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The Eterna Solution

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The Eterna Solution

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Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
Publisher: Tor, 2017
Series: The Eterna Files: Book 3

1. The Eterna Files
2. Eterna and Omega
3. The Eterna Solution

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Leanna Renee Hieber brings Victorian London and New York to life and fills both cities with ghosts and monsters. Two groups of paranormally talented investigators discover that the Eterna compound--thought to be the key to immortality--is, instead, a powerful protective charm. That protection is sorely needed, for both England and the U.S. are under attack by dark forces.

Having vanquished the demonic pretender to the British throne, the now-united forces of the Eterna Commission and the Omega Department reach America ready to take on a new menace. But like the United States itself, this evil is rapidly spreading from sea to shining sea. Will the new magic our heroes have discovered be strong enough to defeat it?

With its blend of Victorian details, complex plots, and compelling characters, Hieber's fascinating historical fantasy continues to earn critical acclaim.



Clara woke to whispers and dread. The shadows of her small cabin on a cross-Atlantic steamer bound for New York were too close, and the cramped space seemed even more claustrophobic than when she'd fallen into uneasy sleep.

The first days aboard the packet, a vessel chosen for top-of-the-line speed rather than luxury, were filled with victorious, albeit harrowing, tales as the American Eterna and English Omega teams recounted their climactic, supernatural encounters outside Parliament. Those who had battled the horrors of the Vieuxhelles estate and saw to its destruction shared their victory.

The warmth of reconnecting, marveling at the strength of their colorful compatriots' varied gifts and bravery in the face of madness, was so powerful that Clara had not yet fully registered the concern for what they'd find upon their return.

Clara had been a gifted Sensitive from an early age, and her gifts had been sharpening at an exponential rate since her lover's death. Upon waking to unease, her first instinct was to call, to bid him come to her in luminous, spectral visitation and talk with her about the state of the spirit world and what she might expect, but she stopped herself.

When Louis Dupris died and in doing so discovered that he had made the protective Ward of localized magic that was the Eterna Commission's great legacy, the knowledge he brought from the beyond helped Clara mend the torn, bleeding tissues of grief, giving her something to fight for and with instead, making his sacrifice meaningful. But their souls had said their good-byes. Their story was at an end and she was, now, finally at peace with his spirit moving on to help guard his native New Orleans. For all that she might feel lonely, she was not alone.

Not because her dear soul sister, Rose, lay sleeping in the bunk below, a woman recently awakened to the paranormal but less attuned to it. Not because her former guardian, Senator Bishop, a man she had loved all her life though she had shuttered the sentiments deep belowdecks, was across the corridor, perhaps lying awake and thinking of her ...

No, because some other thing was awake and aware of her. The shadows across the room were not only too close, but unnaturally dark.

Not one to be afraid of a resident spirit or haunt, she felt the hairs rise on her neck and arms, the familiar, unsettled twist in her stomach. Her body did not yet call for her to be on a countdown to collapse, but she had to be wary, as the epileptic seizures that accosted her whenever the spectral world crossed a line from a pleasant encounter to an onslaught of something altogether malevolent was often a quick and dizzying shift.

There was no remaining still any longer, so she clambered down from the upper bunk as soundlessly as she could so that Rose would not be awakened by whatever next occurred. Water was a charging and shielding element for Clara and she felt safer in the open than in close quarters when something was sniffing her out, so she resolved to seek solace and safety on the uppermost deck.

Throwing the skirt of her burgundy riding habit over her head and buttoning the matching jacket somewhat messily, she palmed her cabin key and quietly slipped out the wooden door, locking it behind her. Clara trod quietly up a stair and stepped out from a narrow archway to the deck where she found herself alone with the sea. All on the deck was still save for two great steam stacks exhaling vapor.

The tang of the salt spray on her tongue and the sea air's moist kiss against the open collar of her bodice were an immediate tonic. The lace panel lined with glass buttons that was meant to cover her neck flapped in the breeze, the buttons thrumming against the hollow of her throat in a rhythm that matched the cracking of the Union Jack flying above her head as she stepped farther out onto the aft deck. Nothing made Clara feel so alive as the sea.

Closing her eyes, she communed with at least three past lives lived most vibrantly upon the water. In doing so, she felt exhilarated and replenished. Gathering herself, renewing her psychic and spiritual shields, she breathed in the vitality of the ocean and snapped energy out from her body like a whip, breaking off the tendrils of any negative spirit or demonic murmur that had managed to cling to her after the battle in London.

She spun slowly, surveying the ship and the waves around it, lifting a hand to sweep aside stray, dark blond strands of hair that wanted to experience the same freedom as her skin. In their number were a few fresh gray strands, her connection to the spirit world hastening the silvery growth. She was twenty-nine, and the graying was premature, but Senator Bishop, had gone silver in his twenties and had always blamed it on the ghosts. She would, too. She looked around for them, or for the worse company: demons.

The shadows retained their normal angles, depth of light, and expected shapes; nothing was lurking. Not anymore. But something still was not right. The salt-infused air held a slight tinge of copper. Sulfur even.

The foul air was one thing, the sounds were another. There was a howling off the water, something not human, but not altogether industrial, something that Clara had never heard before. She could not imagine what creation, entity, or machine could make such a noise.

Clara's mentor, the clairvoyant and ever-elegant Evelyn Northe-Stewart, exited the cabin corridor onto the aft deck, her gaze immediately pinning Clara, to whom she nodded in acknowledgment. The medium wore a thick saffron dress robe and cloak over her nightclothes.

Not far behind her, the Omega department's Miss Knight, London's lavishly theatrical psychic asset, approached, her raven hair in a long braid. She wore an elaborate crimson kimono. The layers that were not bound to her person whipped behind her like a scarlet flag in the wind.

The moon shone blindingly down on them and bathed them all in silver, an incredible, almost staged effect. Clara could not help but recall lines from Macbeth's witches, chanting in otherworldly meter in her mind's ear.

The three Sensitives looked at one another with a mixture of confusion and fear. Clara pressed her hand to her bosom, where the protective Ward created from her late lover's research still lay--she'd created a sort of poultice of the contents and had been loath to remove it from her person--and felt a little surge of power for the press. Perhaps it was just a trick of the mind, but it did seem to offer a bit of shield against the difficult sounds.

Movement drew their attention, and all three turned to see that Rose Everhart had joined them, rubbing her eyes and seeking out Clara first, as if she were an anchor. The two, born a sea apart, had found in one another the soul-sisterhood of lost lives, and the bond kept growing.

Clara responded by placing a firm hand on Rose's trembling shoulder once she stood at her side, in a plain workingwoman's skirt and shirtwaist with buttons not quite aligned. If Rose was indeed first discovering otherworldly communication and instincts that Clara had fielded all her life, it would be a confusing time for her. They needed to be mutual ports in supernatural storms.

"I don't suppose any of you have any idea what woke us," Rose asked, her voice shaking.

Evelyn indicated an area at a distance from the ship but about a meter up from the rail, just above their eye-line. "I assume it happened because we are not alone. Those dark shapes are not clouds."

Clara's blood chilled when she finally noticed the contrast. A sequence of ink-black humanoid forms, bodies in silhouette floated off the port side like an artificial horizon. It wasn't the first time they'd seen such lightless things; Beauregard Moriel had a whole army of Summoned, vile presences that had slipped through a fissure he'd created between the natural and unnatural worlds. These shadows were no more welcome here than they had been marching up the Embankment with the aim of tearing down the stones of Parliament.

"The two walks," Evelyn continued, her voice trembling. "Two paths between the living and the dead. The Society opens these corridors and hell slips through to float along the water."

"They appear to be inactive. Summoned and awaiting orders?" Miss Knight queried, studying the predators.

"Waiting, or ready, either way we have to try to banish them," Clara stated. "They are a danger to us, to everyone on this ship. What if our trajectory passes right through them?"

Evelyn began to softly murmur scripture used in exorcisms, simple renunciations of devils and evil.

Clara imagined that Evelyn's words lessened the opaque density of this pitch-black armada, but she couldn't be sure. The bright night sky seemed to be playing surreal tricks on her; Clara didn't feel her regular faculties of sight could be trusted.

"Clara, you brought more of the protective Wards we created, yes?" Rose asked quietly. "I..."

"Yes. I've a doctor's bag full of them in our cabin," Clara replied. "I made sure Senator Bishop traveled with a case, and Andre and Effie with their own. Lord Black supplied his own cabin with them and made a small fort of them around our beleaguered Lord Denbury." She chuckled mordantly. "I think your proud nonbeliever Mr. Spire remains the only unarmed person among us."

Rose looked at the silhouettes. "I feel we'll need many, to keep them from noticing us. To give us room..." She shuddered. "By God, I feel like I did in front of Parliament, with all of the damnable silhouettes parading ... It's stifling."

Clara placed her hand on Rose's shoulder and she could feel her tension ease. They had that ability to balance one another; their souls always had.

"That's likely what the wretched forms are there for," Evelyn said grimly. "A certain show of strength from whatever of the Master's Society is holding on after Moriel's death. We should mount as many Wards as possible on this ship at once."

A strange tearing sound to Clara's right sent her whirling, nearly knocking into the woman who appeared suddenly as if propelled by an engine.

"What the bloody hell?" the woman exclaimed. The voice was familiar, as was her small stature and great presence.

"You..." Clara said to the woman known as the visitor, who had appeared in heraldic capacities throughout her life like some combination of philosopher, guardian angel, and prophet of doom.

Known to some as Lizzie Marlowe, she was inexplicable. A woman of sharp angles, a petite redhead with a braid down her side, she was dressed as a proper Victorian explorer, in a thick white blouse, a split skirt, boots, and a seaman's cap. A peculiar belt of instruments wrapped her waist. Clara peered at the devices--was that an astrolabe?

"Why am I here? What have you done, Templeton? This is 1882, yes?" Marlowe barked. She looked the women up and down studiously, her gaze softening only once she seemed to recognize them.

Clara raised her eyebrows. "What have I done?"

"I was minding my own business," the visitor continued, "hardly eavesdropping on you and your lot, and now I've been dragged here by my spiritual hair."

"Well now," Clara said incredulously, "isn't that turning the tables?"

Marlowe thought a moment. "Yes, I suppose it is. You are powerful, Clara. Center of the storm indeed. A magnet, even, pulling the likes of me here? I'll have to do more research on you!" She paused for breath and seemed to assess her surroundings for the first time. "Good God, what is that racket?"

"I was hoping you could tell me," Clara replied. "And for once explain how you come and go like a ghost."

"I'm human, a mortal woman named Elizabeth Marlowe."

"What do you want with me?" Clara asked.

"You know, you're a bit demanding, my dear," Marlowe admonished.

"I think I learned that from you," Clara countered.

The visitor loosed a deep chortle. "I'm so proud. But you must have brought me here for a reason, so let's discern it, shall we?" She gave Clara and her companions a curt smile and angled her head toward the sea, narrowing her eyes at the eerie pall of the horizon line. She slowly turned completely around.

"Hmm. No. That's not right," Marlowe muttered, and began tapping along the brass-trimmed rail of the ship with a small wrench plucked from her leather belt. She listened to the way the metallic clinks changed in pitch as if she were striking a tuning fork and scowled. "Very, very wrong..."

The howl changed, as if incorporating the ting of the brass, as if it were two notes in a reverberating chorus, and the visitor made a face of supreme distaste.

"Before we take on those dreadful forms out there, where exactly are we?" she asked.

"In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night during a full moon in Jupiter," Miss Knight said, then pursed her lips and strode toward Marlowe and Clara.

After offering Knight a prim, unamused smile, Marlowe stormed off toward the wheelhouse, calling over her shoulder, "I need details! Latitude and longitude, direction and route."

The three ladies were left to stare at one another.

"She's not a ghost, yet I cannot get a sense of her," Knight muttered. "It's maddening. She burst into our Omega offices once, then vanished without leaving a trace. I thought if I just had another chance, I could see what I'd missed. It seems that she is beyond my gifts," she finished, unhappy at being bested by this mystery.

"I'm relieved someone else has finally seen her," Clara confessed. "I used to think I'd gone mad whenever she came around. She's been ... an infuriating mirage my whole life, flitting in and out at the most critical and dire moments. Not at all how I imagined a guardian angel, but then again, I've not led a normal life, I doubt I'd be assigned a normal angel...." She finished with a weary little laugh.

"She's human," Evelyn stated firmly. "But more. I've never seen anything like her. This is astral projection at its most sophisticated."

"Ah," Miss Knight murmured. "Astral projection. Yes. If that's the case, well. Incredible." Her tone was now a bit jealous.

Rose was silent, staring, baffled, in the direction Marlowe had gone. A sharp and logical woman, Rose would find no solace in gifts that offered a range of vagaries.

Marlowe soon strode back toward them, brandishing a chart that flapped in the wind. Clara wondered if she'd snatched it right out of the captain's or first mate's protesting hands. Marlowe spread the wide paper atop a small table that sat between two deck chairs. As the others gathered around, Marlowe seated herself and began pointing.

"We're here," she said, placing an ungloved finger at the center of the ocean between North America and Europe. Dotted lines arced across the chart, denoting sea-lanes and major currents.

"This is the transatlantic cable," she said, indicating a relatively straight line across the Atlantic. She pointed at the line of black forms. "Those shadows are directly above it. On our current course, we shall pass right over the cable and therefore right under them." She looked at the women. "But there is an alternative. There's a sea-lane to starboard, above a protective line that is not on this map."

"Can we convince the captain to change course?" Evelyn asked.

"Leave that to me," Marlowe stated. "But as I've not much time, I need you to understand something. The harmony of the earth is off. Someone is transmitting something unnatural along that cable. But that's not the only thing you're hearing."

"Yes, there's an echo," Clara confirmed.

"It's not the only line across the waters. There's all these." She danced her fingertips over the cartography. "They denote currents and routes, intangible yet forces of nature, beholden to wind, water, and tides. But life, since ancient times, pulses along the greatest of all lines. And that is, I believe, how you summoned me, Clara Templeton. And if so, I am beholden to you, because I am of the great lines," Marlowe stated. Clara blinked at her. Did she mean lineage? She pressed on, "What's important is these lines above all else."

"What lines?" Clara asked, finally exasperated.

"Ley lines," Evelyn finished.

Everyone stared.

"Oh, come now, don't be surprised," Marlowe scoffed. "You're all clairvoyants, aren't you? Aren't ley lines a given in your world?"

Rose opened her mouth, and as a small sound of protest issued forth, Marlowe batted her hand.

"The weight of all of you brought me here," Marlowe continued, attempting a patient tone, "Clara being my most potent tether along such a key ley line as the transatlantic. Here between the lines of natural ley force and the man-made wires, something is trying to interfere.

"Maybe someday you can do what I do, Clara. If you were able to access your past lives differently, on a different trajectory ... It grows a bit tedious, being the only one stretched this far across time. I could use a companion."

Marlowe smiled. When she smiled it was alternately endearing and terrifying, as there was something nearly ancient about the expression. Marlowe was too human, too much of one all at once. She was overwhelming.

"Is that what this is about?" Clara asked softly. "Companionship?"

"Ah, no," Marlowe said definitively. "I could never take you away from your most important time line. You began to understand, by wielding localized magic, and deploying a soul compass, the lines along which life runs."

"Ley lines are the ... latitude and longitude of magic?" Rose asked, grasping for purchase on the topic.

Marlowe grimaced at the word "magic." "Do you have to call it that?"

"Life-force, energy lines so powerful they are nearly supernatural," Clara offered.

"Yes. Can you feel those lines?" Marlowe asked.

Clara thought a moment. "No."

Marlowe leaned in. "Try."

"How? What do I look for?"

Marlowe clucked her tongue. "You're clairvoyant, you don't look. Not in the normal way."

Clara reflexively thought to ask what sense she should sharpen but remained silent when she knew the answer would be her sixth; the maddening sixth, knowing without being able to prove how in common terms. But if there was one thing the Eterna Commission had demanded of her, it was that she stop second-guessing that knowledge and begin treating it with proud certainty.

There was a long pause. All Clara could hear was the water, see was the endless horizon, smell and taste was a salt wind, and feel was that moist wind on flushed cheeks and the sensation of a speeding vessel beneath her steady feet that had no trouble with the pitch and yaw of the boat.

As for her sixth sense, Clara wasn't sure what indicators to consider. She could feel Elizabeth staring at her, through her, perhaps seeing more of her than even she could. It was terribly disconcerting, everything about the visitor always was; she made no sense to any of her senses, especially not her sixth.

Very often her sixth sense was a hybrid of other senses, a slight tweak to her hearing or a flicker to her vision.

The visitor suddenly smacked her in the abdomen. Clara yelped. Had she been wearing her corset, it would have been like hitting a cage, considering the steel bones; instead, with her being in only soft layers and with her body being on high alert, it had a higher impact.

"Your gut will tell you where the lines are," Marlowe stated. "Don't think, just feel the flow of energy and tell me which direction it is from where you stand right now."

Clara stared at this unprecedented, unpredictable woman and then faced the prow. The hairs on her head rose a bit and there was a visceral stirring sensation within her. She felt her left hand lifting, pointing forward as they headed west, every movement coming from that visceral place. Her body flooded with a warm, luminous power. She smiled, unable to help herself. She could, in fact, feel this line.

There was an audible component, too. Something soft lifted from this peaceful thrall, a thrumming, vibrant hum that was not the steam engines, not the water, a faint violin string in vibrato across the waves.

"That's the ley line," Marlowe murmured, pleased. "Toward where you're pointing, ahead, behind, we're nearly on top of it in this sea-lane. But the direction you turned? That thing that made you perk your ears up port side and come out here to see what was wrong? The rest is--"

"The transatlantic cable ringing with a sour note, comparatively," Clara finished.

"Dissonance. Yes." The visitor sighed. "The cable was put in unfortunately close to our line. Doubt the planners had any sense of it, but who can blame their instinct? Something drew them, literally along this line. Humans gravitate to these old lines constantly, but sometimes I feel like what happens upon them are at cross-purposes."

Evelyn, Miss Knight, and Rose had all been listening at a polite few paces off, but Evelyn took a step forward, Marlowe's nearest rival in terms of sheer force of presence.

"The force of the world doesn't like to run on man-made wires, but goodness if mankind doesn't like to run along the force of the world," Evelyn offered.

"If that's not the truth, I don't know what is," Marlowe murmured, and looked up at the stars. If Clara wasn't mistaken, the one toward which the visitor stared winked out. At this, the strange woman frowned, as if personally wounded. She turned fierce eyes upon Clara.

"So. Remember this lesson, Templeton. Never forget it. These lines are life or death. For you, and for me...."

It was Miss Knight's turn to step forward, her long crimson robes billowing dramatically in a gust of wind. "Do you know, then, what will happen next?"

"No, not exactly," Marlowe replied. "Beyond the fact that the amassed, negative energies are a distinct threat no matter where they appear. I mean, I could try to see your future if I concentrated very hard, but there are too many variables to say for certainty and my consciousness can only focus in on you for so long before I become a danger."

"Are you, then," Clara asked, "in more places than one?"

At this, Marlowe smiled. "Aren't you?"

Clara thought of her lives, lives she could see at any point if she concentrated hard enough, lives that each chewed upon an important crux. She had a sense that the lines were her crux, the one that this life hinged upon. There was a truth to the visitor's idea of a broader consciousness. At that moment came a gust of wind so strong and sudden that Clara had to close her eyes against the salt spray. When she opened them again, the visitor was gone.

While she'd been focused on Marlowe, Rose had gone to their cabin to retrieve the doctor's bag filled with protective Wards and was now returning to her.

At Rose's side walked Senator Bishop, an additional bundle of Wards in his hands. He was tall, striking, and distinguished, dressed in a black satin robe; his silver hair positively glowing in the moonlight, giving his face a preternatural halo.

The moment he caught sight of Clara, his eyes sought out hers and spoke volumes of his care. She moved to meet him nearer the door he'd come through; the magnetism that had grown between them was dizzying, and she put her hand on the rail.

"Warding the ship," he stated with a smile. "Leave it to a group of brilliant women to be working through the night for the benefit of all."

He turned to nod out at the water and the still-floating shadows. "They woke me, too, a thrumming racket in my ears and a dread press on my heart. I have to imagine anyone with even rudimentary sensitivities either won't be able to sleep or will have a miserable set of nightmares to show for it," he said grimly.

He shook off the pall and turned to Clara, beaming. "What may I do to help, my dear? I am ever at your service."

His deference and respect, his radiant smile, as if her rising to leadership was the source of his greatest pride, moved and inspired her. Her fingers ached to touch him but she had to recall herself to the moment and task at hand.

"Thank you, Rupert," she murmured. She turned to the rest of her company and spoke with calm authority. "We should Ward each flank of the ship, and at different levels, but in inconspicuous places. It will be done quickly if we divide up the vials."

"All the more quickly for extra hands," came another voice, from the deck door directly behind them.

Harold Spire, the leader of London's Omega department--"a policeman turned circus manager," as he termed himself bitterly--strode toward their number, dressed in shirtsleeves that accented broad shoulders and an open waistcoat that mirrored the company's haphazard dress, his brown hair mussed.

The default scowl of the dour man was affixed until he saw Rose step out from behind Clara and his expression softened.

"Have you worked around us Sensitives long enough that the presence of the paranormal affects you as it does us? Drawing you to the front lines?" Clara asked with a hopeful smile.

"No, that honor goes to Lord Denbury," Spire replied with a sigh. "Poor boy had one bloody hell of a nightmare, woke moaning about his mother, his razed home, the demons.... He wasn't quite to a screaming fit but I heard enough on the other side of the cabin wall. Lord Black thankfully was able to quiet him, he's like a mother hen, that one."

"Cluck, cluck," Black said with a small laugh, his turn to speak from the doorway, his own box of Wards in hand. "He'll be all right. He just needs time to heal, grieve, and to frankly be away from all this. Warding will help, I'm sure."

An immaculate, handsome, fashionable man who usually dressed in light colors, patterns and pastels, a stark contrast to the darker and bolder shades of most of the rest of the teams, Lord Black was currently arrayed in an emerald silk smoking jacket with a loose cream ascot, looking far more put together than the rest of them.

Wards were distributed among the group.

"We'll affix them inconspicuously how?" Spire asked. Rose lifted up a small box of twine, cloth, and scissors. "Miss Everhart again wins the day with usefulness," he stated. She beamed, and Clara could feel the little ripple of light and warmth that resulted. Energies and moods were atmospheric conditions, and despite Spire's thick clouds of skepticism, his deepening bond with his second-in-command made for clearer skies.

The small glass tubes were mostly filled with London's protective recipe, and a precious few still held New York's ingredients; Clara hoped they would work here, in the middle of the ocean, for both shores.

Without a word between them, Miss Knight and Evelyn began lashing Wards to various out-of-the-way places along the prow. Lord Black, Rose, and Spire went further aft and port.

Clara instinctively went starboard, toward the ley-line side, and Bishop followed. They were silent, knowing that prayerful contemplation was the best way to attend to their work and to charge the Wards with their own personal fire. She felt the Wards vibrate in her hand as if invigorated as she neared the ship's rail.

Once she'd tucked two of the glass tubes into a notch in the wood, striking a match to light their contents, satisfied by the ethereal light that burned in the glass, she reached out to feel the ley line again. It was like it was singing within her.

As she felt it, she turned to the port side. In the distance, one of the wavering, inky human forms hovering above the transatlantic cable faded into the bluer night sky. Clara smiled. Magnifying the lines within her, an amplifying resonance, there was an effect. The full line of shadows was gone, and she heaved a sigh of relief.

The rest of the team had vanished, leaving her alone with the senator in what likely was a message of encouragement. No one could doubt what an indomitable partnership Clara and he had become. "Do you believe in ley lines?" Clara asked finally.

"Yes. I could feel what you did. You seemed to be tapping directly into them, a refreshing jolt all around you."

"Better than a cup of coffee," Clara chuckled before she looked out again at where the inky silhouettes had floated. "We have to fight to keep the ley lines clean, wherever they run, and try to keep industrial lines clear. Wards can cleanse any ley lines that industry sullies and they can in turn bolster the Wards. A symbiotic protection."

Bishop placed his hand on her shoulder. "So we shall. Fight the deadly shadows with the potency of our life. I'm so proud of you and your widening power."

"Thank you for being so very good to me," she said, turning to him, intuiting that his touch invited closer contact.

"You have kept me good all my life," he said earnestly, keeping the hand on her shoulder but sliding his other around her waist, as if he were about to dance with her.

"My powers of mesmerism could have taken me down a very dark path," he continued. "The 'two walks' as Evelyn always called them. Life and death, war and peace, illumination or obscurity, generosity or greed. Because of you, the great responsibility that was providing for inimitable you, there was no choice but to walk the upright walk. Being good to you has always meant what is good for me."

"And ... now?" she asked, tilting her head to him. Just what kind of power could she wield indeed? His fingertips inched down her back and further around her side, beginning to envelop her in a covetous embrace.

"I want to be very good to you indeed," he murmured.

She let herself fall against him with a soft sigh as his arms fully enclosed her, having longed for a kiss since the last night at Lord Black's estate. There, something definitively changed between them; an agreement that she would carefully open herself to feelings buried deep in her heart. In that compression it had become far more precious, a diamond waiting to be mined.

A laugh sounded around the side of one of the great steam stacks. At the sound, Bishop turned his face, taking a step back and letting his arms fall away, breaking what had been the promise of a kiss, ever the gentleman of public propriety, offering Clara an apologetic look.

She turned to the noise to see Louis's twin, Andre Dupris, and Eterna's best spy, Ephigenia Bixby, deeply engrossed in conversation, dressed as though they'd not yet gone to sleep, Andre in the navy evening suit coat he'd worn to dinner and Effie in a white linen dress with ribbon trim, her tight brown spiral curls tucked up under a felt and feather hat.

The two had partnered together in England, sliding between classes and cultures, saving as many lives of the struggling as they could, striving to keep them from the Master's Society's vile clutches. The moment they made out the figures at the side of the ship as their compatriots, Effie gasped.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, looking from Bishop to Clara, "I hope we didn't ... interrupt anything."

"Indeed," Andre intoned with a slight, knowing smile that made Clara blush.

"Ever since the nights trying to convince the dockworkers not to work for Apex, trying to warn as many of London's underclass of the dangers as possible, we've not been able to keep regular hours and find ourselves pacing the night," Effie confessed.

"I was awoken by the sense of Summoned forces and we've just been Warding the ship," Clara offered.

"Ah!" Andre exclaimed. "I'm no Sensitive but I was there when those shadows snuffed out Eterna's researchers and not a day goes by that I don't yearn for the Summoned to be banished from the face of the earth forever. I'm sure they're the reasons I couldn't sleep tonight."

"But perhaps we should all try again," Bishop declared. "I think our Warding has made the night sing more sweetly." He bowed his head. "Until morning, friends, for soon we are home," he said, and walked off with a lingering look at Clara before disappearing beyond the door to the cabin halls.

"Good night," Clara said, casting one more glance over her shoulder at the water before striding ahead to the deck door, hoping to catch Bishop in the hall beyond. But he was gone, down to his room, and she didn't dare pursue him there. Not yet.

Lying in her bunk, Clara drifted to sleep with an unresolved question on her mind, wondering if her new skills of ley-line sensitivity would increase the likelihood of epileptic attacks. If fully attuned to the great dynamos of the earth's life force, would she be paralyzed in the face of danger? With every gift there came physical consequences, and she prayed she wouldn't suffer unduly in the process.

Copyright © 2017 by Leanna Renee Hieber


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