was the Church who murdered Jane, wouldn't they deny the connection and say their agent was working on their own? A rogue?

She shook the thoughts from her head. They still needed more information before they could even suspect a person, let alone an organization. “I assume we would need more information, though," she voiced it out loud. She lifted her gaze back to her companions and offered a short smile. “I... thank you for allowing me to come," she spoke. “I've learned many things, because of it." It wasn't anything that would prove useful for the case, she supposed, but Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe might have learned something. They were the investigators for a reason, and she was not.

"We don't concern ourselves with that. With bringing down the entire structure. Not everyone in the church would have endorsed this, if any of them were responsible in the first place. It doesn't matter what they say—only that whoever committed the murder is caught."

He at least certainly didn't seem to believe he'd wasted his time in coming here. Perhaps he'd learned something useful after all.

For now, it seemed they'd be waiting for Miss Wu to conjure her list of suspects.

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Kent Estate
May 13, 1885 - 07:16 a.m. - Clear
Ephraim Ramsey


Ephraim pursed his lips, scanning the list with a critical eye. Churchman, minor politician, ambitious Syndicate underling, scorned customer, another churchman—there was certainly no lack of suspects. Raising his hand to the bridge of his nose, he pinched it just beneath his glasses and sighed. It seemed unlikely that anything truly supernatural was at work, even if the person the criminals were trying to frame was half jiang-shi. Liang kept that part of her identity well-concealed, and very few people knew about it. Even fewer than knew of her other secret, and the new identity she'd assumed to protect herself from people who'd never understand.

Ordinarily, he might have turned the list over to the Yard and been done with it, but... something kept him studying the evidence himself. Maybe it was just because it was Liang involved, and he wanted to make sure it was done right, but—

Perhaps it was something else as well. His own uncertainty about his motives produced a furrow in his brow, and he sighed through his nose, setting the parchment back down on the dining table.

"Ephy, if you don't take breaks sometimes, you're going to wear out that big beautiful brain of yours." The chastisement came from the elegant woman sitting at the head of the table. She regarded him with amused blue eyes over the silver fork held gracefully in one hand. It still had a bit of sausage at the end, clear evidence of her relaxing her formal manners, though everything else in her bearing was still impeccable.

Ephraim blinked at her, unimpressed with the hypothesis. "It's not an engine, Lady Kent. It won't 'wear out.'"

She raised an arched blonde eyebrow at him. Really, what was it with all the people he knew making that face at him? It wasn't as though he was a child who failed to see his own limitations. He was centuries older than this woman would ever be, but apparently that didn't stop her from looking at him and seeing only youth, even if she knew what he really was.

"But you didn't sleep last night," Charlotte put in, cramming half a poached egg into her mouth. Lady Kent, rather than taking offense at her atrocious table manners, smiled slightly. At least she didn't talk and eat at the same time anymore.

Her observation was not appreciated, and the flat stare he sent across the table would have made it obvious to anyone but her. Charlotte, however, only kept chewing, blinking wide, innocent green eyes at him.

He grimaced, resisting the urge to shake his head. Instead, he redirected the conversation. These people were insufferably impervious to his generally-preferred method of silence. But they were very susceptible to distraction. "Where's Theodore?"

"He ate already," Lady Kent replied, taking dainty bites of her breakfast. "He wanted to help Aleister with the grounds this morning before practice, so he woke a couple of hours ago. I'm surprised you didn't hear him."

He had, but it wasn't much of a distraction if he answered the question himself. Lady Kent seemed to know it, too, judging from glint in her eye.

Anything else she might have said, however, was preempted by the sound of banging footsteps. Someone was running towards the dining room and not being subtle about it. Ephraim picked out the treads as Theodore's immediately, and both of his companions registered the same just before the boy himself burst through the door.

"Mr. Ramsey!" The boy's tawny hair was askew; his breaths came fast enough to indicate that he'd been running at a full sprint for a while. "It's the Yard—there's another body. Someone named Morton? They said you'd know."

Ephraim was already rising from his chair. "Lady Kent, if you would, please send a message to the Lancaster Estate—Hanover Square. I doubt the Yard will bother contacting them, but... they are interested parties." He wasn't entirely sure of the wisdom of letting that woman insinuate herself into the investigation again today, but he had to admit that aside from her blunder with Morton, she hadn't done harm. And even that hadn't been irreparable. For now, he'd keep to his contract, as he always did.

Lady Kent seemed surprised by the request, but nodded anyway. He could rely on her to do it, so he looked to Charlotte, who was now on her feet as well.

Time to get to work, then.




Mr. Morton had been left behind his bakery, near the refuse collection area. There was no sign of mutilation on his body, and he was still dressed for the outdoors—the morning, it looked like. Ephraim could tell he hadn't been dead for long, perhaps a few candlemarks at most. Likely attacked on his way in for shift, then, which would have been in the wee hours of the morning. He had a few slashes across his arms and torso, suggesting a confrontation, but there was something off about the scene as it was.

And the same smell from yesterday...

“Mr. Morton," the voice was softer, but recognizable as Miss Lancaster's. She was standing off to the side, her eyes set on Mr. Morton's body. Her face was smoothed over, but there was a crease in her brows that gave way to her distress. She didn't move closer, and simply stood where she was. “How long ago was he..." she paused when her voice cracked, and sighed. “When was he found?" she finally asked, glancing towards Ephraim.

The question drew his attention; he lost the thread of thought he'd been following. He'd have to pick it up later—there was something important about the exact balance of that smell. It wasn't quite just Liang's backrooms, though that was part of it, he was certain.

He shifted his eyes to Miss Lancaster, face set in grim lines. "Found about an hour ago. I estimate he died shortly after three in the morning, most likely on his way to shift. You can see here how he fought back against a knife, but I don't think it was meant to be the murder weapon, even though it ended up as one." He pointed out the cuts and then the final stab wound in Mr. Morton's chest.

"But if they didn't mean to stab him, why bring a knife?" Charlotte asked, crouching next to the body to search his pockets.

That was an easy one, at least. "To control him," Ephraim replied. "Force him into the scenario that would end his life."

“Especially if they didn't want to draw attention," Miss Lancaster added, her lips pursed together. “Using a pistol or rifle that early in the morning would have drawn more attention than they'd possibly want," she continued, stepping around to stand on Charlotte's side. “If they wanted to achieve what they had with Miss Chatham, they'd take the same precautions, but..." she paused, her eyes glancing over Mr. Morton's wounds.

“They'd have to have known he would've fought back, with or without the knife," she continued. “He was still a capable young man; I'm sure he would have harmed the perpetrator as well," she stated, finally glancing back towards Ephraim.

"That's the catch," Ephraim replied, shaking his head slightly. "I don't think they did expect him to fight back. The knife was there just in case, but either they thought their combined strength would intimidate him into compliance, or they thought the alternative they were offering was good enough that he'd take it." It was possible they'd held his secret against him, but with his life so directly on the line, that probably wouldn't have been enough. He'd have needed to think his chance of survival was greater if he cooperated.

Clearly they'd meant him to, and clearly he hadn't. That was a peculiar set of circumstances.

"Maybe this is why?" Charlotte rose from where she'd been crouched, handing him two pharmaceutical bottles. Unlike the empty one that had been found with Miss Chatham, these both still had pills in them, identical to all appearances. One of the bottles was cracked as though it had been dropped—perhaps they'd been offered to him and lost in a scuffle? It seemed unlikely that the deal would be something made in the open. So maybe they'd been left here on purpose.

Unscrewing the lid on the first one, Ephraim sniffed. The scent was extremely faint, impossible for the human nose to detect, but it was there. "Nightshade," he murmured. Consistent with the smell of the empty bottle on Miss Chatham's body. The other, had a similar smell, but it was too faint. If the pills themselves were poison, it should have been... more overwhelming than this.

“Nightshade?" Miss Lancaster spoke, the confusion evident in her voice. “They meant to poison him," she murmured, her brows furrowing deeply. “It doesn't make sense, though. Was he supposed to willingly take the poison, or was it meant for something else?" she stated out loud, perhaps to herself. She took a step back to allow Charlotte more room despite already standing at a polite distance.

“I doubt Miss Chatham would have willingly taken something she knew to be poison unless she had no other choice. Mr. Morton would have likely been the same," she continued. “They also knew where Miss Chatham and Mr. Morton worked," she observed, keeping her gaze steady with Ephraim's. “You stated before that someone is intended on framing Miss Wu, is Miss Wu's clientele being stalked?" she asked, tilting her head as she did so.

“Because it seems to me like they're targeting specific people with specific connections," she added, her eyes moving to Mr. Morton's corpse and back to Ephraim.

He nodded tersely. "It certainly seems that way." Frowning, Ephraim crouched near the corpse, pulling in a deep breath. "It's lighter on him—probably because he wasn't there yesterday. But it's the backrooms, and... roses. Except..." There was something just slightly different in the scent, something that told him the extra scent wasn't from the typical breeds of English rose. The note had been, like the scent in general, much stronger on Miss Chatham, despite the distance her body had likely been carried to dispose of it.

There was something familiar about it, though. Occasionally Liang had a trace of it on her, as well, as though she was near the source... there were only a few things that could mean. "I think I understand," he murmured quietly. But the police would require more concrete evidence before they could proceed with an arrest, and there were still several loose ends to tie up.

“Excuse me? Miss Lancaster? I've a message from your father." The speaker was a young man, working class, in the dark blue uniform of a courier service. He stood at the edge of the scene, behind the police line, gawking at the body and the investigators surrounding it. Ephraim scanned him dispassionately.

“Excuse me," she spoke, tilting her head in Ephraim's direction before she walked towards the messenger. She took the letter from the man, thanking him with a nod of her head, and opened it. Her lips pressed into a fine line as her eyes scanned the contents. She didn't seem particularly pleased about what was written, but she folded it and tucked it back into the envelope.

“Forgive me, but I must return home. Father has requested my attendance," she spoke with a hint of bitterness in her voice, as if she didn't want to go. “If you'll excuse me, I must be on my way. Thank you, Mr. Ramsey, and you as well Miss Blythe, for help with the investigation," she stated before she turned and walked away.

Charlotte's eyes went wide; she moved them to Ephraim, but he silenced her with a finger to his lips. Miss Lancaster was far from the poorest liar he'd ever met, but she'd been lying nevertheless. There were very few reasons he could think of why she'd do that.

He ran the last few minutes over in his memory and swore under his breath when he realized what had just happened. The messenger's hands—they weren't a messenger's hands at all.

The pieces clicked into place. And Miss Lancaster's actions, however reckless, had opened up a unique opportunity for them. One which Ephraim intended to take full advantage of. Removing his notebook from his pocket, he scribbled an address down and tore the page out. "Miss Blythe. Get this to Lady Kent immediately. Tell her to bring the rifle, but load it with the rock salt cartridges."

His assistant nodded at once, taking off in a sprint that would get even faster once she was away from prying eyes. For his own part, Ephraim stood, grimacing and withdrawing his revolver from the holster on his thigh, usually obscured by his coat. He'd prefer not to use actual bullets against humans, but if Lady Kent wasn't able to arrive in enough time, he'd simply have to protect the innocent at the cost of the guilty. The rules were clear.

Checking the cylinder, he clicked it back into place and replaced the gun. Hopefully Miss Lancaster was smart enough to stall as long as she could. But he acknowledged that she had no particular reason to have faith in them, which meant she might act on her own, thinking her best chances lay in taking the fool's bargain that was about to be placed in front of her.

He'd simply have to make sure things would be in place before she had to.

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Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - ??
May 13th, 1885 - 07:52 a.m. - Clear
Amelia Lancaster


Amelia pursed her lips together and furrowed her brows. She was not particularly pleased with her current predicament, but she had little choice. If she wanted to know the truth about Jonah and Jane, she was to follow the instructions in the letter. And true to its word, there was a carriage waiting for her. She paused long enough for the door to be opened, and stepped inside. There was someone already inside of it, sitting on the opposite side of her, but Amelia couldn't tell if the person was a man or a woman. The windows were covered in a thick cloth, preventing any sunlight to enter, and possibly to prevent her from seeing where their destination was.

It wouldn't matter, though. Amelia had no intentions of leaving without the information she wanted.

The carriage began to move almost immediately; the figure in the seat across from her leaned forward just enough that the spare light in the compartment caught her features. She looked vaguely familiar somehow, but it was difficult to say why that was. She was certainly distinctive: a tumble of glossy red curls spilled over her back and shoulders, bright and striking against the ordinary brown of her day-dress. The light glinted off gunmetal-grey eyes, narrowed so that their long lashes nearly obscured them.

“I almost can't believe you actually did it," she remarked, voice saturated with amusement and derision both. It was a lilting soprano, put to use for mockery, in this case. The woman shook her head. “You really have no idea what you've gotten yourself into, little fool."

Amelia regarded the woman with a flat expression. The woman might have been amused, but Amelia was certainly not. Fool? Perhaps she was, however; Amelia wasn't going to remain as such for long. “It is apparent that you have information about Miss Chatham and Mr. Morton. Everything else is of little importance," she spoke, keeping her expression as neutral as she could. She glanced to the woman's hands, noticing a small glint. She probably had a small weapon on her like a blade of some sort. Amelia wanted to roll her eyes.

“Otherwise you wouldn't have gone through all this trouble just to acquire me," she continued, letting her eyes narrow slightly. “What is it that you hope to gain from this?" she asked, some curiosity building inside of her. There was always a reason behind the methods being used, even if they were a bit vacuous.

“You've not figured it out?" The woman arched a well-groomed brow and huffed softly. “No death draws more attention or swifter retribution than the death of a noble. Especially such a young woman. Were we to bring about your ill-fated end and the blame fall one a certain someone, everything would be just as we want it. You'll have a chance to save yourself of course. They both did, too. They just chose poorly."

Amelia allowed her brows to furrow in displeasure. “All of this just to frame Miss Wu? Is that why fùchóu was carved into Miss Chatham's back?" she asked, though her pronunciation of the word was slightly off. She didn't speak Mandarin Chinese. “Why? What has she done that has procured your wrath towards her?" she continued, feeling an elated sense of anger towards this woman.

Miss Wu seemed like a decent person, and it made Amelia slightly angry that someone would want to frame her, let alone kill two of her friends to do so. Whether she saved herself or not, was irrelevant at the moment. She'd deal with it when the time came.

The woman shrugged, as if she found the question boring. “Why does anyone ever commit a crime? I want something, she has it, and that's the end of the story."

Further explanation was impossible, because the carriage chose that moment to roll to a stop. The woman lifted her arm and knocked twice on the roof before returning her attention to Amelia. “I don't recommend trying to run, Miss Lancaster. Eugène is quite quick, and not as gentle as I am."

Her current attire wouldn't allow for her to run even if she wanted to. Instead, Amelia chose to bite her tongue. She'd listen to the woman if only for as long as it benefited her. She exited the carriage, followed by the woman, and glanced at her location. From the way it looked, she was in an older part of the district, though which one she couldn't say. She wasn't allowed to venture too far from the city. The warehouse in front of her looked mostly deserted, but that may have been what their intentions were. She pushed a heavy sigh through her nose before turning towards the woman's partner, Eugène.

Her brows furrowed slighty. His dark hair was unkempt beneath a hat and his eyes were dark as well. It was almost as if the light had faded some time ago and dulled the brown that might have been exuberant at one time. His features gave way to a young man, perhaps in his early to mid-twenties. He might have been older, but Amelia was not a good judge of age. His current outfit, however, did cause her to raise a brow. He wasn't dressed plainly, only in clothes that seemed befitting of a clerk, however; they looked a little worn, as if they haven't been replaced in a long time.

“Where to?" she decided to speak. It was obvious they wanted her to enter the warehouse, however; Amelia wanted to stall them a moment longer. She wasn't in a hurry to walk to her death, after all.

“Inside." The man, Eugène, spoke this time, giving Amelia a slight shove in the right direction. The woman led the way, and he took up the rear, their presence more or less forcing her to keep their pace.

The warehouse was largely empty; honestly it looked a bit desolate. Some of the steel framing up near the roof had begun to rust, and the entire place seemed as though no one had cleaned it in years. Dust, a few bits of gravel, and hat at times seemed to be shards of wood and glass crunched beneath their feet; it would be hard for anyone to move quietly in here, the way it echoed around.

The exception to the general untidiness of the place was a much newer-looking wooden table, plain in design and with a chair on either of its longer sides. The woman sat facing the entrance, and gestured for Amelia to sit in front of her, with her back to the door. From the way Eugène hovered behind her, she didn't have much of a choice about this, either.

Already there were several objects on the table: a glass of water for each of them and two pharmaceutical bottles of the type they'd found at both crime scenes, tapered brown glass. When she sat, Amelia could see that there was a single capsule in each of them—they looked identical.

The woman settled in her seat, pushing a red curl behind her ear. She had a distinctive scent, even here: something like roses. “Your choice is simple," she said plainly, nodding at the bottles. “Left or right. One of them is a sugar pill. One of them is a very deadly toxin. You choose which one you take, and I take the other at the same time. I won't stop you from trying to figure out which is which, if you want to try and figure it out. So." With a coy smile, she picked up the one on Amelia's left, twirling it absently in her fingers. When she set it down, it was a little closer to Amelia than it had been before. “Are you feeling lucky, Miss Lancaster?"

“Luck is for fools," she replied, regarding the woman with a flat stare. “There is nothing simple about a choice that determines life or death," she added, narrowing her eyes slightly. Amelia wasn't a fool; taking either one of those vials would mean death for her regardless of what they said. She could choose the right pill, and Eugène might break her neck in a second with how close he was standing to her. He'd do it out of anger, revenge, or whatever mood might over take him, however; if she chose the wrong pill, she'd be dead in an instant.

There was also another possibility. The woman might have some kind of resistance to the poison, and both vials could be filled with it. It wasn't a common thing to have, though. She only knew of it because doctors had mentioned it before. Of course, building such a resistance wasn't worth the outcome for most, so perhaps the woman was telling the truth. Whatever the reason, Amelia merely stared at the woman.

“And what guarantee do I have that he will not kill me, if I choose correctly?" she asked, glancing to her side as she did.

The woman shrugged. “If you choose correctly, I will be dead. I assure you that will cause Eugène more distress than anything, and he'll be rather uninterested in you by that point. Besides, if I die the entire scheme is pointless, and so there will be no more reason left to kill you. I'm afraid there really isn't anything else I can do to guarantee anything." She shrugged, as if this were inconsequential.

“Now. I suggest you devote whatever brains you have in that head of yours to trying to solve my puzzle here, hm? Else no assurance will matter, because you will lose." The woman seemed to be quite confident of this, sitting back in her chair with a relaxed expression and crossing her arms over her chest. Her eyes drifted towards the bottle on the right, before quickly flicking back to Amelia's.

Death didn't need a reason to kill someone. Distraught or not, Amelia would have been the cause of the woman's death, and that would be enough reason for Eugène to kill Amelia. Plan not withstanding. “I have no desire to die tonight, Miss," she finally spoke, placing her hand on the table and allowing it to rest there. She kept her gaze steady with the woman, her resolve as strong as her statement.

“Whatever you thought you could accomplish by murdering my friends, by murdering me," she paused to glance at the vials. “I hope it was worth it in the end," she stated, offering a smile as she chose the vial on her left. She held it between her fingers, inspecting it before taking off the lid.

“To death," she stated, lifting the vial towards the woman, the smile inching just a little wider.

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Pharmeceutical Warehouse
May 13, 1885 - 08:12 a.m. - Clear
Charlotte Blythe


It didn't take long for Charlotte to reach Lady Kent's estate—not when she'd been given permission to move at the speeds she was truly capable of, hurling herself across rooftops with what would have been reckless abandon were she any less capable than she actually was.

Getting to the right address took a little longer, because this time she was carrying the Lady on her back when she jumped, and that did slow her a bit, for aerodynamic reasons if no others. Lady Kent wasn't afraid of the heights or the speed, but she could not help the way her body tensed when Charlotte took a particularly perilous-looking jump.

By the time they hit the warehouse cluster, Mr. Ramsey was already present, standing on the roof of the building immediately south of the address he'd given. Charlotte landed lightly next to him, letting their landlady down. After no more than a moment to push a few cornsilk-blonde hairs out of her face, Lady Kent set about loading her rifle with the special rock-salt ammunition that she used for practice, on the grounds that such cartridges were much cheaper than actual bullets, and less likely to accidentally kill someone.

"So, Ephy. Why exactly did you send Charlotte to interrupt my morning meeting?"

"Amelia Lancaster was kidnapped," he replied tersely. "They will be appearing at any moment. I need you to keep your gun trained on the Briar Rose."

"Briar Rose?" Lady Kent didn't bother to disguise her shock. Charlotte was surprised, too, but now she understood what Mr. Ramsey had been getting at, when he said the scent on Mr. Morton wasn't quite right.

"Yes. You'll shoot when you hear me do the same. Not before and not after." His tone was cold, firm, but rather than berate him for his rudeness, Lady Kent's face hardened in reply, and she gave a terse nod.

"I understand."

It wasn't much longer when the carriage arrived, and it was Miss Lancaster who exited the carriage, first. Briar Rose was close behind her as Miss Lancaster took a quick glance around. She spoke, only to have a young man—aged to his mid-twenties—give her a quick shove towards the warehouse. Miss Lancaster merely tilted her head slightly forward, before walking off in the direction she was pointed to. Her posture had not changed, even as they disappeared inside the building.

Mr. Ramsey moved then, leaping down from the warehouse roof as soon as the three of them were inside. He landed lightly enough that Charlotte could not even hear him, then disappeared. For her own part, Charlotte knew she'd best serve as a spotter for Lady Kent, so she helped the other woman get set up, handing her cartridges when she asked for them and providing her with exact data on the direction and speed of the wind.

She also picked up a brick. If necessary, she could throw it with enough force to break the window and cause a distraction, in case the plan didn't go exactly as Mr. Ramsey had intended it. He was very good at predicting people, but Charlotte knew that humans could sometimes do very unexpected things. It was better to be prepared for that.

Lady Kent, not bothered in the least by getting her dress dirty, lay down on her stomach on the roof, pointing the barrel of her rifle down towards the window and peering through the scope.

Once they were inside the building, the Briar Rose and the man led Miss Lancaster to a table. Both she and Briar Rose sat across from each other with two vials placed neatly in front of them. It seemed that Miss Lancaster was asking questions, though. The two of them sat for a while, exchanging words, before Miss Lancaster placed her hand around the vial to her left.

She spoke something before lifting the vial towards the other woman. It appeared she intended to drink the one she chose.

As soon as she'd placed the tablet inside on her tongue and raised the glass of water to drink with, the familiar crack of a gunshot rang out. It was followed swiftly by another from right beside her as Lady Kent fired, too. There was a cacophony of breaking glass—the water fell with some shards of it into Miss Lancaster's lap and onto the floor. It would appear Mr. Ramsey had shot it right out of her hand, while missing her fingers. More of the glass was Lady Kent's cartridge piercing the window, the rock salt hitting the stunned Briar Rose directly in the shoulder. The force was enough to knock her clean out of the chair, and her head hit the table on the way down, probably rendering her unconscious.

Before the man standing behind her could so much as react, Mr. Ramsey was there the point of a long, elegant sword held steady half an inch from the stranger's thyroid cartilage. Charlotte could not hear him, but she tilted her head, reading the words off his lips and murmuring them aloud in a quiet echo.

"I hear you have a fondness for blades. Perhaps mine will be to your liking."

With his free hand, he gestured to Charlotte and Lady Kent, beckoning them to come down, so she took up their landlady in her arms and jumped, landing softly on the ground and setting the other woman down as well so they could enter.

The scene was carefully-ordered chaos, the order part probably only apparent to Charlotte because she had been trained to look for it.

"My my, what a mess," Lady Kent tutted, the effect of this rather different than it would have been in most cases, since she was unloading her second shell even as she said it. She'd only needed one shot, and Briar Rose was definitely unconscious.

Charlotte, knowing what Mr. Ramsey would want her to do before he asked it, gathered up the unconscious woman, securing her arms behind her back before hefting her in both arms.

"Are you all right, Miss Lancaster?" she asked politely.

Miss Lancaster didn't seem perturbed by the events that had just happened. Instead, she merely pushed herself from the table, took the pill from her mouth, and set it carefully on the table top. “I'm quite fine, Miss Blythe. Thank you for your concern," she replied, setting her gaze upon Charlotte before it shifted. She brushed her dress off, perhaps to rid it of any glass fragments that might have fallen. “Quite a mess indeed," she spoke in response to Lady Kent's earlier statement.

“I suppose it couldn't be helped,though," she continued, sighing softly through her nose. She seemed disappointed about something, but she did not say what it was. “And I suppose an expression of gratitude is in service for the three of you," she stated, her head tilting slightly to the left. “You did, after all, save my life, in some fashion."

Mr. Ramsey shrugged, finishing the process of detaining the prisoners and neatening his gloves. His pistol, he'd already sheathed at his thigh. "It's just the job."

Lady Kent rolled her eyes visibly at him, then smiled slightly at Miss Lancaster. "That's his way of saying 'you're welcome'. And you are, my dear, but forgive me for firing a rifle in your general direction before properly introducing myself. Veronika Kent; please call me Vera."

“There was no harm done, though it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Vera. I am Amelia Lancaster," Miss Lancaster greeted before turning her attention towards Mr. Ramsey. “And I do not believe that all lives are saved in your profession, nor are they required to be, Mr. Ramsey, but you have my thanks, regardless."

“I would have preferred not to have brought you all here, however; it appears that the circumstances were still in favor of the job being completed. I will see to it that father compensates you for the job," she spoke simply, her lips pursing into a fine line. “I am a bit curious, however, as to how you knew where we were," she stated, her brow arching slightly higher.

This was always Charlotte's favorite part: Mr. Ramsey was so very clever, and though she was learning his trade, to think like he did, she was still quite far from being as accomplished as he was, and so half the time the explanations seemed as much magic as science. "The bottles," he said quietly, picking one of them up and giving it a light toss in Miss Lancaster's direction. "They're unlabeled, so either they came from a pharmacy before the pharmacist used them, or from a warehouse like this one. They're too old to be factory-direct, as this particular variation ceased production five years ago."

He nodded slightly to the only other man in the room. "The same time period, incidentally, as Eugène's father's pharmacy went under. He was on the list of customers who've been rejected from the Red Moon. Putting the two together made him by far the most probable accomplice, and this location is still registered in his father's name. It would also be ideal for committing a murder, given its derelict status and the fact that it's not exactly a place anyone would accidentally wander by."

Lady Kent furrowed her brow. "But how did you know who he was accomplice to?" she asked. "I'd never have suspected one of Liang's girls." Clearly, she was familiar with the establishment also.

"Her perfume," he replied. "Roses aren't uncommon in perfume mixtures, but French roses are. They smell slightly different than the typical English rose. And roses are one of the few things the English typically think they do better, and so imports are rare. Briar Rose, however, was born in France—a fact she had expressed to me some time ago. She missed it." The sentimentality of the declaration was lost somewhat in his flat delivery.

Lady Kent, however, seemed delighted. "Quite the charmer, aren't you, Ephy?"

Mr. Ramsey, of course, did not respond.

"So..." Charlotte began, glancing between the two of them. "What happened, really?"

He sighed, almost inaudibly. "You could likely put the pieces together yourself, Miss Blythe. Eugène and Briar Rose were lovers. When Liang banned him from the establishment, he was enraged, and enlisted Briar Rose's help to be rid of her. Rose wanted the business for herself, and so it was not a difficult choice for her to make. They elected to throw suspicion on Liang and the Red Moon itself, and used its tolerant reputation as a jumping-off point and a lever both. Briar Rose lured Miss Chatham with the typical intimate insinuation, and Mr. Morton by the promise of information about his best friend's murder. In the first case, it worked perfectly. They gave her the same choice they gave Miss Lancaster—what seemed like a fifty-fifty chance of survival was in fact a guaranteed death sentence. And then they carved the Chinese characters in her back to implicate the Red Moon's owner."

"Guaranteed because... the water was actually the poison," Charlotte inferred. It would explain why Mr. Ramsey had shot the glass right out of Miss Lancaster's hand: the pill wasn't really the problem, so it didn't matter if she swallowed it dry.

He nodded. "Rather than take his chances, Mr. Morton tried to fight, but the two of them together were more than enough to match him. He died with greater mess, but other than that it hardly mattered. The choice was only for their enjoyment, not necessary to the plan itself." He paused, shifting his eyes to Miss Lancaster. "When they discovered a noble was involving herself with the investigation, and had indeed visited the Red Moon, they had the perfect target. Your death would be impossible to ignore, and probably incite mass anger. If the courts would not try Liang, the masses would lynch her, and with much less evidence."

Miss Lancaster's brows furrowed at Mr. Ramsey's last statement, but she'd given him her undivided attention as they had spoken. She remained quiet for a moment more before she let a soft sigh escape her. She didn't seem too pleased with the information given to her, but her face smoothed over slightly as she lifted her head.

“To think that they would go to such measures," she spoke, trailing off slightly as she glanced towards Briar Rose and the man, Eugène. She tsked at the two, shaking her head before allowing her attention to fall back to Mr. Ramsey and Lady Kent. “They deserve no less for what they inflicted upon Jane and Jonah," she started, her hands clenching for a brief moment.

“But for now, perhaps we should leave such a dreary place behind, and escort Briar Rose and Eugène to the Yard," she continued, turning on her heel to leave. She must have realized something, though, since she paused in her steps, and her eyes widened slightly. Not in surprise, but in a manner similar to a sudden realization. “Unless they have already been notified," she stated, her eyes flickering between Mr. Ramsey, Lady Kent, and Charlotte.

Mr. Ramsey nodded slightly. "They should be by presently. For now, Lady Kent and Miss Blythe will escort you home while I deal with the Yard." He paused for perhaps a few moments too long, and then inclined his head slightly to her.

"Farewell, Miss Lancaster."

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Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Red Moon Cabaret
May 15, 1885 - 20:37 p.m. - Light mist
Amelia Lancaster


To say that Amelia wasn't feeling the effects of the events of two days ago, would be a slight understatement. She wasn't feeling fearful or anything of that nature—it was curiousity that she felt. Something had piqued her interest during the ordeal, and it was something she couldn't quite put her mind to. It bothered her a great deal, and she had done her best to keep her father from worrying about it. He'd been reluctant to allow her out of the house the first day after the incident. He'd been told of the events that had transpired with her. She tried to assure him that she was fine, but he wouldn't believe her. Not that it really mattered to her, though.

She'd managed to don an outfit, one that was less suggestive of her nobility, and had slipped out of the Lancaster estate. She was particularly skilled in eluding James and her father, and she had managed to make it to Miss Wu's establishment on her own. She'd remembered the address when she'd first arrived with Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe, but finding it on her own without the use of a carriage was a small accomplishment for her, though she had taken a carriage into the city. She entered the establishment, removed the coat she had been wearing, and placed it on the hooks as she'd seen Miss Blythe and Mr. Ramsey had, before. Once she was inside the room, the familiar smell of perfume, foods, and music entered her senses.

Amelia wasn't usually a sentimental person, but she'd taken a bit of a shine to Miss Wu. What Briar Rose had tried to do to the woman was unforgiveable, and she would be properly punished for it. Amelia, however, wanted to see how Miss Wu was faring, with something of an ulterior motive. She wanted to know a bit more about Mr. Ramsey and his particular occupation. Asking him in a blunt, or straightforward, fashion seemed out of the question. He appeared to be the type who wouldn't be so eager to share that information. Miss Wu, on the other hand, seemed to know a bit about Mr. Ramsey, and Amelia was willing to gamble upon Miss Wu sharing that information with her.

She blinked slowly, though, at a sudden thought. Briar Rose was the person who notified Miss Wu of their arrival. She was no longer part of the establishment. The thought caused Amelia to sigh softly as she took a seat in the same booth she had when she first came here. She could only hope that Miss Wu would know that she was here.

The mood that hung over the club wasn't actually that much changed from the last time Amelia had been inside, though there were considerably fewer people around, perhaps due to the recent attention. Not everyone who went to a place like this would want others to know they did, after all. It was hardly the kind of establishment that most of the people Amelia knew would consider respectable, and Miss Wu had already expressed that she had some difficulties with the Church sometimes as well.

But the show went on, so to speak; the duo on stage this time were a pianist and a woman who danced with what seemed to be a flaming baton; it didn't look entirely safe, but no doubt she knew what she was doing.

It wasn't more than a few minutes later that Miss Wu appeared, exiting from the back of the club and approaching Amelia. She slid into the booth across from her with a little smile. "Lily. I confess I had not expected to see you again, particularly not alone. Would you care for some refreshments?" Miss Wu looked as put-together and elegant as ever, in a high-necked white shirt with ruffled sleeves and a red and black corset with silver ribbon-laces. Her skirt was full, and seemed to be a layer of lace over a foreign silk pattern, with silver cranes embroidered into the crimson. Her hair was pulled halfway up with a laquered comb, the rest left to fall gracefully over her right shoulder.

Certainly not like a woman whose livelihood had almost been undone.

“I'm fine, thank you," she replied, offering Miss Wu a reassuring smile. “You are correct to assume I would not have been back, however," she paused and glanced around her environment.“I like the atmosphere," she stated truthfully. There was something she liked about the air of the place. It was quaint and charming, despite what it actually was. Amelia would confess that she'd never particularly cared for the upper echleons nor their respectable establishments. Places like this, like Miss Wu's, seemed more authentic to her. Something a little more grounded. She couldn't think of a proper word to describe it.

“And I came to see how you were faring, to be honest," she added, returning her attention to Miss Wu. “I cannot imagine that the entire ordeal Briar Rose has put you through has been easy to deal with," she continued, folding her hands across her lap as she did.

The other woman sighed softly. "Truthfully, I am accustomed to being hated," she confessed, waving off the dark-haired waitress who approached with a polite smile. "It's not unexpected that people will do things to try and run me out of town or have me harmd in some way. But... it does hurt a little more that it was someone I knew. Someone who knew me, and who wanted to hurt me anyway." She smiled ruefullly, just a quirk to scarlet-painted lips.

"I really must thank you; as I understand the story, you were instrumental in solving the case. I hope your ordeal was not too frightening."

The statement caused Amelia to sigh, though she smiled through it. “On the contrary," she replied, moving to lean on her elbows. It wasn't proper etiquette from a young woman such as herself, however; it had been established beforehand that such things were not quite necessary, here. “While it was, in some instances," she paused, pursing her lips together as she collected her thoughts, alarming, it wasn't frightening at all. My life may have been on the line, but something about it intrigued me. I was also able to get justice for Jonah and Jane."

It wasn't the reaction most people would have had, though, and Amelia knew that it sounded rather strange. Even as she'd said it out loud, she realized just how abnormal it was. Someone like her should have been frightened, terrified, even, to leave the estate. The way she had handled it wasn't normal, but Amelia didn't consider herself normal to begin with.

The look on Miss Wu's face suggested that she understood the sentiment perfectly well, even if it wasn't normal. It must have been a trick of the light, but for just the barest second, the shadows in the club seemed to sharpen her features, and her eyes almost flashed with some strange scarlet hue. But the effect was gone as soon as she blinked—as though it had never been there at all. "Danger has its own allure," she replied softly, tracing a finger along the table's polished wood-grain. Amelia huffed lightly. She supposed Miss Wu had a point.

“I must confess, though, that I am here with other motives. While I am genuinely interested in your well-being, and how your establishment is faring, I would like to ask you a question," she spoke, leaning back as she did.

“Only if you permit, and only if it isn't too personal," she added. Miss Wu was a respectable woman, and she'd earned Amelia's respect. Enough so that Amelia was willing to drop her current pursuit for the moment if Miss Wu declined.

But she chuckled. "I shan't know if the question is too personal until I know what it is," she pointed out, eyes glittering with amusement. Perhaps that explained the slight flash earlier; they did seem to be a lovely shade of deep russet upon closer inspection. "So please, inquire away. We guard our secrets here, but we are also free to confess whatever we like."

Amelia smiled lightly and nodded her head. “Forgive my forwardness, but you seem to be personally acquainted with Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe," she began, leaning back in her spot as she took in a slight breath. “The question I have for you isn't so much a question, but a request to know information about the two of them. Specifically Mr. Ramsey," she spoke, putting a mild emphasis on Mr. Ramsey's name.

“His line of work has—how shall I say this—intrigued me. I wish to learn more about what he does, however," she paused, furrowing her brows as she did, “he doesn't appear to be the type of man who would willingly volunteer information about himself nor his business. I thought that you might, perhaps, be able to provide some insight before I make a fool of myself."

She was going to approach him about the matter, eventually, but she wanted information about him before she did. Being prepared beforehand was always beneficial to any matter. Amelia knew that simply because of her father's lifestyle, and it was something she used to her advantage when she could. Information was a form of power, in that aspect, she supposed, but she had no intentions of using it as such. It was for her benefit, and hers alone.

Miss Wu actually laughed at that, a clear, crystalline sound with no mockery or derision. When it faded a moment later, her lips were still quirked into a sly, knowing smile. "I wonder," she murmured, almost thoughtful. But whatever suspicion she had to wonder about was not something she shared with Amelia.

Instead, she inclined her head slightly. "Dear Kerberos does not share his secrets freely, but I like you, Lily, so I'll help you how I can. What exactly is it about him that you would like to know?"

She contemplated how she wanted to approach this. “His profession, mostly," she began, pulling her hands from her lap and setting them on the table. “I want to learn more about it, but I am unsure of how to approach him. Miss Blythe notwithstanding, he doesn't appear to have any other associates. I want to make it very clear to him that I am interested, nobility notwithstanding," she continued. She was intrigued by Mr. Ramsey's profession, but her status as a noble—to say nothing of her being a woman—limited her in what she could pursue.

From her interactions with Mr. Ramsey,though, he didn't seem to care much about her title. Whether or not she was a noble, or a Lancaster, didn't seem to change the way he handled things. He had kept her informed with the investigation when it had first started, and treated her as if she were anyone else. It felt nice to be treated as such, even if she was the only one who thought so.

“I don't believe asking him in a straightforward manner would be enough to convince him, but.." she paused, smoothing out the furrow in her brow, “I would like to know what would be the best way to approach Mr. Ramsey, and ask him to teach me to do what he does."

From the amused look still lingering on Miss Wu's face, she found this to be a rather interesting proposition. She leaned back a little in her seat, bracing herself against the cushioned bench and folding her arms delicately across her abdomen. "You've picked a tough nut to crack, my dear," she conceded. "But I will say this: your nobility and your gender do not matter to Mr. Kerberos. So if you've much of a chance learning this trade from anyone, it is him."

Her visage became softer there, sympathetic. "The most important thing to understand is that he does not enjoy attempts at manipulation or indirect insinuations. He understands them, but he respects a direct, logical approach infinitely more. Your best chance at convincing him to take you on as an apprentice is to give him a solid, reasoned argument why it would be to his benefit to do so."

Amelia bit on her lower lip, but nodded in Miss Wu's direction. That was fair, she supposed, but what could she say to Mr. Ramsey that would make him believe training her would be to his benefit? She smiled slightly as she released her lip from her teeth. “It appears I have a lot to consider, then, if I want to convince him of such," she stated, straightening out her posture. She already knew it wasn't going to be easy, but Amelia wasn't going to back down from her decision. She would find a reason to give Mr. Ramsey, but for the moment, she was going to enjoy Miss Wu's company and the Red Moon's atmosphere.

“Thank you for the guidance, Miss Wu. I appreciate your honesty, and I am in your debt," she spoke, offering Miss Wu a smile to show her appreciation. “If there is anything I can do for you, do not hesitate to ask. I might not be able to do much, but I do enjoy this place far more than I anticipated. I would hate to see anything happen to it."

"Well, you're always welcome back, dear. And feel free to bring guests, if you know of anyone who would enjoy the shows. I always love meeting new people." Reaching forward, Miss Wu patted one of Amelia's hands with her own. "Which reminds me—as thanks for your help in resolving the matter with poor Miss Chatham and Mr. Morton, you don't need to worry about paying for your food and drinks whenever you'd like to come by. I've made sure all my people know."

Amelia blinked in mild surprise before pursing her lips together. “I couldn't do that, Miss Wu. Jonah and Jane were," she paused, swallowing thickly. “They were dear friends of mine, and I wish I could have done something more for them. It... shouldn't have happened to them." It was still hard to believe that she would no longer see her two friends, however; perhaps Jonah had been right. Perhaps they were truly never friends to begin with, and it was just wishful thinking on Amelia's end. She shook the thought from her mind, though, and sighed.

“I do appreciate the sentiment, Miss Wu, but it would make me feel like I am contributing to your livelihood if I could pay for something," she stated as she arched her brow.

Miss Wu shook her head. "You, dear, are part of the reason I have a livelihood. If you must spend your money here, I ask that you tip generously. My employees work very hard, and I would love to see them rewarded for it. But the rest is on me. You may repay me in conversation, if you so desire."

Amelia laughed and shook her head. “This is a conversation I cannot win," she stated more to herself than to Miss Wu. “I shall concede to the conditions. I will do what I can to ensure your employees' hard work is rewarded, and you will be seeing me more often. You are a wonderful conversationalist and I wish to have more conversations with you," she spoke as she glanced around the room. Her gaze fell upon a person sitting at a far end table, causing her to smile. The corner he'd chosen was slightly dark, but Amelia could tell his skin was a little swarthy. He was smiling and staring in Miss Wu's direction, causing Amelia to chuckle lightly.

“Though I do believe that gentleman in the corner is seeking your attention," she spoke as an amused smile crossed her lips.

Miss Wu didn't even look. "Oh, he is," she replied with a playful little smile. "But I've resolved not to give it to him until he works up the nerve to approach." She winked, then shrugged. "In any case, I shall leave you here for the moment, Lily. Best of luck with Mr. Kerberos—oh, and, for what it's worth—" she stood, smoothing down her skirts as she gracefully exited the booth.

"He quite dislikes the social aspects of his job. Perhaps, if someone were to agree to handle some of those on his behalf, he would be more inclined to admit them into his circle."

Amelia planned on taking full advantage of that fact. “Until we meet again, Miss Wu."

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Ramsey & Associates
May 17, 1885 - 14:30 p.m. - Drizzle
Ephraim Ramsey


Afternoon rain was hardly uncommon at this time of year, and the light drizzle outside only served to further ensconce Ephraim in his office, giving the tidy space a sense of seclusion from the outside world. Without the vivid sounds of Charlotte's activity, it was almost oppressively quiet otherwise. He had found some time ago that he simply did not exist as noisily as others did, and that even the same motions as they might go through seemed to disturb the air less than they would.

Perhaps this was merely a function of what he was.

Removing the mesh from his teapot, Ephraim emptied it and washed the mesh before putting the lid atop the pot. Charlotte had left her usual cup on the tray alongside his; he elected not to remove it, though he'd only need the one. Returning to the main space, he set the tray down on the edge of his desk and poured himself a bit, foregoing milk and sugar both.

The report for the Yard on the Chatham-Morton case was sent off yesterday, and so today's errands consisted mostly of catching up on a few smaller cases he'd set to the side for the urgency of the last. The financial documentation on the Miller file was tedious, but he did need to go through it manually. Discovering whether a particular employee was skimming money from the books was hardly the most diverting intellectual exercise, but he had no complaints. Numbers were pleasingly straightforward, insofar as anything pleased him at all.

Sipping from the teacup, he set it down with a soft breath and took up his pen, beginning a line of calculations.

The front door chime, echoed softly, signaling the arrival of a person. It wasn't difficult to discern who it was—the soft pattern of footsteps was easily recognizable as Miss Lancaster's. She paused at a distance, glanced for a moment to her left before she glanced at him. “Mr. Ramsey," she greeted, folding her hands in front of her.“If you have a moment to spare, there is something I would like to discuss with you. I have also come to settle the debt for your assistance with the case," she stated, which explained her appearance and the purse that hang loosely in her hands.

He considered standing when she entered, as etiquette demanded, but honestly there wasn't any reason to bother. She was, once again, unaccompanied, and that was a much greater breach of the manners this society placed such deliberate emphasis on. So instead, he blinked once at her from behind his glasses, then gestured with his free hand to the green-upholstered armchair in front of his desk, put there for clients.

"I'm free enough," he replied honestly. "Help yourself to the tea." The extra cup would have a purpose, now.

“Thank you," she replied, pouring herself a cup of tea. She took a seat afterwards, and took a drink. “I will get straight to the point, Mr. Ramsey, so as to not take up too much of your time," she began, setting the cup down to the side. She placed her hands back into her lap and returned her attention to him.

“I want to learn your profession," she stated, her eyes remaining locked on him. “Current circumstances will not allow someone like me," she continued, referring to her status and gender both, “to learn a trade such as yours." Her statement seemed genuine, and she took a soft breath.

You, however, do not seem concerned about such status or titles."

For a long moment, Ephraim said nothing at all in response, eying her intently over the rim of his teacup as he took a long draw from it. The intensity of a demon's regard was something that made most people uncomfortable without their being able to say why exactly. Actually, his presence alone was probably enough to do that: it was as if some long-buried and weak human instinct recognized him as death.

But to her credit, she did not flinch. This was something he'd observed of her already. Whether it was because she possessed uncommon courage or uncommon stupidity was unclear. But she did not otherwise seem to be more foolish than most of her kind, at least.

"Why?" he demanded bluntly, setting the cup down in its saucer with a slight rattle.

She blinked, taking a drink from her tea before setting the cup down. “Because I want to be useful to something that will not be simply bought, or denied me because of who and what I am," she spoke without pause. “I want to help people, regardless of status, so that incidents like Jane and Jonah's, do not happen again. I am not so naïve to believe everything can be stopped, and everyone can be helped or saved, however," she paused, her brows furrowing slightly, “people should be heard."

“I am willing to work for it, no matter the hardships that this would entail." Hard work should be foreign to someone like her, but she seemed determined to convince him. “I may be young, Mr. Ramsey, but do not believe me to be spewing falsities for some fantasy you think I may have. I assure you that I am not," she continued, her brows smoothing back out as she straightened in her seat.

She said she wasn't naïve, but Ephraim knew she was.

That wasn't necessarily her own fault, entirely. There was an entire world beneath hers that she had just barely brushed the edges of. He wasn't even really surprised she wanted more of it: that was the other possible reaction to encountering it, however unwittingly. But she didn't really know what she was asking, when she asked to learn his trade. There were entire swaths of it she was better off ignorant of, and others she would by her very nature never be capable of.

That as it may be, there were things Charlotte could not do, either, and he still found her assistance useful.

"I accept that there is something you stand to gain from this," he said, still flatly. "But what incentive do I have to teach you? You will inevitably slow me down at least to begin with, and bringing you up to speed will cost me a significant amount of time and attention. Why should I bother?"

“I will compensate your time, decided upon on your terms and conditions," she began, leaning back into her chair and folding her hands on the table. “and I am a quick study, Mr. Ramsey. If you will concede to a week's trial, I will prove to you that your time will not have been wasted. Other than learning your trade, I am also willing to help in ways that may be useful to you, here. Clerk work, or any other social aspects of your job, if you will."

Ephraim murmured under his breath, just a soft noise of consideration, leaning back in his chair in a mirror of her motion and crossing his arms over his chest. His eyes narrowed—he looked a little angry, actually, but that wasn't really how he felt. "The fee is two thousand pounds," he said tonelessly. It was rather steep compared to what an ordinary apprentice would pay to learn an ordinary trade—nearly half again what even prestigious merchants charged. "But I will cover equipment and book costs, and should you prove capable, I will grant you a portion of what I charge my private clients. We take Yard cases for a minimal consultation fee, and that I keep for the maintenance of the office." He paused, quirking an eyebrow ever so slightly.

"And bullets."

Reaching down into the drawer at his left hand, Ephraim withdrew a parchment. "You will need to go to Yasmina's down the street and have at least two sets of appropriate clothing tailored for you. Tell her I sent you—she'll know what the requirements are and bill me accordingly. You will also need to take measures to ensure that you are not recognized. Do not use your last name while on the job. Pick a false one; nobility will only draw too much of the kind of attention we don't need. For everything else, talk to Miss Blythe."

He stopped there, cognizant of the fact that it was a lot of information to absorb.

She seemed to take it in stride, and she pulled her hands away from the table. A slow smile crossed her lips as she nodded her head. “I accept your terms, Mr. Ramsey," she stated, the smile still on her face. She seemed satisfied with the outcome, even if it was for a week. “I will pay the fee when my lessons begin, unless I should pay it, now," she stated, arching her brow in a quisitive manner.

“And is there anything else I should do besides pay Yasmina a visit for clothes?" she asked, her brow arching slightly higher.

"If you still want to do this by the end of the month, and your progress satisfies me, you can pay then," he replied. A week wouldn't be enough time to gauge anything—a month would be only marginally better, but he'd take it. "As for lessons, report here every day at zero-eight-hundred." He pursed his lips.

"And I hope you're not afraid of guns."

“I am not," she replied tersely. “Is there a reason you want to know?" she asked, keeping her attention on him.

"Because you will need to become competent with them," Ephraim answered immediately. "The work is sometimes physically dangerous—I require that any associate of mine be skilled in their own defense. I will arrange a tutor for you on this subject in particular—everything else, you will learn from myself, Miss Blythe, or Miss Wu."

“Shall I start tomorrow?"

"There's no point in starting later, is there?"

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Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Ramsey & Associates
May 18, 1885 - 07:55 a.m. - Clear
Amelia Lancaster


Amelia had arrived fifteen minutes early, however; it had taken her ten minutes to dismiss the maid that had accompanied her. If she was going to accept the lessons Mr. Ramsey was going to teach her, she needed an excuse to leave the estate without having to resort to sneaking off. While she could easily leave the premises without being noticed, it would only be a matter of time before James found out and told her father. He would enforce a more strict watch for her, if that happened. She didn't want it to interfere in something that she genuinely wanted to learn, though. It was easier to say that she had taken up music lessons in the city, and have a maid assigned to her to be her escort.

It would also explain the two thousand pound fee at the end of the month.

Smoothing out her clothes, she entered the establishment and glanced towards Mr. Ramsey's desk. He wasn't there, but Amelia supposed he was elsewhere in the building. She did, however, spot Miss Blythe, and she smiled in her direcion. “Good morning Miss Blythe," she greeted, stepping around so that she was fully facing Miss Blythe's direction.

The girl glanced up, her eyes lighting with something that looked very much like enthusiasm. "Good morning, Miss Lancaster!" she chirped, tucking a piece of parchment into the front pocket of her vest. She was dressed quite unusually today, in trousers of all things, with her hair pulled up and tucked into a cap. Her clothing suggested a young boy rather than a woman, and unless Amelia missed her guess, she'd bound her chest accordingly, too, because her shape was rather androgynous at the moment, even if her face was still quite doll-like.

"Oh, but Mr. Ramsey says you'll have to have a new last name for this, right? Have you chosen something yet?"

For a brief moment, Amelia wondered if she should try doing the same. She was noticeable to some extent as a noble due to her hygiene, however; she tucked the thought away for another time. She smiled, though, at Miss Blythe's question, and nodded her head. She'd chosen something she hoped wouldn't draw too much attention. It had taken her a couple of hours, though, but she was satisfied with the outcome.

“Unless it is unacceptable, I've chosen Whitaker to be my surname," she replied, smoothing out the smile on her face. “Are you leaving somewhere, Miss Blythe?" she asked. The other woman had been dressed as much, and Amelia could only speculate that she had an errand to run.

"Actually, Miss Whitaker, we're leaving somewhere," Miss Blythe replied, using Amelia's assumed name with a hint of laughter in her voice. "Mr. Ramsey wanted you to take a visit to Yasmina's, right? And I've got a list here of other things you need; so today we're going to make sure you have all the tools you need to start learning the trade." She was clearly genuinely excited for this—obviously there was no need to worry that Mr. Ramsey's other apprentice would be in any way territorial or jealous of her teacher's time and attention.

"After that, I'm taking you to meet your firearms tutor; Mr. Ramsey wants you to have a gun and at least the basics of how to use it before anything else happens, he says." She smiled, the force of it narrowing her eyes. "Don't tell him I said so, but I think he worries sometimes."

Amelia had a feeling he wasn't worried in the same way as Miss Blythe thought. Worried, perhaps, by being injured by a novice or some other sort, however; she didn't voice that thought out loud. Instead, she merely nodded in way of response.

“It appears that I will be in your care for most of the day, Miss Blythe," she stated, smiling slightly and turning to fully face her. “But please do lead the way," she continued. She didn't know the way to Yasmina's, after all, and following Miss Blythe's lead would also give her some insight as to what type of woman she was. She wanted to tread carefully just in case something changed in Miss Blythe's demeanor. Too many years in the company of nobles, perhaps, but it wouldn't harm her to be cautious.

Even if she rather liked Miss Blythe at the current moment.

"Okay!" Miss Blythe offered a smile; then headed to the coat rack to shrug on a light jacket, similarly designed to the rest of her ensemble. From a distance, she'd be easily mistaken for male, Amelia thought. She held the door for Amelia as well, then locked up the office behind her with a heavy brass key, which was tucked away into a pocket swiftly after.

In keeping with her guise, she did not walk directly beside Amelia, instead remaining a pace or two ahead. If she had any reservations about showing her back to someone she didn't know that well, she didn't give them away.

The tailor shop in question seemed to be not far down the street. The placard over the door proclaimed it to be THE STITCHERY. This time, Miss Blythe held the door for Amelia. The interior of the shop was cosy, painted a warm taupe and filled with displays of various clothing items from the everyday to the elaborate, though the former predominated. Behind the counter was a young girl, perhaps fifteen or so, flipping through the morning newspaper.

She looked up upon their entrance and smiled mildly. “Welcome to The Stitchery," she said, her voice slightly nasal in a way that suggested a cold. “How may I help you?"

“Good morning," Amelia greeted, deciding politeness would do well in this situtation. “I was sent here by Mr. Ramsey to have clothes tailored," she stated, giving the young girl the reason why she was here. It was a strange excitement, she thought, that blossomed in her chest. She didn't understand why, but she could dwell on it at a later time.

“Are you, perchance, Yasmina?" she asked.

The girl grinned. “No, not me. Yasmina's my mum. I'll get her for you; just a moment." With that, she disappeared through a door, apparently to the back of the shop, and returned a few minutes later with a thickset middle-aged woman whose facial features bore a striking resemblance to the girl's. Something distinctly continental—Spanish, perhaps?

She had the same wide smile, and offered a respectful bob of her head for the company. “Rosa says Mr. Ramsey's sent me another." Her eyes fell on Amelia, eyebrows both arching. “I'm not sure where that grump keeps finding such pretty girls, but I suppose he has his charms. I'm happy to help, Miss. How many outfits will you be needing?"

“Two, please," she replied, smiling at the comment. Mr. Ramsey looked like a grump, but that was probably due to dealing with people like Amelia: nobles and the like. She couldn't blame him, honestly. As she remembered, James once told her she was a grumpy child whenever she was around her father's friends. Clearing her thoughts, she returned her attention to Yasmina and Miss Blythe.

“I may come back in the near future, though, for another," she stated, her eyes narrowing slightly with her smile. Mr. Ramsey said she would need two tailored for his work, however; it wouldn't hurt to have a third. Better to be prepared than to be caught off guard. By what, though, Amelia wasn't too sure.

“Is there anything you'll require of me?" she asked. Other than measurements, Amelia didn't believe that anything further was needed. Miss Blythe had mentioned they had other things to do, and though the day was still young, Amelia was too excited to think of anything else.

“Nothing too much, after the measurements. I'd like to know what colors you prefer though, and any patterns you especially like or dislike. Creative freedom is always appreciated, but it's even nicer to know that I won't be accidentally making a customer unhappy!" Yasmina nodded slightly to Rosa, already wielding a tape measure.

The girl got to work without a fuss, winding the measure at the expected places on Amelia's figure, but also a few she'd never had taken before, like her inseam and the circumference of her head, of all things. She was quick and professional, noting things down on a clipboard but otherwise quite silent.

If that were the case, she'd have to stay within the dark color scheme, excluding black. She didn't want to stand out, and anything too bright would be unnecessary. Not to mention it would probably irritate Mr. Ramsey. She didn't want to annoy her teacher by doing something like that. As for patterns, Amelia wasn't sure they were exactly necessary.

“I trust your expertise," she stated. If Yasmina knew what Mr. Ramsey was looking for in his associates's attire, she would leave it to Yasmina to not disappoint. “I assure you I will be happy with whatever you create," she continued, smiling to reassure the woman that she was being honest. She wouldn't be wearing the outfits outside of Mr. Ramsey's expectations, so it hardly mattered in the long run.

“As for colors, though," she trailed off, pursing her lips together. “If you could impliment dark purple into it somehow, it would be appreciated," she stated. She'd always been fond of the color, and it wasn't a noticeable color. It also seemed like a choice that would blend well with Miss Blythe's and Mr. Ramsey's own style.

“Duly noted, dear. Give me three days, and I'll have them ready for you."

Their business concluded, Amelia and Miss Blythe left the tailor. The latter consulted her list, and they continued down the street, stopping at several specialty craftsmen's storefronts for rather peculiar items: a magnifying glass, a telescope, several small leather pouches with drawstrings that seemed to be empty for the moment, an alchemist's bandoleer and glassware, a compact book with blank pages as well as a series of thin leather cords with which it might be attached to a belt, a cleverly-designed pen that would apparently not leak even if stowed upside-down, chalk, several heavy-looking books that Miss Blythe carried easily in one hand, and lastly what seemed to be two pairs of boots.

They didn't look terribly out of the ordinary—they were evidently designed for different situations, one being very clearly a ladies' pair, and the other being much more masculine, though in exactly the same size. Both were made of supple leather, polished to a gleaming shine, and seemed as though they'd be quite easy to move in.

Miss Blythe consulted the list one more time. "That's everything for today," she observed, tucking it back away. "I'll make sure it all gets back to the office." With a small smile, she summoned a steam cab, leaning down and speaking to the driver too quietly for Amelia to hear over the periodic hissing and belching of the engine.

"Okay. He knows where you're going, so hand me everything else and get in. You'll meet your tutor at the destination."

Amelia blinked rather stupidly before handing the items over to Miss Blythe. Once she did, she turned back to the cab, and narrowed her eyes. She'd been in a cab similar to this only once. She usually traveled by carriage, or by her own two feet. “Thank you, Miss Blythe," she spoke, nodding her head in the other woman's direction. She entered the cab and sat in the middle of it rather than by the windows. Once they left, Amelia kept her gaze on her hands, wondering what kind of tutor she was going to meet.

From her conversation with Mr. Ramsey, it would be someone who knew how to handle guns. A professional, perhaps? She wondered, for a brief second, how Mr. Ramsey came to acquire such a person. While his fee was a bit steep, and he appeared maintained and well-groomed, his work didn't exactly scream connections of the sort, nor money. A friend? That could be possible. Her thoughts, however, were interrupted when the cab came to a halt, and the driver signaled their arrival. She thanked the man before stepping out, and glanced around.

The manor, and it was a manor similar to her own home, caused her to purse her lips in confusion. Was she at the right address?

But the driver hadn't seemed to doubt it for a second, and—

Bang.

Though Amelia was not the most familiar with the sound of gunfire, that was probably it. The same sort of cracking bang-pop sound as she'd heard in the warehouse with Briar Rose. It seemed to be coming from the side of the mansion, beyond the gate, which currently had no attendant and was indeed left hanging slightly open.

Laughter followed almost as loudly, a blend of tones that suggested mostly... a child? Following the sound, Amelia came to an expansive yard, cleared of all landscaping features, unlike the elaborate garden in the front. Instead, the area was filled with what seemed to be targets, paper bulls-eyes affixed to the front of what looked like densely-packed mounds of earth.

The laughter could only have been from the young boy currently disassembling what seemed to be a pistol. His hands were deft; though he looked no more than thirteen or fourteen, he clearly knew exactly what he was doing with the weapon, setting the individual parts down on a small wooden table next to him.

Beside him was Miss Kent, as she'd been introduced, a long-barreled rifle slung casually over her shoulders. Like Miss Blythe, she was wearing trousers, and a pair of boots not dissimilar to the more feminine of Amelia's new pairs, with a low heel. Her soft blonde hair was pulled into a simple chignon at the back of her neck, a few bits in the front escaping to tickle her neck.

She noticed Amelia first, and turned partway over her shoulder to flash a smile. "Miss Lancaster! Right on time. Welcome to our home."

Amelia felt both of her brows ascend her forehead, and she knew she was staring rather dumbfoundedly at Miss Kent. “I'm sorry?" she couldn't stop the words from escaping her mouth, and she knew she shouldn't have said that, but she couldn't help herself. “Forgive my initial shock, Miss Kent, I just wasn't expecting my tutor to be..." she trailed off before something dawned on her.

“Should I be addressing you as Lady Kent?" she asked. She'd just welcomed Amelia to her home. It was clear that the home belonged to Miss Kent and her husband, however; Amelia wasn't entirely sure how to address her, now. She wasn't expecting Miss Kent to be her tutor, nor for her to be a Lady, of all things.

Lady Kent's smile inched a little wider; she eased the gun off her shoulders so that it was pointed at the ground, held loosely in one hand. "I do believe I said you could call me Vera, and if I didn't, I'm saying it now." She shrugged. "And I'm indeed your teacher, at least for this part of things. Ephy was quite keen to make sure you've some protection, I suppose. Good on him, too—a woman should always be able to defend herself somehow."

With a pause, she glanced at the boy, then back to Amelia. "And this is my son, Teddy. He'll be helping us out."

"Mum," he whined, frowning. He had hair only a few shades darker than hers, and many of her features. "You could at least call me something else in front of a guest." As if remembering his manners, though, he shot a lopsided smile at Amelia and bowed politely. "How do you do, Lady Lancaster? I'm Theodore Kent, but Theo's fine too."

“Then I shall call you Theo," she spoke in his direction, offering him a smile and light nod of her head. “And if you'd return the courtesy and just call me Amelia," she trailed off, hoping he'd get the point. Being addressed as Lady or Miss Lancaster was always uncomfortable. It suddenly clicked for her that, perhaps, Vera felt the same way too.

“I'll take all the help I can get, so I am honored that you will be helping out, too," she added truthfully. She'd never held or used a gun before, and if there were going to be two people who were going to help out, that was a benefit to her. She turned her attention back to Vera, though, and pursed her lips together.

“Where should I begin?" she was eager to start, if anything else.

"Well, for today, we won't be shooting much," Vera admitted, somehow almost breaking her rifle in half and pulling cartridges out of the double-barrel. Interestingly, it snapped back together afterwards with no difficulty. "Since I'm guessing you haven't handled too many guns before, we'll be starting with some safety things you need to know and a tutorial on parts, assembly, loading, and unloading." She grinned a little. "But then I'll let you have a go with a few of the different kinds so you can get a feel for which ones might work best."

Setting the rifle against the table, she searched around in her pockets for a moment before murmuring a soft aha and retrieving some kind of elastic-looking hair band. "But first, pull all those pins and nonsense out of your hair. You're going to want to be comfortable for this."

Amelia did as she was told; she pulled her hair down, placing the pins and the comb that held her hair up, on the nearby table. She ran a hand through it, smoothing her hair out so that it fell to its full length at her hips. Once she was satisfied that nothing was left beind, she turned to Vera. “Safety, I assume, is mostly making sure I don't accidentally shoot someone nearby, or myself, so," she paused. She wouldn't be in the process of learning it if that were not the case.

“Which gun would you recommend, first" she began, pausing only to take a short breath, “for someone who has never used a one before?"

Vera hummed, shifting behind her to gather up her hair in steady, sure fingers. The hum became a muted noise of admiration. "Oh, this is lovely," she remarked, quickly twisting the length of Amelia's hair and winding it up into a coil. It was hard to tell exactly what she was doing, but when she was finished, it was off Amelia's neck, secure, and remarkably easy on the scalp.

"Now, as for guns, that really depends. Today we're going to be working with the three main kinds: pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Pistols are the smallest and easiest to handle and conceal; some of them are quite tiny. The tradeoff is that they are usually only accurate at close range, and don't pack as much of a punch. Rifles are the ones with the longest barrels; they're powerful and accurate—I used one at the warehouse. The downside is they take a very long time to reload by comparison, and until you're very good, aiming at distance is difficult."

She picked up the gun she'd been carrying before. "This is a shotgun. Often people who don't know the difference confuse them for rifles because they're both long, but they're constructed differently. You'll be able to tell them apart in no time. This one here is double-barreled, meaning I can fire twice with it before reloading. They're not as accurate as rifles, but they tend to fire wider, making them good for middle ranges when you don't mind hitting a lot of things at once. Most of the time, Ephy's work calls for pistols, or occasionally a rifle—you're not likely to need one of these." She arched a brow.

"But you'll learn to use them anyway. They're fun." Her eyes glittered with a sly sort of mirth.

“I am willing to learn whatever you'll teach me." Even if she wouldn't really need one in Mr. Ramsey's line of work, the shotgun looked interesting. They all sounded interesting, and Amelia wanted to learn whatever she could. She had a feeling she was going to have an interesting time with Miss Vera, and she was looking forward to it.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Office of Ramsey & Associates, Inc.
June 1, 1885 - 13:56 p.m. - Clear
Charlotte Blythe



"Amelia, your gloves are here!" Charlotte called, backing into the door after bidding farewell to the deliveryman. Mr. Ramsey was especially particular about the gloves they all wore while inspecting crime scenes; while they were made of leather as expected, it was especially thin and dextrous for easy fine movement, and especially smooth so as not to leave marks in most things they might need to touch. They were buttery and soft and entirely pleasant, even if they usually smelled slightly like the oils used to clean them every day. It had taken a whole two weeks for Amelia's pair to come in after Mr. Ramsey placed the order, but with them, her kit was complete, so to speak.

Of course, there was plenty she still had to learn about using the other pieces; some of the alchemical tests they did were quite complicated and difficult, but Mr. Ramsey seemed to think that the fundamentals were better first. So far, Charlotte had taught her a bit about disguising, tailing, and asking casual questions. Mr. Ramsey handled more advanced things, of course, but the cases in the last half of May were fairly mundane, so it was probably a good pace for a learner.

Charlotte set the package down on the corner of the desk she and Amelia currently shared, settling herself back down at her chair. "You should try them on to be sure they fit."

“Oh, thank you," she replied, taking the package and opening it. She took the gloves and slipped them on, closing and opening her hands a few times as if she were testing the feel of them. “They fit nicely and don't feel like they'll easily slip off. It doesn't feel like my hands are being suffocated, either, which is nice," she stated, smiling in Charlotte's direction. She held her hands out, perhaps to inspect the gloves from a further distance.

“What do you think, Charlie?" she asked, arching her brow as she did.

Charlotte smiled brightly at her. 'Charlie' was not a name anyone had called her before; she liked it, though. even if it was more of a boys' name. "I think you look ready to do some investigating," she replied honestly. The Amelia of several weeks ago was much changed, at least in appearance—she now wore the same style of clothes as Charlotte did, trousers and shirts and vests tailored with the feminine figure in mind, as well as comfortable shoes. Her hair was less elaborate, and with her belt and bandoleer, she could have been mistaken for a commoner quite easily. Charlotte thought she looked happier, but maybe that was just her imagination.

Across the room, Mr. Ramsey snorted softly, but he did not contradict her. "Cleaning supplies are in the storeroom," he said flatly, not looking up from his work. "Miss Blythe, show her how to use them this evening."

"Of course," she replied with a nod.

Any further conversation was cut off by the rather abrupt entrance of a man into the office, the bell on the door jangling discordantly. He was dressed in the tan longcoat and hat of a yardsman over his dark blue police uniform. His eyes widened slightly at Amelia and Charlotte, but he recovered quickly once he noticed their employer.

“Ramsey," he said, clearing his throat and straightening. That happened sometimes—like her boss's inescapably cool demeanor made other people remember themselves when they were otherwise panicking.

"Inspector Javert."

“We've just caught a case. It's... a bit of a weird one. That's up your alley, right?"

Mr. Ramsey set down his pen. "What is strange about it?"

The inspector eyed Amelia and Charlotte for a moment, clearing his throat again. “I'm not sure I should say. It is rather... disturbing."

Charlotte could see Mr. Ramsey subtly roll his eyes. He expelled a breath through his nose. "Pretend they aren't there, if it helps, but you've no need to worry about offending their delicate sensibilities."

Mr. Javert looked like he wanted to protest further, but clearly thought better of it. “Well... two things stand out. For one... the murder seems to have been committed in a room locked from the inside, but we only found the body."

The answer seemed obvious to Charlotte—but clearly the Inspector had other things to say, so she didn't venture the guess.

“The thing is... the body was found about halfway up the chimney."

Mr. Ramsey arched both eyebrows. "Leave the address. We'll be there presently." As soon as Javert had done so, he turned to address Amelia. "What about this case is bothering the Inspector?"

Amelia's brows were furrowed as she seemed to contemplate her answer. It took her a moment longer before she answered. “How was a murder committed from inside a locked room, and there be no evidence of the murderer," she stated out loud. “The body was found halfway up the chimney, implying that it was being dragged up, perhaps?" she continued, pursing her lips together.

“I believe that is what's bothering the Inspector. How did the murderer escape without being noticed, and how did they leave a room that was locked from the inside."

He seemed satisfied by this, but was clearly after something else as well. "Forget the chimney for a moment. Suppose all you knew was that a death had occurred by unnatural means in a locked room with only one person. What most likely occurred?"

“A possible suicide?"

Mr. Ramsey nodded. "Precisely. But as you've noted, the obvious is ruled out. It is one thing to kill oneself. Another thing entirely to place one's own corpse partway up a chimney." A short pause, and then: "Gather your things. You will both be assisting on this case."

Amelia looked surprised for a moment before a large smile bloomed over her face. “At once," she spoke, pushing herself from the desk to stand. She began gathering her items, pausing every second or so to ensure she was grabbing the proper ones it seemed. Once she was finished, she glanced over herself once more, nodded in a satisfied manner, and turned towards Charlotte and Mr. Ramsey.

“Where are we heading?" she asked, grabbing her coat from the hanger.

"Spitalfields," he replied promptly, naming a rather infamous slum area. From her studies of history, Charlotte knew that it had once been a prosperous district, home to French Huguenot silk weavers, but beginning at the turn of the century, and continuing with the advent of steam technology and industrialization, the hand crafts had faced such competition from cheaper and faster means of production that many of them had been pushed out of business entirely, and the area had deteriorated accordingly to its present state. Of late, it had also become home to a large number of Dutch and German Lainites, a religious minority not typically viewed very well by the Church of the One.

All of this, she conveyed to Amelia on the way. It may or may not be useful—in Mr. Ramsey's cases, it was always hard to tell at first. But he insisted that she know history, and no doubt he'd want Amelia to know it too. Not just the history of kings and empires, but the history of neighborhoods and architecture and industry. Things the titled did not learn quite as often.

Their destination proved to be one of the formerly-spacious Huguenot dwellings built in the area, now divided up among several families. Scotland Yard had already cordoned off the area, and several of the other residents of the house were now standing about in the street, speaking in low voices.

Mr. Ramsey passed under the cordon with the kind of authority that meant he hardly ever got questions, and by that same authority, Charlotte and Amelia weren't bothered, either, even despite the incredulous stares that followed. It had taken Charlotte time to interpret this reaction, but Mr. Ramsey had helped her understand that in England, there were some things men usually did and some things women usually did, and being a detective was not a thing women usually did, so she and now Amelia were very unusual to see in a place like this.

The set of rooms they wanted was on the very top floor, which was five stories up from the ground. Mr. Javert met them on the landing, waving them through. Perhaps he knew that Mr. Ramsey liked to see everything for himself before hearing anyone else's interpretation of the information.

Stepping into the room, her employer gestured Charlotte and Amelia in behind him.

The chamber was in some amount of disarray. A cabinet on the near wall had been opened, both the doors on the top half and the drawers underneath, and was now bare save for what seemed to be a set of four silver spoons. The mattress at the far end near the window had been overturned and slashed, threadbare blankets crumpled and thrown carelessly into a corner. A small wooden jewelry box had been smashed open, one of its thin copper hinges broken off entirely. The Yard had already removed the body from the chimney, it seemed; it was for the moment covered over with a white sheet just in front of the fireplace. A door sat on a bare wall opposite it—probably the privy. The room's one window was closed.

Mr. Ramsey scanned all of this and hummed almost under his breath. "Miss Whitaker. Tell me what you see."

Amelia didn't respond at first, and instead pursed her lips together. She seemed to be taking in the scene, her eyes moving from one spot to another in the room. “It looks like a robbery that went wrong," she spoke, furrowing her brows deeply. She took a step to her right and kneeled down as if to inspect something. She stood back up, though, and turned to face Mr. Ramsey.

“But that couldn't be the case. If the intention was to steal something, why kill the person you are robbing?" she continued as she raised one of her brows.

"There are any number of reasons. Miss Blythe?"

Charlotte straightened from her inspection of the cabinet. "Well, the victim could have tried to fight off her attacker, and the death was accidental. Or purposeful to stop her resistance." Charlotte knew this was the least-likely option; most people did not know how to fight, and would probably not try for fear of exactly this. "It's also possible that the burglar did not expect her to be home, and killed her to eliminate a witness. Or decided on the spur of the moment to do the same even though they did know she was present."

She paused, pursing her lips. "It is also possible that the robbery is a sham, and murder was the intended crime all along."

Mr. Ramsey nodded, more to indicate that she could stop then to agree, she was sure. Turning to Amelia, he studied her from the corner of his eye. "Consider where we are. It is easier to perpetuate a robbery in a poor area like this, to be sure. But the choice of a top-floor apartment is unusual—there are fewer escape routes. And there are two further irregular details. Why would a burglar take the time to put the body up a chimney? That would have taken effort, and more time at the scene only increases an unrelated person's chances of being caught. And also..." he nodded towards the cabinet.

"You rarely see silver this good in this part of the city. These were most likely the most valable items the victim owned, and yet the 'burglar' failed to take them, you see?"

Amelia nodded her head, but her hands clenched for a brief second. “Then why slash the mattress? I don't think people keep valuables hidden in such a place," she asked, making her way towards the said object. Her gloved hand ran a delicate slide as she seemed to inspect it, and her eyes were narrowed slightly.

“That would mean the person who did this knew the victim, then," she spoke, her eyes widening slightly as if realizing something. “If you said remaining at a scene increases an unrelated person's chances of being caught, then the murderer has to be someone close. A friend, a relative, a jilted lover?" she spoke, shaking her head at the last statement.

“Maybe, as you stated Miss Blythe, the robbery was a sham?" she stated more than questioned. “Did the victim own any pets?" she asked, suddenly. She had pulled something from a metal bedspring that had protruded from the mattress, perhaps from when it had been overturned and slashed.

Mr. Ramsey pulled in a subtle breath—scenting the air for the answer to the question, Charlotte knew. "No," he replied with certainty. "You have found something that indicates the contrary?"

“I'm... not certain," she stated, pulling back from the mattress and holding something between her forefinger and thumb. “It looks like fur, but," she paused to remove one of her gloves and placed the fur in her bare hand, “it doesn't feel like animal fur. It's too coarse," she spoke, holding it out for Mr. Ramsey to see.

“I've never felt animal fur like this before."

Narrowing his eyes thoughtfully, Mr. Ramsey extended his hand to accept the clump, rolling the fibers between his still-gloved fingers with a soft hum under his breath. "Bag it for testing," he said briskly, handing it back. "Well done. Sweep the rest of the room with Miss Blythe. I'll collect whatever information the doctor has for us." He indicated the coroner with a slight cant of his head.

“Yes, sir," she replied.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri
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London - Dr. Graham's Clinic
June 2, 1885 - 13:49 p.m. - Clear
Khalil Jaziri


The use of office space was wasted. Khalil was no decorator, but his uncle had poor taste in designs. It was mostly spartan save for the desk—where he was currently sitting—and a couple of chairs for potential clients. The room in the back, though, had all of the medical supplies and equipment. Dorian had asked him to watch the clinic while he went to lunch, “Selfish bastard," but really, Khalil couldn't fault him for that. He was, himself, a selfish person. “Must run in the family," he muttered, leaning forward to prop his head on his closed fist. Taking in a deep breath, his nose wrinkled and he frowned.

“Why does everything have to smell so sterile?" he continued, slumping forward so that his forehead was laying on the desk and his arm was outstretched. “And why couldn't he just close the clinic for the day. I wanted to go to the Red Moon, too," he spoke with a sort of whine laced in his tone. He sighed before straightening himself out, running a swarthy hand through his dark hair. “I guess I can just wait it out for another two hours," he stated, glancing towards the grandfather clock in the room. He didn't understand Dorian's obsession with it, only that he'd kept it right in the front where everyone could see it.

“Alright that's it, if nothing happens in the next twenty minutes, I'm closing shop," regardless if Dorian was back or not. His uncle couldn't be the only one having fun... even if the man was completely hopeless and too dense for his own good.

He had almost reached his arbitrary deadline when, as luck would have it, something happened. The door at the front of the office opened, and three people filed in. The first was a man in a coat that looked a touch too heavy for the season, even with the ridiculously stuffy standards of dress in this country. Everything about him said military, except his hair, which was a tad too long for that. He smelled... odd. There was something unusual about it, underneath the obvious gunpowder, ink, parchment, and slight tang of alchemical reagents. He looked a bit too grumpy for Khalil's taste, and he could already feel his brows furrowing.

The second was a young woman just shy of her twenties. Khalil could almost taste the lily and lilac scent coming from her, and he could feel his mouth watering just a bit. Her sun-colored hair was pulled into a tail, setting against her back and her eyes were a lovely shade of violet-blue. Light enough to be mistaken for pale blue, but Khalil's eyes were trained to notice the smaller details of a person's appearance. She was beautiful in a way that Khalil found himself grinning at her approach, his brow raising just a tad bit in a seductive manner. It worked every time for him; this would be no different. She, however, paid him no mind, and glanced around the office. He almost felt his stomach drop. First time for everything, he supposed.

The third and final guest looked a touch younger than the second, and though they shared the fair complexion fashionable in England, that was where the similarities ended. The second woman had deep brown hair, and big, blue-green eyes with a thick fan of dark lashes. She was dressed in a way that somehow matched the other two without being exactly the same. She smelled more strongly of herbs and reagents than the other two, but it did a poor job of masking the sweetness underneath, like candy floss, vanilla, and lavender. It was clear even without asking that they were here together, and none of them looked the least bit sick.

Hello gorgeous, Khalil flashed a smile in her direction, and stood once he remembered his manners. “Welcome to Dr. Graham's clinc," he started. Even if they weren't sick, he wasn't going to refuse three beautiful people, though the male could be made an exception for. “What can I do for you two beautiful ladies? And you of course," he stated, winking an eye in the man's direction. The blond woman visibly rolled her eyes with an arched brow.

The brunette, though, smiled back, if only briefly, before turning her attention to the clinic itself. Despite his uncle's lack of taste, she seemed quite interested by it for some reason, particularly the few pieces of medical equipment laying around—though of course most of that was in the back.

The man's face smoothed from a resting frown into near-complete blankness, somehow conveying disapproval in the way that it conveyed nothing at all. "Mr. Khalil Jaziri?" he asked flatly. He slid his hands into the pockets of his coat. For a moment he tilted his head slightly, making direct eye contact. His eyes narrowed in something like suspicion for just a moment, but then even this trace of thought faded from his face.

Khalil frowned for a fraction of a second before he grinned. “That is I," he replied. He didn't like the particular look on the man's face, but he wasn't really in the mood—yet of course—to see if he could get a different reaction out of the man. “But you can all call me Khal if it's easier on your tongues," he stated, though he didn't suspect the man would need to. He'd said his name almost perfectly, the accent included. It might have been a trick of the mind, but it wasn't that important. “Especially you two—I'd actually prefer it," he stated towards the brunette and blond. The fair-haired woman rolled her eyes again, earning a short snort from Khalil.

The other one seemed puzzled by this, and tilted her head slightly to the side. "Oh, but the whole name is so nice," she replied, voice lilting with some unidentifiable accent. It wasn't quite any of those he'd heard in London. "Khalil. It's musical, almost."

The man sighed through his nose. "Mr. Jaziri," he continued, not accepting even the milder form of the offer, "you are familiar with a woman by the name of Elizabeth Demsky, are you not? We need to ask you a few questions."

“Depends on what you mean by familiar," he responded, tilting his head to the left. He knew the name, and the person it belonged to, but he wasn't going to admit to that just yet. He'd seen her just the other day. “Why do you need to ask me questions, though? I'm sure you could just go ask her," he stated, frowning just slightly. Did she say something to the officials?

“She can't; she's dead," the lily-scented woman answered in a dull tone. Her eyes were narrowed in his direction though, almost as if she were accusing him of doing the deed.

“Whoa there, princess," he spoke, settling himself down in the chair. “She's dead? Are you sure?" he had to ask. How could she be dead? He'd been with her the other day just for their meeting, but he hadn't heard from her since. Now that he thought about it, she hadn't contacted him in at least a day. That was strange of her.

“It's Miss Whitaker, and yes, we are certain. She's in the morgue if you'd like to confirm for yourself, but we'd like to ask you a few questions before you do," she stated, her expression smoothing out a bit.

“What do you want to know?"

"The victims parents have indicated that you were trysting with their daughter," the man said bluntly. Clearly this one did not bother being delicate. "As such entanglements commonly provide motives for murder, we are very interested in what you were doing two nights ago, around twenty-one hundred." He pushed his glasses—severely-angled rectangular frames—up the bridge of his nose before dropping his hand back down to his side. It moved the hem of his coat just a little—Khalil could see the grip of a long-barreled pistol strapped to his leg.

Khalil groaned into his hand. Of course her parents would say something like that. “It's actually not that complicated. I was only with her..." he paused for a moment to remember how many times he'd been with her, “a few times. And two nights ago I was picking up my uncle from a night out."

In other words, Dorian had drank himself to sleep at the Red Moon and Liang had asked Khalil to retrieve him. He frowned for a second. That happened slightly earlier than the time the man spoke of. “Ah, I was with Eli...za...beth," he slowed his speech once he realized he'd spoken Elizabeth's name. He groaned again. Might as well serve myself on a silver plate.

“But look, I didn't kill her. I don't kill people," he spoke, his lips pulling into a deep frown. He didn't kill people unless he had to, and the one person he did kill...

“Were you there the entire night with her?" Miss Whitaker asked, bringing him out of his reverie. There was something soft in her eyes when she'd asked him, but maybe that was just a play on the lighting. Khalil pursed his lips together.

“No—I didn't stay with her long. I was only there for ten minutes. She said she had someone else she was meeting so I left," he answered. It wasn't much of an answer, he knew, but that was all he could give them. “Didn't you search her apartment?" he decided to ask. “You must have found something, otherwise you wouldn't be so interested in what I was doing two nights ago."

"What we found was her corpse, stuffed up a chimney, with body temperature placing her time of death in that interval," the man replied brusquely. For all that, though, the way his eyes narrowed at Khalil was more assessing than accusatory.

He turned to his associates. "Miss Blythe, Miss Whitaker, please step outside for a moment." It wasn't clear why he was asking them to leave now, considering the implication that they'd seen the crime scene. It certainly couldn't be any concern for their sensibilities as women if that was so.

The brunette—Miss Blythe, apparently—nodded slightly, and looped her arm through one of Miss Whitaker's. "Shall we?"

Miss Whitaker looked confused for a second, her eyes glancing from Miss Blythe to the man. “Very well," she replied, letting Miss Blythe lead her away. Once they were out of sight, Khalil sighed heavily and slumped forward in his chair.

“I'd offer you a seat, but you're clearly after something else." He wouldn't ask his female companions to leave, after all, if he were interested in anything else Khalil had to say.

“What can I help you with, Mr..." he trailed off, giving the man a chance to state his name. If he so desired, that is. Chances were, a grump like him wouldn't even bother. He'd just get straight to the questions and the reason to why his associates left. But what did Khalil know?

"Ramsey," he replied with a short nod. Raising his arms, he crossed them over his chest, brows knitting slightly. "Your paramour's parents pointed us to you because they don't like you, and they don't like you because you aren't English. They all but said it. I came here to do my due diligence, just in case there was something to the suspicion, and while you haven't given me more reason to rule you out than I already had..." He trailed off, apparently deciding something before he continued flatly.

"There were no puncture marks on Miss Demsky. That doesn't exclude you entirely, but it is suggestive." He dropped his arms, reaching back into his pocket, from which he extracted a glass vial, stoppered with a cork. Inside was what looked like a scrap of fabric. "I was able to detect an unusual scent on her body that I could not identify. Perhaps your nose might succeed where mine has failed. You might consider it a chance to prove your good intentions." The hardness of his stare said the rest without much need for words: lie to me, and I'll know.

Khalil blinked in mild surprise. The only people who knew what he was, were Dorian, and Liang. No one else knew, and Khalil had made damn sure he was careful. He narrowed his eyes at Ramsey, but sighed heavily. There wasn't any point in trying to pretend he didn't know what Ramsey was talking about, nor was their any point trying to deny it.

“Hand it here," he stated, his hand outstretching to retrieve the vial. Once he had it, he popped the top off and pursed his lips together. He raised the vial close to his nose and took a deep breath. “Well... shit," he stated, furrowing his brows. There were a few scents that were mingled together. One, he could tell wasn't human, but the others were all mixed together.

“Smells like you have yourself a shifter. You do know what those are, right?" he asked. Chances were that Ramsey knew what a shifter was if he knew what Khalil was. “They smell like a dog's ass laced with pheromones, but this one..." he trailed off, taking another whiff of the vial. It smelled different.

“It smells a little... off. Maybe it went rabid?" That didn't seem right, though. There would be more bodies strewn about if it was rabid. “Was there anything else that you found?" he decided to ask. He was trying to identify some of the scents that were laced with the shifter's. Some of it smelled familiar, like things he would find in his uncle's clinic, but the scent was too mild. He needed something with a stronger scent.

Reaching into his other pocket, Ramsey produced a sealed plastic bag with a clump of what looked like fur in it. "I could smell the shifter myself," he replied, handing the bag over as well, "but the chemical smell is different from outright disease. It's too faint for me to say anything more discerning, but if you can identify even some of the components, we can take it from there."

Khalil shivered slightly. He really didn't want to smell the fur, but if it would help clear his name... he didn't have much of a choice. “You need a better nose," Khalil muttered beneath his breath. He took the sealed pack, and opened it. He took the clump of fur out, and lifted it to his nose, inhaling as deeply as he could. “There is a faint smell of something..." he began, closing his eyes to clear his mind a bit. The scent was almost like alcohol, laced with a type of opiate. Coca, was the first word that entered his thoughts, as he took slower breath.

“I can smell faint traces of coca," he finally spoke. “There's something else laced with it that I can't quite make out, but I definitely smell coca. And it's not the processed cocaine, either. It's purer than that," he continued, frowning further. They had to have used the oils from the crushed coca leaves and seeds in order to make a strand that pure.

Ramsey frowned slightly, but then nodded. He headed for the door, almost as if he were leaving without his things, but when the two women reappeared, his intentions became more obvious. "Coca laced with something else. What kind of substance would that make?"

The little one, Miss Blythe, blinked, her eyes rounding in something like surprise. "Coca is for stimulants," she chirped. "But... usually only addictive and unpredictable ones. Weaker concoctions made with it might help someone stay awake if they didn't want to sleep, but with the right other ingredients, it could induce hallucinations, and probably inhibit reasoning, as well as temporarily make someone much stronger than usual."

Ramsey nodded slightly. "I think I know a market for that." His eyes, a dull purple, slid to Khalil. "If you smelled that again, do you think you could identify the person taking it in a crowd?"

“As long as they were the only one who smelled like a dog's ass," he replied, leaning back in his chair. He'd tucked the fur back into the bag and tossed it on the table a little further from him. He didn't particularly like being used in such a fashion, A bloody hound, but if he could find out who killed Elizabeth... well he'd just have to put his nose to work.

“Yeah, I could identify the person who took it. It's a very distinctive smell," he began, watching as Miss Whitaker arched her brow. He grinned and tapped his nose. “You'd know it, too, if you were a doctor," he explained. Clearly Ramsey didn't want to expose what Khalil was to the women, so he had to sate Miss Whitaker's curiosity. He would have much preferred to do it another way, though.

"Good," Ramsey replied. If he sensed Khalil's dissatisfaction, he didn't show it. "We'll be back at twenty-three hundred. Don't dress too nicely."

“And here I thought I could dazzle you all in my nice clothes."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri
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London - Weaver's Row Underground
June 2, 1885 - 23:43 p.m. - Balmy
Ephraim Ramsey


The dilapidated former sewer tunnel now referred to as Weaver's Row Underground honestly didn't smell much better than it probably had when it was still a sewer tunnel. This was less due to excrement, and more due to the cocktail of sweat, blood, dirt, and urine that pervaded one of the less-illustrious illegal fighting rings in the city, though it was also somewhat large for a gathering of its type. The cavernous space was at the moment host to no fewer than fifty men, in various states of intoxication or sobriety, either participating in or more frequently betting on the bareknuckled pugilism matches taking place in a makeshift dirt rin in the center.

This far belowground, no one saw the need to be especially quiet, and shouts of encouragement or dissatisfaction created a clamor loud enough to make ordinary conversation quite difficult. Fortunately, Ephraim took it for granted that he didn't really need to say much; it was clear just from looking that this was not the kind of place where women would usually be welcomed, and to this end both of his apprentices had donned appropriate disguises. Even Jaziri didn't stick out too much—though there was no escaping the fact that he was not a native European, he wasn't the only man with a sun-touched complexion in the room. Such boundaries mattered less in places like this than they did among the upper class, at least usually.

"Anything yet?" Ephraim asked him, elevating his tone to be heard over the clamor. They were only on the periphery of the crowd now, but if they didn't have to get any closer, he wasn't going to.

“Nothing," he replied, his nose wrinkling as he glanced towards Ephraim. “There's too many things going on in one spot; someone vomited where you're about to step, though," he continued, pointing towards the floor. He lifted his head slightly higher, his nose moving subtly in the air as if he were just taking a deep breath. He moved in a little closer to Ephraim, though, and glanced at him from the corner of his eye.

“There's a similar scent coming from further in, though," he stated in a low voice, perhaps to keep anyone else from hearing him. “It's not quite the same one, but there is a similarity to it. If we can get a little closer, I might be able to pick up on the exact scent."

Of course, getting a little closer in a crowd like this was going to involve one of two things: forcing it, which could involve starting a fight Ephraim really didn't want to deal with, or expressing the desire to compete, which would see the participant and their group ushered towards the edge of the ring. Neither option was particularly appealing, but one was definitely more controlled.

"I suppose we'll need to get the promoter's attention," he said, suppressing a sigh.

Miss Blythe tilted her head at him. "I can do it," she replied, nodding her chin towards the ring. "You have a good nose, too, Mr. Ramsey, so it seems better for you to be investigating."

He snorted—that would make quite the picture, but she had a point. He certainly wasn't concerned with her ability to handle it, though there was still Miss Lancaster to consider. "Fine," he conceded at last, locking eyes with one of the promoters over the heads of most of the crowd.

The man, a short, grimy-looking fellow with an oily mustache, clearly sensed an opportunity. “O-ho!" he called, gesturing the crowd aside. “Looks like we've a challenger, fellas. You fixin' to step in ta the ring, boyo?"

Ephraim shook his head, stepping slightly aside so that Miss Blythe, in her guise, was more readily visible. "Not me. The boy."

The promoter took one look at Miss Blythe's slight stature and delicate face, then threw back his head and laughed. “Tha'ssa good one, mate. Your boy there wouldn't last five seconds in the ring with one'a mine, would 'e, lads?" A general chorus of guffaws and taunts followed, as they undoubtedly would.

Ephraim resisted the urge to sigh. This was a waste of time.

From the pocket of his coat, he pulled a billfold, extracting two hundred-pound notes. "He'll last the whole match, and he'll win it. Unless you're not inclined to take the bet."

The notes were swiftly snatched from his hand. “Not sure what you have against 'im, but we'll take your bet. Come on up to the front here; wouldn't want ya ta miss it."

“Are you certain he'll be able to win that fight?" Miss Lancaster asked, keeping in disguise by calling Charlotte, he. “It seems a bit... dangerous," she continued. Mr. Jaziri arched a brow as well, indicating he was slightly curious to the answer.

“Whitaker has a point, but Blythe is also correct. It would be better for Ramsey to continue the investigation with Blythe acting as a distraction," he added in. “If Blythe says they can handle it, I'm sure they'll be alright," he continued, placing a hand on Miss Lancaster's shoulder. She merely shrugged it off and shook her head.

“I suppose we should get closer, then."

Of course, Ephraim knew better than either of them the strange extent of Miss Blythe's capabilities, but for now he remained noncomittal, shrugging as they were led to the edge of the ring. His assistant made sure her hat was secure on her head, hair tucked firmly into place beneath the short wig. Simply tucking her hair up worked for going out on a normal occasion, but if there was a risk of scrutiny such as now, the disguise got a little more elaborate.

“All right, boys, we got a new contender, and some money to back 'im up, so who wants to step inta the ring, eh? You'll make an easy buck, but ya might feel bad about it." This earned more than a few chuckles and guffaws, but it was precisely the unscrupulous type who'd agree to fight a much smaller person that they were probably looking for. Alchemy could do a lot to a person's mind, and the use of a substance strong enough to drive a shifter into a murderous rage was likely to have aggressive side-effects as well.

The first to step up was a medium-height man, banded muscle of practical dimension suggesting a laborer by trade. His hands were rough, a bit overlarge for his body, but his anatomy bore none of the other hints of shifter ancestry. Perhaps, it was him, but also perhaps not. It would be unlikely that they struck upon a suspect the first time they tried, even if he'd picked the right location.

A couple of the others clapped him on the shoulders as he passed, or mussed his short crop of hair. “Go get 'em, Ernie."

Ephraim had a feeling he knew what this was—a test, of sorts.

Miss Blythe looked as placid as ever, adjusting her leather gloves with a quiet nonchalance that apparently greatly amused those on her side of the ring.

“Oy, Ernie, not even the girly-boy's scarda ya! You sure you got this one?"

“Aye, lay off wouldja? I got this, I got this. Girly-boyo ain't gunna know what 'it 'em."

Mr. Jaziri snorted softly, perhaps at the statement, however; he frowned. “He's an alcoholic, but he's not the one you're looking for." Jaziri moved off towards the side of the crowd, keeping himself between Miss Lancaster and another man that was interested in the fight. “There is a faint smell coming from the back, though. It... kind of smells like alcohol and iron. I think someone's getting bandaged up," he continued, shifting in his spot.

“Ugh, haven't these people ever washed themselves? It's hard to get a good scent in here," he muttered beneath his breath, moving slightly forward. He glanced around the area, his eyes occasionally going to Charlotte, however; he moved his gaze to Ephraim. “I think I have something. It's too faint to be certain but it's coming from the back. Do they keep contenders back there?" he asked.

"That seems likely. Less likely is us getting back there quietly. Better to let the contenders come to us." He nodded towards the ring, where Miss Blythe was now squaring off against her foe. Ernie had stripped to the waist, as was relatively common in such matches, but fortunately not required.

He rubbed at a spot of dirt on the side of his nose, sniffing sharply. From the odd angle of it, it had been broken several times already and not healed properly; he had in fact the squashed face of a pugilist who wasn't especially good at his trade. Why he got to test out the new blood, no doubt. Anyone not good enough to give him a few good hits wasn't good enough for any of the more exciting fighters in the back.

“Awright!" the promoter shouted from his spot next to Ephraim. “Place your bets, place your final bets, cos we're about to get star'ed." A few last moments of shuffling, and then he dropped the filthy rag that served as match flag, and the fight was on.

It went more or less exactly as Ephraim expected it to. Ernie, brash and overconfident, stepped in and swung almost lazily, with more force than finesse. Miss Blythe ducked it effortlessly, then struck him in the ribcage with the heel of her hand. She checked the blow, but it still hit with an audible thud, forcing Ernie several steps backwards.

“Wha' the?" For a moment, he looked as if he were unsure if that had just happened. Not an entirely unfamiliar feeling for an alcoholic of his caliber, perhaps.

His second punch was a much faster, wilder haymaker. Again, Miss Blythe stepped nimbly aside, footwork solid and deliberate. Her brows knitted; she shot Ephraim a questioning glance.

He nodded. No point drawing this out.

With a little huff, more visible than audible considering the volume of the crowd, she stepped in, little fists thudding in a rapid staccato into Ernie's midsection. His paltry defense cracked under the assault, and before long she'd forced him to the very edge of the ring, where he staggered backwards into the bar, grabbing onto it for support.

The only way to end a match in a place like this was a knockout.

"I'm sorry for this," Miss Blythe said, cocking her fist back and clocking him directly in the brow.

Ernie's head snapped back; his neck hadn't broken, but would certainly be sore for several days. More importantly, he slumped to the ground, entirely void of consciousness.

Ephraim almost smirked.

Jaziri snorted before he scoffed and leaned in close to Ephraim. “Seems you trained that one well," Jaziri stated, clearly amused by the sharp gasps from the crowd. It was quiet for a moment before the people errupted into laughter, angry shouts, and awe.

“Blythe clearly can handle themself well," Miss Lancaster stated, crossing her arms against her chest and frowning slightly.

“If you ask really nicely, I can teach you how to handle yourself well, too," Jaziri spoke, earning a flat look from Miss Lancaster.

“No thank you," earned a short bark of laughter from Jaziri. He merely shrugged his shoulders, though.

“Oh, I think we just got lucky," he stated suddenly, his head snapping up towards Charlotte's direction. “I think our second contender is the one we want."

There'd been a bit of a scramble for someone new after the surprising victory, and something about the mood shifted with this new fighter, as though the crowd was not quite so eager to risk drawing attention to itself.

The man that entered the ring was quite enormous, perhaps a near thing to seven feet tall, with a frame easily twice as wide as Miss Blythe's. He was obviously hirsute, covered in a thick layer of wiry-looking blond hair, matching the tight curls atop his head. There was a scar on his left cheekbone—it looked like a cut with a bladed instrument had just barely missed his eye. And though ephraim couldn't quite scent it through the stink of the crowd, he had no reason to suppose Jaziri was lying to him.

“Double or nothin'?" The promoter asked hopefully.

Much to his obvious surprise, Ephraim nodded.

Bets were placed, many of them taken by a much smaller man accompanying the giant, nervous of gesture but quick to funnel cash into his pockets, marking all the bets down on a scrap of paper. He had more of the look of an alchemist about him, and a strong chemical odor that Ephraim could easily pick out.

"Ideally we wait until the shifter is unconscious, then corner he and his friend elsewhere, but be ready to move if anything goes wrong before then." A shifter was a real physical threat to any of them, especially if he changed. No doubt he'd usually not do that in front of humans, but... Ephraim glanced over at Miss Lancaster, then reached for the pistol holstered on his thigh.

"Use it if you need to, but try not to need to," he said simply, pressing the handle into her palm. "Safety's on."

She took the pistol in her hand, turned it as if inspecting it, and nodded. “I was taught about this particular model. I know how the safety works," she stated, keeping her voice low, perhaps to not draw attention to herself. Appearances were easy to disguise, but voices were a different matter. Miss Lancaster usually kept to the quiet side when she donned her men's garb. She placed the pistol to her side, though, keeping it concealed until she would need it. If she would need it. Jaziri, however, frowned deeply to the point that his brows were furrowed in a harsh manner.

“That stench... I'm surprised the others aren't cringing from it. That's definitely our guy; he's got the scent of coca on him and dog's ass. You should tell Blythe to be a bit careful with this one. His scent's a little stronger this time around," he spoke, keeping his voice to the bare minimum so that Ephraim was the only one to hear.

There wasn't much chance to talk to her, but one look confirmed that she knew it. Miss Blythe's brow was still furrowed, this time a little more worried than remorseful, but she didn't look afraid, nor did she give any indication that she wished to back out. Ephraim had little gauge of what she was capable of other than his observations and her own—he honestly had no idea what the girl even was.

This time, when the match started, it was quite quiet, as though the crowd collectively held its breath. This man, called only "The Beast" by the promoter, was aggressive, but much more dangerously so than his predecessor. His blows were aimed well, and Miss Blythe was swiftly on the defensive, darting about the ring much more hastily than she had before.

For all that, he could seem to score a hit on her. At first, the changes were subtle: both of them increased the speed and strength of their attempts so gradually it wasn't noticeable. But fifteen minutes in, there was still no decisive hit, and to Ephraim's eyes, they were clearly well into the use of supernatural force. Not enough that it looked too obvious, but close. A few of the more sober audience members were squinting at the match, as though aware that something wasn't right, but unable to pinpoint exactly what.

Jaziri's eyes remained glued on the match as well as Miss Lancaster's. She seemed more worried than Jaziri did since her brows were knitted together. She winced visibly when a blow would almost hit Charlotte, but otherwise kept her eyes on the arena. "The Beast" seemed to grow frustrated, though, when he couldn't land a hit. He would grunt on occasion, or growl in a way that still seemed human. It wasn't until ten minutes later that something changed. The man, seemingly agitated by the fact that he couldn't hit Charlotte, roared in anger. It startled the row of people closest to the arena, and caused them all to step back.

“Well... shit," Khalil cursed beneath his breath. It was obvious why when the sound of bones cracking filled the air. "The Beast" was changing, though it was minimal at first. His hands grew slightly larger, but his fingers were elongated with sharpened nails. They weren't quite claws, but somewhere in between. His eyes, dull brown at one point, were now almost citrine in color. Splotches of fur began covering his body, mostly around his shoulders and spread to his abdomen. To the human eye, it looked like his body hair was becoming darker, and fuller.

“What's happening to him?" Miss Lancaster asked, her voice laced with a sort of morbid curiosity. Her eyes were slightly wide, but not in fear. They seemed more in awe and wonder than anything else.

“That, sweetheart, is what's called a shifter, but it looks like he's only half way. I'd get into more detail about it, but that's going to have to wait," Jaziri spoke, his brow raised in a curious manner. “So... what do you want to do about it, Ramsey?" he asked, turning in Ephraim's direction. The Beast was moving slightly faster now, and not quite as fluid. He was moving in a rage-filled way, his swings going too far off to one side in giant sweeping motions.

Ephraim grimaced. They were headed for a rather spectacular First Law violation here in a moment, and they had to—

The words he'd been about to say died in his throat as the shifter finally landed a square hit on Miss Blythe. A clawed fist slammed into her stomach, doubling her over. Before he could follow up with the doublehand blow to her head he was winding up for, Ephraim threw himself over the railing, shoulder-checking Miss Blythe out of the way with enough force to send her sprawling to the ground. Crossing his arms up over his head, he took the force of the blow himself, grimacing at the sensation. If the man had been fully shifted, that might have fractured his arm, but even as it was he'd have heavy bruises tomorrow.

Undoubtedly startled by this development, the shifter reeled back, almost confused. The smaller man who'd been with him whistled sharply, apparently some kind of signal, because before Ephraim could react, the halfshifted fighter was sprinting towards his friend, picking him up easily in one arm and bolting down the sewer tunnel.

"Jaziri, grab her and follow. Whitaker, with me, now." He took off after the shifter, barreling through the stunned crowd without regard for those he knocked down in the process.

Miss Lancaster was right behind Ephraim, trying to keep up with him as they gave chase. “Hey, Ramsey, they're going to get away if we don't pick up the speed here. And I don't think little Miss Whitaker there's going to be able to keep up," Jaziri spoke once he caught up with Eprhaim and Miss Lancaster. He was carrying Charlotte on his back, apparently having decided that was the best course of action.

He was, unfortunately, quite right. Ephraim grimaced, then halted abruptly. "Get on," he said, crouching so she could. "I'll explain later, but it will be much faster this way."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri
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London - London Streets
June 2, 1885 - 01:01 a.m. - Balmy
Amelia Lancaster


Amelia didn't even hesitate. She looped her arms around Mr. Ramsey's shoulders, and hoisted herself on his back. Were this any other occasion, it might have been considered improper, however; the current situation called for it. Whatever they were chasing, it was clearly not human, and Amelia didn't know what to make of it. Were those fairy tales she'd been told as a child, true? Were there really demons, as the church proclaimed, and other such supernatural entities? Having seen that shifter first hand, she was inclined to believe that there was some truth to what was told. That, or she'd finally lost her mind. That was an option as well.

She didn't linger on the thought, though, and took a deep breath. “I'm set," she stated, holding tightly to Mr. Ramsey's shoulders. She didn't want to accidentally fall off, even if his grip on her was good, and she didn't want to lose her balance, either.

“Make sure you hold on tight, Whitaker. It's about to get a little windy," Jaziri stated, his grip on Charlotte adjusting just slightly as if he were getting a better hold on her.

Beneath her, he shifted, returning to his feet with a kind of controlled, fluid swiftness that made it seem as though she weighed nothing at all. His gloved hands grasped her just beneath her knees—while hardly the most proper place for a man to be touching a lady, it was about as polite as he could be, considering the circumstances. Even through his gloves and her trousers, the difference in warmth was perceptible.

"Don't shoot me," he said blandly, drawing her attention to the fact that his gun was, in fact, still gripped tightly in one of her hands. She had just enough time to adjust her grip before he and Jaziri both took off, and suddenly they were hurtling down the tunnels at a speed that left the details blurring around her, at least until they turned a corner and plunged into what seemed like total darkness.

Their footsteps, however, did not falter, and the motion was so smooth that she could actually feel the pattern of Mr. Ramsey's breath, the slow, even intake and exhalation of air. About a minute after they'd entered the dark corridor, it changed, and he clicked his tongue against his teeth in what sounded like frustration.

"They've gone up. Miss Blythe, get the manhole cover."

"Yes, sir," she replied, her voice at least sounding clear now. There was the sound of clothes rustling, and then another set of feet hitting the ground at a run. "Thank you, Mr. Jaziri, but I'm okay now," she said, and then even as they ran her footsteps disappeared, followed by a heavy impact sound and the appearance of a sudden circle of light further down the tunnel.

"Don't let go," Mr. Ramsey muttered, almost under his breath but plenty loud enough for her to hear. "We're going up."

Seeing first Miss Blythe and then Mr. Jaziri disappear onto street level in single jumps indicated that they were not going to be climbing the rungs to do it, either.

Amelia gripped the pistol tightly in her hand before allowing her forearms to grip tighter around Mr. Ramsey's shoulders. This way, she wouldn't drop the pistol when he jumped, and she wouldn't lose her grip on him and fall off. They made the jump in a single go; it was a weird feeling to be hoisted up in such a way. It had nothing to do with the way he was holding her—it was the fact that the people she knew weren't exactly human. This wasn't what she thought she'd be involved with. Shifters, whatever Mr. Jaziri and Ramsey were, and even Charlotte. They all had human guises, but this...

She shifted her thoughts. There would be a time and place for that, however; at the moment they were chasing a suspect, and she needed to be focused on that. Even if she could barely see the surroundings as they rushed by, she could faintly see the two people in front. The Beast and the promoter were at least a few hundred yards in front of them.

“Oi, Ramsey," Mr. Jaziri spoke first, slowing his pace so that he was running beside Mr. Ramsey. “Even at our speed, he's getting further away. You have any ideas how to slow him down?" he asked, though Amelia could see his eyes glance towards the pistol that was in her hands.

Mr. Ramsey hummed, but his thoughts seemed to be running in the same direction. "Miss Whitaker: I'm going to get you as close as I can. I want you to shoot him. Can you do that?" His head turned slightly so that she could see the corner of one violet eye, but his steps never faltered.

She nodded, “Yes." She pulled the pistol so that it was over Mr. Ramsey's shoulder, and furrowed her brows. While Miss Vera was a good tutor, she hadn't exactly prepared Amelia to shoot whilst moving. She could shoot moving targets with a strange ease, but they were moving. Not her.

“Make sure you get a good shot, Whitaker. You don't want to accidentally shoot off Mr. Ramsey's ear," Mr. Jaziri stated, causing her to frown slightly.

“Mr. Jaziri, I politely request that you shut up before I accidentally shoot you," she retorted. She didn't need him to tell her that. She wasn't a novice playing with some toy. There was a sharper puff of air from Mr. Ramsey, barely audible over the rush, but it sounded almost amused.

Taking a deep breath, she re-aimed the pistol towards The Beast. If she timed this right, she could catch him in the shoulder which should cause him to drop the man he was carrying. That would be enough to at least get them both to stop. This would be under the assumption that the man was that important for the Beast to go back for him.

It's now or never, and with that single thought, she pulled the trigger. The bullet lodged itself in the back of The Beast's knee, causing him to fall forward. Amelia grimaced slightly—she wasn't aiming for his leg.

It didn't seem to be much of an issue in any case, though; he staggered, and his momentum was such that the man on his shoulder fell, pitched forward and onto the street. They lost precious seconds as the pursuit caught up, but then, almost as if it were some kind of miracle, the larger man stood, the bullet falling out of his wound and to the stone with a light clink, as though something had pushed it out. He scooped up his partner and leaped, this time alighting on a nearby rooftop.

Oddly, this didn't seem to surprise Mr. Ramsey any, and he followed—a great deal more smoothly than the men they were chasing. Even if the Beast had been able to shrug off a bullet, the stumble had cost them time, and the pursuers were steadily gaining the advantage. Shifting his grip on her, Mr. Ramsey reached up and gently took the gun from her hands, sliding it back into its holster.

"Just focus on holding on," he advised. "It won't be smooth for long."

Ahead of them, she could barely make out something happening to the man they were chasing. The furlike hair he'd sprouted earlier thickened, his back hunching and limbs seeming to grow long and thick enough to strain the seams of his trousers. There was a splitting sound—at least a few of them had given way—and then a dreadful, half-shrieking howl. Their quarry accelerated, leaping from one rooftop to the next, and the others followed. Amelia was briefly weightless as they soared, only to be brought back to ground again as Mr. Ramsey landed.

"Jaziri, Blythe: go east. You should be able to flank him around Porter street if you take the fastest track there. We'll herd him towards you."

Mr. Jaziri nodded, “You got it." He and Charlotte shifted towards the east, and disappeared. Amelia adjusted her grip on Mr. Ramsey, assuring herself that it was firm enough that she wouldn't risk falling off. She also didn't want to impede Mr. Ramsey's movement in any way. Once she was satisfied, she forced her gaze forward and ignored the slight drying sensation of her eyes. She could still see the creature in front of her and Mr. Ramsey, almost flying ahead of them as they continued their pursuit.

For a brief moment, Amelia lost sight of the creature as it rounded a corner. It looked like a sharp one to take, and she could hear the screeching of nails against stone. It sounded like the creature had to readjust himself, though how he managed while holding another person baffled Amelia. They took the corner, keeping their pursuit of the man until Amelia caught sight of Mr. Jaziri and Charlotte. They both appeared rather well, despite the fact that they had been running at an inhuman speed. Perks of being something not human, she supposed.

“Looks like they've managed to corner him," she stated. That was dangerous, though. Human or not, anything that felt cornered became more dangerous than it already was.

“Oi, mutt—I'd appreciate it if you'd stop running now," Jaziri commented, though he looked excited about something. Amelia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. He was something no words could describe, but mostly he was giving her a headache.

Mr. Ramsey landed on the same rooftop with a soft thud and a bit of a grinding sound on the shingles. Carefully, he let her slide down until her feet made contact as well, then stepped forward and away from her. Without looking, he passed the gun back to her, but she could already tell that it was only a precaution. The creature—whatever it was—already bristled, and it was clear enough that the other three were going to be facing it directly, where the risk of accidentally hitting them if she shot was very high.

With deliberate, quiet steps, Mr Ramsey circled around behind the creature and its companion, hemming it in with Mr. Jaziri and Miss Blythe. Though he expressed none of Mr. Jaziri's excitement, there was a strange light to his eyes all the same: a glint of something she'd not seen before. Almost like... anticipation.

But it was the creature that moved first, lunging for Miss Blythe. The young girl drew her fist back and threw it forward, meeting the creature in the middle of its lunge, tiny curled hand landing square in the middle of its elongated nose. There was an uncomfortable, wet crunch, and then a yelp; both of them staggered back. Miss Blythe had several red welts along with long tears in her shirt, right around her ribcage, but she'd smashed the creature's lupine snout halfway in, by the look of it.

Now seemingly desperate and furious, it charged Mr. Jaziri instead, still seeking an opening, an escape.

Mr. Jaziri didn't even blink as the creature lunged for him, though he did look disappointed about something. He shifted to the side in an effortless manner, as if he were just gliding on a dance floor. He brough his arm in, bent at the elbow, and jabbed it into the creature's side with enough force to send it staggering to his left. “That won't do, mutt." Amelia didn't understand why he was trying to goad the creature. Why rile the creature up to make it more dangerous? She briefly wondered if she should have accidentally shot Mr. Jaziri, but that would have given the creature the escape he needed. Sighing inwardly, she continued watching as Mr. Jaziri and the beast attacked each other.

“Jaziri, stop playing with it," she finally spoke, watching as he grinned in her direction. From the look on his face, he appeared mostly to be playing with the creature rather than trying to fight it and bring it down. Unfortunately for her, though, the creature set its sights on her. Perhaps it could sense that, despite being by Mr. Ramsey, it would have a better chance going through her than it did any of the other three. It turned as if to make its way towards her, however; Mr. Jaziri tsked and grabbed it by its hind leg.

“And where do you think you're going, mutt? We were just getting started," he stated. From this distance, Amelia could see something slightly different about Jaziri. While he looked mostly fine, his hands seemed a little larger, and his fingers seemed elongated with sharp claws. He pulled the creature towards him, and whether it was the momentum, or the fact that Jaziri's claws were in the creature's hind leg, it caused the creature to stagger. It gave Jaziri a chance to twist the leg he was holding, and with a wet pop, Amelia knew he'd broken the leg.

“Not gonna stay broken for long, but..." he stated, pausing momentarily to give the leg a quick jerk, pulling it out of the socket, it seemed, “that should keep it from healing too quickly." With a broken leg, there wasn't much the creature could do, or so Amelia thought.

Of course, it still had three others, and that proved to be enough for it to shake free of Mr. Jaziri, and it made another grab for Amelia. This time, however, it was stymied by Mr. Ramsey, who caught the scruff of its furry neck as it passed by and yanked, slamming the creature into the rooftop. The shingles underneath their feet trembled, the structure creaking in protest at the mishandling.

The reason for what might have otherwise been excessive force soon became clear, though—a higher-pitched, more human yelp preceded a thud. It seemed the creature's companion had been trying to make a stealthy escape while the beast fought its losing battle. Now, however, the small man found himself swiftly detained by Miss Blythe, and the creature itself was clearly unconscious from the impact. Slowly, his form receded, until Mr. Ramsey was holding a large, but fully human-looking man by the nape of his neck.

Clicking his tongue against this teeth, Mr. Ramsey dropped the man, then canted his head slightly, as though sniffing the air. "Are you getting a bit of her perfume?" he asked of Mr. Jaziri. "It's faint under the drugs, but I think it's there."

Mr. Jaziri wrinkled his nose as he took a closer step to the beast. “It's there, just beneath the musk of dog's ass," he spoke, his nose wrinkling further. He'd made it abundantly clear that he did not like the smell of shifters, though Amelia did roll her eyes at the statement. It just smelled like wet dog to her, but she supposed if Mr. Jaziri's sense of smell was stronger, it might smell differently to him.

“I can say with certainty that this is the guy you want for Elizabeth's murder," he continued, his lips pursing into a fine line. His eyes narrowed almost into slits, as if he were trying to set this man—or creature—on fire with just his mind. For all she knew, he probably could. When the creature did not burst into flames, however; she turned her attention towards Mr. Ramsey and Charlotte.

“So, how are we going to process this one?" she asked. They couldn't exactly hand him over to the Yard, unless they were equipped to deal with beings like The Beast. His human counterpart, perhaps, but not the beast himself.

Charlotte pursed her lips, her visage uncommonly grave. "They've both violated the First Law," she said softly. "And that means it's not up to us what happens anymore."

As if on an unspoken cue, Mr. Ramsey advanced towards the fallen beast. Though Amelia was still holding his pistol, there was another gun in his hand. He pointed it square at the creature's forehead, speaking too low for Amelia to make out the words. The last of the fight seemed to leave the beast, its form receding until it once more bore the face and manner of a man, braced on his hands and knees. Tears streamed down his face, reflecting the scarce light of gas lamps and the moon overhead.

She could hear him well enough. “I'm sorry," he said, choking on the words, voice ragged as though it hurt to speak. “I didn't mean to hurt her. I didn't mean to attack you. The drugs, I—I didn't know."

Mr. Ramsey's expression did not change: hard, cold, pitiless. He cocked the hammer of the gun with a decisive click.

“Mr. Ramsey," Amelia wasn't sure why she spoke. Perhaps it was something in the man's voice, but Amelia was not the cold heart Mr. Ramsey seemed to be. Something squeezed painfully at her heart, and she took a few steps so that she was standing next to Mr. Ramsey. The man, whoever he was, did not deserve pity, but he deserved mercy. Of what nature, Amelia couldn't be sure. She was not accustomed to what Charlotte spoke of, this First Law, but she knew the laws of men. She had been studying them when she wasn't practicing with Miss Vera, and when she had the free time in Mr. Ramsey's establishment.

“Is it not enough that he can be charged for Elizabeth's murder, and let the Yard sentence him?" she asked. “Apologies do not bring back the dead," she continued, briefly glancing towards the man, “but shouldn't the Yard be the one to sentence him? To show Miss Elizabeth's parents that the perpetrator has been caught and is being dealt with?" Amelia was allowing her emotions to guide her on this, that much she was aware of.

Mr. Ramsey's glance cut sharp in her direction, steely and hard under the light, but he did not reply.

Mr. Jaziri, however, shook his head. “It's not that simple, Miss Whitaker. You see, you are human, and are governed by your human laws, however; creatures like us," he spoke, his eyes glancing in Charlotte and Mr. Ramsey's direction, “are governed by something a little different. I'm not entirely versed in what it is, myself, but what Mr. Ramsey is going to do is considered something of a mercy."

“This mercy you feel is wasted on creatures like him... like us," he spoke almost in a solemn tone, though Amelia didn't quite understand.

Mr. Ramsey squeezed the trigger of his gun, and though there was a brief flash at the muzzle, it made almost no sound at all. Instead of obliterating the creature's head, something else happened. Whatever projectile was fired from the barrel hit, and the target jerked backwards as if from heavy impact, but more notable still was the fact that something... ghostly was ejected from his body, which slumped to the ground, to all appearances dead.

It looked like a translucent, floating version of how the man had seemed when he transformed, tethered to the physical body by softly-luminous chains. They shuffled and clinked against one another; the apparition looked at Mr. Ramsey as if with new understanding.

“Demon," he breathed.

Stowing the gun, Mr. Ramsey withdrew what looked to be a long knife from somewhere near his belt. With a swift motion, he cleaved through the chains, gathering them up in his free hand. He drew the knife across his own cheek thereafter, thin rivulets of blood dripping from his jaw to the ground.

Charlotte's arm wound around one of Amelia's own. "Don't look directly inside," she said, a warning that at first made no sense at all.

But then Amelia blinked, and suddenly in the spot Mr. Ramsey's blood had fallen, there were a pair of doors, set into an arch. It was black and shiny, like they were made of volcanic glass, wrought iron patterns at the edges evoking bones and dead trees. The doors were flanked by snarling hounds made of granite, their eyes glittering rubies that seemed to almost be on fire from within. Mr. Ramsey said something in a language she'd never heard before, and with a creaking groan, the gates swung inwards.

As if in recognition that the result was inevitable, the shifter stepped into the gates voluntarily. No sooner had all of him disappeared than the chains in Mr. Ramsey's hands faded to wisps and then disappeared. The gates themselves vanished with another mere blink.

"The pugilist suffered a heart attack as a result of consuming too many of the substances his friend offered," he said, no less decisive for his quiet tone. "It was in an induced rage he could not predict that he killed the victim. Everyone involved was entirely human—anything that may be said otherwise by members of the fighting ring was the delirium of too much drink. You will confess to all of this as well." He gave the small man a hard stare when he said it.

"Technically, you did not violate the First Law, but you may no longer count your status as protected. I suggest you find a better use for your alchemy than enhancing fighters to bet on." He pressed his lips together, then shifted his attention to Amelia. "Both the Yard and the victim's family will have their resolution, whatever they may find it to be worth."

Amelia released a breath she did not know she had been holding. This was... all new information for her. She always knew that there was something more to her world, but nothing like this. Demon. Shifter. These were words she'd only heard in congregation and during the times she'd actually attended church with her father. These were things she'd been taught by James when he tutored her, but they were more fairy tale than they were truths being told.

Seeing all of this, knowing what she knew now...

“Uh, Miss Whitaker, you're shaking," it was Jaziri's words that brought her back, and she glanced down at her hands. She was trembling, and the fine tremor through her spine confirmed Mr. Jaziri was correct. She took in a steady breath, and glanced in his direction.

“I'm quite alright, Mr. Jaziri," she replied once she was able to calm her nerves. “There is much I still need to learn," she added, glancing towards Charlotte and Mr. Ramsey.

“Well I'll say this: you've got good aim. If it weren't for your shot, we wouldn't have been able to catch up to him." Amelia inwardly grimaced.

She had been aiming for his shoulder.

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster
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London - Kent Estate Guest House
June 3, 1885 - 14:28 p.m. - Rain Showers
Ephraim Ramsey


Ephraim reached into the cupboard, taking down a small jar of honey with a minuscule frown. People took honey in their tea sometimes, didn't they? Admittedly he had no idea how Miss Lancaster took hers. It wasn't like they spent a lot of time just sitting around in the office at teatime, and even when they did, Miss Blythe was usually the one who made it.

But Miss Blythe was not going to be part of this conversation—that was his responsibility. He was commandeering a fraction of her afternoon with Lady Kent to explain the things she'd witnessed two nights before, because he didn't want it to become muddled, and at the very least he ought to give her a clear explanation of what she was now privy to, wittingly or not. Such knowledge was not without its price, and she'd have to choose to pay it if she wanted to remain in their world, so to speak.

He set a small dish of sugar cubes and a small container of fresh milk next to the honey, then lifted the teapot off the counter and set it down as well, exiting his small kitchen and heading into the study.

Lady Kent's guest house was quite large, about the size of a moderately-sized townhome. Though it came with four bedrooms, only two were currently occupied: his own and Miss Blythe's. Most people would no doubt consider such cohabitation to be sin of the highest order, but Vera understood the circumstances, and honestly didn't much care for the teaching of the Church anyway. She knew too much.

Likewise, his inviting Miss Lancaster here unchaperoned would no doubt scandalize most, but then... so would a lot of things about how he conducted himself. And increasingly, so would a lot of things about how she acted. So much the worse for the traditional, perhaps.

Setting the tea tray down on the low table, Ephraim took one of the study's velvet armchairs, taking up the book on the side table and opening it over his lap. The last case had prompted him to refresh his knowledge of botany, something he had no trouble occupying himself with until Miss Lancaster appeared.

It wasn't a moment later that she did, dressed in her usual attire when she visited Lady Kent: trousers and a white blouse tucked into a dark underbust. She didn't glance in his direction, at least not immediately. Her brows furrowed in thought before she made her way towards him.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Ramsey," she greeted once she was a polite distance away from him. “As you have requested, I am here," she continued, as if she were unsure of what else to say. She shifted in her spot, though it didn't appear to be out of fear. It was more akin to uncertainty than anything else.

That, at least, he could go some distance to assuaging. Not that he should have any particular reason to want to, save perhaps for the obvious fact that this would be a much easier conversation the less it was derailed by anything else. Miss Lancaster was far from the hysterical sort, but he did not doubt that she had seen things that called into question some of the things she believed most obvious.

"Please sit, Miss Lancaster." He indicated the two-seater sofa in front of the coffee table. "I am sorry to have taken you from your time with Lady Kent, but no doubt she'd prefer to keep her gunpowder dry regardless." The steady patter of rain on the windows and roof was enough context for the remark, he thought, and left it at that.

“It's fine. Miss Vera was teaching me a few piano lessons while it rains," she replied, taking a seat on the sofa.

"Help yourself to the tea."

“Thank you," she hummed, pouring herself a cup of tea, and adding a bit of the honey he'd brought, to her cup. She did not drink it, though, and merely held the cup in her hands. She was looking at it, as if there were something interesting in it, however; she lifted her gaze to meet his.

“I'm under the impression that this has something to do with two nights ago," she began, turning the cup in her hand a few times, “with what I saw." She looked a bit tense, her shoulders stiff and her posture too straight to be comfortable in. She wasn't coiled like a cornered prey-creature, but more-so as if she were about to be scolded or reprimanded in some way she wasn't used to.

Ephraim wasn't sure why she'd think that, but it took only a moment to come up with a likely possibility. He'd executed a violator of a law she'd never heard of, and in doing so quite possibly made her aware of certain features of his personality which people didn't usually assume him to have. It could be construed as ruthless, what he did—even merciless. And in a way, it was.

But if it was such a violation for someone to expose their world to humans, what became of the humans who saw?

Satisfied at least for the moment with his hypothesis, he shook his head slightly. "I didn't ask you here to reprimand you, or to harm you in any way," he began, leaning forward to pour himself a cup as well. He took it with a dash of milk from the small jug on the tray, then sat back, stirring slowly.

"I knew when I took you on as a trial apprentice that there was a chance you would encounter something like this. Much of what I do involves what you might call the supernatural. I myself, as you've probably guessed, am not a human being in the usual sense."

Her posture relaxed considerably, and she looked relieved by his statement. “I thought you weren't going to allow me to be your apprentice any longer because of it," she spoke softly, finally taking a drink of her tea. She set it back down and glanced back up at him. “I always suspected that there was more to this place, our world," she began, placing a small emphasis on the last word.

“I didn't expect it to be this, though," she continued, furrowing her brows slightly. She remained quiet for a few minutes, as if she were still letting his information settle. “If you're not human, what are you?" she asked in a curious manner. She no longer seemed tense, but curious. “I heard the shifter say demon, but..." she trailed off, her head tilting slightly to the left as if she were studying him.

He shrugged. "That's one of the more common words for it. We also get called reapers, angels, hellhounds, shinigami, psychopomps, or The Ferrymen, depending on who is talking about us." He paused to take a swallow of his own tea, perplexed as always by the fact that so many people seemed to rely on this substance in particular as a cornerstone of both day-to-day scheduling and social interaction. It didn't taste awful, but admittedly he could see the lure of alcohol more clearly. People liked intoxicants. This... had to be something else.

"Our job is to maintain both balance and separation between this world and the other one—Gehenna. That includes ensuring that humans do not become aware of Gehenna's existence before the proper time, and policing the otherworldly as necessary to achieve that."

She remained quiet as he explained, nodding once he finished as if she were understanding something. “And..." she paused for a brief second before continuing, “if a human—like me—becomes aware of Gehenna's existence, what happens then?" She seemed intrigued by the information he was telling her, and her gaze never left his.

“There must be some sort of fail-safe for that," she continued, her lips pursing into a fine line.

She was entirely correct, of course. "It depends on who the person is and what they saw," he admitted, lifting his shoulders again. "Most so-called contact incidents are minor, and humans will work to explain them away without us having to do anything. Others will be dismissed as mad if they try to tell people of something they saw, and keep it to themselves even if they believe it. But if a human comes to have good evidence, or seems likely to look for more, we typically contact them and present them with an abbreviated version of the truth and an agreement."

He arched an eyebrow over his glasses, tilting his head slightly at her. "There are minor variations, but the theme is: keep this to yourself, and an agent of Gehenna will grant you one minor boon. The understanding, of course, is that refusing the deal is usually fatal, as is violating it afterwards. The favor is there so we can satisfy our own sense of fairness, I suppose."

“That seems fair, in a way," she responded, seemingly satisfied with his answer. She remained quiet for a few minutes after, as if she were going over the information before she spoke again. “Does that mean there are other things besides demons?" she asked, her brow arching in an inquisitive manner.

"Many. You saw a shifter, also called a lycanthrope, the other night. They all have in common the ability to alter their physiology in times of stress or with the changing of the moon, to something more bestial, though the exact nature of the beast depends on the region they are from. They are among the more civilized of what you might call supernatural creatures." Civilized enough to blend well with human populations for their entire lives, if they didn't err as that one had.

"There are also vampires, though you're unlikely to run into one. They have a harder time blending, as their forms are more... distinct. Those have two subtypes: chiropterans appear batlike and drink blood, whereas jiang-shi appear birdlike and feed on emotions and other types of psychic energy. There are ghosts, ghouls, and other kinds of unquiet dead, witches and other practitioners of what one might think of as 'magic,' and so on. The variety is diverse, but what they all have in common is that they appear in areas of imbalance between Gehenna and the plane of the living. Each carries a part of the otherworld in them, which is what gives them their strange appearances and abilities. It's why they fall under the jurisdiction of Gehenna's Council, and that of people like me by extension."

“That... is a lot to take in," she muttered, slumping slightly in her chair and glancing at her hands. She took a deep breath, before she sat up in her chair. “I do have one question," she stated, her eyes fluttering from her hands to his eyes. “Do I still..." she paused, furrowing her brows as if she were unsure of how she wanted to ask her question.

“Do I still get to be your apprentice?" she asked, her voice taking on a serious enough tone to convey that she was, indeed, serious about her question. “I don't know what repercussions seeing part of your world will have for me, but," she paused to take a short breath, “I do know that I still want to learn your trade, regardless of what may come. I'll practice harder with Miss Vera so that I don't slow you down, or get in your way since I'm not like you."

Ephraim's expression didn't change, though he could have sworn he felt one of the muscles at the side of his mouth twitch momentarily. "You forget that I knew about all this before I agreed to teach you," he pointed out, "so from my perspective, nothing has changed. If you would like, I can add some relevant material on the otherworld and its manifestations to your curriculum, that you might be better-equipped should we encounter anything else of that nature."

“I would like that. The more equipped I am to handle things of that nature, the less likely I am to be a hindrance to you and Charlie. I am under the assumption she is an other-worldly creature as well. She was able to keep up with you and Mr. Jaziri that night, after all," she spoke, a smile forming on her lips. She seemed happy that she was going to continue being his apprentice, and at the prospect of learning something new.

She'd inadvertently stumbled upon a bit of a snag there, but Ephraim figured that was a conversation she could have with Miss Blythe. "Then I shall see to it," he said simply. "In the meantime, do consider what you'd like to ask for your boon. It is a difficult path you have chosen—you may as well enjoy what few benefits it has to offer you."

She shook her head. “I shall count this as my boon: being able to continue learning your trade," she stated, seemingly satisfied with that. “I do not think there could be anything else that I would want more than that."

"We shall see."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri
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London - Office of Ramsey and Associates, Inc.
June 6th, 1885 - 14:03 p.m. - Overcast
Khalil Jaziri


Khalil whistled to himself, standing outside of the establishment he'd been looking for. It had taken him a few hours to find it, mostly because he tried finding the place by scent alone. That had been a mistake. London was filled with smoke, the steam-powered vehicles that smelled strongly of the substance used to fuel them, and of horse manure from the carriages that were still used. That was to say nothing of the people that littered the streets. He could not understand why people chose to smell the way they did. Most of them had some sort of access to scented items. Perfume, shampoo, or something of that nature. He wrinkled his nose slightly before making his way towards the door.

He paused, took a step back to make sure he was at the right place, before walking in through the front door. There was a soft chime from the door, and the sound of footsteps made it to his ear. Pale blue eyes blinked in a confused manner before Miss Whitaker's face smoothed out to a sort of passive state. She looked unamused for a second before she seemingly remembered her manners, and smiled. It seemed a little strained, though, and it only caused Khalil to grin.

“Hello to you as well, Whitaker," he spoke. He could see the corner of her eye twitch slightly, but to her credit, her smile smoothed out to be a little less strained.

“I'll let Mr. Ramsey know you are here," she stated, turning on her heel and walking towards the back. Khalil raised a brow, his grin still in place. He could smell Miss Blythe before he even saw her, and grinned wider. He didn't bother to wait for Ramsey and Whitaker to show back up, and instead, made his way towards the other woman.

“It's good to see you in good health, Miss Blythe," he stated, pulling one of the chairs away from the empty desk, and setting it in front of Blythe.

She looked up from her work for the second time since he'd entered, smiling faintly. "Thank you, Mr. Jaziri. I was able to recover swiftly from my injuries. It's nice to see you, too." Whether the corresponding remark about his health was left off on purpose or simply because he had not been injured was unclear. She didn't seem to be implying anything, at any rate.

Setting her pen down, she reached up and tucked a small bit of hair behind her ear. "Have you come with another case, or was there something else you needed?" Her head tilted in what seemed to be an inquiring fashion.

Khalil just grinned at her and shook his head. “I came because I wanted to see how you and Whitaker were doing. Whitaker because of what she saw, and you because of what happened. Now that I know the two of you are doing well, I am here for a more personal reason," he stated, leaning forward so that he could rest his chin on the back of his propped hand.

While it was mostly true, the truth was that Khalil was bored. What happened a few days ago had been the most fun he'd had in a long time. If they had cases like this, often, he wanted to be a part of them. Mostly because he'd have something to do with himself other than help out his uncle at the clinic. And not to mention he'd be in the company of two very beautiful women. That was always a plus to him.

Of course, he'd also be in the company of a rather grumpy demon, as he was reminded when Whitaker returned, Ramsey in tow. The Ferryman's face didn't betray much, not even when he laid eyes on Khalil. His brow quirked a little, perhaps at the exaggerated familiarity in the way Khalil leaned against Miss Blythe's desk.

"Jaziri," he said, tone as neutral as his face. "I was not expecting you."

“No one really does," he responded casually, pulling away from Blythe's desk so he could stand and face Ramsey. Whitaker, however, rolled her eyes, and moved so that she was next to him. She reached forward, almost as if she were going to brush her hand against him, however; she seemed to be reaching for the chair he was sitting on. She moved it around to the other side of Blythe before taking a seat in it. Apparently they were sharing a desk, how cute.

“I'm here to see how my favorite people are doing," he spoke, earning a soft snort from Whitaker.

“You're not here to check on our well-being, Mr. Jaziri. Your body language suggests you are here for something else," she spoke, earning a grin from Khalil. She was right, but he didn't suspect that she'd know that. Perhaps she had a keener eye than he gave her credit for? She did manage to shoot that beast, after all. He merely shrugged.

“I came to see if I could tag along on the next interesting case you got," he stated, turning to Ramsey. There was no point in beating around the bushes, now.

Ramsey regarded him evenly. "Why?" he asked after a beat too long. "Our job is not a form of tourism, Mr. Jaziri. It isn't something one picks up and leaves whenever the mood strikes them."

Khalil grinned, but did his best to keep it from becoming too broad. Ramsey had a good point, though. Who was to say that in a few months—or even a few days—he wouldn't grow bored with this? Khalil trusted himself to know that once he was invested in something, he would be for a long time. But these people didn't know him, and as much of a pain as it'd be, he would prove to them that he had given some actual thought to this. Khalil, as a general rule, did things on a whim and left just as quickly. Five days ago, however, had moved him in a strange way. Chasing a criminal—one of a non-human nature—awakened something in him. Whatever it was, he wanted to do more of it. He wouldn't be entirely useless to them, though.

“Because there are things I can do that you cannot," he finally replied. That much was obvious, and supported by what happened with the shifter. The Demon didn't have as strong of a nose as Khalil did, and while he'd rather not be used as a hound, he was willing to help out in that fashion if it was required. “Not to mention I am skilled with medical alchemy and the sorts," he continued. It would be useful especially if something happened to them. Their own healing factors would be more than enough to keep them safe if they were hurt, though he wasn't entirely sure about Blythe. He couldn't figure out what she was just by scent. She wasn't quite something he'd ever met before. Whitaker, though, was human. She would likely need some help to keep herself alive if things became too heated.

To his credit, Ramsey did not give any indication of displeasure at a shortcoming of his being pointed out. Instead, his eyes shifted to Blythe, then back to Khalil. "Very well," he said after a moment. "You may accompany us on the next case on one condition: I want you to continue Miss Blythe's alchemy lessons. It is not my specialty, and she has learned all she can from me and my library already. If the arrangement works, we can discuss its potential permanency."

Khalil grinned as large as his face allowed him. Any more and he'd likely split his face in half, and he didn't want to do that. “Deal!" he stated, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. He shrugged it off, though, and glanced towards Blythe. Whitaker had her brows furrowed, and her lips were pursed softly, but she did not comment on Ramsey's statement.

“Seems like you and I will become partners for a while, Miss Blythe," he stated, nearly laughing in the process on the expression Whitaker's face took. She did not look too happy about his statement, and he could see her hand twitch slightly. Her jaw clenched a little tightly before she relaxed.

“I would advise you against trying anything strange with Miss Blythe, Mr. Jaziri," she spoke, her eyes going to the papers on her side of the desk. She spoke in a casual manner, but Khalil knew she was threatening him. He chuckled lightly.

Ramsey rolled his eyes and shook his head, moving to the room's other desk and settling down in front of it. "I'll get you a list of kit you'll need," he said, pulling a fresh sheaf of paper towards himself and taking up a pen in his left hand. "You'll have more alchemy equipment than we need, but there are a few other things as well. Make sure you have them within the week."

"Welcome to Ramsey and Associates," Miss Blythe added. Between Whitaker's glaring and Ramsey's apparent indifference, she was probably the only one that could actually say that an also mean it. She was either ignoring Whitaker's obvious threat or else oblivious to it—it was honestly impossible to tell which.

Still, it was a long time since he last felt welcomed someplace other than Wu's. He wasn't going to mess this up.