Archivum Arcanum

By Dan Klefstad

(Being a Glimpse into the History of Mors Strigae, the Death-Dealing Order of the Roman Catholic Church, Presented in the Epistolary Style)

Diary of Cardinal Massimo de Luca


Dec. 21, 2021

The Vatican

Such a strange occurrence on this first day of Winter, one perhaps more in keeping with the Solstice traditions of our pagan ancestors than the supposedly enlightened proceedings of the Church. Today, Holy Father finally allowed me to join the College of Cardinals, though my appointment isn’t the one for which I’d hoped. For years, I’ve been petitioning His Holiness, or rather his vicar, to elevate me to Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the body that promotes and defends the Church’s core values. I should note that Cardinal Ratzinger held that title before becoming Benedict XVI, so anyone securing this commission is viewed as next in line to the papacy. It’s tempting to use the word “Mephistophelian” to describe the backroom dealing – even backstabbing – employed by those striving for this hallowed prefecture. My elimination as a candidate was so swift and bruising, I considered leaving the Church to help my brother run his winery in Tuscany. This potential future acquired even greater urgency when I pondered the position Holy Father did grant me: I am now Prefect of an obscure and rather arcane institute called The Sacred Congregation for the Inquiry into All Things Preternatural. As the name suggests, this body is charged with investigating occult phenomena, a responsibility that includes paranormal investigations and demonic possession. His Holiness – that is, his vicar — said the time had come to re-establish accountability for this jurisdiction, which lacked cardinal supervision for more decades than he could count. But not too much accountability, it seems. I was instructed that no one under my authority should ever be quoted, cited anonymously, or even hinted about in official communications or the news media. “For the sake of completeness,” he added, handing me a key, “His Holiness must never, ever, be asked to confirm or deny anyone or anything pertaining to your Sacred Congregation – and this especially applies to the order known as Mors Strigae.”

You read that first half correctly, “Mors” meaning “death.” I now supervise the only lethal branch remaining in the Catholic Church. As for the second part… we’ll get to that in a moment.

Still thinking wine country would be more hospitable than Rome, I unlocked the archives. I was curious as to why His Holiness – his vicar — presumed I would be an ideal match for a death-dealing monastic order. So, I grabbed random scrolls and started reading. And here’s where a warning is in order: If you’re Catholic, worship with another denomination, or do not acknowledge God, be prepared to accept on faith that He allows a host of unholy entities to wander among us. I’m speaking beyond those things which desire to haunt and possess us. It includes creatures that look like us, and behave like us – in fact, they used to be us – but now prey on their former cohorts. Which brings us to the second part of the name Mors Strigae.

Strigae (singular: striga) is difficult to translate today because early Latin speakers didn’t have a noun for the thing to be killed, a heretofore unknown monster that hunted humans at night, feeding on their blood. The closest word they had, striga, meant “evil spirit” or “witch,” so they used this identifier for the new threat. Later, we in the west adopted the eastern word “nosferatu” – meaning “not dead” – to refer to these creatures, and “striga” was soon forgotten. Meanwhile, Mors Strigae kept its name, allowing its mission to fade from memory — and leaders in Rome to deny the existence of “i vampiri” even as our monks hunted them.

Vampire hunters.

My head keeps shaking at this discovery which makes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith look like a quilter’s group. Suddenly, my ambition is piqued: Who needs doctrinal authority when I have the tools to assemble my own private army? True, the soldiers are long gone, but the papal charter remains. And now, for the first time in decades, there’s a budget. Still, I remain suspicious. Who wants this order revived, and why now? Perhaps this bound stack of letters to and from my predecessor will offer some direction. They date from the last time Mors Strigae engaged in armed conflict, more than a century ago…




March 20, 1900

To Cardinal Gianluca Soriano, Rome

From the Abbot Adolpho Martinez


Your Eminence,

Greetings on this first day of Spring in the new century. I hope this letter properly conveys my excitement at receiving news of great importance to our order. Without further ceremony, I’ll get right to it: I’ve just received intelligence that, if true, could lead to the realization of our goal of eliminating that elusive scourge to all that is holy, the bloodsucking strigae.

According to my second in command, Brother Matteo, several of these, our Lord’s enemies, have retreated to the village of Campoleone, about a day’s journey south of our blessed city founded by St. Peter. During interviews with local peasants, Matteo learned that about ten “i vampiri” (as they call them) have, during the past month, visited their nightly depredations upon the villagers, before, at dawn, taking shelter in a catacomb previously unknown to us. Your Eminence might well remember my reports from late last year estimating a similar number of strigae plaguing Rome and the surrounding area. I can’t yet prove these are the same foul creatures, and I am without explanation as to why they may have moved, but it appears the Lord has given us an opportunity to destroy all his enemies in one location. To this end, I am preparing to join 100 of our brothers already in the field who are setting up camp near this Den of Devils. However, one important item begs for your consideration before any operation can proceed. And here I must temper my passion by grappling with the comparatively prosaic matter of infrastructure.

A scouting mission has revealed only one entrance to the catacomb, with a tunnel that appears limited to single-file passage. One entrance presents both a challenge and an opportunity. A single cave-in could be enough to cut off any team we send below ground — possibly long enough for them to perish. On the other hand, the lack of a second opening makes it easier to trap our enemy. It goes without saying that any incursion would be conducted during daylight hours when the strigae are asleep.

After much prayer, I’ve come to believe the Lord has given us a rare (and possibly brief) opportunity to finish this near thousand-year war on His behalf. I humbly request that upon reading this news (and after what will no doubt be a profound moment of prayer) Your Eminence will grant approval for my proposed incursion. Such a mission would be made even easier with the arrival of 200 more fully armed brothers to Campoleone, plus engineering tools. You have my most heartfelt gratitude for devoting whatever time and resources you can spare to this rather urgent petition. Viva Mors Strigae!

Your faithful servant in Christ’s mission,

Abbot Adolpho Martinez




March 22, 1900

To the Abbot Martinez

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome


Abbot Martinez,

Viva Mors Strigae indeed! After years of struggle and limited victories, it seems Heavenly Father desires our order to finally live up to its name. Your report of this hidden harbor for Satan’s children has renewed my faith that we will prevail in this centuries-old struggle. However, after spending the last hour seeking our Lord’s guidance (the “profound moment of prayer” you predicted), I’ve concluded that we should balance our renewed spiritual fervor with a measure of caution. Two concerns now settle heavily on my mind. First, we should confirm the reports from Brother Matteo’s peasant sources that possibly ten strigae are indeed hunting in the area around Campoleone. Second, we must be absolutely certain that these alleged blood drinkers are, in fact, residing in this newly discovered catacomb.

I have no doubt about the godliness and good intentions of our local informers. Still, I’ve had occasion to learn that rural folk benefit greatly when large groups of hungry strangers arrive, bearing coins. I also worry that some of our less experienced brothers may fall victim to the charms of fortune tellers or women of questionable virtue.

With all this in mind, I must ask that you provide confirmed contact with a striga or strigae before I send additional brothers and equipment. It would also be greatly helpful if you would search for other places where our enemies might retire during the day, thereby proving beyond all doubt that the catacomb is to be our battleground.

I’m releasing two horses for your journey, plus an extra steed for your courier. Safe travels, brother. And please address my twin concerns as soon as you are able.

Yours in Christ,
Cardinal Soriano




March 24, 1900

To Cardinal Soriano, Rome

From the Abbot Martinez, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield


Your Eminence,

Thank you for your quick reply and wise counsel. Such qualities are the sign of a right and true leader, and our order is clearly blessed to be placed under your stewardship. Another characteristic of a great leader is forgiveness, or at least forbearance, which brings me to the following confession: Immediately upon my arrival in Campoleone, and alarmed at the gaunt faces and growling stomachs of my brothers who greeted me, I unlocked our order’s treasure to purchase milk, bread, and eggs from our local hosts. Seeing now your desire to discourage excess entrepreneurship among these rustics, I shall therewith halt this outflow of coinage by ordering a fast. Such discipline should be made easier during the current period of mourning felt by many of those under my command, which leads me to my report:

It is my sad duty to inform Your Eminence that last night, shortly after midnight, at least ten strigae assaulted our encampment. Our losses amounted to the deaths by exsanguination of Brother Matteo, plus nine more from our order. Their bodies were found scattered across the countryside. After collecting the corpses, we followed the protocol for those felled during this holiest of wars — staking their hearts, separating heads from torsos, and burning the remains while reciting prayers for the souls’ quick ascension to Heaven. Having witnessed these measures myself, I am confident that none of our dear brethren will return as cursed creatures of the night.

I should note that my 90 surviving brothers found the ceremony beautiful and filled with meaning, and I assure you that each of us continues to be moved by the Holy Spirit and a desire to finish this mission. I also appointed Brother Francesco as my new second-in-command. Nevertheless, the sun is getting low again, and I fear our numbers may decline from further predations. In order to stem our losses from attrition, I must now reiterate my request that you send 200 more brothers, armed with wooden stakes, holy water, and crucifixes. If granting such a request is not convenient at this time, I beg you to allow us to retreat to Rome so we can regroup for a return mission to this village.

I remain your faithful servant in Christ’s mission,

Abbot Adolpho Martinez.




March 26, 1900

To the Abbot Martinez, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome


Abbot Martinez,

It is with great sadness that I read of the demise of Brother Matteo and the nine other members of our blessed order. Matteo, in particular, will be missed since I have fond memories of his service as an altar boy in our beloved Basilica. Please accept my condolences. I have no doubt that each of the fallen has assumed his rightful place in Heaven. Please also extend my salutations to Brother Francesco as he assumes his new post as your second.

Despite my disconsolation at our losses, the Good Lord has seen fit to provide me with half the proof I requested in my letter of March 22: You have confirmed that approximately ten strigae are hunting in the area around Campoleone. That’s one box we can check. Unfortunately, your most recent letter didn’t provide me with a list of alternatives as to where these evil creatures might be sleeping. I make no reproach since your letter clearly conveyed the distress which has arrested your attention. I look forward to learning in your next letter whether the catacomb is our main target or one of several possibilities.

Yours in Christ,

Cardinal Soriano




March 30, 1900

To Cardinal Soriano, Rome

From the Abbot Martinez, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield


Your Eminence,

Please excuse my delay in replying. The reason for my tardiness will become clear later in this message. First, allow me to provide the answer you sought in your letter dated March 22, which I neglected to include.

After conducting a wide search of the area, and failing to find any other shelter that could possibly be useful for a striga to take its ill-earned rest, I’ve concluded that the catacomb must be the only location where these bloodthirsty monsters hide when the sun rises. My suspicions were confirmed the night of March 27-28 during a visit to the crypt’s entrance, which we’ve been guarding since our arrival. While chatting with the sentries, my own eyes witnessed, for the first time, a striga. It flew out of the tunnel, naked and borne by some wicked force that allowed it to arrange its arms and legs as if it were posing for a prurient artist’s paintbrush rather than propelling itself through open air. Such a frightful thing to behold – a female with hair the color of glowing embers, piercing green eyes, milk-white skin, and a most fiendish smile, punctuated by those long canines so often mentioned in folklore. Since it was my first time witnessing such a creature, I stood transfixed as she swooped down upon the sentries, undeterred by the crucifixes they employed to keep her at bay. Grabbing my hapless brothers by their collars, she lifted them up and smashed their heads against each other. Then, God as my witness, I heard her utter a lascivious moan of pleasure as their lifeless bodies crumpled to earth and were quickly set upon by her unholy kin. As I ran toward our camp, the unclad female descended light as a feather in front of me. When she approached, my feet were paralyzed by a debate raging in my mind. Should I avoid looking into her eyes, which, according to our instruction, could hypnotize in seconds? Or do I risk my eyes being diverted to her pale breasts, hips, and thighs, which were so sinfully curved and well-proportioned that I now understand it to be a sinister trick to keep me from attacking her with the holy water I carried. I hope you and Heavenly Father will forgive me for being duped by such a simple yet diabolical ruse.

It is with some hesitation that I provide further details of this encounter, because doing so will reveal how profoundly my soul has been corrupted, and how unfit I am to continue service in our sacred order. Nevertheless, share I must because it may provide information about what to expect when future warriors of God confront these terrible yet astonishing creatures.

“My name is Agripina,” she said without any solicitation from me. “I want you to convey a message to your cardinal.” I agreed, hoping she would spare my life. My reprieve was merely temporary but that is far less important than the information she offered which, if true, could save hundreds of our brothers.

“The catacomb is rigged to collapse,” she warned. “Should you monks enter, you will all perish.”

“Why do you tell me this?” I asked, uncertain as to whether I should speak to this evil creature. She answered, “Nature requires a balance between predators and prey. Nothing upsets that balance more than a massacre.” Then, taking my hand, she turned and led me toward the woods, adding, “Still, the laws of nature say nothing about playing with your food.”

I don’t remember being bitten, but one of my brothers found me early next morning with twin punctures on my neck. I was laying amongst the leaves in a state of nature, barely conscious and shivering from exposure. I can only conclude that this wicked monster fed off me, leaving just enough blood to allow me to relay her message to you, however suspicious it may seem to both of us. I still have doubts while writing this, wondering if the Devil might profit from our hesitation to enter the crypt. Nonetheless, I will probably hand this letter to the courier and leave this matter to be decided by your wisdom. And now I have one more confession for you to hear:

Added to my bodily injury is a spiritual unmooring which results from my shame at having to admit that, with the help of this concupiscent demon, I have broken my vow of celibacy. I am left with little faith that even Heavenly Father, for all his power and goodness, will find my decrepit spirit worth salvaging.

As I write this, the sun is about to set and I fear that venereal vixen will return to finish me off. Even if she spares me such a visit, my weakened state makes me doubt I’ll witness another sunrise. With every cough, with each labored breath, I can feel life slipping away from me. I have already written a note to my brothers instructing them to dispose of my remains according to our doctrine, and informing them that Brother Francesco has command until you decide on my replacement. I can only hope that my soul will be allowed to enter Purgatory, so I may have a chance to expiate my sins, as I am too unclean to enter Heaven.

Despite the gravity of my circumstances, I continue to find comfort in prayer – plus the thought that our holy war will continue under your steadfast leadership. Thank you, Your Eminence, for allowing me to serve you in His mission. And may the good Lord bless you and keep you from harm.

Viva Mors Strigae!

Abbot Martinez




April 1, 1900

To the Abbot Martinez, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome


Dear Abbot Martinez,

My shock over your injuries and concern for your spiritual well-being continue to haunt my thoughts after a most difficult night. Following much prayer and reflection, I’ve become certain that your unblemished record of service, plus the kindness and generosity you exhibited to each member of our order, will bless you with enough indulgences that Heavenly Father will speed your redemption and grant you the everlasting salvation you so richly deserve.

I hope this letter finds you at peace and surrounded by angels ready to sing their praises for your exculpation. For my part, I will pray every night, asking that the Good Lord embrace you in the hereafter.

God speed, faithful friend. And Viva Mors Strigae.

Cardinal Soriano



April 1, 1900

To interim commander Reynaldo Francesco, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome


Brother Francesco,

It is possible that your esteemed abbot, Adolpho Martinez, will have expired by the time you read this. It is with great sadness that I read his letter of March 30th, in which he described the assault upon his honorable person by a striga, and his subsequent failing health. If he passes, I charge you with the disposal of his remains according to our rules.

Responding to one of the abbot’s final requests, that for reinforcements, I am dispatching 200 brothers who should arrive at your encampment no more than two days from now. They will be led by your new abbot, René Jean-Baptiste, who will assume command. Please be ready to receive him and provide updates regarding the strength, both numerical and spiritual, of your team, and report your latest intelligence about the dreaded strigae.

There is another item in Martinez’s most recent letter which requires your awareness, but not immediate action. Martinez said he received a warning from the striga who attacked him the night of March 27-28. This succubus named Agripina informed Martinez that the catacomb had been rigged to collapse after we enter. To verify this claim, I ordered your new abbot to bring a team of engineers who will inspect the tunnels. I’d like you and eleven volunteers to provide security for this team while they do their examinations underground.

On a more disturbing note, Martinez also informed me that our holiest symbol, the crucifix, did not deter Agripina during her attack on two of our sentries on March 27-28. If Martinez was not mistaken, we’d need to rethink how we engage these creatures in future combat. I hardly need to tell you that it is essential for you confirm the potency of our sacred symbol during your next encounter with these foul demons. Additionally, I’d like to confirm the efficacy of our other weapons including silver and holy water. There’s no need to confirm wooden stakes; this long ago proved a most devastating implement.

I realize this is a highly detailed communiqué for a temporary command, and I thank you for your attention to my concerns. Thanks also for your continued service and loyalty to the cause.

Viva Mors Strigae!

Cardinal Soriano




April 3, 1900

To Cardinal Soriano, Rome

From the Abbot René Jean-Baptiste, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield


Your Eminence,

It thrills me to deliver this, my first report as leader of the divinely inspired band of brothers you assembled to exterminate our Lord’s enemies. And while the latter may have gotten the better of us last night, I have every confidence that, God willing, we shall prevail. No doubt, you’d prefer to read more details about our latest clash (this being a report, after all), so here are the main points:

  1. We lost 15 brothers last night during an attack just before midnight by about ten strigae. All our brothers’ corpses have been recovered and disposed of in the prescribed manner.
  2. Silver works! Brother Himmelman, a Master Metalworker, created a 6’ x 6’ blanket made of silver rings, all tightly linked, and for a brief time we captured a striga. During the attack, Brother Himmelman courageously positioned himself as bait next to the blanket which lay on the ground under a bed of leaves. When the striga, a raven-haired female of exceptional beauty, landed on it, she immediately collapsed like a rag doll. Himmelman wrapped her in the blanket and was in the process of dragging this captured devil when a loud shriek assaulted our ears. An anguished call for “Fiona” echoed off the trees, quickly identified as coming from a red-haired female my brothers call Agripina. This banshee grabbed another of our German brothers, Bauman, and held him with nails like eagle’s talons poised to pierce his neck. Despite Bauman’s offer to sacrifice himself, Himmelman unwrapped our prisoner. A third demon – male, name unknown — flew down and picked up Fiona and all three flew off, to our dismay, with the doomed Bauman. He was discovered the following morning, bloodless, with multiple bite marks the length of his body. All of us are furious at the treachery the strigae displayed during their feigned hostage negotiation. Nevertheless, our feelings at Bauman’s loss must be tempered by our newly gained knowledge about the power of argentum.
  3. Crucifixes don’t work. I am still waiting for a report on the efficaciousness of holy water.

Tomorrow morning, my engineers will return to the catacomb to continue searching for evidence of the alleged trap set for us. I should mention the majority of brothers killed during this latest attack – nine — were engineers. With this development, I can only conclude that the strigae are targeting them.

I hope my second report from the field brings better news. In the meantime, I remain your loyal partner in service to Heavenly Father.

Viva Mors Strigae!

Abbot Jean-Baptiste




April 5, 1900

To the Abbot Jean-Baptiste, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome



Please assign additional protection for your remaining engineers in the form of extra guards and, if possible, clothing or ornaments made of silver. This was the most interesting and useful revelation of your April 3rd letter, which otherwise I found objectionable for the breeziness of its tone and content. For example, your first item describes in the briefest possible manner the slaughter of 15 of our brethren – but no context. Were they ambushed as previous reports suggest? Could they have survived if they were better prepared? I am becoming increasingly concerned that the deaths on our side result from poor leadership that allows our brothers to be caught unawares. You are hereby ordered to establish new protocols for night watches and assemble a fully armed team in reserve that can quickly respond to sudden attacks.

Let me remind you that the loss of any member of our sacred order carries great significance because they died while serving Heavenly Father. There is also the more worldly consideration of recruiting and training new brothers, which takes time, effort, and treasure. So remember: You are your brothers’ keeper – take better care of them!

In the meantime, I’ll order a team here in Rome to add silver rings or threads to our standard battle garments. I’ll advise you when these are ready to be distributed among your men.

Cardinal Soriano



April 7, 1900

To Cardinal Soriano, Rome

From the Abbot Jean-Baptiste, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield


Your Eminence,

Please accept my humble and heartfelt apologies for the perfunctory manner with which I related the deaths of our 15 brothers the night of April 2nd. I will make sure that future notitia mori properly convey my own feelings of loss, plus awareness of the Church’s investments – material and spiritual – to prepare each soldier for the Lord’s service. Now to my report:

  1. Your Eminence surmised correctly that ambush is the leading cause of expiry for our brothers serving near the catacomb. I have adopted your advice about increasing the number of sentries, and establishing a team armed and ready for a rapid counterattack between dusk and dawn.
  2. I have ordered our hallowed silversmith, Brother Himmelman, to add rings of argentum to our cloaks, and already he issued one to the head of our engineering team. I am pleased to report this cloak repelled the much-feared Agripina during a raid last night. Unfortunately, two more rank-and-file engineers were slain, one each by Agripina and the raven-haired Fiona. Hopefully, the garments and weapons you promised will arrive soon. Brother Himmelman has enough material for two additional cloaks, and I plan to issue the next one to myself.
  3. Holy water is not a deterrent. I myself attempted to douse the blessed drops onto a male striga who promptly ignored me and flew away with another of our precious engineers. I am ordering our brothers to reserve their vials for worship, along with our crucifixes.
  4. The claim of a rigged tunnel or tunnels has yet to be proved during inspections. The engineering team spent two full days in the catacomb, advancing 50 meters each day. The eight surviving members hope to advance another 50 today. All they’ve discovered so far are the skeletons of Capuchin monks from long ago, supine and intact. I can assure you the remains have not been disturbed during our work.

I hope to have more tangible progress to report during my next dispatch.

Viva Mors Strigae,

Abbot René Jean-Baptiste




April 9, 1900

To the Abbot Jean-Baptiste, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome



The next cloak of silver produced by Brother Himmelman should go to an engineer. If Himmelman produces a third, and my promised shipment has not yet arrived, you may have that.


Cardinal Soriano




April 9, 1900


To Cardinal Stefano Mancini, Vicar to His Holiness

From Cardinal Gianluca Soriano


Your Eminence,


Happy belated birthday. I do hope Heavenly Father continues to grace your worthy person with good health, good spirits, and the steadfast determination for which you’ve become legendary in service to His Holiness.

It is with sincere hope that a humble request from yours truly will in no way spoil your celebrations, but an emergent state of affairs compels me to prevail upon you, my brother, for the distribution of certain assets. I’ll avow it is not currency I seek, rather a quantity of silver that could be melted down quickly for a purpose which, I am obligated to remind, cannot be disclosed under the terms of my Congregation’s rather esoteric charter. Nevertheless, you have my utmost assurances that the material I seek would forthwith be employed in direct service to our Lord.

No doubt, Heavenly Father has blessed you with an exceptional memory, which I truly envy at my age, but I seem to recall hearing about a vault somewhere in the Holy See containing hundreds of bars of precious metals, including many of pure silver. I assume that such a collection, were it to exist, would fall under the supervision of His Holiness. Would your Eminence be so charitable as to inquire on my behalf to Holy Father? I will admit the unorthodox nature of this request causes me to blush more than a little.

I remain respectfully yours in Christ’s service,

Cardinal Soriano




April 10, 1900

To Cardinal Gianluca Soriano

From Cardinal Vicar Stefano Mancini


Your Eminence,


Unorthodox, indeed! Of course, most requests from the Prefect for The Sacred Congregation for the Inquiry into All Things Preternatural are bound to raise an eyebrow. Still, I must admit the earnestness of your query nearly convinced me to melt down all the silver goblets and flatware I keep in my household! Fortunately for my discriminating dinner companions, I am happy to report that, verily, the Holy See maintains a collection of .999 silver in the form of 100-ounce bars. And while it remains under the authority of Holy Father, I see no need to interrupt his sojourn in Capri with this matter. How much argentum do you require?

I remain your fellow servant in Christ’s holy mission,

Cardinal Vicar Stefano Mancini




April 11, 1900

To Cardinal Vicar Stefano Mancini,

From Cardinal Gianluca Soriano


Your Eminence,


Blessed news! Many thanks for your assistance which, I assure you, will greatly further our combined mission in service to our Lord in Heaven. I think 100 bars should be enough to meet our current need. I shall immediately alert the metal workers under my authority to prepare for this shipment.

I am at once humbled and inspired by your generous and expeditious offer of help.

Your dear friend in Christ’s service,

Cardinal Soriano




April 15, 1900

To Abbot René Jean-Baptiste

From Cardinal Soriano


Abbot Jean-Baptiste,

A shipment of 100 cloaks fitted with silver rings left this morning for your encampment. I hope to send another 100 in a few days. What news from you?


Cardinal Soriano




April 17, 1900

To Cardinal Gianluca Soriano, Rome

From the Abbot Jean-Baptiste, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield


Your Eminence,

Many thanks for the silvered cloaks which arrived around Noon today. Since there are approximately two monks for every cloak, I asked during our morning muster which brothers would forgo a cloak so another could benefit from its protection. My heart became full and my eyes watered when, to a man, they all declined. Still, proper leadership demanded that I distribute these garments, so I asked my brothers to count off, and then asked Brother Francesco to choose odd or even. The odds won the cloaks which were promptly issued. Among the evens, I noticed more than a few faces trying to conceal their relief when I announced that more of these cloaks were on the way. I include this anecdote merely to underscore how brave these men are despite the terror they feel. And now for the difficult news:

Nearly all of our blessed engineers, who worked tirelessly to inspect the catacomb’s main tunnel, have succumbed to the predations of the evil strigae. I am deeply saddened at the loss of such dedicated and pious men. Only one survives, Brother Paolo, who lately has been displaying symptoms of the dreaded dysentery and joined a growing number of men in our makeshift infirmary. I’ve lately been reading a scientific journal which warns about how diarrheal diseases spread and I’ve concluded that our training could benefit from a course on personal hygiene, with particular attention to the burying of excrement. Much fouling of the landscape has occurred since our first group of men arrived more than a fortnight ago, and I fear the flies that swarm during our mid-day meal are polluting the food. I humbly suggest that we could prevent future outbreaks by adding a small shovel to each brother’s standard kit. In the meantime, I must prevail upon your Eminence to send whatever shovels you can spare during the next supply shipment.

With the emergence of a second opponent, disease, I must also ask that we quickly agree on a course of action. Each day we remain encamped costs dearly in lives, plus valuable resources needed to sustain us. And for what? So the strigae may continue to gorge themselves? So the flies can carry our own feces back to our meals? I believe the time may be right for us to return to Rome, regroup with proper equipment, and then return here for a decisive battle. Your thoughts, Eminence?

Yours in Christ’s service,

Abbot Jean-Baptiste




April 19, 1900

To the Abbot Jean-Baptiste, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome



I do hope for the sake of your eternal salvation that your hours spent perusing the latest science don’t outnumber those praying or reading scripture. It seems your study of the worldly literature has enervated your attacking spirit and engendered a wandering state of mind, as evinced by your sudden interest in human waste and shovels. Really, brother – is this what preoccupies you?

For too long, I have refrained from running this operation from afar, but now I see your lack of initiative has further enfeebled a once proud fighting force. As you’ve no doubt ascertained, my patience has run its course over your inaction which has imposed a drain on capital – both financial and political – for our sacred order. With this in mind, my next directive is a metaphor in keeping with your sudden fascination with all things scatological: Evacuate your bowels or else remove your posterior from the latrine. And expect no shovels from Rome.

Cardinal Soriano




April 22, 1900

To the Abbot Jean-Baptiste, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield

From Cardinal Soriano, Rome




What news?






April 24, 1900


To Cardinal Gianluca Soriano, Rome

From Brother Reynaldo Francesco, the Lord’s Blessed Battlefield.


Your Eminence,

It has fallen upon me to inform you that the Abbot Jean-Baptiste has, like so many of our brave brothers, fallen in battle. During an attack the night of April 17-18, I personally witnessed the abbot succumb to bewitchment by the malevolent enchantress Fiona. Myself engaged in combat, I was unable to prevent him from removing his silvered cloak and following her alone into the catacomb. The next morning, I entered the crypt to begin a search which required me to venture twice more until, on the third day, I finally recovered the abbot’s exsanguinated corpse about 1000 meters into the main tunnel. And here, if your Eminence permits, I’d like to add to our growing body of knowledge about strigae and those unfortunates who become their prey.

Upon my discovery of our late abbot, I’d noticed the normal process of putrefaction had begun to take hold. After his removal to our camp, and an overnight vigil with brothers holding sharpened stakes at the ready, I have concluded that merely being drained by a striga does not lead to one’s reanimation as a similar foul creature of the night. Once again, it seems our order has been fooled by the gross simplification of the common folklore. After burying the abbot, and saying prayers for his speedy ascension to Heaven, I now feel I can safely recommend the cessation of our current method of disposing victims, as this consumes not only time but valuable resources like firewood.

And now, I must humbly seek your Eminence’s forgiveness for resuming, without your order, the interim command I briefly held from April 1st to 3rd. I have today deferred to a special appointment by my brothers who unanimously affirmed their wish for me to finally lead them in an attack, which shall begin as soon as I hand this letter to our courier. Before I sign off, you will no doubt require assurance that during my three days underground, I encountered no evidence that our enemies plan to welcome us with a cave-in. I found none. Furthermore, I’m certain that the infamous warning issued by that harpy Agripina was a ruse designed to keep us in the open, exposed to repeated nocturnal hunts. As I write this, my blood boils at the realization that we’ve become handmaidens to our recurrent slaughter. Now at last, with Heavenly Father’s grace and assistance, we will catch these evil creatures while they slumber, at last employing our disposal methods on their cursed bodies instead of ours.

Upon returning victorious to Rome, I will gladly accept any punishment you deem fit for exceeding my authority. However, I must humbly ask that you spare my brothers from blame as their unanimous support for my command was inspired, not by mutinous feelings against your person or our order, but a sincere desire to complete our sacred mission.

I look forward to personally sharing with you the details of our blessed victory after so much struggle and loss. The thought that we may deliver such a devastating blow against evil fills my entire being with the light of the Holy Spirit. May God be pleased to witness such a triumph achieved by those fighting on His behalf. Viva Mors Strigae!

Interim Abbot Reynaldo Francesco




Diary of Cardinal Massimo de Luca


Dec. 22, 2021


I can’t stop shivering after reading these “Catacomb Letters.” Only after a second cognac was I able to calm my nerves and feverish brain. Then I got on my knees and prayed, thankful for the unwavering faith and bravery exhibited by these brothers while facing terrible odds. Their story is at once heartbreaking and inspiring, and I am privileged to be their witness. How awful not to be able to share this! The Abbot Martinez, in particular, arrested me with the sheer desolation of his prose. The interim abbot, Francesco, made me so terribly worried about his inexperience, but I had every confidence in his faith and the spiritual readiness of those who placed themselves under his command. Even the Abbot Jean-Baptiste, for all his brusqueness, astonished me with his certainty. As for the strigae Agripina and Fiona – I can only say they represent the most profane confluence of savagery and cunning. I doubt I could survive for two seconds after encountering either of them, which makes the absence of a victory message from Francesco weigh more heavily on my mind. I’ve searched everywhere in this archive for a hint of the outcome, but to no avail. Other than a notebook about strigae and the weapons employed against them, the only item I found is Cardinal Soriano’s diary which I dutifully read. It’s a long and often boring chronicle of his career, a story I nearly gave up on several times, but the ending wrenched me awake and caused me to jump out of my chair. Soriano’s final entry comes two years after the Campoleone letters end, and contains a startling revelation – no, confession – about a most unholy wager.



Diary of Cardinal Gianluca Soriano, Rome


March 20, 1902


When a cardinal seeks confession, where can he go? Normally, I could obtain absolution from a brother cardinal or even Holy Father if the sin is not too bad. But when a transgression is so great it threatens the authority of the Church, then it – like a disease – must be contained. I must not infect my colleagues’ spirits with the colossal military failure that weighs solely on my shoulders. Nor should I burden any person other than the one who reads this entry with the knowledge that I am also a traitor to God, having consorted with, and been duped by, an emissary of Satan.

One night a little more than two years ago, I received an unexpected visit from an ancient striga dressed like a Caesar in white robes and a crown of gold leaves. He did not attack me. Instead, Caius Drusus introduced himself and offered something:

“Have you noticed a sudden decline in the population? No doubt, you’ve heard from certain armed monks that ten of my… associates… have been hunting around Rome.”

Before I could finish uttering the word “strigae,” five of the coldest fingers I’ve ever known clamped shut my mouth. “Imagine the scandal when your worshippers learn that their Sunday offerings are paying for a secret army that fails to protect them.” Then his tone brightened a bit. “Are you a sporting man, Cardinal?”

I nodded once.

“Let’s test the strength of your order. I’ll send my army of ten south to Campoleone, where they and your monks will meet in battle.”

I backed away from his fingers. “And if my men win?”

“Then you, sir, shall become Pope.”

Here I sought to correct my visitor. “The College of Cardinals elects the Holy Father.”

“Yes, and His Holiness appoints the cardinals – it’s all very incestuous, like my own system of governance.” Then he leaned closer, his voice like whispers from a crypt. “All that’s needed is for the papal vicar to instruct the College to approve his successor.”

“You left out an important step. His Holiness would have to die.”

“Look who’s connecting the dots.” Caius’s lips curled into a smile, revealing two long canines. “I would handle that bit, of course.”

Only the most Machiavellian ambition could temper my horror at the thought of such an assassination, and I am here admitting my most baneful weakness. “And if my men lose the battle?”

“Surely the Cardinal doesn’t admit that possibility.”

“The Cardinal must be prepared for every possibility.”

Caius chuckled at my resoluteness, but then turned serious. “If your men lose, you will be my agent for as long as you live.”

“Agent for what? Your agenda is unknown to me.”

“And so it shall remain.”

I never thought that an all-powerful and merciful God would allow His army to fail. But fail we did, and now I’m reminded of our Savior’s last words while dying on the cross: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I hope you, Dear Reader, will not consider my quoting these words a blasphemy.

My orders from Caius were few and far between, at the start. Befriend Vicar Cardinal Mancini, buy him gifts, gain his confidence. Listen to his concerns, offer suggestions, and stroke his ego. Then one day my tormentor announced “an escalation in intimacy” was required so that I may gain access to the most sensitive information about papal offices and appointments.

I am too ashamed to write more. After violating nearly every proscription in the Bible, I shall debase myself no more. My soul beyond salvation, I have decided that only my absence can stem this pernicious corruption. I have procured poison which I will ingest immediately after composing this warning for whoever succeeds me.

Beware: The visitor who won my eternal damnation is certain to know of your appointment and will soon approach you. I pray that you’ll resign immediately and halt the evil that I helped promulgate. To continue your appointment would only further prove that this city is not a place for men of God, only men of power – the very kind our Savior warned us about. I hope your moral compass is truer, and your faith in God greater, than mine ever was.

Yours in disgrace,

Gianluca Soriano.





Cale Canis

When Frederick Francis Cale was a babe, he observed his father’s dog barking at a cat which had stepped across the street and swiftly dropped to his hands and knees and keened at the top of his lungs, to the surprise and amusement of his parents and the grand terror of the tabby, which, wide-eyed, sped off to the distant alley from whence it had come.

From that moment on, whenever young Frederick would chance upon a cat, he would fall to all fours and bark until exhaustion overtook him.

At first, his parents were greatly amused, but after several months the boy’s behavior remained unchanged. Mr. Cale feared some dark aberration had taken root in the lad’s mind, but could find no example, in the excavation of his memories, of any queer turning in the child’s development; his upbringing had, until recently, been completely normal, which made the boy’s strange behavior appear, in retrospect, all the stranger.

“Surely we should speak to him.”

“Oh, darling,” Mrs. Cale cooed, “Its just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

The next month, the Cale’s neighbors, The Cumberlands, bought a young feline from the local shelter and gave it to their daughter Esmeralda, as a present for her birthday, who decided to take her new ward for a turn around the culdesac. When Esmeralda passed the Cale House, young Frederick, upon spying the cat, rushed to the window, howling and yelping and slobbering upon the glass, giving the girl a terrible fright and causing her cat to tug against its leash, tail flickering, hair standing on end. Mr. Cale shut the window, shot his son a withering glare, shook his head and bounded quickly from the house to greet the woman upon the green and grey.

“I’m sorry. We’ve no idea why he does that.”

To his great surprise the woman only smiled and laughed.

“Its alright. I’m sure its just a phase. Worse to be too strict than too lenient, right?”

A year passed and Frederick’s peculiar behavior remained unchanged—indeed, had compounded. The matter came to a head when, in the month of January of that year, Frederick, in one of his canine fits, tried to bite Esmeralda’s cat. Despite his wife’s protestations and the fact that the Cumberlands were nonplussed about the affair, Mr. Cale sent the child off to the local shrink.

One day, scarcely a month into Frederick’s new regime, the Cale’s phone rang. Mr. Cale answered and was greeted by a frantic female voice.

“This is the Cale Residence?”

“Yes ma’am. This is Arthur Cale. I assume this is about my boy?”

“It is. Please, come as soon as you’re able.”

“What happened? Is he all right?”

“There’s no time to explain. You must see for yourself.”

“Very well, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

He hung up the phone and, with a thrumming heart, dashed to his car, and spun out of the short, white gravel drive.

When Arthur arrived at the shrink’s office, he found the psychologist snarling at a tree.

A cat upon its gnarled branches.

The Dauntless Rook (§.16)

Continued from §.15


When Sprill realized his tenants were either sleeping, hiding, or vacant, he gave a soft grunt of irritation, produced a keyring and turned the lock. Adair followed the landlord and moved through the small, sparse room to the window and peered out into the cluttered lane below, spying only a grim, gray-clad man, conversing with two mailed sentries of the paramount, who stood before a swelling crowd, barely visible in the great thoroughfare beyond the alley. Though Adair could not make out the conversation, it was clear from their body-language that an argument was underway, in which the ashen man was rebuffed. He subsequently turned and left off from the ramshackle lane, shaking his head and muttering and vanished back from whence he’d come.

Adair turned from the window to behold Hoston starring at his pocket-watch.

“Apologies, my comitem. I’ve no idea where they’ve gotten off to.”

“No trouble at all. Perhaps I’ll stop by another time. Wherefore all the commotion?”



“Thou art surprisingly unprimed of thy classes own affairs.”


“The Lord Paramount has organized a parade in honor of Baron Avarr’s triumphal return.”

“The Torian noble?”

“Aye. I mean no offense, my comitem, but should thee not know of this? Surely thou wert invited?”

“If I was, I remember not, but thou speaketh rightly – unfortunately, I’ve been swamped of late. I am to be married and-”

“Why, that is wonderful! I had not heard.”

“Of that I am pleased. I should not wish for my life to become a staple of the gossip columns.”

“Nor I!”

“The business has been most taxing. I’ve had little time for anything else.”

“I suspect that blackguard what came after ye, has somewhat disturbed the tranquil waters of thy recreation.”

“Thou hath heard of my adventure?”

“Heard of it! I should be a queerly isolated soul were I to have not. Why near the whole of town is jawin’ of it. It were said that thee dodged the brigand’s pitch. Is it true?”

“A man may accomplish the extraordinary when by it, he is beset.”

Shortly after the words had left his mouth, he froze, eyes fixating upon a small, black thing at the periphery of his vision. He turned to the left and beheld a feather, laying upon the ground beneath a chair. He bent to a knee and plucked it from the ground, turning it in the ambered light.

It was a crow quill, familiar in constitution.

“I’d no idea they’d a bird,” declared Hoston, briefly observing the feather, “Hmph! How dare they sneak such a creature in here! I’ll have them on the street for this!”

“Its not from a living bird. Note the glue upon the shaft.”

Hoston bent to the feather and peered at the quill.

“Ay. Must have come from a costume… Well, I must be off, my comitem. I take it the path out lays fresh in thy mind?”

“It does. I thank thee for thy time.”

Sprill bowed and left whereupon Adair unfurled himself from the hardwood floor, placed the plume in his inner-jacket pocket and gave Dren’s curiously unfurnished room one last cursory glance before shutting the door and hailing a hansom.

He twirled the feather between his fingertips as the vehicle clattered down the cobblestone streets, wondering why the absent renter had stolen his coat.

Old Man Centipede

Old Man Centipede was a quiet sort, given to reverie within the multi-chambered dampness of The Hollow Mount, a path up from which afforded him clear observation of the hatchlings, hunting spiders in The Wasteland beyond the great burrow of the old log which had served as his home for six years. He’d heard rumblings of late that the Formican Horde had conquered all the eastern lands of the Outer Wild and now sought dominion over the Inner Reach. He was concerned, but confident the horde would never make ingress to the mount when so many proud centipedes yet lingered.

One day, as he strode atop the rotting log, as was his custom, Old Man Centipede chanced across a centipede of but a single season, known as Spider-Carver, picking feverishly at his mandibles with his forelegs, as if to pry them from his face.

“What are you doing?”

“Blasted forcipules! Mirages! Fakes! I know it. I know it! We did not have them… in the sea… in the long before when electric-eyed and many-gilled, we sucked the bloodied muck of the great, wet dark…”

The Old Man was sure the youth had gone quite mad and attempted to dissuade him from the venture. Yet, time and time again, Old Man Centipede was rebuffed. He might as well, he decided, teach the art of burrowing to a moth, or spider-hunting to a fly, and so left the youngling to its freakish exercise and headed off to tell his kin what he had witnessed.

The next day, as he made his languid rounds upon the top of The Hollow Mount, he noticed Spider-Carver once more, surrounded by a gaggle of young centipedes and the Old Matriarch. Much to Old Man Centipede’s horror, Spider-Carver had hewn his forcipules clear of his face, leaving only coagulated stumps, which he had painfully stuffed with two short, pronged twigs. He scuttled to and fro, wriggling his prosthetic claws as if in a trance.

“To be one with the essential form – the ur-ancestor – one must return to the sea!”

“What madness is this?”

“He does not believe he is a centipede,” replied the matriarch, “But that we have erred in our development, have forgotten from whence we’ve come, and, succumbed to an unnatural turning.”

“One’s mandibles are a sorry price to pay for the comfort of such a delusion.”

“There was nothing any of us could have done, for he had removed them before we arrived. I will ensure that he is seen to. Besides, he seems happy.”

“I can think of several things more important than the heady delirium of transient happiness.”

As the time-worn duo conversed, a throng of chilopods steadily built up around the mad arthropod, who seemed to simultaneously fascinate and repel them.

In the days that followed the incident, Spider-Carver’s crowd grew considerably in size and, by the end of the week had even attracted the attention of some symphylans, who gazed on from their chthonic burrows, perplexed, by the twig-faced and twirling creature. During this time, Old Man Centipede sensed ants in the close distance, betrayed by their pheromones, just beyond the Inner Reach. In time he knew they would come for the nest and so swiftly returned to his fellows to spread the news. When he arrived at the burrow he was horrified to see that the centipedes had all removed their mandibles and replaced them with sticks. Some had died in the process and lay, coiled about themselves upon the sodden floor. Insides slick-spilling from rent faces. Spider-Carver presided over the gathering, giving a strange speech about the sea, and moving side to side, across the mulchy walls.

When Old Man Centipede protested and sought to warn them, the matriarch intervened. She too had removed her jaws.

“You must not get so heated, old one.”

“But they have ruined themselves, just as you have, and at the moment in which the ants advance upon us!”

“Your concern is a relic.”

At that moment a large red ant entered the cool dwelling, bearing in its mouth, a twig.

“See there! The formicans have arrived! We must prepare!”

“No,” replied the ant, “I am no formican, but sea-like as thee.”

“This is not so. I am no sea-thing. I am a centipede.”

“Who are you to say, old one?”

The matriarch waved her feelers and turned her aged eyes to the ant, dimly observing the tiny branch in its maw.

“He is no ant, old one. He is like us.”

“He is a spy and you are insane. We must not let him escape to tell the hive the lay of the log.”

With that, Old Man Centipede made for the ant and would have easily overtaken it, were it not for the intervention of the matriarch, who stabbed her twigs into his side.

“The centipedes attack us!” She screamed, “Help!”

Swiftly Carver’s acolytes came, jawless and wrathful, and crashed upon the great old chilopod until his chitin cracked and his legs were torn and his feelers rent.

As Old Man Centipede lay at his last, the ant dropped its twig and sped off into the darkness to rouse the hive.

The Dauntless Rook (§.15)

Continued from §.14

Luned gasped as she spied Oeric Adair through the keyhole of her flat. The comitem walked patiently, yet eagerly, behind the corpulent, key-jangling landlord, Hoston Sprill. Both men advanced slowly, but steadily, down the corridor; scant minutes from the door.

“Damn that conniving wind-tossed scoundrel. This is all his fault.” She muttered, backing past the divan and the sofa, swiftly towards the tiny apartment’s only window. When she turned full round, she nearly screamed.

Casually lounging upon the sill was Drake Dren, shorn of his recently riven coat, smiling like a jackal.

“How goes it?”

“How many times must I tell ya not to do that, damn thee. Where in blazes have ya been?”

Luned straightened as the sound of Hoston’s fist resounded upon the door of the cramped and peeling flat. Then a pause and a voice following.

“Ms. Luned? Mr. Dren? Anyone home? Its Hoston. Hello? I’ve a gentleman whose most desirous to meet ye.”

“What say you? Shall we stay and chat with Hoston and his friend?”

“Of course not – its Adair. Thou hath said-”

“Of that later. Come.”

Without hesitation, Drake took the woman’s left arm and guided her through the open window to a ladder he’d laid against the side of the tenement to reach the sill. Where he acquired the ladder, Luned had no idea. The man threw his legs out, grabbed the sides of the ladder and slid down a little, smiling at his own successful display of agility, as Luned gasped and redoubled her grasp.

“Curb thy trepidation. Manful make thy heart.” He whispered up to the woman with a grin before sliding all the way down to the bottom of the contraption.

“Mettlesome blighter.” She huffed hotly before beginning her descent.

When the woman made it to the bottom of the ladder, Drake withdrew the device from the side of the tenement and, to Luned’s very great surprize, began folding it up as one might a newspaper, speaking in tones of feigned offense all the while.

“To reproach me for thy own proclivities is to reproach thyself. Or didst thee forget how came our divan and sofa? A simple ‘thank ye’ would be sufficient.”

When the portable ladder was folded to the size of a large suitcase, Drake stuffed it in a heavy and battered leather pack that lay in the alley adjacent their sill and surveyed the alley.

“Where on earth did ya get that?” Luned inquired, gesturing to the pack.

He shushed the woman and drew up his hood, turning away from the woman, and moving into the shadows as a grim figure ambled into view at the leftern end of the alley.

“Who’s that?”

“A man best avoided,” he whispered without pausing, heading to the right exitway.

“Its him isn’t it – the assassin?”

“Aye. He knows me not in my present state and thou art wholly foreign to his experience. Quell thy tongue and shift away.”

She nodded and moved up to his side. Together they passed swiftly to the far right side of the alley, whereupon a considerable throng had gathered in the great thoroughfare beyond. The avenue, however, was obstructed by two large men who stood shoulder to shoulder, clad in heavy haurberks of the paramount.

“Excuse me, sirs, may we pass?”

“Sorry miss,” the smaller of the two guards replied courteously, “Baron Avarr has recently arrived at the outskirts, enroute to Tor. Consequently, the Lord Paramount has commanded the main thoroughfare sealed, to make way for his lauded guest’s procession. Considerable is the host, even now, and word has yet to fully spread; when it does, there will doubtless be all manner of disorder, which our dispensation shall, our lord hopes, in some measure abate.”

The sound of cheers, trumpets and drums flared in the distance.

“I’ve heard he contributed considerably to the war-effort.”

“Aye. Victoriously he returnth.”

The larger guard gesturing flippantly towards the opposite end of the lane, “We’ve answered ya query. Begone. Both of ye.”

Luned and Dren exchanged looks whereupon Dren drew forth, cleared his throat and pulled from his shoulder-slung pack Adair’s plumed cap, revealing the tag to the guards.

The guards furrowed their brows, perplexed.

“Recognize ye the crest?” the thief intoned in his best Adair impression.

The smaller guard’s eyes widened.

“The crest of House Adair! My comitem… please accept my apologies. I recognized thee not.”

“That is precisely as I had intended it – for thou art doubtless primed of the dire circumstance which previously dogged me.”

“Aye milord. And so the cloak.”


“A wise precaution. We are pleased to see thee safe.”

The guards then parted and Dren, assuming an air of amiable regality, extended his arm to Luned who took it with a grin.

Arm in arm, the designing pair passed beyond the lane to the great and crowded thoroughfare as a cacophony of ringing steel foretokened the baron’s arrival.




continued in part 16 (forthcoming)

Elevens (2001)

(Excerpt from the novel Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad)


“You count the money. I’ll count the blood.” Daniel pushes the open case of dollars toward Jesús who in turn opens a large cooler releasing a cloud of mist. The cooler is tied to a dolly. Daniel’s gloves lift blocks of dry ice, revealing pint bags labeled O negative, A negative, A positive, B positive, etc. All will be consumed during a single meeting of Fiona’s extended family. The O negative is for her.

“All good.” Daniel replaces the ice and shuts the lid. “Let’s do this again sometime.”

“You got it.” Jesús shakes hands and nods toward the twin-engine plane fronting a skyline of red rock formations. “Baron, huh? What’s it cruise, 200 knots?”

“I’m not a pilot.” Daniel grins. “I just hire them.” He tilts the dolly back while Jesús opens the door. “I need a steady source for O negative. What can you get me every other week?”

Jesús shrugs. “80 or 90 pints. Maybe 100.”

“Get me 100 and I’ll pay 200 bucks a bag.” Daniel pushes his cargo into the morning sun. “See you in two weeks?”

“You got it. I’ll have 100 for you.”

Outside, today’s pilot – Bud — opens the baggage door. When Daniel unstraps the cooler, each grabs a handle and lifts. Bud groans. “This feels heavier than what we agreed.”

“131.5 pounds, like I told you.” Daniel grunts through his teeth.

Bud puts his end into the cabin. “Same as my daughter who flew with me yesterday. Course, she’s at the age where she’d kill me for telling. You got kids?”

“None that I weighed recently.” Daniel looks at his watch. “It’s after six. Let’s go.”

Bud starts the engines. “Sedona traffic, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha taking off runway Two-One, left turnout.”

That you, Elevens? It’s Boxcar on your six. Where you headed?

“Goin’ to Chicago with all that money I won last night.” He turns onto the taxiway.

Me too.”

“Uh, I recall you leavin’ more than you came with.”

“I meant Chicago. And I was doin’ all right until you dropped triple Jacks. I’m staying at the downtown Hilton. Sure would love a chance to get my five hundred dollars back.”

“Game on!” A smile creeps across Bud’s face. “Of course, we could bet that five hundred on a race to Chi-Town.”

“Hmm. Where you stopping for fuel?”

“Garden City, Kansas.” Bud enters the runway. “Wanna make it double or nothin’?”

“That’a Texas-sized 10-4.”

Bud opens the throttle and the engines roar in stereo. Seconds later they’re airborne, white wings disappearing into a cerulean panorama. He looks in the mirror at Boxcar’s Mooney lifting off. “So, Mr. Strange, what’re we haulin’ today?”

Daniel is so entranced by the Mars-red surface he almost forgets his “business” name, Robert Strange. “Uh, lab samples. Tissue. Can’t say much beyond that.”

“Long as it ain’t stem cells – or clonin’.” Bud shakes his head. “So sick of people playin’ God when they should be worshipping Him. You a church-goer?”

“It’s been a while. I might come back.”

“Don’t wait too long. Never know when Judgement Day will arrive.”

“So why do they call you Elevens?”

“My lucky number. Born November 11. On my eleventh birthday I went to church for the first time and got moved by the Holy Spirit. At twenty-two, I became a father for the first time. And at the age of thirty-three, after wandering in the desert so to speak, I came back to Jesus. Yessir, born again.” He pauses. “Of course, you heard about my last winning hand.”

“Three Jacks.”

“Which was the eleventh hand of the game.” His right hand goes up. “God as my witness, I kid you not.”

Daniel wrinkles his forehead. “I’m trying to remember the significance of eleven in the Bible. All I remember are twelves.”

“Right, the number of apostles, and the age Jesus was when he questioned scholars in the temple. Plus, twelve sons of Jacob who formed the twelve tribes of Israel. Yep, the good book likes an even dozen. But eleven is connected to the main event for people in my church – hold on.” Bud listens to frequency traffic for several seconds. “Chatter on the east coast. Reports of a plane crashing into a skyscraper.” He shakes his head. “Where were we?”

“Eleven in the Bible.”

“Right. Eleven appears less often in scripture but when it does, it usually signifies judgement. Take the Book of Genesis. In Chapter 11, mind you, mankind rebels against God and builds the tower of Babel. God responds by confusing their language – literally, they start babbling, and the result is chaos.” He pauses to listen again. “The apostle John had eleven visions in connection with the final judgement. And the Gospel of John tells of eleven promises God makes to mankind, beginning with everlasting life if you believe in Christ and ending with a call to obey Jesus. My takeaway: Eleven is a sign to get right with the Lord before Judgement Day.” Listening again. “For the sake of completeness, I’ll note that our savior was 33 when he was crucified.” He presses a headphone tight against his left ear. “Another plane hit the World Trade Center – South Tower this time – and now they’re saying both were airliners. Looks like an attack of some sort.”

“Let me hear.”

Bud switches to an AM channel and they listen silently for several minutes. The news gets worse as reports come in about another airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Even the distance of two time zones can’t deaden the reality that the nation is under attack. There’s confusion about a fourth plane which, at first, was headed for the White House but now lies burning on the ground in Pennsylvania. Aboard each plane, the hijackers shouted “Allāhu akbar” – 11 letters spelling “God is greatest” — as they used boxcutters to slit crewmembers’ throats. Now the media is sharing voice messages from those trapped in the burning towers. Daniel keeps swallowing to quell the emotions rising in his throat. Bud just lets his moans, groans, and tears flow unchecked. He improvises a prayer:

“Dear Lord, it’s Elevens here, your perennial sinner. I know we haven’t spoken directly about my little gamblin’ problem, but I’d like to make sure we’re square. If this is your Final Judgement, please have some mercy and take this flawed but well-meaning servant to sit by your side. If, however, this is a trial you’ve set for us, I’m ready to show my devotion by givin’ up cards. Just, please, give me a sign. Show me the way.” He turns to Daniel. “If you need help prayin’ – maybe you forgot some of the words – I can help.”

“I’m sure my fate has already been decided.”

Bud looks forward. “And Lord, let’s not forget our quiet friend here, Mr. Strange. He may be a mystery, but I’m guessin’ his intentions are just as noble as mine. That, I believe, makes him worthy of your protection. Amen.”

Albuquerque Center to all aircraft: All flights are to immediately land at the nearest facility. This is a nationwide order from the FAA. Repeat: Land immediately.

“Ask for a sign, receive one.” Bud clears his throat. “Albuquerque Center, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha. Message received. Over.” He spreads a chart across the control wheel. “No long runways in front of us, so we’ll have to turn around.”

“No.” Daniel holds a pistol in his right hand. “Keep going.”

“You out of your mind? I’ll lose my license – and my livelihood.” Bud’s eyes land briefly on the gun. “Careful with that trigger. We’ll both die if you pull it.”

“I’m not pulling anything so long as you keep flying.”

Bud sighs. “Mr. Strange, you’re makin’ a big mistake. And it’s a hell of a thing to do, dragging me into whatever scheme you got going on.” He glances back. “I’m guessin’ that’s not lab samples, is it? What are you into, drugs?”

“The less you know, the safer we both are.”

“Sounds like you’re in deep.” Bud softens his voice. “Look, man, it’s not too late. I’ll testify in your favor if you just give me the gun and let me follow orders.”

“We’re all obeying someone, Bud. Just get us to Garden City.”

“And then what? You can’t take off. All flights are grounded!”

“Let me worry about that.”

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, Albuquerque Center. Turn around now and land at Sedona. That is an order.

Daniel pushes the gun closer. “Don’t acknowledge.”

Bud exhales and puts both hands on the wheel. After several seconds, he shakes his head. “The Lord is testing me today. With signs I do not like.”

“When we land,” Daniel adjusts his tone, “I’ll pay your second installment early, and we’ll part ways. The world has no time right now for this little problem between us.”

“Problem? You hijack my plane and call it a ‘little problem’? That is a breach of trust, my friend, and comes at a time when my very identity is shaken to its core.”


“Eleven has always been my number — whether it’s cards, horses, or life events. Then this morning happened. I woke up and said, ‘It’s the 11th of September, gonna be a good day.’ But clearly, it’s not. It’s a shitty day for everyone – possibly the worst in our nation’s history. That’s one sign.” He points at the gun. “Next, I’m held up by a Colt M1911. And now,” he punches his door, “111 miles from Sedona, we get intercepted.”



Daniel’s jaw drops when he sees an F-16 with its flaps open and gear down, slowing into formation. Its pilot raises a hand, finger pointed down.

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is Captain “Spike” Ripley of the United States Air Force. I’m in visual contact and will shoot you down if you fail to comply with the following order: Land immediately. Repeat: Land immediately.

“There’s nowhere.” Bud is sweating. “NOWHERE TO FUCKING LAND!”

Daniel snatches the chart. “There’s a private strip on a mesa up ahead.”

“What’s the heading?”

“25 miles straight ahead.”


“What the mesa?”


“2,900 feet.”

Bud snatches it back. “Shit, that mesa looks half the size of Sedona. It’ll be like landing on an aircraft carrier – which I’ve never done before.”

Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is your final warning. Land immediately.

Bud’s voice cracks. “Don’t shoot, Captain! Gimme two seconds.” He switches on the landing lights, decelerates, and snaps his fingers at Daniel. “Airport elevation.”




Bud clears his throat. “This is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, descending. God bless you, sir, and God bless the United States of America.” He glances over. “I’m assuming there’s no tower at this little outpost we’re shootin’ for.”


“Well, brace yourself, because crosswinds are gonna be a problem.” He scowls when he notices the gun again. “Put that away.”

“Are you calm now?”

“Fuck you.”

Daniel complies and settles into his seat as the runway comes into view, sitting atop a block of crimson stone. The approach is fairly calm until a quarter mile out, when a gust knocks them off target. Bud’s knuckles are white as he raises the nose and straightens out against the crosswind. Back on track, he finally lowers the wheels, adjusting for the extra resistance which now appears to come from everywhere. At 500 yards, the plane shakes violently while Bud struggles to stay on target. At 200 yards, he pulls back on the wheel, keeping the nose up, while gunning the engine to stay above the rim. At 50 yards, a giant gust pushes the plane below the runway. Bud yanks back again and accelerates sharply as the rocky face grows bigger. Nearly above the rim, Daniel sees another plane above them.

“Shit, that you Elevens? I’m on top of you.”


“Pulling up.”

Too late. The Baron’s wheels catch the rim and collapse, causing them to skid diagonally across the runway. They knock aside a parked helicopter, then hit another plane before smacking into a hangar. As he slowly regains consciousness, Daniel hears a gurgling sound. Turning his head, he sees Bud’s eyes staring down at a long piece of metal in his throat. The gurgling slows to intermittent choking before Bud finally goes silent. Next, Daniel turns to the right and sees his arm hanging out the window, bent the wrong way. A piece of bone sticks out through his bicep.


“Daniel.” A familiar voice, but not the one he hoped for. His eyes open to see Søren Fillenius leaning over him, eyes piercing the narcotic haze. He snaps his fingers and waves his hand in front of Daniel’s face.

“Stop it.”

“There he is.” The hand withdraws. “That must be powerful stuff they gave you.”

Daniel looks at the tubes hooked up to his left arm. “Where’s Fiona?”

“Really? I come to your rescue, and she’s all you think about?” He shakes his head. “She’s not coming.”

“Rescue? Bullshit. You’re here for the cargo.”

“I did salvage some A positive. The rest will go to waste because the elders canceled the meeting. I suppose you’ll blame the pilot for our having to reschedule.”

“Waste? Take the O negative to Fiona.”

Søren looks indignant. “I’m not your mule – or hers.”

“You piece of shit. I nearly killed myself to deliver that.”

“Well well, the truth comes out.” Søren’s face comes closer. “I’ve got some truth of my own to share.” Two icy hands grab Daniel’s face and turn it to the right. “Look at what’s left of you and tell me you’re still useful.”

Daniel’s breathing accelerates when he sees the stump wrapped in bandages. “That’s up to Fiona…”

“She and I have already spoken.” Canines appear as Søren’s voice changes to a snarl. “I’m to estimate your value and decide whether you stay employed or remain here. Permanently.”

“I have a new source.” Daniel struggles to speak. “100 bags of O negative every two weeks. That, plus Atlanta and Cleveland, and Fiona is set.”

“Where is this new source?”

“Sedona. All we have to do is hire a new pilot.”

“All the planes are grounded.”

“For just a few days. The economy would collapse.”

“100 bags of O neg, huh?” Søren regards him carefully. “Add 100 of A positive to each flight and I’ll let you live.”

Daniel’s vision fades as the drugs take hold again. A warm, fuzzy feeling spreads throughout his body, and the pain that was rallying begins to recede. At this point, he could care less if Søren brought him home or drained him dry. He wonders if heaven feels this good, and kind of wishes he could slip away forever. Would Elevens be there? His prayer for protection should carry weight, right? With St. Peter or whoever guards the gates? If, however, he must stay here it better be with a steady supply of this shit. The label on the drip bag was hazy but it might’ve said Dilaudid. Maybe Jesús could add a few bags of this, too. Get rid of the bad dreams. Allow him to forget everything.

The shadows gather again. Søren’s voice sounds like it’s coming from an old phonograph. Soon, all Daniel can hear is his own shallow breathing. Sure ain’t hell, that’s for certain…


The Dauntless Rook (§.10)

Continued from §.09

Volfsige hung back, adjusting his newly acquired beige traveling coat and melting into the crowd as Oeric Adair moved deeper into the eastern bazaar, ringed by a small retinue of guards. He cursed. The minor legion would make any attempt upon the noble’s life impossible.

“Despite his skill, he brings such a guard? Aye, that is wise. I should do the same were I in his position. But what is he doing here? Likely looking for something for the misses. But why has he dispensed with his hat and coat? Perhaps he didn’t like the style…”

Volfsige adjusted his blonde wig and moved in closer, pretending to peruse the wares of a jewelry stall directly adjacent the one before which Adair and his men stood conversing.

“Looking for anything in particular, milord?” The lust-eyed merchant before Adair inquired meekly.

“Through no fault of my own, I’ve placed my wife in a most trying situation. Consequently, I thought I might brighten her mood with a gift and had in mind a bouquette, and yet, decided swiftly against it. Thoughtless really, she doesn’t even like flowers.”

“Why is that, milord?”

“She hates to see beautiful things die.”

Volfsige shifted out of earshot, desperately fighting a rising sense of guilt. It seemed to the stalker’s mind a shame to snuff out a life so filled with radiant promise and spritely virtue, yet, there was, for him, little he could do to extricate himself from the venture.

“A contract must be fulfilled,” he muttered with grim resolve.


The Dauntless Rook (§.03)

Continued from §.02.

When the concierge returned to his post with Geoffrey, he found three coats hanging beside his desk. Upon checking the tags, he discovered that within each, a name had been stitched by the tailor.

Blythe. Boyce. Kyne.

He sent Geoffrey to scour the auditorium, but no trace of Adair’s coat could be found.

Continued in §.04.

Amelia; or, The Faithless Briton (1787)


“An original novel, founded upon recent facts.”

The Columbian Magazine, Philadelphia, 1787.

THE revolutions of government, and the subversions of empire, which have swelled the theme of national historians, have, likewise, in every age, furnished anecdote to the biographer, and incident to the novellist. The objects of policy or ambition are generally, indeed, accomplished at the expence of private ease and prosperity; while the triumph of arms, like the funeral festivity of a savage tribe, serves to announce some recent calamity—the waste of property, or the fall of families. Thus, the great events of the late war, which produced the separation of the British empire, and established the sovereignty of America, were chequered with scenes of private sorrow, and the success of the contending forces was alternately fatal to the peace and order of domestic life. The lamentations of the widow and the orphan, mingled with the song of victory; and the sable mantle with which the hand of friendship cloathed the bier of the gallant MONTGOMERY, cast a momentary gloom upon the trophies his valour had atchieved.

Though the following tale then, does not exhibit the terrible magnificence of warlike operations, or scrutinize the principles of national politics, it recites an episode that too frequently occurs in the military drama, and contains a history of female affliction, that claims, from its authenticity, at least, an interest in the feeling heart. It is the first of a series of novels, drawn from the same source, and intended for public communication, through the medium of the Columbian Magazine: but as the author’s object is merely to glean those circumstances in the progress of the revolution, which the historian has neither leisure nor disposition to commemorate, and to produce, from the annals of private life, something to entertain, and something to improve his readers, the occasion will yield little to hope from the applause of the public, and nothing to dread from its candor.

* * *

HORATIO BLYFIELD was a respectable inhabitant of the state of New-York. Success had rewarded his industry in trade with an ample fortune; and his mind, uncontaminated by envy and ambition, freely indulged itself in the delicious enjoyments of the father and the friend. In the former character he superintended the education of a son and a daughter, left to his sole care by the death of their excellent mother; and in the latter, his benevolence and council were uniformly exercised for the relief of the distressed, and the information of the illiterate. His mercantile intercourse with Great Britain afforded an early opportunity of observing the disposition of that kingdom with respect to her colonies; and his knowledge of the habits, tempers, and opinions of the American citizens, furnished him with a painful anticipation of anarchy and war. The texture of his mind, indeed, was naturally calm and passive, and the ordinary effects of a life of sixty years duration, had totally eradicated all those passions which rouse men to opposition, and qualify them for enterprize. When, therefore, the gauntlet was thrown upon the theatre of the new world, and the spirit of discord began to rage, Horatio, like the Roman Atticus, withdrew from public clamour, to a sequestered cottage, in the interior district of Long-Island; and, consecrating the youthful ardour of his son, Honorius, to the service of his country, the fair Amelia was the only companion of his retreat.

Amelia had then attained her seventeenth year. The delicacy of her form was in unison with the mildness of her aspect, and the exquisite harmony of her soul, was responsive to the symmetry of her person. The pride of parental attachment had graced her with every accomplishment that depends upon tuition; and it was the singular fortune of Amelia, to be at once the admiration of our sex, and the favourite of her own. From such a daughter, Horatio could not but receive every solace of which his generous feelings were susceptible in a season of national calamity; but the din of arms that frequently interrupted the silence of the neighbouring forests, and the disastrous intelligence which his son occasionally transmitted from the standard of the union, superceded the cheerful avocations of the day, and dispelled the peaceful slumbers of the night. After a retirement of many months, on a morning fatal to the happiness of Horatio’s family, the sound of artillery announced a battle, and the horsemen who were observed gallopping across the grounds, proved that the scene of action could not be remote. As soon, therefore, as the tumult of hostility had subsided, Horatio advanced with his domestics, to administer comfort and assistance to the wounded, and to provide a decent interment for the mangled victims of the conflict. In traversing the deadly field, he perceived an officer, whose exhausted strength just served for the articulation of a groan, and his attention was immediately directed to the preservation of this interesting object, who alone, of the number that had fallen, yielded a hope that his compassionate exertions might be crowned with success. Having bathed, and bound up his wounds, the youthful soldier was borne to the cottage; where, in a short time, a stronger pulse, and a freer respiration, afforded a flattering presage of returning life. Amelia, who had anxiously waited the arrival of her father, beheld, with a mixed sensation of horror and pity, the spectacle which now accompanied him. She had never before seen the semblance of death, which therefore afflicted her with all the terrors of imagination; and, notwithstanding the pallid countenance of the wounded guest, he possessed an elegance of person, which, according to the natural operations of female sensibility, added something, perhaps, to her commiseration for his misfortunes. When, however, these first impressions had passed away, the tenderness of her nature expressed itself in the most assiduous actions for his ease and accommodation, and the encreasing symptoms of his recovery, filled her mind with joy and exultation. The day succeeding that on which he was introduced to the family of Horatio, his servant, who had made an
ineffectual search for his body among the slain, arrived at the cottage, and discovered him to be Doliscus, the only son and heir of a noble family in England. When Doliscus had recovered from the senseless state to which he had been reduced (chiefly, indeed, by the great effusion of blood) the first exercise of his faculties was the acknowledgement of obligation, and the profession of gratitude. To Horatio he spoke in terms of reverence and respect; and to Amelia in the more animated language of admiration, which melted at length, into the gentle tone of flattery and love. But Doliscus had been reared in the school of dissipation! and, with all the qualifications which allure and captivate the female heart, he had learned to consider virtue only as an obstacle to pleasure, and beauty merely as an incentive to the gratification of passion. His experience soon enabled him to discover something in the solicitude of the artless Amelia beyond the dictates of compassion and hospitality; and, even before his wounds were closed, he conceived the infamous project of violating the purity and tranquility of a family, to which he was indebted for the prolongation of his existence, and the restoration of his health. From that very innocence, however, which betrayed her feelings, while she was herself ignorant of their source, he anticipated the extremest difficulty and danger. To improve the evident predilection of her mind into a fixed and ardent attachment, required not, indeed, a very strenuous display of his talents and address; but the sacrifice of her honour (which an insurmountable antipathy to the matrimonial engagements made necessary to the accomplishment of his purpose) was a task that he justly foresaw, could be only executed by the detestable agency of perfidy and fraud. With these views then he readily accepted the solicitations of the unsuspecting host, and even contrived to protract his cure, in order to furnish a plea for his continuance at the cottage. Amelia, when, at length, the apprehensions for his safety were removed, employed all the charms of music and conversation to dissipate the languor, which his indisposition had produced, and to prevent the melancholy, with which retirement is apt to affect a disposition accustomed to the gay and busy transactions of the world. She experienced an unusual pleasure, indeed, in the discharge of these benevolent offices; for, in the company of Doliscus she insensibly forgot the anxiety she was wont to feel for the fate of her absent brother; and the sympathy which she had hitherto extended to all the sufferers of the war, was now monopolized by a single object. Horatio’s attachment to the solitude of his library, afforded frequent opportunities for this infatuating intercourse, which the designing Doliscus gradually diverted from general to particular topics—from observations upon public manners and events, to insinuations of personal esteem and partiality. Amelia was incapable of deceit, and unacquainted with suspicion. The energy, but, at the same time, the respect, with which Doliscus addressed her, was grateful to her feelings; his rank and fortune entitled him to consideration, and the inestimable favors that had been conferred upon him, offered a specious security for his truth and fidelity. The acknowledgement of reciprocal regard was, therefore, an easy acquisition, and Doliscus triumphed in the modest, but explicit avowal, before Amelia was apprized of its importance and extent. From that moment, however, he assumed a pensive and dejected carriage. He occasionally affected to start from the terrors of a deep reverie; and the vivacity of his temper, which had never yielded to the anguish of his wounds, seemed suddenly to have expired under the weight of secret and intolerable affliction. Amelia, distressed and astonished, implored an explanation of so mysterious a change in his deportment; but his reiterated sighs, which were for a while, the only answers she received, tended equally to encrease her curiosity and her sorrow. At length he undertook to disclose the source of his pretended wretchedness; and, having prefaced the hypocritical tale with the most solemn protestations of his love and constancy, he told the trembling Amelia that, were it even possible to disengage himself from an alliance which had been early contracted for him with a noble heiress of London, still the pride of family, and the spirit of loyalty, which governed his father’s actions, would oppose a union unaccompanied by the accumulation of dignity, and formed with one whose connections were zealous in the arduous resistance to the authority of Britain. “While he lives,” added Doliscus, “it is not in my power to chuse the means of happiness—and yet, as the time approaches when it will be inconsistent with the duty and honor of a soldier to enjoy any longer the society of Amelia, how can I reflect upon my situation without anguish and despair!” The delicate frame of Amelia was agitated with the sensations which this picture had excited; and, for the first time, she became acquainted with the force of love, and the dread of separation from its object. Doliscus traced the sentiments of her heart in the silent, but certain indications of her countenance, and when tears had melted the violence of her first emotion into a soft and sympathetic grief, the treacherous suitor thus prosecuted his scheme against her peace and innocence. “But it is impossible to resolve upon perpetual misery! One thing may yet be done to change the scene without incurring a father’s resentment and reproach:—can my Amelia consent to sacrifice a sentiment of delicacy, to ensure a life of happiness?” Her complexion brightened, and her eye inquisitively turned towards him. “The parade of public marriage” he continued, “neither adds strength or energy to the obligation; for, form is the superfluous offspring of fashion, not the result of reason. The poor peasant whose nuptial contract is only witnessed by the hallowed minister that pronounces it, is as blest as the prince who weds in all the ostentation of a court, and furnishes an additional festival to a giddy nation. My Amelia has surely no vanity to gratify with idle pageantry; and as the privacy of the marriage does not take from its sanctity, I will venture to propose—nay, look not with severity—at the neighbouring farm we may be met by the chaplain of my regiment, and love and honour shall record a union, which prudence fetters with a temporary secrecy.” Hope, fear, the sense of decorum, and the incitements of a passion pure, but fervent, completed the painful perturbation of Amelia’s heart, and, in this critical moment of her fate, deprived her of speech and recollection. An anxious interval of silence took place; but when, at length, the power of expression returned, Amelia urged the duty which she owed to a parent, the scandal which the world imputed to clandestine marriages, and the fatal consequences that might arise from the obscurity of the transaction. But Doliscus, steady to his purpose, again deprecated the folly of pursuing the shadow in preference to the substance, of preserving fame at the expence of happiness, and of relinquishing the blessings of connubial life, for the sake of its formalities. He spoke of Horatio’s inflexible integrity, which could not brook even the appearance of deception, and of his punctilious honor, which could not submit even to the appearance of intrusion upon the domestic arrangements of another, as insurmountable arguments for denying him the knowledge of their union. Finally, he described, in the warmest colouring of passion and fancy, the effects of Amelia’s refusal upon the future tenor of his life, and bathing her hand with his obedient tears, practised all the arts of flattery and frenzy. The influence of love supercedes every other obligation: Amelia acknowledged its dominion, and yielded to the persuasion of the exulting Doliscus. The marriage ceremony was privately repeated:—but how will it excite the indignation of the virtuous reader when he understands, that the sacred character of the priest was personated by a soldier whom Doliscus had suborned for this
iniquitous occasion! Ye spirits of seduction! whose means are the prostitution of faith, and whose end is the destruction of innocence,—tremble at impending judgment, for “there is no mercy in heaven for such unheard of crimes as these!” But a short time had elapsed after this fatal step, when the mandate of the commanding officer obliged Doliscus to prepare for joining his corps. A silent, but pungent sense of indiscretion, added to the anguish which Amelia felt in the hour of separation; and not all his strong assurances of inviolable truth and attachment, with the soothing prospect of an honorable avowal of their union could efface the melancholy impressions of her mind. The farmer, at whose house the fictitious marriage had been rehearsed, was employed to manage their future correspondence; and Doliscus, finally, left the cottage with vows of love and gratitude at his lips; but schemes of fraud and perjury in his heart. The small distance from New-York, where he was quartered, rendered it easy to maintain an epistolary intercourse; which became, during its continuance, the only employment, and the only gratification of Amelia’s existence. Its continuance, however, exceeded not a few weeks. Doliscus soon assumed a formal and dispassionate style, the number of his letters gradually diminished, and every allusion to that marriage, which was the last hope and consolation of Amelia, he cautiously avoided. But an event, that demanded the exercise of all her fortitude, now forced itself upon Amelia’s thoughts. She was pregnant; yet could neither resort for council and comfort to the father whom she had deceived, or obtain it from the lover by whom she had been seduced. In the tenderest and most delicate terms she communicated her situation to Doliscus, emphatically called upon him to rescue her reputation from obloquy, and solicitously courted his return to the cottage, or, at least, that he would disclose to Horatio the secret of their union. To prevent any accident, the farmer was prevailed upon to be the bearer of the paper which contained these sentiments, and, on his return produced the following epistle.


THE sudden death of my father will occasion my embarking for England to-morrow. It is not therefore possible to visit the cottage before my departure; but you may be assured, that I still entertain the warmest gratitude for the favours which were there conferred upon me by the virtuous Horatio, and his amiable daughter. Although I do not perfectly comprehend the meaning of some expressions you have employed, I perceive that you stand in need of a confidential person, to whom you may reveal the consequence of an indiscreet attachment; and from my knowledge of his probity (of which you are likewise a judge) no man seems more conveniently situated, or better calculated for that office than the worthy farmer who has delivered your letter. To him, therefore, I have recommended you; and, lest any pecuniary assistance should be necessary on this occasion, I have entrusted him with a temporary supply, directing him in what manner he may, from time to time, obtain a sum adequate to your exigencies. The hurry of package and adieus compels me abruptly to subscribe myself,


Your most devoted, humble servant, DOLISCUS.

“Gracious God!” exclaimed Amelia, and fell senseless to the ground. For a while, a convulsive motion shook her frame, but gradually subsiding, the flame of life seemed to be extinct, and all her terrors at an end. The poor farmer, petrified with horror and amazement, stood gazing on the scene: but the exertions of his homely spouse, at length,
restored Amelia to existence and despair. It has often been observed that despondency begets boldness and enterprize; and the female heart, which is susceptible of the gentlest sentiment, is, likewise, capable of the noblest fortitude. Amelia perceived all the baseness of the desertion meditated by Doliscus, she foresaw all its ruinous consequences upon Horatio’s peace, her own character, and the fate of the innocent being which she bore, and, wiping the useless tears from her cheek, she resolved publicly to vindicate her honor, and assert her rights. Animated then, with the important purpose, supported by the presumption of her marriage, and hoping yet to find Doliscus in New-York, she immediately repaired to that city—but, alas! he was gone!

This disappointment, however, did not defeat, nor could any obstacle retard the prosecution of her design: a ship that sailed the succeeding day wafted her to Britain, friendless and forlorn.

Innumerable difficulties and inconveniences were encountered by the inexperienced traveller, but they vanished before the object of her pursuit; and even her entrance into London, that chaos of clamour and dissipation, produced no other sensations than those which naturally arose from her approach to the dwelling of Doliscus. Amelia recollected that Doliscus had often described the family residence to be situated to Grosvenor-place, and the stage, in which she journeyed, stopping in the evening, at a public house in Picadilly, she determined, without delay, to pay him her unexpected and unwelcome visit. The embarrassed and anxious manner with which she enquired for his house, exposed her to unjust surmise and senseless ribaldry; but her grief rendered her incapable of observation, and her purity was superior to insult. Doliscus had arrived about a fortnight earlier than Amelia. The title, influence, and fortune which devolved upon him in consequence of his father’s death, had swelled his youthful vanity to excess, and supplied him with a numerous retinue of flatterers and dependants. At the moment that he was listening in extasy to that servile crew, the victim of his arts, the deluded daughter of the man to whom he was indebted for the preservation of his life, stood trembling at his door. A gentle rap, after an awful pause of some minutes, procured her admission. Her memory recognized the features of the servant that opened the door; but it was not the valet who had attended Doliscus at the cottage—she remembered not where or when she had seen him. After considerable solicitation the porter consented to call Doliscus from his company, and conducted Amelia into an antichamber to wait his arrival. A roar of laughter succeeded the delivery of her message, and the word assignation, which was repeated on all sides, seemed to renovate the wit and hilarity of the table. The gay and gallant host, inflamed with Champagne, was not displeased at the imputation, but observed that as a lady was in the case, it was unnecessary to apologize for a short desertion of his friends and wine. At the sight of that lady, however, Doliscus started. Amelia’s countenance was pale and haggard with fatigue and sorrow, her person was oppressed with the burthen which she now bore in its last stage, and her eye, fixed steadfastly upon him, as he entered the room, bespoke the complicated anguish and indignation of her feelings. Her aspect so changed, and her appearance so unexpected, added to the terrors of a guilty conscience, and, for a moment, Doliscus thought the visitation supernatural. But Amelia’s wrongs having inspired her with courage, she boldly reproached him with his baseness and perfidy, and demanded a public and unequivocal acknowledgement of their marriage. In vain he endeavoured to sooth and divert her from her purpose, in vain to persuade her to silence and delay,—his arts had lost their wonted influence, while the restoration of her injured fame and honor absorbed every faculty of her mind.

At length he assumed a different tone, a more authoritative manner. “Madam,” exclaimed he, “I am not to be thus duped or controuled. I have a sense of pity, indeed, for your indiscretion, but none for your passion: I would alleviate your afflictions, but I will not submit to your frenzy.” “Wretch!” retorted Amelia, “but that I owe something to a father’s peace, I should despise to call thee husband.”—“Husband” cried Doliscus, with a sneer, “Husband! why truly, I remember a rural masquerade, at which an honest soldier, now my humble porter, played the parson, and you the blushing bride—but, pr’ythee, do not talk of husband.”—This discovery only was wanting for the consummation of Amelia’s misery. It was sudden and fatal as the lightning’s blast—she sunk beneath the stroke. A deadly stupor seized upon her senses, which was sometimes interrupted with a boisterous laugh, and sometimes with a nervous ejaculation. Doliscus, unaffected by compassion or remorse, was solicitous only to employ this opportunity for Amelia’s removal, and having conveyed her into a coach, a servant was directed to procure lodgings for her, in some obscure quarter of the city. She spoke not a word during the transaction, but gazing with apparent indifference upon the objects that surrounded her, she submitted to be transported whither soever they pleased to conduct her. After winding through a drear and dirty passage in the neighbourhood of St. Giles’s,18 the carriage stopped at a hovel which belonged to a relation of the servant that accompanied her, and, he having communicated in a short whisper the object of his visit, an old and decrepid beldame led Amelia into a damp and narrow room, whose scant and tattered furniture proved the wretchedness of its inhabitants. A premature birth was the natural consequence of the conflict which had raged in Amelia’s mind. She had entered the apartment but a few moments, when the approach of that event gave a turn to her passions, and called her drooping faculties once more into action. Without comfort, without assistance, in the hour of extreme distress (save the officious services of her antiquated host) she was delivered of a son; but the fond sensibility of the mother obtained an instantaneous superiority over every other consideration. Though, alas! this solitary gratification too, continued not long;—her infant expired after a languid existence of three days, serving only to encrease the bitterness of Amelia’s portion.
Amelia cast her eye towards heaven as the breath deserted the body of her babe:—it was not a look of supplication, for what had she to hope, or what to dread?—neither did it indicate dissatisfaction or reproach, for she had early learned the duty of reverence and resignation—but it was an awful appeal to the throne of grace, for the vindication of the act by which she had resolved to terminate her woes. A phial of laudanum, left by a charitable apothecary, who had visited her in her sickness, presented the means, and she wanted not the fortitude to employ them. Deliberately, then, pouring the baneful draught into a glass, she looked wistfully for a while upon the infant corpse that lay extended on its bed, then bending on her knee, uttered, in a firm and solemn voice the melancholy effusions of her soul.—“Gracious Father! when thy justice shall pronounce upon the deed which extricates me from the calamities of the world, let thy mercy contemplate the cause that urged me to the perpetration. I have been deluded into error; but am free from guilt: I have been solicitous to preserve my innocence and honour; but am exposed to infamy and shame. The treachery of him to whom I entrusted my fate, has reduced me to despair—the declining day of him from whom I received my being, has been clouded with my indiscretions, and there is no cure left for the sorrows that consume me, but the dark and silent grave. Visit me not then, in thy wrath, oh! Father, but let the excess of my sufferings in this world, expiate the crime which wafts me into the world to come—may thy mercy yield comfort to Horatio’s heart, and teach Doliscus the virtue of repentance!”
She rose and lifted the glass. At that instant, a noise on the stairs attracted her attention, and a voice anxiously pronouncing—“It must be so!—nay, I will see her—” arrested the dreadful potion in its passage to her lips. “It is my Amelia!” exclaimed Horatio, as he hastily entered the room.¹ Amelia started, and looked for some moments intently on her father, then rushed into his arms, and anxiously concealed the shame and agony of her countenance, in that bosom, from which alone she now dreaded a reproach, or hoped for consolation. He, too, beheld with horror the scene that was presented to his view: he pressed his deluded, miserable daughter, to his heart, while a stream of tears ran freely down his cheeks; till, at length, his imagination, infected with the objects that surrounded him, conceived the dreadful purpose of the draught, which had fallen from Amelia’s hand, and anticipated a sorrow, even beyond the extremity of his present feelings. When, however, he collected sufficient courage to resolve his fears, and it was ascertained, that the meditated act had not been perpetrated, a momentary sensation of joy illuminated his mind, like the transient appearance of the moon, amidst the gloomy horrors of a midnight storm. When the first impressions of this mournful interview had passed away, Horatio spoke comfort to his daughter. “Come, my child, the hand of Heaven, that afflicted us with worldly cares, has been stretched out to guard you from everlasting wretchedness:—that Providence which proves how vain are the pursuits of this life, has bestowed upon us the means of seeking the permanent happiness of that which is to come. Chear up, my Amelia! The errors of our conduct may expose us to the scandal of the world, but it is guilt alone which can violate the inward tranquility of the mind.” He then took her hand, and attempted to lead her to the door. “Let us withdraw from this melancholy scene, my love!”—“Look there!” said Amelia, pointing to the corpse,– “look there!” “Ah!” said Horatio, in a faultering accent, “but it is the will of Heaven!” “Then it is right,” cried Amelia—“give the poor victim a little earth—sir! is it not sad to think of?—and I am satisfied.” She now consented to quit the room, and was
conveyed in a carriage to the inn, at which Horatio (who immediately returned to superintend the interment of the child) had stopped on his arrival.

It is now proper to inform the reader, that after Amelia had left the Cottage, and the alarm of her elopement had spread around the neighbourhood, the Farmer hastened to communicate to Horatio the transactions which he had witnessed, and the suspicions which his wife had conceived of Amelia’s situation. The wretched father sickened at the tale. But it was the sentiment of compassion, and not of resentment, that oppressed his soul. There are men, indeed, so abject in their subjection to the opinion of the world, that they can sacrifice natural affection to artificial pride, and doom to perpetual infamy and wretchedness, a child, who might be reclaimed from error by parental admonition, or raised from despair by the fostering hand of friendship. Horatio, however, entertained a different sense: he regarded not the weakness of human virtue as an object of accusation, but liberally distinguished between the crimes and the errors of mankind; and, when he could not alleviate the afflicted, or correct the vicious, he continued to lament, but he forebore to reprobate. “My poor Amelia! How basely has her innocence been betrayed!—But I must follow her:—may be, her injuries have distracted her, and she has fled, she knows not whither! Come! Not a moment shall be lost: I will overtake my child, wherever her sorrows may lead her; for, if I cannot procure redress for her wrongs, I will, at least, administer comfort to her miseries.” Such was the language of Horatio, as soon as he could exercise the power of utterance. A few days enabled him to arrange his affairs, and having learned the route which Amelia had taken, he embarked in the first vessel for England. The peculiar object of his voyage, and the nature of his misfortunes, determined him to conceal himself from the knowledge of his friends and correspondents; and a lucky chance discovered the wretched abode of his Amelia, the very instant of his arrival in London. “Can you tell me, my good host, where Doliscus, the lord —, resides?” said Horatio as he entered the inn. “Marry, that I can,” replied the landlord: “his porter is just now talking with my wife; and if you will step into the next room, perhaps he will shew you the way to the house.” Horatio advanced towards the room door, and, upon looking through a glass pannel in the door, he beheld the identical servant that had attended Doliscus at the Cottage, in eager conversation with the hostess. He paused. “She is delivered; but the child is dead:” —said the servant. Horatio started; his imagination eagerly interpreted these words to have been spoken of Amelia, and he could scarcely restrain the anguish of his feelings from loud exclamation and complaint.—“My lord’s conscience grows unusually troublesome” continued the servant; “he has ordered me again to enquire after her health, and to provide for the funeral of the child–Would she were safe in America! for, to be sure, her father is the best old man that ever lived!” “It is well!” cried Horatio. “Did you call sir?” said the hostess, opening the door. The servant took this opportunity of withdrawing, and Horatio silently followed him, at a distance, till he arrived at the habitation of Amelia, in the critical moment which enabled him to save the life he had given, and to rescue his deluded daughter from the desperate
sin of suicide. When Horatio returned to the inn, after discharging the last solemn duties to the departed infant, the landlord presented a letter to him, which a servant had just left at the bar, and asked if he was the person to whom it was addressed. As soon as Horatio had cast eye upon the superscription, he exclaimed, “What mistery is this?—A letter left for my son Honorius at an inn in London.” He eagerly seized the paper, and retiring into an adjoining chamber, he perused its contents with increased amazement and agitation.


I AM sensible that the injuries of which you complain, will neither admit of denial or expiation. Your note was delivered; a few minutes after, some circumstances had been
communicated to me respecting the unhappy Amelia, that awakened a sentiment of remorse, and prepared me for a ready compliance with your summons. To-morrow morning, at five o’clock, I shall attend at the place which you have appointed.


The voice of Honorius, enquiring for the letter, roused Horatio from the reverie into which its contents had plunged him. The honor, of his son, the villainy of his antagonist and Amelia’s sufferings, contending with the feelings of the father, and the forbearance of the christian, at last prevailed with him to suffer the hostile interview to which Doliscus had thus consented. When therefore, Honorius entered the room, and the natural expressions of tenderness and surprize were mutually exchanged, they freely discoursed of the lamentable history of Amelia, and warmly execrated that treachery which had accomplished the ruin of her peace and fame. Nor had Doliscus confined his baseness to this object. The chance of war had thrown Honorius into his power shortly after his departure from the cottage, and discovering his affinity to Amelia, the persevering hypocrite artfully insinuated to the commander in chief, that Honorious meditated an escape, and obtained an order for his imprisonment on board a frigate, which sailing suddenly for England, he was lodged upon his arrival, in the common gaol, appropriated for the confinement of American prisoners. Here it was, however, that he acquired the information of Amelia’s elopement, and heard the cause to which it was imputed from the captured master of an American vessel, who had formerly been employed in the service of Horatio, and had received the communication from the lips of his ancient patron, in the first moments of his grief. The fate which had unexpectedly led him to Britain, Honorious now regarded as the minister of his revenge. He frowned away the tear which started at the recital of his sister’s wrongs, as if ashamed to pity ’till he had redressed them; and feeling, upon this occasion, an additional motive for soliciting his freedom, he employed the interest of Horatio’s name, which notwithstanding the political feuds that prevailed, was sufficient, at length, to procure his discharge upon parol. Having easily learned the abode of Doliscus, he immediately addressed that note to him which produced the answer delivered to Horatio. When Honorius was informed that Amelia was, at that time, beneath the fame roof, he expressed an eager desire immediately to embrace his afflicted sister; but Horatio strongly represented the impropriety of an interview ’till the event of the assignation with Doliscus was ascertained, and it was, therefore, agreed for the present, to conceal his arrival from her knowledge. Absorbed in the melancholy of her thoughts, Amelia had not uttered a syllable since the removal from her dreary habitation, but suffered the busy attentions of
the servants of the inn, with a listless indifference. The agitation of her mind, indeed, had hitherto rendered her insensible to the weakness of her frame; but exhausted nature, at length produced the symptoms of an approaching fever, and compelled her, reluctantly, to retire to her bed. When Horatio entered the room, the fever had considerably increased, he therefore requested the assistance of a neighbouring physician, who pronounced her situation to be critically dangerous. In the evening, the unusual vivacity of her eyes, the incoherence of her speech, and repeated peals of loud and vacant laughter, proved the disordered state of her understanding, and increased the apprehensions of her attendants. “A few hours will decide her fate,” said the Doctor, as he left the room. “My poor Amelia!” cried Horatio, raising her hand to his lips—she looked sternly at him for a moment, then relaxing the severity of her features, she again burst into a boisterous laugh, which terminated in a long and heavy sigh, as if her spirits were exhausted with the violence of her exertions. The task which Horatio had now to perform was difficult indeed! The virtue and fortitude of his soul could hardly sustain a conflict against the grief and passion that consumed him, while on the one hand, he beheld the distraction of his daughter, and, on the other, anticipated the danger of his son. He resolved, however, to keep Amelia’s indisposition a secret from Honorius, with whom he arranged the dreadful business of the morning, and, having fervently bestowed his blessing there, he returned to pass the night in prayer and watching by Amelia’s side. Honorius retired to his chamber, but not to rest. It was not, however, the danger of the approaching combat, which occasioned a moment’s anxiety or reflection; for his courage was superior to every consideration of personal safety. But that courage had hitherto been regulated by a sense of obligation consistent with the precepts of religion—he had often exerted it to deserve the glorious meed of a soldier, but he scorned to employ it for the contemptible reputation of a duellist; it had taught him to serve his country, but not to offend his God. “If there is a cause which can justify the act, is it not mine? ’Tis not a punctilious honour, a visionary insult, or a petulant disposition that influences my conduct:” said Honorius, as he mused upon the subject. “A sister basely tricked of her innocence and fame, a father ungratefully plundered of his peace and hopes, in the last stage of an honorable life, and myself (but that is little) treacherously transported to a remote and inhospitable land—these are my motives; and Heaven, Doliscus, be the judge between us!” As soon as the dawn appeared, Honorius repaired to the place of appointment, where a few minutes before the hour, Doliscus, likewise arrived. He was attended by a friend, but perceiving his antagonist alone, he requested his companion to withdraw to a distant spot, from which be might observe the event, and afford assistance to the vanquished party. “Once more we meet, Sir,” said Doliscus, “upon the business of death; but that fortune which failed you in your
country’s cause, may be more propitious in your own.”– “What pity it is,” exclaimed Honorius, “that thou should’st be a villain, for thou art brave!” “Nay, I come to offer a more substantial revenge for the wrongs I have committed, than merely the imputation of so gross an epithet—take it, Sir,—it is my life.” They instantly engaged. Doliscus for awhile defended himself with superior address, but laying himself suddenly open to the pass of his antagonist, he received his sword in the left breast, a little below the seat of the heart! “Nobly done,” cried Doliscus as he fell, “it is the vengeance of Amelia; and oh! may it serve to expiate the crime of her betrayer.” His friend who had attentively viewed the scene, advanced, when he saw him on the ground; and, assisted by Honorius, bore him to a carriage which had been directed to attend within call. He was then conveyed to the house of an eminent surgeon, who having ordered the necessary accommodations, examined the wound, and pronounced it to be mortal. “Fly, sir,” said Doliscus turning to Honorius at this intelligence—“your country will afford you an asylum, and protect you from the consequences of my fate. I beseech you embitter not my last moments with the
reflection of your danger—but bear with you to the injured Amelia, the story of my repentance, and, if you dare, ask her to forgive me.” The resentments of Honorius were subdued, he presented his hand to the dying Doliscus, in whose eye a gleam of joy was kindled at the thought, but it was quickly superceded by a cold and sudden tremour; he attempted, but in vain, to speak; he seized the offered hand; he pressed it eagerly to his lips, and in the moment of that expressive action, he expired.

Honorius now hastened to inform Horatio of this fatal event, and to contrive the means of escape. But when he returned to the inn, confusion and distress were pictured on every face; a wild, but harmonious voice, occasionally broke forth into melancholy strains, and the name of Amelia was repeatedly pronounced in accents of tenderness and
compassion.—“How is it my son?” cried Horatio eagerly. “Doliscus is no more!” replied Honorius. “Would he had lived another day! I wished not the ruin of his soul.” “But he
repented sir.” “Then heaven be merciful!” exclaimed Horatio. Here their conversation was interrupted, by the melodious chauntings of Amelia. I’ll have none of your flowr’s, tho’ so blooming and sweet; Their scent, it may poison, and false is their hue; I tell you be gone! for I ne’er shall forget, That Doliscus was lovely and treacherous too. Honorius listened attentively to the song; it vibrated in his ear, and swelled the aching artery of his heart. “Come on!” said Horatio leading him to Amelia’s chamber. They found her sitting on the bed, with a pillow before her, over which she moved her fingers, as if playing on a harpsichord. Their entrance disturbed her for a moment, but she soon resumed her employment. He said and swore he lov’d me true:—was it a lover’s part, To ruin good Horatio’s peace, and break Amelia’s heart? A heavy sigh followed these lines, which were
articulated in a wistful and sympathetic tone, and she sunk exhausted on her bed.—In a few minutes, however, she started from this still and silent state, and having gazed with a wild and aching eye around the room, she uttered a loud and piercing cry—it was the awful signal of her dissolution—and her injured spirit took its everlasting flight.

The reader will excuse a minute description of the succeeding scenes. The alarm raised by the death of Doliscus compelled Honorius to quicken his departure, and he joined the standard of America a few hours before the battle of Monmouth, in which, for the service of his country, he sacrificed a life that misfortune had then taught him to consider of no other use or estimation. As for the venerable Horatio–having carried with him to the cottage the remains of his darling child, in a melancholy solitude he consumes the time; his only business, meditation and prayer; his only recreation a daily visit to the monument, which he has raised in commemoration of Amelia’s fate, and all his consolation resting in this assurance, that whatever may be the sufferings of virtue HERE, its portion must be happiness HEREAFTER.



¹ This is the point where the first installment of Amelia in the Columbian Magazine ends; the tale was continued two months later in December of 1787.

Beyond The Nightingale Floor (§.03)

Continued from §.02

Haru and Ayumu left the unconscious Daichi to his pergola and Kumiko to the wood and made way to the south, down the lower mountain region which swiftly flattened and let out into a hilly expanse where the forest grew more thickly and mist was heavy in the air. Insects swarmed thick and loud and Haru grew increasingly vexed by their continual incursions.

“We shouldn’t have let that bastard be,” Haru snapped after some five miles in silence.

“Too much trouble. We’ve places to be.”

“Aye… but…”

Ayumu turned from his companion and examined the land before them. The southern trail widened and swerved off to the right. Ayumu swiftly stepped from the path and cut into the forest.

“Where are you going?”

“We should stay off the road. There could be other slavers.”

“You think Daichi and Kumiko have confederates?”

“Possibly. Even if they don’t, they certainly have clients.”

Ayumu furrowed his brows and folded his arms as a startling thought occurred to him. He withdrew the map he had purchased from the town on the other side of Sōzō-ryoku from his inner coat pocket and unfurled it, running his right bandaged finger across the intricately drawn mountain ridge from north to south until his digit rested upon the base of the southern-most tumulus, proximal to where they currently stood.

“The only major listed settlement hereabout is Uchū Castle and the hamlets surrounding it.”

Haru turned to his companion, his visage dark with concern.

“Fools we are—we’re headed to a slaver camp.”

Ayumu folded the map and returned it to his inner coat pocket.

“If Lord Tenchi did indeed send those two rogues to intercept travelers upon the road, then surely, proceeding to the castle is foolish. If, however, they were merely denizens of the keep, servants perhaps, seeking to transcend their status, or interlopers with no roots in the region, a reward might well await us.”

“That’s sensible. Still, I don’t like it. None of it.”

“You are too fretful, Haru.”

“Perhaps it is that you are not fretful enough.”


The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.03)


Matthias Emery Thall raised his arms in salutations as Albrecht walked through the doors of his study.

“My good sir, at last you have arrived. I am Matthias Thall. Please, take a seat.”

“Your hospitality is much appreciated, Mayor Thall.”

“Oh, please, call me Matt.”

“If you prefer.”

“Otto—why didn’t you pick Mr. Brandt up at the station?”

“Didn’t know when he’d be arriving. You know how it is with the rail, they scarcely know when that thing is coming or going. Lines were down again.”

“Yes. Yes… Well. Nevertheless, we are all here now and, I trust, in fine spirits. You’ll be needing a place to stay, Mr. Brandt, so I’ve arranged some lodgings.”

“That’s grand. Where?”

“Wester Moorley’s place.”

Otto’s eyes darked, brows furrowing. Brandt cast a glance to the mayor’s right-hand man, and then back to mayor, curiosity overwhelming his apprehensions.

“Where is this… Wester Moorley?”

“Otto can show you—isn’t that right?”


“Well, anything else?”

“About my team and-”

“Details, details! Ah, you just arrived, how thoughtless of me. Mr. Brandt, you must be famished. Can I offer you some refreshment?”

“No, no, I just ate, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, you must be tired.”

“No, took a nap on the train-ride up. Feeling fine.”

I see, I see. Regardless, I’ve many matters to attend to presently. Once you get yourself situated and comfortable, we can see about everything else.”

“As you wish, Mayor Matthi—er… Matt.”

Matthias smiled forcefully—a hollow gesture, and then bent to his desk as Otto ushered the engineer from the mayoral office.


In Tooth & Claw (Supernatural Horror Anthology Review)

Contains spoilers.


Daniel Soule’s In Tooth & Claw (Rotten Row Publishing), an anthology of surreal and supernatural horror stories, begins with the novelette, Plight of the Valkyrie, the story of a soul-reaping guild that seeks out a empathic, medically skilled serial killer for recruitment. The premise is fascinating, however, the deployment of a extremely lengthy monologue midway into the story concerning the purpose of the spectral guild to which the protagonist (Mortimer) belongs both saps the story of its tension and, at the same time, creates a build-up without a pay-off. That the guild angle is central to the story and also the very thing which removes the unsettling atmosphere the story generates in its impressively moody introduction suggests that the story might have been more effective without recourse to supernaturalism, as Val’s murderous medical proclivities proved sufficiently intriguing so as to have been able to carry the tale in its entirety, should the author have so-desired.

The next story—The Breed—is one of the best in the collection. The tale centers on a number of paratroopers from Nevada who are sent to the Middle East to liquidate a number of Farsi-speaking and thus, presumably Persian, terrorists at the behest of the US military. Of course, given the title, one can assume the novel angle: The soldiers are werewolves, born out of a secret nazi experiment that was coopted by the US government. Despite deploying a premise reminiscent of David Brückner’s Iron Wolf, the narrative nevers falls to schlocky mediocrity, firstly, owing to the deftness and three-dimensionality with which the paratroopers are detailed, secondarily because of the competence of the prose and the structure of the story, and thirdly because the narrative threads are drawn together with a seriousness and authenticity typically absent from the kind of exploitation and shock-horror film it brings to mind. The 1987 film Predator is mentioned in the story’s opening and presents itself as a good point of comparison, as The Breed is as different from Iron Wolf as the beginning of Predator is from its own middle and end.

Illustration depicting a scene from ‘The Breed’ by Stuart McMillan.

To Kill A Quisquilia (a title I first erroneously read as ‘To Kill A Quesadilla’) concerns a young woman’s death and a supernaturally gifted boy’s contention with a demon (the titular ‘quisquilia’) disguised as a garbage truck (which, as far as disguises go, is quite original). The tale provides a tonal break from the two proceeding tales, as it begins as a grim mystery and swiftly develops into a jaunty, macabre comedy. A welcome bit of levity to break the tension of the preceding tales.

Illustration depicting a scene from ‘To Kill A Quisquilia’ by Stuart McMillan.

Next is The Switch, a psychologically introspective murder mystery. Its interesting in that the mystery lies not in who the killer is, but in why the killer did what she did (the reveal is quite gripping, so I shant spoil it).

After that is The Breed: The Last Watch, a continuation of The Breed’s mythos. It fails to match up to the original, chiefly because of its clumsy structure, as the reader is constantly jostled between numerous underdeveloped characters which are scattered throughout different time-periods. The problem with the story is not that there are time-jumps, but rather that one has no idea what is going on as a consequence thereof.

Illustration from ‘The Breed: The Last Watch’ by Stuart McMillan.

Next up, Only Some Things, the story of a deformed man waiting at a bus stop. Though emotionally evocative, it feels unfinished, namely because it ends so abruptly. As a sketch for a longer work, however, its thoroughly intriguing.

Next is Witchopper, my personal favorite in the collection, which tells the tale of a father and son who set out to investigate the veracity of a local urban legend. Unlike, The Breed: The Last Watch, the time-jumps are very deftly deployed such that never once did I have to re-read a line or skim back up to the preceding page in a attempt to understand what was going on. It also features several scenes of impressively atmospheric tension.

Concluding the anthology is The Lostling, which, much like Only Some Things, is a story about which little can be said, as it also feels underdeveloped. There is no middle or end, but only the introduction of a introduction. That being said, it is also one of the most ambient and haunting of all the pieces.

In Tooth & Claw is a thoroughly mixed-bag, but never a boring one.

My thanks to Mr. Daniel Soule for providing me with a early copy of the anthology.