September 23

I’m currently around 13,500 words on the goal of 20,000. We’re still way behind our fundraising goal, though, so if you can donate, or spread the word, it would be most appreciated. I am currently at around 100 dollars of my $250 personal goal for fundraising. You can view the other participants, check out our current funding status, and more, here:

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In the meantime, here is a different scene, starring the book’s primary protagonist, Simon.

Candlemere’s office, while large, did not seem to Simon to be nearly large enough to accommodate the number of creatures present. In addition to Candlemere himself, a half dozen other beings filled the office. Cyril Understone stood behind the desk to Candlemere’s right. On the desk before him sat two or three great leather-bound tomes of a color that Simon had not often seen on books, and given the nature of many of the books in the restricted library, he could guess exactly what kind of leather had been used in their binding. He felt his own skin crawling at the notion.

The rest of the company consisted of highly placed club members and members of the Achilles Club’s board of governors. To Simon and Merriwether’s left, thusly to the right of Understone and Candlemere, stood Anthony Scott Whitehead, a red fox renowned for his poetry, the latest volume of which was already in its third printing in under two years. He looked every inch the starving poet to Simon, who had known (in the common, as well as biblical, sense) many. His russet fur was tinged with grey throughout. He was lean as a whip, his fur and skin sunken in against his bones such that one could, if one tried, begin to make out the finer points of his skeletal structure. His plain, unadorned black jacket and waistcoat hung loosely from his frame, and he leaned more heavily than most gentlemen upon his walking stick.

Some rumors said that he had contracted consumption in the Americas, and had fought it off through sheer force of will. Others said that he had contracted hydrophobia, or as the medical profession now referred to the disease, ‘rabies’, and that it was the Achilles Club’s ritual magics that had saved him from death.

Beside him, draped informally across a Louis XVI chair, lounged Ari Singh, the snow leopard ambassador from Nepal. The great cat wore the loose-fitting crimson-dyed robes and headscarf of his people. It draped flatteringly over him. Simon knew him from his own initiation two years prior. He had been one of those whose energies had been drawn into the ritual of joining, with Francis as the conduit. He sat with his eyes narrowed almost to the point of completely shut, and his tail twitched such that Simon honestly wondered if the cat was asleep.

To Candlemere’s other side stood the stocky and oh-so-important Richard Somerset, whose family of boars had risen, like many others of their kind, to the top of the merchant class in Britain by means that were best left unquestioned. He had become a member of the board of governors of the Club by agreement of mutual benefit, though Simon still wasn’t certain what the Club gained from the bargain. The boar wore gaudy gold decorations on his tusks and a waistcoat of white silk brocade, whose golden buttons strained with the effort of keeping his swaggering gut in check.

“I tell you, Candlemere, that it does not do for the Achilles Club to involve itself so transparently in police affairs,” he was in the middle of blustering when Simon and Francis entered the inner office. He was leaning over the desk, both his trotters laid flat. Simon pitied Candlemere, for he was directly in the path of the boar’s questionably hygienic breath.

“It keeps us in the police’s good graces,” answered the high, fragile voice of Whitehead, “Which is absolutely of the utmost importance if we are to continue our work without outside interference.”

“And if the general public gets wind that we’re sniffing around Ripper-style killings again, you can bet there’s going to be suspicion, and all it takes is one person finding out…well, anything that goes on inside these walls and we could all find ourselves in prison, or worse,” said the boar, thumping his knuckles on the desk for emphasis. Candlemere’s face was impassive, as was Understone’s. Ari Singh looked positively bored to death.

“You fear too much,” a woman’s voice said. Simon had not noticed her there before, but once she spoke, there could be no mistake. Irene Merriwether. The marten stood at a distance on the same side of Candlemere’s desk as Somerset. Fitting, Simon noted, as a member of the board of governors in her own right. She cut a severe figure in her red and charcoal grey dress of the shape currently fashionable in London’s salons.

“Ah, Simon,” she said, greeting him with a polite nod, “And, well, Francis. I am glad you were able to join us, ahead of schedule.”

“I come where I am needed, my dear,” the ermine responded, his tone unmistakably warm and pleased to see his wife.

“If we may,” said Candlemere, “I should like to begin this discussion. We have much to talk about and many things to consider.”

The wolfhound rose and straightened his waistcoat. He towered above the rest of the room such that all who listened to him speak were forced to look up.

“We have here four of our distinguished members, two representatives from our board of governors, and Mr. Understone, here, one of our most esteemed librarians. Among us, our course of action can and must be decided.”

The room fell silent.

Candlemere continued.

“As you all know, Simon, Mr. Understone, and myself, were called upon this morning by Detective Inspector Allen of the Metropolitan Police. Inspector Allen is one of our sources of information and a close confidante of the Club. I have worked with him multiple times in the past on homicide cases which presented the appearance of the occult, most of which were solved by simple lunacy on the part of the killer.

“We journeyed in my carriage to Pellingham street not far from the now-infamous Whitechapel district. What we saw there was a young fennec female, bound to an alabaster altar and mutilated in a most horrific manner.”

Simon looked instinctively to Irene at this revelation. He immediately felt foolish. Irene Merriwether was not the type to faint or grow weak at the mere description of some reddish work done in the dead of night. The woman was hard as stone and sharp as flint when the time required it.

“We have learned from the coroner that the victim’s womb and heart were precisely removed, and were not found with the body.”

“Yes yes, we get the gist of it, Candlemere, for Christ’s sake,” said Somerset, crossing his arms and resting them on the shelf created by his gut. “Get on with it. Why should we be involved with this?”

“Some of you know that I investigated the Whitechapel killings of a few years back, at the behest of the chief investigator at the time. Inspector Allen noted, and I agree, that the murder resembles, in its basic function, the acts of the Whitechapel Killer.”

“You mean Jack the Ripper?” Asked Whitehead, lowering himself into the vacant cane chair beside Ari Singh, whose eyes had opened, though just a sliver. His tail twitched more excitedly, though he remained silent.

Simon tensed at the mention of the Ripper, but Candlemere’s expression did not change, nor did he grow agitated. There was no alteration in him whatsoever.

“Yes. I will not go into details on the so-called Ripper case, but there are subtle, yet key, differences in the two killers. This new murder was done as part of a ritual.”

“What kind of ritual,” asked Mrs. Meriwether, her tone neutral.

“We aren’t certain. Cyril, if you please?”

Understone, the unflappable marmot, stepped forward. Candlemere returned to his desk chair, looking up at Understone like a child hearing a dark fairy tale from his grandmother.

“Thank you, Lord Candlemere. The first thing that he and I did, upon realizing what we were possibly up against, was to check the altar for signs of magic use. What we found was a definite positive.”

Simon flipped open one of the great leather-bound volumes from the desk stack to a page about a third of the way into the book, marked with a spare card catalog, which he quietly placed in his jacket pocket. He flipped the book around and held it up for the others to see.

On the parchment, inked in red and black, was the outline of a magical circle, similar to the one Simon had been taught, that he had used to help summon Francis back from the otherworld, but different. The symbols, instead of the more familiar rounded ones that felt to Simon safe and comforting, were sharp and jagged, as though carved into the bark of some twisted old tree with a dull knife.

At the center, carved in the same script, was a symbol that looked as though a large, downward-facing crescent moon had been speared through by a particularly vicious icicle, which had speared a second, smaller, upward-facing crescent nested inside. Yet again, Simon did not recognize it.

Candlemere’s brow furrowed. Ari Singh, who until now had seemed to be napping, sat upright and leaned forward, a frown crossing his muzzle. Whitehead’s eyes widened.

“And what’s all that gibberish supposed to mean?”  Somerset had a disbelieving smirk plastered on that bulbous face of his. Simon felt disgust wash over him, his fists clenching with the desire to wipe the disrespect off his tusked visage once and for all.

A paw rested on his shoulder, and the tension and rage drained away.

“That gibberish as you so eloquently put it, Somerset, is part of a summoning spell,” said Irene. She turned her back and stepped between Somerset and the book to get a closer look. “It appears to be one ritual of several that are required, judging by the position of the markings of this circle, though,” she slipped a pair of spectacles onto her short muzzle, holding the precariously balanced glasses steady as she peered closer, “I do not recognize these symbols, Candlemere.”

“The symbols are a variant on an ancient Persian holy script, for which we have scarce sources for translation,” Understone explained, placing the book on the desk and stepping closer as he pointed. “This script, in particular, is mentioned only a few times in the surviving holy and mystical texts of the period.”

Understone slipped his notebook from whatever pocket he kept it in and flipped through it until he found the page he was looking for.

“Here, for example, Eudemas of Rhodes in his theological history wrote “even among the heretics, these Medes who believe the father of light and darkness is Kronos, who created all, there are heretics to the heresy.” After this, he focuses almost entirely on the Zuruvan Heresy, but for the mention of a strange and twisted script used by those so-called heretics.”

The marmot flipped the page. “And then, here, in the Zend of Anoshiruvan—and please bear in mind this is a rough translation, I have not yet had the time to begin thorough work on the Persian texts—“The prophet here refers to writing in that dark tongue which is of nothing,” which is about as cryptic a description as I have seen.”

Somerset gruffed. “So you are saying,” he said, arms folded, “that you’ve found a couple of oblique references that may or may not reference this or ten thousand other superstitions? Excellent work. Perhaps next you can tell us that King Arthur’s resting place is somewhere in Britain.”

Understone’s expression remained impassive. He looked over his glasses at the boar. In his eyes, Simon could see, even if the boar did not, the irritation at having his research called into question, and perhaps a fervent wish that, at that moment, he himself could be a fire mage and set the boorish boar alight with a thought.

“Finding slight references to lost theology is how discoveries are made, Mr. Somerset,” the marmot responded coolly. “In any case, I daresay it’s more of a helpful reference than anything in one of your penny dreadfuls.”

“It does not do,” said Ari Singh in his heavily accented English, his voice at once firm and soft as velvet, “to scoff at matters you choose not to understand, simply because you choose not to understand them.”

“With all due respect, Ambassador Singh, I was not aware that the snow-leopard people were so wise. Pray tell, do your people often speak in circles or is that merely an annoying quirk of your own?”

Singh made a single gesture by way of response. A flick of his claw so quick that Simon nearly missed it. The fox nearly wrote it off as a customary response of dismissal when Somerset let out a small cry of surprise.

The tip of his gold-laden tusks had frozen over with a hoary frost, which was slowly creeping closer and closer to his face. In the fire-heated warmth of the Club, the frost gave off a fog like that of one’s breath on a chill autumn day

“All right, all right, Singh, You’ve made your point,” he grumbled, even as the frost began to melt away, leaving his tusks dripping and glistening. Ari Singh returned to his relaxed posture, eyes nearly closed, but now with a faint self-satisfied upturning at the corners of his mouth.

“Gentlemen…and ladies, if we could, for the moment, restrain our personalities and return to the matter at hand? Whatever this ritual was, it was gruesome and violent. It likely unleashed a great deal of mystical energy, whose purpose we are as yet blind to.”

Candlemere stood to his full height, the vision of a stern schoolmaster lording over a classroom of misfit students who could not cease bickering.

“In any case, we know that this will not be the last murder, and with the Eve of All Souls fast approaching, it will be an ideal time for someone to attempt some atrocity, using the surge in magical energies to their advantage.

“Therefore, as of this moment, I am directing the Inner Circle to focus its efforts on locating, and stopping, the perpetrator. Somerset, you are here as representative of the Board of Governors, as I cannot act in both that capacity and this. You will inform the rest of the members immediately.”

Somerset grumbled his assent, focused more on cleaning up the aftermath of the melted frost on his tusks than on the meeting at this moment. When he seemed satisfied that there was no more frost forthcoming, and that his tusks and the gold chains and jewelry that adorned them were more or less dry, he quickly gave a polite bow and left the office.

“Charming man, as always,” mumbled Whitehead.

“What do you need from us, Candlemere,” Irene asked.

Simon stepped farther into the room, forming most of a circle with the other members in the absence of the boar.

Candlemere returned to his chair, and Understone took up his place beside him.

“There will have to be a conclave assembled of the entire Inner Circle. First, we shall have to summon back some of our oldest and wisest members. I am pleased to see,” he noted, “that Francis is already back with us. I had not thought it possible just yet.”

“It should not be,” Irene said, looking first over her husband, and then over Simon, who felt her eyes searching directly through him, as though looking for something. She held the moment long, and when it seemed she was satisfied, she continued.

“And you summoned Francis yourself, with no help from any other Club member?” she asked.


“You are aware,” said Whitehead, peering at Simon over his paws which were folded neatly over the head of his cane, “that performing a summoning ritual alone is at best likely to result in failure, and at worst, could call something else forth. Should you miscast the spell—“

“Yes, Whitehead, I am aware of the risks,” Simon said, “And I must apologize to all present for taking them. After what I witnessed this morning, I felt I could not wait. I needed Francis’s companionship and his counsel.”

Tension gripped Simon’s chest. They were right, of course, he shouldn’t have done it. He could have summoned something horrible, or injured himself or his soul, or even been whisked away by something malevolent. He could have, but he wasn’t.

The truth was that he had felt, through every step of the preparation, that the Club itself, the building, the energies that coursed through it either naturally or as a result of the membership’s mystical experimentation, would protect him. It had, just as he had felt it would.

“Second,” Candlemere continued, clearing his throat, “Simon, you, Francis, Understone, and myself will lead the investigation.”

“And I,” said Irene. “Don’t think I will stand idly by while this happens.”

Candlemere looked, to Simon, as if he were about to object, but thought better of it and nodded his assent.

“Your help will be invaluable. In the meantime, Ambassador Singh, Mr. Whitehead, if you would be willing to assist with research?”

“Of course, Candlemere, anything you require.”

“I too shall assist.”

“Mr. Understone will give you lists of the topics in question, as well as certain rare books which may need to be acquired if possible. And quickly, please. Time is of the utmost importance. I cannot shake the fear that whatever is coming, will come with the thinning of the veil.”

“Gentlemen,” said Understone moving for the office door. “If you will follow me to the library, I will provide you the information I require.”