Ephraim Ramsey

"It's an indirect way of accomplishing an indirect aim. So be it."

0 · 516 views · located in Steampowered London - 1885

a character in “Death Comes to London”, originally authored by Aethyia, as played by RolePlayGateway

So begins...

Ephraim Ramsey's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

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.

Characters Present

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 Amelia, 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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

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."

Characters Present

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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

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."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

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?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

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.

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."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

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."

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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

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#, as written by Aethyia

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."

Characters Present

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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine

0.00 INK


London - Office of Ramsey and Associates, Inc.
June 15, 1885 - 10:04 a.m. - Drizzle
Beatrix Castine

Beatrix tugged the coat closer to her body that provided some shelter from the drizzle. The rain would be heavier around the evening, however; she wanted to find the source of the tingle, as she called it, first. She was always more aware than most people, seeing things she ought not to, hearing things that were not meant for the living, however; she needed this more than anything. There were things happing in her troupe, things she couldn't quite explain. What she'd learned from the tingle, though, was that there were people who could help her.

It had led her to a building that felt odd. She could feel the presence of something she had no name for, however; she pulled in a deep breath, and pushed the door open. The soft chiming of the bell caused her to look up at it, and tilt her head. It sounded almost like the bell Julian used for his performances. Shaking her thoughts, she turned her attention towards the inside, spotting a young woman sitting at a desk. Her hair was lighter than Beatrix's own, being closer to an ash hue, whereas Beatrix's was more along the lines of a wheat color. Another woman sat to the left, her hair a dark brown in color.

“Oh, hello," she spoke, lowering the tone of her voice just a smidge. She was under her guise as a boy today, her hair tucked away beneath a hat, and a simple white shirt tucked into trousers. Her boots were black in color, resting just beneath her knees. She had a brown overcoat on as well, giving her more of a paperboy appearance than anything. It helped hide the more feminine aspects of her profile. “I was wondering if you may be able to service me," she continued, keeping a friendly smile on her face to appear non-threatening.

The dark-haired woman looked up first, her face almost startlingly doll-like, an upturned little nose and rose-colored lips set neatly beneath a very large pair of green eyes. She blinked slightly, as if trying to parse Beatrix's English. "Please come in," she said, a gesture inviting Beatrix to step away from the threshold. "Are you in need of Mr. Ramsey? He is the investigator here." Her accent was musical, but difficult to place. It emulated the soft verbiage of the well-spoken and well-educated elite, but there was something about it that was off somehow.

“Is that his name?" she asked. The light-haired woman nodded in Beatrix's direction, standing momentarily and trained her eye on Beatrix. It was a little startling, if anything, but Beatrix merely smiled. The woman was as pretty as the brown haired young woman, with soft blue eyes, however; where the other woman's eyes were large and jovial, the other woman's were narrow and wary.

“What business do you have with Mr. Ramsey?" she asked, arching a brow in Beatrix's direction. Beatrix cleared her throat softly, and allowed her smile to widen.

“I was hoping he could help me with a dilemma," she stated her claim, watching as the light-haired woman's lips pursed together. She finally sighed, her shoulders slumping slightly before she straightened back out.

“I'll fetch him; wait here," she spoke, walking out from behind the desk, and disappearing into a back area. Beatrix nodded and kept her eyes on the brown haired woman.

“I'm Bea, by the way," she introduced herself. It was masculine enough that it wouldn't jeopardize her disguise. Besides, it wasn't too uncommon for some people to be without a surname. Plus, the English's way of addressing people was rather strange, calling people Lady, Lord, Miss, or Mr. depending on their status. While Beatrix adhered to the policy, she loathed being called Mr. Castine, or Miss Castine in some instances.

The dark-haired woman smiled, the expression subtly strange in a similar manner to her voice. "I'm Charlotte," she replied politely, then amended. "Charlotte Blythe. Please feel welcome to take a seat." She set about tidying some of the work off the desk, though it wasn't exactly clear what kind of work they'd do here.

There wasn't any time to find out more, however, as the second woman returned, followed by a gentleman with dark golden hair and foggy violet eyes, partially obscured by square spectacles. He was quite tall, and built well if the fit of his waistcoat and straight black trousers was any indication. Like Beatrix, he wore a white long sleeved shirt buttoned to his neck, with a dark grey cravat. He certainly didn't seem to need to hide any aspect of his profile with a coat, and indeed his eyes narrowed almost immediately at hers. It was a bit odd to be wearing one in the summer, even if it was drizzling.

"I'm Ramsey," he said, almost curtly. His eyes swept her once, though not in the manner of some men she'd encountered. The assessment was cold; clinical, even, as if she were more specimen than person. "My apprentice tells me you have a problem, Miss...?" Dislike of formality or not, he did not seem like the kind of person to press the point with.

And he'd seen completely through her disguise, it seemed.

If her case hadn't been so pressing, Beatrix might have been in awe, however; she smoothed out her coat, and nodded her head. “Beatrix Castine," she answered, giving her name in the process and returning her voice to its normal, feminine tone. There was no point in feigning ignorance, after all. “I am not quite sure if it's a problem, moreso than it's a murder," she stated, pursing her lips together.

“Recently, members of my... troupe have been disappearing. It's been happening since we left Dublin," she stated, allowing her gaze to fall to the floor. “Only one member was ever found, but..." she paused, and glanced back up to Mr. Ramsey.

“He was found dead," she continued.

“Are you saying he was murdered, Miss Castine? He could have died of a natural cause," the light-haired woman spoke, causing Beatrix to frown.

“I could sense he'd gone in a violent manner," she retorted. She didn't quite like the woman's implication that Jacque might have died naturally. He had been one of the most healthy people in her troupe. And he'd never touched the drink, like her ringmaster did.

Ramsey hummed quietly, shooting the woman he'd called his apprentice a slight sideward glance, almost as if vaguely surprised by her adamant tone. But his eyes landed back on Beatrix just a moment later. "Explain what you mean by 'sense,' if you please." He didn't sound chastising or skeptical or anything like that. In fact there was very little feeling in his tone at all, but what was there seemed to be simple curiosity.

She sighed softly. “I'm..." she paused, hesitating only for a second before she continued, “I'm what most people consider a medium, or a psychic to others. I can't speak to you telepathically, or that kind of nonsense, but I can vaguely read the future through tarot cards, and..." she paused again.

“I can sense the spiritual, or supernatural. Whatever term it is that you use," she explained. “It's like the aura that you emit, Mr. Ramsey. It isn't human, but it's not something I've encountered before. The same with Miss Blythe," she stated, continuing her explanation as she glanced in Miss Blythe's direction. As far as she could tell, the light haired woman and herself were the only humans in the building.

“When Jacque died, though, his essence was still lingering. It was like his soul hadn't quite left his body, yet, and I felt it. The rage, the surprise, the guilt," and so many other emotions she couldn't put a name to.

He nodded slightly. "I suspect you are not in a position to pay for my services," he said, bluntly but not unkindly. "However, given the circumstances, I am willing to offer them to you anyway." Ramsey crossed his arms over his chest, standing with the same well-centered, effortless balance of a tightrope walker. "Does your employer know you've sought me out?"

Beatrix flinched slightly. “No, he doesn't," she answered. “But... there's a reason for that," she quickly added, standing a little taller than was necessary. She was nervous about the admission she was about to make. The aura Jacque left behind felt familiar, like he knew who it was before he died. It has to be someone in the troupe, otherwise Jacque would never have let his guard down. He was our blademaster," she stated. Jacque was the one who entertained people with his blades; whether he was juggling them, throwing them, or swallowing them, that was his gift.

“And if it was someone Jacque knew, my employer might be behind it," she confessed softly. She couldn't rule anyone out, not when it was this personal.

"Reasonable," he replied, nodding just slightly as if in approval. "However, that will necessitate a change in our usual approach..." He paused for a moment, glancing at Charlotte before his attention fixed more firmly on the woman who hadn't introduced herself. "I suppose Vera has taught you some unnecessarily-flashy shots by this point, Miss Whitaker?"

“She has been teaching me everything she knows," the woman, Miss Whitaker, stated, arching a delicate brow in Mr. Ramsey's direction. Beatrix was slightly confused, though. Why would Miss Whitaker need to know flashy shots? “She has also been teaching me other, fun things, if that is what you meant," she added, glancing back towards Beatrix.

“I don't follow," she finally spoke. If Miss Whitaker didn't appear as stoic as Mr. Ramsey, Bea would have thought that she looked slightly amused.

"I believe Mr. Ramsey is implying that we will be going undercover for this," Charlotte added, her voice oddly bright for the topic of discussion.

But it obviously didn't register as odd to Ramsey, or if it did he completely ignored the fact. "If the troupe is seeking new talent, yes. I believe that would be our best way in."

“That's... actually very bright," Beatrix spoke, smiling to match Miss Blythe's. She felt oddly comforted by that declaration. “With Jacque gone, along with a couple of our other members, my employer will be seeking new talent. I can put in a good word for the three of you," she stated, watching as Miss Whitaker frowned slightly.

“I just hope Mr. Jaziri doesn't catch wind of this," Miss Whitaker spoke, though it was more of a mutter beneath her breath.

"Very well," the investigator replied. "If you'll give us a location, and a time convenient for you, we will arrange our schedules and appear tomorrow."

“Do you have paper and a pen?" Beatrix asked. Miss Whitaker nodded her head, and made her way towards the desk where Miss Blythe was sitting. She retreived a piece of paper, along with a quill, and handed it to Beatrix. “You'll find the tent, here," she stated, writing down the address so that it was eligible. “It's best if you come first thing in the morning. Our performances are usually slated for an afternoon and evening time frame."

Beatrix handed the paper back to Miss Whitaker when she was finished, and watched as she took it to Mr. Ramsey. “Thank you... very much," she spoke, as she glanced back to Mr. Ramsey.

"Thank us when the work is done," he said tersely, but the slight nod that accompanied the words softened them just slightly. "We'll be there."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

London - Circo Della Notte Grounds
June 16, 1885 - 07:00 a.m. - Fog
Ephraim Ramsey

'First thing in the morning' wasn't exactly the same for a circus troupe as it was for everyone else. Like the staff at the Red Moon, for example, they tended to run later into the night, and many didn't necessarily sleep until around sunup. That said, even in deference to this fact Ephraim did not desire to be late, so he'd arranged for the group to appear shortly after sunrise.

Despite Miss Lancaster's desires, Mr. Jaziri had caught wind of their plans and invited himself along. Ephraim did not see this as wholly bad, as he'd promised to bring a few pieces of portable alchemy equipment, which should suitably expedite any tests necessary during the investigation while allowing them to keep cover. He was unsure what appropriate talents the dhampir intended to audition with, but he also didn't care.

Hoisting his satchel slightly higher on his shoulder, he cast a glance over his shoulder to check on the others. He had no idea what excuse Miss Lancaster had given her father for an indeterminate absence, but that wasn't his business either. Everyone had dressed reasonably appropriately, at least. Carnies were not wealthy in general, and could not afford custom tailoring or anything at their typical respective price points, so in effect they were disguised. Ephraim himself had donned a slightly frayed waistcoat and a shirt about a size too large, soft with use rather than crisp as he usually preferred. His trousers and boots were of a similar quality, though the dark brown and white was inoffensive as far as color combinations went.

He'd also foregone his spectacles, which was annoying because he could now see death clocks regardless of whether he wanted to, but he'd learned to ignore them when he had to. It was... somewhat reassuring that those of his companions who had them had large, constantly fluctuating numbers—no one was in imminent danger, of course. Miss Blythe still unsettlingly lacked one.

Satisfied that they were following at a decent pace, he passed under the faded arch that read Circo Della Notte in decorative, embellished letters. The print was white against a deep blue background, and featured a silvery star motif. Clearly it had seen better days, financially; the paint was chipped and the tents they approached were dingy in the encroaching daylight. Ephraim wondered if the troupe had always plied a nocturnal theme or if it had simply become necessary to do so in order to conceal the signs of creeping destitution.

Either way, he filed the facts in the back of his mind and dwelt on them no further.

The first person they came across happened to be Miss Castine. She cast them a bright smile, passing off the cloth she was holding to another person. She spoke something to them, causing the woman who'd taken the cloth to glance in Ephraim's general direction. She nodded in what seemed to be in an agreeing manner before Miss Castine made her way towards him. She was dressed in a similar manner she'd been yesterday, however; the hat was missing, and her hair had been pulled back into a short tail.

“I'm glad you made it!" she chirped, folding her hands in front of her as she rolled on her heels. “Master Bianchi will be expecting you near his tent," she stated, her eyes glancing over the group. “Oh, I've not been acquainted with you, Mr..." she trailed off when her eyes landed on Mr. Jaziri. He flashed her a bright, crooked smile. Miss Lancaster visibly rolled her eyes at the gesture, but said nothing as Mr. Jaziri stepped forward.

Placing one hand across his abdomen, Mr. Jaziri bowed, keeping his head up so that he was still looking at Miss Castine. “Khalil Jaziri, at your service," he spoke. Miss Castine laughed softly, before shaking her head.

“I would give you a proper introduction, Mr. Khalil, however; Master Bianchi will be expecting you all... soon," she spoke, stepping off to the side. Her mode of address only caused Mr. Jaziri's grin to widen. “If you'll follow me, I can take you to him," she stated, taking a few steps forward and glancing over her shoulder. Miss Lancaster was the first to follow Miss Castine. They followed her to a tent that was not as decrepit as the others. It was well kept, if anything. As they neared, a man appeared through the flap, dressed in red trousers, and a simple white shirt. He had a round stature, and his hair was dark and curly, pulled back into a low tail. The beard sprouting from his face was long, falling to the center of his abdomen.

He took a drink from a jug in his hands before his eyes landed on the group. "Who the hell are you all? We're not open yet," he spoke, turning to spit to the side.

Ephraim easily suppressed his distaste, speaking before one of the others could say something clever and ruin their chances at this before they'd even begun. "We're lookin' for work," he said, gesturing vaguely behind him at the others and affecting an accent decidedly more lower-class than the one he typically used. Cockney, it was called. "Seas'nal. Maybe longer, if yeh figure we're up to code. 'Eard you had a few op'nens."

The man arched a thick brow at Ephraim, his dark eyes narrowing slightly. “You must be the group Castine was talking about," he spoke, glancing towards Miss Castine. She fidgeted beneath his stare, but kept her smile on her face.

“They are, and they're really talented, Master Bianchi! I think..." she was cut short when he raised a hand in a gesture meant to silence. She took a step back as the man stepped forward. His eyes lingered on Ephraim for a moment before they swept over towards the others. He lingered a little longer on Miss Lancaster and Miss Blythe for a moment too long, before he swept back towards Ephraim. He made a tsking noise as he took another drink from his jug.

“Dressed poorly, posture all wrong, what makes you think you've the talent?" he asked, putting an emphasis on the word.

Suppressing the desire to roll his eyes now was harder. This man was by all indications lacking employees and hardly in a position to be choosy based on wardrobe, but Ephraim had been expecting some obstacles.

"C'n always change th' clothes," he said with a shrug, hefting his satchel again. "As fer the talent, well... howabouts we demonstrate and you c'n decide for yourself?"

The man simply took a long swig from the jug, before letting out a satisfied breath. “Fine. Trixie, take them to the large tent. I'll meet you there in five. Whatever your talent is, the large tent will have all the supplies necessary to demonstrate," he spoke, ducking back into his tent. Miss Castine was still smiling, though it seemed a little strained by the time he disappeared.

“I'm sorry for Master Bianchi. He hasn't quite had his fill for the day so he's a little grumpy," she spoke, earning a light scoff from Miss Lancaster.

“Charming," she spoke, the sarcasm dripping from her voice. If it bothered Miss Castine, she didn't show it, and instead, turned on her heel to lead them to the tent. Mr. Jaziri was abnormally quiet, though that might have been for the best.

“So, what did you have in mind, Mr. Ramsey? That way I can set you up, first."

As soon as he stepped into the tent, Ephraim's posture straightened, and he dropped the accent, confident that there was no one around but them. "I'm with her," he said, tilting his chin towards Miss Lancaster. "If you set the targets up however she wants them, I will be able to accommodate accordingly." He had determined that, given the nature of Miss Lancaster's act and her need for assistance in certain parts, they would be better served as a unit.

He dropped the satchel he'd been carrying on the ground, and unbuttoned his sleeves to roll them up. His forearms were inked in arcane tattoos, the black ink stark against the light tan of his complexion. This was a fact that, while it might work against him in genteel company, wouldn't matter a whit to carnies. If anything it made him more believable as one.

Once the sleeves rested just below his elbows, he opened the satchel and withdrew a heavy bandoleer, host to a dozen identically-sized knife sheaths, all of them occupied.

Mr. Jaziri snickered softly at Ephraim's comment, but didn't give his own. Miss Castine merely nodded and turned her attention to Miss Lancaster. “So are you going to be throwing knives at Mr. Ramsey? Because if that's the case, we can set up the targets in this general area. That way, they don't risk accidentally hitting someone." Miss Lancaster raised a brow in Miss Castine's direction, almost as if she were offended, however; she smiled and shook her head.

“No, Miss Castine. I will be shooting the targets in a flashy manner," she spoke, shooting Ephraim a smirk before returning her attention towards Miss Castine. “And Mr. Ramsey will be acting as my assistant in a particular scene," she continued.

“Oh, that'll be lovely to watch," Miss Castine spoke, turning her attention towards Mr. Jaziri and Miss Blythe. “And what of the two of you? Will you be a duo act as well?" she asked, seemingly curious to their answer. Mr. Jaziri shook his head, though.

“Unfortunately, not. How acquainted with the spiritual is your ring master?" he asked. “Ramsey informed me of your particular gift," he added as a confused expression crossed Miss Castine's face.

“Ah, that would explain why your aura isn't quite human, either. Um, he's a collector of the strange and wayward, but he's quite aware of the unnatural if that's what you mean," she stated, causing Mr. Jaziri to grin.

“Great. Then I'll just be his man-beast. He doesn't have one of those, right?" he asked as Miss Castine shook her head in response.

Ephraim looked sharply at him. "First Law," he reminded tersely. "Even if the owner is aware, the audience may not be. Make sure it looks plausibly fake before any of them see it." It didn't have to be obviously false, but it couldn't be obviously-real, either.

“Oh, right, right," Mr. Jaziri spoke, pursing his lips together. “What about an animal tamer? You got one of those, 'cause I'm really good with bears," he stated, still grinning as he did. Miss Castine furrowed her brows a bit, but nodded her head.

“We do, but I'm sure Maestro wouldn't mind a second hand. We do have a bear named Petunia, though, that hasn't seen a show since her last tamer died. Oh, perhaps you could step in with her!" she stated. Mr. Jaziri merely nodded his head.

“And what of you, Miss Blythe?"

When eyes turned to his assistant, it was to find her in the process of shucking her long skirt. She had leggings and a shorter one on underneath, of course, but circus costuming was hardly modest by present standards, and she'd dressed beneath her outermost layers with movement in mind. She seemed not at all embarrassed, and indeed smoothed down the knee-length skirt with a smile. It was made of chiffon, he thought, something light and effervescent like that.

"I can do a bit of tumbling," she said, rather modestly in Ephraim's estimation. Still, he knew he didn't have to remind her about the First Law. She'd keep it within reasonably human parameters.

“Oh, that sounds like you'd be a perfect fit in Miss Tanner's group. They were a trio of acrobats before Adelaide left. I'll go set up the areas while we wait for Master Bianchi," she spoke, leaving the group to themselves. True to his word, Mr. Bianchi appeared five minutes later, just as Miss Castine finished setting up the first act for Ephraim and Miss Lancaster.

“Alright, let's see what you've got, then," he stated, rolling out his shoulders. “You going first?" he asked, keeping his gaze with Ephraim's. He didn't seem to mind who actually went first, though, from the way his eyes began to roam between the group.

Ephraim nodded shortly, making brief eye contact with Miss Lancaster and drawing one of the knives from his bandolier.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

0.00 INK

London - Circo Della Notte Grounds
June 16, 1885 - 08:04 a.m. - Fog
Amelia Lancaster

If anything, Amelia was satisfied with her behavior. She had managed not to shoot Mr. Bianchi, even if her fingers were itching to do so. This was a case, and above all, she needed to be professional about it. Mr. Ramsey wouldn't have appreciated it, if she just acted, and she certainly did not want to lose her apprenticeship with him. She fancied that more than anything else. As it was, Mr. Bianchi had been impressed to the point that he'd invited Mr. Ramsey back to his tent. Amelia had tagged along because she had also been invited back. Perhaps for something dastardly, but Amelia pushed the thoughts from her mind. She was with Mr. Ramsey, and she would leave with Mr. Ramsey.

“I'd say color me impressed," Mr. Bianchi stated, pulling back the flaps to his tent as he ushered Amelia and Mr. Ramsey inside. “I didn't think a woman could be so talented with a pistol," he continued. Amelia managed to force a sweet smile for the man.

“I'd consider it a talent that has been well-cultivated," she replied, keeping the smile on her face as much as she could. The man's breath was almost rancid, perhaps from all the drink he had around, however; Amelia kept her hands to the side. There were worse smells out there; she was mometarily grateful she didn't have Mr. Jaziri's sense of smell.

Mr. Bianchi merely laughed, the sound more along the lines of a pig choking on its slop. “There's hope for you, yet, Miss Whitaker. If all goes well, we might be able to find a more permanent spot for you," he spoke, though the way he drawled the word caused Amelia to inwardly groan. Repulsive man, was the only word that came to her mind.

“These right here," he stated, making his way towards a table, and opened one of the drawers. “These are the contracts. They state that you will work for me, and will paid a decent price for your work. You get paid per successful show, and at the end of the week." He placed a pile of papers on the desk, and motioned for Mr. Ramsey and Amelia to step forward.

“Are there any concerns you have about your employment?" he asked.

"Term o' service?" Mr. Ramsey was still affecting that strange accent, the one that made him sound so much rougher. He looked it, too, with the different clothes and the tattoos on his bare forearms. They were surprisingly thick with muscle, too, but that sort of made sense, considering what he did for a living. She found it an attractive quality, nonetheless. "I know we're temps, but how long're you lot in town?"

He flipped through one of the contracts, and though he probably read every word, he managed to look like it was a bit of a struggle to read at all, squinting at the papers as though they were irritating to him. His eyes flicked up after only a perfunctory amount of time, and he appeared to take in the tent, from the printed banner proclaiming someone called the Magnificent Martina to the shoddily-kept desk itself, to the conspicuous neck of a liquor bottle visible beneath it. There were several accoutrements of Mr. Bianchi's personal life here, too, including a large trunk with bits of fabric sticking out and what appeared to be a screen behind which the man could dress, but he must have slept elsewhere, for there was nothing of that kind, at least.

“You'll be employed for the two weeks we will be here. After that, depending on how well-received your performances are, we will renegotiate terms and conditions for more permanent spots," he replied, his eyes flickering towards Amelia. He did it in a way that looked like he was trying to be discreet about it, however; Amelia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She wondered if he did that to all of his female employees. Most likely. Instead, she allowed her own eyes to drift back to his desk, where a picture frame was settled in the corner. She could barely make out what the picture was, but she could see Mr. Bianchi's face quite clearly. He looked a bit thinner and happier. From the way his arm was angled, she could tell he had it draped over someone.

“We will provide lodging and clothing since you cannot wear that atrocious attire into the show," he added. Amelia scoffed lightly, but decided to keep her retort to herself. The lodging was going to be difficult for her, though. She couldn't just stay with the troupe, however; if Miss Vera agreed to accomodate, she could let her father know that she planned on staying a couple of days with her.

For his part, Mr. Ramsey shrugged, producing a pen from his pocket and affixing a messy scrawl to the bottom of the page. Not his actual signature, as she knew by now that was quite neat by comparison. He offered it toward her with his left hand, raising an eyebrow just slightly.

"'Ear you've 'ad a bit o' trouble wiff folks goin' missing on ya," he remarked conversationally to Mr. Bianchi.

She took the pen and wrote her own signature, doing her best to change certain strokes to her first name as she did. Mr. Bianchi, however, laughed at Mr. Ramsey's statement. The sound was almost nervous, like he was trying to shirk the idea by simply laughing.

“Most of them have left on their own accord," he spoke, taking the papers that they had signed. He filed them away in another drawer, and turned back towards both of them. “Others simply never came back," he added, running his forefinger and thumb through his beard. “Since you've signed the papers, might as well go introduce yourselves to the others. You'll find them outside readying for tonight's show. You won't be required to participate in today's, however," he paused to reach for one of his wine bottles, “you'll officially begin tomorrow night. Might as well make yourselves useful and help set up for tonight."

Amelia agreed on the grounds that anywhere was better than inside Mr. Bianchi's tent. It would also give them the opportunity to investigate the other members.

With a terse nod, Mr. Ramsey saw their way out, lifting the flap of the tent for Amelia to go first, then letting it fall closed behind them. He did not speak, however, until they were a comfortable distance away, at which point his voice was soft, still clearly intended for only her to hear.

"Impressions?" he inquired, one eyebrow arched slightly.

“I can see why Miss Castine is suspicious of Mr. Bianchi," she responded. “He spoke with no remorse about his missing troupe members, and laughed as if to deny they were missing at all," she continued, pursing her lips together. This man was supposed to be their employer, someone who looked after them. If they'd traveled together for a long time, shouldn't he have shown some concern? She calmed her thoughts, though, and sighed softly.

“But at the same time, it feels like he knows something," she added, narrowing her eyes slightly. He had to know something if he were trying to deny the fact that his troupe members were disappearing. Perhaps it was just guilt that plagued him?

Mr. Ramsey hummed. "It's possible," he agreed after a moment. "Remember, though—that he's in charge here does not entail that he cares at all for his employees. Carnivals and circuses have lots of turnover—it's the reason why he'd hire temporary workers like us at all. But just because he fails to demonstrate the appropriate concern doesn't mean he killed anyone."

He paused a moment, casting his eyes around until they alighted on two men in dirty blue coveralls. They looked to be finishing the last of breakfast: bread, half a cheese wheel, and tinned sausages right out of the can. "Those will be the people we're meant to help set up, then."

If she had still been the same Amelia Lancaster from a month ago, she might have found it repulsive how they ate. Taking in a deep breath, she allowed her face to smooth over as they approached the two men. She waited politely as they wiped their faces of any remaining food before she spoke. “Mr. Bianchi has asked that we assist with setup," she spoke, keeping her expression as smooth as possible.

If Mr. Bianchi's leering had been obvious, the once-over she got from the larger of these two was glaring. Watery blue eyes trailed from the crown of her head down to the shoes on her feet, then dragged back up again with a certain kind of grimy relish. He had the build of a laborer, broad and thick on a large frame, and despite the lack of definition to his tree-trunk arms, he might have been handsome but for the crookedness of his tobacco-stained teeth and the unappetizing expression on his face when he grinned at her through his reddish beard.

“Did 'e, now?" the man asked, folding his arms over his chest. “Plen'y o' fings I'd let a girl like you assist me wif, love."

The smaller, slighter man next to him, shook his head with a frown and jabbed an elbow into the first one's side. “Be'ave, Davis." His dark brows knit. “Sorry, Miss. Davis ain't got manners, but 'e's 'armless. I'm Harris, and we're what passes for a ground crew 'round these parts. You must be new 'ires?"

"Fresh," Mr. Ramsey replied, eyes flicking from one man to the other. "I'm Ramsey. This is Miss Whitaker." He emphasized the miss just enough that she picked up on it, a strange cadence on it that sounded almost... irritated.

“Awright." Harris, at least, flinched a little, scratching absently at his thin mustache. “Well, uh. S'pose the pens need cleanin', and then we can get t' work on settin' up the main tent. So if them's you cam in wif is here to help, too, we can split the work."

Trials, she repeated the word as if it were a mantra inside her head. She had to remind herself that there would be incidents like this in their line of work and that she had to ignore them. It would attest to her growth not only as a lady, but as Mr. Ramsey's apprentice. She forced an innocent smile on her face before glancing towards Harris.

“You mentioned passing as a ground crew. Does that mean you've been with Mr. Bianchi for a while?" she asked, keeping the smile on her face as she did. “What's it like working for him?" she added on, making it seem like she were interested in the work rather than finding out about their length of employment. If they were with Mr. Bianchi since the beginning of the disappearances, they might be more open to talking about it. She would do her part in being persuasive if they weren't up to it, though.

“Us?" Harris blinked, then shrugged. “We've been 'ere forever, Miss. The job don't change much. Set stuff up, take it down. Move when we get told ta move, stop when we get told ta stop. Ol' Bianchi's same as 'e's ever been, only drunker lately." He offered an uncertain smile, but it seemed friendly enough.

Certainly moreso than his companion, who was looking back and forth between Amelia and Mr. Ramsey, a scowl on his face.

“Sounds rather exciting," she stated blandly, glancing at Davis only to be courteous. Her eyes wandered to Ramsey for a brief second, though, before propping a hand on her hip. “Well, hopefully we'll be here longer than the others, seeing as Mr. Bianchi had to hire temps. Do people just up and leave whenever they want to? 'Cause this seems like a really good trade to be part of," she stated, glancing in Davis's direction once more.

“It's hard work, girlie," Davis said, spitting to the side. There seemed to be something almost hostile in it, and the fact that he was now outright glaring at Mr. Ramsey confirmed that, though nothing about why. For his part, her teacher did not react in the slightest.

“People find work they like better, or they don't want ta go on the road, or we toss 'em out fer bein' useless shits. Some of 'em just leave. It happens. Any carnie worf his salt'll tell ya so." He scoffed. “The ones like yer fella here go first. Pretty ones what don't know how to handle a little dirt under their fingers."

Of that, she had no doubt, however; Mr. Ramsey was more than just a pretty face. Not that this neanderthal would know about that, but she kept that thought to herself. Instead, she let out a soft puff of amused air, and tilted her head to the left. She didn't comment on Davis's last statment, though. Let him think whatever of Mr. Ramsey's relationship to her; she was here to do a job.

“Well, I s'pose it's a good thing Ramsey isn't afraid to get a little dirt on him," she stated, grinning just slightly in Harris's direction. “Perhaps we should get started on setting up as a demonstration, hm?" she stated, arching a brow in Ramsey's direction. It was clear to her that Davis was trying to be intimidating to Ramsey, though she couldn't figure out why. Ramsey was, perhaps, the most intimidating creature here, lions and bears notwithstanding. And that's when he wanted to be, she supposed.

It also seemed like they wouldn't get much information out of Davis if his intention was intimidation. Harris seemed like a nice, meek man, but he wouldn't be of much help, either, with Davis around. She sighed softly through her nose. She might have to ask Davis questions, alone. That was, however, a thought she didn't want to entertain at the moment.

Mr. Ramsey looked like he was about to agree with her, but the conversation was interrupted.

“It's happened again!" someone shouted, apparently from some ways to the right.

“Fer fuck's sake," Davis grumbled.

Harris only frowned. “Best go see."

With a grunt, the other man led the way. It didn't take long; the commotion was coming from further in, where several of the performers had or shared quarters. Pinned on the outside of a blue and white striped tent was a scrap of paper, tidy, small handwriting with an abundance of loops and swirls easily visible for the thickness of the lettering.

Three it's been, with fourth to come
Not till ten is the game zero-sum
What you took will be paid in return
Lest your silent ally you spurns

"Not much of a poet," Mr. Ramsey muttered, too low for anyone but Amelia to hear.

Amelia merely pursed her lips and furrowed her brows. “It's a riddle of sorts," she muttered mostly to herself. While she would readily admit to anyone who asked, Amelia liked riddles. They challenged her, however; this one didn't make much sense to her. Three with fourth to come? “What did they mean by again?" she spoke to Harris whom she was closer to. She was, of course, referring to the statement made by one of the other members. “Has this happened before?" she continued. She briefly wondered if this had anything to do with Miss Castine's missing troupe members, however; Miss Castine didn't mention anything of letters or riddles.

Harris looked a little like he'd seen a ghost; beneath the mustache, his face was nearly white as a sheet; quite a feat with a Mediterranean complexion such as his. “I don't—" He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. Looking around, his reaction wasn't too different to several of the other gathered parties; one woman raised a fist to her mouth and sobbed softly. Several of the others wore grimaces, worry clear in the lines of their faces.

“Three's... two's the number of missin'," he managed after a moment more. A scowling Davis next to him nodded. “The ones we can't figure where they went. And then there was Jacque... he's dead."

“Ramsey," she stated softly, gently touching his arm to beckon him to follow her away from the crowd. Once they were a decent distance, she turned to him with pursed lips. “If three people are dead," at this point they had to be, “that means they're going to take another person, or worse." The riddle made some sense after Harris's explanation, but she still didn't know what the other parts pertained to.

“We should let the others know," she stated. She hadn't seen the others around, but chances were Mr. Jaziri at least heard the shouting.

He nodded faintly. "Good. Gather them and explain. I'm going to watch the crowd. Who reacts how is going to be useful to know."

She nodded.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

London - Circo Della Notte Grounds
June 18, 1885 - 10:13 a.m. - Overcast

Charlotte spooned another mouthful of tasteless oatmeal from the small bowl in front of her, humming thoughtfully as she ate. From her position at this table in the food tent, she could see most of the other occupants. Though Mr. Harris and Mr. Davis had probably eaten hours ago, this was about the time that most of the actual performers started to wake up, she'd learned.

The first couple days of their time with the circus hadn't been that eventful. Mostly they met people, pretended to choose costuming and setups for their acts, helped out with chores, and met the other members of the troupe. A lot of them were temporary, like she was supposed to be, but there was a core group let of about fifteen people, including four roadies, ten performers of various types, and the ringmaster. She knew everyone's names by now, at least, and had started noting their habits as well as she could.

She was at a bit of a disadvantage in this regard in a certain way, though. Charlotte didn't know enough about humans to be able to filter her observations, to know what was odd and what was perfectly normal. When Mr. Parker the temporary juggler and Miss O'Donaghue the trick rider entered the tent together, she noted that they did this at every meal, but this time Mr. Parker did not seem to have combed his hair that morning. But she knew he was usually well-kept, ad had probably done so when he woke. So what had messed it up? And why was there a smudge of something reddish fading at the edge of his collar?

Oh. The answer hit her all at once: they'd been kissing. Was that important, though? Charlotte had no idea, so she filed it away with all the other information, unsure it was safe to ignore. People sometimes committed crimes because of related things; Amelia's first case with the group was proof enough of that.

A movement closer to her drew her attention. Mrs. Blanchette set down her bowl of oatmeal with a grimace and dropped heavily onto the bench opposite her. “So bloody obvious, aren't they?" she asked, her tone conveying a grumpiness that Charlotte thought had more to do with the fact that she'd just woken up than anything.

Mrs. Blanchette was usually a tumbler, but as she was currently about halfway through a pregnancy, she wasn't able to perform at the moment. Her husband, Mr. Blanchette, was Charlotte's partner for her act. Mrs. Blanchette supervised practice and suggested things still, and though she was a bit acerbic, it hardly bothered Charlotte. She spent most of her time around Mr. Ramsey, after all.

"Should they be keeping it secret?" she asked, puzzled. Everyone seemed to make such a to-do about who was kissing whom, which Charlotte thought was kind of silly. Kissing looked kind of silly itself, honestly. She found it hard to believe it was so enjoyable.

Mrs. Blanchette sighed, tugging at her loose dress with clear frustration. It didn't seem to want to lay right; it was very big on her even with her pregnancy taken into account, and looked too heavy to be comfortable at this time of year. “Trust me, dear, that hasn't been secret for ages. Lydia's just being dramatic so people go back to talking about her instead of you lot."

"About us?" Charlotte cocked her head to the side. She wasn't sure it would be useful information, but maybe it could be. "What are people saying?"

The older woman waved a hand, digging into her oatmeal with a sigh. “There's always gossip about newcomers. Outlandish, usually. Some idiot was saying that Mr. Bianchi and Davis got into a fistfight over your friend. Amelia?" At Charlotte's nod, she hummed around a spoonful of oatmeal. “That kind of thing. It's just people blowing off steam."

“Hm, but who can really blame them?" Mr. Jaziri spoke, holding a bowl of what appeared to be oatmeal as well. He didn't immediately touch it, nor did he move to take a seat. He simply stood at the side of the table and grinned at Mrs. Blanchette. “Miss Whitaker's a lovely specimen, but it also explains why she's been hanging around Ramsey more," he continued, finally placing his spoon inside of the bowl and scooping out a bite. He ate his oatmeal before it looked like he'd decided to finally sit. He sat on the same side as Charlotte, but left a decent space between them.

“But what about you Mrs. Blanchette? How're you holding up with that little 'un?" he asked, genuine intrigue laced in his voice, or so it seemed. Mr. Jaziri had taken to the circus quite easily when they'd arrived, perhaps because he'd always been different. Maybe this felt normal to him compared to his every day life?

“Getting enough nutrition?"

She tilted an eyebrow at him, something Charlotte thought might have been amusement flicking over her features. “When I can keep it down, yes. I for one have never appreciated the plainness of Mr. Downey's cooking as much as I do right now." She raised her voice on the last part, loud enough to be heard across the tent. A few chuckles followed, including from the cook, Mr. Downey himself.

“Made it special for you, Ginger," he replied without missing a beat.

Mrs. Blanchette grinned and shook her head, turning back to Charlotte and Mr. Jaziri. She absently patted her stomach, then took another bite. “Anyway, I meant to ask after all you new ones. I know Charlotte here's settling into her act so well I'm worried about my job," she said, in a tone Charlotte interpreted as jocular. “But how are you, Mr. Jaziri? I know Adam can be a bit... terse, with the new hires. Prefers animals to people."

Mr. Jaziri merely chuckled, and grinned a little wider. “It's been pretty interesting. I just pretend I'm one of those animals so it makes getting along with him rather easy," he spoke, though the way he said it sounded like he was being serious. The snort that escaped him a few seconds later deemed otherwise.

“It's not as bad as it could be. People like me are used to being ostracized, after all, but Adam's been really decent," he spoke, his grin softening to a smile. He took another bite of his oatmeal before speaking again. “On a sidenote, do let me know if there's anything I can do for you to make it easier. I've picked up a few things about certain herbs and medicines along the road," he stated. He grinned as if a sudden thought amused him.

“You should name her Petunia!" he stated. “She's been a real doll, and I'm sure you'd have one, too," he continued, perhaps referring to Mrs. Blanchette's child.

She snorted at that. “And here Henri is convinced we're having a boy," she replied, though before she could say any more, Mr. Harris burst into the tent, pale and askew.

“It's—Adam!" he said, panting for breath. “In the animal tent, he—"

Enough noise erupted to drown out the words. Charlotte rose to her feet immediately, knowing there was about to be a crowd and understanding that the need to preserve the scene was vital.

“Oh..." Mrs. Blanchette looked vaguely queasy, but when Charlotte hesitated, unsure if she should help, the woman waved a hand. “You two go ahead. Don't let them all gawk at the poor man, you hear?"

Mr. Jaziri's face betrayed nothing of what his was feeling, if he was feeling anything at all. He merely nodded at Mrs. Blanchette and glanced towards Charlotte. “We better get there before anyone else has a chance," he spoke low enough for her to hear. He glanced over his shoulder, as if to make sure Charlotte was following him, before walking ahead. Once they were a far enough distance, Mr. Jaziri's face turned into a scowl.

“I was just with him not more than half an hour ago," he muttered, as if he were talking to himself, and not Charlotte. “I didn't smell anything unusual or hear anything," he added, turning his attention to Charlotte. They passed a couple of smaller tents before they came to a larger one. It wasn't quite as large as the main tent, but it looked wide enough to fit a couple of the carriages inside of it.

“This is where he practices and tends to his animals," Mr. Jaziri spoke, opening the flap and motioning for Charlotte to step through, first. There were several pieces of equipment strewn about, and what appeared to be a stand in the middle of an arena. There were several other stands with large circles attached off to the side as well, however; a couple of cages seemed rather worn. The metal was rusted around the bars, and the wood looked like it'd been roughed up a bit.

What was more, one of them was open, hanging ajar.

Charlotte's eyes tracked to the left, and she gasped sharply.

In her short time with Mr. Ramsey, she'd seen a lot more death than most people ever would—some of them quite gruesome. But this... it was clear that Mr. Taylor, Adam, had been mauled by one of his own animals. He bore heavy slash wounds that had torn through the fabric of his shirt, and a large bite had crushed his collarbone and torn into the meat of his shoulder. More distressing still was the fact that there was no such creature in sight anywhere.

"Mr. Jaziri," Charlotte said, keeping her voice level and calm. "Which of the animals is currently missing?"

Mr. Jaziri clicked his tongue as he glanced around. “Sasha's missing," he finally stated, glancing down to Charlotte. “His lion, Sasha, is currently not in his cage. We need to find him before he attacks someone else," he stated, though his voice was soft. He sounded upset, but it didn't show on his facial expressions. His hand twitched slightly, and he moved forward as if to do something. He stopped, though, and shook his head.

“We should probably notify the others," he muttered, his brows furrowing softly.

Fortunately, they didn't have to; no doubt the commotion had done that already.

Mr. Ramsey stepped into the tent first, Amelia and Miss Beatrix on his heels. Mr. Harris lingered some way back, looking inside and wringing his hands. He seemed to be sweating a great deal for the climate conditions; perhaps he was anxious. She supposed that was an understandable reaction to seeing someone dead that you know.

"Mr. Ramsey—"

He cut her off with a shake of his head, his eyes flicking briefly to their audience. "I heard. Go, both of you."

Charlotte nodded gravely and turned to Mr. Jaziri, touching a hand softly to his elbow before heading out the same way they'd come in. That was supposed to be a kind gesture, right? A polite way of asking him to follow without saying anything? She thought so, anyway.

Only when they were well clear of the gathering crowd did she frown, tipping her head back. She still hadn't quite forgotten his reaction to her blood that one time, though they'd spoken no more of it. There were more important matters to deal with right now, regardless.

"Can you smell him?" she asked softly.

He sighed softly, but tilted his head upwards. His nostrils flared a few times before his head turned eastward. His eyes narrowed slightly in the direction; thick brush and some trees lined the view. He blinked slowly before he finally glanced back to Charlotte.

“He's still close by which is good," he paused and frowned, “but at the same time, it's not. We can't risk anyone else getting hurt." He kept his gaze steady with hers for a few moments, as if he were trying to read what was on her mind, or studying her face, however; his expression softened.

“We don't know what kind of condition Sasha's in. If he attacked Adam, chances are he'll attack us, too," he spoke, pursing his lips together into a fine line. “Will you do me a favor?" he began, his face taking on a serious expression. “I know you can handle yourself pretty well, but... will you stay behind me when we approach Sasha? I don't..." he paused and grimaced, almost as if he'd offended himself somehow.

“I don't want you to get hurt, or have a repeat of what happened at Dor's if you do." He seemed genuinely concerned for her saftey, if anything else.

Charlotte blinked. It was an awfully strange thing, to feel that someone was concerned about her safety. As far as she could tell, no injury she'd ever sustained had done her permanent damage, and she'd suffered more than a few in the early days of trying to figure out how her body worked. But the other concern at least made sense to her.

"I'll do my best," she said, placing a sincere hand over her heart. Even with the fabric there, she swore she could feel the slightly raised ridges in her skin. "But if you're in danger, I'm definitely going to try and protect you, so be prepared." She gave him a smile, then gestured for him to precede her.

That produced a small smile on Mr. Jaziri's face. “Sure thing, Miss Blythe. I'll consider it an honor of the highest regards."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine

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#, as written by Aethyia

London - Circo Della Notte Grounds
June 19, 1885 - 13:53 p.m. - Sunny
Ephraim Ramsey

It took considerable effort for Ephraim not to sneeze. The tent, made of garish dark purple fabric with embroidered starts, was filled with the smell of cheap incense, the kind made and purchased by people who could not afford the more delicate sorts that one might find in certain temples or shrines elsewhere in the world. He did not hold this fact against the tent's owner—merely the fact that she seemed to use an absurd excess of it.

He glared momentarily at the stick of it placed in a simple wooden censer, grey smoke curling benignly from the end. But the expression passed as quickly as it had appeared, and he refocused his attention on the subject of their interview—Miss Rowena Marsh, the troupe's senior soothsayer. He figured she had a modicum of real talent, which she likely oversupplemented with crystal balls and tea dregs and the like to make it look more 'real' to people who didn't know the first thing about metacognition.

Fortunately, most of the paraphernalia was absent at the moment. She and Miss Lancaster sat at the small, round table draped in heavy blue velvet, while he and Miss Castine stood at what distance the cramped tend would allow. It was where she conducted business, not where she slept, so sans the other drapes, strings of glass beads, muted sources of light, and the damnable censer, it was mostly empty. It managed to feel cluttered regardless.

"That is correct," he clarified, resisting the urge to grimace when his nose itched. "We are, in fact, here to investigate. As Miss Castine trusts you not to be the culprit, any insight you have would be of great value."


Miss Marsh simply nodded, strands of her greying red hair moving with the motion. “Is there something specific you'd like to know?" she asked. Miss Castine glanced up at Ephraim before her eyes moved back to Miss Lancaster and Miss Marsh. Miss Lancaster nodded once, her eyes shifting briefly to Miss Castine and Ephraim.

“You're aware of what happened with Mr. Taylor, correct?" she asked, her attention back on Miss Marsh. The woman tilted her head lightly to the left, but nodded. “We have reason to believe that his lion was infected with rabies, however; Mr. Jaziri spoke quite keenly on Mr. Taylor's habits. Was there anything unusual happening the nights prior?"

Miss Marsh took a long breath before she answered. “You'll have to be more specific, dear. If you haven't noticed, you're in a circus. Everything here is unusual."

She had a fair point, in all honesty. This was not, as the saying went, Ephraim's first circus. "In particular, we want to know if anyone was out of place, doing anything that departs from their own sort of usual. Anyone especially nervous, excited, moving around at strange hours for themselves, perhaps lurking around the animals tent when they had no reason to be there."

The trouble was, they couldn't make their questions too specific, lest they exclude information that could be relevant. Strictly speaking, for example, he didn't care in the slightest who in the troupe was sleeping with whom or feuding with their tentmate or whatever else, but anything could be a cause or possible motive at this stage. Other than being motivated by revenge—or at least claiming such—and targeting only members of the troupe, there was little commonality. The victim before Mr. Taylor had been 'accidentally' hung by some of the trapeze netting, and the two before that had simply disappeared, their causes of death unknown. It was technically possible they were still alive, but he doubted it.

Miss Marsh smiled in Ephraim's direction. “Well, when you put it that way," she started, leaning back into her chair. “Other than the usual sneaking into each others' tents, the only person I could say would be," she paused for a moment and narrowed her eyes. “Mr. Davis."

“In what way?" Miss Lancaster asked as she arched her brow.

“The man is known to be a stickler for routine, despite his grotesque manners," she began, pursing her lips into a fine line. “But a few days ago, he was pacing back and forth near his tent, and disappeared for a few hours.

“He doesn't normally disappear all night," Miss Castine added. Miss Marsh nodded her head as if to agree.

“How is that unusual, though? He could have been restless," Miss Lancaster spoke, her brows furrowing in frustration, it seemed.

“When you've been here as long as I have, you learn people's routines. Who they're with, where they're going, and at what times. Some of the people around you aren't exactly as concerned with reputations and what-have-you."

"He shares a tent, does he not?" Ephraim asked, eyes narrowing. There were a lot of things such behavior could indicate, and he wasn't one to jump to the obvious conclusion just because it was easy.

“He does," she answered, though she didn't give the names of his tentmates.

“And who would they be?"

“Harris and Parker share a tent with Mr. Davis," Miss Castine answered, smiling as if she were happy with herself for answering the question.

“Perhaps he had a falling out with one of them which caused him to seek shelter elsewhere for the night?" Miss Marsh stated, glancing in Miss Lancaster's direction, a sly smile crossing her face. Miss Lancaster merely kept her expression, smooth.

“It would be worth a look," she muttered.

“Oh, but I did see Mr. Parker go after Mr. Davis. He didn't look too happy, whatever their conversation might have been about," Miss Marsh added.

Ephraim nodded slightly, doubting that there was much more Miss Marsh could tell them about this particular issue. Instead, he changed the topic. "Any other recent disputes or arguments? Particularly relevant rumors, perhaps?" He shifted his weight slightly, crossing his arms over his chest. It wasn't meant to be an aggressive posture, so he kept them loose, as there was nothing to lean on to look less imposing.

His eyes occasionally drifted to Miss Marsh's death clock. It was oscillating in a peculiar way between two figures: either a week from this date or else about three and a half years. He supposed she was quite elderly by human standards, and carnies lived harder lives than most. The week figure was interesting though—far enough out that he wasn't sure if it had anything to do with the case or not. Either way, she was likely not the next victim of choice.

Miss Marsh laughed softly as she fixed her gaze on Ephraim. “Depends on what you interpret relevant to be," she stated. “Rumors litter the circus grounds: from scandalous affairs, to widowed ghosts haunting some of the men," she continued, her smile growing almost into a grin.


“Oh, yes, plenty of ghosts, Miss Whitaker. They're attracted to people like us," Miss Castine stated as if it was the most obvious thing to her. Perhaps to Miss Lancaster, it wasn't.

"There's also a rumor that says Mr. Bianchi is haunted by his sister's ghost, for example," Miss Castine stated, though she frowned slightly at the statemtent.

“If I may ask, what happened to her?" Miss Lancaster seemed interested in the subject as she leaned a little towards Miss Marsh.

“It was before our time. They say she died in an accident of sorts, but others say Mr. Bianchi accidentally strangled her in a fit of rage."

"The sister's name... Martina?" Ephraim knew he was right before Miss Marsh nodded, though she did.

They weren't wrong about ghosts tending to frequent this sort of place, nor to gravitate towards people with abilities such as theirs. "Have there been any sightings of her in particular in recent memory?"

Miss Marsh pursed her lips together, her eyes narrowing in thought. “She's been spotted a few times, but I think the most recent one was just before your group arrived," she responded, her lips parting just slightly as if she'd remembered something else. “I believe it was actually the night before, and I think it was Mary who spotted her. Poor girl, it was the first time she'd seen something like that," she added.

“She was shaking pretty badly after the whole thing. Even Master Bianchi tried to calm her down," Miss Castine added.

“Have you ever attempted to speak to Mr. Bianchi's sister?" Miss Lancaster asked, her eyes narrowed as if she were trying to figure something out.

“Normally, I do not converse with the dead. They do not put food on my plate or money in my pockets."

“I've tried," Miss Castine interjected, glancing up at Ephraim as she did. “I've tried going to the spots where she was last seen to see if I could glean anything from her, but..."

“It's always nothing. It's like her essence is too far gone that she leaves nothing behind," Miss Marsh answered, sighing in her chair and leaning back in it.

Ephraim thought the answer may be a little more obvious than that, in truth, but for the moment it was only a suspicion. Still, it was worth noting that this so-called ghost had appeared the night before the first note showed up. Along with Davis's suspicious activity, he was beginning to form a hypothesis.

Still, it was better not to become attached to any version of events, so that he could take in new evidence without bias, and he set it aside for the moment. Sensing that there was little else Miss Marsh could give them, he nodded courteously, not betraying his haste to get back out into relatively-fresh air.

"Our thanks for your assistance, Miss Marsh. We will trouble you no further, unless perhaps my apprentice has anything further?" He lifted an eyebrow at Miss Lancaster as he said it.

Miss Lancaster's lips were pursed into a fine line, perhaps more in thought than in frustration. “I don't," she finally answered. She stood from her chair, and glanced at Miss Marsh. “Thank you for the information," she spoke before turning her attention towards Ephraim.

“If I may offer one more thing," Miss Marsh stated, causing Miss Lancaster and Miss Castine to turn towards her. “Be wary of Mr. Parker. He might seem harmless, but," she trailed off, a slight shrug of her shoulders as if to suggest otherwise.

Ephraim only nodded slightly in response. 'Not-harmless' could apply to a great many people here, he suspected, but if she saw fit to warn him, he would take it into account.

Pushing aside the flap of the tent, he inhaled perhaps a tad too deeply too quickly, and the sneeze he'd been fighting off snuck up on him. Turning slightly so that he'd expel it into his elbow rather than onto either of his companions, he sniffed, blinked, and straightened.

"What is your recommendation for our next course of action, Miss Whitaker?" He'd been doing that fairly often today especially; asking what she would do with the investigation rather than telling her what they were collectively doing. Occasionally, he'd had to guide her back onto the optimal track, but for the most part she was acquitting herself well. She'd thought the senior fortune teller might be useful, even without the advantage he had of being able to sense Miss Marsh's gifts. Most people would dismiss her as a charlatan and assume she had nothing to offer. In this respect, Miss Lancaster had proven commendably unconventional.

“We need to find out what the others know of 'Martina'," she replied after a few moments of silence. “I think there may be more to this 'ghost', but asking Mr. Bianchi outright doesn't seem like the plausible course of action at the moment." Her brows smoothed out from where they had been furrowed, and she glanced out into the grounds.

“Perhaps we should see if anyone was with Mr. Bianchi at the time his sister was still presumed alive and around," she stated, glancing back up at him.

"A fair place to start," Ephraim agreed. He turned his attention to Miss Castine. "Of those working here, which have been present that long? If you know."

“I know Mr. Davis, Mr. Vitali, Adam..." her voice trailed and softened at the mention of Mr. Taylor's name. “Mr. Harris, I think, and Miss Johnson were all here before I was part of the troupe. I've only been here for," she paused her eyes losing focus as if she were trying to recall the years she'd spent with Mr. Bianchi's group.

“I've been here for ten years," she finally spoke. Miss Lancaster sighed heavily, perhaps because Mr. Davis's name was among those listed.

“We should start with one of them."

By now, Ephraim knew that at this time of day the roadies would be getting things set up for the evening's performances, which for the first time, he and his associates would be actively participating in. Considering the evidence Miss Blythe and Mr. Jaziri had turned up, it was quite possible that the show itself could become a target of sabotage soon, or already had been somehow. Trying to speak with one of them could serve two purposes, but it was also likely to be busy enough that they'd draw attention.

It was one thing to tell Miss Marsh of their true purpose, another thing entirely for everyone else to know.

"We'll have to be subtle," he noted. With a glance at Miss Castine, he inclined his head. "Our thanks for your assistance, Miss Castine, but as Miss Whitaker and myself are commonly seen together anyway, it may make more sense for us to attempt this alone."

“Oh, you're very welcome," she stated, curtseying as best as she could. It was obvious that she wasn't used to doing things like that, but she straightened back out. “If there's anything else you require from me, please let me know! I want... I want to do as much as I can to help you," she stated, smiling up at Ephraim.

“Thank you, Miss Castine," Miss Lancaster stated, doing her best it seemed to give Miss Castine a reassuring smile. “If you notice anything strange, or see anything," she began, putting an emphasis on the word, “do let us know." Miss Castine nodded her head and departed from Ephraim and Miss Lancaster.

Miss Lancaster pulled in a long breath before she seemed to relax. “I agree, we should be subtle about it, which means," she stated, removing the large coat she'd been wearing, and folding it over a nearby post. It left her in a longsleeved shirt, loose enough that it folded slightly over the underbust she had on. “This should make it just a bit easier," she stated, pursing her lips a bit.

The set of Ephraim's mouth did not change, but his eyes narrowed faintly. He could see the reasoning of course: at least one of the men with whom they wished to talk had expressed a marked—to the point of being distasteful—enjoyment of Miss Lancaster's physical form, and sans the coat her figure was much more obvious and overtly feminine.

He took the coat from the post and draped it over his arm, choosing not to remark upon it. "If you find the idea uncomfortable, we need not pursue at this angle," he said quietly, studying her face for any sign of uncertainty. "This job does not mandate that you use your physicality in such a manner, and I will never ask or require you to."

“Hm, I am quite aware of that, thank you, Mr. Ramsey," she spoke, but her face smoothed back out. “I find it easier this way to draw out the information we'll want. It's not a... tasteful tactic, but it is one nonetheless. And it makes it easier to ask questions without being too obvious about it," she continued. She rolled out her shoulders once more, before taking a step forward.

“Men's minds are simple that way, no offense," she shrugged, and continued forward.

"As I'm not a man, I can hardly take offense," Ephraim replied flatly. Frankly, he thought humans' minds were relatively simple in this fashion, to varying degrees, but he did not say so, merely following at a slight distance behind her.

Davis was not hard to find, though he didn't seem to be with Harris this time, rather working by himself, though within visible distance of a few others, meaning that their decision to approach in a smaller number was likely the right one. Ephraim stopped a fair distance before Miss Lancaster did, out of human earshot but well within range of his superior hearing, and set her coat down on a crate, seating himself in front of it and removing the flask from his belt.

To any passerby, he'd be the new fellow taking a break to have a drink, paying no mind whatsoever to whatever his attractive counterpart was discussing with the senior roadie.

Of course, he could hear absolutely everything, and see from the corner of his eye, too. Davis had glanced briefly at the approaching figure, as if to mark their passage before returning to hammering the stake for the largest performance tent. But he did a double-take when he recognized Miss Lancaster and straightened, his leer no less obvious now than it had been last time.

“Afternoon, Miss," He flashed crooked, yellowing teeth in what might once have been an effective smile for its purpose. “See y've lost the dead weight. Ya lookin' fer a real man this time?"

To her credit, Miss Lancaster merely smiled, tilting her head as if she were slightly confused. “Temporarily misplaced, I would say," she responded, placing a hand to rest on her hip. “I was taking a break from practice and thought that you could use a hand with..." she made a gesture in the direction of the stake. “But if you're a real man, you really wouldn't need help from little 'ol me, right?" she continued, the force of her smile narrowing her eyes.

“I was also wondering if you could help me with something," she stated, her smile fading slightly as she did.

Davis leaned on the long mallet he was using to pound the stake, eyes narrowing uncertainly, like he wasn't sure if he'd just been challenged or insulted somehow. In the end, though, the query at the end apparently made it simple enough for him to bypass the words with a broad-shouldered shrug. His eyes, Ephraim thought, lingered somewhere in the vicinity of Miss Lancaster's chest before crawling up to her face.

“There's a lot I could help you wif, love? What's ya got in mind, eh?"

“Well," she started, folding her arms over her chest, “I've been hearing some disturbing tales about ghosts haunting these grounds. I want to know if it's something I should be worried about." Her voice held a sort of quiver to it, as if she were trying to feign a sort of fear of the subject.

“Is it true that Mr. Bianchi's sister is one of them?"

If anything, Davis seemed displeased that this of all things was the topic of conversation. Ephraim took a sip of the water inside his flask, nodding to Mr. O'Donaghue as he passed but saying nothing.

“Who?" Davis asked. “Martina?" He shifted vaguely uncomfortably for a minute. “I dunno nuffink about that, love. That's Mr. Bianchi's business."

“Did you know her?" she asked, tilting her head slightly to the right. “Because if you're saying that there are no ghosts I should be afraid of, it'll help me sleep a little better, tonight," she added, offering Mr. Davis a meek smile.

He shook his head slightly, unusually pale even for his native complexion. “I ain't sayin' nuffink about Martina, lass, and you best stop askin'. Mr Bianchi don't like 'earin' about 'her, and it'll get back to 'im."

“I was just asking about ghosts, Mr. Davis," Miss Lancaster spoke, letting her arms fall to the side. “When I was a little girl, they used to haunt me," she stated in a soft voice, her eyes falling to the floor. “I just wanted to make sure that there weren't any ghosts, here, that I had to worry about. It'd be a nightmare all over again," she continued, pursing her lips together.

“I guess I'll leave you to your work, then, Mr. Davis. Sorry to have bothered you," she stated, and nodding her head in Mr. Davis's direction.

Whatever sympathy he might have pretended to dredge up at Miss Lancaster's feigned plight was obviously drowned by the desire not to speak of Martina Bianchi. He only nodded and returned to his work, without so much as another pass at her.

When she returned to his side, Ephraim offered her the flask. "It's just water," he explained. It was midafternoon in June, after all. "Tell me what you took away from that."

She took the flask from him, and took a drink before she answered. “He knows something about Martina. His aversion to the topic, the way his pallor changed, he was either there, or he knows what happened between Mr. Bianchi and his sister." She handed him the flask back, and glanced around. Her brows furrowed slightly as if she were trying to figure something else out.

“He doesn't strike me as the type of person to be afraid of small things like that, but whatever it is he knows, he's not going to talk about it. No matter the extremes I were to go to."

Ephraim nodded. "Very good. And for all his faults, Mr. Davis does not seem the kind of man to avoid gossip or an opportunity to avail himself of a social advantage simply for politeness or fear of his employer, despite his assurance that Mr. Bianchi would find out. Which suggests that something else about the situation frightens him so. What might that be, do you think?" Capping the flask, he stowed it at his him and regarded her silently, still sitting on the crate. The fact that she stood drew their heights closer to even than usual, though there was still a difference.

“I would have to assume it's the recent events and deaths," she answered, her eyes narrowing slightly towards the circus grounds. She glanced back at him, though, and arched a brow. “Nothing scares a man more than the prospect of an early demise," she stated.

It wasn't far off the mark, he didn't think. "Quite so. All that remains is to discover why he believes information relating to Martina Bianchi constitutes a threat of early demise."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine

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London - Circ Della Notte Grounds
June 19, 1885 - 19:17 p.m. - Clear
Amelia Lancaster

Amelia rolled out her shoulders, trying to adjust to her outfit. They'd given her an underbust, black in color, with a plain white shirt to go underneath. Amelia wouldn't even call it a shirt, though. Mostly sleeveless, it was more along the lines of something she'd wear to bed. It did, however, contrast against the red jacket she pulled over it, or what constituted as a jacket. It was little more than long sleeves attached at the back. She understood the mindset behind her outfit; keep the audience fixed on her rather than her talent, but it wasn't like she was here for that. It was actually refreshing to be in something that wouldn't limit her movements too much. Even the red trousers allowed her enough breathing room that she felt comfortable.

Once she was satisfied with her outfit, she grabbed the firearm she was going to be using. The pistol was ideal since she'd be able to aim with better accuracy, however; she glanced towards the shotgun that lay just to the right side of her. Miss Vera had taught her a few other things with the weapon, and she would be lying if she said she wasn't itching to test out her abilities with it.

“Miss Whitaker?" Beatrix's voice pulled Amelia from her thoughts as she turned to the young woman. “Do you have a moment?" she asked, causing Amelia to motion her inside. Beatrix hurried inside, clutching something to her chest. “I wanted you to have this for your performance, tonight. I know you're here for a job, but..." she trailed off, causing Amelia to smile softly.

“What is it, Miss Castine?" she asked. Beatrix, Amelia learned, was a sweet, thoughtful young woman. It wasn't in the same way as Charlie, but she could see similar airs. Beatrix, however, smiled and produced the item she was holding.

“I'm sure it's nothing as extravagant as you may be used to wearing, but I thought you should wear this with your outfit," she spoke, causing Amelia to briefly look confused. Did Beatrix know something about her true name? Pushing the thought away, she took the offered item, and inspected it. It was a thin sheet of material, however; it looked like it resemebled a thick-banded necklace. There was a single gem on it as well, a deep purple that Amelia could appreciate. It was, after all, her favorite color.

“Thank you, Miss Castine, it's lovely," she responded, watching as Beatrix's smile bloomed.

“You're very welcome, Miss Whitaker! We should go see if the others are ready, too, before the show starts. It'll be soon," she stated. Amelia agreed; they should go see if the others were prepared. She fastened the necklace around her neck, first, before she grabbed her materials.

“After you," she stated, following Miss Castine out onto the circus grounds.

The hum and buzz of preparations was all around, something about it seemingly more intense on the nights when Amelia had merely been a spectator. A certain sort of nervous energy seemed to hover about the performers and crew, no doubt exacerbated by the recent murder, and the concern that there could be another. This was a livelihood for most of the people that plied it, but they would not be able to keep the news to themselves for much longer now that there had been an actual body. The police would be drawn here soon, and even if they weren't, rumors would circulate, business might decline, and their very way of life would be in peril because of that.

But still, it was important that this didn't come through, and so even as the roadies rushed about with last minute preparations and performers ran through their warmups, there was a sort of professional stoicism that kept the anxiety from getting out of hand. Mr. and Mrs. Blanchette were helping Charlie with her own costume. While Mr. Blanchette wore a tight-fitting long, striped leotard that reached his knees but had no sleeves, Charlie was meant to be more flowy and flashy, it seemed. She had a short dress with a fitted bodice, not too constricting but secure enough to keep her covered while she tumbled. It had loose sleeves that were more ribbon than sleeve, blue and green glittering to her elbows. The skirt was ribbonlike in the same way, to her knees, but she was wearing a similar leotard underneath, and ballet shoes, so while she'd sparkle and shine as she moved, it wouldn't be too revealing. Her hair was pinned tightly to her head; Mrs. Blanchette was applying more glitter to it.

Charlie caught Amelia's eye and waved, though doubtless she couldn't break from her preparations right at the moment.

Amelia smiled in Charlie's direction, and made her way over. Beatrix trailed behind, apparently content to follow Amelia. She didn't mind, and greeted Mr. and Mrs. Blanchette. “You look lovely, Charlie," she stated, grinning at the woman. Beatrix nodded her head in agreement, causing Amelia to shake her head lightly.

“Is there any word from Mr. Ramsey or Mr. Jaziri?" she asked, noticing the lack of prescence in the latter mentioned name. He wasn't one to just disappear. He thrived on attention, of any kind, and it mildly surprised her that he wasn't here with Charlie. She did appreciate the silence, though. Mr. Jaziri had a very special talent of crawling beneath her skin, and Amelia was almost certain he did it on purpose. From the way his lips stretched across his face when he smiled, to the crass remarks he'd make. He was intelligent, though, she'd give him that.

Charlie hummed, standing very still to allow Mrs. Blanchette to apply a layer of kohl to the outside of her lash-lines. "I'm not sure exactly where they are at the moment," she admitted. "I'm sure Mr. Jaziri has to make sure Petunia is ready for the act. Mr. Ramsey is probably..." She pursed her lips.

"Actually I'm not sure. For all I know he found something to, um." Her eyes flickered to the Blanchettes. "Occupy him?" It seemed to be a way of suggesting that he might be doing some kind of investigation, even now.

That made sense considering that they were here for an investigation. Amelia hummed softly in the back of her throat. “I will leave you, so that you can finish preparing," she stated, giving Charlie one last smile before glancing towards Beatrix. “I should go find Ramsey; he's my other half in this participation act," she stated, watching in mild curiosity as the smile on Beatrix's face lit up.

“Of course he is," she stated in a simple manner. “I'm going to finish helping with the setup. If I hear or see anything, I will let you know," she spoke, curtseying before she left. Beatrix was a strange woman, but Amelia shoved that thought to the back of her mind. Her priority at the moment was finding Ramsey to see if anything else had come up.

He was a bit difficult to locate, actually, but she found him in one of the equipment tents, just adjusting the lapels of his frock coat. He normally preferred a long duster, she knew, but this thing was some interesting mix of flashy and actually quite nice—it wouldn't have been entirely out of place on a member of the nobility. Black silk with a subtle pattern of dark grey, the gold and silver embroidery concentrated around the cuffs would catch the light, making his deft throws look all the more vivid. The coat was fitted reasonably well to his dimensions, though not tight enough to impede motion. The waistcoat was subtler, and perhaps most strikingly he had both two belts and a bandolier filled with knives, their matching, polished handles in neat rows.

He must have noticed her entrance, but he was frowning at one of the cuffs of his coat. It looked like one of the links had become caught on a loose thread.

She felt the edges of her lips tilt slightly upward, but sighed through her nose. Her father always had James help him with his cufflinks. On occasion, she helped when James was busy with other preparations. Rolling her eyes mostly at herself, she approached Ramsey, clearing her throat to get his attention. “Let me see, if you don't mind," she spoke, holding her hand out as she waited for him to comply. Once he did, she set to work fixing his link so that it wouldn't become a bother later on. As she finished, she glanced up in his direction, arching a delicate brow.

“It's been relatively quiet," she spoke, dropping her hands to her side once she was satisfied with the outcome of the links. “There haven't been any new developments, and most of the members seem to be tense," which was a given, really. It was only recently that one of their members had been mauled to death, and others were reportedly missing.

"As one would expect," he replied simply, echoing her thoughts. Gently, he lifted his arm away from her grip when the link was fixed, nodding in what she was relatively sure was Mr. Ramsey's version of gratitude. As it happens, I—"

He was cut off by the sound of a woman's scream, and sighed quietly. "That will be our next warning," he said, seeming quite certain of this fact.

Amelia nodded, and stepped out of the tent. She could see a small crowd of people gathered by one of the nearby poles, the one that was often used for target practice by the members. She made her way to the front, frowning when she spotted the note. Walking closer so that she could inspect it, her lips pursed into a fine line.

Not a fault of it was hers!
If it wasn't for you, her reputation
wouldn't have suffered. Bianchi's a liar
and a thief! Now watch your world
burn as hers did!

What? was the only thought she had. Not only was the handwritting different, the style of the note was different as well. It seemed personal, blaming Mr. Bianchi for something he did. If she had to guess, the her in the note must refer to Mr. Bianchi's sister. She still wasn't entirely sure what happened between the two of them, but it was becoming obvious that they had a falling out of some kind. Whatever it was, resulted in a ruined reputation, it seemed. Still...

“We need to let Miss Blythe and Jaziri know to keep a look out," she stated once she was closer to Ramsey. “If this note is similar to last time, chances are high that something has already happened."

"A wise suggestion," he agreed. "If you find them to deliver the news, I will advise the others to double-check all of their apparatuses before they take stage tonight. The verbiage suggests an escalation, and nothing would achieve that quite so well as a death in the middle of a show." If the killer's desire was to bring Mr. Bianchi to ruin, that would surely do it.

“I know Miss Blythe's current location; I'll go notify her, now. If I see Jaziri, I'll let him know as well," she stated, narrowing her eyes where she knew Charlie to be. She was slightly relieved that she'd checked her pistol and shotgun before she left her tent. She would have known if they had been tampered with. She was certain Ramsey would have done the same thing with his own weapons. With that in mind, she left him to find Charlie, slightly glad that Mr. Jaziri was with her, when she did.

“Whitaker," he stated, his brows furrowed as he called out to her. “What was the screaming about?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest. He was wearing a simple vest, white in color, with a black, sleeveless shirt beneath it. The trousers were red, which Amelia thought clashed a bit. But she wasn't here for those things.

“There was another letter," she stated, watching as Mr. Jaziri mouthed an 'oh'. “If it's anything like the last time, we need to be on the lookout," she continued, glancing in Charlie's direction. “You know what to do if something looks out of place. If you have the time, check any equipment you are going to be using, tonight." There shouldn't be unnecessary risks, but at the same time, they couldn't let the culprit know that they were on to him.

Charlie nodded immediately. "We're part of the opening, so I'll be sure Mr. Blanchette checks his things, too," she said. There wasn't a lot of equipment for their act, but they did use rings hung from the tent beams, and possibly those aerial silk things, if Charlie had learned enough about them in time. Either of those could be a hazard if a line snapped.

She hastened away, probably to try and make those last-minute checks. Mr. Bianchi was out among the crowd now, getting everyone back to their preparations with hushed yelling, odd as the phrase was. The crowd were already beginning to filter into the tent from the other side. If they didn't take their places soon, they wouldn't be ready for the show itself.

“And you will do well to make sure Petunia is in shape to perform." she stated, earning a sharp bark of laughter from Mr. Jaziri.

“Your word is my command, m'lady," he stated, bowing before he straightened back up. His face smoothed back out, though, into something a little more serious. It was out of place on his face, but it seemed concerned and genuine. “But you and Ramsey take care, yourselves, too."

Amelia smirked slightly. “Don't worry, Jaziri."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri

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#, as written by Aethyia

London - Circo Della Notte Performance Tent
June 19, 1885 - 20:10 p.m. - Clear
Charlotte Blythe

Charlotte flew through the air in a controlled arc, propelling her body neatly through the metal hoop in a flutter of fabric and a neat somersault. Untucking at the exact moment she'd been taught, she landed feet-down, twisting through the air not unlike a housecat. Her knees bent slightly to absorb the impact, but the landing was light, and she straightened immediately, beaming a smile at the audience as Mrs. Blanchette had instructed her to do.

Shouts of approval and applause burst forth from the audience; there was apparently a reason the flashy tumbling was the opening act of the circus. She could almost sense the excitement thickening in the air, but it was something she put from her mind as Mr. Blanchette came up behind her, sheeting his hands on her waist.

“Upsa-daisy, lass," he said softly, and Charlotte jumped at the same time as he tossed, the combined force launching her straight up high into the air. She stretched one of her legs in front and the other behind in a full horizontal split, tucking them together again and leaning back just in time for Mr. Blanchette to catch her. Then, with a heave of considerable strength, he launched her again, and this time she spun in midair, rolling side-over side with her arms out to whip the ribbons of her sleeves about like some kind of flower.

Again she tucked in just enough time for the catch, and when he caught her this time, he did not toss again, instead lifting her onto his shoulders and holding steady so she could pull her legs up underneath her and stand there, balanced solidly on the much taller man, and give the audience a cheeky bow.

More applause; Charlotte used the slight break in immediate activity to look around as much as she could. She could glimpse a few of the others backstage, but that could easily just be preparation for acts; nothing suspicious on its own.

Mr. Bianchi was situated in the middle of the ring, grinning in a broad manner. He looked pleased with himself, dressed in his bright red tailcoat with gold trimmings. He had his top hat in his left hand, holding it out as if to present it to his audience.

“Benvenuto a Circo Della Notte, the Greatest Show you'll ever see! he greeted, turning around in his position to get a good look at everyone. “With our lovely opening performance," he began, glancing and motioning towards Mr. Blanchette and Charlotte, “I give you our next performer. Hailing from Giza, our very own, Jaziri can tame the most ferocious of beasts, making them bend to his every whim!"

At the introduction, Mr. Jaziri appeared, grinning from ear to ear. Perhaps more-so than Mr. Bianchi had, however; he waved towards the audience with his whip in hand.

That was Charlotte's cue to exit, and she hopped off Mr. Blanchette's shoulders. The two of them hurried back behind the stage curtain, and Charlotte immediately started to shed the more difficult parts of her costume, leaving her in something a bit easier to move in. With her role in the performance over for now, she needed to keep an eye on as much of the rest as she could.

Finding a place to perch herself that wouldn't interrupt the flow of performers and also let her peer out to the ongoing acts, Charlotte tried to make herself small and observe the others as they came and went. It looked like Mr. Jaziri's act was just starting in full through the gap in the curtain, too.

Mr. Jaziri seemed pleased with the reaction from the crowd, their applause causing him to bow. He hadn't started his performance, yet, and seemed to be soaking up the attention. “Ladies," he started, his grin settling to a small smile, “and gentleman, I give you my lovely assitant, Petunia!" With the bear's name mentioned, she roared, waddling towards Mr. Jaziri from the far side of the ring. A few of the audience members inhaled sharply, either from surprise, or awe.

Mr. Jaziri, however, kept grinning, and ushered Petunia towards the middle of the ring. He motioned with his hand that held the whip, though he made no effort to use it. Petunia seemed to understand what he meant, though, and stood on both of her legs. “As you can see, Petunia's a little unhappy with me," he stated, his eyes flickering towards the audience. He might have been scanning the audience for anything suspicious, as well, but he returned his attention back to the bear.

“Now be a good girl, Petunia, and sing for them," he spoke, earning a disgruntled snort from the bear.

Charlotte giggled softly from her perch. Things seemed to be all right out there at least. Turning her attention back inwards, she swept her eyes over the comings and goings. Mr. and Mrs. Blanchette were helping the trapeze artists get into costume, but that wasn't unusual as far as she knew. The clowns were donning their heavy stage makeup, and Mr. Bianchi appeared to be giving directions to the stagehands. He looked agitated by something, but then Charlotte had discovered that Mr. Bianchi always looked agitated by something.

He was a little red-faced, as was Mr. Davis. Mr. Harris looked a bit nervous and fidgety, and kept glancing between the other two like he wasn't sure if he should intervene. Charlotte wondered about that herself, and was just considering trying to get closer to hear what they were talking about when Mr. Bianchi threw his hands in the air and stalked off, ending... whatever that had been.

Charlotte's brows furrowed. She wasn't sure if that was important or just normal show stress. Either way, it was probably getting close to time for Mr. Ramsey and Miss Lancaster to go on.

Mr. Jaziri seemed to be wrapping up his act, bowing to the audience with Petunia. “You've been wonderful!" were his parting words before he ushered the bear off of the stage. Mr. Ramsey and Miss Lancaster's set-up for their act was already on the floor, prepared a head of time to keep the circus going. Mr. Bianchi reappeared onto the floor, any sign of his previous engagement clear from his face. He thanked Mr. Jaziri before he turned to the audience, and introduced Mr. Ramsey and Miss Lancaster.

“Now, we give you a dangerous beauty with a gun, Miss Amelia Whitaker, and her fearless assistant, Mr. Ramsey!" he stated as they took the stage. Miss Lancaster wore a smile almost as large as Mr. Jaziri's, though it did seem slightly strained. She rested her pistol against her shoulder as she glanced towards Mr. Ramsey.

“Shall we?" she stated, arching a brow in Mr. Ramsey's direction and taking aim.

With a slight gesture of his hand, Mr. Ramsey produced a bright red apple, giving it a toss into the air and catching it easily. Once it was plainly clear that the audience was paying rapt attention to what they were doing, he lobbed it high, stepping back and rather unexpectedly opening an umbrella over his head, still with an entirely stoic expression on his face.

Miss Lancaster grinned and aimed her pistol at the falling apple. Once she pulled the trigger, the once whole apple fell to pieces around Mr. Ramsey. Parts of it hit the umbrella while other parts landed outside of the ring. Miss Lancaster looked rather pleased with herself, however; her eyes had trailed the pieces of apple. She was, perhaps, keeping an eye on the audience as well. Once she seemed satisfied with her surveillance, she turned back to Mr. Ramsey and motioned for another apple. She held up two fingers, though, as if signaling for Mr. Ramsey to toss two at a time.

He produced them with the same sleight-of-hand—where was he getting them from?—three rather than two. To Charlotte's surprise, he started off by juggling them quite deftly, actually, then abruptly tossed two at once, followed by the third, a barely-perceptible curl to one side of his mouth as he picked up the umbrella again.

It looked like, for a moment, Miss Lancaster was surprised. Her eyes widened, but she grinned as she kept her gaze on Mr. Ramsey. She lifted her pistol, eyes still focused on Mr. Ramsey, and pulled the trigger. Her eyes flickered towards the audience as she aimed for the last one. Once again, Mr. Ramsey had apple parts falling around him, thudding against the umbrella and the floor of the ring. There was applause throughout the audience, even a few gasps of awe, before Miss Lancaster turned towards Mr. Ramsey.

“One more for the road?" she stated, taking aim slightly above his head.

He sighed audibly. One last apple went onto his head, perfectly balanced. He looked not in the least concerned, either, maintaining perfect stillness and an even, stoic expression. Charlotte, on the other hand, found herself holding her breath as she peered through the curtain, even aware as she was of Amelia's accuracy with the pistol.

Amelia grinned before she closed her eyes. The audience gasped loudly, some of them leaning forward into their seats as she fiddled with the trigger. Her head titled slightly before she finally squeezed the trigger, the apple on Mr. Ramsey's head no longer there. Bits of the apple were lodged into Mr. Ramsey's hair, but most of it was on the floor around him. Amelia mouthed something to Mr. Ramsey, sorry, it looked like. The applause was loud, and she made her way towards Mr. Ramsey and stood next to him. She turned to face the audience thereafter.

Charlotte knew that this was the point at which they pulled a surprise reversal on the crowd, and Mr. Ramsey transitioned into throwing knives, with Amelia in the role of assistant. She would have been interested to see, as this was a talent of Mr. Ramsey's he'd never demonstrated to her before, but as it happened she noticed a movement from the corner of her eye.

It could have been nothing, just a shadow passing from somewhere behind the tent, but... something struck her instincts, and quietly Charlotte made her way down from her perch and around the side of the tent where the performers could enter and exit.

It was quite dark outside, the lamps turned down for the sake of the state lighting inside the tent, but she could see a smallish figure moving in the gloom.

"Hello?" she called, unsure whether this was something to be worried about or not.

She caught a flash of something—wire, maybe?—but the figure darted away before she could study them in any detail. Wire, wire... the trapeze!

Charlotte knew that team was preparing to go on next, but if she didn't manage to follow this person, she might never find out who the saboteur is.

"Mr. Jaziri!" she called in a low voice, knowing his sharp ears would probably pick up on it. "Tell Miss Castine not to let the trapeze team on. She should stop the show if she has to. I'm going to chase someone; please help if you can afterwards!"

And then she was off.

The figure wasn't, she thought, faster than her, but they had a head start and the tents and grounds were a maze. Charlotte did her best to pursue, but between the performers milling about, the curious crowd who hadn't paid for tent-seats, and the rest... she wasn't sure where they'd gone.

“Blythe," Mr. Jaziri appeared next to her, perhaps having found her after he did as she requested. “What did you see?" he asked once he was settled next to her. “If you tell me something that might be of use..." he trailed off, pointing to his own nose as if he were asking for a scent to follow.

Charlotte frowned. Unfortunately, nothing came immediately to mind, except—

"I've been chasing them for at least five minutes," she said, raising one of her wrists as it to let him scent it. It had a costume glove on it, of course. Maybe a nose as sharp as his could pick out the scent from that alone. She'd been running after her target, after all, and that meant into the scent trail they were leaving behind.

"It's someone small, if that helps narrow it down," she added quickly. "Not as small as me, but smaller than you."

Mr. Jaziri made a face, but didn't say anything. He took a deep breath, before his lips pursed into a fine line and his brows furrowed. “Someone small, and five minutes ago," he spoke, but it seemed like he was talking to himself rather than to Charlotte. He took in another breath, as if trying to get a taste of the air before he turned to face Charlotte.

“You didn't see Harris, by chance, did you? He's the only one I can pick out that matches the scent on you," Jaziri seemed fairly certain that they were after Mr. Harris if the look on his face was anything to go by.

"Mr. Harris?" Charlotte took a quick mental inventory of all the people she'd run past in her pursuit, people she knew were not the subject of her chase. "It could be him," she said after a moment. "Can you find him now?"

“Give me a moment," he spoke, his nose wrinkling slightly. “Too many scents to shift through," he continued, pausing briefly to glance in another direction. He was by Charlotte's side after he made a decision, and glanced at her. “He's heading this way," were the only words he said before moving a little faster. They weaved through the grounds, passing more of the members who were either resting, or preparing for the next event. Mr. Jaziri would turn a corner every few seconds, lips pursed as if something were bothering him, or confusing him.

“Damn, where'd he go?" he muttered beneath his breath, though loud enough that Charlotte could still hear him. He paused in his pursuit, briefly, before he took in a deep breath. He was off again, and it wasn't long before Mr. Jaziri's eyes widened slightly along with a grin spreading across his lips. “There he is!" he stated, pointing out just ahead of them to where a silhouette could be made out.

Charlotte didn't hesitate, digging her heels into the ground and accelerating on the straightaway. She felt a brief sensation of heat above her heart, and then her power kicked in and she was practically flying over the ground, making a running leap and wrapping her arms around Mr. Harris.

They hit the dirt in a tangle of limbs, the impact nearly knocking her shoulder out of its socket, but though there was a stab of pain, she rolled over quickly, pinning Mr. Harris's arms behind his back with one hand.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Harris," she said blandly, shaking some loose hair out of her face. "But I am going to have to request your cooperation while we finish investigating the recent murders."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Charlotte Blythe Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine

0.00 INK

London - Circo Della Notte
June 19, 1885 - 22:15 p.m. - Clear
Amelia Lancaster

Amelia stared at the people gathered around her and the others. Her brows were furrowed, and she could feel the frown threatening to pull at her lips. She wasn't particularly pleased about the current affairs. The trapeze wires had been tampered with to the point that someone would have died if they'd performed at all tonight. And if Charlie hadn't sent Jaziri back to warn them... it was a thought Amelia did not want to finish.

She glanced in the direction of Mr. Bianchi, and had to keep herself from giving him a flat look. He was angry and confused; that much was obvious on his face. He, the Blanchettes, Miss Marsh, Mr. Davis, O'Donaghue, and Parker were all gathered inside of the performance tent. It was at Ramsey's and her's request, of course, which was, perhaps, the reason why Bianchi was confused. He finally stepped forward, and this time, Amelia did not bother to hide the expression on her face when he spoke.

“What is the meaning of this?" he stated, though from the tone of his voice, it sounded more like a demand than anything. Amelia merely glanced towards Ramsey, before allowing her gaze to travel back to Bianchi.

“As soon as Jaziri and Miss Blythe return," she began, making sure to keep eye contact with Bianchi, “we will inform you." Until then, he was going to have to be patient. Luck seemed to be on his side, though. Jaziri and Charlie came into sight not soon after Amelia had spoken, and seemed to have the last piece of the puzzle with them: Mr. Harris.

Charlotte seemed to have no issue holding him, despite the fact that she was gripping both of his wrists with only one hand. The only apparent issue was that she was so small she had to force them tightly together to hold. She looked a touch winded, but managed to smile pleasantly at everyone regardless. Perhaps to most it might have looked a touch vacant, but there was a keenness to her eyes that Amelia was learning to recognize. She might seem childlike at times, but Charlie was actually quite observant.

The fight, if ever there had been any, seemed to have gone out of Mr. Harris entirely. Though no few of the other performers looked outright surprised to see him being carted in in such a manner, two faces stood out for not sharing the surprise: Mr. Ramsey and Mr. Davis.

Davis looked oddly relieved; his shoulders slumped as if he'd been divested of some great burden. Mr. Ramsey, however, looked utterly nonplussed, as though this were a development he'd been expecting for quite some time.

Leaning down a little, he spoke quietly near Amelia's ear. "I believe you and Miss Blythe can handle most of this," he said. "By all means, show them who you are." It was an unusual choice of phrase, but there was no ambiguity in one thing: he was trusting them to handle this part, to put the case together with the evidence they had in hand, and to do it in front of this audience of those most closely involved.

Amelia felt the corners of her lips turn upwards, however; she kept herself from smiling outright. Instead, she fixed her attention towards the group, and smoothed her expression out. “Firstly, I'd like to thank you all for your cooperation," she started, glancing at the people's expressions. “We've asked you all here because we were asked to solve a particular problem of yours." Some of the expressions that flickered across their faces all pointed towards confusion, save for Mr. Bianchi who seemed to be narrowing his eyes at Ramsey.

“As you are aware, I am Amelia Whitaker, an associate of Mr. Ramsey's investigative firm," she continued. She could hear the confused whispers as a couple of the suspects murmured to each other. “We were invited by Miss Castine to help solve a case involving the deaths of several of your members," she continued, glancing towards Charlie.

Charlie nodded, and seemed to exchange a few words with Mr. Jaziri, too quiet to be heard. It resolved with him taking over holding Mr. Harris, though not before Charlie put something in the pocket of her skirt.

She stepped forward to join Amelia. "In order to investigate the disappearances of the members of this troupe, we decided it would be best to pose as performers ourselves, so that we might be able to observe everyone without being known for what we were." She smiled, a trifle apologetic, but it was also fairly clear that she didn't think it was something she really needed to apologize for, exactly.

"But only a day after we arrived, a note was pinned to one of the tents, and then Mr. Taylor was mauled by his lion, Sasha." This, she said very seriously. "Alchemical testing confirmed that Sasha had been given a version of the rabies virus, which drives an animal mad, and causes them to attack viciously. Since we know the incubation period for rabies is multiple days, this injection of the virus had to have been administered before the threatening note was placed."

She turned back to Amelia.

“Which means someone knew Sasha would attack Mr. Taylor," she stated, her eyes narrowing slightly as a few of the people fidgeted in their spot. “It also means that the person who wrote the note, was the same one who injected Sasha, or at least knew about it."

“That doesn't prove anything, though. It could have been any number of people who were at the performances, even audience members," one of them stated, Mr. Parker from the looks of it. Amelia actually smiled, then.

“An audience member wouldn't be able to stomach getting close to a lion, let alone injecting one. Besides," she let her eyes slide to Jaziri for a moment, “we have it on authority that Sasha wouldn't let just anyone near him. Only members of the troupe were allowed to get near him without him trying to attack, or people he was comfortable with."

"Which was a very good reason to look closer at people who had been around longer, rather than new members or temporary help," Charlotte added. "Additionally, we knew that the killer was claiming a motivation from revenge. As they believed they had not yet driven their point home enough, we expected that the nature of the killings was likely to escalate, and that the new pattern of sabotage was probably going to continue."

“Tonight's performance," Mrs. Blanchette said, one hand resting absently on her distended abdomen. “If someone died during an act, the authorities would be down on our heads and we'd be disbanded for certain."

Charlie nodded slightly. "So we made sure everyone checked their equipment before the show. That meant if sabotage was going to work, the killer would have to do it during the performance. And since the second note was delivered, we knew it would probably be tonight, rather than tomorrow or the next day."

“Why not tell us this?!" Miss O'Donaghue demanded, her pretty face flushed with anger. She took a step towards Amelia and Charlie, but at that point, Mr. Ramsey intervened.

He wasn't showy about it, merely detaching himself from the tent pole he'd been leaning against and narrowing his eyes slightly. She shrank back immediately, but did not retract her question.

Amelia stared at Miss O'Donaghue through narrowed eyes. “Imagine, for a second, Miss, O'Donaghue, that you were the killer," she began, trying to give the woman the benefit of the doubt for asking such a question. “If you had been told that someone was on to you, what would you have done?" She didn't give Miss O'Donaghue the chance to answer, though, and continued.

“The killer would have immediately known that we were on to them, and we would have, potentially, lost the chance to solve this case. That is a simple fact." More murmurs, more confusion.

“What about the notes, though?" Mr. Parker asked. “Why write them if they were just going to kill someone?" he continued. Amelia frowned slightly at that question.

"Well as we said," Charlie began, sounding a little less certain this time. "The motivation was revenge. We believe the notes were written to inspire fear, so that people would know exactly what was coming and who to blame, and that this as much as the deaths was important for the killer."

“I knew it!" Davis growled, stepping forward for the first time and jabbing a thick finger towards Mr. Harris. “I knew you were sneaking out to get up to no good, you fuckin' shit!"

Harris rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner. “You thought I was sneaking out to fuck a woman, you moronic dolt. Don't pretend you knew anything of significance."

Davis's face turned red, but when Mr. Ramsey cleared his throat softly, he lapsed back into silence.

"Erm..." Charlie's face was a bit red as well, but that might have been something to do with the crudeness of Mr. Harris's language. It would seem that even she knew what that meant. "In any case, we knew we had to watch tonight, and during the show I spotted Mr. Harris leaving the tent. He ran, and Mr. Jaziri and I caught up with him. He had this—"

Here, she fished the object out of her pocket that she'd collected earlier—it seemed to be a piece of wire. "Based on this fact, I deduced that he'd managed to sabotage the trapeze equipment, and so we made sure that the trapeze artists did not perform tonight."

“She's right," Mr. Blanchette said, nodding slightly. “Davis and I took a look. The nets and the left hand swing both wouldn't have held up more than a few minutes."

“Why the revenge? We didn't do anything to Mr. Harris," Miss Marsh spoke, finally, after remaining silent through a majority of the explanation. Amelia's expression smoothed out somewhat as she turned to face the woman.

“The second note mentioned a woman being ruined, somehow. We believe that it was for her," she stated, watching as Miss Marsh's brows furrowed.

“What woman? As far as I know, Mr. Harris didn't have a lover of which he would go to that degree, for," Miss March stated, glancing in Harris's direction. That was an answer Amelia couldn't give. She had a hypothesis as to whom it was, however; she didn't want to give out a name and be completely wrong about it.

"Martina Bianchi," Mr. Ramsey replied, stepping into the conversation at last. He gave both Amelia and Charlie a nod of acknowledgment, but without so much as a word to the effect, he'd directed the attention of the entire room upon himself.

There was an eruption of noise at the proclamation; both Mr. Bianchi's and Mr. Harris's faces had turned stark white. They looked, ironically enough, like they'd seen a ghost.

The reaction from the others was mixed.

"But she's dead?"

"—a ghost—"

"Did Mr. Bianchi mur—"


Mr. Ramsey sighed, letting the noise die down on its own, which it did remarkably quickly. Probably because he was glaring. "She is in fact very much alive. Mr. Bianchi allowed rumors of her death to continue because it forestalled questions on her disappearance, when in fact he ran her out of the business after an injury stopped her from performing. Is this not so?"

Mr. Bianchi looked absolutely livid, but he made no effort to deny the claim. Amelia furrowed her brows in his direction, though. Why would he do such a thing? Surely she could have recovered from the injury with time, and could have still performed.

“It was her own goddamn fault!" Bianchi finally snapped, glaring at Ramsey as he did so. “If she would have done everything I had asked of her, she wouldn't have become crippled by her own stupidity!" he spat, causing Amelia to narrow her eyes at him.

“You didn't need to run her out, though," she stated, receiving the glare from Bianchi he had given to Ramsey. “Crippled or not, just because she couldn't perform did not mean she couldn't help out in other ways," she stated.

Miss Castine, who had been quiet throughout the entire ordeal, finally stepped forward, something wet at the corners of her eyes. “But why did our friends deserve to die?" she asked in such a quiet voice that Amelia wasn't certain if Beatrix had actually spoken. “They did nothing to you," she continued, her gaze going towards Mr. Harris.

Harris scowled at her. "What? The chattel? The harlots and whoresons and roadside dirt? What does anyone care, girl? They were his means of making a living, and it's his life what needed the ruining. They were collateral damage, and it doesn't. Bloody. Matter."

"That's enough." Mr. Ramsey's voice cracked sharply over the tumult that had arisen, no few of those present looking at Harris with obvious hatred for his words. "Scotland Yard should be here any moment. Jaziri—get him out of here before they take his tongue." He didn't seem to be exaggerating... and the way Mr. Parker and Mr. Blanchette were looking at him, he didn't have to.

Jaziri nodded his head and guided Mr. Harris away from the crowd. He wasn't gentle about it, either, if the winch on Mr. Harris's face was anything to go by. Amelia sighed softly to herself, and glanced at Beatrix and the others. She felt her hand twitch slightly as Beatrix did little to hide the tears on her face, but Amelia stayed where she was for the moment.

“Given the nature of things," she began glancing at Mr. Bianchi who had his face in his hand.

“There's no way we'll be able to continue. Reputation is ruined, no one will come see us," he began, and Amelia felt she knew where he was going with this. “I quit. All of you... go home. Or whatever homes you used to have," he spoke, walking away from the crowd. Amelia took the moment to walk towards Beatrix, and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Will you be alright, Castine?" she asked, watching as Beatrix wiped the corners of her eyes and nodded. Amelia pursed her lips slightly, but didn't say anything. Instead, she patted Beatrix's shoulder once more, and made her way towards Ramsey and Charlie.

The case was solved; there was nothing more for them to do here.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

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#, as written by Aethyia

London - Kent Estate
June 28, 1885 - 12:00 p.m. - Sunny & Warm
Veronika Kent

Vera hummed to herself as she went amount piping the last of her little cakes, arranging slices of strawberry in a flower-petal pattern at a jaunty angle and licking the last few traces of icing off her fingers. Making sure the plating was properly squared, she hoisted the cake and balanced the tray on the fingertips of her left hand, taking up the loaded pistol on the kitchen island with the other and tucking it into the holster at her waist.

The cake went onto her dining table, along with an array of other desserts she'd prepared that morning. Amelia had been kind enough to inform her that Lord Lancaster had something of a sweet tooth; as it happened, Vera had a talent for sweets.

She thought they'd be a nice consolation when she utterly destroyed him on the range.

Straightening herself, Vera brushed down her pale blue skirts, straightening the line of her dove-grey corset and making sure the laces were still properly in place. Her hair was arranged into a tight braid in the French style, one that trailed all the way to her waist. It was easier to shoot without extra weight on her head, and as she expected to actually fire on challenging targets today, she'd planned accordingly.

The heels of her boots clicked along the wood of her foyer, and she paused before crossing the midpoint of the room. The drapes were hanging properly, the floor and banisters were polished, the carpet had been run over with the new steam cleaner... Teddy and Ephy were helping get the targets set up in the yard, including some of them in her rarely-used back lot, around the sniper's nest.

Now all she really had to do was... wait for him to appear. The little flip in the pit of her stomach almost made Vera laugh at herself. Had it really been so long since she'd enjoyed the thrill of a real competition?

As it happened, the sound of hooves hitting the pavement signaled the arrival of Lord Lancaster. From the sounds of it, though, it was only one horse. He must have ridden to her estate without the escort of a carriage. It made sense, considering it wasn't Amelia joining her, but rather Lord Lancaster. He didn't need an escort as Amelia did. He was led inside by a staff member, and his eyes glanced over her dwelling before landing on her.

“Lady Kent," he called to her, bowing slightly before straightening back up. “You've a lovely home," he stated, his eyes moving to the side as if he were still taking in the home.

Vera found herself smiling without having to force it, as small talk so often required her to do. "Lord Lancaster," she replied, answering the bow with a curtsy of her own. "Thank you very much. I would offer to show you a greater part of it, but if you're quite amenable I do believe that my boarders have been preparing the set for our challenge this afternoon. If perhaps you'd like to shoot first and have tea afterwards?"

Lord Lancaster's lips twitched slightly upward, though he looked like he was refraining from smiling completely. Perhaps from a sort of confidence in his own abilities without knowing her skills? “That would be considerate, but not necessary. I wouldn't want to impose on your generosity more than I already have," he spoke, his eyes falling back to her. His smile smoothed out at the end of the statement.

“If you'd be so kind as to lead the way," he stated, referring, perhaps, to the area where the challenge was to take place.

Vera only smiled a little, confident that she could persuade him to change his mind later. But still, first things were first, and she led him back out the front door and towards the yard.

It seemed that the others had finished setting the targets at the pistol range, fresh paper ones attached to bales of hay at the end of a long corridor. Presently, it was only Ephy and Teddy, who were seeing to the selection of pistols she'd chosen from her collection, in case Lord Lancaster had not brought his own.

"I do believe some introductions are in order," Vera said with a brighter smile. "Lord Lancaster, I do believe you've met Mr. Ramsey already?"

Ephraim nodded, both a form of confirmation to her and greeting to her guest. "Your Lordship." Titles always sounded so strange in his tone of voice, as though he didn't quite believe what he was saying despite saying it with apparent respect.

"This, on the other hand, is my son Teddy. Or I suppose Lord Theodore Kent, if we're being particularly fastidious."

Teddy scrunched his nose in the familiar fashion at the use of his nickname in front of company, but he did carefully set down the gun he was loading, flipping the safety first and then wiping his hands off on a linen cloth. He strode over as well as he could stride—though fourteen years old, he was already nearly her height, and only about three inches shorter than the gentleman he approached. That said, there was a certain teenage lankiness of limb to him that made his youth abundantly clear.

Still, he stuck out his hand in greeting as he was entitled to do, even if Lord Lancaster was of a much more prominent position than either of them were. "Lancaster," he said with a bit of a grin. "Nice to meet you in the flesh."

“Lady Kent mentioned you during her visit," he spoke, briefly glancing towards Vera before turning his attention back to Teddy. “A pleasure to meet you as well, Lord Kent," he spoke, taking Teddy's hand into his own in a firm handshake. He released it shortly after, and his hand fell back to his side.

“I see that your mother taught you well," he spoke, motioning towards the gun Teddy had set down earlier. “You must be as talented as she is," he continued.

Teddy grinned broadly. "I'm pretty good, but not nearly as much as—"

Vera's eyes widened; behind Lord Lancaster, she made a sharp gesture, bringing her finger to her lips in the universal signal for silence.

"—as my mom," Teddy finished, not entirely smoothly, but not too awkwardly either. "More of a fencer than a shooter, if I'm being totally honest." He had still, of course, learned how to fire and how to maintain a weapon, but Vera was happy to let him follow his inclinations in this respect.

"We've an assortment to choose from for this first bit if you've not brought your own, Lord Lancaster," Vera added. It was quite possible that he carried his own pistol, though he was obviously not currently in possession of a rifle, which would be the next part, so she'd made sure her full arsenal was available for that.

"I do believe the British infantry favored the Hansen rimfire models? I've a pair if you're inclined, but it is rather a disadvantage over my Stepanovs." She winked; as old as military rivalries were, there were plenty of dimensions to go with, and everyone tended to think their country made the superior equipment.

Lord Lancaster raised a brow to that. “Perhaps because the people who handled them were far too indelicate with them," he spoke, the smile on his face smoothing out to something more akin to a smirk. “I may not have favored a rifle in my time with the military," he spoke, pausing briefly to glance over the array of weapons Vera had collected for their challenge.

“But I did know how to handle a pistol and make the best of what I had. Different models require a different approach, as you may be aware, Lady Kent," he continued, a sort of challenge in his tone as he spoke.

Was that...? Vera found herself momentarily thrown, unsure if he'd intended his words to have the double meaning she could read into them. Whether intentional or not, the banter did amuse her, and she didn't think it would hurt to reply in kind.

Keeping her tone similarly ambiguous, she shrugged. "That's all very true, of course," she said, sliding her pistol from its holster and checking the ammunition, as though she hadn't already done so twice already. "But you must surely also concede that some models are just... outright superior." She smiled, just a touch coyly. Let him wonder if there was a bit of entendre to her words.

"And in this particular matter, I'm afraid the experts do agree: the Russian is far more faithful and lovely a companion than her ungainly English counterpart."

He hummed softly, but shook his head. “Faithful and lovely, I will concede, however," he spoke, reaching to his side holster and retreiving his own pistol. “The precision and power behind the English counterpart are all that are required when you have something to prove."

He mimicked her actions, checking the ammunition and the barrel before holding it to his side. “Shall we see which is truly the superior one?" he asked, not bothering to hide the small smile that was on his face. Whether it was intentional or not, he made no show of letting Vera know.

Vera returned the expression, clicking her ammo cartridge into place. "I know it's typically ladies first, but I would feel rather inhospitable if I did not allow my guest his choice of lane and the first shot. Please, milord, do go right ahead."

Lord Lancaster inclined his head and turned his attention towards range. After making a decision, he made his way towards a target. He stood still for a moment, as if he were trying to get a read on the distance from his target, and where he stood. He lifted his pistol to take aim, but did not fire it, immediately. He adjusted his wrist, as if he were going to aim slightly higher, and pulled the trigger. The mark wasn't too far off from the center; even from this distance it was easy to tell. With a satisfied smile, he turned to Vera.

“Lady Kent," he spoke, lowering the pistol to his side and stepping away from his position.

It was an impressive shot, to say the least. Even with the latest advancements, pistols were not typically accurate beyond fifty or so feet in the hands of anyone but an expert, and the target was fifty meters away from the two of them.

Vera nodded in acknowledgment when Lord Lancaster stepped back, slotting herself into the same position he'd occupied, setting the toe of her boot on his mark. Lifting the gun one-handed, she sighted down the elongated barrel with both eyes and squeezed the trigger.

The bullet flew exactly as she'd aimed it, striking her target dead-center. As was duly reasonable, she fired twice more, to ensure it was no mere stroke of luck. The next two rounds, the placed just above and just below the first, so as not to risk ricochet.

Tucking her pistol back into its holster, Vera turned over her shoulder and winked playfully. "Fair's fair, Lord Lancaster. Have two more, and then we'll total the score."

The look on Lord Lancaster's face spoke of mild surprise, but he managed to smooth it out. He returned to his original position, his eyes narrowing slightly as he raised his pistol once more. He didn't fire, immediately, and instead, kept his eyes on the target in front of him. He fiddled with the trigger for a moment before raising the pistol slightly higher. Once he was apparently comfortable, he pulled the trigger, the bullet missing the center by just a few inches.

He frowned slightly and aimed slightly higher. The bullet missed the center, again, by an inch, this time. He sighed softly, and turned to Vera. “I must concede that you, Lady Kent, are a far better shot than I am," he spoke with a sort of rough edge to his voice. It wasn't harsh, but it sounded upset about something.

If she didn't know any better, she might suppose that he was pouting a bit. "If I may say so, Lord Lancaster, I fear I'm a rather high bar." Her response was not unkind, not meant to rub it in, either. Just a fact—with a shot like that, he was leagues better than most. Amelia certainly wasn't that good yet, and she had a gift for it.

The showing with the rifles was much the same, and when that was done, Vera saw the opportunity to spring her trap. "If I may, Lord Lancaster... I fear I've made rather too much for tea, but both my son and my tenant seem to have disappeared." This was, of course, because she had not told them to stay, and no doubt Teddy was following Ephy around, asking him questions about everything he did.

"I would consider it a personal favor to myself if you'd stay just a little while more and take it with me?" She smiled, somewhere between apologetic and hopeful, though she wasn't sure if she'd entirely intended to look that way or if it had just... happened.

His lips were pursed together, as if he were going to refuse her offer, however; a small tilt of his lips suggested otherwise. “Tea sounds fine, Lady Kent," he spoke, his voice softer than it had been before. He shook his head as if to himself, and glanced up so that he was keeping Vera's gaze. “If you'd be so kind as to lead the way, I'm afraid I am not acquainted with your home," he paused abruptly, almost as if he were going to add to the sentence.

He followed Vera to the dining table where she'd set up before his arrival, and his eyes widened slightly at the assortment. They, however, were not the only ones in the immediate area. “Amelia?" he stated, catching her off guard as she held one of the strawberry petals in her hands. She blinked mildly at her father before a bright smile bloomed on her face.

“What are you doing here? I thought you didn't have a piano lesson today?" he asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously at his daughter. Amelia merely grinned, and straightened herself back out.

“I came to see Lady Kent's collection of music sheets. She has a large selection to choose from and I thought I'd try practicing more of the advanced techniques," she stated, her eyes sliding to Vera.

Vera grinned, though she tried not to make it too obvious, as it was a tad incongruous with the circumstances. "And you're welcome to any of them, of course," she said mildly, giving Amelia a conspiratorial wink when Lord Lancaster wasn't looking. "My library is modest, but there are some interesting things to be found in it, if I do say so."

It was far more likely that Amelia was reading through her texts on anatomy or history or whatever other subject Ephy had her studying as part of her apprenticeship, and indeed she decided it was likely that the library's interests currently included the demon and her son both, but this of course she would never say aloud.

"Feel free to take a cake or two back with you, dear, in case you get a bit peaky later." Or rather, in case the three of them did.

“Thank you, Miss Vera," she stated, reaching for two slices of cake, and one apple tart. She immediately ducked back out of the room, though, before Lord Lancaster could say anything about her mode of address. She spoke a little quickly, and from the look on Lord Lancaster's face, it probably didn't register.

“She has taken quite a shine to you, Lady Kent," he spoke with a sort of melancholy to his voice, as if he were remembering another time. “Your tutoring has been beneficial for her," he continued, glancing back towards Vera.

Vera settled herself at the head of the table, serving herself a slice of the light, fluffy angel food cake next to the pear tarts and blackberry cobbler. She'd spent quite some time quizzing Amelia on her father's preferences, and while she figured the peppermint-chocolate ganache she'd layered over a small chocolate cake would be the biggest success, she did try to have a little of everything available.

She tilted her head slightly at the hint of sadness in his tone, but waited until Alice, her cook, had brought in the tea itself and left before she replied. "She's a joy to teach, Lord Lancaster," she replied quietly, for once not inflecting her voice with too much flair or humor. "Young women—young people, really—of Amelia's talents and drive are rare. I fear she hardly needs my instruction at all, only a place and time to apply herself to improvement."

“You would not be wrong in your deduction, Lady Kent," he spoke, his smile smoothing out a bit. “I would surmise that is mostly my fault," he continued, pouring himself a cup of tea before setting it down. “She was taught things a Lady ought not to know," he paused, his eyes flickering to Vera for a moment before they settled on one of the pear tarts. He reached for one, inspected it, but did not immediately eat it.

“Her mother passed when she was born. Any tutelage she would have received to be a proper Lady was lost to her, because of it," he spoke a little solemnly at that, though not for the loss of Amelia's mother. Perhaps more-so the loss of what Amelia would have learned if her mother was alive. “So I pushed her to learn other things; things that I could teach her."

It wasn't an unconventional way of thinking about such a situation, though Vera couldn't say she agreed. Not that traditional men were usually the best at changing their minds, but she thought perhaps she had an inroad, if she made delicate use of it.

Pausing to finish the bite she'd taken while he spoke, Vera hummed softly, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with her napkin. "Well, as someone who has taken multiple meals with her, I do not find her to be lacking in comportment," she said softly. "And I find that her keenness of mind and inclination towards learning is more admirable and necessary than any particular penchant for etiquette and embroidery. Those things can be learned at any stage, but there is no turning a dull person into a bright one. You've raised a very bright daughter, and if I may say so, you've a right to be proud. Both of her and yourself."

He chuckled softly at her statement. “James would beg to differ," he stated, some humor to his tone. “But you are right, I am very proud of her. I'm sure you must feel the same way with Lord Kent. He being without his father," he stated before taking a bite from one of the pear tarts he'd taken. His eyes widened slightly in mild surprise, though he looked pleased about the taste since he took another, quick bite.

Vera smiled, enough that her eyes crinkled at the corners. "I've got things to get through that boy's head yet," she said, letting a bit of levity return to the conversation. "But he's given me much to be proud of, yes." Gently, she set her cake fork down, watching with some amusement as he ate the tart. She was gratified by his enjoyment—few things were as satisfying to Vera as others taking pleasure in something she had done or made.

Well, there was the satisfaction of a precise bulls-eye, of course, but that wasn't much of a challenge anymore unless she went out of her way to make it one.

"We do what we can alone, I suppose," she mused. "Though I daresay between your Mr. Delaney and my Ms. Adams, there's help enough to make it work." Though she had few staff, Vera appreciated their work a great deal, and knew from experience that even having the three made running her household possible in a way it would not otherwise be.

She picked up her cup of tea and took a slow sip.

“In this, you are correct," he stated, having finished off the last of his tart before glancing back at Vera. “My compliments to your pâtissier," he stated, his eyes trailing back to the sweets, and reaching for one of the blackberry tarts. “They are quite appetizing," he added before taking a bite from the new tart. He seemed to enjoy that one as well, since he grabbed another, perhaps momentarily forgetting his manners.

Vera laughed—and she was sure it was a laugh, only somehow the sound that came out was a giggle of all things. She could not remember the last time she'd heard herself do it, and she momentarily stunned herself into silence, blinking and hiding as much of her face as possible behind the teacup. Dear One, was she fourteen again somehow?

Clearing her throat, she managed a more demure smile. "I accept them, in that case," she replied. It was sort of funny, that he should again say something to her about her without knowing. Though perhaps the pastries were a bit less surprising than the sniping.

Lord Lancaster nearly choked on the bite he'd been working on, and tapped his chest. He took a drink from his tea before he managed to calm down from the coughing. “You," he began, taking in a slow breath in order to catch it, it seemed. “You have many talents, it seems. Now I see why Amelia is so taken with you," he managed to clear his throat once more, though his face was slightly red. Whether that was from the near-choking experience or something else, was hard to tell.

“In any case, perhaps..." he paused once more, clearing his throat a third time before meeting Vera's gaze, “we could do this another time. A fencing lesson, perhaps?"

But goodness, his eyes were so very blue. Not a pale, sky-ice version of the shade like hers, either. No, this was ocean-water, azure blue, with a depth to it.

Vera caught herself staring, and it was her turn to clear her throat a bit and glance down, feeling the slightest of heat rising on her cheeks. She was being daft—if she weren't careful, the poor fellow was like as not to think she'd taken some kind of fancy to him!

"Mayhap a match first?" she asked, almost shyly. "I am perhaps due a touch of comeuppance for subjecting you to my own specialty today. I should delight in a lesson after my inevitable defeat, however." Her smile was likewise a little softer than she intended it, but she hadn't chased him away thus far, so she didn't think it would hurt.

If he were feeling shy, he didn't show it. His smile turned into a grin as he continued to hold her gaze. “Perhaps in the same amount of time? Two weeks?" he asked, his brow arching almost in an inquisitive manner.

"It's a plan, Lord Lancaster."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

London - Red Moon Cabaret Club
June 30, 1885 - 20:00 p.m. - Rain
Ephraim Ramsey

Ephraim paused to hang his hat on an empty hook at the front of the Red Moon, casting his eyes over the room. Though this was just nearing the beginning of peak hours for the establishment, he knew there would not be a large crowd tonight. It was raining, and besides that it was a week night, which always meant less business, considering how many of Liang's regulars had to work early the next morning.

He took his customary seat at the usual table, ordering only a glass of whiskey from the waitress. Jezebel, tonight; someone who liked to wear a rather blasphemous name boldly. No doubt she like many of those who worked here was none too fond of the Church.

He found the specific person he was looking for at another table, apparently reading the fortune of a guest. Miss Castine looked to be comfortable, and in her element. He of course did not disturb her, though he did make brief eye contact and nod, so that she would know he was present. If she did not desire to speak with him or was too busy, that was of course her own business.

As it was, she spotted him and smiled brightly in his direction. She continued with her fortune, finishing it up with a small flourish as the person she was entertaining, clapped softly. They seemed satisfied with whatever she'd told them, and she seemed to excuse herself. Once she was closer to Ephraim, she waved cheerfully and slid into the open seat in front of him.

“Mr. Ramsey!" she greeted, still wearing the smile on her face. It wasn't quite like Charlotte's, innocent, but it was, nonetheless, genuine. “What brings you here?" she asked, tilting her head slightly.

Somehow he hadn't quite been expecting the direct query. Ephraim blinked, then lifted his shoulders in an approximation of a human shrug. A strange piece of gestural communication that his kind were not natively socialized to use. He still had to think about them, sometimes.

When Jezebel returned with his glass and a smile, he nodded his thanks to her, and tilted it slightly towards Miss Castine in the air. "A few things. This is one of them." Typically he did not have much fondness for spirits, but some of them had an appealing enough taste. Even though he could not himself become intoxicated by them.

"You seem to be settling in well," he observed, studying the pattern of her clothing for a moment. It was certainly more well-made than what she'd worn for circus purposes, but then Liang was herself a gifted tailor and would have insisted upon as much. "Is it to your liking?"

She smiled a little ruefully, but nodded her head. “Miss Liang has been a wonderful host," she began, folding her hands out in front, but keeping them tucked closely to her. “And I do like it here," she continued, but it was obvious enough in the tone of her voice that she wasn't quite used to it. She kept her gaze focused on her hands, and the smile on her lips was nothing more than a thin line, now.

“I suppose in any new environment, I still have a lot of adjusting to do," she stated, finally lifting her eyes to meet his. “But I have you, Miss Amelia, Mr. Khalil, and Miss Charlotte to thank for that, especially you," the smile returned to her face at that statement. “I wouldn't have had a place if it weren't for you speaking to Miss Liang."

She was factually correct on this point, of course. But he wasn't sure her implications were entirely apropos, and considered his next words while he took a slow sip from the glass. As usual, his lenses stopped the presence of his death clock, and so he was not distracted reading the numbers associated with anyone he saw. It was a hard habit to break, and one he found made interacting with humans and their ilk... strange, in a certain way.

He'd seen hers; he just didn't really want to know if it changed. It might well have—her life was no doubt on an entirely new trajectory now.

"Would you do a reading for me?" he asked, tilting his chin at her deck. Perhaps unlike other customers who asked the same question, he did so in full seriousness and with a respect for the gift that would ensure her answers meant something.

“Of course," she replied, holding out the deck in front of her as her eyes narrowed slightly in delight. “It's the least I can do for you after all you've done for me," she continued as she shuffled the deck. She stopped suddenly, though, and glanced back up at him.

“Oh, but what kind of reading would you like, Mr. Ramsey?" she asked, tilting her head with the query. “Many of the patrons here like to know what their love life looks like. I hardly ever get requests for their future, in general," she stated, her nose scrunching slightly at the previous statement. It seemed she found some humor in it all.

He gave this a moment's consideration. Not between the options presented—the idea that he should ask about romantic prospects verged on unintelligible, as he was a demon of all things—but between a few he'd had in mind.

"I'm... looking for something," he said after a long moment. It was not something he'd ever told anyone else on this plane, and even what he could say now would be by necessity vague. "I cannot name it, exactly, because I do not know what it is. I am unsure if you would be able to work with something so unclear even to me. If not, I suppose a read of the future would suffice instead."

Miss Castine hummed softly for a moment, and remained fixed on Ephraim. It was as if she were studying him for something else, some underlying factor of some sort. “Given its nature," she began, her eyes going back to the tarot deck, “I don't think I can be of much use, however; I might be able to give you some insight if it's something you focus on as I divine your future."

She continued to shuffle the deck until she was, apparently satisfied. “Focus on what it is you are looking for as you cut the deck. Also," she paused, briefly meeting his gaze. “If you have something personal, something that you think might be of future help or use, can you place it in the center of the table?" she asked.

“It'll help with my focus," she added, handing the tarot deck to Ephraim.

Ephraim didn't make a habit of attaching sentiment to objects, an extension of his general tendency not to attach sentiment to anything. But if it would help, he supposed the closest thing he had was in fact on hand. Reaching into the pocket of his waistcoat, he withdrew a pocketwatch, the silvered face of its cover engraved with the same ornate cross as he sometimes wore on the lapel of his coat.

It was, properly speaking, the Gehennan Cross, though as with many other symbols from before the time of Unification, the Church of the One had appropriated devices that looked similar enough that it was easily mistaken for an expression of mainstream religious faith.

Never mind that it really symbolized something so much older and realer than anything a priest could conjure for the masses.

He set it carefully on the table, detaching the chain from his pocket as well and then cutting the deck.

Where can I find the thing that disturbs the balance?

Once he handed the deck back to Miss Castine, she shuffled it once more. She drew a card and placed it near his pocket watch, a frown adorning her lips. She drew another one, and placed it beside the first card, and repeated the process until she had six cards drawn. She seemed confused about something, and her brows furrowed deeply.

“I don't... understand," she mused out loud, though it seemed like something she was thinking about rather than speaking to Ephraim. “What you seek isn't here," she began, tilting her head in confusion as she continued to stare at the cards. “But at the same time, it's close by. It's almost as if you're in the right place, but it's not quite here, in this time."

She finally glanced up at Ephraim, her head still tilted in a confused manner. Her eyes narrowed slightly at him before they seemed to gloss over. She remained that way for a few minutes before she finally blinked. Her eyes fell to her hands before she glanced away from him. “I'm not sure what time it could be in, though. It's not entirely clear."

"That's fine," Ephraim said, shaking his head faintly. "If it is not now, it is later. If it had already been, we would know." He did not specify who the we was; he hadn't even meant to say it as such.

"Have you any hint as to its nature?"

She shook her head. “I'm afraid I don't, but," she paused, chewing the bottom of her lip with uncertainty. “It... might be connected to someone you know," she finally spoke after a brief period of silence. “I didn't see who it was, but it's someone close to you. If not now, sometime in the near-future," she continued, her brows smoothing out slightly.

Someone he already knew. If true, that narrowed the field considerably, though 'related' was a very vague word. Still, he appreciated that her art was not a science, and only nodded slightly in return. "That in itself is very helpful, thank you."

Turning slightly, he caught Jezebel's eye and motioned slightly towards Miss Castine. If he was going to keep her here, he might as well at least provide a glass of whatever she liked to drink, alcohol or otherwise. The Red Moon also served an extensive collection of teas, coffees, and fruit juices, though as far as he knew, the last were typically mixed with the intoxicants.

She fidgeted in her seat a moment, the frown on her face no longer there, and replaced with something more curiosity than anything. “If I may say, Mr. Ramsey," she spoke, glancing in Jezebel's direction when she'd arrived. “Oh, maybe some jasmine tea, please," she stated before Jezebel had a chance to ask. She returned her attention to Ephraim, afterwards, and smiled somewhat.

“This person... that you're close to. They... don't mean any harm, but I think they're just lost. Confused, maybe, so... when the time comes," she paused, taking in a deep breath before she continued, “don't be too harsh with them. You'll have new friends, by then; people whom you'll trust and will trust you. One in particular who will be... I don't know the right word for it."

“Important? Friend? Something like that. They will help you through this if you let them."

His brows furrowed slightly, but Ephraim nodded anyway. He would take the words along with the others, and perhaps in time their meaning would become clear.

Jezebel returned with the tea, and he remained silent long enough for her to place it down and depart before he thinned his lips thoughtfully and finally responded. "I will bear this in mind, but the nature of the issue is—" He shook his head. He shouldn't say more. While Miss Castine was clearly aware of things beyond human ken, and no violation of the First Law was entailed by speaking to her of these matters, the First Law was not the only thing to consider here.

She smiled at him, though. “It's okay, Mr. Ephraim, I understand. It means a lot that you will at least heed the words. Whether or not you are allowed much freedom to make your own choice... I suppose it'll be enough." She took the cup that had been placed before her, and took a drink, the smile still on her face when she set it back down.

“Besides, if anything else comes up, I will let you know. Reading tarot is not the only gift I have, remember?" she stated cheerfully. “If I happen to see anything, you'll be the first to know. Although," she trailed off at the end, pursing her lips together slightly. “I don't know how inclined you may be, but, if there is something of personal value to you, other than this pocket watch, it might help focus my visions on the particular subject of what you're searching for. Only if you're able to, Mr. Ephraim."

Ephraim frowned slightly, picking up the watch. He depressed the trigger on top, opening the cover to reveal a cracked glass face. It still kept the time faithfully, though the numerals along the perimeter of the face were none a human would recognize, and it was not tracking a twenty-four hour day divided into seconds and minutes and hours. Instead there were a half-dozen hands, each currently oriented in a slightly different direction.

He closed it back over and replaced it in his pocket. "I own nothing else of personal value, Miss Castine," he replied simply. This was the one item that was always on him; nothing else would have near its psychic significance, not even one of his weapons, which he had not brought to the Red Moon. Liang was not particularly fond of them.

“That's okay, Mr. Ephraim," she replied, taking another sip of her tea. “The offer still remains: if I see anything, I'll let you know. Oh, also," she stated, setting the tea cup down and wrapping her hands around it. “I know I've probably said it too many times, but... thank you." She kept his gaze for a moment, the force of her smile narrowing her eyes a bit.

“I don't think I would have made it much longer without your help," she continued, though she didn't elaborate on what she meant by that. “You're a really nice person."

He was quite ready to nod and accept her thanks—unnecessary as he found them—but when she ended, he frowned outright. Nice was not a word anyone had ever used to describe him before. He tried to decide what part of him qualified and decided she must simply be speaking from her sense of gratitude.

Draining the last of his glass, he set it down with care, disinclined to damage Liang's table. "You are welcome," he said simply.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster

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London - Office of Ramsey & Associates
July 2, 1885 - 10:30 a.m. - Drizzle
Amelia Lancaster

Leaving the estate under the guise of going to Miss Vera's was, perhaps, the easiest lie she'd ever had to tell her father. If he actually knew what she was doing, Amelia was certain that he'd have some massive heart failure, or he'd do something like keep her contained within the estate. Somehow, at least. She thanked the carriage driver, and slipped her umbrella outside, opening it so that it could shield her from the droplets of rain that refused to stop. The soft thudding of the rain drops against her umbrella, filled her senses until she reached the door to the office.

Once inside, she shook some of the moisture off of the umbrella before setting it down in the corner, and removed the hat she'd worn inside. Satisfied that she was not soaked, nor bringing in any excess moisture, she turned to glance into the place she'd grown familiar with.

It was slightly less familiar today, though, its layout oddly changed. Mr. Ramsey's desk was still placed in front of the back wall and the hearth as always, impeccably neat in its organization and polished in its shine, with the green wingback chair behind it.

Charlie's, too, was in the usual place to the left, nearest the door to the small kitchen. It was a little less neat, the other girl's notebook open at an angle with a pen still resting along the seam in the middle, and a few pieces of smaller alchemy gear clustered at one of the corners. But the little-used seating area that had occupied the spot across from that had been moved forward, to nearer the front door, and in its place was another desk.

This desk was of a match with the others, a rich, if gently-worn, teak wood, about of a size with Charlie's. The chair behind it was upholstered in a soft turquoise, a subtle variation in the shade making a paisley pattern in the fabric.

Mr. Ramsey stood in front of the desk, just setting down a leather-bound notebook and smooth, dark blue fountain pen in front of the chair. The desk had a large inbox and outbox sitting on it already, both empty, and what seemed to be an organizational calendar, but it was otherwise clear.

He stepped away once he'd put the items in their place, and nodded briefly to her. "Miss Lancaster."

She arched a brow, slightly confused as to the change, however; she nodded her head in return. “Ramsey," she greeted, brow still arched in slight confusion. “Are we expecting another addition?" she inquired, motioning towards the new desk. She quashed the thought of the possibility of the desk being Jaziri's. Ramsey was far too intelligent to do something like that. Jaziri also did not spend as much time at the office as she did, however; the possibility of it being her desk, did not cross her mind.

“If so, should I prepare a proper welcome for them?" she asked, referring, of course, to setting the tea so that it would be available when the mystery person arrived.

For a moment, Mr. Ramsey blinked at her, arching one eyebrow as if waiting for her to make some connection she had not seen. When it was not forthcoming, he huffed a short, soft breath through his nose. "Addition is not quite the correct word," he said, crossing back to his desk and picking up what seemed to be a thin file folder. It was simply blank manila, but he extended it out towards her.

He did not let go immediately, however, holding her eyes instead, intently enough that it was obvious the words that followed were going to be important. "You did good work on the Bianchi-Harris case. There is much you have yet to learn, but you have earned the right to learn it if you wish. This contains the terms of a more formal apprenticeship. You will want to look them over. Perhaps at your desk." He released the folder.

It was the first time he'd said anything regarding her provisional status since they'd come to the arrangement in mid-May. Though she'd offered to pay him the fee he'd asked for, he'd put it off until the end of that month and then just... not mentioned it again. It had been easy to forget about, with all the things she was learning. But it seemed she'd done something right in the month and a half she'd been here.

Amelia was glad that any emotion she was currently feeling, was not present on her face. She took the folder he'd handed her, but continued holding his gaze. She was looking for something; for this to be a jest of some sort. She knew, however, that Ramsey was not the joking kind. He rarely showed amusement of that sort, at least not outright. She'd learned to spot small details here and there, but it wasn't anything quite noteworthy. As he'd mentioned, she still had a lot to learn.

It finally settled in that the new desk was hers, and she allowed herself to break the gaze, moving her attention to her desk. She didn't think the possibility of getting a desk was an option. She'd planned on sharing Charlie's desk, however; it made sense to her, now, it was best if she didn't. If she was going to remain here, on a more formal basis, she would need her own space. And a new desk certainly provided that.

“I'm... grateful," because she didn't know how else to express her gratitude. It was uncouth of her to approach him for an embrace. It would be crossing a boundary she had no intentions of crossing. He was her mentor; she respected him greatly for everything that he's been able to teach her. That she'd be able to continue learning under him was something else entirely. She had no words to describe the elated feeling she currently felt.

“The fee," she began glancing back towards Ramsey. “How should I pay it?" she asked. She couldn't exactly have her father make the payment to Ramsey. It would give way to the truth. If he made the payment to Miss Vera, however, perhaps she could give it to Ramsey?

He shook his head slightly. "It's in the contract. Your wage will be garnished until the thousand is paid, at which point you'll move into full associate status and earn the standard portion of my private-case commissions. Yard consultations are effectively pro bono, but you've seen the business I do. The majority of my clients are paying in some form."

Mr. Ramsey's eyes fell to her inbox. "If you are amenable I would shift the initial filtering of requests to you as well. Miss Blythe means well, but she is not as able to discriminate the problems of one person from another, and so I have been handling the intake myself. It is not the most useful work for me, but it does help tune the instincts—there would be some benefit to you."

She knew she was smiling, now, even as he continued to speak. She was going to be an official associate once she'd paid the fee, however; something he said caught her off guard. “I'm not complaining, but," she began, furrowing her brows slightly. “Wasn't the original fee, two thousand?" She really wasn't complaining. If anything, she wanted to know why the fee had been cut in half.

The work he provided her had been impeccable, and he deserved to be paid the full amount he'd originally stated to her. It wasn't as if it'd be a bother to her, either. After she paid off her fee, whatever money she'd earn herself would be poured straight back into Ramsey's place of business. She didn't intend on keeping it for herself. She didn't need to, after all, considering her family's status. Besides, it was something she wanted to do. Perhaps she could save what she made to make smaller adjustments in the near future?

He shrugged, the motion on a slight delay, as though he had to think about it more than most people would have. "Two thousand is what I would have charged you if you were tolerable, but useless or in some other way a burden." He leaned back against his own desk, hands finding the pockets of his trousers.

"You are not."

Any other person might have been insulted by that statement, however; Amelia was not. She took that as a compliement, considering that Ramsey was not the sort to do so. Observations were more his thing, and that was what this likely was. That she was not useless or a burden had been her intention when she'd first began, after all. She'd dedicated a lot of time and effort to be useful in some manner or another. For him to say that she wasn't useless... well that was another thing entirely.

“Then I shall oblige and pay the fee you've set," she finally responded, setting the packet down on her desk. She would go through it, later, however; she turned to face Ramsey. “I shall continue to do my best to serve you well, Ramsey. Do let me know if, at any time, I fail in that." It would be an immediate correction, of course. That was the last thing she wanted to do, and that was to fail where she was currently succeeding.

He snorted softly. "As you wish. Continue to apply yourself and I foresee no such difficulty." Leaning backwards slightly and snatching up a much thicker file folder, he extended it towards her. "This is the current intake file. Do you suppose you can get it down to three cases?"

She took the file he'd handed her, and arched a brow. That sounded like a challenge, if anything, to her. The file was thick, which meant it had at least over ten cases. Considering that she was still learning, the fact that this felt like a challenge spoke volumes to her. He was entrusting her to bring these files down to three, and she'd be damned if she didn't do it.

“Are you sure you only want three? I can get it down to two, if you'd prefer," because she would if that's what he really wanted. Three wasn't too much to handle, but still... it was his call.

There was an almost imperceptible change in Mr. Ramsey's expression then, a narrowing of his eyes and the slightest alteration to the cast of them. It seemed almost to be a pleased thing, like he was smiling without physically moving the necessary muscles.

"Two and a backup," he said after a moment. "In case one of them is duller than expected and we solve it too easily." He pushed away from the desk and crossed behind it, lowering himself into his chair, no doubt to begin his own portion of the office's work.

"Welcome to the investigations business, Miss Lancaster."

She allowed a smirk to adorn her features.

She had some work to do.